WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
ROCHELLE MELANDER AND AILEEN WEINTRAUB
We’ve got a double-your-pleasure/double-your-fun Will Write for Cookies post today – and you, my dear readers, are so lucky because not only do you get insights from two amazing authors plus two treat recipes, but you also get a chance to win a Coaching Session from Rochelle and a Picture Book Critique from Aileen!
Rochelle Melander is a professional certified coach and the bestselling author of eleven books for adults including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) and Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She’s the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. Rochelle believes that you can find the answer to your questions and the questions that deserve answers in a book or at the tip of your pen. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children (Beaming Books). Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing (July 27, 2021) is a middle-grade book that connects life-changing writing activities with the inspiring stories of a diverse group of people who have transformed lives and communities throughout history. The book features people from a variety of disciplines who used their words to save the environment, educate people about the planet, give rights to women, end slavery, and more. Visit her online at writenowcoach or rochellemelander.com. If you write for kids, consider writing for her new blog, themightywriters.com
Aileen Weintraub is an award-winning author and editor. Her previous social justice book, the best-selling Never Too Young: 50 Unstoppable Kids Who Made a Difference, won a Parents’ Choice Award. Her next book, Knocked Down A High-Risk Memoir is forthcoming in March 2022. Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, AARP, Glamour, HuffPost and other publications. We Got Game! 35 Female Athletes Who Changed the World by Aileen Weintraub (May 4, 2021) is a middle-grade social justice book about diverse female athletes who are advocating for change in the world, focusing on issues including gender equality, disability rights, climate change, body positivity, cyberbullying, and more. Of course it also includes a lot of stats and facts about the athletes’ amazing careers. You can find out more about her at aileenweintraub.com
ME: Now that you’ve read their bios, you can all see why I am so excited that these two talented writers wanted to stop by to chat.
Welcome, Rochelle and Aileen! Thank you so much for visiting! We’ve got lots of questions and answers to get through, to say nothing of the extra special treats you’ve got lined up for us, so let’s get started!
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
ROCHELLE: As a little girl, I treasured a little book about two sisters called Me, Too, pouring over the illustrations. When I was seven, I discovered A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which smashed open the universe for me. Suddenly, I could imagine other worlds. I’ve read that book at important junctures in my life to remind myself that my uniqueness, even my faults, will help me succeed and that I do have a community of supporters. (Though sometimes it would be nice if Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit would stop by with a bit of their sage advice and magic.)
AILEEN: I love this question because it gives me an opportunity to think back to the books that influenced me early on. When I was a child, my two favorite books were Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans and Me Too Iguana written by Jacquelyn Reinach and illustrated by Richard Heftner. I loved Madeline because it’s about a strong independent girl. It’s also set in Paris which is one of my favorite places. Me Too Iguana was part of the Sweet Pickles series, and I still have many of my original books! I asked my mother to read Me Too Iguana so many times she would occasionally hide it just to give herself a break. It’s about an iguana trying to be like everyone else and eventually realizing that she is perfect just the way she is. Now that I think about these books as an adult, it’s an interesting dichotomy that on one hand I was drawn to a book about a fearless girl who does what she wants and another book about a girl who wants to be like everybody else. I think this is something that children often struggle with, and it’s a big part of why I wrote WE GOT GAME. I want kids to know that it’s okay to be different, to take risks, and follow their dreams.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
ROCHELLE: It takes time and persistence to succeed. You must believe in yourself and your work—and keep submitting! Madeleine L’Engle received 26 rejections for A Wrinkle in Time before it found a home. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/03/10/publishers-hated-a-wrinkle-in-time-madeleine-lengle-never-forgot-the-rejections/) Kate DiCamillo got 473 rejection letters before selling Because of Winn Dixie. (https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/kate-dicamillo-how-she-became-a-bestseller-after-473-rejection-letters-20170310-guv3e7.html) But both writers kept submitting their manuscripts and showing up to write—and their work has delighted many young people.
AILEEN: Becoming an author is a long game and instant success is rare. Things move very slowly in publishing. To build a successful writing career takes years of nurturing relationships and practicing patience. I also learned that writers experience a lot of rejection, probably more than most other professions. It’s difficult not to take rejection personally, but one person’s opinion is just that, one opinion out of many. I’ve also found that rejections happen for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the merit of one’s writing. It might be timing, or an editor’s particular interest. My advice to other authors starting out would be to persevere through difficult moments. It’s important to take time to acknowledge your feelings, but then you need to get back to the process.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
ROCHELLE: I read that Sir Walter Scott had an enormous desk with two working surfaces so that he could work on more than one project at a time. I’m lucky enough to have room for two desks in my office, and I use one for computer work and the other for analog writing. I tend to brainstorm and plan on paper. I keep large sketch books around to plot out books, mind map articles and chapters, and draft picture books. But I usually end up writing on the computer.
Writing books plus the work I do as an editor and coach keep me tied to my computer all day, and that really challenges my body. So I’m trying to change it up. I have a standing desk in my office and writing tables on both the porch and back patio. I just bought an under-desk treadmill, which I hope I can use without injuring myself!
AILEEN: I just moved into a new house and when we were remodeling, I made sure my office would have a lot of windows and a nice view. I can see my garden and the woods, and since I live in the country, I’m lucky enough to catch the occasional animal sighting. I almost exclusively write on my laptop, so on nice days I’ll sit on my porch, which overlooks a pasture of cows, who are very entertaining. When I have a deadline or I’m deep into a research project, I’m in my office with the door closed, a bunch of healthy snacks, and a hot cup of tea.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
ROCHELLE: When I first started writing, I had a lot of rules about when and where I wrote. If I didn’t get to it first thing in the morning, when it was quiet, the day was ruined! But then I had kids, and I wrote whenever I could grab a few minutes. Now that my kids are in college (one studying from his bedroom), I schedule my writing and other work so that it matches my ideal energy patterns. I focus best in the morning, so I work on my most important projects then.
When I wrote MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, I had less than six months to finish the book. Plus, I work as a freelance coach, editor, and writer. I couldn’t be precious about my time—so I blocked off every morning to write and then grabbed free moments for research. Even though I still prefer writing first thing in the morning, I discovered I could be productive at almost any time day!
AILEEN: As a mom who is often multitasking, I’ve had to be creative with my writing time. When my son was younger, I would write any chance I had—at the doctor’s office, in the school pick up line, sometimes even at soccer practice. I practically wrote my next project KNOCKED DOWN: A High Risk Memoir that way. Now that my son is older and has his own life, I have much more time to write. Most days I’m in my office from 9 to 5 when I have an idea or a specific project, but there is so much more to writing besides actual writing! There’s researching, networking, marketing, etc, and these things all take up time. I’m so grateful that WE GOT GAME! is finally out in the world. Looking forward, I’m excited to be back in front of my computer writing my next project!
ME: Why do you write for children?
ROCHELLE: I’m one of those people who’d rather sit at the kid’s table. Throughout college and graduate school, I freelanced as a storyteller for local preschools. After starting to write professionally, I began working as an artist educator in the schools. Then I founded Dream Keepers, a writing program to help young people tell their stories. I love spending time with young people and hearing about their imaginative ideas. For a long time, I’ve wanted to create books to help them access, celebrate, and share their stories. I’m so honored to finally have that opportunity.
AILEEN: Children are my favorite audience to write for because they read books with a natural curiosity that I love. There is so much they have yet to discover and I want to be part of the discovery process by providing information about the world in a fun and engaging way that will encourage them to develop a love of reading. These days my writing focuses on ways to make a difference in the world. I hope to inspire kids to dream big and feel empowered to become activists for the causes they believe in.
ME: Why did you choose to focus on writing about activism and why is it so important?
ROCHELLE: I mostly work in libraries set in primarily poor, urban neighborhoods, and hear young people express their fears about violence and climate change. I’ve also heard their big, bold ideas to change the world. Only, they don’t think they have any power to make a difference. And they don’t think that anything they are doing in school will help them do that.
When I wrote the book, I purposefully chose people who demonstrated the diverse ways writing can make a difference. Sophie Cruz was just 5 years old when she wrote a letter to the pope about immigration reform. That letter made a big difference in the public and political conversation about immigration. When she was in college, Patsy Mink spearheaded a writing campaign to integrate her dorms. As a congresswoman, she wrote Title IX, the statute that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs. The young survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting wrote and presented speeches to fight for gun laws and sign up new voters. When young people hear these stories, they are empowered to use their voices to change the world.
AILEEN: It’s important to teach kids from a young age that they have the power to facilitate change in the world. For young kids, that can mean volunteering at an animal shelter or making sure to recycle and being mindful of their environment and the choices they make. For older children it can mean being aware of cyberbullying and promoting body positivity. The athletes in WE GOT GAME! are social justice warriors. Billie Jean King fought for Title IX, a law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in educational settings. Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe are fighting to close the gender wage gap. Grete Eliassen has made it her mission to knocked down gender barriers. Serena Williams, Nancy Lopez, and Ibithaj Mohammad have created inclusive clothing lines for women. They are incredible role models, and I hope kids will read about them and feel inspired.
ME: Also, 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.
ROCHELLE: Don’t compare yourself to other writers. In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, a character says, “Comparisons are odious.” For me, the sure path to defeat is paved with envy.
Treasure you. Charles Darwin’s father told him, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” James Baldwin’s stepfather told him he was ugly. Audre Lorde remembers herself as a difficult child, at war with the other members of her family. And you—no doubt you carry around the voices of parents and teachers who didn’t think you measured up. I’m here to tell you that you do. You have your own unique voice and perspective that the world needs to hear. Somehow, Darwin, Baldwin, and Lorde pushed through the external criticism and achieved amazing things. You can, too.
Don’t forget to play. Yes, show up, submit, and persist. All those things are crucial. But I’m discovering that the best stories emerge out of a playful spirit. When I give myself enough time to play with ideas and characters and words, the work is so much better.
For aspiring writers I would say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is an audience for almost every story. If you have a story you believe in, don’t give up on it. One of the things that really helped launched my career was surrounding myself with a community of other writers both online and in my own town. Workshopping each other’s writing has helped me grow as a writer. I also think educators and librarians can be some of the most important people in a child’s life. My childhood librarian instilled a love of reading in me when I was a kid going to Reading Is Fundamental programs on Friday nights at my local library. My high school English teacher was one of the first people to believe in my work. I owe them everything.
GIVEAWAY ALERT #1: Rochelle is a certified professional coach with more than 15 years of writing coaching experience. She is in the process of becoming a certified ADHD coach as well. She is offering one lucky reader a 45-minute coaching session.
GIVEAWAY ALERT #2: Aileen has created a digital printable 8-page activity packet for WE GOT GAME! filled with trivia, puzzles, journaling, and so much more. She’s offering this packet to readers of Will Write for Cookies for free to anyone who sends her a proof of purchase throughout the month of June. All you have to do is contact her through her website with your email address and she’ll send it along.
GIVEAWAY ALERT #3: Aileen is also offering a picture book critique to one lucky winner!
And of course, we are not done yet! There is more awesome sweetness from these wonderful writers!
Here’s something amazing from Rochelle’s kitchen:
Chocolate Chip/M&M Cookies
Based on Nancy Olin’s Chocolate Chip Cookies in
The Bake Sale Cookbook by Sally Sampson
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, a little softer than room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract (Penzy’s is the best.)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips or M&Ms (Plus a cup extra for topping, if desired.)
Preheat the oven to 340 degrees.
Sift together in a separate bowl: flour, salt, and baking soda.
Place butter and sugars in the bowl of a mixer and beat until smooth.
Scrape down sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and mix until just combined, being careful not to overbeat.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flour mixture. Remove from mixer and fold in 2 cups of chocolate chips or M&Ms.
Place tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. I use cookie scoops. If desired, add extra M&Ms or chocolate chips on the top of each cookie.
Bake until brown on the edges and soft in the middle, about 12-13 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. For crisper cookies, cool on the cookie sheet. For softer cookies, cool for 2 minutes and then remove from rack. (I usually cool on the sheet for 3-4 minutes and then remove to the rack., That makes them both soft in the middle and crunchy at the edges.) Cool the cookie sheet between batches.
Dear readers, I know you are joining me in a hearty round of applause and thanks for Rochelle and Aileen – they’ve been exceedingly generous with their insights, inspiration, and their giveaways! And you know the drill…the best way to thank an author for books that you love is to buy them, review them, tell friends about them, and ask your local library to purchase them for their collection.
Aileen’s book, WE GOT GAME: 35 Female Athletes Who Changed the World is available right now
Rochelle’s book, MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing comes out in July and is available for preorder
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’m at the Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, MA today, just for the fun of it! And don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered for these amazing giveaway opportunities…and please share on your social media channels for extra tickets in the giveaway hat!
Wonderful tips, I would add to Rochelle’s advice…. Comparison is the their of joy!
What a great interview! Thank you!