All posts by Kitty Felde

About Kitty Felde

Award-winning public radio journalist, writer, and TEDx speaker Kitty Felde hosts the Book Club for Kids podcast, named by The Times of London as one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world. The Los Angeles native created the Washington bureau for Southern California Public Radio and covered Capitol Hill for nearly a decade, explaining how government works to grownups. Now she explains it to kids in a series of mystery novels and podcasts called The Fina Mendoza Mysteries. Kitty was named LA Radio Journalist of the Year three times by the LA Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Opening Nights

by Kitty Felde

Is launch day for a book the same as opening night for a new play?

Yes and no.

On Monday, my middle grade mystery novel Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza comes out in English and Spanish. It’s the story of the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman from Los Angeles who moves to D.C. and solves mysteries inside the U.S. Capitol. I’ve been nervous and excited and had to remind myself that I’ve had opening nights for years.

But it made me think about what book launches and opening nights have in common.

Some things are the same.

As a playwright, you’re sending out emails to all your friends and family, begging them to buy tickets for opening night. You’re posting on social. You might even go ‘old school’ and send out postcards to that agent you’re hoping to snag, or that friend of a show runner you met at a party. You’re hoping for good reviews in the handful of places that actually still review plays. You offer ticket discounts. You post some more on social… You get the idea.

As a book writer, you’re also emailing your friends and family, begging them to buy your book. You’re posting on social. Instead of postcards, you’re printing bookmarks, handing them out like candy at book festivals and library conventions. You’ve sent your book out to Kirkus and other review sites and posted the manuscript on NetGalley, (a free service free to readers, but a few hundred dollars for writers,) hoping for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Instead of discounting tickets, you’re discounting book sales. You post some more on social…

Sound familiar?

For writers, book events are our opening nights. There is often champagne and cakes decorated with the cover of your book. The difference is that plays are what one pal described as ephemeral. A production disappears after its run. Books are tangible evidence of our writing. Sure, they may gather dust on library shelves and on the bedside table of your best friend who promises to read it one of these days.

There is one difference between writing for the page and writing for the stage: the community of theatre. As a book writer, you often do get to collaborate with a designer (for the cover instead of the set) and an editor (similar to a director.) What you don’t get writing books is the joy of the rehearsal room, the hours you get to spend with actors who bring your characters to life, the collaboration that leads to genius stage business and laughs you didn’t know where there.

But writing is writing, whether it’s plays or books. And after the stage lights are turned off or the bookstore locks the door, we all head back to the laptop or yellow pad or dictation app and start all over again.

LAFPI readers can get an autographed copy of Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza or Bienvenida a Washington Fina Mendoza by clicking here.

Kitty Felde is a playwright currently working on Snake in the Grass, the third book in her Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of middle grade novels.

Writing Through Trauma

by Kitty Felde

I used to think that I needed to clear my plate before I could sit down to write. Bills had to be paid, phone calls and emails had to be returned, and any emotional or physical turmoil had to be addressed before I could clear my head and give myself permission to sit down at the keyboard to write.

I used to think that way. And then my brother-in-law jumped off a freeway overpass. I discovered that chaos demands the written word.

My mother used to say April was the cruelest month. Everything bad happened in April. It must be genetic because I found April to be awful as well…though in recent years, my horribilis mensis shifted to March. The month started off in its usual rotten way – stomach flu, a cracked tooth. And then the jump.

The brother-in-law had been the sole caregiver for his wife, a woman my age who’d had a stroke six months earlier and was left with dementia. He kept saying everything was fine. A visit to their house proved that it wasn’t. Both were taken to the ER. She was shifted to a psychiatric hospital, he was released. Twice. And then he jumped. He survived, but broke just about every bone in his body.

And then the stupid minutia began. We couldn’t find the house keys, which meant we couldn’t lock up his house. The police threatened to tow his car, but the hospital wouldn’t give us his car key. The insurance company demanded the wife be moved, but the new hospital couldn’t find her.

But in the middle of the tornado, I found myself carving out an hour here and there to write, to spend time with my fictional Mendoza family, researching snakes and basement windows and scenes about learning to drive and partisan politics. I NEEDED that other place where I could control the chaos.

It will be a long process, picking up the pieces. But once things settle down, I’ve learned a lesson I’ll long remember: the emails and bills and self doubts can wait. I have something more important to do right now. I need to write.

Kitty Felde is author of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts. Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza will be released in July, 2023 by Chesapeake Press. Her ensemble play A Patch of Earth, a courtroom drama about the Bosnian War, is now available on Amazon.

Publish Your Play

by Kitty Felde

I’ve taken a leave of absence from playwriting.

I was frustrated by Covid, joining legions of theatre-goers who still aren’t comfortable sitting that close to human beings in a crowded space. I was even more frustrated by the pre-Covid developmental process that discouraged actual performances live, on stage.

Instead, I’ve been writing books for kids. There’s something magical about holding something solid in your hands, proof that your writing actually exists after the curtain goes down. If it ever goes up.

I spent last week in an Amazon Ad class, trying to unlock the mysteries of Jeff Bezos’ marketing platform. I knew nothing, but dutifully created category ads, keyword ads, writing and rewriting a pitch line.

It was when I learned how to read the numbers, I discovered that an old play of mine was selling like crazy.

A Patch of Earth is my most-produced play, a courtroom drama about a Bosnian war criminal who confessed to killing “no more than 70” of the 1200 people shot in a cornfield near Srebrenica. I’d covered the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a reporter and was haunted by the story of Drazen Erdemovic long after his trial was over. So I combined courtroom testimony with fiction and put his story on the stage.

Timothy Newell as Erdemovic at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, NY

Since most of the characters are in their early 20’s, the play is particularly popular on high school and college campuses and I’d often get requests from teachers for a pdf of the play for a classroom discussion. I happily sent it, since I felt it was an important story for the next generation to learn about to prevent the next genocide.

LA County High School for the Arts production of A Patch of Earth

But I was tired of emailing pdfs.

The play was included in an anthology from The University of Wisconsin Press, but at $30 a copy, with a title like The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia you can imagine the number of copies flying off the shelf.

Nonetheless, I owned the rights, so I self-published A Patch of Earth on Amazon.

And then forgot about it. Until that Amazon Ad class.

Who knew? Even with a lousy cover, my acting edition of the play has been quietly, but steadily selling. The script contains information about performance rights. But because the play is historically accurate, the demand has mostly been from teachers and college professors who want to tackle the Bosnian war in their classroom curriculum.

So, may I suggest that you consider publishing your own plays? It’s not difficult.

You need to open a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account in Amazon.

I chose a 6” x 9” format in paperback. Amazon has free templates you can download for lots of sizes if you want something specific. Just cut and paste your play, and download as a pdf.

If you want an ebook version, you want to sign up at Reedsy and use their free Book Editor app. They provide easy instructions. Again, download your play.

For covers, there are lots of places you can find templates for ebooks and paperbacks. I paid less than $100 for an ebook cover for a novella recently, hiring one of the artists on Fivrr.

Cover designer Mindyrella on Fivrr

You’ll need to know how many pages your book is, including dedication, copyright information, cast list, etc. Amazon has a template for that, too.

You upload the lot to your KDP account, along with price, book description, etc. Then, just wait a day or two, and voila!

And then you can learn the not-so-wonderful world of Amazon ads…

Kitty Felde has written more than a dozen plays, including A Patch of Earth. The play won the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition, and has been performed around the world. She co-founded Theatre of NOTE. Now, instead of writing about war crimes, she explains civics to kids in a series of mystery novels The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

Chronicling America

by Kitty Felde

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of research. Dangerous, I know, because researching is a great excuse for not writing. But often you find unexpected treasures that can sometimes become an essential part of your play.

I’ve been using the vast newspaper records available online at the Library of Congress. Chronicling America, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a free, searchable database of American newspapers from 1777 to 1963. If you’re writing about an era before or after that, the LOC has a secondary collection of newspapers from 1690 to today.

There’s a map where you can discover ethnic newspapers across the country. Who knew there was a German newspaper in San Diego and a Finnish one in Washington state? There were dozens of African-American newspapers from Butte, Montana to Miami, Florida.

I fumbled around at first, but found absolute gold in the digital pages of Chronicling America.

Currently, I’m working on a murder mystery set in the White House era of Theodore Roosevelt. The plot takes us all over the Washington, D.C. of 1902. I had so many questions.

How did police get around town. Did they ride horses? Drive motor cars? Bicycles? Who were they? A profile of “Well Known Men of the Metropolitan Police Force” in the Washington Times helped me create my policemen characters – including one who was active in the temperance movement.

What happened at an inquest of the era? The Evening Star had a full report of one particular proceeding. Though I admit I was distracted by the ad for furniture on the same page that featured a $22 “Polished Mahogany-Finished Toilet Table.” A what?

I needed a place for a body to be discovered. The Washington Times reported on a years-long battle to either fill in or fence the James Creek Canal. Little more than a sewer, neighbors labeled it a “death trap” where five bodies a month were pulled from the mud.

For one scene, I needed the name of a stationary store where my amateur detective could find a blank book to record her clues. I searched “stationary supplies” and found an advertisement at the top of the page in the Evening Star.

My favorite gem didn’t happen in Washington at all. The Washington Times, like papers and TV news today, reprint sensational or odd stories from around the world. This one involved a pair of guinea pigs at a temperance meeting in Paris, as written up in a newspaper in Liverpool. The experiment was designed to demonstrate the destructive power of alcohol. Guess which one got sick. One animal was given water, the other alcohol.

article about guinea pigs at a temperance meeting

There were challenges. I was overwhelmed. I wanted to read everything. (Anything to avoid staring at a blank screen and actually have to write. But my lousy eyesight made it difficult to see an entire page on a 13” laptop. I wasn’t sure how to find what I needed. And when I found a juicy tidbit, what was the best way to keep track of it? Was saving links the best way to capture the information?

I am no research genius, but let me save you the learning curve and share my tips:


o Narrow down your search parameters. If your play is set in 1939, look for newspapers from that year. If it’s set in Pittsburgh, narrow your search to just papers from Pennsylvania.
o Try various search terms. If you get too many hits with “police,” try “detective.”
o You’ll soon discover which newspapers go with the sensational, which have the most advertisements. Ads are great to help you describe clothing of the era or which stores or restaurants were frequented by your characters.)


o If you’re using Microsoft Word, use the snipping tool. You can isolate the articles you want to keep, and save images for future reference or inspiration. And for those of us who are visually challenged, you can save it IN A LARGER SIZE.
o Images are also helpful while you’re writing. I often drop an image into the manuscript if there’s a quote I want to use or a detail that’s perfect for the scene. (And then I delete the image.)


o DO keep track of your links. It will save going back and searching all over again. Note the source and date of the article, just in case you do have to go back and search.
o I’m sure your graduate school training will have given you a better way to organize your research. Me? I keep a simple Word or Google doc where I list topics I’ve researched. Sometimes I drop in a line or two, sometimes an image, but always a link. (At first, I kept a numbered “footnote” file at the bottom of the document, but since I’m not including my research in my notes, I gave up on that.)


o If you’re considering including images in your book, take note of the copyright and who owns it. You might want to start asking for permission now to use the material later, long before you’re done with the book. If the answer is “no,” that gives you time to find an alternate image.

Good luck! And happy reading.

Kitty Felde is an award-winning playwright currently working on her third book. Her Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books are also available as a podcast. She is also Executive Producer of the Book Club for Kids podcast.

Goodbye Theatre?

by Kitty Felde

I haven’t been inside a theatre for two years. And I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to return. Does this mean the death of live theatre? Does it mean the end of playwriting? At least for me.

It’s a question I’ve had to ask myself. Why spend my life writing something that no one will see?

Oh, sure. There are alternatives to a black box theatre experience. I myself have written a play that should be performed in a National Park. And I’ve written audio dramas for the Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast series – plays that are performed inside your head. Others have created plays for Zoom and Instagram and YouTube.

Culture Clash turned its epic drama Chavez Ravine into a video project. Antaeus Theatre Company asked its playwrights to write audio plays about Los Angeles neighborhoods. They were turned into a podcast called The Zip Code Plays. Ellen Struve, a most creative playwright in Nebraska, wrote and produced what she calls Picture Window Puppet Theatre, a shadow play performed from her living room window for all of her Omaha neighbors.

The pandemic has indeed forced us to be creative. But it’s also challenged us to think about theatre itself. What’s the point? How important is it for us to gather together to share an experience? Is theatre just an elitist exercise?

I wanted to be an actor from my earliest days of watching television as a child. I spent most of high school backstage, either performing or running the sound board. I changed majors from Social Ecology to Theatre after one week of college, braving the censure of my mother who always wanted me to be a lawyer. (She surprised me by telling me to go for it!)

I spent my 20’s living on $40 a week plus board at a melodrama company near Pismo Beach, driving to commercial auditions where occasionally I’d get hired to extoll the virtues of peanut butter or play the rear end of a horse, performing plays and improv in tiny theatres where the performers usually outnumbered the patrons. I co-founded a theatre, Theatre of NOTE, where I served as Managing Director for more than half a decade. I rejoiced when I earned my Equity card and performed at South Coast Rep. I wrote dozens of plays, some published and performed around the world. One was even performed in the nude.

But that feels like another lifetime. I was another person.

A few years ago, Stanford political science professor Frank Fukuyama wrote that we had come to the end of history. Have we come to the end of theatre?

Of course, Fukuyama was wrong. A lot of history has happened since 1995. And since theatre has been around since human beings started telling stories around the fire, it’s unlikely the end of theatre.

But for me, for now, that shared experience of sitting together for an evening of theatre is over. And so is writing for that mythical place that filled so much of my life.

I’ll still write stories. Books and podcast dramas and who knows what next. But at least for now, and for the foreseeable future, my life in the theatre has come to an end.

Farewell, theatre.

The Power of Two

by Kitty Felde

Back when I was a journalist by day and playwright by night, I stumbled upon a terrific psychological tool to fight off doubt and rejection. When the “thank you for your submission, but…” letters poured in, I picked myself up off the ground, telling myself, “I’m not really a playwright. I’m a journalist.”

It worked the other way, too. On those days when police spokesmen were rude and TV cameramen trampled me as they rushed ahead of me on a story, I’d console myself by saying, “I’m not really a journalist. I’m a playwright.”

Simplistic, but it worked. I could protect my ego simply by switching hats.

It was my power of two: two identities, twice the chance to succeed. The double identity also provided me with a built-in escape route.

THE POWER OF TWO (me and the two lions that led to Rancho Montoya in the old TV show “The High Chaparral”)

I find myself using the power of two with my sewing projects.

As a sewist (one of those new titles that feels contrived) I like to have a project in hand, and one I can cheat on – er, dream about in the future. I have some lovely green corduroy for a pair of trousers for fall. I’ve cut out the general pattern. But before I can head to the sewing machine, I realize there are some fitting issues that need to be tackled, and fitting is hard. I don’t want to do it. So to escape the immediate challenge, I dream about the next one.

top left

What can I make out of that crazy Italian racing striped jersey I found at that warehouse of a fabric store in Phoenix? A tee shirt? A dress? Let me go through my stash of patterns… In other words, I “play hooky,” thinking about the next project. And while I’m planning ahead, my brain is also organizing the steps needed to fit those damned trousers. It’s as if my creative brain needs to be engaged on something else in order to figure out the answers to the problems at hand. The power of two.

It’s the same with my writing.

I long for the times when my fingers fly across the keyboards, wonderful dialogue springs forth as if it was written on air and I’m just transcribing what I can see before me. Characters suddenly introduce themselves and insert themselves into scenes, as if they’re telling me, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. Just keep up with me.”

Then there’s the rest of the time. Every sentence feels tortured. The overall concept for the script seems unimportant, trite, overdone. Some inner voice screams, “This will never be produced!”

Some call it writers block. Others call it a lack of confidence. I call it hell. I know it’s all part of writing. But it’s no fun.

My solution? I cheat on my writing. The power of two.

I spent most of the summer working on the audio script for the second season of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast. It’s usually an “easier” kind of writing: you already have the plot, characters, conflict, etc. But how do you translate them to audio? I kept getting stuck.

So I decided to cheat on Fina with a completely new project.

I’ve had an idea noodling around in my head to start a new mystery series of books with a new character and turn-of-the-last century time period. It felt fresh, new, exciting. Research for it took me down new rabbit holes. Words started flooding the screen. It felt sneaky, like I was getting away with something. Instead of writing what I SHOULD be writing, I was sneaking off to write something new.

Yet all the while, my subconscious was working on the problems with the Fina script. Because I wasn’t confronting it head on, the creative brain was allowed to find its own way, thinking outside the box, finding solutions almost on its own.

I went back and finished the audio script. Yay. And the bonus: I didn’t have to start from scratch with a new project.

The power of two.

Kitty Felde is a playwright who also writes books for children. Her latest Fina Mendoza mystery “State of the Union” is available from Chesapeake Press.

Returning to Normal?

by Kitty Felde

As I write this, I’m flying back to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., my first airplane trip since February of 2020. I attended my first (and second) Major League Baseball game, ate out in a restaurant, toured a museum, even spent time in five classrooms. It was great, but it certainly didn’t feel normal. The mass transit system in D.C. was nearly empty. Downtown and Chinatown were ghost towns. Capitol Hill was bereft of 8th graders on school field trips. When will we truly get back to normal?

And what IS normal?

I talked to a lot of old friends this trip. One thing I noticed was how many people were re-evaluating where they are in this post-pandemic life. I had coffee with SO people who told me they were contemplating their next act: writing a memoir, quitting their soul-sucking job, finding a way to make a difference in the world. Perhaps the one thing the pandemic taught us was how short life can be, how none of us are guaranteed fourscore and ten, how it’s time to start tackling the items on our bucket list.

Another thing struck me as I spoke face-to-face with human beings again: when I asked how their pandemic year was, every one of them began by talking about how fortunate they were. They recounted their blessings. Even those who lost family members or jobs began the conversation by talking about the good things that came of Covid. And every one talked about a lesson from the pandemic or a routine they plan to keep once they return to “normal” – whether it’s online yoga classes or saying “no” to social occasions they really didn’t have to attend or carving out time with the people they truly love.

So what does the future hold for theatre? When will we feel comfortable to sit inside, in the dark, with strangers whose vaccination status is unknown?

Some theatres, like the Fountain, invested in outdoor furniture, built a stage next door to their brick and mortar building, embracing a new way to create theatre. Others are scheduling full indoor seasons beginning this fall. And then there’s zoom performances…

A good friend in Virginia runs a terrific theatre in Alexandria: MetroStage. Unfortunately, after decades of performing in an old lumber warehouse near the Potomac River, her theatrical home was about to disappear. A multi-story, high-end condo would replace the cabaret musicals and exciting new plays that had graced MetroStage.

Fortunately, the city mothers and fathers were trying to brand that end of Alexandria as an arts district. Part of the deal was that MetroStage would remain in the neighborhood, courtesy of a black box theatre they would build for her in the basement of one of the new buildings.

The downside was that she had to raise a lot of money to finish the raw space. And the theatre would have to shut down for more than a year.
Enter the pandemic when every theatre in the world shut down. Her timing was exquisite.

Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin can hardly wait for the opening of her new theatre space. And yet, she keeps thinking about the theatre from around the world that she saw online during the pandemic. Some of it awful, some of it magical. (I still smile when I think about a zoom production of The Railway Children from the York Theatre Royal that was absolutely magical. If not for the pandemic, I never would have seen it.)

Carolyn believes that our pandemic year has taught us that audiences outside of our immediate neighborhoods are hungry for theatre. The homebound elderly need theatrical inspiration. So do kids in schools too poor to afford a school bus to bring them to a performance. Despite that spanking new performance space, Carolyn says her pandemic lesson is that 21st century theatre must embrace 21st century technology, making theatre accessible to more than just in-person season subscribers. Theatre can truly be for everyone.

If Carolyn is correct, that presents a challenge for us as playwrights: we must create pieces that actually work better on the small screen. Not just talking heads in a zoom call, but theatrical pieces that jump off the screen. Twyla Tharp commissioned Misty Copeland and some of Twyla’s dance company to create unique work specifically for the small screen. It was amazing. Dancers in their tiny New York apartments or Inglewood garage bouncing off the walls, avoiding bookcases, seemingly flying on and offstage. It was like watching Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding. We have to think outside the box to create this kind of work for the theatre.

And even if we only want to create work to be performed live, onstage, we have to write cheap. In other words, even the “no more than six actors” rule that has reigned supreme over the past few decades is too big. Theatres have held on by their fingernails. Budgets are amazingly thin. Plays featuring two characters – or even one – are more likely to be produced in the next few years. And unfortunately for living playwrights, much of that work will be tried and true titles designed to lure back an audience. We’ll be competing with the famous dead white guys.

Our last challenge is to ask ourselves what an audience wants to see onstage in a post-pandemic world. If the 1920’s are a model, it’s likely to be comedies and lighter fare. I doubt there will be much interest in a pandemic play, but I could be wrong. Look at Angels in America and the AIDS crisis.

But I’m an optimist. I’m going to view these challenges as pandemic blessings for us as writers. They allow us to reassess our own work, our own goals, our own “next act” as we sit down at the keyboard and start writing something new.

I can hardly wait!

Kitty’s second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union will be published by Chesapeake Press August 13, 2021. A mysterious bird poops on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. Can our young detective find that bird before the Secret Service, the Capitol Police, and the rest of Washington and hear its secret message?

I cheer for both the Dodgers and the Nationals

The future MetroStage

Crash Landing on Plot

by Kitty Felde

I’ve been thinking a lot about plot.

A writer friend recently had a zoom performance of her play, a lovely piece about the power of grief and recovery. The last scene is a reprise of the top of the play, flashed back in time, full of the ugly and raw emotion of loss. Several “critics” urged her to expunge the scene. “It isn’t needed,” said one. “Anticlimactic,” said another. What they were saying was that the script didn’t follow the classic Greek model of rising action, climax, and denouement. Or, the penis model, as I like to call it.

Instead, the writer used a circular structure for the play. Which, some argue, is a more organic way of writing for the female storyteller. Yes, you start at point A and return there, but the protagonist hasn’t necessarily “learned something” or “changed,” which are requirements for the official “circular” plot. The writer just finished the story. Period.

The writer rejected the criticism, by the way.

Sticking to the Aristotelian structure has become even more formulaic in recent decades, something I call the “Save the Cat” effect. The popular book by Blake Snyder has become a template for most movies and far too many plays. It’s gotten to a point that I can pretty much predict exactly what will happen next – something I do, by the way, that drives my husband crazy.

Until I watched Crash Landing on You.

Crash Landing on You

It’s a South Korean episodic drama about a poor little rich girl out paragliding and gets blown across the DMZ to North Korea. It’s wonderful – funny, not too scary, full of social and political commentary, but mostly a love story. It’s also incredibly well written by veteran screenwriter Park Ji-Eun.

The show is a worldwide hit. Viewers in India are reportedly learning Korean. A fan in the Phillipines has written a song about the show. Even Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross is a fan.

And here’s the thing: I could never predict what happens next. I was continuously surprised and delighted. As a writer, I kept asking myself, “how did she do that?”

It’s not just me. A playwriting pal had exactly the same reaction. Neither of us can figure out the structure of the story, yet we couldn’t stop watching. What magic is Park Ji-Eun using? And more importantly: can we steal it?

My playwright pal and I have decided to make a formal study of the series, each of us taking one episode and dissecting it, then comparing notes. We’ll likely be applying whatever structure secrets Ji-Eun uses in our next plays.

And here’s the good news: there’s rumors of a second season!

Are you a circular writer? Have you rejected Aristotle’s triangle of plot structure? Have you gotten pushback? Is there a better way to tell a story?

And can you figure out the structure in “Crash Landing on You” on Netflix?

Kitty Felde is a playwright, podcaster, and children’s mystery writer. Her second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union comes out this summer.

Adventures in Self-Publishing

by Kitty Felde

Two of my plays have been published. My one act adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Nose” is available from YouthPLAYS, and my Bosnian war crimes play “A Patch of Earth” is included in a pricey collection from the University of Wisconsin Press with the sexy title “Theatre of Genocide.”

Over the years, Im always happy to send pdfs of various other titles. But now, I’ve taken the plunge and started self-publishing my work.

It started when an old public radio pal Cash Peters asked me why everything I did was ephemeral. Radio stories went out over the air and disappeared into the ether. Plays came alive before an audience for a limited number of nights and then the lights went out. Where was tangible evidence of my creativity?

He wasn’t the only one who thought that way. The general public seems to take “authors” more seriously. When my first children’s mystery “Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza” was published two years ago, friends and family suddenly took me more seriously. I was a BOOK author. I had tangible evidence of my creative output, something they could hold in their hand and put on a bookshelf and wrap up in pretty paper to give to a favorite child.

Of course, given the state of the publishing industry, getting our plays and books published is a gigantic crapshoot. The “Big Five” publishers in New York have again consolidated to become the “Big Four.” Covid has shut down not just Broadway, but Lort houses, community theatres, even high school drama programs across the country, dealing a severe blow to publishers of plays. I felt fortunate that any of my plays came out in print.

But that was then. This is now. I hate waiting for somebody else to say “yes” to my work. I’ve self- produced several of my plays. Why not self-publish?

Last week, my acting edition of “A Patch of Earth” went live on Amazon, published by Chesapeake Press, a publishing house named after my warrior cat who lost her life to a coyote.

Also live, a Teacher’s Guide to my first Fina Mendoza mystery. This wonderful publisher (me) then decided that the first Fina book deserved a second edition with a better cover and a more user-friendly size. It also deserved a hardback version from a distributor that could get it into libraries – something my first publisher was unable to do.

Are you tired of waiting around for someone else to believe in your work? Are you ready to join the legions of writers who are publishing their own stories? Here’s my step-by-step guide to publishing your own plays. I will warn you: the software requirements are a pain in the neck.

There are two main players in the self-publishing game: Amazon and Ingram. The latter is not just a printer, but also the distributor that most libraries use to purchase books. (It also costs $25-$50 to use while Amazon is free.) If you have a play that you want to see on library shelves, you’ll need to use Ingram. I use both.

  1. Since you’re your own copy editor, carefully look through your script for errors. And look again. I promise you: there will be mistakes.
  2. Sign up for KDP on Amazon and/or Ingram Spark’s self publishing platform. There are many, many pages of information you’ll have to supply, including an ISBN number. (NOTE: Amazon will give you a free one, but then they end up as the publisher of record. I purchase my own ISBNs at a website called Bowker. They also sell the barcodes that go on the back cover.) There are also categories to choose to optimize searches, keywords, etc. (This is more important for books than plays, but there’s a wonderful software program that will help you identify these keywords and categories.)
  3. Download Amazon’s free interior book templates.
  4. Pick the 6” by 9” version for Word.
  5. Cut and paste your script into the template, using standard script formatting. (I use the old fashioned version with character names in caps at the left margin.)
  6. Print out a copy and look for errors – a missed word, bad formatting, etc.
  7. Sign up for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC’s free trial period and change your play from Word to a PDF. (NOTE: just printing as a pdf from word doesn’t work for some reason.)
  8. Upload the pdf to Amazon and/or Ingram.
  9. Design a cover using the templates provided by Amazon and Ingram or hire a designer. You can also noodle around on Canva’s book cover creator. The only problem is that it only creates a front cover, not the back. (Reedsy is a great place to find design professionals for covers or even interior layout. It also offers a free software program that will turn your print script into an e-version.)
  10. Publish!

You can purchase discounted author copies of the scripts, though you have to pay for shipping, even if you are an Amazon Prime member. And you have to do all your own marketing (another topic for another day). But now you have a printed script that actors can use for rehearsals, a professional looking paperback that you can hand to a director or producer, and tangible evidence that indeed, you are a playwright. You can even wrap it up in pretty paper and give it to your parents to prove it.

The Art of the Cover Letter

by Kitty Felde

There’s only one thing worse than trying to write a synopsis of your play: writing the cover letter that goes with it.

Many theatres and contests have moved to online submissions with no place to fill in the extras that don’t fit the categories in the form. That’s a shame. Standardized submission forms eliminate any opportunity for you to show more of yourself, making it more difficult to stand out from the crowd.

But if you’re given the opportunity to submit by email – or even help the U.S. Postal Service survive by sending a paper script – you need a great cover letter.

For years, I dashed off a couple of paragraphs in the “enclosed please find a copy of my play XZY for your reading pleasure.” Then my editor – the guy I married a million years ago – read me the riot act. I got a half hour lecture on the importance of cover letters. He should know. He spends days crafting the perfect submission letter to go with his book manuscripts. So I asked him to help me with my submission email for a new Fina Mendoza mystery novel. As a result, I got two kind, but personal rejections, but also a pair of “send me more”s.

Children’s books are not plays, but the cover letter format works for both. I’ve pasted my latest cover letter below and highlighted the elements that (I think) make it work.

Dear Mary Jane, – I think in this day and age, we can get away with first names.

I’m Kitty Felde, author of “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” and host of the Book Club for Kids and producer of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast. – It never hurts to lead with your most recognizable credit. Since publishers are looking for writers with their own “brands” these days, this is what I chose to include at the top. For a play, I might instead list my most current production or the best-known theatre or director.

Now you get to brag for a paragraph or two:

These months of lockdown have at least been good for both my writing and my podcasting. Because Covid has changed everything, especially live theatre, do acknowledge the existence of the pandemic.

On my multiple award-winning Book Club for Kids podcast, a trio of young readers discuss a novel, interview the writer, and hear a passage from the book read by a celebrity. When the schools shut down this spring, both teachers and parents discovered the podcast. Our episode downloads exploded, jumping more than 200%. Then The New York Times profiled us, writing: “This virtual gathering space for young readers feels more vital than ever in the social distancing era.” And even before the pandemic, The Times of London named us one of the top ten kidcasts in the world. – Go ahead and include links to your reviews and website. Why not? They don’t have to click on it, but they might.

I also adapted “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” into an episodic podcast. This summer, I was invited to make a presentation at the high-profile Bay Area Book Festival – virtually – to talk about both the book and the process of turning it into a podcast. In addition, right before the entire city shut down, the Los Angeles Public Library hosted me at a live author event. And then after the shutdown, I was featured in a “LAPL Instagram Live Author Conversation.” – Don’t be a “girl,” too humble to talk about your accomplishments. Brag, brag, brag. Nobody else is going to toot your horn for you.

Now, in my old journalism days, this would be called “burying the lede.” You may want to put this paragraph at the top, but like any good playwright, I chose instead to set the scene, introducing the characters (me) and then launch into the story – or in this case, the reason for writing:

I have completed the second book in my Fina Mendoza mysteries series set on Capitol Hill. My contract with my current publisher just expired at the end of August. The rights to the first book in this series reverted to me at the end of the contract.

And here’s where I mention the specifics about why this particular publisher – or theatre – is perfect for my work.

I’d very much like to bring both books, and subsequent ones in the series, to a new publisher – one with a track record of getting books into libraries and classrooms.

I’m quite proud of my work on the first book in the series. I secured fine blurbs from the chief tour guide of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, several members of Congress, NPR First Lady Susan Stamberg, and children’s writers Leah Henderson, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, and Gail Carson Levine. I did more than a dozen book talks at various venues in both Washington and Los Angeles. And I got a terrific review from Kirkus. – More bragging. It may be overkill, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Here’s where you pitch the play or book itself. Note that I didn’t give a blow-by-blow of all the action in the story, just the highlights:

The second book is called State of the Union: A Fina Mendoza Mystery. In “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza,” 10-year-old Fina, a recent transplant from Los Angeles to Washington, solves the mystery of the legendary Demon Cat of Capitol Hill. In “State of the Union,” our intrepid young detective must track down a mysterious bird who poops on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. It’s also the tale of tensions in the Mendoza family as Fina’s outspoken grandmother joins the family in Washington, combat in Congress as lawmakers struggle with immigration reform, and even rivalries between a pair of congressional dogs that Fina walks after school.

When you submit a non-fiction proposal, you include an extensive marketing plan. Do you have a marketing plan for your work? Something that – besides the excellence of the writing – will help a theatre sell tickets? Or in this case, sell books?

I believe this series can be quite successful for three reasons. First, it fits solidly into the middle-grade mystery novel genre. Second, our protagonist is a smart, strong, brave young Latina who can serve as a role model at a time when many parents – Latinx and otherwise – are looking for such a heroine. Third, it’s just the thing for parents who want their children to learn a little something about the U.S. Constitution and national politics and the ways of Washington. There’s quite a dearth of books for young readers, both fiction and non-fiction, that tackle the workings of our government. That’s why the Library of Congress, the gift shop for the House office buildings, and at least three of D.C.’s independent bookstores carried the first book in the series.

Got a second play that a theatre might be interested in? Why not pitch it, too? You never know if they a project under contract that’s too similar to your first masterpiece that you pitched earlier in the letter:

I also wanted to let you know that in addition to my Fina Mendoza mysteries, I’ve been working on a second mystery series also set in Washington, DC. This one takes place at the turn of the last century. Our amateur detective is Quentin, the youngest child of President Theodore Roosevelt. He terrorized the White House with spit balls on the Andrew Jackson portrait, bringing a pony up to the second floor in the elevator to visit a sick sibling, and dropped snowballs on the heads of the Secret Service. I’ve finished the first few chapters of Murder on the Potomac: A Quentin Roosevelt Mystery.

Get personal. Don’t be afraid to show something about yourself. This paragraph includes a bit of bragging, a bit of marketing, and an admission that I’m new at this genre:

This mystery writing thing is a sort of second act for me. I had a long career as a public radio journalist, with NPR and KCRW and KPCC in Southern California, including stints as a field reporter, U.S. Capitol correspondent, and talk show host. Three times my journalist peers named me the “Los Angeles Radio Journalist of the Year.” And I’d like to think I’m still something of a public figure in Southern California – which, as you know, is both the largest book market in the country and home to millions of Latinx.

Remind them to look for the attachment:

I’m attaching an e-manuscript for the second Fina Mendoza mystery. I would also be happy to snail mail you a copy of “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.”

It’s always nice to end with a compliment:

Thanks so much for your consideration. I’ve so enjoyed diving into the mystery genre. And I would love to continue to build my writing career with the help of a wonderful agent like you at XYZ Representation.

Most sincerely,

Kitty Felde
Phone number

Don’t be afraid of length in your cover letter. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll just skim to get to the bottom.

These are just my thoughts about what to put in a cover letter. I’d love to see what works for you!