A while back, I asked author Katie Frawley to be on my blog to celebrate the release of her debut picture book, Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places, illustrated by Laurie Stansfield and published by Two Lions. Tabitha and Fritz, which traveled to shelves in June, is the story of a restless housecat and an adventure-seeking elephant who decide to swap homes. The story is told via a series of emails between the title characters, which gave me an idea: instead of a traditional interview with Katie, why not swap letters? An epistolary interview, if you will?
With our trusty laptops in hand, we embarked on a month-long adventure: a PEN PAL adventure! Read on for our top-secret correspondence… and a few tips on writing epistolary picture books, too.
Dearest Katherine, (Kathleen? Katelyn? Katrina?)
You know, despite how long I’ve known you, I have no idea if your given name is Katie or something else. Sheesh, this is awkward. Let’s just forget this part of the letter ever happened and move on.
I adore having pen pals! As a kid, I went to camp for a week every summer and always wound up swapping addresses with a fellow camper. I had a whole collection of stationary and a box full of Lisa Frank stickers to add just the right emphasis to my eloquently written words. I therefore sincerely apologize for the lack of purple-spotted leopards and rainbow-maned unicorns in this correspondence, but hope it finds you well nonetheless.
Have I told you how much I adore TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES? It is so fun and fabulous. Tell me, how did you come up with the concept for this story?
Eager for answers,
The idea for TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES came from Ann Whitford Paul’s delightful what-if game! I was lying in bed, coming up with funny what-if scenarios when I thought to myself…What if an elephant from the rain forest ended up in suburbia? That idea made me giggle, so I dug in deeper and came up with the idea for an animal home exchange program.
When I was a kid, I thought foreign exchange programs sounded EXTREMELY cool, so it makes sense I ran with the swap concept. Speaking of foreign exchanges, have you ever lived in a foreign country? I spent a semester in Spain. It was an incredible experience.
Katie (a.k.a. Kathleen…thanks for asking!)
Glad we got that name confusion cleared up. Phew!
I’ve never lived in a foreign country, but I once dated someone who did. It wasn’t a long-distance relationship, though. We still saw each other nearly every day. (And that is the story of my top-secret teleportation device. Mums the word!)
Just kidding. I grew up close to the Canadian border and a few families from Quebec made the drive each day to attend my school. It definitely helped me practice my French!
Another question: did you always plan to write TABITHA AND FRITZ as an epistolary story? Did you find it challenging? What mentor texts did you use? That’s actually three questions, so I’ll sign off.
Loving these letters!
I absolutely love epistolary stories. (Have you ever read ELLA MINNOW PEA?) I knew from the start I wanted to write it in letters, and it seemed like such a natural for this premise. The correspondence really flowed. The DEAR MRS. LARUE books by Mark Teague are FABULOUS. I loved reading those when I was working on this manuscript.
Hey! You never told me you’re into advanced technologies! Between your teleportation device and my time traveling machine we can TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!! (This message will self destruct in 10 seconds)
I haven’t read ELLA MINNOW PEA, but I have read several of Mark Teague’s books (of course!) When I was a kid, I adored THE JOLLY POSTMAN. Pulling physical letters out of the flaps was so fun!
Quick—before this whole blog post self-destructs, I have to ask: what practical advice do you have for writers wishing to tackle their first epistolary manuscript? I’m sure you know some great tricks of the trade!
My best tip on writing epistolary stories is that the letters should actually FEEL like a conversation. Make sure the characters are talking to each other, RESPONDING to each other…not just sharing their own thoughts and experiences without connecting. The letters (and therefore the characters) must connect.
And then have fun! If you’ve never tried writing a story in letters before, I highly recommend it. Even if it doesn’t end up being a manuscript you submit, trying new forms is always beneficial for your writing.
Thanks for being my penpal, my critique partner, and my friend!
Covered in stamps,
Back atcha, friend! If you enjoyed this epistolary interview with Katie and want to connect, you can visit her at katiefrawley.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram: @katiefrawley1
Katie Frawley studied English at the University of Florida (GO GATORS!) and earned a Master’s degree in British and American literature from Florida Atlantic University. Before having children, she had the distinct honor of teaching English to rowdy teenagers. When not banging away on the keyboard, Katie can be found testing new recipes with her miniature sous chefs, shooing iguanas away from her garden, or reading picture books to a captive audience on the couch. Katie lives in South Florida with her husband and five children.
And psst! If you want to connect with ME, Laura Lavoie, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram: @llavoieauthor