An Interview with Children’s Author KP Carter
by Bette Bland
If you are lucky enough to have two grandmothers, do you call them both by the same name? For Lizzie B. Hayes, one is Grandmommy, and the other is her great-grandmother, Nana Vick. Lizzie lives in Newark, NJ, in 1967, with her Grandmommy and Granddaddy, and her cousins Shu Shu and Mookie. Lizzie’s Nana Vick and Papa Vick live down south, according to Lizzie- down south to Philadelphia, PA. When you are an eight-year-old little girl, who has never been away from her mother and grandmother in Newark, and a trip during the summer means she would miss out when everyone else on Chadwick Court gets to skate, jump rope, play in Weequachic park, and go to the Bergen Street library — A trip to Philadelphia, to visit her father’s grandparents and an aunt, is a world away. It is a summertime adventure, especially in 1967.
Summertime with Lizzie B. Hayes by KP Carter is the first of a planned series of children’s chapter books for readers age 7 – 12. KP places Summertime in the historical fiction category as the narrative is set in Newark, NJ, over the summer of 1967, one of the most turbulent summers of the civil rights era of the 60s.
The first event KP participated in as an author was the Hat City Streets Festival in June 2014. Since then, she has presented Lizzie and her 1967 summer adventure at bookstores, in public libraries in Orange, East Orange, West Orange, Newark, and Montclair, in public schools in Essex, Bergen, and Union counties, the NC 350 Founders Weekend Festival-Celebration of Newark, NJ, 350 Anniversary, more recently spoken at various programs, and shared teaching strategies with aspiring educators at Essex County College.
I first met KP Carter as my oldest child’s fourth-grade teacher at Heywood Avenue School. Several years later, we met again as colleagues in the Montclair Public Schools, and consequently, we have worked together in a variety of capacities professionally. We have kept in touch over the years as friends with common interests. KP had long spoken about writing a children’s book and when she brought “Lizzie” to life on the page I was one of the many in her reading feedback group. I think readers can see themselves in “Lizzie” and I have shared the book with every young reader I know. As a free-lance writer, poet, and editor, I recognized an opportunity to highlight an African American children’s author and a character who transcends ethnicity, generations, and shares the glue of African American culture. The book is about being a kid living in Newark in the weeks before the1967 turmoil, having fun where you live, recognizing familiar feelings about families, and when life changes, how you make it through. I thought it would be a really good interview.
BB – What was your inspiration for Lizzie?
KP – She was always in my head, for years. From the time I was a child I kept journals with stories and pieces I would write, and when my children were young I would search for books with black families and characters, but I didn’t find very many. As an elementary school teacher and reading specialist I knew the importance of students connecting with what they read, and for children of color, there were slim pickings. Lizzie really took shape in 2001, while I was incapacitated after surgery. I couldn’t move around much. It was the summer, and I started writing around lunch time. I wrote all afternoon, until the sun went, down – it was like I was in a trance. I wrote until my husband came home and asked my why I was sitting in the dark! I had hardly noticed since there was just enough light and I guess my eyes had adjusted.
BB – Lizzie needed to come into her own! What were you trying to do with Lizzie, as a character?
KP – I wanted to show young folks that you could have a happy childhood even when times were tense, and adults gossiped in scary whispers around you, even if your family was not the traditional kind. She has family, playmates, and yearnings to get her parents back together. Lizzie is just like other precocious children! She’s a bit of a hypochondriac trying to get attention or defer unwanted attention. I wanted to show young folks that places like Newark or Philadelphia have safe spaces with families and fond memories.
BB – Like many authors these days you chose self-publishing to achieve your goals. What moved you to that decision?
KP – A couple of specific events made me decide that self-publishing was the way for me. One was a close friend died, and that made me question why I was waiting to reach a couple of things on my bucket list. The other was that as a teacher, I often had authors come to my classroom and talk to my students about the writing process. One author brought in a stack of rejection letters! (She uses her hands to show the height of the stack).
BB – How many inches would you say that stack was?
KP – (Laughing) at least six inches! And, I decided that I didn’t have the time or the temperament to deal with rejection letters! I had a rough manuscript, and I sat myself down and began to do research. I talked to authors; I researched self-publishing, I decided to take workshops and attend writers conferences. I made a plan and began to find a team of readers for feedback. I gave the manuscript to a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old for feedback. I revised and edited, even after the first galley composites.
BB – You were on a mission. Can you talk a bit about the illustrations?
KP – Finding an illustrator was another challenge. At first, because I had a network of talented teenage artists, I tried to work with them, but they did not have the work ethic I needed to get my project finished. Then, through word of mouth, I found someone I liked. I shared photographs of my mother with him to inspire his renderings. Managing all aspects of publishing is more than a notion.
BB – How is the next installment going?
KP – It’s work in progress. It is taking a bit longer than I expected, but I am still learning about Lizzie as a character and the places she experiences. I am learning more and more about stretching as a writer. I will keep you posted.
KP Carter was born in Brooklyn, NY, and grew up in Newark, NJ. She earned her undergraduate degree from Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, NC, and an M.Ed from Kutztown State University, Kutztown, PA. A retired school teacher, administrator, adjunct professor, she is a certified reading specialist and workshop facilitator. KP is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She keeps a busy schedule writing and nurturing her brand. For more information and to contact her, visit KPCarterwrites.com.
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Written by Bette Bland