An Interview with Joyce Richardson: A Picture Book that Honors Mom and a Talented Child

Thank you for visiting my blog today, Joyce! I’m glad that we got connected through a friend at Kent Covenant Church. I’m excited to hear about your publishing journey and I know my readers will find it fascinating as well.

Hi, Sonja! Thank you for your interest.

How long have you been writing, attending writing conferences, etc.?
I have enjoyed writing since I was a child. I think I was in first grade when I entered a contest in our local newspaper: Letters to Santa. I won third place! It was a huge lavender and white teddy bear that was almost as big as I was. And that was the beginning. In high school, I joined the journalism club and wrote for the school newspaper. I also wrote at least one article for our church’s high school publication.

It goes to show how important church and school opportunities are for kids. I won an essay contest in elementary school, too, and that’s how I got hooked on writing!

You’ve recently published a picture book, Little Squirrel. How did the idea for this book come about? How long did it take from idea to finished book?
My husband’s parents lived with us in their final years. Mom and Dad were 90 when they first moved in. Mom had been an educator. She taught English and Music in New York City Schools. As a child, Mom learned a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson called, ‘A Fable’, and even at 99 she could still quote it perfectly. That poem was the inspiration for my story. Once I started, it didn’t take long for the story to take shape, but after the creative burst, that’s when the real “work” begins. As a writer yourself, you know that a huge part of writing is, re-writing. Every time you read the story it is tweaked until you finally know it is finished.

So true! And how special to have a memory like that about your mother. It reminds me of my grandmother who couldn’t see very well, but at 100 she could still play “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” on the piano by heart with her signature flare.

I understand that a special young friend of yours is the illustrator. Tell us about that. Who is the talented young man, and how did you go about choosing him to illustrate your project?
My youngest sister gave me some darling stationary that she purchased at a home school fair from a young man. By that time I had grown very weary of the submission process. It is very difficult to capture the attention of a publisher of children’s literature. Seeing Jaden’s artwork inspired me with the idea of publishing my story myself and asking Jaden to be my illustrator. Through a homeschool organization my sister was able to put me in touch with Jaden’s mother. I sent them the manuscript. Both Jaden and his mother responded very positively and were excited to be a part of the adventure! As each illustration was completed, Hosanna would send me a photograph. Jaden is very sweet and teachable and was very receptive to suggestions from me, and I enjoyed sharing my ideas. But knowing that in the traditional publishing world the author rarely has any say in how the book is illustrated, I really gave Jaden freedom to be creative. I was able to visit Jaden and his mom, Hosanna, and see his workspace. It was a privilege and a delight to get to know both of them.

That is so special! He must be thrilled to see his work come to life in a book like this, and he is very talented, I agree! As a writer who has seen three picture books get very close to being published only to see them dropped at the last minute, I totally get it when you say you were weary of the traditional publishing process. 

Speaking of the publishing process, some of my readers have contemplated book projects of their own. They have ideas for stories that mean a lot to them personally, and that they want to share with future generations, but they are projects that probably won’t not make it in the traditional publishing world–either that, or they feel like time is short and they don’t want to wade through those waters. These stories of “heart and legacy” as I call them, however, are very special and deserve to be shared. How did you go about choosing your publisher?

Sonja, the short answer is, after reading Archway’s material and talking to David Robertson, my initial contact many times, I really felt like I could trust them. And they lived up to their promise. Archway Publishing promises to help you bring your book to market using an effective combination of self-publishing and traditional methods. By choosing to self-publish, you will be able to maintain control over your work’s publication and launch your book on your own timetable.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book or the journey of writing a book that is close to your heart? Any tips you could give others who are contemplating doing something similar for their own children or grandchildren?
Wow! Those are difficult questions. When I write a story, I can’t help myself! I just keep writing and reading, and re-writing and re-reading until it’s finished. And usually, the story itself calls out to me. The story knows when it’s finished. I’d say, just keep on keeping on.

I heard an interesting podcast recently that discussed “success in publishing.” It’s easy to compare ourselves with others, isn’t it? Other books get picked up by better publishers or land on a bestsellers list; it’s hard sometimes to not feel frustrated by that. How do you measure success in this difficult field?
I would be absolutely thrilled if I could catch the interest of a traditional publisher. I have to be honest, that is my desire. I don’t want to just write stories, I want them to be read and enjoyed. So, if a traditional publisher doesn’t pick up my story, self-publishing is a wonderful way to share them with others—with my grandchildren, nieces and nephews and friends. I had a lot of encouragement along the way. And, thankfully, my husband believed in me enough to support me in the venture.

What are you working on now? Are you hoping to publish it traditionally or will you continue to self-publish your books?
I have a couple of manuscripts that I think are finished. I would love it if they could be published traditionally. But, now that I have published Little Squirrel, and now that it has been illustrated by a child, some of my grandchildren are really excited to be part of the process. Pawlee Hoop! is a fun story based on a little Norwegian saying I learned from my father-in-law. “Det blaser pa all e hop”, which loosely translated means: “The wind blows on everything”. And, Please, No Peas… One of my daughter-in-laws mixes peas in her Mac ‘n Cheese. Yuck! And with that thought, a story was born. Well, that’s all I’m going to say about that one!

Sounds intriguing, and fun! I’ll also have to tell my daughters, who are part Norwegian, about that saying about the wind.

Thank you so much for visiting the blog today, Joyce! I really enjoyed reading Little Squirrel, and getting to know you! The Amazon Buy link s below the picture, and readers, you can also purchase the book at http://www.barnesandnoble.com. 

About Sonja Anderson

I write novels and short stories for children, and occasionally a book or article for adults, too. I grew up in Ohio, and I have lived in Chicago, Connecticut, Boston, Tokyo, and Seattle. The beautiful Pacific Northwest inspires me every day.
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