Author Spotlight: Sara F. Shacter
Sept. 20, 2019
Today we are excited to feature author Sara F. Shacter and her picture book, JUST SO WILLOW, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (Sterling Children's Books 2019) in the author spotlight.
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
As a kid, I loved to make up stories. At one point, I had a notebook in which I wrote The Adventures of Inspector Toenail. (If I’m remembering right, he actually was a toenail…) However I was not one of those kids who filled diaries with deep thoughts, wrote nascent poetry, or drafted novels, and I certainly never considered becoming a writer, with a capital “W.” That seemed impossible.
I went on to major in English – after all, a college degree for reading great books? Sign me up! I then taught high school English for ten years. But I still had stories in my head, and every story featured a child. Somehow I found SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), which inspired me to work on my craft during the summers. When my twin boys were born, I chose to stay home with them. So I resigned from my teaching job and pursued writing full-time.
Congrats on your picture book, JUST SO WILLOW. Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
A gorgeous winter day inspired me, plus the childhood memory of my attempts to tiptoe on freshly fallen snow so as not to ruin it with footprints.
JUST SO WILLOW features Willow, a polar bear who likes things “just so.” She irons her underwear. She straightens her spaghetti. So when a storm covers her backyard in a clean, smooth blanket of snow, she’s determined to keep it that way—in spite of all her Arctic neighbors sliding, stomping, and creating a lumpy, bumpy mess. The dramatic question at hand: Will Willow stick to her precise ways, or will she join in the messy fun? (I’m guessing you can guess which way the story goes!)
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Definitely long and winding! I wrote my first (terrible) picture book manuscript in 1988. My first published children’s piece – an article in ASK Magazine – came out in 2002, and my first picture book was published in 2006.
People outside of our industry don’t appreciate the learning curve. To write for children, you have to hone your craft as much as you would for an adult audience, but you also need to get into the headspace of a child. It is an awesome responsibility to create stories for such important readers. Hence, it’s imperative to put in the time and get it right.
What projects are you working on now?
I am currently revising two picture books, drafting a new one, and working on the plot of a middle-grade novel. I have one completed middle-grade novel with my agent (fingers crossed!).
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you’d give to aspiring authors?
Relax. (Good advice for me now, actually!)
And yes, this definitely applies to aspiring authors. You don’t have to be perfect out of the gate. You don’t need to publish before you’re 30. Enjoy what you accomplish each day, and soak in the encouragement you receive. In fact, sometimes there are advantages to a slow boil. If I had sold JUST SO WILLOW twenty years ago, I would not have known nearly as much about the industry, nor would I have had as many connections. But now I can take full advantage of all I’ve learned to effectively launch Willow into the world.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
When I was a kid, I liked to drive my younger brother nuts. One of my tricks was to cut my Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli in half so I’d have twice as many as he did. It was a great ruse until he got older and wised up.
Where can we find you online?
Sara F. Shacter’s work has appeared in publications such as Highlights for Children, ASK, Click, and World Book's Childcraft Annuals, as well as in several anthologies. Sara has also served as a contributing editor for ASK and World Book. She looks forward to the publication of her second picture book, Just So Willow (Sterling, 2019). A former teacher and active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Sara lives in Chicago with her family.
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