Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author extraordinaire, Laura Purdie Salas. Not only is she one of my mentors, but I’m lucky enough to count her as one of my friends too. What I love about her is that she’s able to straddle both the worlds of fiction and nonfiction so effortlessly. I also love the depth behind her words. Here she is, discussing her new picture book We Belong, published by Carolrhoda Books / Lerner, and illustrated by Carlos Vélez Aguilera.
BUT first- YAY! Laura is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of Be Belong (US only). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends April 1, 2022.
Please describe the journey to publication for WE BELONG.
Well, this book is kind of a journey of pairs—besides the opposite pairs in the book. Editor Carol Hinz invited me (in 2018) to write a picture book on one topic. I slid sideways and wrote a picture book on a related topic. She rejected that book, but she loved one little snippet of it. She asked me to expand that book that snippet into an entire book of affirmations. Oh, maybe that’s a three. The manuscript I never wrote. The related manuscript I actually wrote (and still hope to sell). And then WE BELONG.
Another pair was the concept of specific versus broad. It was a real challenge, but also satisfying, to illuminate broad concepts like loud and quiet or black and white, through specific, concrete images. Other pairs included two wonderful editors, Carol Hinz and Shaina Olmanson; two different illustrators (so happy with Carlos Vélez Aguilera’s vibrant art!); and two pub dates, since the pandemic pushed back publication of this book.
WE BELONG touches on the themes of celebrating how unique we each are, as well as honoring diversity in our world. What inspired you to write this?
I’m not sure I would have tackled this topic without an invitation. As a middle-class white woman in the United States, writing a book that includes various diversity issues feels a bit scary, honestly, like I have no right to talk about it. But the need for belonging is universal, and that’s the core of this book. I have felt that I didn’t belong so many times throughout my life, and I tried to hold that closely and examine what brings me comfort in those times.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Maybe you’re happy.
A fun magic trick.
A sprinkler rainbow.
A kitten’s rough lick.
Maybe you’re sad.
A small cave.
Maybe you’re trying
your best to be brave.
Sometimes we’d like to make sadness extinct,
but teardrops and smiles are joined—
they are linked.
Each feeling’s a gift
that helps us connect
to the world,
to our family,
to the friends we collect.
You have a massive body of work. Can you please share some marketing secrets with readers? Which strategies have proven most successful?
[Laughing] Oh, how I wish I had the secret sauce to share with you. I am an introvert and not very inventive with social media. Because my picture books involve a lot of poetry and nonfiction, teachers and librarians are often the ones buying my books. So for me, connecting with educators, creating extension materials for my books, and putting myself out there at educator conferences have probably been the most helpful. But really, I believe this maxim: The best way to market your current book is to write your next book. I am trying to focus less on marketing and more on writing, because marketing tasks are like a dangerous gas—they expand to fill a whole room and leave little space for other things.
Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I do! Next year will be FINDING FAMILY, with Lerner. It’s a lyrical nonfiction book about an interspecies adoption event from a few years ago. And SUPERHERO TRYOUTS: POEMS FROM EYEGLASSES, WHEELCHAIRS, AND OTHER HELPERS will come out from Wordsong. After that, the next two are ZAP! CLAP! BOOM!, rhyming nonfiction from Bloomsbury USA, and OSKAR’S VOYAGE, from Minnesota Historical Society Press. That last one came out of my Great Lakes voyage in 2019 on the biggest freighter on the Lakes. I’m so excited to see what the illustrators do with all four of these books! I only have one or two other titles after that, and I sure would like to sell a trade manuscript or two this year!
Please share your favorite books from 2021 that inspired you.
What a lovely question! I thought this would be easy to answer, but my Goodreads lists show I loved many children’s books last year. So here are a few that I not only loved, but that inspired me in either my personal life or my writing life. They are LUBNA AND PEBBLE; PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL!; I AM EVERY GOOD THING; GREEN ON GREEN; OUTSIDE, INSIDE; THE STUFF BETWEEN THE STARS; and WONDER WALKERS. (Not all of those came out in 2021—that’s just when I read them.)
What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers when it comes to revision?
Don’t put the cart (fun, beautiful words) before the horse (strong structure or plot). Nobody cares how pretty that broken-down cart is when it’s not going anywhere.
That’s the lesson I have to learn over and over. I’m always so excited about the individual words, but writing my way into the right structure has to happen first.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could have dinner with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?
Nope. Nuh uh. An introvert like me would be EXTREMELY uncomfortable in this situation. I don’t want to meet musicians I like nor authors I admire—and I’m always afraid I’d like their work less if I really met them. However, I would love to be a fly on the wall of some favorite authors. I’m going to say Madeleine L’Engle for this one. Just me, sipping a Coke Zero and eavesdropping on her life—I would’ve jumped at that chance!
Laura Purdie Salas has written more than 130 books for kids, including If You Want to Knit Some Mittens, Lion of the Sky, 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
Newsletter for educators: https://tinyurl.com/5a9ycnta
Patreon community for kidlit writers: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas
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