Full name: Theodore Leigh Kelsey
Home: Peekskill, NY
When were you born?
Labor Day, 1977. Some years, they have a parade on my birthday. Now that I'm grown-up, I don't think the parade is for me anymore.
We were three siblings, and all of us have birthdays that fall on holidays. I'm Labor day. Some years, my sister is Easter. And my brother is Tax Day.
Where are you from?
I was born in Bethel, CT. It happens to be the proud hometown of P.T. Barnum, the famous circus founder. In school, we'd hear stories about Barnum, and I was fascinated by the one about his 'Cardiff Giant', the 10-foot body of a petrified man that Barnum claimed was a fossil, the remains of an ancient race of giants. In fact, it was a fake, a plaster statue he'd had made up. Stories like that probably inspired me to write OLGA, which has both giants and white statues, and my second book about a unscrupulous 'faker'.
Now I live in Peekskill, NY. This is a great town in the Hudson valley that I'm very proud to call my home. I think it is kind of a special city, and a lot of the places I write about, even fantastic places, are versions of things I see in Peekskill.
When do you write?
I work full-time in an international school. On writing days, I wake up at 5:00 AM and walk to the train station. Often I make this walk with my glasses off, letting everything look fuzzy. This half-hour walk is a part of the writing. If I am lucky, I start to think of phrases, or places, or scenarios. Then I get to the train station and start working. I usually write first drafts long-hand in a spiral bound 3 subject notebook, and I type up the later drafts on my laptop. I like to write on the train. I don't have any distractions and, because it's moving, I always feel like I'm getting somewhere. Occasionally though, I miss my stop.
Honestly, I don't know if I could write another way.
OLGA was first written as a story to read to my daughter. Since then, she has heard it at least twice. She is the best listener and gives me editorial advice! She helped me find the confidence to publish it. That's why OLGA is dedicated to her.
Is OLGA your first book?
Olga is my first published book. I've always wanted to be a writer and I've written a few other books. I'm not sure they are very good though. That's what hard about being a writer. You can experience a lot of doubt. I think just about everybody knows that feeling.
Would you encourage other people to write?
I think all young people should read novels and write stories. It will be a terrible world when people stop loving books. To me, imagination is a kind of empathy. When you are empathetic, you imagine how another person feels. Exercising your imagination helps you grow in so many ways.
What about the illustrations in OLGA?
Dillon Samuelson is a incredibly talented illustrator. I am related to him by marriage and we met at a family gathering. He had recently graduated with a degree in Fine Art and was awarded a fellowship. So I asked him about some of interests and influences. I was amazed to hear him mention books and artists that he had read as a kid. They were figures that I loved, but who are not so well-known anymore, including Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and Arthur Rackham. I think it was a couple of weeks later when I nervously sent him a letter with a draft of my story and a proposal for illustrations. I was honored when he agreed to work on 10 pictures and a cover.
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