Today I am privileged to feature Gretchen Griffith, author of the recently released picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home. I first met Gretchen some years ago when we were both in the same critique group in Charlotte. Recently we reconnected at the SCBWI conference and I am happy she is here to share some of her story with us today.
LEAVE A COMMENT AND I WILL PUT YOUR NAME IN THE HAT FOR A GIVEAWAY. THIS LOVELY BOOK WOULD MAKE A PERFECT CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOUR KIDS OR GRANDS! WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED MONDAY, OCT. 21.
LP: Tell us a little about your writing journey and how you have gotten to this point in your career.
GG: I graduated from Appalachian State University with a major in elementary education and a graduate degree in reading. I worked several semesters for the children’s literature professor there and through her influence developed a passion for writing. I went on to a career in teaching, dabbling in writing every so often, but usually I was too busy grading papers and raising a family.
LP: Your first book, Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, and your recent release, Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese are both adult non-fiction. What inspired your recently released picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home?
GG: I am a project oriented person, see something to do and get it done. I wrote the children’s book first as an entry into the annual fiction contest sponsored by Highlights for Children, although I had mulled it around in my mind for several years. I work with exchange students as they acclimate themselves to our culture and as our students go abroad to other cultures. They are always wanting to know, “When will this strange house feel like home?” Our orientation materials help them look for mileposts and one that I often use is Christmas. By Christmas, it will feel like home.
LP: Walk us through some of the editorial processes with your publisher, Albert Whitman. What was the time span from inception of the book to publication date and what were some of the “challenges” of that process?
GG: This was a long process. Looong. Six years, at least. When my article didn’t win the fiction contest, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it for over a year. I ran across a posting on another author’s blog that mentioned Albert Whitman & Company was looking for picture books, intercultural, international themed work. I pulled the manuscript back out of the drawer, revised and submitted. The editor responded positively and we started a back and forth discussion. Then she retired and a new editor stepped in, worked with me on her vision of the manuscript. Then she retired and a new editor stepped in, worked with me on her vision of the manuscript. Then she was moved into another department and a new editor stepped in, the fourth and final. There were several major changes, mostly making the book key in on Christmas. In the first version, Christmas was only the final step. One of the early emails to me was“if you move Christmas to the beginning of the book, we’ll look at it again” kind of revision. Changes during the final stages were more for word choice. Most I agreed with, a couple I held firm on my selection.
LP: Do you have an agent, and if not, how long did it take you to find your publisher?
GG: No, I do not have an agent as yet, although I’m actively applying. I was fortunate to find a publisher who was looking for what I had. Actually, let me rephrase that, because it was not exactly a good luck kind of fortune. It was hard work. I would spend time daily looking through blogs and postings by editors and authors. I still do, only now I’ve refined it to twitter postings and links from those. There are several blogs I follow that share publishing news and needs.
LP: We all know there is no allowable dialogue between author and illustrator. Are you satisfied with your illustrations? Was the recurring dog your idea and is there some significance to that?
GG: I am in love with my illustrations! And no, I had no input although I did mention somewhere along the line that the main character, Eduardo, couldn’t have brothers because the story line of his being alone wouldn’t fit. I was sent a few sketches as the process went along and then the pdf of the almost final version. Isn’t the dog a cutie! There’s no significance for me, perhaps for the artist, but I think it adds another dimension to the story. It gives the younger readers something to look for while the book is being read to them.
LP: What are you working on now?
GG: I have two nonfiction projects on the table now, one of adult, one middle grade. And of course, I have oodles of manuscripts in the drawer just waiting for the perfect time and place to once again see the light of day. It’s an exciting business!
LP: Thanks for being here today, Gretchen, and leaving a copy of your book for a lucky winner!