Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Double-Dipping Part One: Why We Write In Multiple Genres

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Double-Dipping Part One: Why We Write Across Genres

By Susan Hughes

Yes, spring is on its way—and it makes me excited to write, to read, and to write some more! But, ah, what genre to dip into today?

I have always enjoyed writing fiction and nonfiction for children, including picture books, middle grade fiction, YA—and even a graphic novel. I’ve written commissioned texts for educational publishers and freelance magazine articles for adults. And next month my first poem for adults will be published in the Hart House Review.

In today’s blog I chat with five other children’s authors who also delight in dabbling in more than one genre. Let’s find out when they began, why they do it—and what they find most challenging about this double-, triple-, or even quadruple-dipping!

ALISON HUGHES has written several books, including Poser, which was nominated for the 2014 Red Cedar and Hackmatack awards. She lives in Edmonton.

HELAINE BECKER is the award-winning author of more than 60 books for children. She lives in Toronto.

LORNA SCHULTZ NICHOLSON is the author of over 30 books including children's picture books, and middle grade and YA fiction and non-fiction. She splits her time between Edmonton, AB and Penticton BC.

MONICA KULLING has written fiction, nonfiction, adaptations and biographies. She is the author of more than fifty books for children, including a series of books about painters and their art. She lives in Toronto.

KATHY KACER is the author of eighteen books for young readers all of which focus on stories of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Kathy is also venturing into the world of playwriting. She lives in Toronto.

Susan Hughes:

Can you tell me about your first published children's book—and why you wrote it?

Alison Hughes:

My first published children’s book was Poser, a middle grade novel about a boy-model who’s been modelling since babyhood, but at age twelve decides he wants out. I got the idea from a flyer for back-to-school clothes. One of the boys in particular caught my attention; he was smiling madly in his silly clothes, but it was very obvious that he wasn’t enjoying himself. The idea of a reluctant boy-model just mushroomed in my head as a humorous middle grade book.

Helaine Becker:

My first published kids' books were two biographies for a school library publisher, Blackbirch Press. One was on Frederick Douglass, the other was John Brown. That same year, I also published my first trade book, a collection of humorous verse called Mama Likes to Mambo (Stoddart Kids). Since then, I've published more than 60 trade books, in almost every kids/YA genre.

I wrote my first books for the same reason I write all my books—for $$$... :) Authoring is a business, and to pretend that writing "for the love of it" is one's only motivation is not only false, but is a disservice to the profession. Sure, I love writing. But I love to eat too, and I wouldn't be a writer if I could not support myself through my work.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson:

My first published children’s book was a middle grade novel titled Interference (Lorimer) and it is a contemporary hockey novel about a young boy who has Type 1 diabetes but he doesn’t talk to his parents about his symptoms until it is almost too late. I wrote this novel because when I was on my high school rowing team, halfway through our season, a good girlfriend and teammate found out she had diabetes. She ended up in the hospital for two weeks and had to quit rowing. I learned from writing the book and researching at the diabetes clinic in the Children’s Hospital that things are different now and children are released sometimes within hours or even the next day—and are also encouraged to return to sports. I wrote the novel because of my memories and for children to be encouraged to speak up. And I love hockey.

Monica Kulling:

I published I Hate You Marmalade!, my first picture book, in 1992. It’s difficult to remember “why” I wrote the story. Before working in educational publishing I wrote full-time—for six hours each day, five days a week—so I “stumbled on” this story in the course of a regular working day. I do remember the inspiration—my ginger tabby, Amber. She was a fabulous feline!

In the evenings Amber walked with me around the block, running across lawns to keep pace. I added a boy named Roger, who doesn’t like the new cat, and the mother who brings the cat home, to round out the story. The number of years it took for I Hate You Marmalade! to find a home is another story entirely.

Kathy Kacer:

My first published book was The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser. It was historical fiction and based on a true story about my mother. As a young Jewish girl growing up in eastern Slovakia, my mother was in danger of being arrested and sent to the concentration camps. In desperation, my grandmother hid my mother in a dresser that sat in her dining room. Nazi soldiers came and searched through the house and never found my mother. That was a story that was told to me as a young child, and I think I also knew that it was a story that I was destined to write down.


In what other genres of children's books have you been published?


I have two other middle grade novels out, but the first of my three forthcoming picture books, Gerbil, Uncurled, will be released this spring. I have an early reader chapter book due out in the fall and I also write YA and have published short stories and a little poetry.


I write picture books (fiction and nonfiction, some verse, some prose), chapter books, middle grade novels, middle grade non-fiction and YA fiction. Some are funny, like my picture books, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree and Ode to Underwear. Others are darker, like Gottika, a retelling of the Golem legend set in the future. I'm working on several biographies now, too, going back, I suppose, to my "roots."


I’ve published picture books (Puckster series); middle grade fiction and non-fiction; and YA fiction and non-fiction.


I’ve published adaptations of classic novels—for example, Little Women, Les Misérables, Great Expectations, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Body Snatcher. I’ve also published poetry, books about animals, biographies, historical fiction and fiction.


In addition to historical fiction I also write historical non-fiction. My first picture book was recently published. I have also written a couple of series, one that is historical fiction and one that is non-fiction. The non-fiction series is a collection of short stories.


Why did you decide to expand your "repertoire" and begin writing in other genres?


I’m very much a “run with a good idea” kind of person, and that idea may take shape in different genres. Sometimes the idea is clearly visual and discrete, lending itself to a picture book manuscript. Sometimes you run with it and it develops into something else. Early on, my editor at Orca, Sarah Harvey, gave me some very liberating advice: write the story you want to write, and worry about where it fits later. I’ve taken that very much to heart.


Two reasons. First—and you've heard this before—for money. In a small market, like the Canadian one, if you want to make a living as a writer, you either have to write a giant blockbuster, or write a LOT of more modest books. Since writing a blockbuster is about as likely as winning the lottery, I decided to try the second route. The downside of that strategy is that when you have a lot of books in the marketplace, they can wind up competing with each other. For me, the solution was to write in different, non-competing genres, working with more than one publisher. That way, I could produce the number of books I needed per year to eat, without cannibalizing my own sales. The publishers were happy too—their marketing efforts complemented each other, and helped sell more books for everybody.


I have so many ideas in my head and I’m always looking for new stories in any genre. I also expanded into other genres because of my own children. I wrote MG when they were in middle grades, and when they became teens I wanted to try writing YA. The picture books came to me in a roundabout way. In Canada, we have amazing picture book writers. I’ve had a steep learning curve but enjoyed the process immensely. And I like writing non-fiction because real life is interesting.

Having all the genres is also wonderful because I do author presentations at many schools and this means I can speak to all grades, including kindergarten classes.

And, to be honest, I feel that to make writing for children even a little lucrative it helps to write in multiple genres. I did say “a little” lucrative. As a Canadian children’s author I use that word lightly!


I’ve always wanted to write a novel—not an adaptation. Years ago, I completed one that received encouragement, but no contract. Then I managed to write three chapters of two other novels. For some reason, it has always been difficult for me to get beyond Chapter Three. This time I’ve done it. I’ve almost completed the first draft of a 15,000-word novel, and I’m pleased with myself. Even if it’s never published, I so enjoy this feeling of accomplishment. I’ve also got a story that works more reasonably for the novel format, rather than the tight constraints of 32 pages.


I loved writing historical fiction, but my publisher (Second Story Press) believed and still believes that it is easier to sell these historical book to a foreign market if they are non-fiction. She may be right because I am published in twenty languages around the world. The picture book that came out recently is called The Magician of Auschwitz. It is more accurately described as a long-format picture book, suited to kids in grades 4-6. Once again, my publisher had had success with a previous book in this genre, and wanted me to try creating this story in that format.

Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website,


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