I’m a big fan ofPoetry Unbound. If you haven’t heard of it, I’d recommend checking it out.
Every week a different poem is shared aloud by Pádraig Ó Tuama. He not only reads the poem, but also offers his perceptions on what the poem or the poet is speaking of.
This week I listened to “Transformation” written by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh. It’s vivid imagery and the way in which the poet expresses his dutiful search for his elusive creative spark struck a chord in me.
I haven’t written a single poem in months.
I’ve lived humbly,
reading the paper,
pondering the riddle of power and the reasons for obedience.
I’ve watched sunsets (crimson, anxious),
I’ve heard the birds grow quiet
and night’s muteness.
I’ve seen sunflowers dangling
their heads at dusk,
as if a careless hangman had gone strolling through the gardens.
September’s sweet dust gathered
on the windowsill and lizards
hid in the bends of walls.
I’ve taken long walks,
craving one thing only:
Listening to the poem and Pádraig’s critique of it got me thinking about my creative focus. By day I’m a teacher for the visually impaired and blind and by night a writer of children’s books.
My writing takes second place in my daily list of to do’s. It has to. But my creative connection is not so much lost, as the poet’s was.
It can at times feel that way, especially if afternoon or evening obligations eat into my opportunity to write. The tasks I want to get to sometimes get pushed back for days in a row and that can leave me feeling at a creative loss. Where was I? What was I trying to do? These are some of the questions I ask myself when I’ve been away from writing for too long. Don’t worry, my family thinks I’m talking to the dog. Thankfully, she’s usually close by.
I have also recognized this feeling when I’ve finalized a draft I’ve been working on for awhile. What will I do next? I wonder. Where will I find a creative spark for a new story?
Have you ever lost or misplaced your creative connection? Or have had to place it on hold? What have you done to get it back or engage it again?
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!
CVI, or cortical visual impairment, is a brain-based visual impairment that is caused due to damage within the brain or the visual pathways.
Literacy is widely defined as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.” (UNESCO 2004)http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001362/13
Dr. Christine Roman Lantzy, a leader in the field of CVI assessment and education, has stated that “Literacy begins when they look.” When a child with CVI can visually fixate on a target and interpret it, the child is working to build a visual memory of the target that they can later refer to when the target is presented in different contexts.
As a teacher for the visually impaired and a children’s writer, I love the challenge of creating a meaningful book for a student whether their visual impairment is ocular or brain-based. It is incredibly gratifying to create something that opens the door to literacy for a student.
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.