Cathleen Daly has been writing since she was a kid. "In fourth grade, I used to get blank journals," she says. "One of my best friends and I used to write books together in the library. I write poetry, too. It's become a career only more recently."
In Daly's other life, she's a performance artist in the Bay Area and teaches theater, which is where she got her inspiration to write for children. "When I teach I create stories with and for kids," she explains. "Performing and being in front of people, you get a sense of what's entertaining—or not. The stuff Ido on stage is very character-driven and so are my books."
Yes, that's books, plural. Daly not only enjoyed her YA debut recently with Flirt Club, a middle-grade romp about mastering the art of boy catching, but her picture book debut, too, with Prudence Wants a Pet, both from Neal Porter Books at Roaring Brook, which PW called "sly" and "rife with understated humor" (PW starred both reviews). Daly waited a long time for her first book to sell, then everything happened at once.
"I wrote Prudence right after I went to a workshop with Daniel Handler," she tells PW. "This came at a time when I'd almost quit writing kids' books. I'd gotten a lot of rejection and my plot arcs weren't the right kind and I was feeling discouraged that there wasn't a place for me."
Daly not only sold Prudence but a second picture book as well, also to Porter. Then along came Flirt Club. "I was working on a middle grade when I had the idea for Flirt Club. My agent, Meredith Kaffel, read the manuscript over the weekend, sent it to Neal, and it sold overnight. It was the first novel I'd finished—I was pretty tickled."
Flirt Club draws heavily on Daly's experience of falling in love with theater. "I was a middle school theater geek," she says with a laugh. "I was shy around boys, I was trying to fit in, and then theater was this fun, forced way to interact with guys. We did improv and it made me incredibly happy, and anything that makes you happy in middle school is an important part of your life!"
Even though Daly has sold several books in a short period of time (her second picture book is tentatively titled Emily's Blue Period, and she'll soon shop a new YA about pirates)—which has been exciting, she says—it hasn't really changed her life. She's not quite ready to give up having a day job, either.
"I work part-time for the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Project, and in the summer I teach," she says. "It might be nice to write full-time eventually, but having another source of income gives me the freedom to write exactly what I want. I don't have to worry about being commercial. For now, this is perfect."