Thanks to my writing friend, Pam Brunskill, I met Marie Harris online and read her picture book on Kindle, The Girl Who Heard Colors, published by Nancy Paulsen books (Penguin) Sept. 2013. Marie is a busy woman from Vermont who is a poet, speaker, and editor.
As a writer, I'm always interested how authors got started and published. So I interviewed Marie with some nosy questions. Marie is an example of an author who used an unfamiliar concept (synesthesia) and explained it in an easy way for children to understand. My teacher brain is already linking this book to kindergarten classes, especially, those who teach on the five senses. Plus, this is a helpful book to show family and friends what this extra sense means to people who have it.
1. How long have you been writing? How did you get into picture book writing?
Although I've been writing—poetry, essays, travel articles—for many years, it was only a few years ago that I wrote my first children's book. As New Hampshire's Poet Laureate, I was asked to write the NH Alphabet book, a look at our state in poetry and prose. Sleeping Bear Press published G is for GRANITE, followed by the companion number book: PRIMARY NUMBERS.
2. Nancy Paulsen Books is an impressive imprint. How did you get your manuscript across Ms. Paulsen's desk? Do you have an agent?
My friend Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author of over 20 extraordinary children's books, kindly referred me to her agent when I mentioned a new project I was working on. He took me on and it was he who introduced my work to Nancy Paulsen. (And then, alas, he retired!) It was incredibly exciting to be invited to join her new imprint.
3. The Girl Who Heard Colors is about another sense called synesthesia. How did you learn about this? Did you do a lot of research?
I learned about synesthesia while exploring the life and work of America's first female composer, New Hampshire's Amy Beach. The picture book was one of the results of that research. Another wonderful outcome was that I began to meet dozens of people, young and old, who have this amazing gift and who often have not mentioned it to anyone. (Just in case you should overhear, I'm the person who asks practically everyone I meet: “What color is nine?” or “What colors do you see when you listen to jazz?”)
4. What is your advice to writers who are trying to get a picture book published?
As for how to get a picture book published, alas, I have no useful advice beyond what all of us know. Of course first we must craft our stories carefully. Then there are any number associations and conferences and how-to books and blogs and lists of agents and editors to help and encourage us. And we have to put in the time to research the markets and write compelling query letters. But in the end...dare I say it?...it may come down to whatever we call luck.
5. I noticed you've also had poetry books published. Do you think you'll write a picture book of poems?
I am, first and foremost, a poet. And I'd love to create another children's book using poetry as the structure. I have a few ideas, but as anyone knows who has attempted this form, it only looks simple! The important thing is to write for the inherent joy of it and hope our words fall upon receptive ears...preferably the ears of children.
Thanks, Marie! Below is her bio and how you can contact her. She's available to visit schools.
Web site: www.marieharris.com
Bio: Marie Harris is an editor, freelance writer and businesswomen and the author of 4 books of poetry, the most recent of which is the story of an adoption: YOUR SUN, MANNY: A Prose Poem Memoir (White Pine Press). She lives in a house in the woods that she built with her husband, the photographer Charter Weeks.
Some of my blogger friends are also featuring Marie this week. (It must be Marie Harris week!) You can read more about Marie at Susanna Hill's blog and Laura Sassi's blog.
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!