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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview Annemarie Riley Guertin

It takes months of writing,

years to be published,

and five minutes

for someone to read it. ~ Annemarie Guertin

Annemarie Riley Guertin graduated from Wheelock College and Fitchburg State University, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education (summa cum laude). Annemarie works as a district literacy coach and reading interventionist in Salem, MA. She lives in Haverhill, MA, with her husband Michael and their two children.

“A newly minted, international author,” Annemarie’s debut picture book, How the Finch Got His Colors released last year. Her second book, Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves, released on September 1, 2019.

Annemarie, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your picture books and writing.

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?)

ANNEMARIE: Thanks for having me. I’m a New England girl, born and raised in the same city I still call home. I live out in the woods on the edge of a farm with my husband, Michael, and our two amazing kids. I am a literacy coach and reading interventionist by day and children’s author by night. As an educator, I spend a lot of time writing reports, and various other things; It’s not until I get home when I get to write the fun stuff.

In the spring of 2015, I began my professional writing career. My first book How the Finch Got His Colors was written out of need. I was teaching first grade at the time, and I was having difficulty finding folktales that my students hadn’t heard before. After finishing the unit, I made a note to research some lesser known folktales and came across the original version of Finch. I decided to rewrite it that day. Three hours later I had my version which miraculously put me on the map!

My favorite type of books to write are picture books. I enjoy writing fiction the most. I have a very active imagination. I also work with young children and read to them every day, so it is what I know best. There is something magical about writing picture books. I hope I get to do it forever!

You did what so many say to do - you wrote the book you wanted to read. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Hmm, great question. Here’s a little-known fact: I grew up with my husband. We have known each other since we were five but didn’t start dating until I was in my sophomore year of college!

Another interesting fact about me is that I am a certified Reiki Master. I used to do a lot of energy work before I became an author. That has since taken a back seat. It is a practice that I would like to get back into in the near future!

Well, you made me do research. I wonder how many others are familiar with what a Reiki Master does? I fell in love with the cover of Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves and its folktale-like description. What was your inspiration for this book?

Thank you! Helena is an AMAZING artist, and I knew Evergreens would be just as fantastic as Finch. It’s funny because I wasn’t planning on writing another folktale. Well, not right away. Finch released in March 2018 and did so well right out of the gates. About a month after its release my publisher reached out and asked if I would be interested in collaborating with them and with Helena again on another folktale. They didn’t need to ask me twice!

I wanted another lesser known folktale to bring to life, so I searched high and low until I came across Why Evergreen Trees Keep Their Leaves in Winter, and I fell in love. This was another quick write for me. After I finished my version, I had my trusty critique partner, and friend Sarah read it over and send me her thoughts. I made some revisions and sent it over to Familius. The day after I submitted it, I had a contract waiting for me in my inbox! Success!

Boy, it's so much faster when they ask for the book! What was the hardest part of writing Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves? The easiest?

I think the hardest part of writing Evergreens was finding a way to keep the main character a cardinal. At first, my publisher approached me to ask that I find a migratory bird for this story, but all I could envision was a striking red bird against a winter backdrop, and I had a hard time letting that idea go. So, I floated an idea out to them that would allow me to keep my creative vision while staying true to the storyline. Luckily for me, Familius is amazing, and they agreed.

So why don’t cardinals fly south for the winter you ask? You’ll have to read my crafty wordsmithing to find out!

No spoilers! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, or favorite book as a child?

It’s hard to choose just one! If I had to choose one, it would be Eve Bunting. I love all of her books. My favorite is Rudy’s Pond. It’s such a heartbreaking story, but the ending leaves you filled with hope. I cry every time I read that book. All of her books have left a lasting impression on me as both a reader and a writer. She’s truly a gifted writer.

She is an amazing author and you may have been the first to mention her as a favorite. Did you have any input into the illustrations? Either at the beginning or in a later review stage?

I had a tiny bit of input on the illustrations with Finch and Evergreens. I believe that doesn’t typically happen. I did use some art note brackets to relay some of my thoughts for harder to envision scenes but not many. It’s best to let the artist interpret your words in their creative way. When Helena was drawing Finch, she did ask what I pictured Great Bird like, and I told her I envisioned him as a large golden bird and that is precisely how he was drawn.

Interesting. Is there something you want your readers to know about Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves?

Evergreens is a story about kindness. I love rewriting folktales with themes of kindness, compassion, and friendship. If my words have the power to spread those messages, then I’ve done my job.

That's a good goal. How long did it take from first draft to publication?

Evergreens was another quick write for me. Retellings do not take nearly as long as an original story. My mind is pretty good at taking existing frameworks and adding a spin to them. After I read the original version of Evergreens, I sat and thought about what elements I could recreate to make it my own. Once I had a rough idea in mind, I sat down to write it. In less than a day, it was complete with my thoughts. Once that was done, I sent it on to my critique partners for feedback. After a few rounds of revision, I sent it off to Familius for review. Total turnaround time from the first draft to contract was about a week which is unheard of, but this was an exclusive submission, so it moved rather quickly. From there, it went to Helena. I signed my contract in April of 2018 and Evergreens comes out September 1st. Typically a picture book takes about two years from the time you sign your contract to see it out in the wild.

It's fun when you don't have to wait that long, though. 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?

The most frustrating aspect of being a writer is the publishing part of writing. The wait to hear back on your submissions is agonizing, to put it mildly. It can take several months to hear back- sometimes up to a year. Nothing about publishing moves quickly. NOTHING!

Advice for unpublished authors: Research publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts and make a list. Make sure to read up on the types of books they are putting out into the world and make sure yours fits. Find out the editor’s name and query them by name- not To Whom It May Concern and then send them off! All it takes is one yes!

Great suggestions, thanks. Any projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? Do they also deal with nature and/or birds? Are they folktales, too?

I have several projects in various stages of development. My agent, Rebecca Angus, sent two (original) manuscripts out on submission in April. I just got word last night that both stories received contract offers! One of them is about thunderstorms, and the other is about a lost stuffed animal. Rebecca also has two more completed manuscripts that we will send out in the fall.

I do have other stories I’m working on, but they need some fine tuning before they are submissions ready!

Congratulations on the acquisitions! 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 wish I had known or had the insight to seek an agent before I got a publishing contract. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, and I had to navigate my first contract on my own. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because I learned a lot during that experience, but the contract language was confusing, and I had to hire a lawyer to help me to understand it. That is where having an agent is a real lifesaver. They know how to negotiate contracts and get you the best possible deal. It’s also nice to have someone help you through all parts of your writing from edits, to proposals, to finding beta readers and then submissions.

I'm glad you made a good connection with an agent. And I'm glad to know one can struggle through without an agent, if need be. What is your favorite animal? Why?

I love birds. I love the sound of them in the spring and early summer mornings. I love the sight of colorful ones like the Blue Jay and the Oriole. But my most favorite is the Cardinal. I believe they are messengers sent from Heaven above.

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

Be sure to stop by Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves.

To find out more about Annemarie Riley Guertin, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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