December 27, 2010

Meet Kathy Troidle Jackson

I am so pleased (at long last, after a few delays, but now with great fanfare!) to have the opportunity to introduce you all to the talented author/poet Kathy Troidle Jackson!

Kathy Troidle Jackson
Kathy works for IBM, but she still manages to find time to write.  Her books White Dog Haiku and Things I've Learned From My Westie were self-published on Lulu.  Kathy's website is under construction but due to be launched imminently.  The tagline is write here, write now, and her new blog of the same name will be launched concurrently.  Write Here, Write Now describes how she thinks of good Haiku - the poet writes the moment as it is happening now and invites the reader in to feel it with her words.  Kathy's other  blog, Ghent Fever, celebrates her life in New York's upper Hudson Valley where she lives with her husband and their rescued Westie, Islay Bear.  Kathy recently had two Haiku poems published in Berry Blue Haiku - an online Haiku magazine for children.  She is available to teach Haiku workshops (if interested, please contact her at kathy [at] kathytroidlejackson [dot] com), and she would love for you to follow her on Face Book and Twitter, and to join her White Dog Fan Page!  Welcome, Kathy!

SLH:  How long have you been writing?

KTJ:  I have been writing as long as I can remember.  I grew up the oldest of four girls and nothing made me happier than to entertain them with funny stories and poems.

When given a writing project as a child, I not only did it but overachieved.  One assignment I remember was to write an idiom and illustrate it.  I put together an entire illustrated book of them including some choice ones like

He’s all thumbs
He flipped his lid
It blew her socks off
The drinks are on the house

There was something about combining art with words to paint a picture that captivated me even way back when. 

SLH:  When did you become interested in haiku?

KTJ:  I learned about haiku as most kids do in grammar school – the traditional three line 5-7-5 syllable format is accessible for all ages and fun to write.  But it wasn’t until recently that I got hooked on it in a big way.  I have been putting a lot of effort lately to live more in the moment, appreciate the abundance I have in my life, and celebrate the small things.  Haiku and my dog have helped me do that.

I never was allowed a pet growing up but my husband and I rescued a 5 ½ year old Westie (West Highland White Terrier) in August of 2009.  Islay Bear has been a joy to get to know and living in the moment is all he knows.   Once while I was away on business, my husband who discovered that people were doing haiku on Twitter, tweeted a couple haiku to tell me what the dog was up to….mostly to make me laugh out loud in my business meeting as he knew I’d be checking my blackberry during the meeting.  Here’s what he tweeted:

Islay Bear (pronounced eye-la)
White Dog walks
Gentle sprinkles fall on tree
Dog is now empty

He certainly accomplished his goal!  After that, I was delighted to find a whole community of haiku writers on Twitter.  @baffled puts out a word of the day that he calls the #haikuchallenge and we all write haiku with that word in it.  For a year now, mine have all been about the White Dog.

SLH:  Are there "tricks" to writing haiku that can make it easier/more accessible to beginning writers, especially children?  Or ways that teachers can use haiku in the classroom?

KTJ:  Good haiku uses words as imagery, contrast and seasonal words to invite the reader into the world of the poet and conveys a feeling of a particular moment in time in the poet’s life.  

Haiku can be a fun way to get kids interested in writing by asking them to write a three line poem about their favorite animal, describe what the animal is doing as if it was right there in the room right now.  A fun way to use haiku in a classroom is described in the latest issue of Berry Blue Haiku where a teacher brings in a bunch of photos of animals and/or nature events. The kids are asked to choose one and write a haiku about it. 

Another creative idea I like, also described in the December issue of Berry Blue Haiku, is to work with kids at holiday time to describe what the recipient might do with a gift they are giving with a haiku which is written up as the tag and placed on the wrapped item.

One of the best ways to describe haiku that I resonate most with is from the book The Haiku Apprentice by Abigail Friedman, where a haiku master asks her students to think of haiku as “a vessel into which you pour your feelings.”

Writing good haiku is not as easy as it first seems.  The three line 5-7-5 format came out of Japan, where the concept of haiku originated. Haiku was intended as a poem you could say in one breath.  In Japanese what is counted are sounds, not syllables.  There are a lot more Japanese sounds than syllables in most words.  Although the three line 5-7-5 syllable format can make the definition of haiku more tangible and perhaps easier to teach to children, it is thought now that strict adherence to the 5-7-5 syllable format forces poets to pad their thought with words like “a” and “the” and in Japanese these haiku would no longer be read in a single breath. 

Haiku groups, like the Haiku Society of America, now suggest that good haiku is more like 10-14 syllables, not the 17 of the popular 5-7-5 format.

SLH:  What is your typical work day like?  You have a job besides writing, so how do you fit writing time in?  Do you have work "rituals"/habits that help you think or be creative?

KTJ:  My day job is selling IBM services on Wall Street.  I am celebrating 23 years with IBM this month.   I sometimes work from home but often go into NYC on the train. I try to use at least part of the time on the train (2 hours each way) to work on my writing, add to the large White Dog haiku collection I have amassed.

Writing haiku is something I can fit in even on a busy day.  Some of my writing rituals include writing three pages in my journal every morning before I let the rest of the world in.   These are often just random thoughts clogging up my mind, odd dreams that I woke up remembering, to dos that are hanging over my head that I have to get done that day.  But sometimes, all sorts of haiku ideas come through – new ideas for books, my Write Here, Right Now Haiku Workshops, or my web site.  It’s a great way to get the creativity flowing.  

I also keep a gratitude journal and write a few haiku every day to remind me of a moment I particularly appreciated – usually something about Islay Bear but not always.

SLH:  Why did you decide to self-publish?  What was that experience like?  Advice for other authors considering self-publication?

KTJ:  I self published my first book, White Dog Haiku, in 2009 as a Christmas gift to family and friends, never expecting to take it farther than that. 

Since then I’ve submitted White Dog Haiku book and magazine ideas to several publishers and have submitted some individual haiku to a few online publications.  I have gotten some rejections, some constructive criticism and suggestions, and am waiting for the process to take it’s course in a few other cases.  The two haiku appearing in this month’s issue of Berry Blue Haiku is my first third party published work. This is a very slow process!  

Self publishing gave me a much faster sense of accomplishment and I had a copy of my book within just a few weeks of finishing it at  They provide templates you can use and all you have to do is bring in your content. They’ll even help you get an ISBN number and market it on Amazon and elsewhere.  It is on the expensive side though so my cost for the books doesn’t leave much room to make any money on them.  I donate my proceeds to Westie Rescue. 

There were a few lessons I learned through this process including to just do it!  The minute you write something down you are a writer!  Write it down and get it out there in the world. Enter writing contests, take writing challenges.  The mysterious world of publishing is changing fast in this uber-connected world and it’s less about being published by a big name publishing house and more about building and marketing to a community of “peeps” or followers that love what you have to say and eat up your material.

Also, get a coach…or a bunch of coaches!  At Christine Kane’s Uplevel Live event which I attended in 2009, no one in that class would let me call myself a budding author.  We were encouraged to set an intent, practice “imperfect action” and do something, which in my case meant write.  In my case, that got stuff out from my head, onto paper, and into print. Connecting with other authors at local SCBWI meetings, book fairs and signing events is another group of people who can guide and support you.  I regularly read great blogs like yours, Susanna, to keep me current on what’s going on in the world of children’s books.

And maybe most importantly, don’t let the process discourage you. Celebrate all successes.  Even a rejection is something to celebrate because it means someone looked at your work and if you are lucky has put some thinking into how it could be improved and shared that with you in the rejection letter.  Long after the event, the UpLevel Live participants continue to support each other’s successes, no matter how small they are and help each other get the word out about the release of our genius works.  Other authors on the SCBWI group lists support each other’s successes as well and that’s a great way to find out about local book signing events.

SLH:  Tell us about Berry Blue!

KTJ:  I am so excited about it! Berry Blue Haiku is a new quarterly digital magazine about haiku targeted to kids up to 13 years of age.  In addition to haiku of a seasonal nature, the magazine has sections for projects that use haiku as I have described above, articles on haiku writing techniques, and pointers to haiku resources. 

I heard about it at a local meeting of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and have been submitting White Dog themed haiku to them since January 2010.  After reading through their submission guidelines and trying a few times unsuccesfully, they accepted two of my haiku for the December issue and you can find them on p. 17. 

SLH:  Do you write prose?  What kind?  For what audience?

KTJ:  In addition to haiku, I do have several picture book manuscripts done – all based on characters I have invented for my stuffed animals.  I am working on revising them with the knowledge I have gained at children book writing conferences and plan to submit at least a few of them this year.

SLH:  What are you working on now?  Do you have mss out for consideration?

KTJ:  I have a haiku board book for younger readers out for consideration with publishers now and am working up several other ideas for older kids all with a White Dog theme, including a workbook I can use for presenting/teaching haiku at school visits.

SLH:  What are your inspirations? Most difficult obstacles?

KTJ:  My inspiration comes from a passion to get kids to read and appreciate the value of the written word to capture a moment.  I am inspired by local authors like Susanna Hill, Hudson Talbott and Alexandra Skye who have created books that kids just love to read over and over again.

The biggest obstacle for me right now is that I don’t have a network of school contacts but hope to fix that this year.  Also, my first book does not have an ISBN so it is hard for people to find it easily.  Since I have come so much farther in my understanding of what makes good haiku, I may just leave that first book as is and go for ISBNs and eBook options for my future books.

SLH:  Do you do your own illustration/art/photos?

KTJ:  I am not an illustrator.  White Dog Haiku was done with photographs I took of Islay Bear.  Berry Blue Haiku had Doreen Dioro, one of their regular illustrators, do the drawing on the page with the White Dog haiku they chose to include in the December issue.  The manuscripts I have submitted to publishing were without illustration also.  

Kathy and Islay Bear

Thank you so much for joining us today, Kathy!  You and Islay Bear are an inspiration!

Readers, if you have questions for Kathy, please post them in the comments section!


  1. Kathy, you have inspired me to try my hand at some Haiku. Best of luck with your writing! Teri

  2. I know, Teri - I feel the same inspiration to try Haiku. I'm just pretty sure mine wouldn't come out anywhere near as good as Kathy's!

  3. Teri - there are some great resources out there to hone your haiku craft but my advice is to just get started! I'm glad I have gotten those haiku juices flowing.

    Susannna - you too! Like with wine, haiku is good if you think it is. If it can capture a moment for you and bring back the feelings you had when you wrote it then it's good! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


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