Award-winning children’s book author launches second fairy tale story
By Loretta Fulton
Photography by Beth Dukes
Penny Klostermann isn’t waiting around to begin living happily ever after.
That fairy tale phase of her life began the minute her debut children’s picture book was accepted by Random House Books for Young Readers. And even that magical moment was trumped when Random House chose the book, “There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight,” for the cover of promotional literature in 2015.
Turns out, that “once upon a time” fairy tale beginning to her writing career wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In September, Klostermann’s newest picture book, also published by Random House Books for Young Readers, will hit the market. “A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale” tells about William, “a well-meaning chef who accidentally cooks with ingredients essential to famous stories,” according to the publicity blurb. Ingredients such as Snow White’s apples, Jack’s magic beans, and Cinderella’s pumpkins go into this “fairy tale mash-up.” British illustrator Ben Mantle illustrated both books.
Klostermann’s many fans in Abilene are wishing her success with the new book, including Glenn Dromgoole, owner, with his wife Carol, of Texas Star Trading Company. They hosted a book signing for “dragon” and will have one for the new “cookbook” on Sept. 5.
They are envisioning selling even more copies of the new book than “dragon,” and this time they will be prepared. Glenn Dromgoole recalled that he ordered 100 “dragon” books for the first signing but Klostermann convinced him he needed to order more, so he ordered 216.
“We sold out the first hour!” Dromgoole said.
“There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight” was the best-selling book at Texas Star Trading Company in 2015, Dromgoole said. The second best? That was “Abilene A to Z,” a children’s book by Dromgoole and Jay Moore.
“We never could catch Penny,” Dromgoole said.
Klostermann’s rise to the top of the storybook world may sound like a magic carpet ride, but Klostermann quickly puts that thought to rest. Klostermann spent 26 years as a physical education and computer teacher, including 24 in the Jim Ned school district.
She had always had a creative streak and wrote a 20-line poem while in elementary school. But she didn’t take writing seriously until 1995.
“That’s when I started talking about it but not doing anything about it,” she said.
Even then, it took another three years for the “bathtub manuscript” to be born. That was a 716-word story that Klostermann literally wrote in the tub, using a pencil and spiral notebook.
“I thought it was genius,” Klostermann said.
After three rejection slips from three publishers, she realized it wasn’t genius after all. Fifteen years later, she tried again, this time with more success. But still, it wasn’t magic. Klostermann may have a golden touch, but it took a willingness to be critiqued, compete in poetry challenges, and adopt a never-say-die attitude to get to where she wanted to be. She also had to develop a thick skin when negative critiques arrived and rejection slips started to pile up.
“You either learn to get past that,” she said, “or you quit.”
She didn’t quit. She learned. The published “dragon” book was the 29th re-write and even it was rejected 11 times before being accepted. The “cookbook” underwent 102 drafts.
Even after the success of her first book, Klostermann learned that acceptance of the next book isn’t automatic. In fact, she sent out four other stories between “dragon” and “cookbook” and got back 31 rejections. Nevertheless, she persisted.
“You’ve still got to keep writing really, really good stories,” Klostermann said.
Her original editor, Maria Modugno, realized “cookbook” was a really, really good story and snatched it away from competitors. Her journey to the top of the field should serve as an inspiration to other aspiring writers, or anyone who has a dream.
From the beginning, Klostermann wasn’t going to settle for anything less that being published by a respected publisher of children’s picture books. The number of rewrites and rejection slips in her writing history tells a story itself. A bit of good luck may play a role in getting published by a big-name publisher, but that luck isn’t going to come without a lot of work and determination.
“Perseverance is huge,” Klostermann said, but acknowledged that talent is needed, too.”You’ve got to have that creative bone.”
Klostermann was born with that bone. She grew up in Colorado with three sisters–and quite an imagination. Her website and stories show a whimsical nature
“I’ve always been a rhymer,” she said.
Born Penny Parker, she attended Abilene Christian University and met her future husband, Bubba Klostermann, in a singles class at Highland Church of Christ.
“He doesn’t fit a ‘Bubba,’” she quickly says of her husband, a physical therapist at West Texas Rehabilitation Center.
They have one son, Will, who lent his name to the chef in the new storybook, “A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale.”
Klostermann had just turned 60 when “There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight” was published. At 62, she is looking at her second successful picture book and still pinching herself over her success.
In two years, she has been published by a well-respected publisher, been featured in the Scholastic Reading Club publication, and had a book signing at New York City’s Wonder of Books children’s book store.
Klostermann has reached the pinnacle but isn’t about to sit back in an easy chair – or bathtub – and be content with that success.
Klostermann is enjoying living happily ever after too much to give up this fairy tale world just yet. It took too many years and too much work to get here.
“I really didn’t think this would ever happen,” she said.