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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Own Your Creativity: Author Interview with Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Writing was not your first career choice. What made you finally decide you wanted to start writing with your mom, Jane Yolen? 
I had actually just interviewed at a battered women's shelter to become a counselor when I found out I was pregnant (and very sick) with my daughter. I had to turn down the job (I was THAT sick). I had never not worked--so I was bored at home. My mother was invited to write a short story for a book called FAMOUS AUTHORS AND THEIR KIDS WRITE SPOOKY STORIES so she asked me to collaborate. I did. From there, it's been almost 27 years of working with her and alone. I've been writing solo more recently because I am an empty nester. I just signed the contract on my 38th book. Also, that daughter, now in law school, has her first book (co-authored with her grandmother) coming out in the fall. It's called WHEN NANA DANCES WITH ME.

That's a great family collaboration story! What is the hardest part of writing for you? 
--A story comes from an idea, and for me, ideas can be a word or a phrase, a line in an article that sends me to a nonfiction story, a character... The easy part is the first bit of writing. I always give myself permission to write badly at first. Just write until I can write no longer. Generally, that's where I get stuck. So, I stop.

The hardest part is that waiting. I don't worry, I know it will always work its way through. But, I wish there wasn't that time away from a story trying to figure out how to get to the ending. Luckily, I can turn to another story during that time. But, I guess, it's that section, usually about 2/3 of the way through a story, where you need to find a solution to the problems you have created that, for me, is the hardest part.

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
--Hmmm... every editor is different and I work with lots of them. The one constant is my agent. She often says to me that I write too tightly--meaning I need to relax a bit and allow more language to come through. I'm always trying to leave room for the illustrator and I forget that I also need to allow myself the space to write as much as I want. It's sort of the opposite of what many editors tell you.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
--I live in a family of writers and have a community of creative people. I think the answer to this question is twofold. I love that my parents raised us (myself and my brothers) to believe that a job in the arts is a job. That we should do what we love. They never said, "you need to have something to fall back on." They supported and encouraged us in and out of the arts. And, the second part of that is when kids read my books and send me letters or tell me face to face that they learned something, or loved a book I wrote, or it changed them in some way--that is an immediate reminder of why I continue to write.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing? 

--I grew up in this business so very little surprises me. I think the best answer to this question is that, when I have written something I think is great, the rejections always surprise me. You are sure you are writing something an editor will fall in love with, and when they don't, it's always a surprise. Sometimes that means it just isn't the right fit for that particular editor, and sometimes it means I have to go back to the drawing board and revise.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
--That it's fun. Don't get me wrong, it's also a ton of work and it can be really hard. But, at the core of it, I find joy.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
--SAY YES! I'm asked to do a lot of things--write something, revise something, create something--most of which I have NO IDEA if I can do. But, I always say "Yes! I can do that!" Then I can set about to figure out HOW to do it. My mom, by the way, gave me that advice.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?

--Everyone can be a writer. To be an author, you also need to be a business person. Always be learning. You are never an expert in this field. You need to be a lifelong learner. And, finally, believe in yourself--own your creativity.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
--I have 3 books with release dates this year:

Released May 25: PEOPLE SHAPES illustrated by Teresa Bellon: A die-cut board book about a little moon with family members of all shapes.

August 30: TOUCAN WITH TWO CANS illustrated by Aaron Spurgeon: a Ready to Read about a Toucan who decides to juggle and the mess that, predictably, happens.

September 7: ADRIFT illustrated by Anastasia Suvorova: A picture book about a little mouse adrift in a storm at sea feeling afraid and lonely until he spots other boats and they ride it out together.

You are one prolific lady! If you'd like to learn more about Heidi's books, here are some links to get you started.

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