by Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
In early March 2018, I posted an open call for STEM-themed K-3 manuscripts. The response was tremendous–I received approximately 300 submissions. The manuscripts came from authors who have published many books and authors looking to publish their first book. They came from writers with advanced degrees in various scientific disciplines and from writers without such degrees but with a great deal of curiosity and strong research skills. Many of the manuscripts were good–it was no easy task reviewing them all and finding the best of the best.
Of those submissions, I’ve acquired 10 manuscripts, which was far more than I had hoped to acquire. One of the 10 submissions morphed into a work of middle-grade nonfiction after I asked the author if she’d be open to such a change, and another will be published a picture book (rather than a photo book). But today my focus is on the photo books–the first two are coming out in Fall 2019, and I’m delighted to introduce the books and their authors today!
Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature is by Marcie Flinchum Atkins and will be released on September 3, 2019. And I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food by Jenna Grodzicki will be released on October 1, 2019. Rather than me telling you about the books, I thought it would be more fun to have the authors interview each other. So without any further ado . . . here they are! Today’s interview focuses on Wait, Rest, Pause, and tomorrow will focus on I See Sea Food.
Q&A about Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature
JG: Dormancy in nature is such an interesting topic. I admit, I didn’t know much about it beyond hibernation before I read your book. What inspired you to write this book?
MFA: I was a fourth-grade science teacher and I had to teach about behavioral adaptations of animals and tree dormancy. I couldn’t find ANYTHING out there for fourth graders that talked about dormancy. I started researching dormancy and decided I’d write a book I could use. I honestly didn’t know about all the different types of dormancy until I dove into the research.
JG: The language you use is absolutely beautiful. Was your text always lyrical or did that come in later drafts? What was your revision process like?
MFA: Thank you! The text was lyrical and in second person from the start. However, my beginning drafts were “kitchen sink” drafts with everything thrown in. I had dormant volcanoes, viruses, seeds, trees, and animals all in those early drafts. It took time to winnow the text down to what would work in a picture book and what made sense together. Though volcanoes make a brief appearance in the back matter, my son was thoroughly disappointed that they didn’t make the cut in the actual text.
JG: One of my favorite parts of nonfiction is the back matter. As a former classroom teacher and library media specialist, I know how valuable that additional information can be to both students and teachers. How did you decide what to include in your back matter?
MFA: I knew I wanted to use the technical terms in the back matter. Fourth graders, for example, might love to know the terms estivation, torpor, and diapause, but it might be too much for a kindergarten reader. I put them in the back matter so that a curious younger reader could dive in, if they wanted. I also wanted information that would be useful to teachers.
As a librarian, I love having “further reading” suggestions and websites to send students to after we’ve done a read aloud. I hope those suggestions will allow teachers and librarians to enhance their lessons.
JG: As a librarian, I know you must have lots of ideas of how your book can be used in the classroom. What are your hopes for your book? What do you want educators to know when considering how your book fits into their curriculum?
MFA: I hope it will be a book that can be used at multiple levels and multiple subjects. My best hope would be that fourth and fifth grade teachers can use it for an example how to use word choice in their writing. I also hope teachers will use it in science to teach about plant and animal dormancy and adaptations. And most of all, I hope that it will be a springboard for inquiry. I want students to be intrigued and then go off to do their own research.
JG: Let’s talk about writing habits. Are you a morning writer or evening writer?
MFA: Morning writer all the way. My brain doesn’t function well after school. I typically wake up between 4:30-5:00 a.m. to get most of my writing done before I go to work. Several Saturdays a month, I meet two writer friends for tea, conversation, and writing at 7:30 a.m.
JG: Do you write every day (or at least consistently) or only when the muse strikes?
MFA: I write nearly every day. It’s highly unusual for me to skip more than one day a week. I subscribe to the idea that a little bit every day adds up over time. The muse really likes to whisper in my ear when I’m driving by myself (of course). But otherwise, I just show up each day to get the work done.
JG: What is one piece of advice you could give to a writer just starting out?
MFA: Don’t give up. I still give myself this advice. My writing friends still text me this advice all the time. Wait, Rest, Pause got some really lovely rejections, and then I put it in a drawer. When Millbrook put out a call for STEM books that could be photo-illustrated, I hoped it would fit what they were looking for. The whole team did an AMAZING job of bringing my words to life with the gorgeous photos and design. I’m so pleased! And I’m glad I didn’t give up.
But this “don’t give up” advice is something I have to say to myself each and every day. I have to say it now that I’m on my seventh revision of a novel-in-verse. I have to say it to myself when I hit a wall with researching a future project. And I have to repeat it when rejections come in on a project out on submission. Don’t. Give. Up.
JG: What is your favorite craft book about writing?
MFA: I love Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers. It is full of practical advice about being a writer. I reference it all of the time when I’m teaching other writers, and I’ve loaned it out multiple times to friends as well. I think it might be out of print, but it’s worth combing the used book sites to get a copy.
Check back in tomorrow for Jenna’s responses to Marcie’s questions about I See Sea Food!