Author Spotlight: Marsha Diane Arnold
Dec. 2, 2016
Today we are excited to feature the award winning picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold in the Author Spotlight!
Welcome, Marsha! Be sure to enter her giveaway for her book WAITING FOR SNOW!
Please tell us how you got into writing and writing for children.
Two months before my firstborn entered the world, my husband and I moved into our dream home, a new house we’d built on three bucolic acres in idyllic Sebastopol, California. The name of the street we’d live on for 35 years was McGregor Lane. I always thought it was serendipitous that I moved to a lane with the same name as a character created by one of the most beloved children’s writers of all time – Mr. McGregor of Beatrix Potter fame. Perhaps that’s why I started writing for children. But that’s probably just my author’s imagination getting carried away.
Maybe a better explanation is that I was a stay-at-home mom once my second child arrived. All day long I was surrounded by children playing, fantasizing, making messes, and gushing joy. Their escapades and worldviews inspired me to write a weekly newspaper column, homegrown treasures. I wrote the column for 10 years, until the year my first children’s book was published. Coming up with a new idea every week for ten years was good writing practice! Many related to my columns: one reviewer said of it: “She finds a universe in her backyard.” That’s what I’m still trying to do as I write children’s books - find a universe in our backyards.
You have been published as a picture book author for over 20 years. How has the industry changed over the years? How have picture books changed?
Thanks for that reminder of my age!
If you look at my first book, HEART OF A TIGER, which is still my top award winner, then look at my most recent books, like LOST. FOUND. and WAITING FOR SNOW. I think you’ll have a good indication of how picture books have changed. They’re shorter!
HEART OF A TIGER is about 1500 words long. LOST. FOUND. Lost. is 18 and WAITING FOR SNOW about 300.
There are other changes in picture books, many having to do with changes in our culture. Some books have a mean edge I don’t recall seeing 20 years ago. Yet our children have the same needs they always have – the need to be loved and have self-worth, to understand the value of friendship, to care for others and the earth. I touch on some of these points in my two-part blog at The Children’s Book Academy, “Achieving the Honorable in Children’s Books.”
The industry has changed in many ways. A changing culture, economy, and technology, along with e-books, apps, and self-publishing have contributed to these changes. But in some ways the industry stays the same. It is still populated mostly by wonderful people whose priority is to create uplifting books filled with fun and inspirational characters.
Your book, LOST. FOUND, is nearly wordless, and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. How did you write an almost wordless manuscript?
I certainly didn’t set out to write an almost wordless manuscript. The beginning images of LOST. FOUND. came to me in an early morning dream.
The beginning and the middle changed only slightly from first draft to final, but I had several possibilities for the ending, until I came up with the perfect one, that elicited Matthew Cordell’s perfect ending illustration. My first draft was a series of 16 sentences with the words “Lost” or “Found” following each sentence. So from the very beginning, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell with just a few words, emphasizing the theme rather than words: the unraveling that can happen in lives and the beauty of a community knitting things back together again.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The hardest part of writing is getting started. There are so many issues and questions involved at the beginning.
Who in the world was that who wrote the 3 starred review LOST. FOUND.? It surely couldn’t have been me.
What makes me think I’m a writer, anyway?
Will I ever be able to write another story again?
You know, those kind of issues and questions.
What is the easiest part?
The easiest part of writing is seeing the sales announcement in Publishers Weekly. Hmmm. I guess that’s not really a writing part.
Okay. The easiest part of writing is sending my story to my agent to submit. Hmmm. That’s not really a writing part either and come to think of it, it’s not that easy. I change most of my manuscripts several times after I’ve sent the story to her.
Okay. There is no easy part. Unless you count falling in love with your characters. That’s easy. But getting them to behave in a way that will sell their story. Hard.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
So many aspiring authors want to know published authors’ secrets.
We have no secrets.
We have no secrets.
Success in publishing is about researching the business of writing, reading the best of children’s literature, joining SCBWI, having patience, purpose, and perseverance, and....writing.
It’s also important to remember what I always tell students during my school visits. I show them an image of 13 Noes, the number of rejections I received for my first book before I found an editor who loved it as much as I did. At the very center of the Noes is a tiny “yes.” As they search for the yes, I tell them, “It only takes one ‘yes’ to be on the path to where you want to be.”
Can you tell us about your books that are coming down the pike?
In February, Charlesbridge will be releasing my first ever board books – Baby Animals Take a Nap and Baby Animals Take a Bath. The illustrator is Phyllis Limbacher Tildes.
Hush! Hush! I also have two new stories recently bought by two different publishers, but I can’t share about them quite yet. Soon!
I will share that many in my writing groups told me to abandon one of the stories because, although lovely, it wasn’t commercial enough. So, don’t give up on the stories you are passionate about. My agent found the perfect editor for my story and guess what – I think my editor is even more excited about the story than I am! Remember, it only takes one “yes” to be on the path to where you want to be.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
My life is pretty much an open book.
Let’s see. If you read “Meet Marsha” on my website, you’ll discover I went to a two-room country school house, but I don’t think most folks know that when I was 10- years-old I climbed the “ladder stairs” of a ninety-foot silo with two of my slightly older friends, and my neighbors and I were always playing on the roof of our two-story red barn. Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this on a kid lit site. Caveat – Don’t try this at home!
Where can people find you online?
My readers can always find me at www.marshadianearnold.com. There’s lots of information there about my books and moi.
Currently I write a monthly blog for Children’s Book Academy as a Blogonaut. My last blog was on “Achieving the Honorable in Children’s Literature.”
Marsha Diane Arnold is a multi-award-winning picture book author, with over one million books sold. The media has called her a “born storyteller."
Her first book Heart of a Tiger won the Ridgway Award for Best First Book by a New Author. Other awards include Smithsonian Notable Book for The Pumpkin Runner, three times Dolly Parton Imagination selection for Roar of A Snore, and Junior Library Guild Selection for her recent three starred-reviewed Lost. Found.
Marsha enjoys visiting schools internationally and nationally, sharing her love of books and writing. Her popular Writing Character-Driven Picture Books class is available by clicking the link.
When not creating imaginative worlds and wacky characters at her home in Southwest Florida, Marsha enjoys traveling the world, scuba diving, and (like her characters) always trying new things.