nonfiction

Q & A with Amy Losak

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Amy Losak. I remember her struggles in trying to publish her mother’s poetry book, H Is For Haiku, years ago. But I also remember how she persevered and kept knocking on doors until she eventually found the right home. She explains her journey below.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
The journey to publish my mom Sydell Rosenberg’s poetry picture book, H Is For Haiku, was anything but straightforward, and it was filled with obstacles and bumps (many of them self-imposed). I hemmed and hawed and used every excuse in the book to keep from starting this project after she died suddenly in 1996. Of course, many reasons for my delay were valid and justifiable – the ups and downs of life got in the way. But what held me back for so long was my ongoing grief after her death, and my deep fear and anxiety that I would not be able to honor her work properly.

Finally, around 2011, thanks to the unstinting support of family and many others, I began slowly to mobilize. This meant organizing some of her voluminous and scattered, packed-up piles of papers and writings, mostly her poetry and specifically, her haiku. I researched the children’s book industry (the KidLit community is generous, and social media has been great for knowledge-building). In April of 2015, I was ready: I mailed out her manuscript – which I had slightly edited from one or two of hers I had located – to several publishers that don’t require agents.

In 2016, thanks to a haiku poet, editor, and teacher, Aubrie Cox Warner, I connected with Penny Candy Books, a terrific independent publisher started by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera (pennycandybooks.com), They shared my vision for mom’s work. H Is For Haiku was released in April of 2018: National Poetry Month. Sawsan Chalabi (Schalabi.com) is the wonderful illustrator.

H Is For Haiku has been selected by the National Council for Teachers of English as a 2019 “Notable Poetry Book.” It also was a Cybils finalist this year in the poetry category.

What draws you to poetry?
In hindsight, I grew up with haiku – it was a pervasive part of my childhood. Mom, a New York City teacher and published writer, was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 (hsa-haiku.org). She studied, practiced, and wrote this form for decades. This briefest but arguably most expansive form of poetry became a part of her personality, I think. It validated and at the same time helped to shape her keen way of looking at the world around her. I didn’t understand this when I was young. Perhaps I didn’t take her passion seriously enough. But I and other family members always knew how important her literary life was to her.

When I began in 2011 or so to organize and leverage her haiku in various ways – including a partnership with the New York City non-profit arts education organization, Arts For All (arts-for-all.org), I found myself drawn to this form. Surprisingly, I began to write my own haiku … badly, but I wrote! And I read the haiku of other fine poets. I joined HSA. I’ve slowly improved. But I’m a late and eternal beginner. I have a lot to learn..

Please share some of your writing process.
Haiku – and of course one can say this about most creative endeavors – requires me to slow down and pay attention to my surroundings. As a hyper New Yorker, I’m always in a rush. I’m constantly distracted or in a hurry to get somewhere. This restlessness can cause me to lose sight – literally – of what matters. Haiku requires a sensory focus on things that matter, however small. In a way, haiku is poetic mindfulness. But it’s much more than that, as well. So now, I try to take the time to linger over small moments, and appreciate them – make them “big.” This takes effort, sometimes. But even if nothing “poetic” comes of this approach to experiencing small slices of life, I’m enriched as a result.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve long enjoyed writing, but I never had any “serious” aspirations about becoming a creative writer. I’ve been a public relations professional for a long time, and I’ve done my share of business writing. As the steward of my mom’s literacy legacy, however, I’ve come to enjoy writing short poems, and I hope to continue.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Yes, I have another haiku picture book sketched out. Right now, it features more of my mother’s lovely work, but I may add some of my own to make it a mother-daughter haiku book for kids. We will see what happens on this new journey!

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
These are not mentor texts, and they are both classics, but two books – and the heroines in them — that had a profound influence on me growing up (and still do today) are A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and Anne of Green Gables. I explain why in this blog post: https://www.pennycandybooks.com/blog-1/losak

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Over the years, my mom’s decades-old dream to publish a kids’ book became my dream – ours. So my advice to other writers is simple: “It’s never too late to pursue a dream. You have nothing to lose – and everything to gain – by trying. Go for it!”

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
That’s easy: Rocky Road! I’m a chocoholic, and this luscious, chock-full flavor expresses my journey to publish H Is For Haiku perfectly!

BIO

Amy Losak is a veteran New York public relations professional specializing in the healthcare industry. She was inspired to write haiku by her mother, Sydell Rosenberg. Amy’s short poems have been published in a variety of poetry anthologies, journals and sites, including: Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, Failed Haiku, Prune Juice, Asahi Haikuist Network, Daily Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, Blithe Spirit, Newtown Literary, and more.

The photo on the left depicts Amy Losak.

Q & A with author Vivian Kirkfield

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Vivian Kirkfield. Her engaging nonfiction book SWEET DREAMS, SARAH is one of her many new releases. I was grateful she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
The manuscript was written the month after I took a class in writing nonfiction. I was excited to tell the story of one of the first African American women to secure a U.S. patent…I turned to librarians to help with the research and I turned to critique buddies to help with polishing what I had written. As soon as I signed with my agent, she sent out the story to about a dozen editors…and one of them bought it. The editor asked for a few revisions/changes here and there…nothing major. Unfortunately, the illustration process took quite a long time…over three years…but that is how it happens sometimes. However, the finished product is beautiful and SWEET DREAMS, SARAH has been receiving glowing reviews!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I love to write nonfiction stories about people who have struggled, people whom history has sometimes forgotten. When I discovered that Sarah E. Goode had been a trailblazer, but that she hadn’t been properly recognized in her own time, I knew I wanted to tell her story.

Please share some of your writing process.
When I am writing nonfiction, I find a topic (watch TV or listen to people or surf the internet in order to find ideas) and then I research it. Then I decide what is the focus of the story…what do I want young kids to take away from the book. I fashion a pitch…that helps me to find the thread/heart of the story. And then I write the first line. For me, the first line is really important. It is the way into the story and sets the tone for the rest.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always loved writing…but never considered writing a book until my children were grown and I wrote a parent/teacher book…the book I wished I’d had when I was younger. And then I discovered a world of writers who wanted to write picture books and I realized that was what I wanted to do also…it was right after I went skydiving at the age of 64.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I just turned 72…and I tell people that I need to live to be at least 100 because I have another 30 years of stories to write. I’ve got three debut picture books that just launched this year…with two more in the pipeline for 2020: Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin, Fall 2020). My agent has two or three other manuscripts out on submission and I have many more stories ready to go. We also just sent a nonfiction picture book manuscript to one of my editors who requested a specific book…fingers crossed that I have written the book she is looking for.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
I’ve always loved The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton…I loved the story of a house that felt out of place…where change was happening all around her…and then finally, she is rescued and brought to a new surroundings where she can start a new life all over again. Newer picture books are mostly nonfiction: Laurie Wallmark’s Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine; Nancy Churnin’s Irving Berlin: The Boy Who Made America Sing; Hannah Holt’s The Diamond and the Boy. The writing in all is so lyrical…and the characters make a hero’s journey. I love them because they are inspiring stories for children and adults.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it!

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Moosetracks…chocolate with nuts and caramel!!!! And you ask why? Because I LOVE chocolate and the nuts and caramel only make it better!

BIO

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found

Q & A with author Hannah Holt

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Hannah Holt. Her engaging nonfiction book The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & The Life of H. Tracy Halls blew me away with its lyricism. I was grateful she took the time to answer some of my questions about her writing experience.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book? And in your case, the journey to finding the right agent?
From the beginning, I knew wanted an agent. Agents can submit work more widely and also keep better tabs on what editors want. In theory, my agent would watch the market for me, so I could spend more time focused on writing. In practice, it was a little more complicated.
My first agent was Danielle Smith. She is no longer working in the industry.
My second agent was Laura Biagi. She is no longer working in the industry, but before she left, she sold my first two books.
My third agent was another agent at the same agency as Laura and took over my work after she left. I liked her a lot; however, I wanted to be at an agency focused more exclusively on children’s literature.
I’m now with Jennifer March Soloway at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jennifer has been great to work with. While this business if full of twists and turns, I plan to stay where I’m at for a long, long time. Publication has been a long and winding road for me. Over the years, I’ve accumulated well over 100 rejections.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The Diamond and the Boy is a biography of inventor Tracy Hall—my grandfather. He built a machine that turns graphite into diamond. The idea to write his biography was simple enough, but how to tell the story eluded me for years. I took the story in a dozen different directions before landing on the dual narrative with graphite.

Please share some of your writing process.
I wrote over eighty drafts of this story before it sold. I’m someone who write and rewrites over and over again. In fact, I wrote another post sharing thirteen different openings I tried for The Diamond and the Boy.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first complete novel in fourth grade (forty handwritten pages). My early journals are also filled with poetry. I’ve always enjoyed writing, although it wasn’t until my thirties that I decided to pursue it as a career.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m working on a middle grade novel and have several picture books close to completion. I’m hopeful for upcoming submissions and looking forward to drafting several new stories this year.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day: I vividly remember sitting on the carpet during library time while hearing this book for the first time. I was six or seven years-old and remember thinking, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what a bad day feels like.’ That sense of connection lingered long after storytime finished.
The Remember Balloons: This book beautifully captures the frustrations and longings family members experience as an older family member goes through Alzheimer’s. My grandfather—Tracy Hall—suffered from Alzheimer’s, and The Remember Balloons treated the subject in a unique and child-friendly way. I’ll rave about it to anyone who will listen.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There is no deadline for success. Take your time, learn your craft, and find the right publishing path for YOU!

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Tillamook Mudslide Ice Cream because it’s twisting veins of fudgey goodness are like a treasure hunt in a bowl.

BIO

Hannah is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer & Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

Website: https://hannahholt.com/
Blog: https://hannahholt.com/blog
Twitter: @HannahWHolt

Q & A with nonfiction author Melissa Stewart

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For my first Q & A, please welcome the talented author Melissa Stewart, whose engaging nonfiction books serve as mentor texts for me (and countless others). Check out what she has to say about her new book Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs:

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book? Did you have an agent and how did that come about?
No, I didn’t have an agent when Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs was acquired in 2015. I’ve been working with Peachtree Publishing Company since 2001, and I’m grateful that my editor saw the potential in the Pipsqueaks manuscript. I’m now working with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I was referred to EMLA by author and friend Cynthia Levinson.

Where did you first draw inspiration for the “animal underdog” theme?
I’ve been fascinated by animal superlatives for as long as I can remember. After all, who doesn’t admire the world’s biggest, fastest, strongest creatures? But in early 2013, I began thinking about anti-superlatives—the smallest, slowest, weakest animals. Maybe I could write a book about them.
One morning, I woke up with the beginning of the book in my head:
“Everyone loves elephants. They’re so big and strong.
Everyone respects cheetahs. They’re so fast and fierce.
But this book isn’t about animals we admire. It’s about the unsung underdogs of the animal world. Don’t you think it’s time someone paid attention to them?”
It was a gift—but it came with a price. I realized that this wasn’t going to be just an anti-superlative book. It was going to be an anti-bullying book, too. And to write it, I’d have to revisit the bullying that I endured as a child.
I wasn’t ready for that, so I shut the file, and I didn’t come back to it for months and months. But eventually, I felt prepared to face my past. I was a clumsy, uncoordinated, unathletic kid, so the western fence lizard in the book represents me.
In the end, Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs is a book about animal adaptations and celebrating the traits that make us different and unique. I think pretty much every child has felt like an underdog at some point, so I hope the book will resonate with readers.

How do you go about researching your books?
No two books are the same, but I generally begin by drawing information from the nature journals I’ve been keeping since 1989. Additional information comes from books and articles and conversations with scientists and naturalists. I often use the internet to track down the experts I interview.

When did you first realize you were drawn to the world of nonfiction, and what is the appeal for you?
Many writers gravitate toward fiction because they love to invent characters and create made up worlds, but for me, the real world is so amazing, so fascinating that I just want to learn as much as I can about it and share it with other people. That’s why I write nonfiction.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
In 2014, uber-talented illustrator Sarah S. Brannen and I published a book called Feathers: Not Just for Flying. The minute I saw the sketches for the last page of that book, I envisioned another similar book about seashells and dove into the research. We are so pleased that Seashells: More than a Home will be published on April 2.

Please share your favorite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Oh my, there are too many to name. Some of my favorite authors include Steve Jenkins, April Pulley Sayre, Jess Keating, Cynthia Jensen-Elliott, Diana Hutts Aston, Lita Judge, Nicola Davies, Owen Dewey, Joyce Sidman, Jennifer Ward, Heather Montgomery, Candace Fleming, Deborah Heiligman, Elizabeth Partridge, Gail Jarrow, Patricia Newman, Sandra Markle, Loree Griffin Burns, Sarah Albee, and Barb Rosenstock.
This is really a golden age for nonfiction. Authors are experimenting in all kinds of ways and stretching in new directions. It’s so exciting! I can’t wait to see what my colleagues come up with next.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
It’s pretty simple: Keep on writing! Being a writer is full of challenges and frustrations and so many things we can’t control. But we can control how much time and energy we devote to honing our craft.

Bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Chunky Chocolate Pudding ice cream from Bedford Farms in Bedford, MA. It’s my favorite.

BIO
Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, Can an Aardvark Bark?, and No Monkeys, No Chocolate. She is the co-author, with Nancy Chesley, of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of educational resources for teaching nonfiction reading and writing.

Website: https://www.melissa-stewart.com/
Blog: http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @mstewartscience
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissa.stewart.33865
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mstewartscience