Welcome to the six hundred and seventy-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author Natasha Wing. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Natasha. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Natasha: I’m a children’s book writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. I’ve been writing for 21 years and chose to become a writer after working at a metropolitan newspaper and an advertising agency. I wanted more creative projects and freedom.
Morgen: You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Natasha: While working in advertising I had one of those magical moments where another children’s book inspired me to write for children instead of consumers. Plus I love books with illustrations and the inventiveness of children’s books, so I chose to write for young kids.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Natasha: I am mostly known for my Night Before series that is a twist on The Night Before Christmas. I have 16 books in that series with more on the way. I also enjoy writing biographies. An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers is about an abstract artist who lived down the street from me when I was a kid in Connecticut. I have a book about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that is coming out in 2015, and I just finished a manuscript for the founders of the National Park Service.
Morgen: What age group do you write for?
Natasha: My audience tends to be 3 to 8 years old. I do have a middle grade being shopped around that is for pre-teen girls that I’m excited about. I would love to write more for this age group.
Morgen: Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Natasha: Dr. Seuss for sure influenced me! His writing was silly and rhymed, so I do enjoy a good bouncy rhyme. I enjoyed Cinderella, too. That was my first pop-up book. It had a crepe paper pumpkin that rose up from inside the cover.
Morgen: Do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Natasha: I do. I tried to write a sci-fi novel and trying to keep track of all the plot threads was challenging. I also am the type of person who likes to scale down. I don’t wear a lot of jewellery. My house is not cluttered. So I like the act of cutting out the unnecessary and clarifying what it is I really want to say with as few words as possible.
Morgen: Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Natasha: I used to belong to a writers group where I shared my projects and got feedback. But I don’t anymore. There was a point when I felt like my voice was being too influenced by the opinion of others so I retreated and now listen to my inner voice. My agent does read over my manuscripts and makes suggestions before she sends them out, so I do listen to her.
Morgen: Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Natasha: Do it, don’t talk about doing it. And don’t ask me to write your story!
Morgen: Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Natasha: I did self-publish a local lore / cookbook about pie baking. It had a regional slant so that’s why I did it myself. I enjoyed the process. It’s out of print now because I moved from that area so not having me there acting as the marketer / distributor hindered sales.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Natasha: I have one book that’s an ebook, Merry Thanksgiving. I wasn’t very involved since the company took a book that was out of print and reissued it in this new format. There’s a possibility that my Night Before books will come out as ebooks, which thrills me. I’ve been suggesting that to the publisher for years, so it will be interesting to see how they treat the electronic version. I don’t have an e-reader. Don’t want one. I like touching real books. They are more sensory. Plus I like to physically see in 3D how many pages are left to read.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Natasha: I love all five of the girls I included in my pre-teen novel called The First Kiss Club. I think it would make a fun movie because who doesn’t like the thrill of the first kiss? If there’s a cute Irish boy out there with a sprinkling of freckles across his nose, black hair and long eyelashes, I’d want him to play one of the boyfriends in the book who is based on my “first kiss” when I was 11. And I’d probably want to play one of the girls’ moms since I was an extra in a few movies and enjoyed being on the set and playing dress up.
Morgen: Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Natasha: I chose the titles, not the covers, although I saw some sketches of books before they were published. Titles are like headlines in advertisements. They have to grab you.
Morgen: They certainly do. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Natasha: Right now I am working on a new Night Before book. And I’m contemplating a new biography, but have to do some research first to see if there’s a gripping enough story.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Natasha: I try to write every Monday through Friday. How much I write depends on inspiration, concentration, the number of distractions (my husband is semi-retired and I don’t have a separated office away from the house), and deadlines. If I’m hotly working on a project I will write on weekends, too. But not too much since I also like to socialize!
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Natasha: Get an idea and run with it. I’m more organic. I don’t like to plan stuff out too much or else I lose interest.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Natasha: With my biographies, I have the characters and their traits already built in! I just have to choose which events, dialog, physical descriptions to include in my picture book biographies that form the person based on the theme of the slice of life I am shining a light on. As for my other fictionalized characters, I think I’m stronger with dialog so what they say and how they say it tends to help shape the characters. Names also help create an image or attitude for my characters which then translates into their voice.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Natasha: Lots of editing. I tend to back into stories rather than writing from start to finish, so there’s a lot of moving information around.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Natasha: For my biographies, yes, and I actually enjoy that part. It’s like being a detective and finding a nugget of information that will unlock the mystery of my subject’s motivations.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Natasha: Mine! LOL
Morgen: <laughs> Do you write any poetry?
Natasha: I’ve had some poetry published. And occasionally I’ll write a poem or two for the fun of it.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Natasha: Many since I’ve written over 100 stories and have had only 23 published. So there are some that have been shopped around that are back in the files. That makes me sort of sad actually because many of the stories are still good after all these years, but maybe the timing wasn’t right. I collaborated with two other writers on an adventure story using our cats as the characters and I think because we had three writers with three agents, that project never got placed. Still holding out hope that it is published someday by one of us.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Natasha: Many! Even after being a “seasoned” writer of 21 years I still get rejections. That’s part of the business. Before I had an agent I used to get more upset, but it also made me more determined. Now with my agent, she buffers the rejections. Still, there have been a few that really upset me to the point of tears mostly because an editor had me work on a manuscript over and over and when it was taken to the acquisitions meeting it was turned down. So that’s a major let down after all that work. A long string of swear words does help alleviate some of the frustration though.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions?
Natasha: I just entered the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Work-In-Progress Grant. I suppose that’s a competition. If chosen, it will help cover research expenses.
Morgen: You mentioned having an agent – do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Natasha: Yes! I have a wonderful agent who has become a good friend as well since we’ve been together more than fifteen years? I met her at a writing conference in New Orleans. She’s like having the coolest aunt (even though she’s younger than me) who unconditionally loves you and only wants the best for you. Plus she knows what I’m good at and also when to push me to try something new. She also had the negotiating knack, which I lack, so she gets me better contracts than I could have ever signed.
Morgen: Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Natasha: With a marketing background I do make an effort to do my own promoting. But probably not as much as I could since I also need time to write! I have a fan Facebook page, a blog, a LinkedIn page and a website. I have a Twitter account but I don’t like that choppy chatter so I rarely go on and tweet. I really enjoy Skyping to classrooms though, so that’s my marketing method of choice. I don’t like being pigeon-holed as a writer but I suppose my Night Before series is my brand.
Morgen: Skyping to classrooms is a great idea. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Natasha: Most favourite – the charge of a new idea. Least favourite – being “courted” by a potential editor who likes my story and then it not amounting to a contract. I hate wasting time. And I do like getting paid for my work. Sometimes those two don’t intersect and that’s draining.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Natasha: Learn the rules then break them.
Morgen: Oh yes, you’re my kind of writer! If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Natasha: I would invite J.K. Rowling. I met her briefly at Dartmouth University before she was a super super mega literary star and I have always thought it would be cool to get a chance to actually chat about writing. I would also like to meet Christopher Walken or Johnny Depp. They both have mysterious, odd energy and I would love to hear them talk, but I think I would be intimidated by them. I also would like to have Tina Fey over since I think she’s a comedic genius. (People from another era would be too decomposed to look at. I’d be too creeped out and would lose my appetite.) As for food, I’d probably order sushi or if I cooked, it’d be a Thanksgiving dinner. I’m a good pie baker.
Morgen: I love pie. If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Natasha: The day I realized that I was attracted to my old college boyfriend. I remember staring into his blue eyes and feeling that electricity and sense of knowing a person without really spending enough time with him yet. It’s magical.
Morgen: How lovely. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Natasha: Lately it’s been Kitty Bump-Bump. My husband and I laugh every time we say it. We’re hoping to get another furry friend some day and maybe this will be her name.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Natasha: Living in Colorado there are lots of outdoor things to do, so I walk with neighbours, hike with friends, ride my bike in the summer, ski and snowshoe in the winter. I also have a side company that makes bike seat covers out of whimsical fabric patterns. And I do read. I belong to a book club. Also wish I could travel more. I enjoy a change of scene.
Morgen: My brother’s the traveller of the family although I went to London for a couple of days last week (to do a talk on blogging) and I’m back down there this week (as a guest at a writing workshop) so that’s fairly adventurous for me. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Natasha: One book a friend wrote, titled ‘Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market’ by Victoria Hanley, helped when I was writing my middle grade.
Morgen: You mentioned Twitter, are you on any other forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Natasha: I use Facebook the most, partly to stay in touch with fans and partly to find out where my friends are meeting for happy hour. Goodreads would probably be a better place to stay in touch with writers, but it’s too overwhelming for me to stay up with. A person could waste a lot of good writing time just maintaining their social networks.
Morgen: They could. We do. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Natasha: No matter what form a story appears in, there will always be a need for a good story. So be adaptable and then remember: word of mouth will always exist. So hopefully you can write a story others will talk about.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Natasha: Google search. Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/natasha.wing). Scholastic book clubs. Amazon has author information (http://www.amazon.com/Natasha-Wing/e/B000APLF2W). So does my website (http://natashawing.wordpress.com). I’m floating all over in cyberspace, I’m sure.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Natasha: I think it’s important to hang in there if writing is your dream. There’s a good chance you will outlast those who give up and outlive others who are publishing now. So be ready for the opening.
Morgen: Absolutely. If you have the passion it’ll keep you going. I do. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Natasha: No, but if I may share my pet peeve. One thing I wish writers for children would stop doing is allowing others to devalue what they do. We tend to feel the pressure from non-creatives who think that either writing for kids is easy or that we should give away our books and time in the name of entertaining children. I tell people that in order to stay in business and keep writing those books they so love, that I need to get paid so that I, too, can buy groceries and not have to get another job to pay for living expenses. My job is to write, no matter how easy it looks to others. I certainly do my share of donating books and time, but please don’t expect it. That’s my pet peeve, and it’s also a constant conversation between children’s book writers. So thank you for letting me stand on my soapbox.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. I write very little for children (especially as I don’t have any) but was going to eBook a story I wrote for a uni course and asked a couple of children’s writers to look through it. Needless to say they pulled it to pieces. I’m very attached to it so I’m sure it will see light of day eventually, but I hadn’t realised how much work it needs. Thank you for joining me today, Natasha.
I then invited Natasha to include a self-contained excerpt of her writing and this is an excerpt from The Night Before Easter, her first book in the Night Before series…
‘Twas the night before Easter,
just before dawn;
not a creature was stirring
out on the lawn.
Our baskets were set
on the table with care,
in hopes that the Easter Bunny
soon would be there.
Sister and I were tucked snug in our beds,
while visions of jellybeans danced in our heads.
And a synopsis…
How Jackie Saved Grand Central (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) is about how Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis helped save Grand Central Terminal in New York City from being torn down, and its architectural significance lost to progress. When Jackie joined the city’s fight to save their beloved landmark, the protest garnered national attention and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Today, preservationists in other cities can continue their efforts to save landmarks.
Natasha Wing is a best-selling author of more than 20 children’s books. She is best known for her Night Before series. The Night Before Kindergarten has sold more than 1.2 million copies. Her biography, An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers, was an ALA Notable. She is a member of SCBWI and Northern Colorado Writers. She loves pink, bunnies, and cookies and collects squished pennies.
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