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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Erin Gunti

Erin Gunti is an award-winning poet, author of middle grade, young adult and children’s literature, and #TeenPit Mentor. An avid reader, she lives with her husband and two sons in Buford, GA. When she’s not reading or writing, you will find her wearing her invisible Supermom cape, flying around the halls of her children’s schools, volunteering, and running the PTA.

Her debut picture book, A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story, releases tomorrow.

Happy Book Birthday Erin!

ME: Erin, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut picture book and writing.

ERIN: Thank you for having me! I’m thrilled to be able to share with your readers all about A Place to Stay.

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?)

I love to write picture books and young adult novels (and read those genres as well). As a child, I gravitated toward writing poetry and shorter stories. I didn’t start writing novels until well into my thirties. I have a flexible schedule so (for the most part) I’m able to write when the ideas strike (or at least grab my notebook and scribble them down). My favorite place to get words to computer/paper is on my couch, snuggled under a blanket, with a fall scented candle burning (yep, I love the smell of pumpkin spice all year long).

PB & YA, that's an interesting combination. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I can say the alphabet backward. That surprisingly comes in handy when I need to alphabetize something.

HA! What was your inspiration for A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story?

A Place to Stay was inspired by the amazing and resilient mothers and children I met while working as a child abuse and neglect investigator (I wish nothing more than for this job to not have to exist). Though I’m no longer in that position, I still often think about those families and pray they are doing well.

That has to be one of the toughest jobs around. What was the hardest part of writing A Place to Stay? The easiest?

The hardest part about writing A Place to Stay was embracing the responsibility of telling a story about childhood homelessness that was sensitive, informative, and non-threatening. I knew there were no current books on the market about childhood homelessness and I wanted to make sure the story was told in a gentle and approachable way.

As far as the “easiest” part, once I started the story, it flowed quickly out of me.

I think you definitely succeeded in approaching the topic with compassion and delicacy. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I’ve always loved and been inspired by Dr. Seuss. I wish I could match half his creativity and imagination. Plus, rhyming books were always fun for me as a child. I’d love one day to publish a rhyming picture book!

I hope you get your wish. Did anything surprise you in Esteli Meza’s illustrations?

Esteli’s illustrations are AMAZING. I cried the first time I saw them. My heart melted seeing the stuffed bunny, Bunny-Beth, on every page. I was so surprised! Bunny-Beth was named for my grandmother, Elizabeth, who would tell me fantastical stories about bunny rabbits when I was a child.

Thank you for sharing that special tidbit into Bunny-Beth. I do love how the bunny joins in their imaginative adventures. Is there something you want your readers to know about A Place to Stay?

I hope the story will open a dialogue between adults and children about childhood homelessness, the many reasons a child might experience it, and opportunities to help within their community. The smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference!

I think it will be a start. How long did it take from first draft to publication?

A little over a year. The story had been weighing on my heart for a while. I finally got it on paper just before the #KidPit Twitter pitch party in April 2018. The amazing Lisa Rosinsky (Senior Editor at Barefoot Books) reached out to me during the event and asked to read my manuscript. Barefoot made an offer in June 2018, I signed, and A Place to Stay becomes available August 20, 2019. In the grand scheme of the “writing world,” this book went pretty fast!

It's great when all the stars align. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished and/or un-agented authors?

I’m an introvert (like a lot of writers), so I was terrified to put myself “out there” and find a mentor/critique partner. I tried writing on my own for years, convinced I didn’t need a second (or third or fourth) set of eyes on my work. That was the WRONG line of thinking. Once I found “my person,” better (publishable) words started pouring out of me. Find a mentor or a critique partner- one that will push your writing to a place you never thought it could go.

Thank you for your honesty. Critique partners/groups are worth their weight in gold. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m trying my hand at a middle grade novel, but I’m not sure I have the voice for it. For some reason, I can crank out picture books and young adult novels, but middle grade is a challenge for me! At minimum, I’m enjoying the writing practice.

Interesting. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?

I never gave much thought as to how much time passes between acceptance and publication. It’s a lot of hurry-up and wait. And, how you have to keep things secret until your publisher is ready to announce. When I signed my deal in June 2018 for A Place to Stay, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but I was asked to wait until the illustrator was contracted and the announcement was made on Publishers Marketplace, which didn’t happen until September 2018. That was a long two months sitting on a happy secret.

Oh, our industry does seem to involve a lot of waiting. What is your favorite animal? Why?

The turtle is my FAVORITE animal. Besides being super cute, I admire their patience and resilience. I had a tiny turtle named Roxy as a pet when I was a child.

Thank you, Erin for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Be sure to return Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story.

To find out more about Erin Gunti, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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