The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Melissa Stoller
Today, I have the privilege of talking with Melissa Stoller. Her debut chapter book The Enchanted Snow Globe: Return to Coney Island releases on July 25th. Her debut Picture Book Olive's Magic Paintbrush is due in March 2018 and #2 the Snow Globe series is due out in the Spring of 2018.
Melissa is an avid traveler and collector of snow globes, shells, and sea glass. When not writing chapter books, picture books, or fairy tales, Melissa is living her own fairy tale in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy.
Welcome Melissa, Thank you for joining us.
I’m so excited to be interviewed on your blog! Thank you, Maria!
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing?)
MELISSA: I’ve been writing for quite a while. When I worked as a lawyer, I always enjoyed researching, writing, and reading. I also worked as a legal research and writing instructor, as a career counselor in a law school, and as an early childhood educator. I have three daughters, ages 21, 18, and 12, and over the years I’ve enjoyed different writing projects, including writing parenting articles, researching and editing a lifestyle resource book, and co-authoring a parenting book about organizing a parent-child book club. But I always came back to writing stories for children.
I’m a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and have attended many children’s writing conferences which I have found so helpful on my writing journey. I’m also a member of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge (my picture book is a 12 x 12 manuscript!) and I have participated in excellent children’s writing classes and challenges over the past few years. I also have several critique groups and my critique partners have helped me shape and mold my manuscripts. Their excellent reviews have been so useful and also the support within these group is invaluable (thank you, ladies!!).
I try to write or revise every day, even in little chunks. I’m usually sitting at the counter that separates my living room from my kitchen. It’s a nice sunny spot in the middle of my apartment. I also work on my phone when I’m waiting for my younger daughter while she’s at her activities. Or, I write on my terrace or at the beach . . . I love being outside as much as possible!
ME: 12 x 12 has proven to be an invaluable resource for many, me included. In addition to the help and opportunities that the challenge offers, many of my critique partners came from 12 x 12.
While The Enchanted Snow Globe: Return to Coney Island is a chapter book, you also have a picture book Olive’s Magic Paintbrush due out in 2018. How different are these genres and do you have a favorite type of book to write?
I’m so excited to be writing in both genres. I started out writing picture books and really love the PB format of words melding with pictures to create a magical story. My chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection, has been marinating in my mind for several years. I thought about it as a picture book but it’s really a longer story so the chapter book format is perfect. I’m really looking forward to holding the first book, Return to Coney Island, in my hands when it releases on July 25th! And my debut picture book, Olive's Magic Paintbrush, debuts in March 2018! It’s a story about art, creativity, and finding the original magic inside each of us.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Most people don’t know (although my family and friends certainly do!) that I’m afraid of insects and spiders! Maybe one day I’ll write a story about a cute tarantula who’s friends with a mosquito . . . and that will help me get over my fear. But probably not!
ME: Probably not, but it might be a really cute picture book.
As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?
Wow, that’s a tough question. There are so many! Some of my favorites are: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (I love visiting the Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain in the Conservatory Gardens in Manhattan), From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (I always wanted to sleep in the Metropolitan Museum of Art!) and Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman (for a long time, I thought a truck was called a snort!).
ME: How funny! Those are some of my favorite books as well, especially the first two.
What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)
When I was a child, my parents told me stories all the time. I always asked them to tell me stories about when they were young. They built a story that lasted for years . . . hopefully, one day I will turn that story series into a children’s book. Also, my grandmother Jessie was a wonderful storyteller. Return to Coney Island is based on the stories my grandmother told me about how she met my grandfather. My author’s note in the book thanks my parents and grandparents for all the stories they gave to me.
Of course, I also find so much inspiration from my three girls. Just listening to them and paying attention to their daily concerns and adventures gives me so many ideas every day!
And finally, I am inspired by my huge collection of snow globes! I have been collecting them for years, and each time I look at my overflowing curio cabinet, I think of a new snow globe adventure I hope to write!
ME: What a great childhood. It's great that you found a way to memorialize your grandmother's stories.
Can you tell us about your parent-child book club - How did it get started? Did you and Marcy Winkler self-publish The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading? How active are you still in the book club and the blog?
Thanks for asking! I met Marcy when our oldest children were in preschool together. We started a family book club with our two families plus a few other families from preschool. When our middle children got a little older, we started a second book club with their friends and family. And then I started a third book club a few years later. During that time, many friends asked if we could model how a parent-child book club works. So we wrote a book detailing our experiences and setting out an easy way to organize and conduct a parent-child book club. It’s a great resource for parents and grandparents who want to find another way to connect with the children in their lives . . . why not connect through reading, discussing books, and creating theme-related art and science projects and book-related snacks. The book is available online and on my website, www.MelissaStoller.com.
How different has your experience been working with Clear Fork Publishing – SPORK to create and publish The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island? Any unique challenges or joys in working with a smaller press?
It’s an absolute joy to work with Clear Fork Publishing (Spork is the children’s division) on my chapter book and also my picture book, Olive's Magic Paintbrush. Callie Metler-Smith, the publisher, is a delight! She is incredibly hard-working and professional. Callie has such an open dialogue with her authors and she really includes us throughout the whole process.
In fact, Callie is also an amazing artist and she’s illustrating my chapter book series. The cover is incredible and I’m so happy with the interior art as well! It has been such a pleasure to collaborate with Callie . . . and so much fun as well. And, I love being part of the Clear Fork family. My SPORK sisters (and now several men as well!) are such a supportive group and we really help each other with all kinds of writing and publishing questions. I’m so lucky to be part of this incredible group and I look forward to a long and productive relationship!
I love that you pitched it as The Magic Tree House meets Back to the Future. What's something you want your readers to know about The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island?
Yes! I love The Magic Tree House book series by Mary Pope Osborne. My parent-child book club actually prepared book club meetings for all the books in the series that were available at the time! I also love the Back to the Future movie series.
The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection is a series where 9-year-old New York City twins Emma and Simon shake snow globes from their Nana’s collection and travel back in time. They become involved in adventures and interact with their ancestors along the way. In Book One: Return to Coney Island, the twins must ensure that their great-grandparents meet on the Coney Island Trolley in 1928 otherwise they may never be born! If kids enjoy time travel adventures they’ll hopefully love this story!
ME: That sounds really interesting. I can't wait for it to be published.
Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? (Chapter books and/or picture books).
I’m working on the next book in the chapter book series. It’s called The Liberty Bell Train Ride and it takes place in 1915 in Philadelphia and San Francisco. The twins shake another one of Nana’s snow globes and return to ride with the Liberty Bell as it makes its last trans-continental train voyage. The twins discover that their Great-Great-Aunt Lucy was one of the school children who signed a petition to bring the Liberty Bell to California. When a mysterious adventure occurs, the twins and Aunt Lucy must work together to get the Liberty Bell back on track.
I’m also working on several other picture books . . . hopefully more news about those very soon!
Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started?
This is a hurry up and wait profession! I have been working at writing children’s books for a long time and I didn’t realize when I started how much waiting would be involved. But I do sometimes go back and re-read my earlier manuscripts and I realize they weren’t ready for publication. I think everything happens for a reason and I feel so much gratitude that the universe opened up and my work will soon be in the hands of children! I can’t wait to do book signings and school visits so I can interact with the kids who will be reading my stories!
You mention on your website that you like swimming in the sea. Living in New York, how often do you get to do this or to interact with nature in some way?
I do live in Manhattan and the beach is about an hour away on Long Island. I grew up on Long Island, so going to the beach was a regular part of my life. I even rode my bike to the beach when I was younger (although it was a very long ride and I couldn’t do that now!). I am so inspired by nature. I love visiting botanical gardens and zoos, exploring Central Park, and taking long walks by the ocean. Searching for shells and sea glass and looking at the stars are my favorite summer pastimes!
What is your favorite animal? Why?
I love seeing animals in nature . . . during my travels I have been swimming with sting rays, seals, and dolphins, trekking on camels, and watching birds.
But I have to say my favorite animal is my puppy, Molly. She is half maltese and half shih-tzu and a whole bundle of fun. She loves belly rubs and lots of attention. Spoiler alert . . . a puppy named Molly appears in The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection!
Thanks again for featuring my work on your blog, Maria! I look forward to interacting with your readers!
Thank you Melissa for sharing with us a bit of yourself and your new chapter book series - The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection! I enjoyed spending time with you. Good luck with this series and Olive's Magic Paintbrush.
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