An interview with the Carolinas crew behind the popular podcast
by Bonnie Adamson
A group of writers and SCBWI members in the Carolinas have parlayed a common love of children’s literature and a talent for witty and insightful commentary into a monthly podcast which now attracts listeners from as far away as Europe and Asia. As a huge fan of the Kidlit Drink Night podcast, I am so excited to interview the team responsible.
Let's start by introducing the Super-friends:
AMY: Hi! I'm Amy Kurtz Skelding, creator and host of the show. I format agendas and write middle grade fiction. Thanks for interviewing us and for listening to the show!
KAREN: Hi! I’m Karen Staman, the sweet one who curses on the podcast. I write middle grade fiction and a bunch of science-y stuff.
GWEN: I'm Gwen Holt. I come for the free food. Amy's amazing in the kitchen.
How do you define the podcast? What do you hope to achieve with this format?
AMY: My elevator pitch for the show is always, "We're a podcast for grownups about children's literature. And it's for grownups because we drink and swear." Frankly, the name says it all.
What I wanted to achieve with the show is this: I know that writing is a solitary business. Sometimes writers – especially kidlit writers – feel like an island. There are few people in their lives with whom they can talk shop and geek out about these great books we read and write. Some of us are fortunate enough to have an in-person writing community, but for those who may not, this show is for them. We're your virtual, geeky buds.
You guys have obviously been hanging out together for a while–when did you discover you had the kind of chemistry to go public? And how scary was that?
KAREN: Here is our origin story: I am a regular attendee of the SCBWI-Carolinas conference. Years ago, when I didn’t know anyone, it was kinda exhausting. It’s like going around all day and saying, “I’m cool. I promise. I’m writing a real live book.” Then the next year, repeat. “Hey, remember me? I’m cool, remember?” Then I would go back to my room, alone, and stare at the ceiling.
It seemed so crazy to me that we only saw each other once a year. I wanted to make us more of a community. I started a Facebook page (Kidlit Carolinas: it’s a private group, but I let anyone join. Want to?) We meet for drinks once a month in Durham, and it’s where we all really got to know each other.
AMY: Your first question – the idea had been tumbling around my brain for months last year, because of the wonderfulness of those in-person kid lit drink nights in Durham. When I finally gathered the courage to pitch the podcast concept to Michelle Leonard (one of our original Super-friends), Gwen, and Karen, I was astounded by their positive reaction. I picked this crew because I had a hunch that the difference in everyone's personality might make for a fun show.
Your second question – Very. It still is scary but exhilarating at the same time. I am by nature a cautious person, but sometimes in life, you have to close your eyes and jump off the cliff.
KAREN: When Amy approached me about the podcast, I was really excited. It didn’t occur to me to be scared until after we’d recorded the first one. Lucky for me, Amy cuts all the parts where I sound like an idiot.
GWEN: So, this super cute lady comes up to me in a bar and says, "You ever wanted to do a podcast?" I say, "Sure. What's in it for me?" She says, "Cookies." I say, "Sold!"
And yes, I'm terrified of everything that comes out of my mouth, but Amy is an editing goddess. I trust her completely with my faux pas.
What has been your biggest challenge in producing the podcast?
AMY: My biggest challenge in podcast production has been just that – the production. The non-glamorous stuff: learning the audio software, working through the audio editing process, webhosting, etc. Sitting down in front of a microphone talking books with my buds is the best gig in the world, the easy part.
KAREN: I am so grateful to Amy for doing all the hard work.
GWEN: I think the biggest challenge for us (excluding all the drudgery Amy has to deal with) is scheduling. We all have extra-super-duper busy lives. We literally have to sit down with calendar and plan months in advance when we can meet to record.
I truly feel as if I'm sitting at the table with you, and I think what I enjoy most is that you don't seem to be self-editing as you go . . . how much ends up on the cutting room floor?
AMY: To be frank, much of what's cut is because we want the show's format to be about an hour or less. Every time we're together we generate scads of material. Karen wrote a little ditty that we all sang for the February apocalypse episode that I hated to cut!
Sometimes I have to cut down the amount of laughter any given joke has gotten, because it can go on for a long while. We're pretty impressed with our own jokes.
KAREN: Amy always cuts my interpretive dancing.
I think a lot about the topic and what I am going to say before the podcast starts. Amy sends around an agenda beforehand, and we talk in Amy’s kitchen before each show too.
GWEN: I have to self-edit ALL. THE. TIME. Karen hits really hard, and after the first time I realized I had the power to save myself.
Amy, given that you're the tech guru and the acknowledged hall monitor, I'm casting you as Monica. Which of you is Rachel and which is Phoebe? (Unless one of you would like to be Ross or Chandler or Joey, of course.)
AMY: I've been called a lot worse than 'Monica', so I'll take it! I'm curious to hear what the others say on this, but for me, I think Gwen has a Ross/Phoebe vibe, while Karen feels more Rachel/Chandler-y to me. And wouldn't we all like to have a little bit of Joey? Let's share him, shall we? How YOU doin'?
KAREN: I love so much that we are always sorting ourselves.* I’m Chandler, for sure. Well intentioned, dorky, and vaguely anxious.
GWEN: I'm definitely Phoebe. 100%. Love all, serve all, try not to trip.
*They’re not kidding about sorting. Below, l-r: Gwen (Hufflepuff), Amy (Slytherin), and Karen (Gryffindor).
As another proud adult reader of kidlit books, I appreciate the personal recommendations–especially the "what we're crushing on" feature. Beyond your obvious enjoyment of the genres you discuss, do you each have secret agendas? Types of books or causes you feel need a spotlight?
AMY: GREAT question. I don't know if I'd call it an agenda per se, but (spoiler alert!) I'm very passionate about the books that I fall in love with. Of course, I love a lot of the massively produced/promoted books (like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Where the Wild Things Are, etc.) and I'm certainly going to discuss them on the show. There are other books that I love just as much that for whatever reason, haven't reached commercial saturation, so I'm going to use whatever platform I have to tell people about them. A couple titles/authors that come immediately to mind are TEA CAKES FOR TOSH by Kelly Starling Lyons and THE DEATH OF YORIK MORTWELL by Stephen Messer. (See? I'm even doing it in your interview!)
KAREN: This question goes back to the sense of community for me. We kid lit writers are part of one big community, and I want to support all of us. I happen to know more about what’s happening in the Carolinas, so I mention those books slightly more often. And of course, some of those authors are my actual friends. But I never, never, never recommend a book that I don’t love.
GWEN: Unlike Karen, you can mail me a check or send me payment via PayPal if you'd like me to mention your book on the show. I'll even take a cashier's check from Uganda. Ha! Not really.
I have a deep love for hard working authors and illustrators, kind people with talent who do not give up. I love to see them make it big, or make it small, and I try to give them shout outs too. I like to read the back stories of the authors as much as I love to read the fiction. It's so rewarding to see them grow and accomplish much with persistence.
Will you be sticking to the monthly schedule?
AMY: Yes, unless in the unlikely event that some wealthy benefactor begs us to quit our day jobs and bankrolls us to do a weekly show. Until then: Monthly. The only exception to this being that we may occasionally issue a short podcast between our monthly scheduled shows called a “quickie-cast”. We reserve this quickie-cast format for when something short and awesome happens that we’re just dying to tell you about, like when we participated in Oak City Comicon back in April.
Any sneak peeks you can give us for what's coming up on the podcast?
AMY: We have a great June episode where Gwen interviews MG and YA author Matthew J. Kirby, and Karen gets emotional and then starts swearing 30 seconds later. It's so great! (Is it gauche to be entertained by your own podcast?) In the coming months, we've got more author interviews, ridiculous quizzes, and an episode spotlighting picture books. We're heading back to another Comicon in November, and I'm looking forward to what madness that will bring! I'm already designing my cos-play.
GWEN: Karen will probably say that more than once and I will eat the last brownie without offering it to anyone else.
AMY: "Probably"?! That's funny.
Thanks, guys! We’ll be looking forward to future episodes—and, Gwen, my check is in the mail, so we’re good, right?
How to access the podcast:
On the KidiLit Drink Night website; or
Via an app on your smartphone or tablet. The podcast is available on both iTunes and Stitcher: search for “KidLit Drink Night.” Click on the show and all the episodes appear.
Don’t want to miss a single monthly episode? Click the “subscribe” button in the apps or on the website. Each episode will be automatically delivered to your app every month.