The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Karen Greenwald
Karen Greenwald enjoys a wide range of government and branding experience. Her work has earned 16 international awards for STEM Creative, writing, video, rebranding, and self-promotion. Karen’s bylined credits include print, electronic media, and The Washington Post.
Karen belongs to SCBWI, 12×12, and co-founded #SunWriteFun—a NF/Info Fic. summer contest that raises money for kidlit charities. A Phi Beta Kappa, she earned undergraduate and JD degrees from Georgetown University. Before turning to branding, Karen worked as an attorney and focused on international environmental compliance issues.
Her debut picture book, A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor, released October 1st.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
Technically, I began “writing” before I could read—I would type a bunch of letters on my grandparents’ typewriter, then proudly share my latest “masterpiece.” (Notice the quote marks!)
Once I began reading, I immediately fell madly in love with words. I remember coming home from school and sharing each new one I had learned that day.
As far as writing, I enjoy researching and writing non-fiction stories. But I’m also drawn towards funny tales, too.
You will never find me in the 5AM Writer’s Club. I’m more of an afternoon/night writer.
How fun that you started playing with a typewriter. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I have a weakness for Milanos.
There are worse weaknesses. What was your inspiration for A Vote For Susanna: The First Woman Mayor?
On day one of my first job as a lawyer, an employee in the elevator asked me if I was visiting my parents at work. (What? You're kidding...right?)
Susanna Salter was the first woman elected mayor and still, newspapers around the world focused on her dishwashing, her weight, and her skills as a housewife—until a reporter finally came to sit in one of her meetings months later. The papers of her time and the bullies who nominated her as a joke didn’t do their homework because she was quite qualified for the job. Every new detail I found about Argonia’s election of 1887 made me want to know more.
I wish I could say we've changed so much. How many drafts, or revisions, did A Vote For Susanna take from idea spark to publication?
I think there were four versions and many revisions. One thing I would love to learn to do would be to name things on my computer in such a way that I could look at them later and know exactly where in the revision process each file occurred.
Wait, we're supposed to stay organized, too? What was the hardest part of writing A Vote For Susanna?
For the first year and a half, there were large information gathering hurdles to surmount that were out of my control—but I refused to give up. Then, I met (virtually) Susanna’s great granddaughter who, along with her brother, entrusted me with a treasure trove of Susanna’s handwritten and typed letters, and those of other family members. Each was extraordinary! I also finally got more access to other pieces of information.
Nice, persistence does pay off! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was favorite book as a child?
I was a huge Paula J. Danziger fan because my sister loved her books. I used to sneak into her room and “borrow” books several grade levels above me. I loved them! My favorite picture book that I own (besides mine, of course!) is one that belonged to my mom as a kid.
That's so cool. What is your favorite spread in the book?
If I tell you which are my favorite spreads, I'll give away the ending...
Text © Karen Greenwald, 2021. Image © Sian James, 2021.
So, instead, I'll share one of my favorite spreads. Though truth be told, I like all the illustrations.
What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from A Vote For Susanna?
I want the book to launch important conversations about bullying (especially the kind that is with words), suffrage, gender bias, and the power of compromise. My hope is that it will also encourage an interest in justice and the governing process. There are so many facets of this story that still cause conflict in our world today, from cyber-bullying to salary inequity. Susanna Salter’s story is both historic and contemporary.
On my website (karengreenwald.com) I’ve put a drop-down menu for the book. There, teachers will find an elaborate guide that has suggestions for everything from writing assignments to arts and crafts. Also, I’ve started a campaign that is both non-controversial and non-partisan so that children can experience what it feels like hopefully bring about a change for the better. In this case, it is to get the USPS to issue a stamp in Mayor Salter’s honor. Why? Susanna Salter earned $1.00 for her efforts (the male city marshal earned $10) in office. Over the course of her term, she received thousands of letters from around the world. Many asked for an autograph. Mayor Salter tried to respond to as many as possible…on her own dime. Honoring her with a stamp feels appropriate and symbolic!
What a fun way to get kids interested in a campaign. How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to keep being inspired?
I co-founded #SunWriteFun (with fellow author Jenny Buchet). It allows me to step outside of the writer role. I love designing our branded content for it, et al, and raising money for kidlit charities. It is a TON of work, but also the highlight of my “writer’s life” in the summer season. Basically, I think the thing that inspires me most comes from finding ways to give back and pay forward the kindness I’ve received in the kidlit world.
(Special thanks to you, Maria for jumping in and helping judge the final round of #SunWriteFun!) 😉
That's a great way to stay inspired. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Wish I could!;)
So, we'll just have to keep our eyes and ears open. If you have a critique group(s) and writing partner(s), what have you learned from them over the years? Or from your writing journey so far?
What I know is that you can never look at other writers and define your success by judging theirs.
Also, read, read, read, and then go read some more.
Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?
I love elephants for their intellect, kindness, protective nature, and extended familial bonding. They look out for their own.
Thank you Karen for stopping by to share about yourself and your newest picture book.
Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PBBF post on A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor.
To find out more about Karen Greenwald, or get in touch with her: