Welcome Molly Nero to the blog today. She is an award winning children's author and her new book is Smarty Pig.
1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became an author.
Beginning my 18 year career teaching elementary school, I found myself in the 4th grade classroom which became my training ground for writing. Writing rough drafts, editing and revising to model the process for my students allowed me to grow in my own abilities and desire to write. After 5 years, I became the music teacher giving me the opportunity to work with hundreds of kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade producing grade-level musicals each year. Stepping out of the “classroom” teacher role also enabled me to work with kids in a different way. With the lights off, I would play “Danse Macabre” very loudly on the stereo. My students were on the floor with their eyes closed as I narrated what was happening during the piece to help them understand and begin to appreciate the stories behind classical music. Students began to talk about their frustrations concerning different things to me, and that has given voice to my writing.
2. Tell us about your current book. Give a short summary, tell us about your publisher, and also how you got the idea for this book.
Smarty Pig is the story of a family of pigs that have given up on school. They don’t do their homework and feel it’s not important. The only one who does is teased and nic named Smarty Pig. When Smarty Pig gets good grades and the others fail, they reach out to her to help them. She agrees but asks them to try. She takes skills taught at school and puts them into real-life situations, ie: the kitchen becomes a grocery store with things to be purchased with play money. They begin to understand the learning CAN be fun, and it’s not just for school, learning is for life.
Halo Publishing saw the value in this message and has been incredibly supportive of me as I enter this new career. Lisa Umina has worked with me through each stage of this process, making sure I knew what was going on, what was expected of me and helping me brainstorm ideas for the best way to market this book series.
The idea for Smarty Pig came from hearing students express their apathy toward school after several days of taking state tests. During the year, it’s worksheet after worksheet preparing kids for the tests. Then you have intense review right before it’s given. They even have pep-rallies to try to excite the kids about taking the tests! The kids didn’t understand why it was necessary, and the pressure was undermining all the joy of learning for them. As the years passed, I heard this from younger and younger students. My object in Smarty Pig is to uplift our youngest learners early in their academic life to see the value and fun in learning.
3. What is a typical writing day like for you?
I’m up at 5:30am to start the day watching the Pink Panther with my daughter and 2 dogs snuggled up in 1 chair. COFFEE! Get both my kids off to school. Check on my mother who has her own house downstairs. Get on my treadmill to clear my thoughts listening to KLOVE radio. Then my husband and I discuss what the day will bring, and I’m on my computer writing, building the website, emailing… Some days I will work on only one story. Other days my mind jumps to ideas for other books. I’ve learned to just roll with it. The one thing I must have is a window to look out of while I’m writing. The endlessness of the sky reminds me that ideas are just as endless.
4. What do you enjoy most about writing?
The plot of the story developing is my favorite. My daughter is an artist, and she amazes me when she begins to paint a new picture. It’s the same anticipation and excitement when writing a story. You start with an idea that takes you in many different directions while you make choices along the way to help it grow. You’re never exactly sure how it will turn out, but the process is delightful.
5. What is the most difficult part of writing?
Smarty Pig is all in rhyme which can be challenging. I don’t want to sacrifice my message or give up a figure of speech or something that I know kids will relate to for the rhyme. It becomes like a dance where the story and words must work together to create a message that the kids can read, understand, and really enjoy.
6. Do you make school visits or do speaking/book signing engagements? If so, please describe a typical presentation.
I was known as “Mrs. Nero the Hero” to my Kindergarten students to help them learn my name. This is how I continue to introduce myself to school children. Bringing in my musical theater background to the visits, I incorporate music, cheers, and a visual, relatable message of Smarty Pig to the kids that “all they learn in school, they’ll use in life.”
7. Is there any book that, when you read it, you thought, "I wish I had written that!"?
Holes by Louis Sachar. I love it when a writer introduces numerous characters and situations and weaves them together by the end of the book. The creative process that must take place to even begin such a story inspires me.
8. Do you have a website? If so, please give the URL. If not, where can readers go online to learn more about your book(s) and to order?
http://www.smartypigbooks.com/ is my website and http://www.halopublishing.com/ is another site to order the book right now. After December 2011, the book will be available through all stores as Print On Demand.
9. What are you working on right now?
Smarty Pig and the Test Taking Terror is heading to the editor. I had a smart 4th grade boy put his head down on his desk when the state test was administered. He became so distraught; he couldn’t even write his name. I’ve never forgotten him. This book is for those kids that shut down when they take a test. Smarty Pig models strategies for breaking down the fear and panic.
Bullying is the next topic in this series. Both of my children have dealt with bullying situations. It is such a national problem and the ramifications are becoming more and more frightening. Kids have to learn to talk about what is happening.
10. What is your best tip for aspiring authors?
You need to edit and revise until you are certain it’s your best work. Ask others to read it. Be open to criticism, but don’t lose your voice. Then you just keep trying. You’ll find a way to get your idea out there.
11. What advice would you give children and teens as they prepare for life?
Slow down! It’s ok to be 6 or 9 or even 13. There are experiences at every age to enjoy and learn from, and that’s how you grow to become an adult. It isn’t worth it to rush ahead of yourself and try to be older than you are. Remember, there is always an answer, always a solution, and always someone who will help you.
12. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readership?
Parents are a vital part of their child’s education nowadays. Include them in every day to day activity that you can. It will reinforce skills they are learning at school and give them a sense of value in all they know. When you are together, stop and look at the leaves changing in the trees, listen to the crickets, talk about the colors of a sunset. Be a role model who appreciates the little things that help make up this amazing world.