Kate Szegda

Published Work: Pharmacy Girl: The Great War

Kate is a graduate of Institute for Children’s Literature. View Course Catalog >

Welcome to the Winners’ Circle where we celebrate the success of our ICL students. Today we are celebrating published author Kate Szegda!


Pharmacy-Girl-by-Kate-SzegdaWhat is the title of your book?

My debut middle-grade historical is Pharmacy Girl: The Great War, Spanish Influenza, and the Truth about Billy Detwiler.
(Independently published, KDP)

Give us a short summary of your book.

Pharmacy Girl is the story of twelve-year-old Josie Winslow, oldest daughter of the town’s only pharmacist, and how she helps the people she loves–and hates–survive the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic.

Tell us a bit about your path to publishing, from idea to submission to published book.

I credit my mother and her stories of having Spanish influenza as a child for setting me on the road to writing Pharmacy Girl. I wondered how my family survived. After retiring from teaching, I decided to walk the talk of a middle-school ELA teacher. I would write for children. I signed up for my first ICL course and loved it. The second ICL course let me focus on writing the book. Researching local history was fascinating, and I admit, often I let myself be stuck reading and searching. One time I found a one-inch newspaper blurb about bringing donations to my grandfather’s drug store for a Red Cross linen drive. I was in heaven. In the meantime, I joined SCBWI, attended conferences, got critiques, sent queries, got rejected, joined a critique group, and hired an editor. All time and money well spent, but time was growing short. I wanted my book out to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. I decided to self-publish and hired a local consultant to help me with prepping the manuscript for publication and marketing. Taa-daa! Pharmacy Girl was born February 5, 2019.

Pharmacy Girl was the recipient of the National Federation of Press Women’s 2020 Second Place Award for Children’s Fiction for Pharmacy Girl. The book also earned the 2019 Moonbeam Silver Medal in Pre-Teen Historical/Cultural Fiction and the 2020 Delaware Press Award for Children’s Fiction.

What’s your favorite genre to write?

I’ve only written middle grade historical fiction, and i do love it, but I’d like to try a mystery sometime.

What ICL courses have your taken?
Writing for Children and Teenagers Course

Writing and Selling Children’s Books

How has taking our course/s helped your writing and/or career?

The course work gave me the guidance and structure to start and complete Pharmacy Girl. I don’t think I could have done it on my own. Instructor’s comments and encouragement were invaluable.

Have any of your class assignments been published?

Individual assignments, per se, have not been published, but the compilation of assignments from Writing and Selling Children’s Books became Pharmacy Girl.

Do you have a favorite writing tip you’d like to share?

Don’t go it alone. Get help when you need it: a course, a conference, a critique group. You will make great friends along the way.

If you could travel back in time and give yourself one piece of writing advice, how far back would you go, and what would you tell yourself?

Because I started writing after retirement, I think I’d tell myself, “Write faster. You are running out of time.”

Please tell us the best or most valuable thing you learned from your experience with ICL.

Writing is a little like eating steak. You can’t eat the whole thing at once; you have to cut it into bite-size bits. The ICL course work broke the overwhelming task of writing a book into manageable bits.

Pharmacy Girl is about the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, arguably one of the worst plagues in history. How has that affected your reaction to the current COVID-19 pandemic?
I think knowing a little about how pandemics work helped me stay calm. I knew pretty much what to expect. For example, in the beginning of COVID there were conflicting reports about the nature of the virus, e.g., How long did it live on surfaces? How transmittable was the virus? What was the incubation period? That was frustrating, but I knew similar questions baffled medical experts in 1918. I knew it would take awhile to sort it all out. The other thing that helped me was knowing my family survived Spanish influenza a hundred years ago. The same simple public health measures that helped my mother and my grandparents would help me today: hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks.

When I wrote Pharmacy Girl, I knew, theoretically, that there could be another pandemic like Spanish influenza, but I did not really think I would see it in my lifetime. I had hoped Pharmacy Girl would be a source of information and encouragement for the future. Now I hope the book is a source of information and encouragement for today.

A Jersey girl by birth, award-winning author, Kate Szegda grew up in small towns: Highland Park and Point Pleasant Beach. Now a retired middle school teacher, she enjoys reading, writing, golf, travel, and fan mail.

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