I am pleased to host an interview with author and writing colleague, Nancy Tupper Ling. Nancy’s books for adults include the poetry collections, Coming Unfrozen and Character, and, for those of you at a loss for the right words on special occasions, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion. Her picture books include Double Happiness, The Story I’ll Tell, and My Sister, Alicia May. Nancy is the founder of Fine Line Poets (www.finelinepoets.com) and winner of the prestigious Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award. Nancy and I had the chance to catch up this past winter, and in honor of Mother’s Day I wanted to talk a little bit more about her most recent picture book, The Story I’ll Tell.
Thank you, Nancy, for joining me for this interview!
The Story I’ll Tell is a tale of a mother and how she will share her child’s arrival with her family. You said in a recent conversation that this book is much more than a story about adoption. What is the heart of The Story I’ll Tell? What readers, beyond adoptive families, will enjoy this story?
The idea for this story came to me in a daydream as I was driving along the highway. I had an image of a child arriving on a family’s doorstep in a basket, and I began to wonder what kinds of stories a parent would tell that child about how he came into their lives. Gradually it grew into an adoption story, but I hope it reaches all families. When I sign a book for a child, I often write “for all the stories you’ll tell.” Everyone has a family story or two, and sharing these stories draws us closer.
Did you interact with the illustrator for this book, and, if so, what was your working relationship?
Typically publishers like to keep the author and illustrator apart during the creation of the book. This way the author doesn’t try to influence the illustrator’s work. That said, I love connecting with my illustrators along the way. Shortly before our book was about to launch, Jessica Lanan and I found each other on social media. Now I bring some of her storyboard sketches with me when I visit schools to show a bit of her process as well as my own.
Tell us a little bit about the process of working with your editor. How long did The Story I’ll Tell take, from start to finish, once it was acquired by Lee & Low Books?
I like to think of The Story I’ll Tell as one of those “gift” stories. Surprisingly, it didn’t require much revision, and I believe Lee & Low was the first publisher to see it. With my book Double Happiness, I revised and submitted many, many times. The whole thing took about ten years! So my experience with The Story I’ll Tell was very different. My agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, told me she’d found a new editor at Lee & Low in July 2013. Shortly after that, I was in the middle of a California conference called Build a Better Book when I got the good news. It had been accepted. I worked with my editor, Jessica Echeverria, but the edits were minimal. It was a little over two years after signing with Lee & Low that it was published (November 2015)—right in time for National Adoption Day.
Two of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way are: 1. Listen. This may seem easy but few people master this. They have their story. They want to sell their story. They don’t need the advice of any peers or editors along the way. And thus, they miss out on the chance to improve. And 2. Always have 5 or 6 stories in your back pocket, written out and ready to go. This is not a one book wonder industry. My agent is constantly sending several of my stories out simultaneously. And I’m never sure which ones are going to be picked up and which will fill a void in the publishing world. I can’t predict. So it’s best to bring several to the table.
How important has the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators been to your writing career?
Initially, winning the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize helped to launch my foray into the world of children’s writing. Shortly after that amazing win, I discovered SCBWI and it’s been a partnership every since. From my local critique group to the big conference, SCBWI has had my back. My latest venture with SCBWI was when they supported a visit I made to the Joseph P Tynan School in Boston. While the school didn’t have funding to invite a local author for a visit, SCBWI made this possible.
What has been your most difficult promotional or marketing challenge?
I have learned that even starred book reviews and various awards don’t guarantee massive readership. My books tend to be quiet. Sometimes they are niche books, fitting into certain pockets of the world and library shelves. It’s always a struggle to get the word out about my books. Kirsten Cappy with Curious City helped me to create activity kits for my books, and that was helpful in reaching teachers and librarians. Even with the best publishers, much of this work is on our own.
Which picture book writers have inspired you and your creative work?
When I was at a writer’s conference, an agent once compared my work to Charlotte Zolotow’s. I think that was one of the best days of my life. In my opinion, her books are classic, amazing and enduring. I also love those children’s authors who are poets too, like Nikki Grimes, Linda Sue Park, Janet S. Wong, along with my writer friends Nancy Poydar, Pat Zietlow Miller, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jean Reidy and so many more.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Write everything. Don’t restrict your writing to one genre. You never know. A poem can win a contest that may lead an editor to check out your children’s manuscript. It happened to me. It’s possible.
Can you tell us about your newest book, The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful, to be released in 2018?
Thanks for asking. Told like a classic Chinese folktale, this book has a dragon, Frightful, who makes the villagers’ lives miserable. It’s also the story of Mei and Wei, twin sisters who complete one another like yin and yang. They were inspired by my own daughters, who are opposite in many ways. While Wei is determined to rock Frightful’s world, Mei spends her time researching all about the lives of dragons. It’s only by combining their skills that these two sisters figure out how to change Frightful into a Delightful dragon.
What’s up next?
My mentor and coauthor, June Cotner, and I have completed another anthology called Family Blessings. Hopefully that will launch into the world soon. I’ve also finished my first middle grade manuscript about an orphan in Russia who must choose between finding her lost sister, Anya, or being adopted and leaving the country she loves.
For more information about Nancy and her books, visit www.nancytupperling.com.
Tidbits about Nancy:
Currently reading: Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick and The True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. Wow, both Revolutionary War books and the authors have the same last name. Interesting!
Favorite Motivational Phrase: In the dedication for all my books I include the Latin phrase Soli Deo gloria. It reminds me to use the gifts I’ve been given for God’s glory.
Favorite books for kids(short list!):
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
Any Cynthia Rylant books, but especially the Mr. Putter series
Favorite Books for adults (at this time):
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by James Ford
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Favorite film: The Scarlet and the Black (with Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer)
Remedy for writer’s block: Seize pockets of time, wherever and whenever you find them!
Relaxation trick: Hula hooping
Coffee or tea? Tea, iced
Vanilla or Chocolate? Chocolate