Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a talented NF writer who’s a mentor to me, and who also just became an agent at Storm Literary, Lisa Amstutz. After writing over 150 books, she still had time to release another: Mammal Mania, middle grade nonfiction, published by Chicago Review Press. Check out her book journey below.
BUT first- YAY! Lisa is generously giving away a free critique of a PB or up to 10 pages of a longer ms (double-spaced). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 6, 2021.
Please describe the journey to publication for Mammal Mania.
I had previously written a book for Chicago Review Press’s Young Naturalists series called Amazing Amphibians. CRP was wonderful to work with, so my agent and I pitched some more ideas and this was the one my editor chose. My background is in ecology, so both of these books were right up my alley and fun to research and write.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Connecting kids with nature has always been one of my passions. Like the others in this series, this book is aimed at helping kids discover nature through engaging text, photos, and hands-on activities.
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It definitely varies by the project. The two books I wrote for this series were very research-heavy, so I would take one topic at a time, research it, and then figure out a good way to share that information in a kid-friendly way. Some of my others, like Applesauce Day and Finding a Dove for Gramps, were more like writing poetry – a spark of inspiration that flowed out onto the page—followed, of course, by lots of revisions.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Imagine that you took a beaver and a duck and mixed them together—you might come out with something like a platypus. In fact, when European scientists first saw a platypus specimen, they thought it had to be a fake! But they were eventually convinced that this odd-looking mammal was real.”
You’re skilled at writing nonfiction, what are some effective strategies to engage young readers while disseminating information?
Writing nonfiction is really no different from writing fiction, except that you can’t make stuff up. The same rules of good writing apply – use strong nouns, active verbs, metaphors/similes, wordplay, a compelling story arc (if writing narrative NF) – in other words, general good writing techniques.
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Because this was part of a series, I used previous books in the series as mentor texts. Others that have inspired me in terms of engaging middle grade nonfiction include Some Writer by Melissa Sweet, All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat, Something Rotten by Heather Montgomery, Astronaut-Aquanaut by Jen Swanson, and many more.
You recently became an agent at Storm Literary, how do you balance writing and agenting?
Well, my pace has slowed a bit, but I’ve always had to fit my own writing in around freelance client work (writing, editing, etc.), so this doesn’t feel much different. Like anyone else with a day job or other full-time responsibilities, I write in my spare time – evenings, weekends, etc.
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
When an opportunity presents itself, don’t let fear and ‘what if’s’ stop you. Say yes—then go figure out how to do it. My writing mentor gave me this piece of advice early on, and it has served me well, even though it often stretches me out of my comfort zone.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Hmm. Maybe a cat—judging by my own three, it’s a pretty luxurious life!
Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. She spent eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors as well as corporate publishers. She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. Lisa recently joined Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent.
Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. A former outdoor educator, she specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. She lives on a small farm with her family.
Mammal Mania is available anywhere books are sold.
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mammal-mania-lisa-j-amstutz/1137370629?ean=9781641604369
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