Meet Verla Kay by Talia

Last week I talked a little about the Blueboard and its founder, the lovely Verla Kay.  Verla is a children's book author and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.  She was gracious enough to allow me to interview her.  So without further ado, I give you Verla Kay!

Verla Kay writes historical picture books in a special kind of poetry she calls "cryptic rhyme."  She has sold a total of eleven picture books, two of which are still "in the works."  All nine of the books that have been published have received recognition, including "Tattered Sails, which was named a "Child's Best Book of the Year" by Child Magazine. The text from “Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails” is in a 2nd grade social studies program in schools. “Rough, Tough Charley,” is on the 2008 Amelia Bloomer Project list of recommended feminist literature for young readers and her newest book, "Whatever Happened to the Pony Express?" is getting very favorable reviews and acclaim from many sources.

Verla Kay's website <>, which she designed and maintains herself, has twice been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer's Digest.  Her message board page gets an average of between 800,000 and one million hits per month. It currently has over 1500 registered members.  In the past few years, the “Blueboard” has become almost an icon for children’s writers and illustrators.

When/How did the Blueboard come about?

First, let me say that I had no clue when I put up this message board that it would grow to the immense size it is today! When I first started my website on February 18, 1998, it was with the hope that it would someday help other struggling writers get some easier answers than I did. We had a very active chat room in those days, and many of the workshops and chat sessions ended up on the Transcripts page of the website. (They are still there for anyone that wants to read them. Information might be a bit dated in places but most of it is still very apt for today's writers.) As the website grew in size, I decided it needed to have a message board, so I put one up. But almost no one visited it. If it got one message a month posted on it, that was a big deal! Eventually, after a year or so, I took it down, due to lack of interest. 

Later, looking back at that first abortive message board, I realized one of the major reasons it didn't "take" was because it was so difficult to use. It was filled with pop-up ads, and messages took FOREVER to load, create, and post, so no one wanted to use it. After searching the web for weeks, I finally found the SimpleMachines website, which is what my message board is now on. For a flat fee, I could buy an ad-free message board. So I did, and on September 1, 2003, the message board made its debut. People immediately started calling it the "Blueboard" because there was another message board on the web that was affectionately known as the "Yellow" board and many of the same people frequented both boards. 

I'm always amazed at how supportive and positive the Blueboard stays.  How do you keep things positive?

When I started the Blueboard, I knew immediately that I didn't want to allow ANY flame wars on it. (I was still smarting from being badly flamed on another message board.) I wanted it to be a "safe" place for people to post. One where folks didn't have to worry about anyone jumping down their throat for saying something someone else disagreed with. I also realized I could never do this all by myself. So... the board's Mod Squad was born. I spent about a week looking at the messages posted on the board and when I'd identified the most frequent posters that were tactful, friendly, and sensitive to other people's feelings, I emailed each of them, asking if they would like to volunteer to be moderators.  Some said, "Yes!" and some said, "No, thanks. I'm too busy," or "I'm not interested." Thus the first Moderators came to be. Later, as the board gained in size and popularity, some of the Moderators were moved up to Administrators and new Moderators were added. Today there are 6 active Administrators (including me) and 12 Moderators that all work diligently to keep the message board running smoothly.

It's important for people to know that there is NO COMPENSATION of any kind for being a Moderator or Administrator of the message board. There is a cost every month to have the stable bandwidth to put this board on, there was a fee for the client used to put the board up ad-free and there's a yearly fee in order to keep the board client updated. All these costs incurred in the creation and continuation of this board are paid by me. There's no fee for anyone to join the board or be a part of it. That's all donated by me. The Administrators and Moderators donate their time and energy (and yes, sometimes their sanity, too!) to keep the Blueboard a safe, friendly place for everyone.

Are there qualifications for joining?  What are they?

The only requirements for joining the board are that you are interested in children's literature, that you are not a spammer, and that you "play nice" on the board. People who want to talk about religion, politics, or play flame war games are "encouraged" to go elsewhere to post. We only allow a friendly atmosphere on the board and people who can't abide by that aren't allowed to post on the board.

Can you share a Blueboard success story?

Many people have expressed their thanks for different ways the message board has helped them. Probably the best way to answer this is to send you to a thread on the Blueboard that addresses this exact subject. It's three pages long and is titled:  How Has the Blueboard Helped You?

What other interests do you have?

I love many things! I decorate cakes for fun -- see the marvelous wedding cake I made recently for my grandson! 

I love playing computer games (but not the "shoot-em-up" kind - I like adventure, mind teasing games) and my favorite is an online game called Puzzle Pirates. I can be found on the ocean of Midnight many nights in my pirate persona of "Ramboetta," sailing on a ship on the high seas. Battles with enemy ships are fought via a Tetris-style game, as are all the other activities done on the ships and in the island shops.

Fishing, cooking, and reading are three more of my favorite activities. I also love scrapbooking, although it's been a long time since I've had access to my huge supply of scrapbook materials. They've been in storage for 6 years! I finally got them out a few months ago, but haven't had time yet to play with them. But I will....

And of course, I love to write! At the moment, I'm in between stories. I'm hard at work on a WWII POW story that is totally non-fiction and completely different from any of my rhyming picture books. It's an amazing story and I hope to have it done and submitted to different markets before the end of this year.

What books do you have coming out?

Next summer, in 2011, "Hornbooks & Inkwells" will be coming out via Putnam. I just recently got to see the first proofs and it's going to be a marvelous book. It's illustrated by S.D. Schindler, who also illustrated my "Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails" and "Gold Fever" books. It's a fun story of two brothers attending a one-room schoolhouse in the 1700's. Children will delight in seeing how different (and in some cases alike) school was then compared to today.

In 2012, "Civil War Drummer Boy" will be released. This shows children the Civil War through a drummer boy's eyes and if the very rough sketches I've seen (illustrated by Larry Day) are any indicator of how this book will be when it's finished, it's going to be another winner for sure! 

Both of these books are written in my signature style of rhyme that I call Cryptic Rhyme -- short, terse, cryptic verses -- hence my name for them.

Any advice for writers who are dipping their toes into the internet?

If you want a site that will draw people to it, you have to give them a reason to visit your site. Who do you want to visit  your site? Kids? Adults? Teens? Why would they want to come to your site? Why will they want to come back? What would make them want to share your site with other people?  Look long and hard at what is out there now, and figure out what you can offer that will be attractive to them. What information, service, or content can you offer on your site that will make people will want to visit it over and over again?

Once you have decided on the "theme" for your site, then you have to commit to updating it frequently enough so people will continue to visit it. It's a big job to have a website, but it can help you get "name" recognition, it can help you promote yourself and your books, and it's almost a necessity in today's fast-paced internet world. Almost everyone depends on the internet today for research, information and even communication with others. 

Learn from what others have done, figure out a way to make your site special and then "Go for it!"

Anything else you think readers should know about the Blueboard?

The message board is set up with more than one level and the next level of the board is not discernible until a person has been given permission to have access to  that level. This means that while visitors are allowed to read the basic board, they are not allowed to post until they register for the board. This helps to keep "Drive-by" Spammers off the board.  Once a person has registered and been personally approved by one of the Administrators of the board, then there will be additional boards that were invisible to them as visitors. These boards, including the Response Times boards of publishers, agents, and editors, are "perks" for people who are committed enough to want to join the Blueboard community.

It's important for people to know that I regularly go through the board registrations and eliminate inactive people from the forum. It isn't necessary for people to actually post messages to stay active, but they do need to log onto the message board at least once every 90 days in order to stay active. Over 9000 people have registered for the message board since it started in 2003. Today there are over 1600 active members on the board - a good number of them from the first day the board began. :-)

If you are a writer, illustrator or are otherwise interested in children's literature and you have never visited the Blueboard <> be sure to stop by sometime and stick your toe in the water. You might just find you love it! 


Ohhh, a lovely post! Thank you, Talia. Verla, you're such a hero and your Blueboards have made such a difference to my writing life. Thank you!

Great interview, Talia. I've read bits and pieces of the story of the Blueboard story over the years, but I've never understood the whole story until now. Thanks, Verla, for doing the interview in the middle of everything else that's going on in your life right now! Disappointed, though, that you didn't tell it in cryptic rhyme. Writers stuck/out of luck/trying hard/to make a buck...

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