Author Spotlight: Jamie Deenihan
Feb. 7, 2019
Today we are excited to feature debut PB author (and friend!) Jamie Deenihan and her debut, WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (Sterling, March 5, 2019). Be sure to enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
As a kid, I always loved reading and writing stories and often wondered about the process of getting a book published, but never looked into it. I grew up and became an elementary school teacher and a mom who was immersed in picture books for most of the day. The growing collections of picture books in my home and in my classroom inspired me to dig out a few old stories I had written. I also started jotting down ideas for new stories and just like when I was younger, I found myself wondering about the process of getting a book published.
In 2014, my husband and I went to a free workshop at my town library, where I received tips about how to become an author. Thanks to Dawn Metcalf, the author who hosted the library event, I immediately joined a local critique group, became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), joined Julie Hedlund’s 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, attended the New England SCBWI Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, and participated in many online writing challenges including PiBoIdMo (now called Storystorm), ReFoReMo, and Twitter Pitch Contests. I learned a lot about writing and the industry in a short amount of time and was fortunate to sell a manuscript to Sterling on my own, through the slush pile, in 2016.
Thank you! My debut picture book, WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOUR A LEMON TREE, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, is about a girl who asks for electronic gifts for her birthday, but instead, receives a lemon tree from her Grandma. It’s a story that celebrates the pleasures of patience, hard work, community, and putting the electronic devices down just for a while.
This story was inspired by childhood memories of trying to grow citrus fruit trees at my grandparents’ house from the seeds we found in our fruit, growing up on a farm, and of course, the popular saying, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ In 2015, I was a first-grade teacher, picture book-lover, and parent of a three and four-year-old at the time. One day, I caught myself thinking about how funny it would be to give a kid a lemon tree for their birthday and see how they’d react. I scribbled down a few notes and that’s how the very first draft was born.
Ironically, I wrote the first draft one month before my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor which is when the story took on a whole new meaning and became a labor of love and source of hope for me and my family. Although my husband has health challenges and ongoing treatments to face, he carries on with strength and a hopeful outlook thanks to his incredible team of doctors and our family and friends who have been there for us every step of the way. So, although this story was written to be light-hearted and funny, I also hope that readers will be inspired to turn whatever lemons they’re facing, into lemonade.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
On paper, my road to publication might seem short and sweet. Isn’t it funny that five years in this industry could be considered short and sweet? Here’s an abbreviated version of my journey to my first book deal:
January 2014 – attended a free workshop at my town library and decided I wanted to be a picture book author
March 2015 – first draft of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree was created
February 2016 – submitted the manuscript to Sterling Publishing (slush pile)
March 2106 – Sterling Editor, Christina Pulles, asked for an R&R (revise and resubmit)
March 2016 – revised and resubmitted, then waited and received more rejections from agents
April 2016 – continued waiting and receiving more rejections from agents
June 2016 – received an offer from Sterling and signed with my agent, Linda Camacho
March 2019 – release date for When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree.
Looking at the list above, it may appear to have been an easy journey, but it wasn’t. I’m sure many of the readers here can relate in some way, but I was teaching full-time, raising two young children, joining several writing-related groups and trying to learn about the publishing process, and suddenly, I found myself managing my husband’s brain tumor diagnosis and resigning from a decade-long teaching career that I loved. It was total chaos but writing picture books helped me persevere. Writing was something I had control over and it allowed me to escape from reality for a bit.
I’m proud that I was able to sign with my agent, Linda Camacho, and sell five picture books between 2014 and 2019, but it was a lot of work and since I didn’t have a firm grasp on the publishing process, I felt like I was scrambling to figure everything out along the way. Honestly, I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, but I know how working as a picture book author makes me feel – like my best self and full of joy, so I’m going for it. My message to anyone doubting themselves or questioning whether they should become an author or try to accomplish some other goal that seems unattainable, is to stop wondering if you can do it and just go for it! Anything is possible and life is short, so be brave and jump in! And whether the road ahead is long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between, the journey will be worth it.
What projects are you working on now?
I have one manuscript out on submission that has received zero interest, so I will most likely be reworking that concept at some point, and I have about 10 works in progress that I’d like to get submission ready, but I’ve been struggling to find the time to dive in.
Besides writing new manuscripts, much of what I’m working on lately is getting ready for the release of my debut picture book, scheduling author events, and trying to get my website and school visit information organized. This type of author work is important, but I’m finding that I need more time to write. Since resigning from my full-time teaching position in 2015, I started teaching at a preschool in my town four mornings a week. I absolutely love the school, staff, and students, but I’ve decided that next year I’m going to take another step back from teaching and attempt to be a full-time author. This is a huge risk for me, and I could very well fail miserably, but I know if I don’t go for it I’ll regret it forever.
Wish me luck! (LUCK!)
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
The advice I’d give to my younger self is that it’s important to have goals but stop trying to control every detail of your life. Embrace the plot twists, create your own light even in the darkest moments, spend your time with people who make you feel like your best self, and do work that brings joy to your life.
My advice for aspiring authors is the same and if you’re just starting out, everything you do is going to be out of your comfort zone. Embrace it. I think taking risks is what helped me sell five manuscripts in five years. Remember all those things I got involved in right away? I was terrified!! I didn’t know what a critique group was or what SCBWI stood for, and heck, the Verizon guy had to basically pry my flip phone out of my hands when the time came to upgrade to an iphone so I could start building an online presence. But with each risk I took, I gained insight into the writing process and the industry, made meaningful connections with people, and gained confidence in myself. Wherever you are in this process, you can do this. Believe in yourself and go for it!
What is something most people don't know about you?
Most people don’t know that I’ve only had one job interview and it was the worst interview in the history of interviews. If you don’t believe me, contact anyone who was on that panel and they will gladly confirm it was a horrendous experience for everyone involved. Fortunately, the panel based their decision on my performance within the classroom and school community during my year-long student teaching placement, and I got the job. I went on to earn a Harold Grinspoon Teacher Excellence Award and remained in the same first-grade classroom for ten years. It was in my first-grade classroom where I first shared a draft of what would become my debut picture book. Memorial School will always have a special place in my heart.
Where can people find you online?
I’d love to connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @jlbdeenihan, or through my website (which needs a lot of work – don’t judge!) www.jamiedeenihan.com
Jamie L. B. Deenihan is a teacher and picture book author who lives in Suffield, Connecticut with her husband and two children. Her upcoming picture books include, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree (Sterling/March 5, 2019), When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox (Sterling/Spring 2020), The New Bird in Town (Avenue A Books, June 2019), Tooth Fairy VS. Santa (Penguin Workshop, Fall 2019), and Tooth Fairy VS. Easter Bunny (Penguin Workshop, Spring 2020).
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