My friend and sometimes writing partner, Linda Stanek, had a new picture book published by Arbordale hit bookstore shelves in September. I’m delighted to share this sweet, fun, and informative book here along with an interview with Linda.
About the book:
When a young river otter sneaks into a zoo, she wonders if she should be more like some of the other animals she meets. She wants a trunk like the elephant or to be loud like the gorilla… By imitating and comparing herself to these other animals she learns to appreciate herself. Educational components are woven throughout this fun, read-aloud story, and sidebar information complements and extends the learning, making it a perfect book for a wide variety of ages.
What inspired you to write River Otter’s Adventure?
Since I was a child, I’ve always thought of river otters as the children of the animal world–they genuinely love to play! As I learned more about them, I discovered so many fascinating things about them, it became a book begging to be written!
Were you a reader as a kid? If so, what did you like to read?
Not until I was in the third grade and I discovered informational fiction, which I loved.
Interesting. I wasn’t a reader as a kid, either, and that seems unusual for many kidlit authors.
Did you write when you were a kid?
Nope. I grew up in a family of 4 kids and we each kind of “chose” our own, separate thing. My sister was a writer. I became an artist.
How did you get started writing as an adult?
I was raising 2 busy boys and I spent a lot of time away from home waiting on them while they did sports. I needed a take-along hobby, which I didn’t have, so I picked up a pen and a spiral bound notebook and started writing a novel for them. It took me 2.5 years, since I only worked on it in my spare time (and what mom has spare time!). During that time, I fell in love with writing. It was a great escape from the troubles of real life!
What’s been the biggest surprise of your career and the projects you’ve undertaken?
Can’t talk about that one, Jen.
He-he-he. Yeah, I guess I know that.
So I’ll give you the second biggest surprise: I was invited to write grade-leveled, STEM-correlated comic books for children in Pakistan. I didn’t see this coming! Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, and I was told there’s a dearth of fun reading material for kids, so I was hired to help create that. What an honor to be a part of that!
River Otter’s Adventure launched last month, but normal book-launch activities aren’t possible with covid-19. What are you doing instead?
This has been so hard! My husband and I have decided to be as cautious as humanly possible during this time, so that means no visits to stores or other locations, even with masks, unless absolutely necessary.
I think this is smart and considerate.
But this poses great limitations on promoting a new book, which usually involves visits to bookstores and schools. Instead, I decided that social media was the way to go. Since my book is about river otters, I found about 30 royalty-free photos of river otters, and Photoshopped my book into it—usually in the corner of the frame, but sometimes I made it look like the little guy was holding it. It was pretty fun, and I hope cute and playful enough that my followers won’t mind seeing a new one every day for a month. Sometimes I added a funny saying, and other times I added a factoid about river otters. Since I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, that’s where I’ve posted, with an occasional “day off” to give my followers a break.
These have been great!
I also think that inexpensive, easy-to-mail giveaways can work right now. I’ll be sending some bookmarks in time. I have a colleague who is releasing a book about teeth. I suggested that she buy some fossilized shark’s teeth through the internet, and do a contest to get a copy of her book and a tooth. What kid wouldn’t want a shark’s tooth? Unfortunately, I can’t seem to source river otters for a giveaway! Lol.
And of course, there are still virtual school visits, which I plan to do. However, right now with school just beginning in its many forms throughout the country, I think that’s a hard one to orchestrate. I hope in November to nail some of those down, once teachers have a chance to get their feet under them and get things rolling.
What is a project you’d like to create at this stage of your career, and what is a subject you’d like to write about?
I have a never-ending passion for wildlife and conservation, so those are topics I’ll always want to write about. But I would also like to go back to that first book I wrote—the one that made me fall in love with writing, and rewrite that story, now that I am a better writer, and see if it can be published.
You have a website, and you mentioned social media. Where else can we find you on the Web?
Last winter, I started a YouTube channel for children’s writers called “Linda Writes for Kids.” There, I share things I’ve learned over the years of being in this business. I have to confess, I fell off the posting wagon once the pandemic struck–it just took so much of my energy, dealing with that. I do look forward to getting back to it, though, and welcome people’s questions to help guide me in what topics to cover.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone interested in writing?
Persist. Keep reading and writing. You get better by doing both. Writers often have a serious issue with “imposter syndrome,” that feeling that they aren’t really a writer because they haven’t _______ (fill in the blank–been published yet, taken certain courses, or whatever.) In truth, if you write with serious intent, you are a writer. You have every right to be here, to be working at your craft, and to be submitting your work out into the world. So persist. Work hard, and don’t give up. We all get rejection letters. That’s just part of the game. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. It only means that you haven’t landed the right manuscript on the right editor’s desk.
Rapid-fire Round (Don’t think too hard about these.)
Do you eat or drink while you write? If so, what?
Coffee, tea, and water for drinks. I don’t eat anything in particular while writing—just whatever meal it’s time for.
We’re sending a collection of art into space with the hope that aliens will someday discover it. What do you contribute and why?
Goodness Jen. I have no idea. What comes to mind is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Don’t ask me why, other than it’s stunning.
A book (not one of yours—or mine) you enjoyed recently:
Recently I bought a handful of National Geographic’s “So Cool!” and “So Cute!” books—their shark, leopard, koala and panda books. These little nonfiction books ROCK! They are so clever and playful, with fun graphics, all while imparting quite a lot of facts in them. So well done!
You must write a story about something edible. What do you choose and why?
Well, I once wrote a story about a can of green beans. Does that count?
I guess I could write about a field of wild strawberries and all the creatures that visit it. When I was growing up, there was a field behind our house, and in that field, there were huge patches of wild strawberries—the sweetest strawberries in the world. I have very fond memories of that.
If you were not a writer, what would you be?
I’d work at the zoo in the ambassador animals program.
It’s Freaky Friday and you’re swapping bodies/lives with an animal for a week. What animal do you swap with and why?
A cheetah. Why? I could see Africa (my little part of it anyway) and I could run like the wind.
Describe your ideal writing space:
A mosquito-free outdoor space where there are no people talking. I’ve spent my entire summer writing on my screened patio space, and have loved every second of it!
A new-to-you activity you would like to try:
Batik. I tried it I high school art class, but I’d like to retry it as an adult.
You’re going on tour with a piece of performance art for River Otter’s Adventure. Describe the piece.
Everywhere she goes, the baby otter tries to imitate the actions of the animal she’s visiting. I suppose I’d act out some of those—and I guarantee I’d invite the kids in the audience to do the same.
I can say with authority that this would be super fun and educational. While doing joint school visits with Linda in OH a few years ago, I wanted to create a moose performance piece but wasn’t sure how to execute such a thing. Linda designed a fabulous activity that conveyed the size of a moose to kids that had never seen one. It was unforgettable!
I hope you will check out the delightful River Otter’s Adventure as well as Linda’s other award-winning books.
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