Meg Welch Dendler
About the Author:
Meg Welch Dendler is an award-winning author and a former teacher with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. While over a decade as a freelance writer gave her the chance to interview individuals as diverse as the Archbishop of Cape Town and Sylvester Stallone, in 2010 Meg set her focus on publishing several books for young readers that she had been working on for years. Meg is thrilled to be sharing her first book, “Why Kimba Saved The World,” with young readers worldwide. In this first book of the Cats in the Mirror series, feisty house cat Kimba learns that she is really part of an alien race and has to pick sides between her loyal human family and her feline destiny. The second book, “Vacation Hiro,” is already in the works. Meg and her family (including four cats and her dog Max) live at 1,400 feet in the Ozark mountains on what they call Serenity Mountain, just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Visit her at www.megdendler.com for more information about upcoming books and events.
MF: Your first book, Why Kimba Saved the World, is based on your cat. Was there a particular incident that inspired the story?
MWD: My mom is a big science fiction fan, and somewhere many years ago she read a story about how cats are aliens and communicate through mirrors–though she doesn’t remember telling me that, and I’ve never found the story. I just grew up thinking that was a cool idea. Take that and match it with Kimba’s completely nutty behavior, and the story started to unfold.
MF: Tell us about the Cats in the Mirror series. Will it extend beyond Why Kimba Saved the World and Vacation Hiro?
MWD: There will definitely be a Book 3 called “Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge.” Book 2 sets it up, and I have several outline ideas going. Beyond that it could go a few different ways. There are so many characters that can each have their own moment to shine. “Slinky Steps Out” is another I have in mind. I could also go into the back stories of some of the side characters if I wanted to. A lot will depend on how sales on the series is going after a few years. Sadly, it does come down to that for self-publishing as well as traditional publishing.
MF: Why Kimba Saved The World was honored with a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award as “Best First Book — Chapter Book,” Bronze Medal. Tell us how you found out. How did the book award compare to the awards you won at the Ozark Creative Writers conference?
MWD: That’s actually a funny story. When the email came out from Moonbeam with the list of who won, I didn’t see my name. I did a quick scan and couldn’t remember exactly what category I had ended up submitting to. I have no idea why I missed my name, but I did. It didn’t think I’d won anything and left it at that. A few days later another email came with “winner update” or something like that as the subject line. I almost didn’t open it because I figured it was just an email that went to everyone. But it started out with congratulations on my win. I was dumbfounded. Then there was a long period of drama because I couldn’t get the web site to load to see if it was really true. My college-age daughter was streaming something and taking up all of the bandwidth! I finally figured that out and got her to stop, and we went to the web site and went through the whole list again. There it was. I have not been that excited in a really, really long time. I don’t enter contests as a general rule–I’m not a competitive person at all–but to be able to put that “award-winning” phrase before your name as an author is a big boost, so I had entered the book into some contests. Winning the Moonbeam was my top goal, and I’m so honored to have received one of the awards this year. It is simply a stamp of approval on an indie book saying “this is good.”
The awards at the Ozark Creative Writers conference came just a couple of weeks later. In the same way, it is amazing to have that vote of approval from your peers and those who have been in the business for decades. The first place poetry win blew me away because it was a really rhyming, cute, kid-style one about Kimba that I thought might make a good companion picture book some day. I never thought it would really win. The other win was very personal because it was an essay about walking in the footsteps of a tiger arriving at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, one of my favorite places in the world. I hope having it win that award can somehow benefit them in the future. It was just really close to my heart, so it’s great to have a committee agree that it was well written. I read it aloud at The Writer’s Colony Poetluck dinner the next week. That’s the first time I’ve ever read my writing aloud to anyone like that.
I think the big difference between these two awards is that one is about the book specifically, and can help to boost sales and give it a seal of approval, while the awards from the writers conference are more about me as a writer in general. I’m new to Arkansas and didn’t know anyone at the conference. When you win a couple of awards, it give you, as a writer in that group, a seal of approval. In the end, awards are just encouragement, and I’m so grateful to have any that come my way.
MF: You’ve had articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. How does that compare to writing fiction? Which do you prefer?
MWD: Writing for a format that has a specific style and is tightly controlled can be hard, but I worked with the same publications and web sites for many years. I learned what they wanted and what the editor expected. It was not always easy because some pieces would end up barely recognizable in the end. That’s frustrating, but it’s part of the process. The web sites I wrote for just a few years ago were much more open to however I wanted to present my ideas, and that was great. All of that had a time and place, and I know it made me a better writer because I learned from great editors along the way. It would be hard to go back to now, though. I love having the freedom to find my own style and voice. I definitely prefer books and the writing I’m doing now.
MF: One of your projects is a book set in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and it’s about ghosts. What inspired the story? Do you have an expected publication date?
MWD: An adult book like this was the furthest thing from my mind. When we first moved here, we went out exploring and decided to try out a cute little diner that promised apple dumplings. The dumplings were fabulous, and the diner was fantastically kitschy with Coca Cola memorabilia all over the walls. I made a Facebook post on our guest house business page about this great little diner “at the corner of Magnetic and Main.” An author friend saw the post and commented that this was a great book title. That got me thinking, mostly jokingly, what that book would be about in Eureka Springs in that adorable diner. In two hours I had characters and a rough outline, including that author friend as Angelina the Magnificent–a local medium. Once you get that far, there’s no turning back. I wrote the first scene either that day or the next one. I thought it would be a YA book, but the theme has shifted so much to really exploring more adult issues of being stuck in life that I’m adjusting the writing and the story as well. I’d love to have it out by next spring when book fairs and festivals start, but I don’t want to rush it. I have a face-to-face critique of the first few pages at the SCBWI conference in Missouri and am really interested to hear that editor’s thoughts.
MF: What other books do you have in the works?
MWD: “At The Corner of Magnetic and Main” is top priority right now, and Book 3 of The Cats in the Mirror series is in the works. I have actually completed a YA level biography of Betty White and would love to find a publisher for it. That’s a tricky area, and I have not given as much time to the submitting process as I should, but I still hope to get moving on it again over the winter when other projects slow down. I also have a picture book that has gone round and round over the years. I have no artistic skill to do the illustrations myself, and hiring an illustrator as a self-publishing author is hugely cost-prohibitive. But I hope it will see publication some day.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
MWD: I’m not sure that anyone has criticized my writing to my face. I’ve certainly gotten lots of constructive criticism, but nothing that made me cringe in horror. I think the biggest criticism an author can feel is rejection, which isn’t necessarily criticism, but it always feels that way. It’s a slippery slope we walk every time we submit an article or a story or an essay to a contest or a book to an editor or agent. At the Ozark Creative Writers conference, I entered three other categories where I didn’t get an award of any kind. You have to take it all at face value and not try to read more into it. The best compliments come from someone I respect liking my work. It’s really amazing to have a child feel engaged with my characters and chomping at the bit for the next book. That’s a great feeling that keeps me going on the days that I wonder what in the world I’m doing with all of this self-publishing nonsense. When I see a little girl at a festival have her face painted to look like a white cat and run around carrying a copy of my book, it’s all worth it.
MF: Aside from polished and engaging writing, what three things do you think every new writer must do in order to succeed in this highly competitive and ever-changing industry?
MWD: I think you have to do your research, first of all. Writing the most amazing book in history won’t get you anywhere if it looks just like 100 other books or is on a subject that no one cares about. You can still write it and make your soul happy, but it will be nearly impossible to sell–on your own or to a publisher. Next, I think you have to hire editors and use beta readers and allow your work to go through changes. No writer can totally fix their own work. I edit for other writers, but I still have professional editors review my work. Listen to your beta readers. If something confuses them or they don’t like a section, other readers won’t either. Finally, you have to submit and submit and submit and then listen to the feedback you are getting. Go to conferences where you can get face-to-face feedback from people who know the industry. I have gotten some great advice that way that helped to make my stories stronger.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
MWD: “The Dragonriders of Pern,” without question. I’ve been reading Anne McCaffrey’s books since I was 10. I love that world and her dragons and fire lizards and heroes. I can’t believe they have not pulled off making a movie out of the first books. I have a stuffed gold dragon “Ramoth” that keeps me company when I write. Kimba has pulled it behind my computer monitor to sleep with her these days, but I know she’s there. Together, they inspire me.
Purchase Why Kimba Saved the World:
Destiny is a tricky thing. By its very nature, it cannot be escaped. Hiro and Kimba thought they were free from the pull of their destiny and the scheming of the alien Cats in the Mirror. But when the family goes away on an extended vacation, the sisters find themselves right back in the middle of it all again. A week is an eternity for a cat left behind. Without Daddy’s love and care, will Hiro be tempted to join her space-traveling cat family and leave Earth behind? Will learning the truth about their heritage change the sisters’ lives forever?
Purchase Vacation Hiro: