Welcome to the Author Spotlight for my guests, Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer. Read a few tidbits about these children's authors and what life is like to be a writer.
It's rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a day job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you've had in your life? Have they influenced/inspired your writing?
Natasha: My day job is being a full-time Mom. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be home with my kids. Now that they’re in school at least part of the time (My son is in a half-day kindergarten), I can have larger chunks of writing time. But prior to kids, I worked as a counselor/social worker in group homes, foster homes, residential treatment centers, and finally with child protective services. Because I worked with kids, it gave me an insight into how kids thought and felt. The way kids perceive the world, their imaginations and creativity is always an inspiration. One of these days, I’d like to write either a book about the life of a social worker or foster kids and what they have to go through.
Gretchen: My main job is taking care of my family, and I’m glad I get to do it. I have 3 kids at 3 different schools rignt now, and life gets busy! Up until a few years ago, when I started to give more time to my writing, I also held various jobs in education: high school and college English teacher and teacher mentor. I worked full-time outside the home before my kids were born, and after that, part-time … and now instead of working part-time outside the home, I write most mornings. I feel thankful I have my family’s support and that we can swing it, at least for now. Teaching English has definitely helped my writing, because it’s forced me think about what makes good writing effective—what works, and why.
Can you share some writing experiences with us?
Natasha: The path to publication can be agonizingly long and the road from Point A to Point B is often NOT a straight line. My first book, Otto’s Rainy Day, was fairly straightforward. I submitted the manuscript unsolicited to Charlesbridge Publishing. It was the one and only house I submitted this story to. They took a year to make a decision on it, but decided to acquire the manuscript. We had to wait a year to sign the illustrator as she was busy with other contracts. It was finally published 3 years after I signed the contract. A long road, but a fairly positive experience. Charlesbridge Publishing just offered me a contract on my picture book, Goldy Luck and the Three Chans. This one took quite a torturous and circuitous route to publishing. I had submitted the manuscript unsolicited to Tricycle Press in 1996. It went through 3 editors, as the editors kept leaving the company. There were long lapses when I had no communication whatsoever—the last editor who had the manuscript went on emergency maternity leave and the manuscript was left in limbo; it was lost once, and I had to send another copy. Finally, in Aug. 2010, after 3 and a half years with Tricycle, the editor gave me the good news that they wanted to acquire it. I wasn’t represented by an agent then, so I had to do a lot of research into publishing contracts and negotiated my own contract. A few days after I signed it and sent it back, Tricycle Press’ parent organization, Random House, decided to close Tricycle. Most of the books on their list, including mine, were sadly orphaned. It was very discouraging. I sent the book back out to my former publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing. They don’t do a lot of folk tales or fairy tales, so I wasn’t holding out much hope that it’d find success there. My former editor Yolanda Scott had encouraged me to send it to her though because she thought the multi-cultural aspect interesting. In March 2011, I received an email from editor Alyssa Pusey. She really liked the story. Several rounds of revisions later, it was taken to acquisitions, but the Marketing Department wasn’t sure whether Charlesbridge should publish a fractured fairy tale as it would be a departure from what they normally publish. They decided to table any decisions on Goldy Luck till the fall. Yet another delay! But at least it wasn’t a rejection. By this time, I had an agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary Agency. Over the summer, we re-submitted the manuscript to several other publishers. It garnered 2 rejections, and we did not hear back from the others. Finally, in October 2011 (specifically, Oct. 5 at 8:30 am.—you tend to remember these things!), Karen called me and said Charlesbridge is offering me a contract on Goldy Luck and the Three Chans. It has been a very long road for this story, and I’d like to tell those writing and aspiring to publish: Never Give up. Keep working on your manuscript and your craft, and your manuscript will find a home.
Gretchen: I attended college between 1984 & 1988. I was thinking the other day after Steve Jobs passed away how strange it is to think that I didn’t use a computer the first two years of college. No one I knew had a laptop, and even though my university probably had a computer lab, I don’t remember using it until my junior year. My parents gave me an electric typewriter for high school graduation, and I though it was just the coolest thing. (It has built in eraser tape! Check it out!) When I’d draft a paper, I’d use scissors to literally cut chunks of my paper out, move things around, and tape or paste the chunks onto other parts: I needed more than the eraser tape, that’s for sure. It ended up looking like a crazy snowflake. The last two years of college I used the computer lab, but in order to cut and paste and move text around, I had to key in F-commands, which was clumsy. So you can’t imagine how excited I was when, three years out of college, I brought my first Apple II E home. (My own little writing robot! It cuts and pastes like magic!) And then along came the internet …
Tell us briefly about your book and what you feel is the most important topic/sub-message you share.
Natasha: Cixi, The Dragon Empress is one of six books (all written by different authors) in Goosebottom Books’ series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. The series profiles six women in history who have earned dastardly reputations. Cixi was the last empress of China who rose from the ranks of a lowly concubine to become ruler of a nation. As with all the dastardly dames, she was a woman who wielded great power at a time when women had very little say at all. She was vilified for many things from stealing funds from the imperial navy to support her extravagant tastes to poisoining rivals. But was she truly evil or merely misunderstood? Would she still have attained this reputation if she had been a man? In addition to telling her fascinating story, the book (as are all the books in the series) is filled with cultural and historical details of the time in which Cixi lived. And it poses the question: did she deserve her dastardly nickname? And begs kids to consider the long-lasting effects and consequences of name-calling.
Gretchen: I was happy to get my first choice, Mary Tudor, the first reigning queen of England, out of the 6 dames the publisher of Goosebottom Books planned to feature in her series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. I chose Mary Tudor because to me her nickname, “Bloody Mary”, was the most brutal-sounding out of the 6, and I wanted to find out more about why and how she earned it, and whether or not she deserved it. I wanted to know if she did anything good, too, what her childhood ws like, and who she was as a person. I dug into my research and wrote a boiled down version of the fascinating stuff I learned, which, once edited and put into book form, became Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary”. It’s definitely a book that makes you think. I believe it’s important for girls to read books about powerful women in history, books that really flesh out their lives and explore the social/political times in which they lived. A lot of children’s books have been published about influential men in history, but not as many about women.
Like all authors you have had your fair share of rejection letters. You obviously did not let the letters deter you. How did you keep your determination without getting discouraged?
Natasha: I’ve been at the writing and publishing business for awhile, and what you learn along the way is that it’s okay to feel the sting of rejection—it’s part of the process—but if you let it derail you from your goal or vision, publishing that manuscript becomes so much harder. So let yourself grief briefly, and then pick your ego back up, and re-submit that manuscript elsewhere. And realize that it’s not personal. Editors have different tastes, just as writers and readers do. It’s a very subjective business. Goldy Luck and the Three Chans received countless rejections, but editors from Tricycle Press and Charlesbridge liked it enough to offer me a contract. You may get dozens of rejections (and many famous successful authors have) before that sale, but all it takes is that one editor who likes it. I have an agent now, but when I was submitting manuscripts on my own, I would stagger the submissions. I’d send 3 or 4 out at a time, then another stack a week or two later. That way, when a rejection came in, there were other manuscripts making the submission round out there and there was always hope.
Gretchen: I do get discouraged sometimes, and I know there are no guarentees, but thankfully I’m addicted to the writing process, so I never get overly discouraged. I shoot for the outcome of getting published, but I don’t focus on it. I focus on getting stuff on paper and improving my writing. As far as rejections go, I keep them in a file, because they remind me that I’m trying. It’s like having scars I’m strangley proud of: “I got that scar when …” When I get a rejection, I lob the manuscript right back out into the world. I think of it as a game of tennis: when the ball bounces back, I swing, hit it back over the net … and hopefully, ulitmately, I’ll score.
It is always fun to read about and learn from other children's authors. I hope you have enjoyed learning something new about these fine writers.
For more information or to follow their stops on the World of Ink Tour check this out:
You can find out more about Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/YimandMaurer.aspx. There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Yim and Maurer, along with the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.
In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork. The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer about their books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Yim and Maurer will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 14, 2011 at 2pm EST