My original idea was to meet with authors Caroline Hickey (Cassie Was Here, Isabelle’s Boyfriend) and Sara Lewis Holmes (Letters from Rapunzel) at a coffee shop where we would talk about writing, parenthood, books, Obama, shopping, and a myriad of other topics. I would then pull together a brilliant magazine-style interview, which would include phrases like, “When asked how motherhood affected an author, Caroline’s face softened as she looked down at her baby wriggling one arm free of the blanket, and said...”
Instead, Caroline had house plumbing problems, and then we couldn’t coordinate another time amidst our collection of appointments, obligations, and outings. So we chatted online. My intention then was to shape the chat into a more regular author interview. But after cutting the parts about shopping, fear, breast-feeding, anxiety, and phone sex only one of which I made up as a topic I liked the style I had. I consolidated the choppy phrasing that instant messaging encourages and tidied up the long chat into something more cohesive. I also realized that I wasn’t the only one asking the questions, so I put the questions in italics instead of my parts as interviewer.
I am probably breaking some Winter Blog Blast Tour rule, but here goes:
MotherReader: How do you think being a mom new mom, seasoned mom, in-the-middle-of-chaos mom affects your writing? Personally, I can say as an in-the-middle-of chaos mom that I can’t hold a coherent thought. Or more precisely, I can’t accurately estimate when I’ll be able to make time to think.
Caroline: As a brand-new mom, only three months in, I haven’t been able to write hardly at all. But I have been able to read some, and I’ve noticed that my tastes are starting to change.
Sara: It’s totally overwhelming, no matter how tough you are.
Caroline: Yes, definitely overwhelming, and I’m looking more to reading for escape than for mental stimulation, if you know what I mean.
Caroline: How about you, Sara? With your kids in their late teens, how does it affect you?
Sara: Well, I wrote this current book for them. They grew up totally not like I did. I stayed in one place, from third grade on. They moved... and moved... and moved, and I worried so much. And they turned out strong and fine. But I wanted to write about military kids and everything they go through. And how that life is a lot like improvisational theater; you make it up as you go along. You rely on community and courage and kindness. In fact, I’m dedicating it to them: For Rebecca and Wade, who are, themselves, both Courage and Kindness.
Caroline: Do you feel like you write your books with your children in mind as readers?
Sara : Not as readers, but to honor their experiences. The Air Force has a PR department. My kids don’t! The poem I wrote for my son this week was the first time I tried to do something that I gave him to read directly.
Caroline: How did it go?
Sara: He said it was “amazing.” Which was better than a starred review.
MotherReader: Caroline, I read on your blog that you were frustrated with writing. That it wasn’t going as well as you’d hoped.
Caroline: That’s putting it mildly. I’m working on a new book, and I have a first draft completed. I’ve been trying and trying to get the book going in a new direction with my revision, but I feel like I’m working with about two percent of my brain and for some reason I can’t “see” this book the way I could see my previous ones. So, when I finally do have time to sit and write, nothing comes out!
MotherReader: You do get better at carving out spaces for yourself.
Sara: My dear friend who’s a grandmother always said that being a mother made me more of who I am, and I should use that in writing.
Caroline: Ooh, I like that. I might just need to give myself a little more maternity leave. I can definitely say my patience has already quadrupled.
Sara: How about your writing, Pam?
MotherReader: I’m still getting there. Lots of ideas, no time to process.
Sara: I learned a lot from my own children’s stubbornness. When they wanted something, boy did they want it.
MotherReader: I may not have a job after July — cut-backs — and I can’t say that I’m upset. I keep thinking about all the time and mind-space I’ll have then. Maybe it’s the push I need.
Caroline: That’s true. But like Sara says, you have to want it, too.
Sara: Cry for it, scream for it in the middle of the night. :-)
MotherReader: What’s it like being a stay-at-home-writer?
Caroline: Pre-Bridget, I was a stay-at-home writer for a year and I loved it. But I also loved working a day job part time, and writing part time because then my writing time was really precious, and I was extremely efficient.
Sara: I love what I do, but it’s lonely sometimes.
Caroline: It is very lonely.
MotherReader: Who do you turn to in the writer’s isolation?
Caroline: Blogs! Instant messenger! My writing group! Meeting friends for coffee!
Sara: I belong to two online writing groups. I do like being alone, though. That helps.
Caroline: Doing events also helps because being around groups of kids gets me very jazzed to write.
MotherReader: What kind of events do writers do?
Caroline: I did a school book fair last weekend. I had visited the school last year, and a bunch of kids who read my first book remembered me and came up to talk to me about it. I signed books at the book fair, but at the school visit I did a presentation about how I became an author and how I write.
Sara: I have done several — a middle school “lunch bunch,” a high school creative writing class, and a fourth grade. I like them. The kids inspire me and I give out “magic” pencils — my red Read*Write*Believe ones.
MotherReader: With all the writing already on your plate, why blog? (And I ask that knowing that you have two of my favorite, must-read blogs The Longstockings and Read, Write, Believe.)
Caroline: I love to blog! It’s low-stress writing! It’s immediate, it helps me vent about whatever is going on in my writing life, and I get feedback!
Sara: I love finishing something short! And getting instant feedback in the form of comments. Yay for the Comment Challenge! And I have a lot of thoughts that I don’t have any other place for.
Caroline: Yes, I love the dialogue, and I love disagreements. I love hearing opinions from all different players in the children’s book world.
MotherReader: How did you find your agent and how did you know you were right for each other? (Hey, it sounds like couples.)
Caroline: It is like couples. I sent mine a query letter, we had lunch and hit it off! I wanted to like my agent, so I’m glad I met her in person so we could feel each other out. She likes to do some editorial work before we send things out, and I like receiving feedback, so we’re a good match. Finding an agent seems to be different for everyone, but as long as it works.
Sara: I asked my former editor, Lauren Velevis, for a recommendation before she left HarperCollins to get her MFA. Tina was on the list, and I read about her online and liked what I saw, so I emailed her. Tina does some edits for me, too, and I like it. I like that she has an MFA in Poetry, too.
MotherReader: What advice would you give to a new writer looking to find an agent?
Caroline: Find out who they rep and try to find one that reps work similar to your own. Go with your gut.
Sara: Be picky. Know what you want and why you want it. See what other books they’ve repped. Would you read them? What reputation do they have? Do you have the same working style? As in: Do you like to be told every little thing or not? Tina actually asked me how much info I wanted her to pass on to me in the horrible waiting period of submissions. I appreciated that so much.
MotherReader: Would you go the agent route rather than the direct-to-the-publisher route?
Caroline Hickey: Always have an agent! You must have an agent or you will lose rights! The publisher does not look out for you! Publishers dont want to give away film rights or audio rights or sub-rights, but agents fight for them, and they get them. You’ll also get a bigger advance with an agent, and you’ll have someone looking out for you if things with your publisher don’t go smoothly.
MotherReader: Tell me, what are you guys working on now?
Caroline: I’m working on my third book, about a girl who uncovers a family secret. That’s what’s on my plate. When it’ll be done, who can say, but I am working on it in my mind at least.
Sara: I just turned in my second round of revisions to Cheryl; I still have a copyedit round to do. Then I want to get back to two poetry projects.
MotherReader: How would you describe your book?
Sara: It’s about a community that comes together to save one of their own and about theater, and mistakes and Jody calls and airplanes and little green Army men! It had a title change, from New Recruit to Operation YES. The first rule of improv is: Say YES and... The “and” is most important because you’re adding something new to the scene that moves it forward. Like an extended hand to the other players. That’s life, right?
Last day of interviews from the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Who’s up?