August 4, 2022

The "Listening to Live Music" Part of the Writing Life

As I've mentioned before, listening to live music is one way I feed my creative soul. 

Waiting for Blind Pilot to Enter the Stage at Pioneer Courthouse Square, July 2022

I've decided to make this pastime a bit easier on myself by creating a blog post with links to some of the bands and music venues I most enjoy.  If you are local to Portland and/or Sunriver/Bend, Oregon (or just passing through), maybe this resource will be helpful and inspiring to you, too. If so, I hope you will bookmark it and/or share it with a friend. 

Some of my favorite musical artists

Blind Pilot (They do an annual show at the Liberty Theater in Astoria. We've also heard the lead singer, Isreal Nebeker, solo.)

Fox and Bones (The artists who wrote and recorded this moving song, a tribute to the tremendous life of my late father-in-law, Henry Prochovnic)

Glen Phillips (I also enjoy the full band, Toad the Wet Sprocket)

Jonatha Brooke (Some day I hope to see her 4 Noses Show. Support her "Kitchen Covid Concerts," here .)

The Junebugs (The lead singer composed and recorded the anniversary song I wrote for my husband)

Maiah Wynne (The musical artist behind the beautiful companion song to Lucy's Blooms. Join her Patreon here) 

Paula Cole (I have admired and supported her work since the early 1990's. Listen to an interview here.)

William Topley (We've seen him countless times in Portland. I hope to see him play live at a pub in London some day). 


Favorite Outdoor Venues (Bend/Sunriver Area):

Bunk and Brew (Fun and Funky, youthful vibe. Event schedule on FB.)

Hayden Homes Amphitheatere (for bigger shows)

On Tap (They have an especially great beer and cider selection.)

Rivers Place (They typically have live music on Thursday and Sunday evenings.)

Silver Moon Brewing (They have the most excellent fire pits!)

Worthy (A gorgeous outdoor stage. Also has a "hopservatory" star gazing spot.)


Favorite Outdoor Venues (Portland Area):

Topaz Farm on Sauvie Island (Family friendly, very welcoming, and beautiful setting.)

Listening to The Portland Cello Project Playing Prince Music at Topaz Farm

Favorite Indoor Venues (Bend/Sunriver Area):

Old St. Francis School (Additional schedule info on the main McMenamins site)


Favorite Indoor Venues (Portland Area):

Al's Den

Aladdin Theatre

Alberta Rose Theatre

Alberta Street Pub

The Old Church

The Muddy Rudder Public House (A great neighborhood place, with excellent food and service, too!)

Polaris Hall


Bookmark this page and check back often; I'll keep this page updated as my list of favorites changes and grows! 

Last revised: August 4, 2022 

June 29, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU, by Amanda Rowe

Hello readers! I have another inspiring story to share with you in today's edition of Birth Stories for Books. My guest is Amanda Rowe, author of IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU (illustrated by Olga SkomorokhovaFamilius, 2019.) 

By Amanda Rowe and Olga Skomorokhova

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Amanda. Today we get to celebrate the recent Book Birthday for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU. 

You shared some of what inspired you to write this story in an earlier interview with Read and Shine, but I wonder if you could recap some of that again for us here?

Amanda Rowe: I initially wrote If There Never Was a You as a poem for my children. Since I was a child, I have made greeting cards, and sometimes I write a poem for my children’s birthdays or other special occasions. I wrote down these thoughts and feelings about my kids for them – it wasn’t until later that I considered the possibility of it becoming a children’s book.

DP: What a beautiful backstory. It makes your book even more special.

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

AR: Yes, when I reread If There Never Was a You and realized that the feelings are universal. I wrote it because I wanted to convey to my kids what their presence in my life meant to me. After giving it some thought, I realized that other parents might want to express these feelings to their children, but they might lack the words. Not everyone is a writer. So, I thought, what if there was a way that I could make this piece available for other caregivers to share with their children? I could imagine parents, or even aunts, uncles, or grandparents reading this to their favorite tiny people, and I thought a children’s book might be an appropriate medium for this message. So, I submitted it.

DP: Fantastic! 

When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for some of your poems and/or non-fiction articles, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

AR: In my experience, non-fiction articles are easy to sell. They are factual information, so it’s just a matter of finding someone interested in that subject matter to pitch it to. Poems and fiction have a harder time finding homes because they have to resonate emotionally with their audience. You have to find someone who understands the sentiment and wants to take that journey. And getting a book deal is more difficult than other forms of publication because it is about much more than likability or even the execution. You can have the most well-written, touching story, but if the publisher can’t market it or it isn’t a good fit for their list (which could happen for many reasons), they could love it and still pass on it. Writing can be a soul-crushing business that way. Every time I get offered a publishing contract, I consider it a miracle.

DP: A hard-earned miracle, I'd say!  

Your bio mentions that you edited The Genome Factor. Based on your experience on both sides of the table, author and editor, what professional advice or suggestions do you have to offer to aspiring authors? 

AR: No matter what you’re writing, it is vital to have a fresh set of eyes on your work – someone else to point out flaws, whether big picture issues, typos, or grammatical errors. Tackle the big picture issues first – plot, story arc, characters (or flow or fact-checking for non-fiction) – and once you’ve got your narrative finalized, you do the line-by-line edits for typos and grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, etc. Every step of the way, it helps to have someone else read your work and provide feedback – someone who will feel comfortable offering constructive criticism and pointing out your mistakes. It can be awkward, but it’s much less embarrassing to have your editor (or a friend) point out errors and fix them pre-publication than to see your mistakes in print for the rest of your life.

DP. Excellent advice! 

Speaking of advice, one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Your website showcases an active outreach to young readers at a wide variety of venues. Based on this experience, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events?

AR: For me, the key to successful events is connection. I connect with readers by being my authentic self and allowing them a glimpse of the person behind the job title – by simply being Amanda instead of ‘the author.’ Like so many of my readers, I’m a mom. I’m an employee; I am a person who makes mistakes and tries to do better. And I used to be a little kid with big dreams. 

To connect with my audience, I tap into those similarities; I try to let down my guard and have a real conversation. 


Image Source: Amanda Rowe

That’s what I miss most about my book tour – meeting new people and having conversations with them about our lives – our hopes, our fears, our disappointments. When I talk to children, I focus on hopes and dreams – what are their talents? How do they want to use them? What do they hope to do or to be one day? I ask those questions with adults, too, but I frame the conversation with more of an “it’s not too late” perspective. I explain to them that I put my dreams on hold for many years to raise my kids, get a job, and survive, but they were always there in the background. Eventually, I was able to carve out time to start pursuing them again. I like to encourage adults and children to keep dreaming, setting goals, and considering what is possible. Because anything is possible if you want it enough, and you’re willing to work for it. I think the key to success isn’t talent – it’s tenacity. You can learn skills and study and hone your craft, but if you don’t want it enough, you’ll never get anywhere, no matter how talented you are. 

Having those kinds of heart-to-heart conversations is what makes the most memorable events. And also, stickers! If you’re a children’s book author, get some stickers with your book cover on them. Kids love stickers, and they stick them to their clothes or their backpack, and then when they get home, they are reminded of your book again – and so are their parents.

DP: I love your heartfelt and authentic approach, Amanda. (And, I couldn't agree more on the stickers! Stickermule is my favorite source.)

In addition to authoring and promoting your book and other freelance projects, working your day job, and raising children (which has included navigating some serious health challenges), you also maintain a lifelong commitment to giving and volunteerism. How do you balance the time between your different writing projects and the different aspects of the publishing business alongside an active work and home life?

AR: It’s all about priorities. My kids come first. Now that they are older and more independent, they take up less time, which frees up some time for my writing career.

Because I have a full-time day job, I can only work on my writing career on nights, weekends, holidays, or vacation days. So, I do. I can’t tell you how many sunny days I’ve spent indoors hunched over my keyboard; how many invitations I’ve turned down; how many early mornings or lunch breaks I’ve spent writing. Progress requires sacrifice. If you want something, you have to give something else up. 

I am an introvert by nature, so giving up social engagements hasn’t been a problem for me, but I don’t spend as much time with my friends and extended family as I would like to. Also, there are many weekends when I’d love to read a book or take a day trip, but I write, edit, submit, or work on my social media instead. I am planting seeds, and hopefully one day, the harvest will come, and I won’t have to work quite as much. But I’m not there yet, so discipline is the key.

DP: Thanks for this unvarnished perspective, Amanda.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

AR: I wish I had understood sooner that being an author is like being a small business owner. As with any business, there are expenses and practical matters that need to be dealt with. I imagined the author’s life as all about art and creativity, and there is some of that. But the part that I love – the writing – is the smallest piece of the puzzle. I spend much more time on the business end of things – doing things that I never wanted to do that I don't enjoy, but that are necessary if I want to make progress. It is hard to get a book deal; it is even harder to get an agent. There is so much time spent on submitting, negotiating, social media and promotion. If you’re successful, maybe later on you can afford to hire someone to handle your social media, and you have an agent to submit things and negotiate contracts on your behalf. But in the beginning, you have to manage all of those things yourself – in addition to your everyday responsibilities like housework, raising children and working a full-time job. It’s exhausting and often you are spending more money than you are making.

However, not all is lost. Although being a children's book author has not been financially profitable for me so far, I have gained something worth more to me than money – purpose. If I can offer hope to a struggling parent, make a child believe in themselves, help caregivers express their love for their little ones or help families make memories together, then everything I’ve sacrificed will be worth it.


Image Source: Amanda Rowe

DP: I'll bet your book has brought many special moments for your readers.

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

AR: I have mentioned in a few interviews that this book got picked up quickly by a publisher, and I didn’t write it intending it to be a book, so my becoming a children’s book author was unexpected. That might give people the impression that this has been easy; that is incorrect. I have been writing since I was seven years old in one form or another. I have tried and failed to have hundreds of pieces published, and I experimented with various genres of writing before becoming a children’s book author. I have also tried numerous writing methods and found that when I try to write like other people do, I get frustrated and feel like a failure. But when I write my way, I feel like I’m where I belong, doing what I am supposed to be doing. I think that’s when great art happens – when the artist allows the work to flow through them instead of trying to force it to be how they envisioned it. So often, the things I try to force do not work, and the things that I don’t plan take on a life of their own and end up being more well-received than I imagined. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to study the craft of writing and improve my skills; I do. But I need to apply those lessons to using my voice, my way.

So, what I’ve learned is this: if you love doing something, keep doing it. If you’re not successful with it, try an alternate route. Sometimes you have to flail about a bit before you find your niche. But make sure you are using your gifts and not trying to mimic someone else’s, because that never ends well.

Life rarely works out the way we plan, but sometimes it works out better. When you let go of the way you imagined things should be, you open the door to infinite possibilities of what they could be.

Image Source: Amanda Rowe

DP: This is such a powerful perspective, Amanda. Thank you so much for sharing. 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

AR: I am working on multiple projects right now which is not unusual for me. I am always in the middle of reading – and writing – at least three books. The project currently closest to my heart is a book that I’ve written for chronically ill children. As the parent of a child with a debilitating disease I’ve spent countless hours at hospitals and doctors’ offices. I’ve met so many other families like ours, and I want to offer them encouragement. I want to make them feel seen and understood so I wrote a book that I hope will be in hospitals and doctors’ offices someday to brighten the lives of chronically ill children and their families. Also, to express gratitude for healthcare workers, who have my utmost respect and appreciation.

DP: I look forward to news of that project coming to fruition some day. It sounds like a much needed and meaningful book. 

Thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU with us, Amanda! It's been great to have you on the blog.

AR: Thank you for having me, Dawn, and for working so hard to promote your fellow authors. I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you and your readers.

Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the best way to thank an author whose insights and information have been helpful and/or intriguing to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU is available everywhere books are sold

********** 

Amanda Rowe is a children’s book author, an academic administrator, an amateur chef, a travel enthusiast, a blogger, and a book hoarder. If There Never Was a You is her first children’s book. Her next children's book, There Goes My Heart, is forthcoming with Familius in 2024. Visit her at https://amandarowewrites.squarespace.com/


**********

Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  


June 22, 2022

The "Showcases, Media Coverage, and Shout-Outs" Part of the Writing Life

I'm not gonna lie...it feels good when my creative work receives positive recognition—or even just a little press! In fact, I keep a running list of media coverage, here. It's a nice page to stroll through on the days I need a pick-me-up. 


Some recent media highlights include my Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series being included in a Book Riot round-up of books about sign language for toddlers, and my hometown newspaper including Lucy's Blooms in a roundup of children's books by Oregon authors.

Today I learned that the Children's Book Council included Lucy's Blooms (illustrated by Alice Brereton, published by West Margin Press) in their #LoveMakesTheWorldGoRound summer showcase. I'm quite delighted that this book of my heart has been included in such an esteemed list! I hope you'll check it out. (While you're there, take note of two other books in particular: Made for Me and The Proudest Color, two fantastic books published by Familius, the publisher of my next scheduled book.)

If you're not familiar with Lucy's Blooms, you can view/listen to the book trailer here (with original music written and performed by Maiah Wynne, the lead vocalist for Alex Lifeson's new band, Envy of None): 


 


and you can view the book reading I recorded for my book launch here:


 

Lucy's Blooms is available wherever books are sold. You can support my creative work (and your local indie bookseller) without leaving the comfort of your home by purchasing your books through Bookshop

Thanks for celebrating with me! 

June 15, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS, by Terry Ann Marsh

Hello readers! It's time to dig into another path to publication story in the latest edition of Birth Stories for Books. Today's guest is Terry Ann Marsh, author of THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS (illustrated by Lintang Pandu Pratiwi, published by Brandylane Publishers/Belle Isle Books, July 2022.) 

by Terry Ann Marsh and Lintang Pandu Pratiwi

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Terry. I’ve enjoyed reading about your publishing journey for your debut picture book, THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS, on your blog, and I’m delighted to be able to ask some specific questions about your experience here.  

Your online bio indicates that you’ve spent decades singing and performing for adults and kids, and that you’ve “put down the mic and picked up the pen,” transforming stories and songs from your children’s shows into submittable manuscripts. Can you share with us how the idea for this particular story originally came to be?

Terry Ann Marsh: I’d love to -- and thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog!

I was contemplating the concept of fractured fairy tales, wondering if there was a fairy tale that would work for me. As an entertainer, I was always on the lookout for ideas that would not only be entertaining, but could also be used by a parent or teacher as a jumping off point for a conversation on a kid-friendly theme. I probably thought about it for a few months, and then one day I asked the big question: What if instead of using straw, wood and brick to build their houses, the three little pigs had to use a character trait to build their house. And so, The Three Little Sprigs who live in the Woodland Kingdom was born.

DP: What a fun backstory and concept for a children's book. 

I’d also like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

TAM: What a good question! I had to go back and find my original manuscript to see how long it’s been. This story took about 3 years to develop completely. I tend to really think about stories for a while before I actually start writing them, but I would have to count that as part of the process. It also went through a couple of critique groups. I think the idea of the story appealed to everyone, but it is longer than your average picture book today, so that posed a bit of a problem. I was getting a little discouraged until I talked to an author at a SCBWI conference, who said I should submit it as picture storybook, which would allow for more words (it clocks in at 1800 words!) Happily, her advice worked.

DP: Sometimes all we need is that one new idea to help a story along!

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

TAM: My earlier manuscript had more descriptive scenes in it because I was in love with the idea of this Woodland Kingdom where everything came alive. Toadstool caps used as sleds, dandelion heads that hung in windows as curtains, daisy blankets that hugged you back -- so much fun! But the word count needed to come down. Some scenes didn’t survive and some became illustrations.


Illustrations by Lintang Pandu Pratiwi

Since it’s longer than most books in the market today, I was grateful that Brandylane Publishers allowed the story to develop completely. The Three Little Sprigs follows the timeline of the Three Little Pigs fairly closely. Instead of the Big Bad Wolf, there are Stinging Rain and Lonely Wind, who visit each house and try to blow them down, but all that takes time and words to develop. I was glad I didn’t feel the need to shorten or rush the story. 

Illustration by Lintang Pandu Pratiwi

DP: How great that you found a publisher that shared your vision for this story. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

TAM: The writer at the SCBWI conference who told me about the picture storybook form was very helpful. She loved the book and that encouraged me to keep going with a story that I loved.

DP: That's terrific. One of my favorite parts of this business is the wonderful people I've met throughout my journey and the encouragement I've received (and continue to receive) from others along the way.  

Another favorite part is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips.  Based on your years of experience performing for adults and kids, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful events? 

TAM: My number one rule for entertaining — don’t be boring! Have more than enough material, so there are no long pauses, or gaps in your presentation. When people get nervous they tend to speak fast, so your 10 minutes of material might end up being 5! Have plenty to say, sing, act out or do.

Kids love to interact, so give them plenty to do, if possible. It’s better to say that you didn’t use all the stuff you brought, than to say you didn’t bring enough (learned that the hard way!).

DP: Great tips! I'll bet your events are loads of fun! 

Speaking of events, it’s clear that you and I share a preference for in-person events over virtual, but given that your book will launch in the midst of (a still ongoing!) pandemic, I’d be especially interested in hearing what you have found to be the most effective and meaningful way(s) to connect with young readers and book buyers during this challenging time.

TAM: This is the most challenging thing for me. Social media is definitely outside my comfort zone. Fortunately, my youngest daughter is a branding expert, and she will help me, although she assures me I am not ready for Instagram! I give myself props for developing a webpage, and getting on Facebook, although I need to be more consistent. If need be, I can jump into the world of video blogs and Zoom meetings, but I am truly hoping that by the time my book comes out (maybe April?), in-person events will be back on.   

DP: Gosh, I sure do hope so, Terry! 

One of my favorite creative experiences has been collaborating with music professionals to create original songs and videos for my picture books (you can view a recent collaboration here.) Given your decades of singing experience, do you have any plans for bringing together these two forms of creative expression?

TAM: I loved the video for your book — such a great idea!

DP: Thank you! It was such a fun project to work on. 

TAM: I will definitely use some of my music to enhance my library/school visits. I have a lot of songs that encourage activity, and they are always fun. I don’t have a specific song for Sprigs, but I do have several that I can use that will speak to some of the themes in the book. I also have one song, Kingdom of the Jewels, that I would love to see as a book.

DP: I'll look forward to that project coming to fruition one day, too.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

TAM: I think I would tell myself not to be discouraged because things don’t, and won’t, happen as quickly as I want them to. Being published is more of a ‘in-it-for-the-long-haul’ process. There’s a lot to learn, so enjoy the process of learning as you go. Also, writing is a very subjective craft. What one person can love, another can hate. So, stay true to what you believe in and what you want to say, and find the best way to say it. 

DP: Thanks for that, Terry. That's excellent advice. 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

TAM: Who is the best audience for The Three Little Sprigs? The reason I like this question is because I think the book has much to offer to elementary grades. I have a 4th grade teacher friend who will be using it for her biology science this spring. I make mention of 10 different types of plants found in a forest, and ask 2 good science questions on the teacher page. Also, a book about character traits allows for very teachable moments. The last question on the teacher page is, “If you were to build a house with a character trait, which one would you use?” It can open up great discussions. 

DP: What a great response to this question, Terry. I hope your book finds its way into the hands of many young readers.  

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

TAM: I am in an advanced writer’s submit/critique cohort with SCBWI, and I submitted a book about the numbers 10—100. After the first critique last month I realized I had to deconstruct the whole thing and come at it from another angle, which I did! The result has been wonderful. I will continue with this manuscript and see where it will take me.   

DP: Best of luck with this new project, Terry, and thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS with us!

TAM: Thank you, Dawn. It was fun!

Friends, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. It sounds like THE THREE LITTLE SPRIGS would make an excellent addition to school and classroom libraries (and it would be a great complement to LUCY'S BLOOMS if you already have that one on your shelf.) 

********** 

Terry Ann Marsh has been a singer and entertainer for over three decades. She combined Big Band standards, blues, and show tunes in her Showstoppers & Chartoppers! Program. She then went on to write and perform The Music, Movement & ‘Magination Show! a preschool/Kindergarten-level program full of original stories, songs and skits. 

Encouraged by the success and positive feedback from her children’s show, Terry began converting the songs and stories from her live performances into book form. Now, instead of acting or singing her characters into existence, she brings them to life in the pages of her books.

Terry has a great love for theater and has performed in many shows in theaters around Baltimore, including Annie, Fiddler on the Roof and Bye, Bye, Birdie. Eventually, her love of musical theater led her to become a music teacher at Greater Grace Christian Academy, where she directed many theater productions.

Whether it be through music or her books, Terry is a storyteller at heart. She feels every song or story has a purpose – to encourage, educate and enlighten. 

**********

Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

June 8, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE, by Kaitlyn Wells

Here comes a treat, readers! 

I recently had the opportunity to interview Kaitlyn Wells about her debut picture book, A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE, (illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Penguin Random House/Flamingo Books, May 31, 2022). Today, I get to share that interview with you.

by Kaitlyn Wells and Sawyer Cloud

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Kaitlyn. I’m looking forward to learning more about the path to publication for your debut picture book, A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE. 

In an earlier interview you shared that the inspiration for this book was based on heartbreaking experiences you had growing up as a biracial child. I wonder if you could share more specifically how and when the idea came to you to write about these experiences in the form of a children’s book featuring a young pup who looks different from her doggy siblings? 

Kaitlyn Wells: Honestly, reliving a painful childhood experience wasn't the first thing I wanted to write about, but friend and fellow author Nancy Redd reminded me that it's OK to put yourself into your art and tell empowering stories. I thought about what I want other people to know about what it felt like to be told you didn't belong and that your family wasn't your own, simply because of the color of your skin. Along the way, I remembered that my dog Sutton looks completely different from her own family, too. She's a Chihuahua-mix with a brown tricolor coat. Two of her siblings have scruffy blond coats, and another has a black tricolor coat. Sutton's also a dog who sees the best in everyone and loves you no matter what you look like. It just seemed like telling a difficult story with my dog as the conduit fit perfectly with what I was trying to do, and made it a little bit easier to write the story too.

Interior Image from A Family Looks Like Love

DP: It's so nice to have the backstory, Kaitlyn. Thanks for sharing it with us.

In addition to writing (and reading!) books for kids, you are an award-winning journalist, and you’ve written for a long list of different publications. This suggests you have quite a bit of experience submitting ideas to editors, and yet the children’s book publishing industry can pose its own unique challenges. I’d like to hear about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. 

KW: Looking back, I've been writing stories since middle school. I've been honing my craft—as a writer, journalist, author or whatever you want to call me—my entire career. With this particular manuscript, I began scribbling down thoughts for the book in August 2019. But because of a mix of perfectionism and imposter syndrome, I didn't write my first draft until December 2019. From there, I went through several revisions with my critique partner. That same partner and friend shared my manuscript with her agent to ask for advice on what I should do next. Then things took a surprising turn. The agent, Jane Startz fell in love with the manuscript and offered to represent me. I did my research, we had a great conversation, and I signed with her that following May. After a few more revisions we went on submission. At that point, it became emotionally draining with every "no" we received from editors and publishing houses. My story was an #ownvoices manuscript, so it felt like every rejection was a reminder that my voice, that my lived experience, wasn't good enough for the publishing world. One day, I finally received good news, and in September 2020 I accepted an offer with Penguin Random House/Philomel Books (currently under Flamingo Books). Now, you'll be able to find A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE in bookstores on May 31, 2022! 

DP: That's quite a path-to-publication, story, Kaitlyn! Hooray! 

KW: Thank you! Looking back, I'm still surprised by how fast the process went and I believe my book publishing journey isn't typical. Although, just saying that out loud, I'm reminded that I don't have to justify my journey and I need to push imposter syndrome aside (yet again). So, correction: I didn't luck into anything during the process. I worked incredibly hard and earned everything I have achieved.

DP: Indeed! 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE to find its way to publication? I’d also like to hear if there is anything in particular that you bring from your other research and writing experiences that helps you be more successful in your role as a children’s book author?

KW: All of the credit in the world goes to my colleague, Nancy Redd, who believed in me. Well, I should say my mother is the one who's always believed in me, followed by my wonderful husband. But in this particular instance, it was Redd who pushed me to write this particular picture book at this moment in time, and opened another door by sharing the manuscript with her agent. I will also say that our meeting was an accidental encounter. Redd and I live on opposite coasts in the U.S., and we only know one another because one day I shared a job opening at my company and she replied to the posting. I helped her through the application process by offering her cover letter and interview help, and when she landed the job our friendship grew. This is just to say that you never know what connections you make today will lead to good fortune in the future. So do the networking, be kind to everyone you meet, and put yourself out there.

DP: That's great advice, Kaitlyn, and such an excellent example of this advice in action. 

KW: I think so, too. As for the second part of your question, I'm a firm believer that skills are transferable—you've just got to know how to apply them to each new situation. I bring everything into my kidlit journey. The research and reporting skills and ability to translate complex information into compelling narratives translates well into my work as a children's book author. 

DP: What an inspiring and empowering perspective. 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

KW: The first version of the story featured a not-so-friendly squirrel. I don't want to spoil the story, but that character was later replaced with a honey bee who says some "stinging" things to my main character, Sutton. 

DP: Ha! It will be fun for readers to discover this revision! 

KW: And since looks are integral to this story, I also considered the coat colors and textures of the dogs. The original version described Sutton's family as cream-colored or white (a nod to some of my own family members). But during the revision process, it became clearer to me that the story was centering whiteness, which wasn't something I wanted to do. The dogs ended up having yellow and brown coats instead, and I like this version better because it reflects the coats of the real-life Sutton's siblings.

Interior Image from A Family Looks Like Love

DP: This is an excellent example of how important the revision process is to the writing process. 

You write on a wide range of topics and for a variety of different publications in your role as a journalist. You also publish a newsletter "that explores how Black, Indigenous, and womxn of color navigate the world,” and you are engaged in many activities and initiatives, such as volunteering for organizations like the ASPCA and standing up for banned books. How do you balance the time between your different writing projects and the different aspects of the book publishing business alongside an active personal life?

KW: Oh goodness, I am nowhere near on top of my game. For example, I will admit my newsletter isn't as active as I would like it to be. That's all to say that my work-life balance often has its struggles. But honestly, I love being busy and learning and growing as a person. I love helping others, especially animals, and if I can do something to make the world a tiny bit better, then I'm going to try. 

When it comes to finding that balance, I constantly remind myself that perfection doesn't exist, and just doing the thing is better than doing nothing at all. In general, I try to devote an hour or two to each major project with the understanding that I can always come back to it and improve upon it another day. And if I don't that's OK too because I made enough progress that allows me to check it off my to-do list. No matter what, I try to remain in the moment and find joy in the task at hand so I don't obsess about it later on. Otherwise, I think self-tormenting can detract from my entire point of creating and growing and learning and helping others. It's a constant battle, and I'm always working on finding that balance.

DP: Thanks for the healthy and helpful perspective, Kaitlyn.  I'm grateful for the reminder that we are all a work-in-progress. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

KW: If I could go back to my childhood self who loved drawing horses and fairies, I would tell her to keep at it. I desperately wish I had developed my illustrator skills as there's a lot more freedom to tell stories a certain way when you have a strong say on both the words and images associated with your books. Then I would tell my adult self to just get the words out on the page. They don't need to be perfect because they can always be improved upon later. Just write it down. Come back to it later. Also, don't be afraid to write more stories than you think people want to read because, honestly, the world can always use empowering tales by a strong, Black biracial woman. Lastly, I would tell both selves that you deserve to be here, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

DP: Yes, to all of this. 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

KW: What I will say is that every child matters. Everyone deserves to be represented in the books that they read. Don't be afraid to push boundaries and stay true to the authentic stories that you want to tell. 

If someone tells you that your experiences as a diverse author don't have merit, surround yourself with people who respect you and your art. If someone actively keeps your story and the stories of your literary peers out of the hands of readers, know that you can do something about it. You can report book censorship to the American Library Association or the National Coalition Against Censorship, and run for local office to combat proposed censorship laws. 

DP: Thank you for this, Kaitlyn. I know some of our readers really needed to hear these words and receive these resource links today. 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

KW: I have so many unpublished stories in the works. Right now, I'm excited about my upcoming biographical STEM picture book. I hope to announce it soon. I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter for updates. (Shameless plug, I know.)

DP: Shameless plugs are welcome here! 

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE with us, Kaitlyn! 

KW: Thank you for inviting me to participate! And before I forget, you can always snag a signed copy of A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE with one of my local indies. Happy reading!

DP: Dear readers, you've heard me say it before: the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE is available everywhere books are borrowed and sold, including your own local, indie bookstore

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Image Credit: Sarah Kobos
Kaitlyn Wells (she/her) is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among others. Her commentary on diverse literature can be found in The New York Times Book Review, BookPage, and Diverse Kids Books. Her debut picture book A Family Looks Like Love arrives May 31, 2022 with Penguin Random House/Flamingo Books. She lives in New York City with her wonderful husband, rambunctious dog, and demanding cat. Visit KaitWells.com to subscribe to her newsletter that explores how Black, Indigenous, and womxn of color navigate the world. And follow her on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter




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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

June 1, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: SOME DADDIES, by Carol Gordon Ekster

Hello readers! Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you an info-packed Birth Stories for Books interview with Carol Gordon Ekster, where we'll learn about the path to publication for her latest book, SOME DADDIES (illustrated by Javiera Maclean Alvarez, Beaming Books, May 2022.) 

Carol contributed a guest post about her book, YOU KNOW WHAT?, back in 2019, and I'm so happy she's able to return to share more of her perspective and experience with us. 

by Carol Gordon Ekster and Javiera Maclean Alvarez

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome back to the blog, Carol. We first met when I hosted you for a guest post back in 2019 to share the Birth Story of your picture book, YOU KNOW WHAT? Since then we’ve chatted on Writers’ Rumpus when you interviewed me during the launch of my potty humor books, and we’ve stayed in touch via social media. It’s great when authors return to the blog for a visit, especially when it’s because they have a new book out! I’m so excited to hear more about the path to publication for your latest title, SOME DADDIES (illustrated by Javiera Maclean Alvarez, Beaming Books, May 2022.) The cover art is so inviting. I immediately wanted to open the book and see what was inside—and I was not disappointed! 

In an earlier interview, you shared that the inspiration for this book came out of a FaceTime conversation with your grandson. I wonder if you could recap some of that again for us here. I’d also like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the first manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. 

Carol Gordon Ekster: Thanks for having me, Dawn! Yes, I was FaceTiming with my grandson on 12/17/17, when he was three years old. He noticed my husband had just shaved, and said his daddy shaved too, but his daddy had a beard…so he’s going to have a beard when he gets older because he’s going to be a daddy. I said…"Some daddies have beards…” I paused, my writing brain igniting, and wrote that down as a title. After drafting it and revising it, and bringing it to three of my critique groups, I thought it ready to send out. (It really wasn't!) I first sent it to an agent about three months later in March and heard the next day. He wrote, "It's very nice and there aren't enough father stories. What else do you have?" I sent a few other manuscripts, but never heard back from him. That's the nature of this business! He wasn't the right agent for me. I sent it to a few other places with limited responses, one agent saying it was too similar to Todd Parr's Daddy book, (which it isn't). 

DP: That is the nature of this business, indeed! 

You’ve mentioned that this book was “hearted" by Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books during a #PBPitch event on Twitter. Twitter pitch events are important opportunities for authors such as myself who are un-agented. Could you share with us the pitch for this book that caught your editor’s eye? 

CGE: On October 25, 2018, there was a #pbpitch event. Here was what I put on Twitter: "SOME DADDIES-a 351-wd concept PB with heart. Some dads gro beards, some tuck u in with a song, some r called Baba, Tatti, etc.Every daddy is different.This is a repeated refrain.The bk opens possibility 4 illus 2 sho differences- looks, ethnicity, family structure, etc. #PBpitch"

Naomi Krueger from Beaming Books "hearted" the pitch. I reread my manuscript and sent it right out. And exactly one year to the day that I first FaceTimed with my grandson, I saw the acceptance on Submittable. Now that's fast in the world of publishing! But because of Covid, it was delayed a year, and came out May 17, 2022. And now my grandson is seven! Making books takes time. And as creatives, we'd be happier if we just let it take the time it takes. I've also realized that this business is very subjective.

Before I got the contract, I received communication from Naomi: "I love this celebration of fathers and all the diverse personalities and attributes that dads can have. I've been looking for a book about dads, and so I'm really excited about your manuscript." So my pitch caught her attention because she was interested in the topic. And when I got my acceptance letter, I knew she was the perfect editor for me. "We are pleased to inform you that Beaming Books would like to acquire “Some Daddies” to be published in a future list season. We love how this book celebrates the diversity of what it can look like to be a dad. This is so important for young kids who are starting to notice other children’s parents and compare them to their own, as well as how they develop their perception of healthy masculinity. This is a joyful book with a serious message—the type of book we would be proud to publish at Beaming Books." It touched on why I wrote the book, so that kids would understand they are not alone. That we all realize at some point that our daddies are not perfect and are in some way different from other daddies, but we love them for who they are. 

Naomi went on maternity leave right after my acceptance, but I started to work on revising and tightening immediately. And then when she came back from her leave, we worked on it more together. She is an amazing editor. It was clear that she had a vision for this manuscript.

DP: What a fantastic backstory, Carol. I "heart" Beaming Books. How wonderful that you had just the right manuscript at just the right time for them! 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? 

CGE: What stands out to me is that I restructured it to have more of an arc, even though it's a concept book. I originally started with my initial idea – "Some daddies have beards." I revised to begin with the dads waking up and we go through their day and bedtime. I also initially had the different names for daddies in different languages, like Baba, Tatti, etc, as I had in my #pbpitch, but Naomi thought it best to leave that out as the book isn’t specifically about other cultures and languages. It’s more about personalities. Which was true! So now I've included that on my website as a follow-up activity. I do activities for each of my books in all modalities. 

And I discovered something humorous when looking through my drafts in response to this question. In the page about what dads drink, I didn't have this in my accepted manuscript, but I added in, "Others drink a bottle of beer." I did this because as a fourth-grade teacher I saw that kids worried about their dads having beers when the local policeman came to our class each year to talk about drugs and alcohol. I wanted to assure children that it is perfectly normal for parents to have beers sometimes…and that they are not alone in their concerns. But before I had even shown this to Naomi, I decided to delete that line. 

DP: What a great find in your draft file and such heartwarming reasoning to go behind it. 

On the flip side, is there anything that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

CGE: Something that stands out that was included in my early drafts and survived the revision process was the sentiment in this page spread, 

"Some daddies share comforting words and cry with you.

Others love making you laugh. 

Some barely hug.

Others hug like bears." 

Interior Image: SOME DADDIES

Naomi was sensitive to children whose fathers are not involved in their lives or who have difficult relationships with their dads. I appreciated her wisdom and guidance to reword the first line to put it in a more positive light than my original wording and then to suggest setting it in a doctor's waiting room after one daddy made a mistake and missed catching his daughter resulting in a playground fall. 

This page was important to me as I think it really shows the different personalities dads can have. My dad was one who barely hugged. And when I was younger that was hard for me. But I learned to accept him and appreciate his many other incredible gifts.  

Interior Image: SOME DADDIES

DP: Oh, these details make me love the book even more, Carol. Thank you for sharing this with us. 

When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for some of your other children’s books, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

CGE: A key difference was that this was acquired faster than my other manuscripts, but still took more than four years from the initial idea to holding the book in my hand. In my journey as an author, that's a quick turnaround. My next book comes out in 2023 and I wrote the first draft in 2013. That's ten years! The similarities are that each book acquisition has been a unique process, but always an exciting and nerve-wracking time. I know that it will really be out in the world so I want to make it my very best work. The pressure is real! I will share a manuscript with others even after it is acquired. And you realize what a group effort it is to make a book. I do not write alone. From the beginning, I get ideas and input from critique buddies, then from an editor, and the illustrator and art director, all who add their magic to make this into the amazing art form that picture books are. 

DP: That is so true! There are so many helpful hands that join together to make a children's book. 

Another magical part of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. In addition to being a children’s book author, you are a retired teacher who taught 4th grade for 35 years. (Wow!) Based on your wealth of experience working with young learners, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) book events?

CGE: First and foremost be passionate! Kids know when you are not sincere. You have to be vibrant and keep their attention and interest. You need to engage them. I ask the audience questions on a power point presentation and have them raise their hands to let me know which answer they choose. It definitely helps that I was a teacher. I know topics that were covered in my grade level and what teachers want you to focus on. And I love touching on the life lessons of perseverance, responsibility, and hard work. We have the power to touch lives! And I want to give one tip I see happen in auditoriums or smaller book events all the time. When you get questions from the audience, repeat that question. The others may not have heard it and it's hard for listeners to be engaged without knowing what the question was. 

DP: Great tips, Carol!

Taking a stroll through your website and social media feeds, it is clear you are a passionate educator at heart. You’ve said that writing picture books has allowed you a second career and a new way to communicate with children. If there is one overarching message you hope to communicate to children through your body of work, what would that message be? 

CGE: You are not alone! And there is a community of people and books that will help you navigate your way through life. 

DP: What a beautiful message! 

You are a member of multiple critique groups, and you have written over 100 manuscripts, several of which that have now become books. How have you created structure(s) in your life to keep you on track and moving forward despite the increased level of flexibility in your current schedule as compared to when you were a teacher and school bells rang to tell you when it was time for lunch or recess? I’d especially like to hear if there is anything in particular that you bring from your teaching career that helps you be more successful in your role as a children’s book author?

CGE: I have actually specifically NOT created structure in this author life. There was too much of that in my teaching life. Now I usually begin my day with exercise and then move on with the day as my mood dictates. Every day there might be something that moves me to action. An e-mail from a critique buddy with a critique that makes me want to jump into a revision using their notes. I might get a response from an agent or editor that pushes me to make a new submission or rethink one of my manuscripts. I might have an opportunity for promotion, like this interview! I might feel drawn to read one of the picture books in my pile that I've picked up from the library. And something in that book I read just might click on an idea for a new manuscript or a revision. If I have a deadline for something, I put a reminder on my phone or leave myself a note to make sure I take care of all the many facets of a writing life. But this is where I want to be, immersed in this wonderful calling. Too often I hold off on dealing with all the other responsibilities of life, preferring the meditative feel of lining up words in just the right order. 

DP: What a wonderful answer to this question, Carol. I so appreciate the validation for letting the writing life take you where it will take you.  

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

CGE: It takes the time it takes. Be patient! And trust in the process. 


DP: Indeed!

Is there anything else you wanted to share about SOME DADDIES? 

CGE: My husband has helped me make book trailers for all but my first book, which was before I knew about trailers! But for SOME DADDIES, we mentioned the trailer to my creative jewelry-designing musically talented brother-in-law, Ron Rizzo, when we were staying at my sister's house. The next day we heard him strumming on his guitar and whistling. He wrote an original song for the trailer! My husband used that song to organize Javiera's illustrations and I just love the result of this family project. Here's the link

DP: Oh my gosh, Carol! I LOVE this song and book trailer so much! As you may recall, I've added musical elements to several of my picture books, and this song and video of yours is such a GREAT example of how music can add so much enrichment to an already marvelous story. Bravo to all involved!

Shifting gears, do you have anything you’d like to tell us about that you’re currently working on?

CGE: I'm still always working on multiple manuscripts at once and when so moved, go back to older manuscripts that have not yet sold. But I'm very excited about the next upcoming picture book, Trucker Kid, illustrated by Russ Cox, coming out spring 2023 with Capstone. This is one of those manuscripts that I believed in and kept revising and then pulled it out again during Covid because I felt more appreciative than ever of the importance of trucking in our lives. I added an author's note and what might happen within just a few days of trucks stopping service to our mail, groceries, garbage, etc. It made the story more relevant and timely which I believe helped it sell. I recently saw the first cover sketch and it's amazing. This is an exciting time for me, receiving initial sketches and seeing the book come together. I truly feel blessed to have two new books entering the world.

DP: That sounds great, Carol. I look forward to celebrating that new book, too!  

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for SOME DADDIES with us. It's a really lovely book.

CGE: Thank YOU, Dawn! 

Dear readers, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. And share this post with a friend to help get the word out about the book. SOME DADDIES is available everywhere books are borrowed and sold. 

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Image Source

Carol Gordon Ekster was a passionate elementary school teacher for thirty-five years. Now retired, Carol is grateful that her writing allows her to continue communicating with children. She is the author of Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You which won 3rd place in the children’s category of the Catholic Press Association Book Awards and was also a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016. Her picture book, You Know What?, came out first in Dutch (Mama, Wist Je Dat?), December 2016 with Clavis Books. The English version released September 2017 and was a CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Talk (2018) and a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award in the New England region, 2018. The Korean language edition came out 2019 and Arabic and Chinese editions are in process.  Some Daddies, illustrated by Javiera Maclean Alvarez came out May 2022 with Beaming Books. Trucker Kid, illustrated by Russ Cox comes out spring 2023 with Capstone. When Carol is not in a critique group or at her computer she might be doing yoga or biking. She lives in Andover, Massachusetts with her husband Mark. Find out more at www.carolgordonekster.com 

And connect with her here: https://linktr.ee/carolgordonekster 

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com

May 25, 2022

Birth Stories for BOOKS: ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW, by Elisa Boxer

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Elisa Boxer, an award-winning journalist and the author of several must-read picture books, including ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW (illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns, Crown/Random House Kids, May 10, 2022.) 

I'm delighted that I can share this insightful interview with you, today.  

by Elisa Boxer and Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Elisa. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the path to publication for your compelling new picture book, ONE TURTLE’S LAST STRAW.

Elisa Boxer: I am delighted to be here, Dawn, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog! 

DP: In your comprehensive online bio you say, “My singular self-imposed task has been consistent: Dig deep enough to uncover the soul. Because regardless of the subject, there’s an emotional spark. Always. My job is finding that spark and crafting it into something relatable and universal.” 

I’d argue you accomplished that goal right from the opening page of ONE TURTLE’S LAST STRAW, which reads,“What if one small choice had the power to CHANGE THE WORLD?” 

I’d love to hear how the initial idea for this story came to be, and if there was any one moment along the way that you credit with helping you uncover the relatable and universal emotional spark for this story?

EB: I'm so glad you picked up on the significance of that opening page, because to me, that one question ("What if one small choice had the power to change the world?") is really everything - at least it became so. I didn't initially set out to convey this message. In fact, in the early stages, I was just looking to write a picture book on the topic of ocean pollution. 

Interior Image: ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW

When I stumbled across the viral video of the sea turtle with the straw stuck in his nasal passage, it tugged at my heart. I wanted to know more, so I set up an interview with the marine biologist responsible for filming the video and helping to save the turtle's life. She told me this wasn't necessarily the result of someone littering on a beach, and that even in landlocked communities, straws can blow into storm drains and travel great distances to the ocean, where they can impact marine life. The fact that this turtle almost died because someone, without even thinking about it, could have casually tossed a straw in the trash, really got me thinking about the far-reaching impact of a single decision. We make them every day, right? I want young readers to realize just how much power lies in every conscious choice.

Interior Image: ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW

DP: That's a really powerful backstory, Elisa. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

In addition to being an accomplished children’s book author, you’re an Emmy Award-winning journalist, Columbia-trained newspaper, magazine, and TV reporter, and Today Show parenting team blogger. This suggests you have quite a bit of experience submitting ideas to editors, and yet the children’s book publishing industry can pose its own unique challenges. I’d like to hear about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. I’d especially like to hear if there is anything in particular that you bring from your other research and writing experiences that helps you be more successful in your role as a children’s book author?  

EB: When I set out on the children's literature path, I didn't realize just how similar it would be to journalism. But especially as a nonfiction author, so much is the same in terms of topic selection, in-depth research, distilling the information down to a relatable narrative, finding a hook, and writing the story with emotional resonance.

As for the timeline, after I found the video of the sea turtle with the straw stuck in his nose, I was so moved by it that I tracked down Christine Figgener, the marine biologist, and asked for an interview. She was in Costa Rica on another research mission at the time, but was so great about quickly emailing me back and arranging a phone call. We spoke the very next week, and I was so motivated after that talk that I sat down and wrote the manuscript in one weekend. It was the quickest first draft I've ever written. When I'm able to talk to someone directly involved in the story, it's such a huge motivator for me. That's one thing I love about journalism, interviewing people at the heart of a story. The whole turtle book process moved really quickly, compared to my other books. After a few rounds of back-and-forth revisions with my agent, out it went to editors. And it found the perfect home with Emily Easton, the VP/Publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers. She brought so much heart to the process. And it ended up being a two-book deal with A Seat at the Table: The Nancy Pelosi Story!   

DP: Wow! This is another example of how much power lies in every conscious choice, in this case, the conscious choice to learn more about the turtle's story!

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

EB: I'm going to answer this question differently than I would have yesterday, because today my author copies just arrived (YAY!) and while my son was reading through it, he said "You changed the ending!" 

I will do a bit of a spoiler here and say I had completely forgotten that in the draft I initially sent to my agent, the child at the end of the book does the same thing as the child in the beginning -- tosses a straw in the trash without giving it a second thought. So it was more of a cautionary tale. I had wanted young readers to think, "uh-oh, we know what could happen next!" Because they would have just read the harrowing tale of the turtle swallowing said straw. 

But my agent thought it would be better to end on a hopeful note, which we did. I won't completely spoil the ending, but I agree it's a much better one!

I'm also thrilled that Dr. Christine Figgener, the marine biologist, agreed to write an afterword. When Emily Easton acquired the book, I hadn't yet asked Christine if she'd write something. It's such an important part of the book and I am so glad it's in there!

DP: I love how the book ends—and I agree, Dr. Figgener's afterword adds a really nice touch. 

When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for your next two books coming out later this year (COVERED IN COLOR and SPLASH), what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each? 



EB: I've been thinking a lot lately about how different these books appear on the surface, but how remarkably similar they are in some important ways, namely that their subjects manage to turn terrible hardships into hope. In One Turtle's Last Straw, the turtle's near-death ordeal helped wake up the world to the dangers of plastic straws. In Splash!, Olympian Ethelda Bleibtrey used swimming not only to heal from polio, but also to change some sexist rules of society. In Covered in Color, the artist Christo grew up under terrifying and oppressive Nazi rule, and then under Communism, yet he and his wife Jeanne-Claude created these incredible installations of public art that were ultimately symbols of freedom. 

In terms of publication journeys, all three books began with a deep desire to learn more, which led to copious amounts of research in libraries, online and over the phone. The acquiring editors for SPLASH! (Sarah Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press) and Covered in Color (Howard Reeves at Abrams) were editors I was already working with on other projects, while One Turtle's Last Straw was my first book with Emily Easton. Although this book ended up releasing after our other book together, A Seat at the Table

Having three books come out in the same year, with three different publishers, has been eye-opening in terms of how differently each house handles everything from acquisitions, to revisions, to proofs, to marketing. Just when I begin to assume something based on how one publisher does things, I am reminded that the next publisher has a completely different process. It's an adventure! I will say that the one constant with every book is that I remain thoroughly in awe of the illustrators and how they bring the words to life in ways that are beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

DP: These are really helpful observations, Elisa. Reading your books, it's very clear that they come from a place of a deep desire to learn more, and I can't help but think that this desire to learn more rubs off on your readers.  

Your debut picture book, THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE, launched at the very beginning of the pandemic, at which time you wrote a beautiful blog post about the ways in which the kidlit community came together to support each other and the other participants in the kidlit ecosystem  (e.g. indie book stores, young readers, teachers, librarians, parents.) Your second book, A SEAT AT THE TABLE, launched a year later while the pandemic carried on. Now that you have pandemic-era book launch experience, what have you found to be the most effective and meaningful way(s) to connect with young readers and book buyers during these challenging times? 

EB: Thanks so much for referring to that blog post, I was moved to write that in the middle of an emotional roller coaster that none of us could have known would last as long as it has! And I love how you call it a kidlit ecosystem. We really are an ecosystem, aren't we? At this point, I don't have any idea what it's like to launch a book during anything other than a pandemic! The launch event for my first book was scheduled for that second week in March when everything shut down, and we had to cancel it. As you mentioned, my second book launched in quarantine. Three books in, I'm getting ready for my first in-person event, which I'm super excited about: An outdoor storytime, Q&A and book signing on the lawn of my local Scarborough Public Library

But I have to say, even though my launches thus far have been very different than what I expected, I've really been focused on celebrating the processes that led to these books coming to fruition, the books themselves, and everyone involved. If I'd been focused on launch events, who knows, maybe I would have still been just as able to focus on the more intangible aspects? But maybe not. And I am thrilled that I've been able to connect with educators and students around the world, whereas my focus might have been more local were we not in a pandemic. 

Ultimately, to answer your question (I got here eventually, ha!) I think the most meaningful connections with young readers and book buyers come from how deeply and passionately we connect with our own work, and our ability to authentically convey that, regardless of the medium.

DP: I think you've hit on something really important, Elisa. Your enthusiasm is definitely contagious!  

One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. You’ve previously shared that your son has high-functioning autism, also known as Asperger’s syndrome, and you’ve articulated that individuals, like your son, who "see below the surface” have something to teach us all. Based on your unique experience and understanding working with exceptional young learners, what advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning (in-person and/or remote) book events? Put more simply, what might your son, Evan, be able to teach us about how to improve our author outreach?

EB: What a wonderful question. I just went to the source and asked my son, Evan! He said he's most drawn in when presentations are interactive. For example, when the presenter asks questions, provides visual aids with back and forth from the audience, leads a hand-on activity, or otherwise engages the listener. Personally, my favorite part of my presentations is always the Q&A. I don't even like to wait until I'm finished. I'd rather take questions as they naturally arise from the students. Not always feasible, I know, but I love the organic nature and flow of something unexpected that sparks a students' interest and that I can answer on the spot.

DP: That's excellent advice from Evan! (And I couldn't agree more about the Q&A. There's never enough time for all the questions, and I never want to miss a single one. I always encourage kids to write me with any questions they didn't get to ask during the author visit. Here is a recap of the dandies from my most recent virtual author visit.)

Taking a stroll through your blog, website and social media feeds, it is clear you are engaged in many different activities and experiences to make the world a better place, including your work as an environmental health advocate and as a mindfulness coach and columnist. How do you balance the time between your different writing projects and the different aspects of the publishing business alongside an active personal life?

EB: My mindfulness practice has actually helped tremendously with every aspect of my life, because it's really about tuning in, grounding, and being acutely present for each moment. Easier said than done, I know, especially for us recovering Type-A multitaskers. But I'm trying to make every moment count, especially now in these next couple of months before my baby heads off to college! I've found that paying full, honest attention to how I am feeling in real time helps me let go of things that might be draining my energy, and helps me put more focus on things that are important and aligned with who I am and what I can contribute. For some tasks, we have no choice, we have to do them, right? But for others, whether it's a project, an interaction, something personal, or something professional, I try to pay attention to whether I feel a sense of ease/freedom/expansion in my solar plexus, or a tightness/tension/constriction. The former means it's a big yes, and the latter means maybe it's something I should consider saying no to. 

DP: That's really healthy advice, Elisa. I'm so grateful for everything I've learned from you while working on this interview.  

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

EB: I would have told my pre-published self to go for it a heck of a lot sooner than I did! Even while I was reporting for various news outlets, I was always writing picture book manuscripts in my spare time. Because I had a passion for children's literature, and a love of writing. But I didn't have the confidence to submit anything until a few years ago, in my late forties. I know it's never too late, but I do wish I'd started earlier. More importantly, I wish I'd believed in myself and my writing earlier. I actually have a book coming out in 2024 (it hasn't been announced yet) that I started writing in the 1990s!

DP: That is encouraging and inspiring on so many levels, Elisa! 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

EB: Finding faith amid the darkest of circumstances has been one emerging theme of my writing, and I am humbled to be working on two Holocaust-related picture books. Hidden Hope (Abrams, 2023) is the true story of a wooden toy duck used to hide false identity papers from the Nazis, and The Tree of Life (Rocky Pond Books, 2024) tells how children in a concentration camp secretly planted a sapling, whose descendants survive to this day. 

I'm also thrilled to be working on two yet-to-be-announced picture books with themes of trusting your instincts and listening to your inner voice.

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for ONE TURTLE’S LAST STRAW with us, Elisa! I look forward to reading your other forthcoming books when they come into the world, too. 

EB: Dawn, thank you so much for having me, and for these thoughtful questions. I'm so happy to have gotten to know you through this process!

DP: I enjoyed getting to know you through our shared interest in writing for children, Elisa. I look forward to staying in touch. 

Friends, you've heard me say it before: The best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Elisa's books, including ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW are available everywhere books are sold—but you know I'm partial to supporting your local, independent bookstore.  


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Photo Credit: Melissa Mullen Photography
Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Inc. magazine. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, and One Turtle's Last Straw. Elisa lives in Maine, and she has several more picture books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/ 



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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.