We are delighted to introduce author Heidi E.Y. Stemple to the KIDLIT411 community! Heidi E.Y. Stemple is the author of 18 books for childrens and numerous poems and short stories.
What were you like at school? Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? Were you good at English?
Unlike lots of people who work in children’s literature, I did not aspire to be a writer. I was always a reader, but, didn’t much like writing. In fact, though I was asked all the time if I wanted to be an author like my mom (author Jane Yolen), my answer was always an emphatic “no.” My college degree is in psychology, not English. After I graduated, I became a Probation/Parole officer in Florida and then a private investigator. All the writing I did was in reports for the Judge. Even though I was always good at writing, I had no intention of doing it for a living. But, life is a bit like writing—you can plot out a strict outline in a perfect story arc with rising tensions, a satisfying resolution, and a happily-ever-after ending, but generally the cast of characters are too stubborn to listen and take you in directions you didn’t plan.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my daughter Maddison (now 19), that I gave in and joined my younger brothers, who were already in the family business. In writing that first story (that had a bit of a crime-solving element to it), I realized that I wanted to write more. It’s been 20 years and I keep writing.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
I would consider myself a part-time writer. My “day job” is as a literary assistant. So, even when I am not working, I am working with books. I also speak at schools about writing and growing up in the book business.
Until this year, I have had at least one kid at home. And, being a mom is a full-time job, too. I would like to tell you that with an empty house (my youngest is now off at college), I have more time to write, but that’s not true. In fact, I recently came to the realization that without a daughter home who needs to be driven around, there are no long gaps of time when I am waiting (sometimes in coffee shops) to pick her up and drive to the next thing. Those gaps were often my best writing times.
I have 3 projects on my my computer right now that need my attention. Maybe I should go home and work on those right now…
What genre are your books? What draws you to this genre?
Most of my books are picture books. I love picture books. I think, when done well, a picture book is the perfect story form. No wasted words, no extra words. Every word (because there are so few) has to count. Telling a long drawn out story is easier than boiling it down to that short form. (Not that I am saying writing a novel is easy—far from it!) I may be a grown up, but I read picture books all the time. I do read novels, too, but, for me, my first love is always the picture book.
Don’t believe me? When I built my house, I brought the carpenter three books: a novel, a picture book, and an oversized picture book. I told him to make sure there were two shelves at the top of each built-in bookcase (there are eleven) for novels, three for picture books, and one at the bottom that could fit the oversized picture books.
|Interior from Mary Celeste|
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Yes. I have it right now. But not perhaps in the way one would think. I have a manuscript I am working on that has a pretty good (I think) beginning. I know exactly where it is going. I even know, pretty much, how I intend to get there. But there is a section about ¾ of the way through that I can’t figure out. So I set it aside. I keep coming back to it and rereading the beginning. I get stumped each time in the same place. It’s as if there is a river between me and the ending. Eventually I will figure out how to build a bridge, but until then, I will keep walking up to the bank and looking longingly at the other side.
I have no doubt I will figure it out. I am not worried or anxious. It’s just a puzzle I have to figure out. In the meantime, there are other things to write and other projects to work on.
Have you written anything in collaboration with other writers?
My whole family is writers. Much of what I write is in collaboration with one family member or another. I have several books that I wrote on my own, a whole bunch with my mom, a handful of projects I am working on with my brother Jason who is a photographer, and, some time later this year, a book I wrote with my mother and both brothers is coming out. It’s called NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC’S BOOK OF ANIMAL STORIES. It is true stories about animals in history. My mom is found of saying that writing isn’t a lonely business because she has so many characters running around in her head, but I think that even solo writing is a collaboration. After all, there are beta readers, illustrators, art directors, editors, and finally, the most important collaborator of all for any writer—the reader.
Do you like anchovies on your pizza?
I have two rules about food. The first is, If it came out of the water and it’s not a duck, I won’t eat it. So, anchovies being fish, the answer is NO. Not anchovies on my pizza. (The second rule is If it looks like I blew it out of my nose, I won’t eat it. Just FYI)
Heidi EY Stemple
Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published almost 20 books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children. Her two more recent titles are Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts (a literary cookbook) and Bad Girls. Her website is www.heidieystemple.com.
Heidi, her mom, a couple cats, and occasionally her two daughters, live in western Massachusetts on a big old farm with
A note from Heidi:
We support out local indie bookstores. Jess and her crew at the World Eye can get books that we will sign for you.
Just give them a call.
World Eye Bookstore, Greenfield, MA