Join me in welcoming picture book author Robin Newman. I’ve gotten to know Robin through the blogosphere and Twitter. In addition to loving writing, I recently discovered we share something else in common. We both spent several of our childhood years in Paris! Today we’ll be chatting about her journey as a picture book author.
First off, congratulations! You’re really making a splash in the Kidlit world with not one, but two, debut books coming out in 2015. Can you tell us a little bit about each book?
Thank you! 2013 was an over-the-top, you-have-to-wake-me-from-this-dream kind of amazing year!
I have two books coming out with Creston Books. Woo-hoo! The first is a picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald (spring 2015), about a crabby witch whose quiet neighborhood has been turned upside down with the arrival of noisy, inconsiderate neighbors. So Hildie hires a real estate agent to find her a new home. But soon enough, Hildie realizes that living with blind mice and snoring baa, baa black sheep is another kind of nightmare, and that the real home of her dreams was the one she had left.
The second is an early chapter book, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (fall 2015), about two hard-nosed mouse detectives who are MFIs, Missing Food Investigators. In their seminal case, they’re on the hunt for Miss Rabbit’s missing carrot cake. (Please note the names of the animals have been changed to protect the innocent.) Whatever the food, whatever the crime, MFIs make the bad guys do the time.
Creston Books is an exciting newer press with a wonderful list of recently released and upcoming titles. Can you tell us little about Creston Books’ philosophy and what it’s like to work with them?
Creston Books’ mission is to make quality books. Above all else, they value strong writing and illustration, and that special “magic that happens when a parent reads a picture book to a child.” They are a small press that takes an old-fashioned, hands-on approach to nurturing and promoting all of their writers and illustrators, not just their moneymakers—something often missed at big publishing houses. Lastly, all of their printing is done in the United States on sustainably-sourced paper.
They have wonderful list of titles coming out in spring 2014, including Mini and Moo: Hooves of Fire by Denys Cazet, Don’t Turn the Page by Rachelle Burk and illustrated by Julie Downing, Cock-a-Doodle Oops! by Lori Degman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, and Blood Diaries, Tales of a 6th-Grade Vampire by Marissa Moss.
And in fall 2014 Wheels of Change, by my friend Darlene Beck-Jacobson and illustrated by the amazing Marissa Moss, will be hitting the bookstores. (I cannot wait to get my signed copies!!!)
Check out the cover for Wheels of Change. Isn’t it awesome?
Over the moon ecstatic does not even begin to describe how fortunate I am to be working with Marissa Moss. I am thrilled beyond words to be starting my publishing career at Creston. I look forward to working with Chris Ewald and Deborah Zemke. I cannot wait to see their first sketches.
One of the fascinating things about children’s writers is that they come from a wide range of occupational backgrounds. Off the top of my head, I can think of current authors who were previously dancers, skaters, and teachers. I haven’t, however, met many kidlit writers who were previously, or are still currently, lawyers. Tell us a little bit about your journey from the legal profession to the world of children’s literature.
I went to law school to do pro bono work. Unfortunately when I graduated, these jobs were few and far between and I ended up in private practice doing Workers’ Compensation cases. Saying I was beyond miserable is not an exaggeration. Some attorneys thrive in a litigious environment, doing hearings all the time. I was not one of them. I was more interested in research and writing. When a job opened up at a legal publisher editing energy and environmental titles, I jumped at the opportunity. Subsequently, I moved onto another legal publisher as a senior developmental editor and when I got pregnant I decided to go freelance.
As an editor, I always loved the creative work, writing the blurbs and marketing materials. But it wasn’t until I was pregnant that I truly got the writing bug.
At some point, my sister suggested I enter Symphony Space’s Stella Kupferberg’s Memorial Short Story Prize Contest. (Here’s the link, in case anyone is interested in entering: http://www.selectedshorts.org/extras/writing-contest-2/) I lost. Each and every year. Again and again. Oh! And again! But it got me writing. For the holidays, I wrote stories for my nieces and nephew. After my son was born, my husband encouraged me to take a writing class. I signed up for a Children’s Fiction Writing Workshop at Gotham. I was completely hooked, and I guess the rest is writing history.
What’s your writing process like? How long does it take you to go from a writing spark to a story that’s ready to submit?
I don’t really have a process. I wish I were that organized. But I keep my notepad handy at all times and am constantly jotting down ideas that may or may not blossom into something. When I think I have a strong enough idea for a story, I try sketching it out and writing the story beginning to end—or at least as much as possible. The key is just getting it down on paper or on my laptop. For me, this is the easy part. Then I take it to my amazing critique group, led by the incredible Jill Davis, and the hard part begins: rewriting. Sometimes I get lucky and a manuscript only needs about 10 or so rewrites, but most of the time I end up rewriting everything for what feels like a gazillion times. When Jill gives me the thumbs up, I send it out.
Finally, what advice would you give other aspiring lawyers, skiers, chefs, etc. who want to journey into the field of writing for kids?
For anyone brave enough to put pen to paper, I recommend the following:
1. Join the SCBWI.
2. Take a writing class and/or find a critique group.
3. Write, rewrite, and read everything and anything.
4. Follow your dreams and never ever give up.
5. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
Laura, Thanks so much for inviting me to do this interview. All the very best and much success with Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger.