Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Author Interview: Linda Marshall

So, I wanted to start doing some author features and interviews on my blog with the talented, amazing authors and illustrators I am lucky enough to work with :) The first in my blog author series is Linda Marshall.  

Photograph credit: Deborah Feingold
Linda (Elovitz) Marshall comes to writing for children after several other careers including teaching early childhood education, parenting education, working on her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, owning and operating her own bookstore, freelance writing, producing “as-told-to” autobiographies, and raising four children and a small flock of sheep. Regarding writing for children, Linda’s a late-bloomer, having her first picture book accepted for publication when she was already a grandmother. Since then, ten more of her picture books have been published or accepted for publication. Linda also writes chapter books and Middle Grade novels as well as occasional essays for newspapers and magazines. She enjoys writing about just about everything – except for things with hormones!

            Twitter: @L_E_Marshall

Hi Christa,

First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to participate in your blog interview. It’s been so great working with you…and I love the feedback you give me that helps me make my stories better and better. Thank you!

1.         What is must-know about your upcoming project, MOMMY, BABY AND ME (Peter Pauper Press, 2017)? 

            Prior to writing for children, I taught early childhood education and parenting education. I raised my four children and a small flock of sheep, studied cultural anthropology, and owned a bookstore. In various ways, almost all of my projects relate to experiences I’ve had or things I’ve learned along the way. Many of them relate to things I’ve learned as a parent, student of early childhood development, or as a cultural anthropologist.

            MOMMY, BABY, AND ME addresses an important transition - becoming a parent. That transition - from non-parent to parent – is forever. In my opinion, American culture needs to give that transition more attention. As humorist Erma Bombeck said long ago, “the thing about having a baby is that, once you have it, you have it.” 

             By seeing the new baby from the point of view of a much-beloved (and now somewhat displaced) family dog, MOMMY, BABY, AND ME highlights how an older sibling might feel. Or to how a family dog might feel! Or, perhaps, how a close friend might feel. With every birth (or death), a family undergoes a re-arrangement. It takes time to adjust.

            Personally, I remember coming home with my first-born. My much-beloved dog skulked around, unhappy. After awhile, he got used to the new baby….Who knows? If I'd had a book to read to my dog, maybe the transition might have been easier? 

2.         What draws you to write picture books?

           Spending years in early childhood education, I developed a great love for picture books. I love the language, the pictures, the concise - often poetic - way a story is told. I love that a good picture book contains some “universal” element, gently touching something we all feel. 
3.         Where do you primarily look for inspiration for your picture books? 

            I find inspiration all around. 

            Recently, I was trying to help a close friend who is from Guatemala and who established a not-for-profit weavers’ co-operative that enables Guatemalan Mayan women to sell their artisanal products in the U.S. through Fair Trade markets. I wanted to write something to help that co-operative. But, what? My friend and I brainstormed some ideas. I wrote a rough draft. Then I went to Guatemala, researched, and read the draft to Mayan women in the co-operatives. They helped me hone the story. The result: RAINBOW WEAVER, forthcoming with Lee & Low (2016). 

            RAINBOW WEAVER tells the story of a young Mayan girl (Ixchel) who wants to learn to weave to help her family pay for her books and school fees. Unfortunately, there’s not enough thread - and thread is too costly for her to learn on. Instead, Ixchel constructs her own loom and tries weaving with grasses, then with bits of wool. Ultimately, she uses strips from the ubiquitous - and destructive - plastic bags. Ixchel finally learns to weave - like the generations of women before her - and, in the process, helps clean her village. 

             Indeed, Mayan weavers in Guatemala are cleaning their environment by weaving with plastic bags. They’re also supporting their families.

             Part of the proceeds from RAINBOW WEAVER will directly help weavers in the Mayan Hands and MayaWorks co-operatives. 

                        I feel very proud to make this contribution.

 4.   Is there are a project of yours that you are most proud of or excited about?

 I’m so proud of all my projects, it’s hard to single one out. 

A forthcoming book, KINDERGARTEN IS COOL! (Scholastic, 2016) is about going to school - and all the joys and angst it entails. It’s a joyous, warm book. I hope it helps new kindergartners be prepared for - and love - this transition in their lives. If my book makes going to school easier for just one child…Wow! I’d feel great!          

5.         How do you approach writing for different age groups?

              I always try to write with great respect for my readers - especially when writing for the very young. I try to keep everything I write - whether for adults or young children - clear and accessible. I dislike obfuscation or jargon. Shorter is better. Good writing is good writing. 

6.         To what extent do your own life and interests reflect themselves in your work?

             I have many different life experiences and many different interests. Part of me is in everything I write. It has to be. If part of me isn't there, the story doesn't ring true.

7.         Who are some of your favorite picture book authors? 
              Leo Lionni - especially Swimmy and Frederick
              Candace Fleming
              Ezra Jack Keats
              Beatrice Schenk de Regniers - especially May I Bring A Friend?        

8.         What’s the revision process like for you? 

             I find revision both never-ending and a great joy. I adore revision. I love to work on the words until I get them - and the story - just right. With picture books and essays, I am compulsive about revision. I’m also trying to learn more about revision in longer works. It’s all a learning process.                      

9.         What do you know now about publishing that you wish you could tell yourself before you started? 
             Speaking of a learning process, I wish I’d been encouraged earlier to write. As a young person, I knew I was good at writing - but I assumed that everyone, with enough education, could write clearly. I also thought that - with my relatively normal, happy childhood - I didn’t have enough angst in my life to be a good writer. And as a child who was not good at dancing, drawing, playing an instrument, singing on-key, or even telling right from left, I assumed I had absolutely no talent, whatsoever. It wasn’t until about ten years ago, that I first attempted to write for children. I’m so happy now that I’m writing for kids. I only wish that early on - in high school or in college - someone would have guided me toward doing more writing. But, then, I wouldn’t have had as many life experiences earlier. So, I guess it all works out perfectly!

10.       What do you think the most important element of a good story is? 

                 For me, it all depends on the story. Sometimes it’s character development, sometimes humor, sometimes plot. What’s a good story for me might not be a good one for someone else…Also, some stories work best in some seasons, at some places, and some times in a person’s life. It all depends...                   

Note: I previously interviewed Vincent X. Kirsch on the M&O blog.


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