Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who writes stellar nonfiction AND fiction, Laura Purdie Salas. Also, she’s one of the kindest, most generous authors out there! Check out her new book, If You Want to Knit Some Mittens, illustrated by Angela Matteson, and published by Boyds Mills Kane. See her journey below…
BUT first- YAY! Laura is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post- contest ends Oct 1, 2021.
Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
It’s so funny that a manuscript can seem memorable and all-consuming when I’m working on it, but by the time it’s published, I have to look back in my files to see how it all actually happened! I actually wrote this manuscript back in 2014. My then-agent sent it out to five editors. Two showed some interest and had revision suggestions, but Rebecca Davis of Wordsong loved it and acquired it in early 2015. Of course, it still went through plenty of revisions, most thoroughly in 2018. That’s also when artist Angela Matteson (who also illustrated In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House) came on board (yay!). And here we are now. I seriously can’t believe it’s been 7 years!
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
On April 9, 2014, on a car ride home from an author visit, I was brainstorming picture book ideas. Here’s what I wrote:
If You Need Mittens… Funny, nf approach. How to Make Mittens. 1) Buy a sheep. Funny, but true. Back matter, basics of knitting. [xyz] could be a resource? Could I go visit her?
I was thinking that day about nonfiction topics and how different fun structures could make that information more interesting. If You Want to Knit Some Mittens ended up with a fictional element that adds heart and a factual skeleton that shows how we get from a sheep to wool yarn. I love the combo of both.
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I generally start out with broad research and then spend a lot of time gnashing my teeth while I try to figure out the piece of the puzzle that’s eluding me. Often, that’s structure, but I already knew I wanted the how-to structure here. And the voice was mostly there from the beginning. The beginning of the book is “1. Get a sheep. Seriously.” So that hardly changed from my idea file. But over time, Rebecca helped me see that there needed to be more of a relationship in this book. Sheep couldn’t just be a wool-provider. Girl and Sheep had to care about each other. The revisions were tough. I wrote tons of different versions, trying different things. A lot of it is trial and error for me—even after so many years of writing. I discover what needs to change AS I write it. It kind of emerges, like a sea creature that’s hard to make out in the murk but that becomes clearer as it rises up.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from one of your books.
[When Girl and Sheep have grown marigolds to dye the yarn with…]
13. Pick marigolds and dry them in the sun.
Jumping rope nearby is
[The art of Sheep and Pig jumping rope, which sends the marigolds flying, is just too cute!]
You write stellar fiction AND nonfiction. Do you find it tricky to navigate both worlds?
Aw, thank you! I don’t find it tricky on the writing side. I love both—and poetry! I’m usually working on several manuscripts at a time in different genres. The marketing is tricky, though. It’s difficult to keep up with what’s going on in the fiction picture book world, the nonfiction picture book world, and the poetry picture book world. Connecting with people and building any name recognition is pretty tough when you jump between different genres, I think.
Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Speaking of jumping between genres—haha! In the next couple of years, I have the following picture books coming out:
We Belong (a rhyming concept book that celebrates our differences and our common humanity—Carolrhoda)
Oskar’s Voyage (a rhyming fiction book about a chipmunk who stows away on a huge Great Lakes freighter—another fiction book that has lots of info in it—Minnesota Historical Society Press)
Superhero Tryouts (a poetry collection about all kinds of helpers that kids use, with a fictional framework and prose backmatter–Wordsong)
Finding Family (a lyrical nonfiction prose picture book about a case of interspecies adoption—Millbrook)
Zap! Clap! Boom! (a rhyming factual story of a thunderstorm with backmatter)
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Wow, that is so tough! I have so many books that have served as mentor texts—though I didn’t have any specific books in mind for this particular title. But for Finding Family, Candace Flemin’s Giant Squid was a valuable mentor text for me. Her sense of mystery and drama and pacing is something I love in that book and tried to infuse into Finding Family.
And a few of my favorite books so far from 2021 are Dear Treefrog, by Joyce Sidman; Lady Bird Johnson, That’s Who! by Tracy Nelson Maurer (I’m lucky Joyce and Tracy are both critique partners!); Be a Tree, by Maria Gianferrari; Lubna and Pebble, by Wendy Meddour; Fourteen Monkeys, by Melissa Stewart; and So You Want to Be an Owl, by Jane Porter. Those are just a few—there are so many amazing picture books out there!
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
I think writer’s block happens when I don’t know what to try next. I keep several manuscripts in progress so that I can set aside one I’m frustrated with and pick up a different one. If I go through all my files, usually at least one manuscript pings, and I can get to work.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Today, I’m going to say a sea otter—playing and sliding and swimming sounds delightful right now (even though I hate seafood of any kind).
Laura Purdie Salas has written more than 130 books for kids, including Lion of the Sky, If You Were the Moon, Water Can Be…, and BookSpeak! Her books have earned the Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notables, starred reviews, and more. She offers resources for children’s writers at https://www.laurasalas.com/writing-for-children/ and has a Facebook Group where she connects with her Patreon supporters. She enjoys teaching and speaking at writing conferences around the country. laurasalas.com
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