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Author Interview: Rick Felty

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with Rick Felty, author of Tabitha Fink and the Cowboy Code.

FQ: This is your fifth book based on Tabitha Fink the cat. How do you create the adventure Tabitha Fink will experience for each individual story? Where do the ideas come from? Does the real Tabitha inspire you?

FELTY: I often start by thinking about the motif of the story. Is Tabitha a space traveler or a pirate this time? Once I decide that direction, it becomes the framework of the book; so I think a lot about that. Those decisions are based on what I think kids might enjoy and what visuals I can imagine. There are many places where my TV experience flows into book creation, and this area is one of them. So what does it look like? Then I think about messages that would be good to impart. What kind of life lessons would be good to put out into the world and to demonstrate for kids. It’s all brainstorming really and I’m thinking about it all the time. I have learned how to take advantage of my own creative process which relies a lot on thinking a bit and then letting it come to me.

FQ: As a cat lover myself, it warms my heart to read about the real Tabitha Fink, though she has one eye, living out her best life. Can you explain a bit about how she became part of your life?

FELTY: We had recently lost a cat and weren’t really looking for another one just yet. Then one day my wife ran into a friend who was looking to place a special cat in a foster home. She said it would just be a short time to help them out and let me know that the cat only had one eye. I said yes no problem, and of course once we got her home, we became attached and that was that.

FQ: This particular story, Tabitha Fink and the Cowboy Code, has an important message for kids about friendship and kindness. Do all your Tabitha Fink books teach the readers valuable lessons, and if so, how do you determine what the moral of each book will be?

FELTY: Sometimes I have started with a planned message. Other times, I start developing a general scene-setting plot and see what message is brought out through the story. I’ve learned through other creative writing that it is possible and often best to let the story tell you what it wants to be. In this case I planned to have a bad guy who gets helped by Tabitha in some way, but the specific story, characters and message evolved as I wrote.

FQ: Your bio states that you have had a very rewarding career in the TV production industry, and you are also a photographer, musician, and private pilot. With all these impressive trades in your life, what led you to begin authoring children’s books?

FELTY: When we adopted our young son, we did what most parents do and began reading to him. A lot! Many of the books were great, with wonderful design and storytelling. However, when you start to go through a lot of books, you realize that many are not as good. We had always thought that Tabitha Fink would be a great kid’s book character and so it seemed like a good time to for me to try making my own. The first book in the series is very simple, for younger kids, and was a basic story about Tabitha being different and accepting herself for who she is. When it came time to think about doing more books, I decided that the only way to expand the series was to give her adventures and have fun playing with the storytelling.

FQ: Can you share a bit about the artist behind the adorable illustrations of your Tabitha Fink books?

Author Rick Felty

FELTY: When I began working on the first book, I did some first sketches and then looked around for an illustrator who would match the sense I had for Tabitha. Since there was a real cat, the goal was to make a cartoon version of her with an animated personality and of course clearly show that she only had one eye. The illustrator I found is great! He does the drawings on a project basis, working from the requirements I have for each scene. He is located on the other side of the world, so we work back and forth on the internet, exchanging ideas and drawings. He gives me the drawing as a file that I can pull apart and I actually do all of the final layout of every page myself. So it is a real collaboration and it’s always fun when we can jump back into a new book.

FQ: It’s been a few years since your last book. Was it hard to bring Tabitha back to life? Was there anything that was different for you during the writing process for this story as compared to your earlier Tabitha Fink books?

FELTY: Yes, it was hard to get back into the rhythm of the creative process. I had several story ideas that just didn’t flow and so I stopped those and switched gears. I did that several times which slowed the process. I think I will return to those stories soon to see if I can find out what they want to be. I would say that otherwise, once the story was flowing, the process itself was the same as it had been for the first four.

FQ: What led you to decide to write the Tabitha Fink stories in rhyme? It’s definitely a talent, and a lot of authors try it, but many times lines are a bit forced. That’s not the case with your books. Was there ever a time when you hesitated to write these books in rhyme? Or does it come naturally?

FELTY: It does come naturally. I love music and lyrics and I think that’s a part of my gift with these books. Writing in rhyme makes the creative process really interesting because in addition to telling a story, you have to work the words so they don’t feel forced. As I go along, I read the book aloud to hear the rhythm and sometimes I go back into a stanza to change things to make it work. It also provides a structure for me, which is a nice framework to drop the story into rather than just staring at a blank page.

FQ: How did the real Tabitha Fink the cat get her name?

FELTY: Total credit to my stepson. That first day after we got her home, kind of out of the blue he said, “she’s Tabitha Fink!” It was one of those moments that just made sense somehow and we loved it. From that moment on she was Tabitha Fink.

FQ: Your Tabitha Fink series is now comprised of five books. As an author, would you consider your goals being met for this particular series, or do you foresee more that you can do with Tabitha Fink? Would you consider starting a new series?

FELTY: That’s a question I hadn’t really considered. I do plan to make more Tabitha Fink books since there are almost an unlimited number of topics and motifs still left to explore. Plus, the books are fun to make and it’s exciting to see the series grow. But that said, I might now give some thought to trying other creative avenues at the same time. We’ll see!

FQ: A portion of the proceeds from this book are being donated to Young Storytellers. Would you tell our readers a bit about this organization?

FELTY: Young Storytellers is designed to encourage kids to tell their own stories and gain an awareness of their own power through that process. With in-school programs, they seek to empower young people - and the communities they come from - to know that they can use their ideas, experiences, and voices to impact the world. Their work is primarily focused in public schools and neighborhoods that aren’t historically served by programs like this.

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