AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Carol Gordon Ekster in Celebration of the release of her newest book YOU KNOW WHAT?

YouKnowWhatbookcoverPlease join me in welcoming four-time picture book author Carol Gordon Ekster as we chat about her newest book YOU KNOW WHAT?, illustrated by Nynke Talsma and published by Clavis, a Belgian publisher, about a little boy who’s doing his very best to postpone bedtime by asking lots of questions.  Her other books include RUTH THE SLEUTH AND THE MESSY ROOM (Character Publishing), BEFORE I SLEEP, I SAY THANK YOU (Pauline Press and Media) and WHERE AM I SLEEPING TONIGHT?  (Boulden Publishing) Take a look at the YOU KNOW WHAT? book trailer below, then enjoy the interview that follows, with my questions in warm blue to match the book cover..

 Question 1: First of all, welcome, and congratulations on this latest book.  What inspired you to write YOU KNOW WHAT?

I love writing on planes…the confinement, the focus…my mind flies off into its best creative space. So there I was, in August 2014, on an airplane to meet my grandson two days after he was born. My laptop was on the tray and I was working on a story. I heard the child in front of me say to his parents, “You know what?” And my fingers immediately started typing a new document. That day I began brainstorming, more of a cause and effect exercise with every sentence beginning with, “You know what?” But when I returned home and began the real work on that draft, it developed into a conversation between a mother and son where Oliver uses the repeated, “You know what?” to postpone his bedtime.  The story wasn’t planned, it came to me like a gift. I wonder if I hadn’t been in that exact seat or not heard this child’s “You know what?” would I have picked it up somewhere else? I think catching the right story idea is a miracle!

I think you were meant to be sitting in that exact spot.  What a wonderful example of being intentional and ever on the look-out for story sparks. 

Question 2: Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey.

No, I did not always want to be a writer! Writing is hard. I was passionate about teaching and lived and breathed it most of my life as a fourth grade teacher. There was little room for anything else. Then my last seven years before retirement, writing snuck in like a welcome surprise. The need to write came over me at the beach one day. I felt taken over and had to walk to my car to get post-its, the only thing I had to write on, and a pen. I came back to my seat on the sand to write my first picture book. It was never published and unless it undergoes major revision, will never be sold. But that was the first of many. I started writing late in life and am making up for lost time.  It was the 20th manuscript that I wrote that was the first to sell. Starting to write while teaching was a sweet beginning into this journey because I got to share it with students. I became a better teacher and a better writer and I believe my students became better writers because they saw the writing process in action. They were my first critique group! Now retirement gives me the time to live and breathe writing. It’s such a great second career in that I get to continue communicating with children, but I can do it anywhere and on my own schedule.

Your journey into writing is inspirational and a lovely reminder that writing is a craft/career that one can hone and develop at any age.  

Question 3: Most books by American authors are published first in English and then, if we are lucky, they get translated into other languages.  But YOU KNOW WHAT? was first published in Dutch!  Tell us a little bit about that process. 

This process was definitely a little scary! The Dutch version came out in December 2016. I couldn’t help in its promotion, see it bookstores, check Amazon’s Author Central to know how it was selling. I had to trust in Clavis Books. I was excited at the possibility of extending my readership. And Clavis brings their books to all the international book fairs, which is wonderful. Both Chinese and Korean publishers already bought the rights. My other books have never been translated into another language, so I’ve been ecstatic. The English version came out September 1, 2017 and now I can get involved in marketing and help spread the word…like right here with you.

And here’s the Dutch cover so our readers can see what that version looks like.  

BookCover-MamaWistJeDatQuestion 4: Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

Yes! I have activities, as I do for all my books, on my web page. I am a teacher first and foremost and as I’m writing a book I’m often thinking of extension activities and asking myself questions like will this work for a mentor text for strong verbs, alliteration, etc. With YOU KNOW WHAT? someone in my critique group suggested a different ending, which left things open ended. I loved that and immediately knew I’d make a sheet that children could fill out with what they thought that last “you know what?” might be. And I got the sweetest e-mail from a winner of the Shelf Awareness giveaway. She read the book with her five year old granddaughter with her granddaughter reading Oliver’s part while she read the mother’s part. Because YOU KNOW WHAT? is entirely a dialog between Oliver and his mom, the book lends itself to that kind of readers’ theatre. I hadn’t thought of that and was thrilled to learn of another way to read this book.

Here is the link where you can find language arts, math, creative arts, dramatic play, and gross motor activities that coordinate with the book.   Terrific!

 Question 5: Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I recently sent out my 80th manuscript. And I have SO many more on my desk top in varying degrees of readiness to be sent out to publishers. I am not yet agented so I do research about where to send my stories and then send them out on my own. I am hopeful there will be more published books in my future.

As far as where readers can find my books, I love supporting local bookstores. But if that isn’t an option, you can find the book at all e-tailers. Also, I love public libraries and am an avid user myself. You can ask your library to get the book for you if they don’t already have it.

Wow!  80 manuscripts.  Now that’s something to aspire to.  Thank you so much for joining me here today, Carol.   And readers, here’s how you can learn more and connect with Carol:

Goodreads  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1867583.Carol_Gordon_Ekster

Twitter  https://twitter.com/cekster

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/cekster

Group blog: https://writersrumpus.com/author/cekster/

Carol's professional photo for booksAbout the author:

Carol Gordon Ekster taught elementary school teacher for 35 years.  Her first published book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was an About.com Readers’ Choice 2012 finalist for Best Children’s Book for Single Parents. The Library Is The Perfect Place”, was acquired by Library Sparks magazine, 2010.  A picture book, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, was on Character Publishing’s debut list, 2011 and was awarded the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval.  Her picture book, Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, Pauline Books and Media, released January 1, 2015 and is now in its third printing. The book was the 3rd place winner in the Catholic Press Association’s 2016 Book Awards in the children’s category and was a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016. Her first e-book came out spring 2015 as part of a digital library with Schoolwide, Inc. Her new book, You Know What? with Clavis Books came out first in Dutch, December 2016, and the English version released September 1, 2017. Korean and Chinese versions are in the works. Carol spends time in critique groups, doing exercise and yoga, and working on her books.

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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Danna Smith in Celebration of THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE

HAWK_HJ_USToday I’m delighted to be interviewing picture book author Danna Smith in celebration of her newest picture book THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE. Published by Candlewick Press and beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE is a non-fiction tale told in verse about a young girl and her father, the falconer at a medieval castle, as they experience the joys of taking a goshawk out for a training flight. It has received glowing reviews, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.  Kirkus Reviews calls it a “rhapsodic tribute to the craft of falconry” and School Library Journal hails it as “An imaginative and unique title to introduce elementary schoolers to hawks and falconry in a medieval setting—an ideal read-aloud selection, too.”  I couldn’t agree more!  Treat yourself to the book trailer below and then join me for the interview with my questions in green to match the books lovely landscape.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Danna. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

Thank you for having me, Laura. For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed writing poetry and stories. In my childhood, I would often turn my creations into handmade paper books, stapled at the spine. I’d give them to my mother who saved them in a keepsake box like precious treasures (she has always been my biggest fan). I wrote my first poem when I was 8 years old, my first short story when I was 10 and my first picture book when I was 17. As I grew older, I didn’t have a clue about how to follow my dream of becoming an author so I went to college, got married and started my family. I kept writing in my spare time. It wasn’t until I found the organization, SCBWI, in 1996 and went to my first conference in 1999 that I got serious and gave it a real go. My first book was published in 2004 by Disney-Hyperion and many books followed such as Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, Arctic White, and Swallow the Leader. Today, writing is my full-time job and I feel so very blessed to be doing what I love.

A lovely journey, for sure.  I’m glad you discovered SCBWI back in 1996 – and for any aspiring writers, exploring the SCBWI website and attending a conference is a great way to get started!

What inspired you to write a book about falconry in medieval times?

Growing up, I was exposed to all sorts of creatures through my father who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals. My father was also a falconer and I enjoyed going out to train and hunt with birds of prey with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but falconry is an unusual art and sport, and not something many children are exposed to. As I look back, I’m happy to have had these experiences, especially since I am a writer because I now have an opportunity to share this fascinating sport with others in a whole new way.

I chose to set the story in medieval times because I am fascinated with a time where falconry was a part of daily life. Also, as a writer who understands the need for layers in a picture book, I thought the setting would add extra appeal, what child doesn’t like castles?

I’d love it if I had a picture of my father and me with the hawks but if there is one in existence I haven’t been able to locate it. Instead, I’ll share a picture of my cousin, sister and myself holding one of the hundreds of snakes my father bred (I’m the monkey in the middle). And another of my dad at around age 23 with a couple of his birds. My dad was a falconer for 50 years and as far back as I can remember, if he wasn’t at work, he had a bird of prey on his fist.

What an amazing childhood! Your dad must be so proud of all your accomplishments and honored to be such a source of  inspiration!

 I was immediately drawn to your lovely verse – reminiscent of “The House That Jack Built” but without the cumulative element. How was your gift for verse developed? What made you decide to tell this story in half-rhyme?

Thank you, Laura. My gift for verse comes naturally, my grandmother was a poet and my sister is a songwriter. I also had an uncle who taught me the meaning of rhythm and cadence (and always had me giggling) with his off-the-cuff limericks and other forms of poetry while we clapped our hands to the beat.

I wrote The Hawk of the Castle in several formats (rhyme and prose) to see which worked best. There were many, many drafts but when I hit upon the current hybrid format which had the feel of an old-fashioned poem, I knew I had found the perfect way to tell this story.

That’s the sign of a true writer – ie. writing “many, many drafts” and in “several formats”!  

Bagram Ibatoulline’s magnificent illustrations beautifully complement text, for they truly do transport the reader to a different time and place. What was it like to work together?  

Unfortunately, I have not met Bagram Ibatoulline but working with him through my amazing editor, Andrea Tompa, was a wonderfully positive experience. Because this book is non-fiction, the falconry details and medieval elements had to be spot-on. Bagram Ibatoulline rose to the challenge and surprised me at every turn with his detailed life-like illustrations. It is truly an honor to have been able to collaborate with Mr. Ibatoulline.

HAWK_HI_US 19

Illustrations copyright ©2017 by Bagram Ibatoulline

An honor indeed.  (And thanks for sharing this delightful spread with us today!). It’s truly magnificent. 

Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects?  What’s a typical writing day like for you?

Unlike many writers, I do not write creatively every day. But that doesn’t mean I am not pondering, scheming, and dreaming up rhymes and stories in my head daily (in fact, I do this so often that my family accuses me of being in Lalaland much of the time LOL!). I sit down at my computer only when an idea is worked out in my head (I need to have a beginning and an end before I start). When I’m not writing a new story, I am revising, critiquing the work of others, reviewing picture books on my blog, connecting with editors and my agent on various projects, and promoting my books.

My agent is currently submitting several of my manuscripts (crosses fingers), and at the moment I have several manuscripts in various stages of completion.

I have five Little Golden Books under contract so I’ve been revising the text and enjoying sneak peeks of covers and interior art. Getting to see the art for the first time is a thrilling part of the process! Watch for Springtime Babies (available for pre-order now) and The Colors of Winter in 2018 then Rocket-Bye Baby, Wake Up, Freight Train! and The Colors of Summer in 2019.

So many wonderful books on the horizon!  I look forward to checking them out. Thank you so much for joining us today, Danna. 

I was my pleasure, Laura! Again, thank you for having me.

Danna birds nest 2017ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danna Smith is a SCBWI member and award-winning author of over a dozen picture books including ARCTIC WHITE, SWALLOW THE LEADER, and Little Golden Book, SPRINGTIME BABIES. Her most recent picture book, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE: A Story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Danna is currently living in northern California with her husband and two grown children where she is hard at work on her next book.  You can learn more about Danna and her books at www.dannasmithbooks.com

To learn more about Danna and her books, please visit the following:

Website: www.dannasmithbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authordannasmith/

Blog: www.picturebookplaylist.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dannasmith8?lang=en