Kate Waters, children's book author and an expert on the Mayflower and life in Plimoth, has answered a selection of kids' questions.

Who takes the pictures in your books?
I work with a very talented photographer named Russ Kendall. Russ has written and photographed books on his own. You may have read Russian Girl or Eskimo Boy. Russ and I have worked together for ten years. He tells the story in pictures; I tell the story in words. Together we make a very good team. We share ideas. I help him with thinking of pictures, and he helps me think of words. Russ lives in Maine. He travels around the country taking pictures for magazines and newspapers.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It takes about six months for me to do the research for each book. Most of the time I have a lot of help from the people at the museums where we takes the pictures. I use the museum libraries and ask the specialists for help. Then I write the first draft of a manuscript. Many people look at the first draft, and they give me suggestions and make corrections. Then I give my manuscript to my editor. She tells me if I have told a good story and lets me know if I have left out parts. When my editor has questions about a story, I take the story back and revise it. Sometimes I have to revise a story two or three times before it is right.

Then I make a list of the photographs we need to take to illustrate the book. Russ Kendall and I spend about a week at the museum taking pictures. The actors work very hard during the "photo shoot." Sometimes, we take pictures for ten hours a day!

How did you get the pictures of the Mayflower?
In July 1996, the Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower, sailed from Plymouth harbor to Provincetown, Massachusetts. On board were many sailors in costume, some dignitaries, and Russ Kendall. Russ is the person who takes the photographs for the books I write. There were two other people taking photographs for the book. One was in an airplane taking the overhead shots. The other was on a chase boat. I was on the chase boat too. The chase boat was a big empty boat which traveled alongside the Mayflower II in case anything happened and the passengers had to be transferred off the ship. It was a very hot day and there was very little wind, so it was a long slow sail. Twice during the 12-hour sail, the Coast Guard told all the twentieth-century boats which were following the Mayflower II to move away from the ship. Then we took the pictures of the ship from the air. In the book, it looks like the Mayflower is all alone on the ocean.

How do books get published? Do you pay publishing companies to publish your books?
When an author has an idea for a book, she sends the idea to an editor at a publishing house. Sometimes the editor will ask to see the whole book before making a decision, so the author has to write the book even though she doesn't know if anyone will publish it. When a company decides to accept a book, the author gets a contract, or written agreement. The contract says that the author will write and revise the manuscript to the publisher's satisfaction and that the publisher will pay the author a sum of money, called an advance. The advance is a loan from the publishing company. When the book is published and is for sale, the author earns a small amount of money for each copy of the book which is sold. The author only gets more money when she has earned more than her advance.

Where do you get your information for your books?
I get my information in libraries and at Plimoth Plantation. I read books other people have written about the Pilgrims. I read books about everyday life in England because the passengers were English people and kept English habits and customs. At Plimoth Plantation, there are many people who help me find answers to my questions. There is a library there, too.

Have you written other kinds of books?
Yes. I've written a book about Chinese New Year, a book about the White House, and a book about the pioneers. I have just published a new book about a day in the life of a girl who lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1776. It is called Mary Geddy's Day: A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg.

When did you write your first book?
The first book I wrote was Sarah Morton's Day. If you look on the copyright page, you will see that it is copyrighted in 1989. That is when it was published. But, of course, I spent many months researching and writing the book before it was published.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned making your books?
The most wonderful part of making Tapenum's Day was getting to know, just a little bit, the way Wampanoag people live today. Instead of reading books to find out about history, I was able to talk to the descendants of the people who were in North America when the Europeans arrived. A man named Nanepashment helped me understand his culture. I learned a great deal from him.

Where do you get the actors for your books?
All of the actors in my books have been chosen by the museums I work for. Sometimes they are volunteers already — like Amelia Poole in Sarah Morton's Day. Sometimes their parents are on the staff of the museums, like Roger Burns in Samuel Eaton's Day. The actor in Tapenum's Day was chosen by the director of the Wampanoag Program at Plimoth Plantation. No matter how the actors are chosen, they have to work very hard to make these books. They really make my words come alive.

Why did you decide to write these books? How do you come up with ideas for the books you write?
I love to investigate history. I am interested in how people lived, what their hopes and dreams were, and how they made big and small changes in history. I became interested in the European colonists who settled in North America, the people we often call Pilgrims, because they set sail from England with a dream. They were determined to find a place where they could practice their religion as they wished. I wanted to find out what it was like to make the trip and to establish a settlement in the cold New England winter. At the same time, I want you to get to know these people and to realize how you and I are like them in our dreams, our struggles, and our determination.

How did you learn so much about the Pilgrims?
I do a lot of research and I talk to experts. First I read many books that other people have written about the Pilgrims. Then I speak with historians whose specialty is the time period. The staff at Plimoth Plantation, especially the librarian Carolyn Travers, are the experts for the four Pilgrim/Wampanoag books. They know all the small details of life in the 1620s. They eventually check every word I write and every picture Russ takes.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have written eight books that are published. I have written several more which are not quite ready yet. Sometimes, authors will spend years working on a story. My favorite book is Sarah Morton's Day. That is because it was the first book in the series...and was the hardest to write. It was hard because I was learning to write this kind of book. But each of the books is very special because of the people I work with—the actors, the experts, the behind-the-scenes staff. Making books is a team effort, and at the end of the process I not only have a new book ready to be published, but I have a whole new group of good friends.

Do you like writing books?
Yes, I do like writing. But writing is like many other creative jobs. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it is hard. There are some days when I can't find the right words, but I keep trying. One writing tip is to get up and take a walk or play a board game when you feel that you are stuck. That lets your mind rest and you can begin fresh when you sit down to write again.

How old were you when you wrote your first book?
Actually, I was in second grade when I wrote my first whole story. I still like that story, too! The first historical book illustrated with photos was Sarah Morton's Day. It was published in 1989.

How do you come up with new ideas to write about?
I am very interested in history, so most of my books are about people who lived a long time ago. I keep track of my interests by keeping a journal of questions and things I wonder about. When I read something, hear something on TV or the radio, or find out something in a conversation that I'm interested in, I write the question or new fact in my journal. I don't necessarily do anything about the question right then. If you keep a journal of interesting things for a time, you will be able to tell what kinds of things interest you, too.

Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
There are two suggestions to becoming a better writer: Read, read, read a lot to find out how other writers use words and make stories; and practice, practice, practice. Even if you only write sentences and parts of stories, it is important to experiment and polish your skills.

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Picture Time Line | Voyage on the Mayflower | Plimoth: 1621
Thanksgiving CyberChallenge | Meet Kate Waters and Russ Kendall
Teacher's Guide