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!
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.
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