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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Linda Marshall

I love writing, reading, and travelling to faraway places.

~ Linda Marshall

Linda (Elovitz) Marshall has been an early childhood educator, studied Cultural Anthropology, owned her own bookstore, done freelance writing and ghost writing, and raised four children and a small flock of sheep.

Linda’s the author of 16 books, with 5 of these books releasing this year - Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? (April), The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine (August), and Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World (September).

Linda writes board books, picture books, chapter books and Middle Grade novels as well as occasional essays for newspapers and magazines. She loves words, learning about languages, and adventures.

Her first picture book for 2020, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, released January 28th.

Welcome Linda, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books and writing.

Thank you, Maria, I’m so very glad you invited me to your blog. What a pleasure it is to meet you…and to meet another “Marshall.”

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?)

My favorite time for writing is when I just wake up. I like to lie in bed, computer on my lap, lean against my pillow, listen to the sounds of the new morning, and write. It’s generally a time when no one bothers me…and I can comfortably stretch out my legs. I can also reach for a cup of coffee (often, my husband brings me one) and, well, I feel like a queen. In all, it’s quite lovely. I’ve been writing in the morning like this for about 30 years. I try to – at the very least – write a poem a day. I love, love, LOVE writing picture books – fiction, non-fiction, silly, serious…

That is such a great routine! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I have a hard time with things that are long: long books, long projects, long movies, long meetings. That said, some of the most satisfying books I’ve ever read have been very long. Recently, a writer-buddy told me she’s using this Stay-at-Home time to read War and Peace. I’ve just finished reading a very short – and wonderful book (Tinkers by Paul Harding) and am about to begin reading something else. Hmmm….maybe it’ll be something long, very long. By the way, I recently finished reading The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. Long…and quite wonderful. Highly recommended!

Thanks for these recommendations. How has your experience as a cultural anthropologist influenced your writing?

First and most importantly, it’s prepared me to do good research – Ph.D.-quality research. For all my projects – fiction and non-fiction, I research as much about the subject as I can. I’m also nosy…and being trained as an anthropologist gives me, well, license to be nosy. Or maybe I’m just making excuses. I’m nosy. Curious, I think, is a better way to say that.

Or curiously nosy? Sounds like a great career for someone who likes to eavesdrop. Would you say there is a common thread in your books?

I guess they’re all parts of me, of my curiosity, my interests in life, people, nature, things, my sense of humor, my serious side…I try to write with kindness, with love. I can be snarky, too, but I don’t do that in picture books (at least, I haven’t…yet….snark, snark)

It is interesting how many sides we all have to our personalities. Even some we don't show often. Having myself recently visited the Lake District, UK, I was intrigued by your book. What was the inspiration for Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit?

I was initially inspired by a talk given by Mandy Marshall, the curator/docent of Beatrix Potter’s Lake District home - Castle Cottage. The inspiration was later “fed” by a museum exhibit I visited in the Lake District that emphasized Beatrix and her work in land conservation.

For me, that is so cool, since I also met Mandy Marshall and explored the Armitt Museum. How different was your experience writing Saving the Countryside from your previous books, all of which are mostly fiction picture books?

Actually, not so different. I just couldn’t make up anything. Also, I love research. I adore research. And I’m a stickler for accuracy. Prior to Saving the Countryside, I worked on several other picture book biographies. Saving the Countryside was the first one to make it to publication. Two others – one on Anne Frank and one on Jonas Salk – will be published later this year. Some of the others haven’t found their way to publication. Maybe someday they will… In the meantime, I’m writing others.

I'm looking forward to reading your other two NF biographies. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Nancy Drew. I wanted to be Nancy Drew, to have adventures and solve mysteries.

What was the toughest aspect of writing and/or researching Saving the Countryside?

With great trepidation, I reached out to Linda Lear, author of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature. I was, um, worried (very, very worried) that she wouldn’t be receptive to my queries. She was interested! And most helpful! I’m very grateful to Linda Lear for her help.

What a wonderful experience. I've read her book too and definitely empathize with your nerves in contacting her. With so many picture books about Beatrix Potter already published, was it difficult to convince an editor and/or an acquisition team to take on this book? How long did it take to go from the idea/concept to contract?

Castle Cottage & farm land. © Maria Marshall, 2019.

When I went to the Lake Country in England, I hadn’t known much about Beatrix Potter – other than that she wrote Peter Rabbit ­. However, my group of children’s writers and illustrators (Kindling Words; visited Castle Cottage, listened to a talk by the live-in curator/docent, Mandy Marshall (no relation to me), and had tea in Beatrix’s parlor. I was absolutely smitten by Mandy Marshall’s description of Beatrix. Did you know that Beatrix’s parents were constantly striving to fit in…that they had made their money in (gasp!) trade … and that they were (double gasp!) the wrong religion? They were trying so hard to fit in and, consequently, were very strict with Beatrix and her brother. Beatrix, who seemed to be very well-behaved, was also quite stifled. OH! Did I ever relate to feeling stifled!!! She tried so many things…Something else I related to!

As I listened to Mandy Marshall, I took very careful notes. I was passionate. I had to write about Beatrix. I dropped a project I was working on…and immediately began researching and learning more about Beatrix. I was absolutely driven! As it turned out, my wonderful agent (Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis) found an editor, (Courtney Fahy of Little Bee Books) who was also smitten by Beatrix. What a delight this has been!

It sounds like you discovered a real connection with Beatrix. Was it serendipity or planning for Saving the Countryside, Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home, Have you Ever Zeen A Ziz?, The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine, and Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World to all release this year?

Serendipity. Total serendipity.

I think, even with Covid, you are going to have a busy year! Is there something you want your readers to know about Saving the Countryside?

Be open to new ideas. Embrace them. Re-invent yourself, as Beatrix did. Be sensitive to the needs of others. Share your toys (this is hard for me; I really like toys). Travel, even if it’s only in your backyard. Look at things upside down. Study mushrooms and fungi (Beatrix did). Doodle. Be curious.

What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?

Publishing is slow. And, sometimes, a project just doesn’t find its way to publication. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean the project isn’t good (although that may be the case) or that the writing isn’t good (although that, also, may be the case) or that the timing isn’t right (also may be the case). Don’t give up.

On the other hand, if you decide that your time is better used by baking banana bread, cuddling grandchildren, helping in the library, investigating aardvarks, then do it…There’s only so much time that we have on this earth.

And, if a project is important to you, consider self-publishing. That’s what I did with a picture book biography I wrote about my father (check it out: Good Stuff Cheap: The Story of Jerry Ellis and Building #19 with illustrations by Mat Brown; The book gave my family and my father’s many fans such great pleasure.

Finally, publishing isn’t only about having books on the shelf. The root of publishing comes from the word public – to make your voice heard. Stand up. Speak out. Even if it’s only in your diary. Think of Anne…and her voice heard around the world.

You've given us a lot to think about. Thank you. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I tend to have a lot of projects going at the same time. Most of them are short, so I can juggle them (and keep them in my head). Some, however, are quite long. As I said before, long things are hard for me.

I’ve been working on a middle grade novel for years. It’s set on the farm where I raised my children, but it also has elements of my own growing-up years. My whole life, I wanted to live on a farm. I wanted to play in the dirt. When my children were little, we moved to a small farm and raised sheep, rabbits, and chickens. We don’t have them anymore, but I still love mud (true fact!). I’m hoping that, this year, I can finally polish that middle grade novel so it’s ready to submit. I’m persistent. And even though it’s time to pass the farm along to another family who will love it, I don’t want to give it up (as I said before, it’s hard for me to share my toys).

Good luck with the MG novel and I am sorry you need to leave the farm. What is your favorite animal? Why?

That depends. Really, I don’t have a favorite. Except that, well, I’ve always wanted a horse…That’s the real reason we bought the farm in the first place, but I never got a horse. It just seemed, well, impractical. When I realized that I’d have to hire a babysitter to stay with the kids while I went to the backyard to care for the horse or take it for a ride, it seemed dumb. And expensive. So, it never happened. And my interests changed. Truth is, for the past many years, when I blow out the candles on my birthday cake, I no longer wish for a horse. Of course, I won’t say what I wish for…Then it won’t come true. [*grinning*]

Thank you, Linda for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you. and get to know another "Marshall."

Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post of Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit.

To find out more about Linda Marshall, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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