Interview by Annie Cronin Romano
Welcome Ann! We are happy to have you join us to be interviewed by 24 Carrot Writing! How did you come to be a children’s book author?
I have always loved to read and write. My father took me to the library every week as a child. He let each of his eight children check out three books a week. Imagine keeping track of that? I was late to learn to read--maybe the end of first grade. He read Madeline to me and I knew how important that book was. After all, my siblings and I walked in lines, just like Madeline.
When you write, do you plot out your stories or are you more of a pantser?
I suppose I’d describe myself as more of a pantser. I write one sentence telling what my book will be about. Then I dive into the research and build a word/phrase bank. I have had early drafts for picture book that run over 20,000 words. I peel away bit after bit until my story reveals itself to me. Not the most efficient practice, but it works for me.
You have two recent releases: PENCIL: A STORY WITH A POINT (Pajama Press, 2/15/19) and WHY SHOULD I WALK? I CAN FLY! (Dawn Publications, 3/1/19). What was your inspiration for these stories?
I was cleaning my kitchen junk drawer. I have several more throughout the house. Maybe more than “several”. As I came across each item, I began to wonder if it might have a personality. Like rubber teeth, for instance. What might they say? To whom?
For Why Should I Walk? I Can Fly, I had been sitting on my back porch with my husband. Each of us sipping cold coffee. We noticed a baby robin in a tree, on a limb, contemplating that first leap from the nest. Mother and father bird were nearby.
Two of your nonfiction picture books involve jazz music: THE LITTLE PIANO GIRL: THE STORY OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS, JAZZ LEGEND and J IS FOR JAZZ (such a fun read)! Can you share what sparked these stories? Are you a musician yourself?
I can play the sticks if pressed into it. I do love music and still love to dance even though I’m a bit arthritic these days. I got the idea for both books on a day I subbed for my music teacher friend who had an ongoing unit on jazz. I wondered if a jazz alphabet book had ever been written. As I pondered who or what to use for the letter W, my jazz historian friend reminded me of Mary Lou Williams, the First Lady of Jazz. As I began to read about her, I was totally hooked. My sister, Maryann Macdonald, paired with me in the writing of that book. It sold first and about 3 years later, J is for Jazz sold.
FAIRY FLOSS: THE SWEET STORY OF COTTON CANDY is another of your nonfiction picture books. What lead you to write this delicious story?
Sonal Fry at Little Bee asked me to write this book. She gave me lots of freedom in deciding what to write. When I learned that the Electric Candy Making Machine was first introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, I was hooked. I did quite a bit of the research at the UMKC Dental School Library since one of the inventors was a dentist. He also wrote books for children. How cool is that?
You have written several early reader books, including the forthcoming TIP AND TUCKER: ROAD TRIP (Sleeping Bear Press, 3/15/19), co-written with Sue Lowell Gallion. What was the process of co-writing like?
Co-authoring with Sue is a dream come true! We really think alike and arrive at an ending in the same way. We are willing to defer to one another as we trust where the story will go. I’ve had equally good experience with my sister, Maryann, and with Barbara Stuber. She and I co-authored a book that is still slowly making the rounds.
What do you love most about being an author?
When I see a child smile, laugh, wonder, and learn from one of my books, I think I have done my job. That really is what keeps me writing. I plan to do this until my last breath.
What is the most challenging part of being an author?
For me that would be keeping all my files in order. I have many, many versions of each manuscript before it becomes a book. I study and compare them and see if there is any bit of magic in one before I discard it.
What is your editing process like? Do you belong to a critique group?
I do belong to a critique group. Jody Jensen Shaffer and Sue Lowell Gallion and I try to meet up every couple of weeks or so. We read exemplars (recently published) and then share our own work. We may read each piece 2 or 3 times slowly and carefully. Then we play with possibilities and word choices, story arc, tension, etc. It is the most satisfying experience. We also talk about the publishing world, share our disappointments and successes. All very, very good.
You have published over 25 books. Are there any particular favorites which hold a special place in your heart?
I'm really proud of J IS FOR JAZZ. It was vetted by three important jazz historians and is accurate. I really loved studying jazz history and making it come alive with a bit of jazz slang. I hope my readers feel the same way.
As you have many book launches under your belt, do you have any words of wisdom for debut authors regarding marketing/publicizing their new book babies?
I’m not especially good at promotion. Thank heavens my publishers are. I do lots of school and library visits and sell books there. I have been to several conferences for librarians. These are very good. SCBWI conferences and literary festivals other good way to connect with parents, teachers, and students. I’d love to do another conference or festival this year. Maybe someone reading this will ask me to present. Here’s hoping. :)
What advice would you give to writers out there in the query/submission trenches?
Study the marketplace. Before I did this seriously, I had very few sales. Since that time, I’ve had nearly 40 more sales. I take about 15 minutes a day and search for editors’ wish lists, publishers’ lists, and names of new publishers. This really helps me direct my submissions. Be prepared for rejections. Take the bad with the good.
What were some of you favorite books as a child?
I loved the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse books and read them over and over hoping one day to actually be a nurse. As an early childhood and special education teacher, I did bandage plenty of knees and elbows from playground mishaps. My grandmother read A. A. Milne to me. I completely love his work, most especially the poem that goes, "When I was one, I had just begun…"
What are a few of your favorite books as an adult?
Louise Penny and Gary D. Schmidt are my all time favorite authors. They are in categories of their own making. I will admit to reading each of their books at least twice. Three time for OKAY FOR NOW.
We’d love to know what you’re working on now. Any projects coming up?
I am working with Jane True on a bio about Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Hoping to wrap that up this weekend and send it out. We have an editor with interest. Please cross your pinkies! I am also going to be writing two more Tip and Tucker books with Sue Lowell Gallion for Sleeping Bear and I have another silly book in the works that may go to Pajama Press. And a book idea, not yet fleshed out for Dawn Publications.
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with 24 Carrot Writing, Ann!
Ann Ingalls writes for both children and adults and is the author of over twenty-five books. She loves chocolate, swimming, playing Bridge, and traveling. To learn more about Ann and her work, visit her website, www.anningalls.com. She is also on Twitter @AnnIngallsBooks.
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