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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Celebrating Christmas and Writing: Author Interview with Geraldine Guadagno

Today's interview is with a children's author who is now also moving over to writing for adults. In keeping with the holiday them we will begin with her story on Christmas. 
What inspired you to write your book on Christmas?
It was a time when I was “stuck” for writing ideas, so I returned to the old saw, “Write what you know.”  I took a fresh sheet of paper and listed everything that I thought I knew.  Then, my stomach turned.  I “knew” just a few things.  Very few things!  If I remember right, I literally walked away from my list for about ten minutes.  While wandering around my house, I said, “Calm down, Geri, there’s a story in there somewhere.  You’ve always had a good imagination, etc.” 

Over the next week, I avoided the list, but kept thinking about my childhood and growing up in St. Joseph Parish in Mountain View, CA.  The church’s large portrait of Joseph kept appearing in my mind’s eye.  I asked myself, “Do I really know Joseph?”  I realized that he was often in the background, even in the Christmas story, and that he never said anything in the Gospels, but he played a very important role in God’s plan for humanity.  God must have created and prepared Joseph just as carefully as he did Mary.  Then I began researching and writing Joseph’s story.

Could you give me a short synopsis for my readers?
Joseph’s tale begins when he is a boy, learning both his trade and his faith from his father.  When he is older and meets Mary, his special mission from God unfolds, and the Christmas story is seen through his eyes.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? 
Our family has a special, handmade Nativity set handed down from our parents that we love arranging on our fireplace mantle.  We always hide Baby Jesus until midnight on December 25th.  We also love driving the Hill Country Trail of Lights and admiring all the displays.  We drink hot chocolate while watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and almost always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” together, too.

What was your first piece of writing that was published? 
My first published piece was a middle-grade Christmas story in My Friend magazine (a Catholic children’s magazine, no longer in print).  “Out in the Cold” is about an 11 year-old boy who feels left out when his much older brother brings home a girlfriend, who becomes his fiancĂ©, just before Christmas. 

How many rejections would you say you had prior to that acceptance?
Prior to this story I had about a dozen rejections.  This was very early in my writing career, so I have dozens more now. 

How do you get past rejections? 
The way that I get through rejections is to not take them personally.  Again, I adapted something that I’d heard long ago about dating to my writing:  My story might be a strawberry, and this particular editor is allergic to strawberries.  I think that J.K. Rowling’s rejection experiences have shown every author that the process is a very subjective one.

How did you go about finding a publisher for your first book? How long did that process take?
I knew that the best chance of getting Joseph’s story in print was with a Catholic publisher.  A little Internet research turned up an association of Catholic publishers in San Antonio.  Their members and what they published were also listed on their website.  I looked for those that published both books about saints and children’s books.  Then I picked ten to start with and sent them individual queries by e-mail.  It took about one to two weeks to get responses (except for undeliverable addresses, of course).  Two or three publishers asked for the manuscript, which I also sent by e-mail. 

It only took a few days for The Word Among Us to say that they liked it.  They are really a distributor, and had me send it to Anno Domini, the publisher from which they purchase books. Anno Domini liked it too, and we began the editing/draft illustrating process, which took about six months.  Once they had a “dummy” of the book, it took another month or so to get an agreement to buy from The Word Among Us.  Then it took a year or so to get printed, bound and on the shelves. 

Did you at any time think it would never happen and wanted to give up? 
Despite pretty quick success finding a publisher, I needed a lot of patience with this process, but I never thought that it wouldn’t happen because of the editor’s encouragement, commitment and communication with me.

Your bio says you’ve taken  workshops through Highlights Foundation. Can you give me some details of what that included?
I took writing courses for children from The Institute of Children’s Literature and for adults from Long Ridge Writers Group.  In these courses, I worked one-on-one with a professional author/editor, getting very specific comments on a dozen assignments. 

The Highlights Foundation used to host an annual writers and illustrators conference in Chatauqua, New York.  (I think that now they are more focused on smaller workshops at their campus in Honesdale, PA.)  You had your choice of all kinds of workshops on craft, genre, marketing and publishing from professional authors and editors.  You also received one-on-one critiques of your work.  It was wonderful!  I’ve also attended their “Writing from the Heart Retreat,” which gives you guidance and lots of writing time in addition to one-on-one critiques. 

You’ve also attended SCBWI conferences. Why do you think they are important to writers? 
The SCBWI conferences offer similar workshops and critiques, as well as the opportunity to submit work to publishing houses that might be “closed” to authors who don’t have an agent.  These are very important opportunities, because without direct feedback from professionals or “an open door,” we might never get anywhere.  Also important is connecting with other authors, who help to support and inspire you.

You’ve mostly had children’s stories published, but you now have a book for adults coming out called Five Steps to Facing Suffering. Tell me how that came about.
It came about through the publisher of my second picture book, Irene the Elephant.  New City Press asked what I thought of their latest project:  a series of “Five Steps” books on a variety of topics such as forgiveness, tolerance, dialogue (with those of other faiths), and so on.  They also offered me the opportunity to work on a topic.  I chose the subject of suffering, because one of my fondest desires has always been to help ease the suffering in the world.  (Books helped ease my loneliness when I was a child; and they still are “friends” to children today, especially when the child can say, “Someone gets me.”) 

It was quite a leap to write non-fiction for adults, especially about spirituality.  I picked several sources, read them, and wrote a first draft; but the editor didn’t like a few of my resources and I had to select others and rewrite.  Since I’m not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination, knowledgeable clergymen reviewed my next draft.  The editor-in-chief read my third draft and recommended more changes, which were indeed needed.  But, don’t get the idea that it was all one-sided; I also made a few suggestions about things to add or delete, which the editors liked and accepted.  Then the book was finally approved for typesetting.  It was a challenging project, but very satisfying.

What’s the best piece of advice on writing you’ve been given?   
Just to keep going.  Keep learning, keep writing, because as Ray Bradbury is reported to have said, “Quantity produces quality.”

What other books/works do you have in process that you would like to tell me about?   
I’m writing the true story of a special boy who died at a very young age.  By all accounts from his family and their close friends, he was like an angel on earth.  I’m honored to be working on it.

That's it for today's interview. I hope it gave you some new insight to writing. If you would like to learn more about Geri and her writing, here's some helpful links... Website           Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Nice to meet Geraldine and be introduced to her work. Her books look lovely!