There’s no better weather day, I think, during which to put things off.
For example, I have been putting off creating a blog post. I’ve thought of many possible ones, like the mischievous squirrel walnut mystery (it would take a post to explain it) Fall, the start of the school term, searching for balance as a writer and teacher, but I thought of all of you who might read or glance over this blog and figured most of you wouldn’t want to read any that.
Negative I know, but honest and as good a reason as I could come up with for putting-off my blog post some more.
But the funny thing about putting something off, is that often times what happens, is that you fill the space left open with something else that needs to get done, at least I do. Which is how, today being a lovely gray starting to drizzle kind of day and a school holiday during which I find myself on my own (can’t count the dog and cats- they’re snoring) its seems there couldn’t be a more perfect time to contemplate my post.
That in turn, allows me to put off dummying out the picture book manuscript I’ve been reworking. Said manuscript, like bread dough that’s been kneaded too much, has fallen frustratingly, pfflp, flat before and in my eyes.
To punt my manuscript need to do’s farther down the field, I think I’ll make some chocolate chip cookies, brew another cup of tea and watch The Last Unicorn.
In what ways do you put-off tasks, writing or otherwise? I can’t be the only one. Can I? Oh, I hope not.
Today on National Rainbow Baby Day, recognized annually on August 22nd, it is my pleasure to celebrate the book birthday of Dear Rainbow Baby, written by Samantha Gassman, illustrated by Timothy Lange and published by Spork, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.
Samantha Gassman, the author, is an Air Force veteran, military spouse, and mom to two kids and two cats. Her debut picture book DEAR RAINBOW BABY arrives on August 22, which is also happens to be the birthday of her own rainbow baby. Her next book PEANUT AND BUTTER CUP is slated for publication in 2024.
Samantha very graciously agreed to an interview to discuss her writing and the very personal and emotional journey that led to the creation of Dear Rainbow Baby.
In regard to your book’s journey, I read that Dear Rainbow Baby came about as you processed your grief over your miscarriage. How were you able to step away from the rawness of your emotions to realize that your written expression of them could become a book which might have the potential to inspire hope among others going through a similar loss?
I wanted to let other parents know they are not alone in going through it. Pregnancy is an emotional experience at the best of times. But following a loss, those emotions can be overwhelming and no one should deal with it by themselves. I hope that the book will humanize the experience and that people will see themselves within the story.
I wrote through all the stages of grief following the miscarriage. Writing down my emotions was a great way for me to work through them. As I wrote, the words “Dear Rainbow Baby” appeared, and I started writing a letter to a baby we didn’t even know we could have. This letter helped me look forward with hope and start the healing process.
When I switched gears and looked at the letter as picture book manuscript, I realized the benefit the text could have on others who had been through a similar experience. That’s when I knew I had to try and get it out there.
Even though my own rainbow baby is now a grown self-sufficient woman, I still remember the loss and the overwhelming sense of being alone after I miscarried during the second trimester of my first pregnancy. Do you have any suggestions for mothers who are grieving a loss of a child, or pregnancy?
I would encourage them to reach out to their family and friends or a support group. It’s so important to have people to lean on. I held my husband Ryan and our son Jake very closely during that time, and both of them helped me get through it.
I would also encourage mothers to allow themselves to feel all the emotions that come with a loss like this, rather than bottling it up. It’s okay to feel however they feel. Find a way to memorialize the loss in some way. My husband and I have the first and only ultrasound picture framed with the baby’s name and dates.
Because the creation of Dear Rainbow Baby was so extremely emotional for you, did that make hearing and addressing critiques of its manuscript that much more difficult?
I was very fortunate to have my rainbow baby just before the book was acquired, which made going through the revisions easier.
What has been harder more recently (even though my baby is now an independent, sassy 2-year-old), is the notes I get from people sharing their experiences with me.
Their stories bring me back to the emotional turmoil I went through and several of them have had me in tears. One lady said that she is comforted by the thought of our angel babies playing together in heaven, which was such a beautiful sentiment.
In another blog I read that reading to your son fostered your desire to write for children. What steps did you take to make that desire a reality? How long did it take you?
First, I wrote some really terrible picture book manuscripts and shot them off to agents without learning the industry! Then, I got smarter and joined SCBWI and a critique group, and wrote and read a lot more picture books.
After dozens of rejections, I landed my first agent, who only signed me for one project. That project was rejected by 30 publishers and my contract with her ended.
I pitched DEAR RAINBOW BABY and PEANUT AND BUTTER CUP during #PitMad on Twitter and was lucky enough to land another agent, Erica Christensen. We’ve been together for two years and we’ve sold both of those original manuscripts. Now, we’re out on submission with newer projects and I have my fingers crossed those are acquired too.
I understand that your writing time comes pretty much at the end of a full day of work and child care. Is there a special nook that you like to go to gather your thoughts, or to get your creative juices flowing?
Haha, I wish! Since we move so often with the military, I’m lucky if the house we live in has an office for my full-time job! In our current house, I usually write at our kitchen table, which is normally covered with crumbs or other morsels left over from the kids throwing their dinner around.
I noticed that besides for your full-time jobs you’re also a freelance writer. First of all . . . wow, second of all . . . wow and third of all, what drew you to take up writing? At what age? Did you ever think you’d be an author growing up? What was your first published piece? What was the first piece you earned any money off of?
Thank you, thank you! My son drew me to writing when I had him at 31. I loved how his face lit up when we read picture books together. I have so many treasured memories that involve books, and I want to help create special moments for other parents and their kids.
Growing up, I never thought I would be an author. I was always a decent writer, but I was mostly focused on academic papers, not creative writing.
My first published piece was a story I wrote about an open house at our local fire station in Dixon, CA. I sent it to the local paper, the Dixon Independent. My first paid writing gig was my work for hire contract with Benchmark Education. They bought my debut book on the educational market HONOR FLIGHT, available for classes and libraries now!
Samantha, you’ve had several successes with two stories that went nationwide. Would you share with us what you’ve learned as you sought to publicize and market your work?
Even if you sign a contract with a “big 5” publisher, a lot of the responsibility for marketing and publicity will be on you the author. Here are my top tips to help you market your book:
Know your audience and figure out where they are: for Dear Rainbow Baby, I knew that parents and expecting parents of rainbow babies were my audience. Fortunately, there are several organizations that address pregnancy after loss and miscarriage support, so I reached out to individuals there to help spread the word about the book.
Pitch your local paper (and anywhere you have a tie-in): Think about: your school magazine or newsletter, church newsletter, local radio and TV stations, etc. and send them your pitch!
Post authentically and post often on social media. No, you’re not talking about your book too much. Share the story behind the idea, the revision process, the inspiration, writing tips, etc… with your social media audience. This helps your book stay top of mind and can help you build a fan base.
Are there any suggestions you could pass on to readers who might also want to become a picture book writer?
The only difference between an unpublished author and a published author is the latter never gave up. So, don’t give up!
Thank you, for sharing your and Dear Rainbow Baby’s journey, Samantha. I wish you all the best and to your daughter, a very happy birthday!
The phrase the devil is in the details refers to the specifics of a plan which, while seeming insignificant, may contain hidden problems that threaten its overall feasibility.
The necessity for specifics is obvious when writing works of non-fiction, but it is also an integral part of fiction, especially for world building.
What does this mean for writers? What does it all come down to?
The need for research, research, and more research.
On the whole, efforts spent researching are a good thing. The only negatives being its effect on time.
Researching, in itself, is a time consuming effort. Once decided upon it has the potential for, the almost inevitable, off-topic traveling. Research can, particularly for the less vigilant like myself, cause the researcher to veer from an intended destination.
This is a list of some of the topics I’ve researched: the Garuda, Esala Perahera, Holi, dragons, dryads, the green man, Herne, spotted eagle rays, sharks, NASCAR, Mushussu, gravitational ripples, Mexican spotted owls, and the list goes on.
All of them led to side trips down narrow alleys of previously unknown topics that, in some way, served the story or my curiosity.
To me, one of the most interesting things about research is coming across the unexpected. The discovery might cause me to revise or alter a premise, in order to make a situation or condition feasible, but that’s what so cool. I love incorporating something new into my overall understanding of the world and those in it. There’s always more to learn.
Just think about it, they’ve poured all of themselves into creating that book you enjoyed. They’ve revised, reworked and fine tuned the words and images you escaped into. They’ve worked hard to get their book(s) published and made available to you.
They deserve a shout out, or a pat on the back, you know they do.
So, that book you’ve just started, or are mid-way through, or are close to finishing? Once you’re finished, use your power as a reader to share your thoughts.
Here are two super easy ways to do just that.
Give it a rating and a review.
It won’t take long. Ratings and reviews can be found on most bookselling sites as well as Goodreads.
You have the power. Books and their creators need your input. It’s a harsh publishing world out there. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Your star rating and review can help new readers find and enjoy the book you loved. The more new readers that a book gets, the more likely it is that the writer and illustrator will have opportunities to publish again.
So please, take a few moments to flex your reading power. Help the authors and illustrators you enjoy have the opportunity to create more books. Your imagination will reap the benefits.
I have good news to announce! My good friend Lee Y. Miao has recently revealed the cover of her debut middle-grade story, WEI TO GO!
I was privileged to enjoy reading an advanced copy and can tell you that it has believable characters you want to root for, a layered and fast-paced plot that keeps pages turning, and a whole bunch of heart. Lee has very generously agreed to an interview and to sharing her book journey with us on this week’s blog post.
WEI TO GO!is about what happens when twelve-year-old Ellie W. Pettit decides to save her dad’s California company, under a mysterious takeover threat. Ellie takes her teacher’s advice to meet a secretive CEO in Hong Kong, while on a trip with her family, and finds she’s at a crossroads. Annoying brother, unexpected weather, new customs, a hovering mom—it’ll take everything she’s got to solve the mystery.
WEI TO GO! will be released on April 5, 2022, by Clear Fork Publishing.
I hope ten to twelve-year-olds who like mysteries and are curious about the world will discover this novel. If they’re on the cusp of being independent and like competitive sports and humor, maybe they’ll also see parts of themselves on the pages. Fingers crossed!
I think they definitely will, Lee, on both occasions.
Tell us, what inspired you to write this book?
The last time I traveled overseas, I realized how challenging or comical it can be to navigate mass transportation or even dine out. I wanted to capture this setting from a middle-schooler’s perspective as the main character chases down a mystery.
What makes your characters unique?
Ellie, the main character, and her pesky brother are third-generation, with partial Chinese heritage. They are pretty much all American and know little Chinese. Ellie isn’t always obedient, and English is her forte, not math and science. Her brother Kipp excels in competitive sports.
What techniques did you use to get to know your main characters?
I tried to capture how kids manage relationships with their parents and each other in changing situations. Sometimes they step up to the plate, and other times they strike out. Like real life, both are absolutely fine.
Did you face any challenges to writing this story?
I was used to being an absurd punctuation and grammar nerd while writing nonfiction for K-12 English language arts projects. When I delved into fiction, I was initially afraid to use slang or lose the occasional comma in kids’ dialogue. Once I did, boy did I feel liberated.
What’s been easy and/or difficult on your writing journey?
Writing middle-grade fiction was hard but made easier as I love to write, especially in my favorite genre. The difficulty was engaging on social media—worried about privacy and not even knowing how to do a DM. Plus, I rarely take pictures. So far, I’ve hobbled along primarily because a few core followers offer unwavering support.
Do you write every day? When do you prefer to write? Do you ever find it difficult to start writing? If so, what do you do to get yourself going?
My best time to write is in the mornings when I’m usually alert. I’ll try to write a different chapter in the afternoons or evenings. In between, I do email, social media, read, and all the other things that writers do. Most importantly, I don’t need any excuses to take multiple breaks.
How long has it taken WEI TO GO! to get from submissionto publication?
I started writing intermittently about five years ago because I had a full-time day job back then.
Do you have any advice for other middle grade authors who are looking to get their manuscripts published?
I looked for opportunities to improve my writing craft when selecting workshops and conferences. This helps to submit a polished manuscript to agents or editors. Also, I liked meeting other writers to hopefully exchange critical feedback on our manuscripts.
How do you polish your writing?
I apply my notes from workshops or books on writing craft to chapters, scenes, and characters. After my critique partners review them, I inevitably make revisions, even if I initially resist the majority opinion. After all, they always look out for your best interests.
Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books?
My favorites books include the Run with the Horsemen trilogy by Ferrol Sams. I love any books by Gary Schmidt, especially The Wednesday Wars. My all-time favorite, for kids or grown-ups, is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
Are you presently working on another project? If so, can you share a little bit about what it is?
I’m finishing a manuscript related to WEI TO GO! It’s actually a prequel about Ellie’s bestie, Cat, who’s a dead ringer for a Raphael portrait painted during Renaissance Italy.
What do you do for fun?
Concerts, travel and spectator sports are my favorites. I swim regularly and walk my dog. Some day I’d like to resume playing the piano, except I’ve been on beginner book II for more than a decade. My piano teacher is deliriously happy I’m on a lengthy hiatus.
Lee Y. Miao is the debut author of Wei To Go! To find out more about Lee check out her Instagram account @leeymiao.writer and her website www.LeeYMiao.com
Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and your book journey with us, Lee! Best of luck with your writing andWEITO GO!