Welcome back to Coffee Break Tuesday where I sit down with fabulous authors to talk about writing! Please grab a mug of coffee (or tea) and join us. Today, I have the pleasure of chatting with Kelly Ramsdell Fineman. Her picture book At the Boardwalk is a fun romp with vivid sensory descriptions of strolling down the boardwalk.
Welcome, Kelly! I’m so happy to have you here! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
This is one of those “that depends” sort of answers. When I was a kid and a teen, I wrote all the time – poetry and prose – and I loved it, but I never figured I was “good enough” to be a writer. I made a conscious decision to be a writer in 2002, after I’d left work due to disability.
What was the first book you wrote? What was it about? (Not necessarily the first book you got published.)
The first book I wrote was a picture book, and it had just over 1,000 words in it. It was called Eric’s Missing Library Book. It was, as you might expect, about a boy named Eric, who couldn’t locate his library book.
What was your journey to publication like?
My journey was composed of small victories and lots and lots of in-between time. In 2005, I sold a poem entitled “Lawnmowers” to a small press called Blooming Tree Press. It was included in their 2006 anthology, Summer Shorts. I’ve placed other individual children’s poems in poetry books for children as well (not all of which are anthologies – one is an instructional text). Because I write poetry for the grown-up market as well as for children, I’ve had some success with a variety of journals as well.
All along, I was writing picture books and submitting them for consideration by publishers, garnering lots of nice comments and relationships along the way. Then a couple of years ago, I got an email from an editor at Tiger Tales Press. Turns out that the publisher had come across my blog somehow, and asked the editor to find out if I had any picture book manuscripts that might work for them. A long look at what they publish informed me that I did not, in fact, have a picture book already written that might be their cup of tea, but I did have a short poem called “At the Boardwalk” that might be expanded into a picture book. Lo and behold, I was right!
What is your most recently published book or upcoming book? What is it about?
My most recently published book is, in fact, At the Boardwalk, which is a picture book about the pleasures of a day spent on a boardwalk. I was exceedingly lucky that Tiger Tales selected the Spanish illustrator, Mónica Armiño, for the book – her use of light is spectacular, and she really captured the iconic imagery of an American boardwalk to perfection.
I also have poems in two recent anthologies: National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis, and Dare to Dream . . . Change the World, edited by Jill Corcoran.
How have you changed from when you first started out as a (pre-published) writer to now?
Most of my changes have been in my personal life, I suppose, which is not particularly interesting from a writerly perspective. Except maybe it is in a way – I found that when I was unhappy with my personal life, I was far more diligent about spending time writing, which offered an escape. Not just the escape of working in a fictional place, but the actual, physical escape of sitting and writing, whether at home or (usually) elsewhere. Now that I’ve got an exceedingly happy personal life, I’m not nearly as driven to run away from it, and it’s been an interesting challenge to develop a new writing schedule.
On a more writerly tack, when I first started, I was very excited about every single thing I wrote, and very emotionally invested in having other people like it, too. Waiting was awful. Rejections were like being thrown into the Pit of Despair. Nowadays, I am much more zen about the process. I’m accustomed to not receiving immediate feedback from editors, and I am well aware that a “no thanks” doesn’t mean “this sucks” or “you suck” or any such thing. It means, at heart, “thank you, but the answer is no.” There are lots of benign reasons for a “no”, after all. Could be they have a similar title out (or in the works already). Could be that the marketing folks don’t think the story will sell, or that someone has a lemur phobia and doesn’t want to handle any books that mention them. So while hearing a “no thanks” is not optimal, I no longer take it personally, which puts me in a much better place.
Favorite book from childhood?
I suck at picking favorites, but one of my very favorite children’s books was Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards, in large part because I owned my own copy.
A favorite book you recently read?
The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban. It’s gobsmackingly good, and I firmly believe it ought to win the Newbery. I’ve been lucky to read it in several different drafts, including the final. It comes out in March.
A bit of wisdom to share (about the creative process/journey):
It’s all good. Really and truly. The ups, the downs, the days when you can’t seem to focus enough to write a word, the days when hours have flown by and you realize you forgot to eat lunch or feed the cat, acceptances, rejections – all of it contributes to the journey, and all of it helps you become a better writer over time.
There will be fallow times, when you really can’t seem to get any writing done, but those are necessary to allow the soil of your imagination to regenerate. That’s when it’s time to fill the well – to experience the other things in life that nourish you, whether it’s reading or going somewhere (a trip, a museum) or doing something physical, or something new and different. After those fallow times, there are invariably fertile times, when the work really clicks. It’s okay to honor the cycle.
For fun – something not a lot of people know about you:
I was once on stage with Penn and Teller during one of their magic shows. Despite being right there and watching very closely, I couldn’t see how the trick was done.
Kelly Ramsdell Fineman is an author and award-winning poet. Her first picture book, At the Boardwalk, illustrated by Mónica Armiño, came out in March of 2012 from Tiger Tales Books. Other children’s poems have appeared in Dare to Dream . . . Change the World, ed. by Jill Corcoran (2012), National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, ed. by J. Patrick Lewis (2012), Write Your Own Poetry by Laura Purdie Salas (2008), and Summer Shorts: A Short Story Collection, ed. by Madeline Smoot (2006) and in Highlights for Children magazine.
Kelly’s poems for adults has appeared in the anthologies Breaking Waves: An Anthology to Benefit the Gulf Coast, ed. by Tiffany Trent and Phyllis Irene Radford (2010), Mountain Magic: Spellbinding Tales of Appalachia, ed. by Brian J. Hatcher (2010), and in The Omnibus of Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, ed. by Matthew Delman (2012), as well as in journals.