Sunday, January 29, 2017

Interview with "Still A Family" Author Brenda Reeves Sturgis

http://amzn.to/2kBtUNE
I am excited to feature an Interview with my dear friend, Brenda Reeves Sturgis. Brenda and I met in 2005 through SCBWI when we sat next to each other at New England SCBWI Conference. Although we live on opposite ends of the US (Maine and Florida) now, we have remained friends and have co-written several picture books together, including a dinosaur friendship story, an under-the-sea fractured fairy tale, a dancing dinosaur story, a fractured fairy tale bedtime story and a book that promotes children banding together as a nation. 

LYNNE MARIE: Please share the "story-behind-the-story" of your newest and most stand-out book yet, "Still A Family," illustrated by Jo-Shin Lee. 

BRENDA REEVES STURGIS: I was on social media and noticed a discussion about why there weren't any books about homelessness. I decided then and there that I would write that book. I wrote it in about 30 minutes and sent a message to my Agent, Karen Grencik, of Red Fox Literary. I also found out there were editors requesting a manuscript like this. By day's end, Karen sent it out to three editors and we had a contract six weeks later. 

LM: Please share some of the amazing reviews that are in on Still A Family.

BRS: Thank you for having me here Lynne Marie. I appreciate your time and as always, your friendship! There are three glowing reviews that have come in already.

KIRKUS REVIEW

A preschool-age girl copes with living in a homeless shelter with her mother and without her father, who is housed in a different shelter.
Sturgis’ first-person text is paired with Lee’s na├»ve illustration style to deliver an effective and affecting account from the protagonist’s perspective. The father in the family appears to be a white man, while the mother’s darker brown skin indicates that she is a woman of color, and the girl’s skin tone is most like her father’s. The text repeatedly underscore’s the title’s message that they are “still a family” even though they must live separately in different shelters. The story depicts ways they stay connected with visits to the park, meals at a soup kitchen, and shared co-parenting while the adults alternate caring for their young daughter and looking for work. Throughout, the girl's doll provides a sense of comfort and consistency. While there is no happily-ever-after resolution, the ending has a hopeful note as the family marks their daughter’s birthday and the text re-emphasizes the title’s message. An author’s note and resource list in the backmatter round out the book with context for readers.
A sensitive and necessary picture book to provide comfort and raise awareness and empathy. (Picture book. 4-8)

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: "A girl with brown braids keeps her chin up while living in a shelter with her mother. “My dad lives in a different shelter, down another street,” she explains, adding (in what becomes the book’s refrain), “But we are still a family.” Sturgis (The Lake Where Loon Lives) doesn’t ignore the girl’s desires for stability and a permanent home (“I miss my quiet room, my comfy bed, and my cozy quilt”) but shows how the family members support each other, exchanging modest gifts, waiting together in long soup kitchen lines, and celebrating the girl’s birthday with a cupcake and a wish. Lee, in her U.S. debut, uses a mix of media to create rough, childlike scenes that give the sense that the girl is both telling and illustrating her story. With an estimated 2.5 million children homeless in the U.S., this is an empathic and valuable book, both for families without a home and for those in a position to help; an author’s note and list of resources offers suggestions for how readers can do just that."Publishers Weekly


AND one more coming soon, that I can't share just yet but am beyond elated about!

 

 LM: How did the title for Still A Family come to be? 

BRS: The title unfolded organically from the refrain, and seems to be that this story named itself really.

LM: Why do you think you connected so strongly with this social awareness concept? What incidents or events informed your writing of this story?

BRS: I would have to say it was a gift. I was in the right place at the right time when the idea presented itself, and I jumped on it like a child on a trampoline. I said to myself, "Why not me? Why can't I write it?" And so, just like that, it was there. I have always been concerned about the plight of the homeless and started a book drive for homeless shelters and children's hospitals across the country back in 2005. This opportunity is a blessing and as I said, I believe it is a gift and it's where the direction of my life is headed...to make a difference not only for the children in the shelters but also for the general public for empathy and understanding.

LM: How long did this book take from concept to contract?

BRS: This happened so quickly. Lightning fast really. It was about six weeks from concept to contract.

LM: At what point did you decide to be a children’s writer. What influenced this decision?

BRS: This is a fabulous question Lynne Marie. I met Lynne Plourde at an author visit in 2004 at Baldwin Consolidated School. I sat in the back row, listening. I have always loved writing, and filled up pages and pages of poetry in high school, and remember telling somebody as a Freshman in high school that I wanted to be a writer. When Lynne told the audience that writers don't always illustrate their own books I knew I had to find out how I could write. I approached Lynne after the author visit and said, "How do I do this?" She directed me to SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.) I plunged in, and never looked back. I was all in from day one!

LM: Growing up, you were a reader. Which books do you think shaped who are now?

BRS: I was always a reader of midgrades, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and a lover of picture books, Little Golden Books were some of my favorites and it is a dream to have a Little Golden Book of my own someday. I was an avid reader, I would hunker in my room on a Friday night and my mother wouldn't see hide nor hair of me until Monday morning. When all of my friends were out to parties, I was home writing and reading, or babysitting. And my loves still are writing, reading and nannying.

LM: When you decided to write for children, what type of books did you intend to write? How different is this vision from the books you actually published?

BRS: I always wanted to write picture books. This is where my heart leads. And I am a rhymer to the core, so I worked for years and years and years to get published in rhyme until finally 10 Turkeys in the Road was sold to Marshall Cavendish. But my writing is changing, and I am finding ways to make my prose sing. Prose is and always will be the most difficult for me to write because rhyme just comes naturally to me. Prose I have to work harder at.

LM: What advice do you have for someone choosing a path in children’s book publishing?

BRS:  You MUST study the market, you must be patient, you must pay your dues, you must be kind and friendly, and help others, you must learn your craft.  I would say the one thing that I have always ALWAYS done is help others. Whether it's reading their work through critiques,  whether it's advising them on which agent to query, whether it's always believing in somebody, I would say this is probably what I do more so than not. I believe we are all in this together and I am always happy to help others succeed in publishing and with their own dreams.

LM: “Ten Turkeys in the Road” is one of my favorite counting books. Please share how you got the idea for this fun book, which has a circus theme.

BRS: I was driving my daughter Stacie to school, she was about 7 at the time, she's 18 now. We live on a quiet little lake down a windy long dirt road. There were turkeys in the road. LOTS of them, and they were strutting around, and then flying up into the trees. I wanted to beep at them, I was in a hurry. But instead...I sat and breathed in that moment, and I laughed. A few nights later, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and 10 Turkeys wrote itself. I really feel as though I am merely a vessel because the thoughts and words flow so quickly. One day they weren't there and then the next day they are. 10 Turkeys in the Road wasn't originally about a circus, it was about turkeys doing silly things. I got accepted into RUCCL (Rutgers Council of Children's Literature.) I was paired with publisher Margery Cuyler, of Marshall Cavendish, now Two Lions. She loved the story. She said, "I'd like this about something else." I replied. "What do you want it about?" She replied. "A circus. I would like it about a circus." I went home, rewrote it, and my agent sent it to her. We had a contract shortly thereafter.

LM: Who/what has been most influential on your journey?

BRS: There is not one person, but several. First and foremost, Lynne Plourde for pointing me down the yellow brick road. Then, Kelly DiPucchio, because it was her belief in me that made me think I could write something special. Then Josh Adams of Adams Literary for believing in me enough to represent me. Next it would be Emma Dryden, for consulting with me and helping me pick myself up and move forward, and then it would be my most favorite person in this business, my agent and good friend Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. I would also say that I just keep writing, and believing and hoping I can make a difference somehow.

LM: What has been your most memorable moment on your writing journey?

BRS: By far the most memorable moment is the review that I have forthcoming that I can't share yet, but will. So when I can share it with you, I will and then maybe you can post a status update. Your readers will understand exactly what I mean when I am given the greenlight to share.

LM: How did you come about getting your Agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary?

BRS: I had hired Emma Dryden as a consultant, can't recommend Emma enough she is FABULOUS at what she does. I asked about Karen Grencik, she was and is good friends with Karen. Emma thought we would be a good love match and she was correct. We are a perfect fit for each other, she is more than my agent, she is my friend and has been for almost seven years now.

LM: Please tell us about your latest project. What inspired this book?

BRS: I am not working on anything currently. What I am doing though is trying to run through the doors that are opening regarding Still a Family, I am so happy and feel so blessed, and I am ready to help however I can.

LM: If you were a literary character, which one would you be?

BRS: This is a great question and one I've never been asked. I think I would be the little girl in my book Still a Family. Because I believe that home is where the heart is, I believe that everything will get better, and I believe in the power of hope and love. 

LM: Thank you so very much for sharing your journey, Brenda!

BRS: Thank you so much, Lynne Marie for this wonderful interview. Please let your readers know that a % of every copy of Still a Family will be donated to a homeless shelter across the country. I am going to pick one every month to send a copy of Still a Family to, along with proceeds from sales. 


Brenda Reeves Sturgis

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. I loved hearing more about Brenda's journey and Still a Family. I absolutely LOVE Ten Turkey's in the Road!
    I'm very curious about Brenda's news!!!
    Thanks for the interview, Lynn Marie.

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  2. Awww, thank you, @Penny Parker Klostermann -- so did I! And I am also a big fan of 10 Turkeys! Thanks, as always, for stopping by My Word Playground.

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  3. Wow, another superb interview. I get goosebumps reading from all their experiences, triumphs and success. I haven't read Still a Family but will and I will remember her name, Brenda Sturgis. I wish her more books to come.

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    1. Thanks, @AliciaMinor. Please check back for the review! XOXO

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