It was then that I decided I would try and publish my own stories for children.
|By Jenny, age 10|
|THE GREY HORSE|
Written & Illustrated by
Jenny Sultan Ward
What inspired you to write your first book? Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your manuscripts?
I was inspired to write my first published book, “Way Out in the Desert”, published in 1998 (and still in print!) because I was living in the Sonoran Desert and found it fascinating: the plants, the animals, the climate, the adaptations of every living thing to survive a place with such extremes.
There were not many children’s books about the Sonoran desert published at that time, so I was making my own stories to use in the classroom with my students during our science/desert biome unit. To this day, nature is the creative driving force behind many of the stories I write.
How long did you write until you became published? Can you tell us about the process of finding and signing with an agent/editor?
My first manuscript received an offer for publication very quickly. However, I knew nothing about publishing when I started out. I didn’t know SCBWI existed. I didn’t know any authors, published or unpublished. Zero networking. Publishers didn’t have websites when I started out and the www wasn’t really so worldly yet! I went into publishing blindly and naively. I wrote “Way Out in the Desert” one summer, sent it off to one publisher - I used the book, “The Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market” to find a publisher that published books about the desert – and by fall the publisher called with an offer to publish. Beginner’s luck, for sure! That was how I found my first editor, Erin Murphy, who currently heads Erin Murphy Literacy Agency (EMLA). Although Erin is not my agent (she’s an amazing agent!), I am so grateful to her for pulling my manuscript from the slush pile and giving me the chance to become a published author.
I published my first eight books on my own. Then, I signed with the incredibly talented and wonderful Stefanie Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary. A fellow-author/friend referred me to Stefanie. Stefanie and I now have 20+ books under our belts. I adore working with an agent as it frees up the business aspect of publishing: negotiating contracts, royalty schedules and all the number-related stuff. In addition, Stefanie is my biggest cheerleader and keeps the wind in my sails : )
Tell us about your two new books that debut this year.
Thanks for asking! My two newest books are SO beautiful, fun and smart! (Don’t I sound like a bragging mother?)
|WHAT WILL GROW?|
In February 2017, “What Will Grow?” (Bloomsbury Books for Children) debuts. It’s a guessing book about seeds and what may grow from each, with beautiful gatefolds – pages that fold up, down or sideways, and is illustrated by Susie Ghahremani. Susie and I collaborated on “What Will Hatch?” and GROW is our companion title. “What Will Grow?” has already received two starred reviews, so that’s exciting!
|FEATHERS & HAIR|
My other 2017 spring debut is “Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear” (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster), illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong. It’s an informational book about animal outwear and the illustrations are stunning!
In 2018, “Mama Dug a Little Den” (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster) will debut, illustrated by Caldecott medalist Steve Jenkins. It’s a companion title to “Mama Built a Little Nest”.
In 2019, “How to Find a Bird” (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster) debuts. It’s a picture book about the many ways one may find a bird.
We all have favorite writers that inspire us. Name three of yours and why you like and respect their work.
Really? Just three? That’s tough... but in my top 20:
1. Cynthia Rylant – her words speak to me. I love her voice. Her books are thoughtful, deep and evoke a sense of place and wonder.
2. Mem Fox – she’s a lyrical genius.
3. William Steig – storytelling at its finest.
If you could invite five authors to dinner who would you choose?
Well, the above three, plus my father and Carson Ellis.
Which writer/author would you consider as a mentor?
I’ve never had a personal (in-person) mentor, but I’ve certainly studied, read and re-read the works of the above mentioned authors to guide my own writing process.
What words of wisdom or advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write what you know. Write because it makes you feel joyful and passionate. Read (read a lot) in the genre you’re crafting. Allow plenty of time to think about your writing: process it; mull it over. Embrace the revision process. Join a critique group.
Consider joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for insight into the publishing industry, networking opportunities and support.
Most importantly, write because it’s something you enjoy doing.
|Jen & Sue|
What are your thoughts about critique partners and critique groups? Do you have any advice for finding and writers and sustaining a long term relationship that encourages learning and growing?
I believe partnering with other writers is a fabulous thing, and SCBWI is a wonderful resource to connect with fellow-writers and illustrators for critique purposes. Personally, when I critique, I partner with like-genre writers. For example, I feel I can best offer support to picture book writers; not so much novelists – because picture books are what I know best. I believe a smart and successful critique group should provide encouragement, intelligent and creative feedback, camaraderie, and that members should buoy one another.
Share some thoughts on school visits and tips for making them successful.
School visits are GREAT fun for all involved and a great source of inspiration, especially when planned thoughtfully. Communication is very important – keeping the lines open with the person responsible for scheduling the visit.
Tips: keep audience sessions close in age range (I prefer to work with primary-only audiences and intermediate-only audiences). This way, I can tailor my content accordingly. I provide an author visit kit to schools in advance of my visit. The kit provides tips on scheduling sessions, how to prepare students so they’re familiar with my work prior to my visit and lesson plans/activities that may be used in classrooms and libraries.
Do you write every day? Do you experience days when you get stuck and don't know what to write next? Have you ever given up on a book and filed it away?
I may not write every day, but I think about my stories and my writing every day, which is an important part of the process. Yes, sometimes I get stuck. Yes, I’ve filed away many projects.
|Jen's Writing Spot |
Do you have many ideas in your head at the moment? What is your next project about?
I have many projects and ideas, some are in-process, some are just nuggets and seeds. All contain an element of nature.
What is your current WIP or what is your next project?
I’m rewriting a book about birds. It’s an adult book and a huge project.
Tell us about the Buckeye Public Library in Arizona.
I know, right? The Buckeye Public Library in Arizona approached me to ask for permission to integrate one of my books into the architecture of their branch. My publisher, the illustrator and I were very excited, permission was granted and we had no idea how GRAND the integration would be. Let’s just say the final design was beyond my wildest imagination.
Today, library patrons may sit and enjoy books inside and beneath my book “There Was a Coyote Who Swallowed a Flea”, which now houses the entire children’s collection at the Buckeye Branch in Buckeye, Arizona. Pretty cool.
|Buckeye Public Library in Arizona|
What's the funniest book you ever read?
I recall laughing out loud so hard I cried while reading “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”, by Kevin Henkes. I may have been under a lot of stress that day, I don’t know. But a fellow illustrator and I were reading books out loud to each other and something in that book triggered a laugh-fest between the two of us.
I can also tell you the saddest picture book I’ve ever read: “Bluebird”, by Bob Staake. I shared it during a dinner party at my house and had every adult at the table in tears.
What books are you currently reading?
I just finished “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho – it’s adult fiction.
I spend much of my free reading time with nonfiction publications related to science, nature and birding – and reading photographer blogs related to bird photography in order to learn how to use my camera to its potential.
As far as picture books, I always look forward to the new spring and fall releases, following Publishers Weekly and social media to see what’s new.
|Tufted Titmouse |
photo by J. Ward
Do you have a favorite treat?
Spending time outdoors, bird watching.
Being near or on the ocean.
Wine : )
Share your love for the beauty of nature. Tell us more about your love for birds.
I grew up running barefoot through the fields and prairies of Illinois. My family camped a lot, and we picnicked a lot. I can’t imagine a life without nature.
|Sleepy Eastern Screech Owl |
photo by J. Ward
I have become especially fond of birds, even more so since I’ve been working on my photography skills. I simply adore observing bird behavior, learning about various species, and making the planet a better place for all wildlife through efforts such as creating birdscapes, planting native, and picking up litter whenever I can.
Do you have any hidden talents you want to share?
I like to believe I can sing, but I really can’t so well. I love photography. I paint. I draw. I create art with objects found in nature.
I’m never bored, even when I’m doing nothing : )
Share something about yourself that very few people may now about you.
I’m an ordained minister and have officiated three weddings : )
AND, FINALLY . . . Where can readers find out more about you?
Facebook is where I am likely to be found on social-media.
Thank you for being being generous with many thoughtful answers to a long list of questions. I didn't expect you to answer all of them, but you did! We are fortunate to learn more about you, your books and your interests. You are appreciated, Jen.
WHAT WILL GROW?
And her generosity continues . . . Jennifer Ward is offering a book give-a-way. To be considered for a copy of WHAT WILL GROW?, comment on the GROG Blog, include your email address and share this post on Facebook or Twitter no later than March 2nd. Be sure and indicate which social media you shared this blog post and your account name. Good luck!
March 3rd Update: Thank you to all who read, made a comment, and shared this interview, ALL ABOUT JENNIFER WARD on social media.
Drum roll, please . . .
The winner of Jennifer Ward's
book & a garden kit is . . .
I'll be in touch with you, Stephanie.
March 6th Update:
Thank you ALL, for your enthusiasm and book love. It means a lot. And thank you, Suzy, for featuring Susie Ghahremani, me and our sweet book on the Grog Blog. And congrats to Stephanie Geckle, the winner of the give-away! Your package is en route.