by Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
As discussed in yesterday’s blog post, Millbrook Press has two wonderful STEM-themed photo books for grades K-3 coming out this fall. Yesterday, I shared Jenna Grodzicki’s interview of Marcie Flinchum Atkins, focusing on the book Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature. Today I’m very pleased to feature Marcie’s interview with Jenna, focusing on the book I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food.
Q&A about I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food
MFA: I love the idea of sea creatures that look like food. What inspired you to write this book?
JG: I stumbled upon this idea completely by accident. I was researching lemon sharks for a fiction manuscript, when I came across an online article titled “Fish Food: 15 Marine Animals Named by Hungry Biologists.” My interest was piqued. I read the article, fascinated by these creatures I’d never heard of. Some of them looked just like the foods they were named after. I jotted down their names in my notebook and continued my lemon shark research.
As time went on, I couldn’t get those sea animals out of my mind. If I found them so interesting, I knew children would, too. I had never planned to write nonfiction, but this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I started researching (and researching and researching) and never looked back.
That was in 2016, and now, three years later, I’m thrilled to be holding the published book in my hands.
MFA: I’m always curious about how other nonfiction writers do research. I’m an organization and efficiency junkie. How did you do the research for this book? Do you have any cool organization tips to share about nonfiction writing?
JG: My research began with the internet. I went back to the “Fish Food” article and made a list of the animals I wanted to focus on. I read everything I could find online. My list grew as I learned about other sea creatures that looked like food. I printed articles by scientists who studied these animals. I logged many hours at my public library. I took pages and pages of notes.
However, some of these sea creatures are obscure, and there isn’t a whole lot of reliable information about them to be found. To help fill in the blanks, I reached out to experts. I spoke with the scientist who discovered the Louisiana pancake batfish in 2010, a biology professor who studies sea slugs, the Senior Aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and many more. These experts were so generous and willing to help, and their knowledge was invaluable.
To keep my research organized, I have file folders filled with articles, studies, and hard copies of emails dedicated to each nonfiction manuscript. I create bookmark folders online for each new topic. I keep a separate notebook for each topic for my handwritten notes, brainstorming, lists, etc. These may not be new or cool organizational techniques, but they work for me.
MFA: Writers always seem to be curious about sidebars or layered text and when or how that comes into the process of writing. Did your book always have layered text, or did you add this in later revisions?
JG: My first draft certainly did not include sidebars or layered text. This was my first foray into nonfiction writing. I basically took everything I learned about these sea animals and wrote paragraphs about them. It was messy and did not flow at all, but that’s what a first draft is supposed to be.
I continued to study the craft of writing nonfiction through conferences and classes, online resources, and mentor texts. This manuscript went through MANY iterations and rounds with my critique group before I decided to try layered text. The idea took shape after reading Melissa Stewart’s Feathers: Not Just for Flying for the umpteenth time. Jess Keating’s Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals helped me realize a little humor was needed to make the sidebars more engaging. When this draft was finished, I knew I had finally found the right structure for the manuscript.
MFA: As a librarian, I can’t WAIT to use this book with some of my students. They love books about weird animals. I can see that it will be a part of a springboard into inquiry about animals that look like food. How do you envision your book being used in schools?
JG: Thank you so much! I hope your students enjoy it. As a former classroom teacher and library media specialist, I’ve thought a lot about how my book can be used in schools. Teachers can utilize it when discussing the different features of a nonfiction book. It would fit in nicely with a study of animals or the ocean. And I hope some students will pick it up just because they love nonfiction and want to learn more about these sea creatures.
MFA: Let’s talk about writing habits. Are you a morning writer or evening writer?
JG: Sometimes I write at night (or even in the middle of the night), but mostly I’m a morning writer.
MFA: Do you write every day (or at least consistently) or only when the muse strikes?
JG: I try to write or at least do something related to writing every day. That may include critiquing my partners’ work, reading new picture books, writing reviews, or catching up on my favorite kidlit blogs.
MFA: What is one piece of advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
JG: Enjoy the journey. The road to publication is long and filled with rejections. Make sure to acknowledge each success, whether big or small.
MFA: What is your favorite craft book about writing?
JG: This may seem like an odd choice, but my favorite craft book is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!