Wednesday, October 21, 2009
My guest today is Sara Shacter -- a children's writer who grew up in the Chicago area and currently lives in the city itself. Sara's picture book Heading to the Wedding (Red Rock Press, 2006) was described by Contemporary Bride magazine as "not only charming, but also delightful in the delivery of teaching accepted behavior for kids attending a wedding." Sara has also written and edited nonfiction for magazines and educational publishers. Currently she is working on a YA novel and several picture book manuscripts.
For more information about Sara Shacter, visit her website: http://www.sarafshacter.com/.
Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?
Sara: I remember writing stories about Inspector Toenail when I was in elementary school. But when did I realize I wanted to be a professional writer? Not until I graduated from college.
Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?
Sara: Well, Heading to the Wedding was inspired by a business cocktail party. I was mingling with some folks and mentioned that I wrote for children. A woman listening said, "Do you know of a book that teaches kids about wedding guest etiquette?" I didn't, so I decided to write one. It was a fun challenge: the story needed to instruct, but not be didactic. I think I hit the mark: the book always makes kids laugh.
Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?
Sara: My husband, hands down. He's my cheerleader. He gets so irritated whenever a rejection letter arrives in the mailbox that I end up comforting HIM! When I say, "It's okay. It just wasn't the right house. I'll find a better fit," I come to believe what I'm saying.
Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.
Sara: I grew up in Highland Park, a northern suburb. Though I went east for college, I returned upon graduation. It's just a fabulous city: big, but not too big. Gorgeous. Full of opportunities and inspiration.
Q: What was easy about writing Heading to the Wedding? What was difficult?
Sara: The basic plot was easy: it's the story of a family that decides to have a practice wedding at home, before going to the real thing. Patrick and his sister Evie learn all about what happens at a wedding, how to make a toast, the importance of taking the closest hors d'oeuvre on the plate, etc. I pretty much just ran through the course of a wedding. However, making it funny and compelling, and rounding out the characters in 800 words or less, took much more work! I lost track of how many drafts I completed.
Q: Of the characters mentioned in Heading to the Wedding, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.
Sara: I love Evie, who actually wasn't even in the book when I sent the manuscript to Red Rock Press! The editor wanted both a boy and a girl for marketing reasons -- a smart suggestion. I think Evie's hilarious and irreverent. I'm more straight-laced, so I enjoy her joie de vivre.
Q: You have written quite a lot of nonfiction for magazines such as Highlights for Children and Chicago Parent Magazine. Can you share some differences between writing a picture book and writing for magazines?
Sara: In a picture book, there must be an opportunity for a compelling illustration on each spread. Though magazine articles include photos or illustrations, there isn't the pressure to include a new visual every few sentences. However, magazine nonfiction has its own set of requirements. Trying to explain, in very little space and in kid-friendly terms, a scientific principal, or what made a historical figure who s/he was, is a challenge! A wonderful challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.
Q: Anything else you'd like to share?
Sara: I feel lucky to be working in this field. There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a child's face light up when s/he reads something you've written. And there is no nicer group of colleagues in the world than fellow children's writers and illustrators.