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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Never Sorry I Spent an Hour Writing: Author Interview with Laura Gehl

You’ve published 17 picture books or board books in the last five years. What inspired you to write the first picture book?
My first picture book was One Big Pair Of Underwear, and the title just popped into my head in the middle of the night (my oldest son was a baby, so I was up in the middle of the night quite a bit). From the title came the first line, and soon I found myself furiously scribbling verses on scraps of paper in the kitchen, in my lab, and everywhere else I went.

That was 15 years ago, so I don’t remember how many rewrites I did, but I do remember that the ending was the hardest part. I wrote a whole bunch of different endings before settling on the one that appears in the book.

Prior to writing these children’s books, what was your publishing or writing background? 
I did science writing for both children and adults for a number of years. I wrote magazine articles, I had a monthly column where I answered kids’ science questions, I summarized academic scientific articles for scientific journals, I edited an educational science periodical…all kinds of different things, but all science-related.

What was your process like in getting your first book published? How did keep going even after getting rejection letters?
I didn’t keep track of how many submissions I sent out, or how many rejections I received. I do remember what kept me going through the rejections, though! I kept a “good news” file. Every time I received a personalized rejection from an agent or editor, I would copy and paste only the positive parts and put them in my file. So, I had a file full of little snippets of praise and encouragement, and I would read over the file whenever I started to doubt myself.

Do you have an agent?
I didn’t have an agent for my first book (or my second), but I do now, and I adore her. Having an agent, of course, opens many doors in terms of which editors and publishers you can submit to since the majority of publishers only accept agented submissions.

But having an agent also means you have someone who 100% has your interests and your career at heart, someone who is always on your side, and someone to believe in your work even when you stop believing in it yourself...although my critique partners are also great in terms of support and career advice.

Are there any stories you’ve written that are l packed way that you hope will get published someday?
I have a few early reader series that I hope will sell at some point. My own daughter struggled with learning to read. I started writing in this genre after seeing how much of a difference it made for my daughter to read books specifically written with emerging readers in mind. 

Are you active with any writing groups?
Yes, I have an online critique group and an in-person critique group. Both are invaluable. I also have a few other writer friends who read stories for me when I need fresh eyes.

What has frustrated you the most in publishing your books?
Frustration: I had one book come out where the biographical information used in the flap copy was years out of date. Since then, my agent always asks for approval over flap copy in my contracts.

What has surprised you, in a good way?
Pleasant surprise: Seeing the illustrations for a new book is always exciting and delightful…especially when the artist adds humorous details that I neither suggested nor expected.

What is your writing style?
I don’t do a storyboard, but I do often paginate for picture books. I try to write every day…not just because it’s my job but because I absolutely love it. Sometimes I am super excited to work on a new project, and other times it is harder to motivate myself. But I am never sorry I spent an hour writing.

What is the best writing advice you’ve been given?
My mom used to say that if you think a line is particularly great, you should probably cut it. That isn’t always true, but her advice got me used to the idea of “killing your darlings” early on. I am very open to revisions that completely change the character/plot/setting/perspective of a manuscript, and the difference between my first draft and my final draft tends to be dramatic.

Other writing advice I believe in: butt in chair (the more you write, the better you get at it), don’t give up, read as much as you write, leave room for art (specifically for picture books, make sure the words are only telling half of the story), and eat chocolate.

Okay, that last one isn’t exactly writing advice, but I eat chocolate every day to make my brain happy and ready to be creative.

What message would you like parents and children to take away from your books?
All of my books have some sort of underlying message, although I try not to be preachy! For example, Peep And Egg: I’m Not Hatching is about overcoming fears, Except When They Don’t is about being yourself regardless of gender norms, Delivery Bear is about standing out instead of fitting in, and Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer is about persistence and overcoming obstacles.

What’s in the works for future books?
I have a number of new books coming out next year, and of course, I am excited about all of them!
Baby Paleontologist (HarperCollins) will be the fourth book in the Baby Scientist board book series.
The Ninja Club Sleepover (Page Street Kids) is about a young werewolf’s first night away from home.
Judge Juliette (Sterling) is about a little girl who rules over her neighborhood… until a particularly difficult case enters her courtroom.
Cat Has A Plan (Simon & Schuster) is my very first early reader—the hilarious (I hope) tale of a conniving pair of friends.

Wow! You do keep busy. If you’d like to learn more about Laura’s books, here are some ways to find the info.

@AuthorLauraGehl (twitter)

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