Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Boy Scout Leader and Children's Author: Bill Kirk

Children’s author, Bill Kirk and I first met through Guardian Angel Publishing about a year and a half ago and have forged a wonderful cyberspace connection. Recently, Bill took time out of his busy schedule and provided me an opportunity to get to know him better. Come along for this laugh out loud (no I didn’t use LOL…my girls think it’s weird for their mom to use text lingo. Shh…don’t tell them I just used it) interview and become inspired.

DMc: The Sum of Our Parts: Circulation Celebration is told in rhyme is an ingenious way of learning the human circulation system. Please share with us your inspiration behind this concept?

BK: Great question, Donna. I suppose it all started with a rhyme I wrote about all the bones in the human skeleton a few years ago. At the time, our grandson was struggling a bit with learning the bones in seventh grade science class. So, I wondered if there might be a catchy way to verbally walk him through the bones using rhyme and a jaunty rhythm to help some of the strange names stick. In the process, I figured I might as well see if it would get any nibbles from editors and publishers.

Finally, after lots of rejections, one editor I contacted liked the anatomical rhyme concept and wanted to see more. So, I decided to pick the body apart into its various systems using rhyme as the primary driver. Although it didn’t work out with that publisher, soon after, I found a welcome home at Guardian Angel Publishing. Other books in THE SUM OF OUR PARTS series (muscles, skin, brain and other systems) are in the pipeline for publication over the next couple years.

As for what started me down this path in the first place, I’ve been a runner for over 40 years and have worked through more than my share of running injuries. I’ve also been a long time student of what makes our bodies tick, including studying pre-med in college—until I ran into Organic Chemistry, that is. So, learning and writing about the various body systems has been a good way for me to keep my hands on the subject. For me, it’s been a fun journey.

DMc: You are an avid Boy Scout leader. Have you incorporated any of your writing into a lesson for your scouts to earn a badge?

BK: What a great idea. Now you’ve got me thinking. Actually, I did write a Scout related rhyme once, although not specifically for earning a Merit Badge. It was after I had completed my training in Wilderness First Aid which is a course required by at least one of the adult leaders taking any group of Scouts into remote or challenging hiking or backpacking areas such as in the High Sierras.

In a somewhat humorous fashion, the rhyme tells of a weary Scouter who has just faced treating broken bones, head injuries, cuts, shock, dehydration and altitude sickness in the wilderness. Arriving home, he debates whether to recount the details when his wife asks, “How was your day?” then decides he can’t bring himself to do it. The rhyme was published in the Boy’s Life online blog Cracker Barrel to generate interest in the course among adult Scouters who participate in High Adventure Team activities. Also Scouts over the age of 16 are encouraged to take the course to develop their advanced first aid skills.

DMc: What is the most valuable piece of advice you received when you first started writing for children?

BK: One positive piece of advice stands out, as well as one negative comment that turned out to be positive. The first was to go for the story first and everything else will follow. That is, if the story is solid, what’s left is for the writer to figure out how best to tell it. But if the story is iffy or not well developed, it doesn’t matter how well written the piece is, it will likely not get an editor’s second reading or capture the interest and imagination of any reader, particularly a child.

The second comment that has stayed with me as a motivator was, “Any story written in rhyme can be written better in prose.” Well, I have to tell you, that is just the challenge I need to prove the person wrong. Granted, some rhyme can be atrocious, including some of my own. But for me, rhyme is a unique form which pulls the reader into the story with the quirkiness, simplicity and fun of the word play and the nature of the rhythm.

In fact, the rhythm can set the tone for the piece. Is the story filled with action? Give it a staccato beat with shorter line length. Is it a mood piece? Allow the rhythm to flow slowly and smoothly.

As for rhyme, the options are virtually endless. Do you rhyme every other line, first-third or second-fourth? Do you rhyme all four lines in a verse? Do you use internal rhyme within the lines or only rhyme the line endings? Within the first few lines of the story, the reader will likely be looking for what to expect in terms of the rhyme, cadence and rhythmic patterns.

When written well, a rhyme can provide both comfort and anticipation as the reader settles into the rhythm and awaits the next rhyming sequence. Besides, it’s a lot of fun to write….

DMc: What has been your most memorable experience as a writer to date?

BK: I was asked via e-mail by the mother of a young student in Texas if he could use a baseball rhyme, “The Cubs’ Last Game” for a poetry recital at his school. I had written the rhyme when my grandson, Dylan, was playing Little League baseball. The mother and her son had been searching for a poem and had come across my rhyme on The Baseball Almanac website under The Casey Collection.

I was thrilled to know someone was reading and using the rhyme and was even happier when the mother e-mailed me a few weeks later to say her son had won first place in the competition. He had actually drawn out a large baseball diamond to lay on the floor. During his recital, he played the parts of the players in the rhyme, even runing the bases to “score” the winning run.

DMc: Please share with us your current work-in-progress.

BK: Ah, so many rhymes and so little time. One story in particular has been “in progress” for over three years. My working title is “A Whale Of A Tale In The Midst Of A Gale.” I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day but it’s been a fun project to get back to it every couple months as I fiddle with lines, add verses, resolve conflicts and try to bring the story full circle to a conclusion.

The manuscript has gone from sort of a long-ish regular rhyming story to one that is now written in a series of chapterettes. I suppose it may turn out to be nothing more than an ongoing warm-up practice piece to help me keep my head in the rhyming game—maybe a little like the warm-up vocal exercises a singer uses before a performance.

Otherwise my writing interests include non-rhyming poetry, humor and satire. And I even have an international conspiracy novel that’s been on the drawing board for two decades. Needless to say, my slush pile abounds.

DMc: A signature request I like to ask every author, illustrator, editor, etc., I interview is for the individual to share with us a tidbit form their lives that the reader will find either humorous or surprising. Bill, can you please share one with us?

BK: Hmmm…. Let’s see. I’ll tell this story for the kids out there. When I was younger, my family used to visit my grandparents’ farm in Mississippi. There was no running water, no electricity and no bathroom except an outhouse. There was also a smokehouse and a chicken house. So, there were lots of chores to do and kids had to come up with their own fun.

During one visit, when I was about six years old, my cousins and I were sliding down the tin roof of the chicken house. It may sound strange but what a great slide it was! We would slide down almost to the edge, then scramble back up to the peak and go again. For added excitement, the dare was to slide down head first—until, that is, I didn’t stop myself soon enough and slid off the roof head first. The good news is I didn’t hit the ground on my head. The bad news is I fell head first into a 50-gallon barrel of slop. For those adults familiar with farms in the old days, you will know what slop is, as in slopping the hogs.

Needless to say being submerged in slop with no way to get myself out was about as close to “Fear Factor” as I had come to that point in my life. It seemed like an eternity. But fortunately my cousins quickly jumped off the roof and dumped me out, spilling slop all over the ground. Of course, the pigs were thrilled with their unexpected feast. As for me, after I had stopped coughing, gagging and sputtering, none of my cousins wanted to get too close to me, at least until I got cleaned up in one of my grandma’s famous super-chilled, well-water washtub baths. Brrrr!!!

Be sure to visit Bill at: http://www.billkirkwrites.com/


  1. Wonderful interview! I loved Bill's advice on rhyme and the story at the end is hilarious. Thanks, Donna.

  2. Oh my goodness, a new twist on slopping the hogs. Surely there is a story there for Bill to write! :o)

    Great interview Bill and Donna.

  3. Bill

    Kids today don't know what fun is. LOL.
    Thanks for sharing that. I may try my hand at writing rhyme. I haven't done it for awhile.

    Shari Lyle-Soffe

  4. Thanks for stopping by---and to Donna M. for hosting my interview. I've never thought about rhyming the hog slop story. But you may have something there. Maybe it could be the "sloppy kid" side of "Preston The Perfect Pig"....

    I would definitely recommend giving rhyme a go, if nothing else than for the mental exercise---you never know where it might lead.

  5. Hi Donna,

    Enjoyed the interview. I particularly like what he said about focusing on story telling, and everything else will follow. Something I preach to my students.

    Mike Kechula

  6. Hello one and all:

    Thank you for stopping by today to visit Bill Kirk. Your interest is appreciated!

    Warm regards,

  7. Thanks, Mike. Yes, the story really carries the day. And for me that's the most challenging aspect of writing. If there's any place I can use a muse, it's during story development.

    Bill Kirk

    Bill Kirk's Website

  8. What a delightful interview with a delightful author! Thanks so much Bill for letting us get to know you better. Tell me...do you still slop the hogs???

    Warm wishes with your upcoming books and lots of success.

  9. My hog slopping days are over
    And farm life is long gone.
    Though long ago I left the farm,
    Fond memories linger on.

    Incidentally, the Scout First Aid poem is featured on my blog today at Bill Kirk's Blog

    And for a Father's Day rhyme, check out the Rhyme Of The Month on my website at:

    Bill Kirk's Website

  10. Donna, thanks for having Bill. I always enjoy reading your rhymes, Bill. You're a master! I, too, have a scout at home and his name is Dylan. Enjoy your humor and your honesty.

  11. Great interview, Donna and Bill. Ah, how well I remember visiting my grandparents in the country with their water well, pot bellied stove and outhouse. Thank heavens for modern conveniences. :)

  12. I've always loved a bath, but
    I'm a wimp and need warm water.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer
    Children's picture Book Klutzy Kantor
    Coming Soon Marta Gargantuan Wings

  13. Great interview. Learned some new things about Bill Kirk. Interesting personal story at the end. I could actually picture it happening!

  14. Thanks, Margie. A Scouting salute to your Scout, Dylan. We were camping at Big Trees State Park last weekend. A bit of snow on the ground when we got there but it warmed up by Saturday and we had a beautiful weekend among the Giant Sequoias.

  15. Nothing like a cold water bath in an old wash tub to give one a reality check---a very humbling experience....

    It was always a toss up between being the first one in (which was cold and clean) and the last one in (which was warm and, well, let's leave it at warm....


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