WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
EMMA BLAND SMITH
Joining Storm Literary Agency connected me with a wonderful family of awesome authors and illustrators. They are smart and super supportive. And I’m thrilled to welcome one of them to Will Write for Cookies.
Emma Bland Smith is a mom, librarian, and writer. She was born in Scotland, grew up in San Francisco, and has lived in New York, Santa Barbara, and Paris…no wonder she wrote a book called Journey. Now she’s back home in San Francisco, living a block away from the house she grew up in. Her past careers have included magazine editor and French teacher. Today she works part-time as a librarian and fills the rest of her time volunteering at her kids’ school, leading a Girl Scouts troop, driving to baseball practice, cooking, gardening, and writing.
Emma, I’m not sure how you find time for the writing with all those other activities…but thank goodness you do. I want to remind everyone that there will be a giveaway of a copy of Emma’s BRAND NEW picture book, Journey: The Most Famous Wolf in the West (click here to read my Perfect Picture Book Friday review)…so please stick with us throughout the post and then leave a comment at the end.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
I was definitely a book worm, and the first books I remember reading on my own, starting in about first grade, were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So many lines from those books, along with the evocative illustrations by Garth Williams, are ingrained in my mind! After that, the book I remember the most clearly is Ramona the Pest. I used to get so indignant on Ramona’s behalf, when the she got in trouble for pulling Susan’s curls! I loved Henry Higgins, too. I remember practically dying of anxiety when Henry smuggled Ribsy onto the bus in a box, and Ribsy slowly began to wiggle his way out of the box, to Henry’s horror. The way that Beverly Cleary makes the reader pull for her characters is extraordinary. When I got older, I read the entire Green Gables series over and over until they fell apart. In about sixth grade I began reading James Herriot and Gerald Durrell, and their beautiful imagery, compassion, humor, and language were very influential for me years later, when I began to write.
Picture books I remember from childhood and still love include Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Charlie Needs a Cloak, Dogger (and anything by Shirley Hughes), and Madeline.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
I should say that I wish I had known what a long haul this journey would be. I started writing about seven years ago, and of course I expected to get published right away! However, if someone had told me that my first book wouldn’t come out for seven years, I probably would have given up, so maybe it’s for the best that I started out so naïve!
I wish I had read more books and blogs about picture book writing, attended more conferences, and taken more classes. It took me a few years to jump into the kidlit world with both feet. Now that I’m here, I learn something every day.
ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?
I write either on the sofa or out in the backyard, with my computer on my lap. (Sitting outside can be very effective. It’s harder to get out there, but once I’m there, I’m not as distracted by constantly nagging housework, paperwork, and other obligations.) The only time I’ll write with pen and paper is when I’m out and get inspiration on the run. Then I’ll frantically make notes on notebooks, receipts, anything I can find. (I highly recommend something like this! If I don’t jot things down, I will forget them, no matter how sure I was that they’d stick with me!)
ME: When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
As soon as my kids are at school, I sit down and dig into any real writing I might have on my plate. I don’t write on schedule and my work is pretty varied. On any given day, I might work on critiques for my critique partners, revise a manuscript and send it to my agent, start something new, or work on an article for Red Tricycle. And there are plenty of days I don’t write at all. I definitely work as the muse strikes, but I don’t procrastinate much, so if someone asks me for a revision, I usually get it done within a few days.
ME: Why do you write for children?
I write for children because I want to be part of what I think is the most beautiful, dynamic, challenging literary field. When my kids were young, I was reading them all these wonderful books, and I remember being so amazed at the quality of children’s literature. One of the first picture books that made me want to be a children’s book writer was Someday, by Alison McGhee. That book just slayed me with its lyricism and ability to touch the emotions. Another inspiration was the Henry and Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant. I would love to create books that grab readers the way these do.
ME: Emma, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
One thing I’d recommend to beginning writers is to think about looking for an agent first, rather than submitting mostly to publishers. Although some writers do land a book contract on their own, unagented, it’s hard. Once you have an agent, you have someone on your side, who has access to all the houses, and who will take care of all submissions, so that you can focus on writing.
And the single most important thing new writers can do is join a critique group! It can be in person or online. I learn so much from critiquing and reading other people’s critiques. It can be a little hard to receive criticism, and sometimes I need a few days to digest major edits. (The worst is always hearing that everyone likes the concept and the beginning, but that the middle and ending don’t work at all!) But eventually, I end up seeing their points, and I revise the manuscript and send it right back for another round. Most of my manuscripts simply wouldn’t exist without the help of my critique partners!
Oh, Emma! I totally agree with you…critique groups are such an important part of our writing journey. And I thank you so very much for participating in Will Write for Cookies…this was so much fun!
And for all of you who want to find out more about Emma and her awesome book or get in touch with her:
Okay friends…please take a breath…because we are not finished yet. Emma has shared one of her favorite cookie recipes.
Our whole family looks forward to these cookies every year at the holidays! The recipe, from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, is incredibly easy to make, and after you try one, it will become one of your regulars, too!
1 ½ cups uncooked oatmeal
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup melted butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the oatmeal, sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then add the eggs and vanilla and combine. Arrange the batter by teaspoonful, about 2 inches apart, on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly, removing the cookies from the cookie sheet with a spatula as soon as they are firm.
What a perfect recipe for the holidays…a million thanks, Emma!
And now, dear friends, don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Emma’s beautiful picture book. If you could take a journey to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…and all good wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving.