Today on the blog we welcome fellow EMLA author Pat Zietlow Miller, whose latest picture book, THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, was released last week. Pat is one of my picture book heroes–so kind, smart, talented, and incredibly hard working. She writes those rare picture books that have incredible amounts of appeal for both kids and parents. (Exhibit A: I got a copy of this book to review and left it on my kitchen table, and sure enough, by the time I got home from work, all my kids had read it already and wanted more. And I was happy to read it multiple times that night!) She’s also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Golden Kite, Charlotte Zoltow Honor, and Ezra Jack Keats Honor. (She’s amazing, folks.)
Without further ado, here’s what Pat had to say about this beautiful book:
EV: I know you’ve gone into detail about your revision process for this book elsewhere, but are there any other behind-the-scenes stories you can share about this book?
PZM: The research for this book was really fun. Early versions featured double-dutch jump-roping, so I watched a lot of YouTube videos about it. Then, when Wilma Rudolph made an appearance, I watched more videos, read all the biographies I could find plus her autobiography and did a lot of website searching.
My first real job was as a newspaper reporter, and it was kind of like doing that again. I liked gathering all the facts and figuring out how to use them.
EV: You’ve already developed such a beautiful backlist and I know you have more books under contract. What is special about this book that will always make it stand out for you?
PZM: This is the first historical fiction book that I’ve written. It stands out to me because I think Wilma Rudolph’s story is one everyone should know. As I’ve talked with other people about the book, I’ve been surprised how many folks don’t know who Wilma Rudolph was. So I’m glad I was able to make it an element of my book.
I did a lot of research as I worked on this book, and learned more about Wilma than I had known before. I was able to put some of that information into an author’s note that I hope readers find as interesting as I do.
Finish this sentence: My favorite thing about the illustrations for THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE is . . .
PZM: The faces of the characters.
Frank Morrison put such a lot of emotion in every look the girls give each other. He tells a whole story just by their expressions. He made Alta and Charmaine real. I adore his work.
EV: Finish this sentence: The perfect reader for this book would be …
PZM: Any kid who has ever dreamed of being the best as something.
EV: As a mom of two tough daughters, one of my favorite things about this book is the strong, confident characters. What do you love most about these girls? And/or who are some of your favorite kidlit/PB characters?
PZM: I like how Alta and Charmaine are confident in their own abilities and don’t downplay their skills to keep the peace. But I also like how they are open enough to change their mind about each other and become friends.
And, oh wow. Favorite picture book characters. Here we go:
- Olivia the pig for her unshakeable confidence and unbridled imagination.
- The young Patricia Polacco in stories written by the grown-up Patricia Polacco like THE JUNKYARD WONDERS, THANK YOU MR. FALKER and CHICKEN SUNDAY. Everything she creates is perfect.
- Henrietta of Mary Amato’s THE CHICKEN OF THE FAMILY for her willingness to believe the unbelievable and for her ability to eventually turn the tables on her annoying older sisters.
- The determined narrator of Janice N. Harrington’s THE CHICKEN-CHASING QUEEN OF LAMAR COUNTY who never loses sight of her goal.
I’m sensing a chicken theme here, which I did not intend, so I will add Nadine the cow from Jill Esbaum’s I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! Even when Nadine’s bragging gets her into trouble, she rises to the occasion and ends up learning new things about herself.
EV: Since this blog is grounded in the debut author experience, can you give any advice to writers who are still in the pre-publication part of the journey? What has surprised you most and/or what do you wish you’d known?
PZM: I wish I had known – or maybe accepted – that there’s a limit to what you can control. I’m the kind of person who likes to make lists and check things off and who clings to the nice-but-untrue illusion that if I work hard enough and plan well enough, I can determine my own destiny.
That’s true to a point. But there’s so much in publishing you can’t control. Like what, you ask? Hmmm. Let’s see. Like:
- What reviewers write.
- How well your book sells.
- How much marketing and publicity support it gets.
- What else is released at the same time as your book.
- Whether your editor or agent stays in publishing or pursues other opportunities.
So my advice would be to work your hardest to do your part of the job – the writing – as best you can. Also, make every effort to be professional and conscientious and responsible when you interact with editors and agents. And then, try to let the rest go.
Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.