Friday, May 1, 2015

Meet author Eileen R. Meyer ~ by Patricia Toht

This woman is one of the most diligent writers I know:

While I often sheepishly show up to critique group with nothing in hand, she consistently crafts and revises. This spring marks the birth of her third book, and I think she's someone you might like to know. Welcome to the GROG, Eileen R. Meyer!

How long have you been writing for children?

Eileen: I joined SCBWI and took an introductory class from local author/teacher, Carmela Martino, when my twins were in preschool. Last fall, they left home for college – so it’s been almost 15 years since I started down this path!

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Eileen in second grade.

Eileen: I’m a bit of a late bloomer. I grew up in a big, noisy family. Books provided escape – I was hooked on reading from a young age. But, I never thought about writing as a profession. 

The three adorable Meyer boys
(from left - Mitchell, William, Christian).
Fast forward a few decades, and I found myself once again in the children’s department of the library with my three young sons. All were born within a two-year period so I had my own toddler reading circle! We lugged home 20 - 30 new books each week and read story after story. I began to think more about writing for children, so I signed up for Carmela’s class.  Today, my sons still love to read books, and in this digital world, I consider that one of my best accomplishments!

Your new picture book, Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals: A Story of Sleep, combines nonfiction and poetry (my favorite combination!). How long does it take to research a picture book? Any tips?

Eileen: Each project is unique. Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals showcases fourteen animals in a lyrical bedtime story about the unusual ways that animals sleep. 
Natural history notes explain how each one sleeps, from the frigatebird that naps while flying to the walrus that sleeps with its tusks anchored in floating ice. This book took about three months to research and write. But a different manuscript (about a famous historical figure) has taken well over a year to painstakingly research and write. The complexity of the subject matter can dictate how long a project may take. 

As for research tips, I think everyone has their own methods. Being open-minded when a lead takes you down a completely different path is important. Your manuscript may end up being quite different than you first intended!

What inspires you to write? How do you come up with your ideas?

Eileen: I love the process of working on a new manuscript! Each project is an exploration -- a challenge to learn something new and share it with young readers. Choosing a potential topic is great fun, and inspiration is all around:

1) Keep a journal. Something you read in a newspaper or hear on the news may spur an idea.

2) Write a book that should be available. My first book was about animals and their respective speeds, from slow movers to speed demons. Existing books compared only fast animals or focused on one particular animal in detail. So my first book, Who’s Faster? Animals on the Move, filled a void in the marketplace.

3) Work with a topic that complements part of your life. My second book, Ballpark, was written during the time that my sons played Little League. We toured ballparks all over the U.S. – so I was immersed in all-things baseball.

Eileen's poem, "Fossils"
© Highlights Magazine
November, 2007

What do you like most about writing poetry?

Eileen: I enjoy the challenge –  each poem is a puzzle. Before I sit down to write, I think about what I’m trying to achieve. Will the poem be humorous? Should there be a twist at the end? Free-flowing in style or clipped and terse? Informative? Silly?  Once I have an idea, the challenge is then to write a great poem. It’s all a learning process.

What do you like least?
Eileen: The fact that the finished product can be a very hard sell. Many editors don’t want to see poetry collections or picture books written in verse, and agents don’t seem too keen on poetry either.

You sold your first three books without an agent. Well done! Do you have any advice for writers who are submitting their own work?

1) Send only your best work. Share your text with a critique group and revise, revise, REVISE! Make every word in your PB manuscript perfect. Sending your best work is the only way I know to rise to the top of the slush pile. 

2) Consider submitting to smaller publishing houses. Many have open submissions policies and are supportive of publishing new voices.  My first picture book sale was to a smaller house and they’ve been great to work with. I sold another book to them a few years later.

3) To gain access to closed houses, attend writing conferences. Take note when editors identify what they’re looking for or what would “make their day”. I sold my second book this way – an editor said she was interested in picture books about sports, so I submitted Ballpark. Months later she asked for revisions (which I gladly did!) and they offered me a contract. Ballpark was published in 2014, is now in paperback, and is offered in Scholastic Book Club and Book Fairs.

When you do school visits, what do you find resonates well with students?

Eileen: HUMOR! I try to introduce some funny elements at the beginning of my programs. When students know we’re going to have fun, they loosen up.  Also, BE PREPARED. It takes a lot of advance work to make things look “effortless” the day of your program!

Here’s a question that we love to ask: If you could invite any author or illustrator to dinner, who would it be?

One of Douglas Florian's
many books.
Eileen: Tough question! I have to choose just one? I think it would be author/illustrator, Douglas Florian. I adore his poetry collections. His work is quirky and insightful; he’s distinctive and approaches each topic in a unique fashion.  I also admire his spare, simple verse, which is quite difficult to write.

Are you working on something new?

Eileen: I am almost finished with a poetry collection about an important figure in American history. I’m revising it to submit for a critique at the SCBWI LA conference this summer. (Can’t wait – I’m a first time attendee at this event!) I’m also researching a picture book biography of a sports figure. I began it years ago, but couldn’t figure out the right framework and set it aside. Now, five years later, I have an idea of how to write it. I need to revisit my research, digging deeper into the person’s life and experiences.

Where can we find you on social media?

Eileen: My website is

More information about my new picture book, Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals: A Story of Sleep, can be found here. Purchase it here or here

Find me (and "Like Me"!) on Facebook here.

Thanks, Eileen!


  1. Great interview! I'm headed to the library today to check out some books from the Meyer collection.

    1. Thank you, Laura. Happy reading!

    2. Thanks Laura - I appreciate your support. If your library doesn't have my books, you can always ask them to order one or more. Patron requests are helpful!

  2. Terrific interview! Can't wait to read Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals and Eileen's other books!

    1. I think you'll enjoy them, Pat.

    2. Thank you, Pat. So fun to work with Patty on this interview - she and I took a poetry class many moons ago and dreamed about seeing a book published. Patty's next!

  3. Great premises for your books, Eileen! I especially like the book about sleep. Thanks for the interview, ladies!

    1. It's a wonderful book, Tina. So many interesting ways that animals sleep!

    2. Thanks for the kind words, Tina! Truly appreciate your support.

  4. Great interview -- thank you Pat and Eileen. I, too, love the combination of poetry and nonfiction. These are good words of wisdom about selling books without an agent, too.

    1. Thanks, Christy! Nice to know I've found a kindred spirit. :)

    2. Thanks Christy - we do have less access without an agent, but I remain an optimist! The slush pile and conference submissions can lead to sales.

  5. The titles of Eileen's books are on my wish list to check out from the library and purchase. Thank you, Patty, for sharing this interview. As a writer *under construction*, I do not understand why so many agents and editors do not appreciate poetry in fiction and nonfiction picture books. So, I second what Christy shared. Thank you. ~Suzy

    1. Well said, Suzy! I do think that NF picture books are gaining steam due to the emphasis on Common Core. So that bodes well for future NF submissions. Keep on writing :)

  6. Patty,
    So appreciative of your introducing us (she's new to me) to Eileen.
    Am thrilled to meet another person enjoying a poet I do, Douglas Florian. I have a few of his such as Poetrees, but not this space one.
    Eileen's books all look & sound great. In her Fossil poem, I love the lyricism. And then the great twist at the end.
    She is one to watch & hope that the LA conference will be great for her history book in poems. I look for books like that for my volunteer reading!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. HI Jan -- thanks for reading the column. I am a die-hard Florian fan and glad that you are a kindred spirit in that regard! He's simply amazing! I appreciate your kind words about my work. This is a tough business, one of frequent rejections and disappointments, but we have to keep the faith and believe in the possibilities that await us. Best of luck to you