Author Spotlight: Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Sept. 6, 2019
Today we are excited to feature author Marcie Flinchum Atkins and her debut picture book, WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE (Millbrook Press, Sept. 3, 2019). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
By day, I’m a teacher-librarian in a Title 1, International Baccalaureate (PYP) elementary school, and I’ve spent more than 20 years in education as a classroom teacher and librarian. I’m also a mom, a wife, and a writer!
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I loved writing as a kid, and I chose to be on the yearbook staff over taking trig and calculus in high school. I went to a very small high school and doing both wasn’t an option then. It was the right choice for me. I knew that the push I was given back then to write clear, concise, and accurate articles for my yearbook advisor would pay off for me down the road.
One summer, I took a class with the Southwest Virginia Writing Project. I got graduate credit for writing, and I remembered how much I loved writing. The following summer, I started graduate school at Hollins University studying children’s literature where we focused on criticism and creative writing.
Still, I wasn’t making a ton of time for my own writing outside of these classes. After my second child was born, I realized, I wasn’t going to have gobs of time for the next 18 years. If I wanted to write, I’d have to figure it out. I started writing for kids more diligently—in the small cracks of time I had.
Congrats on your debut picture book, WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE! Tell us about it and what inspired you?
When I taught fourth graders, we talked about plants and plant dormancy. I loved using picture books as read-alouds in science when I could. I found NOTHING on dormancy for kids. I started researching, thinking I’d write a short nonfiction article that they could read in class. I wrote a draft of what became WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE. It’s definitely a classic case of “write what you want to read.” I needed this book for my students, so I wrote it.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
The road to publishing this book was something in between. I sent it out and got a few rejections. They liked the writing but weren’t sure about the market. I put it aside, thinking it might be a book someone would like to buy after I had a few more books under my belt.
When Carol Hinz at Lerner put out a call for submissions for STEM picture books that could be photo-illustrated, I felt like it would be a good fit. I love Millbrook Press/Lerner books. I use so many of them in my library. I had never thought about photo illustrations, but I greatly admire April Pulley Sayre’s photo illustrated books, and I thought mine had a similar feel. Within a few weeks, I had an offer from Millbrook. I was thrilled! That was in spring 2018. The process itself has felt fast, compared to what publishing is usually like. Sixteen months after acceptance, it’s out in the world!
Do you focus on writing nonfiction pictures books, or do you also write fiction? What are a few research tips you can share with other nonfiction PB writers?
I write a little bit of everything—poetry, fiction, nonfiction. Nonfiction is really fun for me. So far, it’s the only thing that I’ve published. I write work-for-hire books for publishing companies and also for educational companies. I write fiction picture books and novels as well.
These are research tips that help me. I hope they’ll help others:
I utilize Google Alerts a lot for research, especially in the “I’m-thinking-about-writing-about-this” stage of gathering researching. I explain that whole process here. http://www.marcieatkins.com/2019/07/08/research-tip-using-google-alerts-for-preliminary-research/
Whenever you find a great source that you know you’ll want to use across multiple projects, save it or bookmark it. I created a Google Site so that I could see the links from any computer. https://sites.google.com/view/marcieatkins-research/home
Type up your notes. For a historical fiction book I’m working on, I made hundreds of handwritten notecards. However, when I needed to go back to find something, it took me forever! I’ve started typing up my notes into Scrivener. Now, when I need to find something, I can use the search function! It has saved me tons of time.
What projects are you working on now?
I am currently in various stages of the writing process on a few nonfiction picture books. I am also revising a historical fiction novel. And, I’m tearing apart a middle grade novel I love and re-envisioning it from the ground up. I’m still in the brainstorming-in-a-notebook stage for that, but it’s been very freeing to let the old plot go and discover new possibilities.
What are the one or two best things you did for your writing career? Is this advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
I have built my writing habit into something that works for my schedule. I work full-time and have a family with two active kids. I make time for my writing. It’s that important to me. Sometimes that looks like writing 20 minutes in the car while I wait for practice to be over. Most days, that means I’m out of bed between 4:30-5:00am to write before going to work. It’s easy to get discouraged and think, I’ll never get anything done in 20 minutes a day. But writing consistently—even in small increments—really DOES add up over time. Figure out what works for you—maybe it’s getting up a half-hour earlier than your family. Maybe it’s packing a writing bag. Make sure you treat it like it matters.
I’d also recommend surrounding yourself with writing community. Long before I had anything published, I got involved in a critique group, volunteering with SCBWI, and going with friends to writing events. Those writer friends know how hard the path is. They are the ones I called when trying to navigate choosing an agent. They are the ones I text when I’m discouraged. And they are the ones who have celebrated with me when I’ve had good news! Writing friends are a vital part of my writing life.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m terrified of chickens. I was attacked by a rooster multiple times as a teenager. If I see a chicken—even a baby chick, I’m heading the other way. I once wrote a picture book with chickens as the main characters, and that’s about as close to chickens as I ever want to be.
Where can people find you online?
My website: www.marcieatkins.com
Marcie Flinchum Atkins is teacher-librarian by day and a children’s writer in the wee hours of the morning. She is the author of ANCIENT CHINA (ABDO, 2015), the “Rookie Get Ready to Code” series (Scholastic Children’s Press, 2019), and WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE (Millbrook Press, 2019). She holds an M.A. and M.F.A. in Children's Literature from Hollins University. Marcie writes picture books, novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She lives with her family outside of Washington, DC.