Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Author Interview with Chris Mihaly By Suzy Leopold

A Tale of Bales and the Machines and
the Machines That Make Them
by Christy Mihaly; Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Book birthday: August 14th; Holiday House

Chris' cute smile. 😊
Hip, hip, hayray for fellow GROGger, Chris Mihaly and her new book HEY, HEY, HAY! A TALE OF BALES AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM. Written by Christy and illustrated by Joe Cepeda this book makes its debut on August 14th. 

Read all about this rhyming picture book ⎯⎯⎯ a tale of a Mom and daughter duo and the process of making hay on their farm. 

Children ages 4-8 are sure to have a better understanding about farm life and how things work. Back matter is included.

Living on the Illinois prairie, there are farm fields surrounding us for miles. Six years ago, our little farmhouse was built on what was once a corn field. Together my husband and I enjoy gardening on the Midwest soil. My roots come from a long line of farmers who farmed on the plains of North Dakota and Minnesota.

My cousins continue to farm the land my great grandparents once farmed. My heart is connected to the earth and all its beauty. So with an appreciation for the land, I am captivated by Chris' book about bales of hay.

Please join me as we have a conversation to learn more about Chris and her latest picture book.

Q1: Chris, tell us about HEY, HEY, HAY! What was the inspiration behind this story? The Vermont Farm Bureau promotes your title on their web site. Tell us more. 

A1: Suzy, I’m so impressed that your sleuthing about my book led you to the Vermont Farm Bureau! I interviewed with a reporter from the Farm Bureau this month. She’s writing an article for their monthly magazine about Vermont writers of children’s books about farming. I had a great time chatting with her about the book.

In HEY, HEY, HAY! I wanted to share with kids the real-life excitement of bringing in a crop from the fields. I figured young kids would be interested in what hay is and how it's made, and also in the big machines that help bring in the hay. It turned out there wasn't a kids' book about hay— who'd have thought it? So, I could fill that gap! (As the director of a state agriculture-in-the-classroom program told me, "Give me accurate farm books—I don't need books about talking cows.").

The initial inspiration for the book came from my own hayfield. The rhythm of the haying machines (mower, rake, tedder, baler) got into my head during haying. I realized that storing all that grass over the winter was, in essence, storing summer, and these words began to run around my mind: "Listen and I'll tell the tale how we store summer in a bale." The book grew from there.

Inside spread: When it's high enough, we mow!

Q2: Share your author history. When did you begin writing for children and how did you know it was something you wanted to do?

A2: I always loved to write but for some reason I didn’t think of writing as a viable career. I went to law school and became an environmental lawyer in San Francisco. I loved the work there (and it involved a great deal of writing!) 

I began thinking about writing for children after I had kids and spent time reading to them in the 1990s. About twenty years ago, I took the Institute of Children’s Literature distance learning course in writing for children. I enjoyed the course and loved the idea of writing for kids—because it was clear to me that raising a generation of readers is our best hope for the future—but my personal writing aspirations didn’t go beyond that for many years. 

Q3: How long did you write until you became published? Can you tell us about the process of finding and signing with and agent/editor?

A3I had been writing for years, but not seriously working toward publication. That changed in 2011 when our family went to live in Spain for a year. My husband had a sabbatical leave and he was invited to teach for a school year at the University of Seville. So we went! My daughter attended a local Spanish school, my husband was teaching, and I took the opportunity to try out writing full-time. I focused on writing for children’s magazines. I returned to some assignments I’d completed for the ICL course all those years earlier, and worked on polishing them. I didn’t have an English language library nearby, but I could research magazine markets and make submissions online (Back then, Highlights was still requiring submissions by mail, so I didn’t send to them).

The cool thing was that living in such unfamiliar surroundings shook loose a lot of fresh writing ideas for me. That year, I published my first piece, a story about a girl who moved to Spain. It was published in an online magazine, an unpaid market. But, a credit! My next piece was an article for one of the Cricket magazines. It was about the Spanish sailors who sailed with Columbus – a topic all the kids in Spain knew about, though I hadn’t.

When we came back to the US in 2012, I resolved to keep this incipient writing career going. I published an essay in a local parenting newspaper, and I continued submitting queries for articles. I also started attending conferences and workshops, and became more active in SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I joined a critique group, which has been the most important step for me in learning how to write and revise. Our online group has been together five years now, and during that time all of us have been published, and some have signed with agents, and we’ve all improved in our writing. I learned to write picture books and also started publishing nonfiction in the school and library market, which I still enjoy. 

In the summer of 2014, I wrote Hey, Hey, Hay!  I sold it in the summer of 2015. About a year after that, I submitted my work to agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary Studio, and she now represents me. 
My hayfield

Q4: Share your love for the beauty of nature. 

A4: I’m not happy if I can’t get out in nature. When we lived in town, I often set off up the hill to take long walks in a large, leafy park. What I loved most about my work in the law was knowing I was making a difference in preserving valuable habitat for wildlife, clean water in the lakes and rivers, and beautiful open space for farms and ranches.

Now that we live out in a rural area (by the hayfield!) I especially love watching the land as the seasons change. In winter, I look for little critter footprints on the blanket of white snow covering the fields and forests. When the sun melts the accumulated snow in the springtime, I love watching the green leaves pop out so suddenly, and listening for the first cheeping of spring peepers (tiny frogs). In summer, I love the songs of the birds, the frogs, and the crickets, the cries of the hawks returning to their nest each year, and the dances of the fireflies in the night. The autumn is spectacular as the leaves turn brilliant red and orange, and the air crisps up and the cycle of the seasons turns again. And there’s nothing like a walk outdoors to get the creative juices flowing, or to get a writer out of a stuck place in a work in progress. It’s always inspiring.


Q5: Do you write every day? Do you experience days when you become stuck and don't know what to write next? Have you ever given up on a book and filed it away? 

A5: I write something every day. I can’t always get to a work in progress, and sometimes what I write is just bad. When I can write a poem in the morning – that always starts the day off right. These days, though, my writing is more likely to be related to promoting my picture book than to be on any new creative project. But I write because writing is what I do.

Often I have a deadline for a work for hire, or for an article that I’ve pitched. I find that deadlines are the best inspiration there is! And I’ve always got more than one writing project on my list. 

How to get through a stuck spot? I actually wrote a GROG post about blasting through writer’s block last year.

Some ideas: get up and move (the old walking cure); read; try a writing prompt unrelated to your stuck project; or some creative (writing-related) procrastination.

And yes, I have many story drafts that are filed away, waiting for me to come back to them (or not).

Q6: Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your manuscripts?

A6: It is cliché, but I find inspiration everywhere – in the news, in things my neighbors say, in things children say, in books I read, in dreams, in songs—inspiration is, like my hayfield, under my nose.

Q7: Do you have ideas in your head at the moment? What is your next project?

A7: I’m writing a cool STEM book under contract for an educational publisher. So I should be concentrating on that right now…

But, yes, there are always new ideas bubbling up, uninvited. I have a couple of picture books on submission (which may mean more revisions in the future); I am revising several more before my agent starts submitting to publishers. I’ve also got a good start on drafting a middle grade nonfiction book about a musical topic. I’m writing some poetry. And I’ve got a list of ideas for new projects that somehow keeps getting longer.

Mom drives the tractor in 
Hey, Hey, Hay!

Q8: Do you have any thoughts on including Back Matter for a fiction book?

A8: I’m a big fan of back matter in all books. I think that relevant factual information, well presented, enhances the reader’s experience of any book, be it a picture book biography, middle grade science fiction, or adult historical fiction. 

Hey, Hey, Hay! is fiction because I invented a narrator to tell the story of how we make hay. But it’s also accurate and informational, and I wanted the book to include factual information about hay. I love that we have a glossary of haymaking terms (like “tedder,” and “baler,” two of the machines used, and “switchel,” the traditional haymakers’ drink). And my editor suggested adding a recipe for switchel, which makes it even more fun. 
Reading to the first grade: An advance copy!

Q9: What are your thoughts about critique partners and critique groups? Do you have any advice for finding writers and sustaining a long-term relationship that encourages learning and growing?

A9: As mentioned above, my online critique group has been a pivotal influence in my writing life. I’ve learned a great deal through reading and critiquing their work, and of course the members of the group have taught me so much through their comments on my work. After five years of working together online through monthly manuscript and critique exchanges, we are more than writing partners, we have become real friends. I’ve met up with several of them at workshops and conferences and on personal travel, and in fact one member, Sue Heavenrich, and I collaborated on a book (more on that later). 

Our group, which we call the First Friday Scribblers, has organized an “unworkshop” at Highlights Foundation, and will be meeting in person for several days of intense writing this summer. We’re planning discussions and presentations and other writerly activities – as well as hanging out and enjoying one another’s in-person company.

Recently I also joined a local critique group of children’s writers. I like meeting face to face, and I enjoy getting to know members of the local writing community as well. In finding a group, my experience is that it’s best not to rush into it – first get to know the people in the group, and their writing, before you commit to joining. But I have also found that pretty much all children’s writers are welcoming, supportive, and sharing.

As to tips for success, I’d say, communication is the key. Be clear about what the rules for your group are. And, be kind. Because the goal of a crit group is to help all the members improve their writing. 

an excellent advocate of Nana's book.
"Such a cutie patootie!" ~Suzy

Q10: Tell us about your previous publications, stories, poems, magazine articles, and educational market?

A10: As I mentioned, I started with magazine work, which was a great way to hone my writing, learn how to work with editors, and write to a publisher’s specifications. I still write for magazines, because I really enjoy it (and they publish what I write—usually within a few months, and they pay). 

The first book I published (in 2016) did not have my name on it. It’s the National Geographic Kids’ Junior Ranger Activity Book. I wrote the words for the games and activities and quizzes, and worked with a team to review photographs, illustrations, and other graphic elements. Since the book tracked a format and used features that NGK had previously developed, the publisher didn’t offer me an author credit. It didn’t bother me, though, since I had such a great experience working with that team, and the book was so much fun to create.

Since then I’ve published a half dozen educational books on topics ranging from “Moose” to “All About Apps” to “Using Math in Fashion.” Each one has been fun to write, and for each one, I’ve learned a ton.

I’m particularly excited about Diet for a Changing Planet: Food for Thought, which I co-wrote with Sue Heavenrich (a fellow GROG member and also a member of my online critique group). This book is aimed at kids in grades 8 to 12; it explains how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and also perhaps help relieve world hunger—by changing what we eat. We invite young readers to consume more weeds, invasive species, and insects (which are plentiful and nutritious and don’t require large investments of fossil fuels). Recipes are included. It will be published by Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner) with an official release date of October 1.

I’ve also been writing more poetry recently. I published a nonfiction poem in Highlights magazine (inspired by my time in Spain, again) last year, and this year, two of my poems were included in a poetry anthology, IMPERFECT: Poems about Mistakes: an anthology for middle schoolers. 

Q11: Share something about yourself that very few people know about.

A11: For several years while living in California I owned a Kawasaki motorcycle. I lived in a houseboat in Sausalito, in San Francisco Bay, and on nice days I commuted across the Golden Gate Bridge on my motorcycle. I loved it.
Chris in a canoe.

Chris reading to first graders.

Q12: Where can readers find out more about you?

A12: I’d love to connect with readers out there in the social media universe. Feel free to comment on this post, and …

Please like my Facebook Author Page.
Check out my author website.
You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, too.

It’s been such a pleasure “talking” with you, Suzy. Hey, Chris! I, too enjoyed our conversation. It's been my pleasure. 

I look forward to reading your picture book, HEY, HEY, HAY! and learning about the summer chore of baling hay shared by mother and daughter. The warm paintings of oil-over-acrylic illustrations by Joe Cepeda, of the mother/daughter team look warm and inviting. 

I can't wait to read the recipe for a mug of switchel.

Natural Living Ideas


  1. Excellent interview, Suzy & Chris! I love your first line of Hey, Hey, Hay that got the story started! And I have never heard of switchel! Will look it up.

    1. Thank you, Tina! And yes, be sure to check out switchel. :)

  2. Somuh fun to learn about haying an d more about YOU, Chris! Excellent, detailed interview, Suzy. YOU are the perfect person to write this fun, informative post! TY both.

    1. Thanks to you, Kathy! It's that Grog teamwork!

  3. Congrats to Chris on the soon-to-be-released picture book! It sounds awesome :) Suzy - great job on the interview. How did I not realize you were here in Illinois, too? Let me know where your beautiful farm house is located (what larger town) and maybe I can meet you someday ... I'm always driving through our state!

    1. Eileen: Our little farm house on the prairie is located next to our productive veggie and flower garden. Travel 50 miles south from Springfield, IL, and that's where you'll find me waving at you on my front porch!

    2. Great to know, Suzy! I LOVE Springfield and your farm house sounds like a beauty in such a tranquil setting!

  4. Hip, hip, "hayray" indeed! Can't wait for this super summery story to get into readers' hands and hearts!

  5. Oooh, what a juicy interview, Suzy. I love all the info on Chris' writing career and how her book came to be, using what was literally in front of her. Can't wait to get this one!

    1. Thank you Sherri! You were there as I was finalizing that contract in Georgia.

  6. Great interview, Suzy! And Hip, Hip, Hayray indeed for Chris's newest book! Not only is it fun to read, but the illustrations are cool.

    1. Thanks, Sue. But wait till the world sees those photos in DFACC.

  7. Yes, yes, yes...I love deadlines, too! They help me focus and not get sidetracked with social media. And I loved learning more about Chris! Lived in Spain! Rode a motorcycle to work across the Golden Gate Bridge! AWESOME! I can't wait till August 24/25 when she'll be stopping by my blog. I'm thrilled for her well-deserved success! Great interview, Suzy!

    1. Thanks so much Vivian! I'm looking forward to dropping by your site for a chat.

  8. I'm with Chris and Vivian. Deadlines are key to getting things done. I'm a farmgirl, too, and I love seeing a book about farming, specifically baling hay. It's an itchy, sweaty, need-to-drink-lots-of-water process. So many interesting aspects of this interview. I'm pursuing WFH right now. Hope that takes me further down the road. Congrats on Hey Hey Hay!

    1. Thanks so much, Juliane! I included sweat but left out the itch! Good luck on your writing journey.

  9. Great interview, Suzy and Christy! It's interesting to read some of your background, Christy and how your story developed. I look forward to getting a copy of your book when it's released!

  10. I love learning more about authors' journeys especially when I know the author! Such a great interview! Congratulations, Chris, on the upcoming book birthday for Hey Hey Hay!

    1. Thank you Patricia! I thought Suzy came up with some good questions. :)

  11. Hey, [not to be confused with hay!] Everyone!

    I want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to interview fellow GROGger and author, Chris Mihaly, on her upcoming picture book, HEY, HEY, HAY!

    We appreciate the loyal followers of the GROG Blog. Thank you for the many kind words.


  12. LOVE the interview! This book looks fun and informative! Thanks for sharing the interview and the book AND the life adventures leading up to writing for children. Way to go!

    1. Thank you so much, Angie. I can't wait to have the book in hand and actually share it with kids.

  13. Such a great interview! Christy - you certainly have an adventure-filled life. I am really looking forward to reading Hey, Hey, Hay! Thanks for sharing the story behind the story.

    1. Claire, thank you so much! I hope to see you when my book tour takes me to California. :)