Hello, KidLit Oasis fans, friends, and new visitors!
I am so excited to be chatting with my guest today, because I've known her for quite a while now, and we've been through a lot together, have become friends, critiques partners, and agent-sisters (again!). So, it's a real pleasure to feature her picture book debut, to celebrate her publishing-dream-come-true and to have her share her path leading up to this moment, so that her story inspires many aspiring authors out there, too.
And without further ado....
Welcome, Emily! How awesome is it that you're here, and we get to share your book joy with the world?! You're also giving my readers the scoop and I can't wait for everyone to hear about what it's been like for you being a writer, how you got started, and what events led to the birth of this book-baby. So, please briefly describe your journey to publication.
A: My first introduction to writing came in second grade with Mrs. Lavender in Young Author’s Club. I wrote several titles like The Silly Crocdeil [sic] and captivating stories like The Wagon that are, sadly, not likely to be published. Ha! My love for writing reignited as an adult after moving to the third state in six years, and I needed an outlet. From there, I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) to help make friends and have a hobby just for myself. Several incredible critique partners, three agents, and too-many-rejections-to-count later, my debut picture book is being published on February 22, 2023!
Q: Would you walk us through the experience of getting the news of your publishing offer? How long after submission did it happen? Were you aware that it went to acquisitions or was it a surprise? How did you get the news (email, phone call, text) and where were you/what were you doing when that happened? What was your immediate reaction? Who was the first person you shared the news with? I'm always curious about how other authors experienced this particular moment of "The News" so, please give us all the juicy details! :)
It was the most average, nothing-going-on evening. I happened to be visiting my parents, and we were sitting on the sofa with the TV on in the background while we all scrolled our devices. It's true what they say that often the most extraordinary moments often occur when we least expect them.
An email popped up from Molly, my editor at Yeehoo Press, and I [reluctantly] opened it, thinking it would be yet another rejection.
But it wasn't.
My breath hitched. I stood. I mumbled, "Oh my gosh..."
My parents and husband looked up at me, and didn't say anything, waiting for me to say what I was reading on my phone (probably it was something from a news article or social media!).
I said, "I'm going to be published." Just like that. That simple, that still, that dream-affirming, that life-changing.
Then the tears flowed, the congratulations poured out, and it was all celebration after that!
It took about two months from when I pitched to them, and they made an offer. It was very fast for industry standards and a complete surprise! I had no idea it had gone to acquisitions.
Q: What do you find most challenging in this business, either on the creative or publishing side of things? What do you find most rewarding? What helps you stay motivated?
A: Most challenging has to be the waiting. I used to say the rejections, but rejections at least mean someone is reading and responding to what’s being written. There’s progress in rejections. But waiting for any kind of response can feel like a silent torture of sorts—is it any good? Is it garbage? Did my edits make a difference? The mind can make up all kinds of scenarios to explain the industry silence, and needless to say, we’re often our harshest critics. 😊
Most rewarding are the friendships made along the way. There’s something innately bonding powering through the sludge of rejections with others by your side and going on a journey of indescribably bad odds together. We’re tethered together when we weather the publishing storms as critique groups, agent-siblings, and overall writing besties and soldier on anyway. When one of us makes it, it motivates the rest of to not give up.
To stay motivated? I write almost every day. It doesn’t have to be a high word count, or several chapters revised. Sometimes it’s new concepts or even a stream of consciousness on walks in my Notes app. After over 25 picture books and four completed novels, I love the feeling of “having just written” as Robert Hass once described as the only tolerable state of writing. Ha! I’m not sure it’s the only tolerable part, but the act of creating something from nothing—and to know there’s power in the statement, something transformative that may connect me with a reader—is a sublime.
Art by Albert Arrayas
Q: Could you share any craft tools or techniques that you find most helpful to you when working on a project? What does your revision process look like?
A: When writing novels, I wish I could say I’m a “panster” meaning I write by the seat of my pants. 😊 The creative juices just flow from my fingertips, and I’m lost to the writing. But that’s not me! I’m a “plotter” meaning I outline the heck out of my stuff. I have Excel sheets with chapter outlines, plot points, character details (cars they drive, hair and eye color, personality quarks, etc.) and I’m meticulous in my outlining. Novel writing is an exercise in gradually swelling core concept, sanding down rough-edged plot points to make a well-rounded story arc.
For picture book writing, it’s about trusting your audience (those little readers who are wise beyond their years!). Instead of focusing on what I want to tell young people, I think about how I want to be a part of their experience. We’re all just young people in bigger bodies, so what are the elements of empathy in all experience that are longing to be shared? I’m always looking for those. Humor helps. 😊
My best advice for anyone looking for tips and tricks to get started or improve their craft is to read-read-read and read some more. Study it. Break it down. Reading is a masterclass in writing. There is always something you can learn from someone else who’s been there before.
Q: What do you consider your biggest publishing career accomplishment so far? On the flip side, what are some of the things you'd like to accomplish in the next year from now?
A: I’m proud to be a two-time, award-winning picture book writer from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in two different writing contests I entered. It’s a tremendous privilege to be acknowledged by professionals (agents, editors, and fellow authors) who evaluate entries.
This year I was also shortlisted in the Maggie Award, the annual Romance Writers of America, Georgia Chapter contest, for the best Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance category. I’ll be attending a Gala in October where the winner will be announced. I can’t wait!
My goals for the coming year include more publishing deals (obviously!) and breaking into the adult fiction market with my romance novels. I’d love to see my debut picture book, Opal’s Springtime Birdhouse, hit the bestseller lists too!
Art by Albert Arrayas
Q: What is your vision for this book? What kind of impact do you hope it would have on readers?
A: I hope Opal’s Springtime Birdhouse, my debut coming out in February, ignites a renewed interest in woodworking and carpentry for girls. Power tools, building, craftsmanship, etc. as an angle of STEM that’s often overlooked. Somebody’s got to build the bookshelves that hold all the books! Might as well be the readers themselves. 😊
Q: What's coming up for you next? Please tell us about any new releases, exciting news, upcoming events or anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
A: The preorders have started for Opal’s Springtime Birdhouse, and I’m looking for author visits! My publisher, Yeehoo Press, is also creating birdhouse craft kits to go along with the book’s release for added engagement and turning reading into application. It’s been such a pleasure working with Yeehoo Press with all their expertise and engagement.
Hopefully I’ll get to share with you good news about my other works my agent, Jennifer Herrington, and I have on submission in the coming months. Fingers crossed!
Art by Albert Arrayas
Take a look at the Google Survey for what consumers preferred HERE
I am sooo keeping my fingers crossed for you about all of it-- the Gala in October (I want to hear all about it and see the pictures of you winning the award!), for Opal hitting the bestsellers' list, and for a new book contract! Thanks for being a guest, I had a great time chatting, and I hope my readers enjoyed learning more about you and that they'll share Opal's Springtime Birdhouse with the young kids in their lives. Let's plan for you to come back with your next book soon, okay?
All the best with the launch and beyond! Congratulations again, Emily!
Click on the book cover to pre-order your copy
Emily Matheis is a two-time, award-winning picture book author through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and romance writer shortlisted for the Maggie Award. She writes books for both children and adults with women and girls in intelligent, adaptable, and exemplifying roles that surpass the bounds of gender stereotypes.
Connect with Emily:
G I V E A W A Y! ! !
Leave a comment to be entered for a chance to win either a picture book critique or a copy of Opal's Springtime Birdhouse.
Two random winners will be selected.
Steena Hernandez (a copy of the book)
Lynn McCracken (PB critique)
C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S ! ! !
In other news...
Here's an opportunity to have your picture book critiqued by Yeehoo Editor Helen Wu or Context Literary Agent Kaitlyn Sanchez AND also attend a transformational Picture Book Writers' Retreat this fall! Check out this spectacular in-person event and all the details HERE
Welcome back, Patricia Newman! Thank you for returning to the KidLit Oasis as my guest—which means you liked my hospitality the first time ☺, but it also means you have a new book coming out that you'll be sharing with our readers! Congratulations!
So, first, let me ask you this: I know that every book is special to its author in a particular way—how is this book special to you? Dear to your heart in a different way? What was the experience like, compared to previous ones?
A: Hi, Rosie. Thanks for that warm welcome. Like most of my books, A RIVER’S GIFTS happened by accident. In the fall of 2018, my husband was chatting with a colleague about what her college-aged triplets did over the summer. She mentioned that Theo, one of the triplets, worked on the Elwha River Restoration in Washington. Engineers had just breached two dams to drain Lake Aldwell above the one-hundred-year-old Elwha Dam and Lake Mills above the eighty-five-year-old Glines Canyon Dam. Theo helped replant the barren lakebed with native seeds and seedlings, one member of a small army of botanists and volunteers who would go on to plant 400,000 plants on 800 acres of lakebed over seven years.
After hearing about this amazing effort, my husband came home and said here’s your next book. His instincts are good after living with me for thirty-eight years, so, I started digging. Every fascinating piece of information I found led to more questions, which led to more digging.
I gravitate toward these complex environmental stories with several stakeholders. For A RIVER’S GIFTS, I worked with a scientist at the Olympic National Park and several different members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, aka The Strong People. I loved that the Elwha’s story focuses on environmental justice and our connection to nature. The river’s restoration was a community effort characterized by hope and renewal. One reviewer called A RIVER’S GIFTS an example of rewilding, and I completely agree.
Is there an interesting behind-the-scenes about the idea for the story, its creation, an unusual journey to publication perhaps? What stands out?
A: One particularly thorny question we had was: Did The Strong People build weirs across the Elwha to trap fish? Sources at the National Park said probably not because the Elwha is a fast-moving river, but tribal sources said the weirs were likely. A tribal librarian found the proof for me, but to complicate matters, that proof was not scheduled to be publicly released until after A RIVER’S GIFTS was published. I had a decision to make. I went with the tribe’s traditional knowledge, knowing that someday verifiable documents would also be available to support the tribal wisdom.
Q: And to piggyback on the questions above, did anything surprise you with this book or the publisher's approach (whether it was the same publisher or a new one)? Did you learn anything new? Was it harder or easier to bring the book into the world?
A: I always learn a ton of new stuff when writing a book. I LOVE research and I think that’s the main reason I write nonfiction. As I mentioned, nature is a particular interest of mine because most of us don’t understand our connections to nature and how it supports us. Whenever I find a story that highlights CONNECTION, I need to know more.
If you are familiar with Planet Ocean, Sea Otter Heroes, Eavesdropping on Elephants, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue or Plastic, Ahoy!, you know those books are for middle-grade readers and illustrated with photos. With A RIVER’S GIFTS, I proposed something brand new to my editor, Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press/Lerner. I knew this book needed to be illustrated because the story begins thousands of years ago when the Elwha River first formed. I also proposed a 48-page picture book format, which is much longer than the standard 32-page picture book. Add to those changes, a completely new, lyrical writing style to mimic the river’s flow that Carol had never seen from me before. I admit I took a calculated risk, but I wrote my proposal to show why the book needed these elements, which I hoped justified the extra production expense.
Q: When did you find out who the illustrator was for the project and were you asked for an input? What was it like working with the illustrator for this book? When did you first see the art and what was your reaction?
A: Yes, definitely. Carol proposed Natasha Donovan as the illustrator right from the start. I immediately knew she was right for the project. Natasha is Métis and lives near the Elwha River, so the Pacific Northwest flora and fauna are in her blood. The cover image of her website shows young salmon in a river habitat!
I first saw sketches from Natasha. Sketches with bold dark lines but no color. Even in her sketches Natasha recreated the rough and tumble of the river. I was hooked, but when she added color, I fell in love with the spreads. They perfectly capture the movement and beauty of the Elwha River and its importance to The Strong People’s culture, livelihood, and spirituality.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish within the next 2-3 years? Any specific goals or aspirations—personal or writing related—that you could share with us?
A: I want to keep showing up for nature, finding hidden connections to help readers appreciate and understand why the environment is worth saving.
Q: What's coming up for you next? Please tell us about any other exciting news, upcoming events or anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
A: I have proposals written for two other amazing nature stories, so cross your fingers that editors like them!
In my immediate future I will be presenting a one-hour webinar for Writing Blueprints on creating a nonfiction children’s book proposal. After that I am traveling to Georgia to speak to preservice teachers about the wonders of nonfiction: the components of today’s nonfiction and how to use it in the classroom to teach writing and to support content area instruction.
Order your copy of A River's Gifts from the links below:
Critically acclaimed author of nonfiction books for children and recipient of a Sibert Honor, Patricia Newman empowers her readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration for books, Patricia frequently speaks to adults and children share how we can affect change.
Connect with Patricia:
About Rosie J. Pova
Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children's author and kid lit Writing Coach. She's the creator of Picture Book Mastery System™ that is proven to help emerging children's writers advance their career and get closer to their publishing goals.
Rosie's latest picture book, Sunday Rain, was featured in The New York Times and recommended by Parents magazine. Her upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success will be released in the spring of 2022 in both China and the USA.
Rosie also loves to visit schools and her interactive workshops empower students to unleash their creativity and grow in confidence through reading, writing, and creating. Teachers and librarians love Rosie for her bubbly, upbeat personality which captures students' attention, encourages them to think creatively, and motivates them to pursue big dreams.
She has been featured on TV, radio, podcasts, and print media, and also speaks on women's and moms’ topics, sharing her journey from a Bulgarian immigrant to a published author.
Find out more about Rosie's online courses, mentorships, and her work by visiting her website: RosieJPova.com
Check out her Critique Services here, her Workshops here, and her school visits page here.
Rosie is represented by Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Literary.