The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sarah Aronson
Sarah Aronson is an amazing author, writing across all genres of children’s literature. She has two young adult books, five middle grade books (four in her middle grade Wishlist series and Beyond Lucky), and a pop-up book picture book, The Princess and the Pea. Her second picture book, Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines, released March 12th.
Additionally, Sarah “loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation or Writers on the Net (www.writers.com). She is also the co-founder of the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has served as an SCBWI mentor in both Illinois and Michigan and is now the PAL coordinator for Illinois.” So, in her spare time, she popped by to answer a few questions.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
SARAH: I started writing in 2000, when someone in an exercise class dared me to write! At that time, I was a physical therapist, and looking back, I think I was searching for something new to do. My mom finds this funny. When I told her that I was going to try writing, she reminded me of the stories I wrote as a girl.
I don’t really have a favorite genre. I appreciate the magic and serendipity of a good idea too much. If I get one—no matter what the genre—I refuse to waste it!
I love that approach! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
For a few years, I worked for Jack La Lanne. There’s probably a video out there somewhere of me in Jane Fonda leg warmers, doing high knee kicks to “It’s Raining Men.”
Wow, that would be fun to find. Where did the inspiration for Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines come from?
Ever since I saw the movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I have always loved Rube Goldberg machines! But the idea to write this book happened at a writing conference. Tami Lewis Brown was reading her picture book biography of Keith Haring. My brain started swirling. By the end of that night, I was already deep into research.
I love that movie and all the dad's crazy inventions. How long did it take to write Just Like Rube Goldberg?
In the beginning, I might have answered that this book "wrote itself." I found the voice quickly and had a draft in a few months.
But just like a contraption, revision became complicated! Allyn and I worked on revisions for close to a year! I am so grateful for the way she pushed me to dig deep into every detail and express the joy I felt for this man and his work! As we worked, I felt more connected to Rube's work--I understood what I wanted to say about creativity and play!
I can only imagine the amount of material, diagrams, and ideas you had to synthesis to create this book. How hard is it for you to switch between these three genres? Do you have a favorite genre and/or, heaven forbid, a favorite among your books?
Well, there is something very exciting about seeing the illustrations of a picture book. But these days, I think that my multi-genre approach keeps me moving forward. No favorites. I need them all. Writing is a practice—and practicing all these genres deepens my understanding of what makes a story!
All of your previous books have been fiction. What was your greatest struggle in writing Just Like Rube Goldberg, a nonfiction picture book? Do you prefer writing fiction or nonfiction?
The challenge for me was READING CAREFULLY and not inferring the facts. I am really grateful to Allyn Johnson and the copy editors at Beach Lane who step by step helped me verify facts while not losing my voice! What I loved most about research: doing it gave me a NEW idea! I’m about to submit it, otherwise I’d tell you all about it!
Ooh, what a tease. I'll keep my eyes peeled for the news. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
My first favorite book was The Carrot Seed. I also loved The Velveteen Rabbit.
The books that made me a reader were Harriet the Spy and The Pearl. Harriet was my first mirror character (I thought her glasses, brain, and name made her Jewish!) The Pearl was an important read for me, since it did not have a happy ending! As a writer and reader, I like open endings that make me think!
Interesting combination of books. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Just Like Rube Goldberg?
He followed his dreams. He was a hard worker. Like me, he played with many media, from film to sculpture. Check out the Rube Goldberg Foundation!!!
I love the image in the Department of Water and Sewers. Did you have any input in the illustration of the words cascading and trickling through the pipes? Or was that all Robert’s creation?
That’s all Robert. Isn’t he a genius?????
Indeed. I'd say he's amazing. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)
My family has always been a great source of inspiration!
Lake Michigan, too.
I love riding my bike or walking—untethered from the internet and distractions! That is when I can listen best for ideas. They find you if you are listening! It’s magic! Like sparkles!
Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am at different stages of three picture books, one fiction, two nonfiction—and I love all of them! I am curious about so many things. Picture book writing is great for dipping in my toe!
My new MG WIP is about a girl whose family is full of geniuses—but she thinks she is ordinary. My grandmother is a big inspiration for this book, which is full of family secrets. And hot dogs!
And I have an adult novel languishing in my files. I need to look at it! Thanks for the reminder.
I am so intrigued. I will be watching for these to release. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you are grateful you did not know at the beginning?
Writing remains a challenge. It has not gotten easier for me.
Is it ever truly "easy" or do we just get better at the skills we need to do the job? Do you have any advice on querying agents, surviving rejections, managing bouts of success, or anything else for authors or illustrators?
No one’s career looks like a Freitag plot line! Everyone faces obstacles and rejections and we all need to remember that it’s not personal! (I like to tell people that I have never sold a book based on my personality!)
So here are my strategies:
1. First and foremost: we write because we love story. We ARE writers, whether we are published or not. Keep a process journal so you can look back and see how much you are learning from every draft. Money is our world’s favorite way of recognizing effort. As a creative, you have to find other ways;
2. Work on more than one book at a time. Or start something new while you are on submission. Writing is a practice. So practice!!!
3. Reward yourself whenever you meet a goal! I have individually wrapped chocolate discs to celebrate when I hit my daily goal. I make a special soup when I hit page 100. When I get a rejection, I am kind to myself. I take a walk.
BUT MOST IMPORTANT:
HELP OTHERS. Accept help. My greatest joy comes from the writing community. You are NOT alone. There is room for all of us.
This is wonderful advice - to support ourselves and others. Writing is not a vacuum or a competition. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are currently enamored with. Why?
I like lions.
Thank you, Sarah for participating in this interview. I enjoyed the chance to get to know you better.
Be sure to stop by on Friday for the #PPBF post on Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines.
For more information about Sarah Aronson, or to contact her: