Could you tell the Grog readers how you landed the contract to write this book?
This is definitely one of those ‘don’t give up hope’ stories. I used to belong to a wonderful, online picture book critique group with Tina. Our group moderator at the time was Nancy Sanders. Nancy, a very successful children’s author herself, is incredibly generous in trying to help other authors be successful. About seven years ago, she shared with our group that
was doing a Christmas state PB series. She thought it would be fun if all of us
queried Sterling Sterling about authoring one of the
books, so I queried about .
I got no response. For more than five years. Crickets. I had long since written
that venture off as one of the many things we writers do in this authoring
business that don’t bear fruit. Then, just before Christmas in 2014, I got an
email—“I know this will be a bolt out of the blue, but do you remember
writing a letter to me....” It was the
editor saying they were ready to do Kentucky
and asking if I wanted to ‘audition’ to be the author by writing a sample page
for the book. Of course, I wanted to! I wrote my sample, and several months
later was delighted to hear I had been chosen from among all those auditioning. Kentucky
Did you have to do much research?
Yes. I did online research, book research, telephone and email research, and actually visiting locations. I wanted to be able to do more visits and go to all the places I wrote about, but the tight timeline the publisher gave me simply did not allow that.
|Christmas in Kentucky|
How did you decide what special
places and people to include? Kentucky
That was hard, because our state has so many wonderful places and people. The publisher had some constraints for the series that guided some of my decisions. For example, all the places the children in the book visited had to be places that could actually be visited during the Christmas season. That cut out a lot of our fun state parks, which are closed in the winter or have very limited activities. The children’s itinerary also had to be ‘doable’ in the time frame described, because, as my editor said, some people use these books as travel guides. So I had to calculate mileage between sites and travel time. I also needed to pick activities that were in as broad a range of places in our state as possible, so the whole state would feel represented.
I was really glad for the bulletin board at the end of the book, where I could include lots of the special places and people in
that I didn’t have space for in the twelve days. Kentucky
How long did it take to write the book?
As I said, the publisher had a pretty tight schedule for the book. I had one month to decide on the itinerary and all the gifts Marybeth was giving to her visiting cousin Martin. This had to be approved by the editor. Then I had one month to write the letters, decide on the bulletin board items, write the back matter, and write detailed illustration notes with online links to the places being visited.
Did you have to do many revisions?
Not many revisions to the text. Mostly just line edit sorts of things. One funny example of that—I had referred to a basketball ‘goal.’ The editor changed it to ‘hoop.’ That just didn’t sound right to me, so I asked on the SCBWI Blueboard. Turns out most people do call it a ‘hoop.’ But we don’t in
. I told my editor, if we want
universality we’ll go with ‘hoop,’ but if we want to be true to Kentucky ,
we’ll leave it ‘goal.’ She loved the variation and ended up including both in
the text. Kentucky
I did do several revisions on the itinerary and gift list. I didn’t want the kids to spend so much time traveling to western Kentucky, and had planned for a friend to visit from there and share with them about quilts and the museum. But my editor felt it was important for them to go there, so that necessitated rearranging a lot of the plans.
What has been a special moment for you in the writing of this book?
A very surprising moment had to do with the Newport Aquarium. I had decided from the beginning that I didn’t want to focus on things that were just commercially fun or special. I wanted everything to have a tie in with
. At first,
that ruled out the aquarium, but then I thought, “Oh, I can have the kids see
state fish there.” Since my editors had said everything had to be factual, I
emailed the aquarium to make sure they had the state fish. They didn’t.
BUT—they said they would stock it just so my book could include it! I thought
that was really cool. Kentucky
|Christmas in Kentucky: The real meaning|
What's your plan for marketing? Does the publisher help?
This has been a totally different experience for me from writing educational puzzle books, which required no marketing. Since the book came out in October and is a seasonal book, the marketing has been jam-packed into just a few weeks. I’ve had 5 book signings, with 3 more scheduled; 3 blog interviews; a Goodreads giveaway; articles/book reviews in print and online state newspapers/magazines, and, of course, I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter.
Publisher help? My Sterling publicist set up the Goodreads give-away and the four out-of-town book signings. The Marketing Team did a great job of creating an Activity Kit to go with the book that included five puzzles I sent them. (http://evelynchristensen.com/12daysXmasKYactivities.html) They also designed very attractive cards with ordering information on the back that I can give out to managers of gift shops and bookstores when I visit them.
|Christmas in Kentucky|
What’s it like to have your first picture book published?
It’s been a wonderful experience! People have been amazingly enthusiastic about the book and so encouraging and supportive. I think a large part of it is that it’s not about me. It’s that the book is about their beloved state. And they want to share what’s special about
with the children in their lives. I handed a signed copy to one friend who’d
gotten it for her out-of-state grandchildren, and when she read the
inscription, she whispered, “Perfect!” and hugged it to her with tears in her
eyes. I’d written, “Hoping this helps you to cherish your Kentucky roots.” Kentucky
What are you working on now?
Mainly, marketing this book. I did just sign a contract with an ESL publisher for a chapter book. They’ve asked for other books from me, so I’m cogitating on that. I’m also trying to digitally format more of my out-of-print puzzle books so I can make them available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. (https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Evelyn-Christensen-Puzzles-math-and-more)
Favorite color: yellow
Food: Turtles (chocolate, caramel, pecans)
Children’s author: Dr. Seuss
Children’s book: The Cat in the Hat
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A former teacher with a doctorate in education, Ev loves to make learning fun for kids. She has designed several math games and authored more than 40 educational puzzle books. She’s also editor of the ezine Writing for Children’s Magazines. Ev lives with her husband Ralph (who’s always been super supportive of her writing career) in
and delights in playing with her five pre-school grandchildren. Lexington, KY