Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Conversation with Gretchen Everin

Laundry flapping in the wind? I’m sold. You all know how much I love hanging out clothes. And I could use a new do myself …  so I was delighted to see the cover of MAMA'S NEW DO written by Gretchen Everin and illustrated by Tara Britt Story. It’s a whimsical story about the common-sense things we can do to be good stewards of the earth. So pull up a chair – I wish we could all sit out together with a hot cup of tea and fresh cranberry bread – and enjoy this conversation with Carrots, which is what Gretchen goes by on the Blueboards (now part of SCBWI) and where we got to know one another over the years. Now, she is a sister of my heart, who not only encourages me with her words and prayers but has also introduced me to a dear saint, Gemma, who has become a wonderful companion to me. You’ve got to love friends who share their friends! Please welcome Gretchen!

First, please tell me your background? I always find the journey to writing itself interesting.  
I grew up in the Midwest and dreamed of becoming a school choir director.  (Really, I just wanted a way to sing in harmony every day.) Alas, my Music Education major fizzled out early during Freshman year when I discovered that students were required to solo on command during Italian Diction class. Way too insecure for that, I did the next best thing, which was to get my degree in Elementary Education and take as many music electives as my schedule would allow.
Me too! About the music electives.
After college, I moved to New England for a year of volunteer work with Chi Rho Catholic Service Corps. Providentially, I was placed in an inner-city school as the librarian and music teacher. What a dream! When my stint ended, I stayed in the area and worked as a classroom teacher, never missing the opportunity to integrate music and children’s picture books into the lessons – even with older students! Then I got married, had my first child, and became a stay-at-home mom.
And I suspect that's when you started writing, right?
On a whim, I wrote my first manuscript in 2005. The story makes me cringe now, but the experience of writing it was life-changing. Truly. Afterward, the stories poured out of me. I couldn’t write enough.
Then I read Harold Underdown’s invaluable book - THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, which is now in its 3rd edition - and became a regular visitor to his and Verla Kay’s websites. Their wisdom settled me down and helped me focus. It made me want to do more than write. It made me want to write well. So I took two classes through the Institute of Children’s Literature, which were very beneficial.
Aha, so we're ICL sisters! It's uncanny what a similar path we both took. I'm so thankful we both ended up on Verla's Blueboards.
I think it’s quite a coincidence that your book on taking care of our earth coincides with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si'. Did you have any inkling of it? 
Wasn’t the timing remarkable? Several months before MAMA’S NEW DO was published, I learned of the upcoming encyclical, and by the time I looked at it in the middle of June, the opening paragraph had me in tears. See, Laudato Si was released on May 24. Just three days prior, I had emailed the editor my dedication, which thanks God for this universe and gives a nod to St. Francis of Assisi, who lovingly referred to Earth as “Mother.” To see Pope Francis give that very same nod to St. Francis was thrilling. I even joked to the editor that we were getting free publicity from Rome! 
I no longer believe in coincidences, just God-incidences!  
What/Who inspired you to write this story?  
The wish list of a new indie publisher propelled me to write MAMA’S NEW DO in 2009. Though it wasn’t ultimately a good fit for that publisher, the editor gave me helpful feedback that was used in the current version. I can’t remember how the concept came to me, but I remember where it happened: in my car on the way to a doctor’s appointment! I went on to finish the draft in the waiting room.  
Spoken like a true writer!  
I have to say, too, that the ideas of how to help Mama were inspired by my parents, who were “green” before it was a thing. Their example taught me to do what I can. Most of us can’t get solar panels or harness energy from turbines, but there are a thousand little things we can do. My parents consistently made time to do those things. They still do.  
Your parents sound wonderful! My mom was also recycling before it was even a word. I don't remember us producing any garbage at all growing up in India -- everything we didn't use ourselves was compostable.  
Did MAMA come as a poem to you? It’s incredibly difficult to write an entire story as a poem. I wondered why you didn’t choose lyrical prose instead.
It did come as a poem, but I later rewrote it in prose. When I was given the exciting opportunity to publish with Wandering in the Words Press, the editor, who had read both versions, gave me the final decision. Being sentimental about the original and loving to read poetry to my children, I went with the rhymer.
I love the Grandmother character in MAMA'S NEW DO. Who is she most like? Yourself, your mother or your gram? 

Thank you. She definitely looks most like me but her enthusiastic, supportive personality is from my mom and aunts. Her dancing is a wink to my dear grandma, who loved to polka with my granddad on Saturday nights (and who always had stylish hair!).

Aw, that's so sweet. This book is going to be a family treasure. The cut paper illustrations are gorgeous. Did you know ahead of time what the look of this book would be?  

Oh, those illustrations! I’m so glad you like them, too!  I first saw the line drawings a year ago and swooned. Mama and her care team had come to life! Tara Story, the illustrator, told me she was going to add color, but I didn’t know exactly what that would mean. What I did know is that she would do a magnificent job. And she did, exceeding all my expectations.  

Illustrators have often exceeded my wildest imagination! Love how they bring a story to life.
Since you and the illustrator are in the same town, was there any back-and-forth at all?  
From the beginning, Tara was careful about wanting to respect my vision, but I was equally insistent that she just do her thing. I’ve known her for many years and completely trusted her interpretation. In fact, the only time I felt led to put my oar in was the day I saw the line drawings. On the cover, Tara had made my name significantly larger than her own! I insisted that illustrators are every bit as important as authors – maybe more! Thankfully, Tara made her name equal in size. 
That rings right to me!  
What are you working on now? Or is it to be kept a secret? 
No secret! I’m working on revisions of a chapter book. Waiting in the wings are another chapter book revision and a few picture book manuscripts that need to be finished.  
Wonderful news! I looked them up -- Gretchen's chapter books will be published by Splashing Cow Books.    
Writer-mamas everywhere want to know how you make time for writing while also taking care of a busy family. Do you have a routine? Please share any tips you have … I could use them even though my kids are teenagers and sleep till noon.  
I wish I had a writing routine! Fortunately, my youngest still naps, so that would be an ideal time…..if I didn’t find myself filling it with washing dishes and folding laundry and catching up on emails. Usually, I write in the margins, grasping those moments whenever and wherever I can - waiting in the car to pick up the children, during commercials, even in a doctor’s office, as with MAMA. And although I’m a morning person, it’s never been a productive time for me to write. The few long, uninterrupted sessions I’ve had have been late at night. But I can’t do that very often. 
Aha! You have the Midnight Disease as well! 
If I have a story to tell, I am restless until I have told it. So my only advice to others is to say “Yes!” to the story. Tell it. Surrender. Even if it’s TILLY TAPIR LEARNS TO TANGO, there’s some reason it’s in you. Write it! (Then snuggle with your children and read it to them!)

LOL Gretchen! Excellent advice! Especially to surrender to the story. Thank you so much for sharing unstintingly of your time and talent here. I look forward to your future projects. May God bless all your endeavors. 
You all can learn more about Gretchen in the Newport Daily News as well as take a look at the covers of her MeeGenius books, which are now part of HMH.

I am sure she will be happy to answer any questions you might have.


Mirka Breen said...

Oh, my-- now I get the "Carrots" thing. Cutest girl ever. Gretchen's PB is adorable, too.

Faith E. Hough said...

Nice to meet you, Gretchen! And thank you both for the interview! The book looks lovely, and right up my alley.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview! I'll be looking into this book---looks fun and important.

Glenn Dallaire said...

Thanks Vijaya for publishing this interview. I just ordered a copy of Gretchen's new book and I'm looking forward to reading it with our little one.
-Glenn Dallaire

Yanting Gueh said...

Gretchen, it's so good to know about you and your new book. I really respect and admire the way you communicated with your illustrator (letting her do her thing, and insisting that her name appears as large as yours). That's classy!

Vijaya said...

Thank you all so much for celebrating and Glenn, your Mystics website is a TREASURE!!!

Gretchen M. Everin said...

Oh, yes, everyone!! What Vijaya said!! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind words and for celebrating MAMA with me!!

Becky Shillington said...

Thanks for the fabulous interview, Vijaya and Gretchen. Congratulations, on your new book baby, Gretchen!

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