Today I am very happy to present a double-feature type interview with two Tilbury House debut authors: Katia Novet Saint-Lot, author of Amadi’s Snowman, and Amy Lundebrek, author of Under the Night Sky. (It’s a little like listening in to a pair of writing pals chatting at the local coffee shop). Take it away, Katia and Amy!
Lots of people have this idea that the writing life is pretty romantic. What’s one thing that’s completely unromantic about being a writer?
Katia: Well, it is 2:45pm and I’m sitting at the computer, still wearing my pajamas, feeling thoroughly frustrated because my children will arrive in 15 minutes and I have not showered, have not done all I wanted to do because I wasted far too much time answering my emails, doing research, and what not, and because anyway, I’m not creative in the mornings, and, oh, did I mention that I forgot to have lunch? So, now, I only have a few minutes to shower, get dressed, and if I’m lucky, grab a piece of cheese in the fridge, and…dring! the door bell rings, and that’s basically it for the day, at least until late in the evening when both ladies [Katia’s daughters] are asleep.
Amy: At first glance, your unromantic scenario looks like my romantic scenario…I literally can’t remember the last time I was able to remain in my PJ’s until 2:45! My alarm goes off at 5:30am. I let the dogs out, pack a breakfast and lunch for myself and my husband, take a quick shower, make some coffee, and try to get myself out the door by 6:45. I get home from work between 4:30 and 5:00, make dinner, read a little bit and email/facebook/websurf… and then by 9:30 I’m winding down. We do have a strong similarity in our lives, though… and that is that at our most creative times of day, we have other responsibilities. My most creative time is from about 8am to lunch time, but I’m at work then, and it’s not the kind of job where I could sneak in a little writing. I accept though, that this is the way it is for me in my journey at this time, and that it will not always be this way. I am also happy for anybody who has created space and time in their lives to focus on being a writer, which it seems that you have done.
Katia: Well, I’m a translator by profession, which means I work from home. In February of this year, I found myself not only alone to look after my 3 year-old in the afternoons, but also trying to tutor my other daughter in French—we were hoping to move to a Francophone country, and so I wanted her to be at the right level for school. So, all of a sudden, I was left with only about three to four hours of free time a day. I thought about it long and hard and then decided to take a break from translating for a few months. But then we didn’t leave India, and now the little one goes to school until 3pm…but I haven’t yet gone back to a full-time translating schedule. So, being able to write until 2:45 is totally new. Funny how we get into a routine and forget about the old ones!
What’s one thing about the writing life that measures up in every way to people’s fantasies?
Katia: I’m not sure what people’s fantasies about the writing life are, but one real high for me is to feel that a story is taking shape. I could be frustrated, worry about the emotional arc not working, spend hours changing one word, and then, suddenly, something shifts, or I have an idea, and things seem to fall into place. Wow, that’s totally worth all the frustrations before, and all those still to come.
Amy: The romantic part for me is actually strongly connected to the difficult part. Being so busy, and still driven to write, I often have to shelve my ideas in the back of my mind for long periods of time, only taking them out and looking them over once in awhile. The secret is, even if I haven’t thought about a story idea for a long time, when I pull it back out from wherever it was hiding… it’s different. It has grown and changed and developed more or less without me, often becoming more relevant. This has happened to me so frequently that now I trust the process, and something about the way that works makes me feel connected to the universe. Is what I’m describing similar to what you mean when you talk about how “something shifts” and “things seem to fall into place?”
Katia: Yes, absolutely. I hadn’t articulated it that way, though. For me, it feels as if ideas, thoughts, concepts, need a time of incubation. When they’re ready to come out, they do. I think it has to do with one’s personality, at least in my case. I process things very slowly. Pretty much everything. And I’ve learned to accept it – I’m not sure I do it as graciously as you seem to 🙂 – and try to trust the process more, and not fret so much about getting things done right now. It helps that I usually work on several projects at once. When I reach a plateau with one story, I just put it away and get another one out.
You’ve each just come out with your very first picture books. Could you briefly describe your journeys to publication?
Katia: Amadi’s Snowman was my first completed picture book story. And Tilbury House was one of the first publishers I submitted the manuscript to. Audrey Maynard, the Children’s Editor, said she liked it, but she had to turn it down because library school budgets had just been drastically cut down, after the US entered into the war with Iraq. Two years later, she sent me an email, asking if the story was still available. I had made many changes to it in the meantime, but she liked them, and so did the publisher, so the rest is history, as they say.
Amy: I was taking a class in writing children’s literature taught by Susan Marie Swanson (To Be Like the Sun, The House in the Night). She gave us the assignment to “write something different.” I had been working on several middle grade and YA projects (though none finished or sent in), so I chose to write “Under the Night Sky” as my “something different.” That obviously went well, since it went on to become my first published book! Audrey did an excellent job helping me to tease out the true essence of the story during the editorial process, and I couldn’t be happier with Anna Rich’s illustrations.
What’s up next for both of you and/or what do you hope awaits in your writing futures?
Katia: I’ve been working on three picture book manuscripts, all of them with a biracial girl as a protagonist— though the fact that she is biracial is not actually an issue in the story. I just long to see more and more biracial children in books. I have also been working on a YA novel, also set in Nigeria, and I’m participating in the NaNoWriMo project, this month (I must write a 50 000 word novel in 30 days, and it’s totally crazy.) This is an exciting time for me, because in spite of my bit about being unromantic, above, I actually enjoy the writing process more and more, and I feel I’m learning all the time. Of course, I do hope all these efforts translate into more books being published, but I sincerely feel privileged to be taking that incredible ride, anyway.
Amy: I, too, have a strong desire to write about marginalized characters. When I was a child, I experienced several types of family situations including single parent with Mom, single parent with Dad, and step parents on both sides. But it seemed like every story I read was about a typical two-parent family. Not finding stories about the situations I experienced helped to reinforce the false idea that I was alone in my experience, and somehow not as good or deserving as “normal” children. That’s why many of my stories take place in families more like my own. As far as specifics, I have one picture book manuscript that’s out, one that’s ready to go out shortly, and one that I’m still working on. I’ve also got a YA science fiction novel and a middle grade fantasy novel that are both developing nicely (though I wish I had a lot more time to work on those).
Katia: Thank you, Kerry, for your questions and for participating in our blog tour.
Amy: Thank you Kerry, for hosting our conversation, and Katia for allowing me to join you for a stop on your blog tour!
It has been my pleasure Katia and Amy. Congratulations on the release of your books, and thank you so much for giving Shelf Elf readers a glimpse into the writing life.
(Since this conversation, Amy has learned that she will be able to arrange her work schedule so that she can devote one whole day to writing – and she’s pretty thrilled about that. Good news for her, and for us!)
Please do check out all of the other amazing stops on Katia’s Incredible Amadi’s Snowman Virtual Book Tour. Impressive!