Hosted by Kelly Carey
We are thrilled to welcome author Lisa Rogers to 24 Carrot Writing. Lisa’s debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW” (Schwartz & Wade, September 2019) received a starred review from Kirkus who called the book a “gorgeous introduction to the power of poetry." And more picture books are coming with HOUND WON’T GO (Albert Whitman) in the spring of 2020.
Join us as we talk with Lisa about her path to publication, her debut picture book, and how her days as a reporter and a lover of poetry influenced her writing journey. And about her lovable dog Tucker!
Congratulations on the publication of your debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW” (Schwartz & Wade, September 2019). Can you tell us about your journey from daily newspaper reporter, to elementary school library teacher, to children’s picture book author?
Thank you! My first newspaper job was as editor of The Daily Blab, our family newspaper, so I guess I’ve always had the urge to write! My six-year-old sister was my accomplice and co-editor. The Blab was a gossip sheet full of family jokes and our way of getting back at our two tormenting older sisters. Much later, after earning two degrees in English Literature, I became a sports journalist for a small-town weekly, edited another weekly, and then moved to daily news reporting.
I worked many different beats, and found I loved features best—getting to know people and what motivated them. Yet I needed to have more time for my family, and so I made a change. I had at one time thought about becoming a librarian. A position opened up at my daughter’s school, and I got the job. I went to library school and worked as a librarian at the same time. After years of reading with children, that urge to write resurfaced and I began to write my own stories. The common thread: communicating and connecting with people in a positive way.
Why William Carlos Williams? When did you first discover his poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow”, and what was it about those sixteen words and Williams that inspired you to write your debut picture book?
Poetry and art have long been passions, and my poetry writing is impressionistic rather than formal, so Williams’ poetry resonated with me. Poetry for me freezes a moment in time much like a snapshot or painting can. What came before, and what happened after that moment, is left to the imagination. The inspiration for 16 WORDS came from the work of a scholar who dug deep to find the wheelbarrow’s owner, Thaddeus Marshall. When I read about his discovery, I immediately knew that I had a book to write!
In celebrating the work of Williams, you are launching your own career as a picture book author. Can you talk about how it feels to join your writing endeavors with those of Williams? How does this collaboration add to your own excitement about your career and your wishes for the book?
Wow! I just got the shivers! I would never have thought of that connection! But, like Williams, my writing has evolved. It took a while for me to find my writing voice and feel confident about it. Like Williams, I spend a lot of time noticing – training from my newspaper career. I would hope that the book will inspire young readers to notice, to trust themselves, and to respect that each human has something to share with the world.
As a debut picture book author, what have you found most rewarding and surprising about the experience so far? How has the journey of writing and preparing to launch your picture book differed or resembled the experience of writing and publishing articles you have written as a journalist?
One of the best aspects of reporting was that I worked with incredibly smart and talented people—role models for writing who were passionate about providing news to readers. That’s the same in the children’s literature world—it’s full of gifted writers committed to their craft and their readers. Writing tight to fit a small newspaper hole was good practice for not only using the right words, but understanding that our first attempts are not always our best. One constant frustration was not being able to revise my writing due to the daily deadline. Writing children’s books is all about revision!
In your role as an elementary school library teacher, you get a front row seat to the reading habits of young picture book readers. Can you talk about how your students interact with books, dispel a myth or misunderstanding that you think people hold about how kids interact with books, and/or give one piece of advice to folks who want to encourage children to develop a love of reading?
Oh, thank you for asking my absolute favorite question! I love to brag about my students. They are experts at noticing. They love the magic of the page turn. They love when illustrators add to the story in surprising ways. They notice alliteration and repetition and enjoy what we call “juicy” words. They absolutely know when the next book in their favorite series is coming out, and they cannot stand to wait! Students love being surprised in picture books—fiction and nonfiction—and they want to feel satisfaction and resonance with a novel. My students are eager readers of characters beyond the majority Caucasian. Their preferred genre has tilted in a big way from fantasy to realistic fiction. I recently rearranged their library by genre: realistic, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, and graphic works. I’m meeting my students where they are: they choose their books by genre rather than author.
They appreciate beauty as well as delight in a completely funny and silly read. They want and need new books, so please keep writing them! Advice for encouraging readers: know the book before you present it to a child, and show them the best.
You are represented by Erzsi Deak at Hen & Ink Literary Studio. How did you find your agent? What have you found most surprising, most rewarding, and/or most daunting about working with an agent?
I found Erzsi through the 12 x 12 online writing challenge, which inspires writers to draft 12 picture books in a year. I’ve never actually met that challenge, but the resources available via 12 x 12 were enormously important in developing my writing. And, my membership allowed me to submit to agents. I submitted the manuscript that became 16 WORDS to Erzsi, she took me on, and sold it almost right away. Surprising: Because someone had faith in me, I became inspired to write more and better manuscripts. Rewarding: It’s fabulous to work with someone who loves my writing. Daunting: Nothing! Daunting for me would be having to represent myself. I’m grateful beyond belief!
In your earlier career as a daily reporter, you shared that you became skilled at “wrenching information from close mouthed cops” and that you were once thrown out of a post-election party. How has the tenacity and thick skin you developed during that career aided you in starting your career as a children’s author? What aspects of your reporting days are you happy to trade for those of a children’s author?
When your story is literally cut from the bottom, you learn quickly how to get the important stuff up high. You have one chance to grab the reader: that’s the same with children’s literature. Another huge benefit was learning to find ideas and angles, and the daily practice of getting words down. Thick skin: I use rejections as learning opportunities. Tenacity: if someone doubts whether I can do something, my response is to prove that I can.
The children’s writing community is wonderfully supportive and offers many resources to aspiring and published writers. You are actively involved with The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA as well as NESCBWI. How important has your involvement in the writing community been to your writing success?
That involvement has been enormously important—essential, actually. I am pretty sure I would not have stuck it out without that. I remember sharing a rejection with some very successful Loft authors. “That means you’re getting close!” they said. I almost gave up, but they were right. I rejoined the 12 x 12 challenge and the Loft, kept up with classes, workshops, and NESCBWI conferences, and that way, boosted my skills. It worked!
Here, at 24 Carrot Writing, we are big on goal setting as a way to stay motivated and on task. You have shared that you need deadlines to keep you on task. Do you tend to set goals or deadlines or both to keep your writing on track?
I work best when I am crunched for time. I’m not good with self-created deadlines. But when I have a limited chunk of time to work, I do set goals. On a recent school break, I planned to revise 5 picture book manuscripts that hadn’t sold. I set a day and a half for each one, and by the end of the break, I met my goal. Some of those are out on submission now. Fingers crossed!
Working as an elementary school library teacher, you must have author visit stories. Can you share a smashing success story and some lessons that you think make an author visit amazing? And can you share a cautionary tale with advice on how to avoid a bad author school visit?
Teachers will be thrilled to have you visit, but it’s unlikely that they will have time to prepare. As a library teacher, that’s something I enjoy doing, and I think it makes a difference.
The best visits dovetail with curricular goals, so do offer to tailor your presentation; teachers can be hesitant to ask for what they want.
Share something meaningful. What is the takeaway? A sneak preview of your next book? Something teachers can build on right away? When our 4th grade teachers introduce perspective, we host Victoria J. Coe, who has students write from a dog’s perspective. My older students remember the poetry they wrote three years before with Nancy Tupper Ling. Sharon Creech took time to speak with a small group of students. Memorable, valuable visits.
Be clear about your expectations—should the students have read your latest book or do you want to surprise them?
Insist that someone meet you and bring you to where you are presenting.
Ask that the students, especially the younger ones, wear nametags so you can call them by name. Have a teacher identify a child who might benefit from being chosen to speak. Develop a crowd control technique. From author Frank Murphy, I learned one that I use daily.
Bring backups of your presentation and essential equipment.Be flexible and expect that there will be bumps—that’s part of a school environment.
What lessons on writing have you learned from your beloved coonhound and prolific blogger, Tucker?
Never become diverted from your true path. Little things matter, so pay attention. Move forward with a project only when it’s time. Walks with Tucker inspire my writing and give it rhythm—as long as he’s not treating me like a kite, or refusing to move! He’s annoyed that I hog the computer, but he’s stepping pretty now that my next project has been revealed…
What is up next for you? What projects are you excited for and where can folks find you and your book?
Thought you’d never ask! I’m really excited to see final sketches for my next picture book, HOUND WON’T GO, inspired by this extra-large, extra-stubborn lovable beastie. It was fun to turn our ridiculous predicaments into fiction and even more fun to have them come to life in a picture book! HOUND WON’T GO will be unleashed in spring of 2020. Ahhhh-wooooo!
Of course, I couldn’t be more thrilled to shepherd 16 WORDS into the world. I can’t wait to share it with children, especially in Rutherford, NJ, the town where William Carlos Williams and Thaddeus Marshall worked and lived. I’ll be reading at the Meadowlands Museum there, only a few blocks from their homes, which still look just as they do in the book thanks to illustrator Chuck Groenink’s careful research. It’s going to be amazing!
To learn more about Lisa, visit her website at http://www.lisarogerswrites.com/.
16 WORDS publishes September 24. Preorder a signed copy from Wellesley Books or click on the link below to preorder an unsigned copy.
For a list of Lisa's upcoming events, visit http://www.lisarogerswrites.com/events.html
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