Wisconsin author JoAnn Early Macken has a lovely, reassuring new picture book out that celebrates the bond between parents and children.
Waiting Out the Storm is described by its publisher, Candlewick, as, “A gentle, joyous tale for children everywhere who seek comfort during a storm and parents who share with them a sense of nature’s wonders.”
One of the best things about this book is that it’s written as a conversation between mother and child. When my I read it to my daughter, we ended up each reading our “part” in the book without ever consciously deciding that that’s how we would approach it. It was a wonderful way to experience the book, although it would be just as lovely if a parent read the whole thing to a child.
Another wonderful thing about the book is how well the illustrations echo the text’s mood and spirit.
JoAnn joined Read, Write, Repeat today to answer questions about how her book came to be.
You began working on this book after the World Trade Center disaster. Did that make creating your initial draft harder or easier?
Like many other writers, I struggled to write anything at all after the terrible events of September 11, 2001. Everything I did seemed trivial or frivolous. I was determined to help somehow, so I focused on trying to give some reassurance to kids who were frightened. Waiting Out the Storm was the result of that hopeful effort.
How did you come up with the idea of using a thunderstorm to represent danger or fear?
I tried to think of a natural event that was scary but not overwhelming — something that could be explained by facts in a logical way. I wanted an adult to be able to say to a child, “Look, I know you’re scared, but we’ll get through this together.”
I heard that you wrote the manuscript, submitted it a few times and were rejected. Then, you revised it after talking with an editor at a writing conference. What was the feedback that helped you take the manuscript to the next level?
The editor suggested I rearrange the stanzas, repeat a refrain, and eliminate some redundant wording at the end. At least as important as her specific feedback was her willingness to look at the manuscript again after I revised it. After Waiting Out the Storm was accepted for publication, we condensed the text even more.
I met this editor at an SCBWI-Wisconsin fall retreat. SCBWI events like these are terrific opportunities to meet editors, network with other writers, and learn about writing for children from experts.
The illustrations are beautiful. How did they compare to what was in your head as you were writing?
They are more gorgeous than anything I could have imagined! I love the expressions on the characters’ faces. I love the soft yet realistic details. I love the animals, the flowers, and the springtime colors. Susan Gaber portrayed the tone of the book perfectly!
You’ve written fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference? Do you approach them the same or differently?
I enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction, and I approach them from opposite directions. When I write fiction, even though I may have to research some aspects of a story, I usually discover the story as I write. For nonfiction, I usually research and organize the facts before I begin to write.
After I wrote many nonfiction beginning reader series for educational publishers, I needed to stretch beyond the strict guidelines they required. When I wrote Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move, I made a conscious decision to incorporate creative nonfiction techniques: I paid attention to the rhythm, added internal rhyme, and played with alliteration, onomatopoeia, and repetition. The process was more fun, and the result is a more playful look at the many ways seeds travel. Pam Paparone’s lovely illustrations clearly explain and complement the text.
You have a blog called Teaching Authors. How does teaching make you a better writer?
I blog at www.teachingauthors.com with five other children’s book authors who also teach writing: Esther Hershenhorn, Mary Ann Rodman, April Halprin Wayland, Carmela Martino and Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford. I teach part time at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I visit schools to speak about poetry and writing.
Before I started teaching, I relied more on instinct. I was pretty confident about grammar, punctuation, rhythm, and rhyme, but I couldn’t always explain why my instinct told me to write or rhyme or punctuate a certain way. Teaching forces me not only to know how to do something correctly but to be able to explain why it must be done that way. I’ve learned a lot by having to explain my reasoning to students.
What projects are you working on now?
The project closest to my heart is called Write a Poem Step by Step. It describes a logical method of writing a draft of a poem one step at a time. I’ve developed and refined the method over the twelve years I’ve been presenting poetry workshops in schools. Poems written by students in my workshops illustrate each step in the process. The process and the manuscript both grew out of my critical thesis and graduating lecture for my M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’m also revising a rhyming picture book, researching a new nonfiction book, and tinkering with a brand-new novel idea.
If you could give beginning writers just three pieces of advice, what would they be?
- Network with other writers to stay in touch, to offer support and be supported, and to keep learning.
- Find the method that works best for you, and don’t worry about anyone else’s process.
- Keep going, keep going, keep going! Never give up!
Thank you, JoAnn!
To learn more about JoAnn’s many, many other books, visit her website. There’s also another interview where JoAnn talks about her creative process here.
To learn more about illustrator Susan Gaber, visit her website.