Featured Author Billie Holladay Skelley

Featured Author Billie Holladay Skelley

Billie, can you tell us a bit about the new SCBWI-Godwin Books anthology?

The anthology is The Haunted States of America (ISBN: 978-1250819413), and it is comprised of fifty-two scary stories— one for each state plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. All of the stories were written by SCBWI members, and each one features a setting specific to their state. The illustrator for the book is Solomon Hughes, and he does a great job of making the stories contemporary and graphic. The book is published by Macmillan Publishers (Godwin Books) and will be available on July 9, 2024. While it is targeted toward middle grade readers, ages 9-12, I think adults will enjoy it too.

Awesome. How did you get selected?

SCBWI members, who had a connection to the state they wanted to write about, were invited to submit stories about urban legends or logic-defying horrors that were part of that state’s lore. I believe an editorial committee from SCBWI made the initial selections—and I think the final decisions were made in consultation with the publisher. There is a broad range of authors featured in the book, from seasoned veterans to first-timers, but they have all come together to produce a frightening trek across the country. 

What was your connection? 

I grew up in Kentucky, and my grandfather told me a lot of stories when I was young—some were true, some were loosely based on facts, and some were most likely figments of his imagination, but he had a way of making them all seem real and authentic. My story, for the state of Kentucky, is based on one of his tales—and it was written as a tribute to him.

What did this mean to you? 

I was thrilled for my story to be selected because, as I mentioned, my story was written as a tribute to my grandfather, but it has also been fantastic to get to know some of the other authors featured in the anthology as well. It also was wonderful to work with the editors, the editorial assistants, and the illustrator affiliated with this project. Everyone was so professional, encouraging, and positive.

Have you been writing for a long time? 

I have loved books all my life, and I’ve enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember—not necessarily for publication, but just for pleasure. After high school, I attended the University of Wisconsin where I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After my graduation, I worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. I also was a Nursing Instructor in Wisconsin, and I participated in Nursing Curriculum Development in Iowa. During this time, an article based on my thesis for my master’s degree was published in a nursing journal, and that was my first exposure to the “larger” publishing world. It was a positive experience, and I ended up writing several health-related articles for other magazines. That was the start, but I have four children, and I always wanted to write books for children. It wasn’t until my children were grown, however, that my first children’s book was published. Now, I still write for magazines and journals—but I also have written twelve children’s books.

Very cool. How do you stay connected to the writing community?

As I mentioned, I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), but I also belong to the Missouri Writers’ Guild (MWG) and the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. (OWFI). I am a member of Saturday Writers, the Joplin Writers’ Guild (JWG), the Springfield Writers Guild (SWG), and the Ozarks Writers League (OWL). I have served as the secretary for my local writing group, I’ve sponsored writing competitions, and I presently serve as a Director at Large for the Missouri Writers’ Guild. All these organizations help to keep me connected to the writing community—through conferences, competitions, and fellowship with fantastic writers.

Any advice you have for someone just starting out?

I think the most useful advice I could give to a new writer is just to persevere. Many times, when your material is edited, changed, criticized, or outright rejected, it is hard to continue—but every writer I have met has had work edited, reworked, dismissed, and rejected—often numerous times. I remember one well-known writer who told me about how he had written an article of which he was quite proud, and it was turned down by five different editors. Each editor wanted him to change something, and often the next editor wanted him to change it back to what he originally had. This writer eventually sold the story for over a thousand dollars—and he kept the text in the original form that he had when he first offered it for publication. I’m not saying that he was unwilling to make changes or unwilling to listen to advice, but he felt the article was right and the way he wanted it. He just always stressed that if you believe in your work and you get it the way you want it, there is usually a place for it … it may take some time to find that place … but it usually can be found.   

What do you love about being a writer?

I love being able to get my ideas down on paper so that they can be shared with others—and if my writing is about people from the past—such as in memoir-type pieces, I feel like I’m keeping the memories of those people alive. I also enjoy writing about historical figures, who are perhaps lesser-known, but who are still remarkable for their achievements and accomplishments. I love sharing their stories with today’s youth because often these young readers realize that while these past figures were successful and truly remarkable for their accomplishments, they still faced some of the same problems, obstacles, and challenges that children face today—and yet these historical figures were able to overcome their problems and were able to achieve their goals. I think it gives young readers hope that they, too, can work through their concerns and still be successful. 

What's next?

I just recently learned that my latest children’s book, Bass Reeves: Legendary Lawman of the Wild West, has been selected to receive a 2024 Spur Award and a 2024 Will Rogers Medallion Award. I am thrilled and humbled by both of these honors—and right now I am just looking forward to attending the award ceremonies. After that, I will get back to work.

Link to BHS website: https://bhskelley.com   

Link to Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/billieholladayskelley

Link to book:  https://www.amazon.com/Haunted-America-Hopkins-Kenneth-Freeman/dp/1250819415/