Author Spotlight: Elisa Boxer
March 6, 2020
We are excited to feature picture book debut author, Elisa Boxer and her book THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger. (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2020).
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
As a painfully shy child, I remember always feeling at home in the pages of books--the ones I read and the ones I wrote. I had so many big feelings that I didn't know how to express out loud, so having these larger-than-life characters come alive in my imagination... I think that gave me a kind of safe haven.
The irony is, I ended up being a television reporter, expressing and communicating out loud every day! But that shy, sensitive kiddo is still in there somewhere, and I've always been drawn to stories of underdogs and people finding their voice against the odds. For example, I did a series of stories on abuse victims at a state school for the deaf here in Maine. These were literally people who couldn't speak, finding justice and finding their voice after so many years of silence.
Throughout my journalism career, I had amassed paper files and computer files full of children's book manuscripts. They just hadn't seen the light of day. Then about three years ago, I finally got up the nerve to start submitting. And my first book is about a little-known figure in history who not only found her voice, but helped all American women find theirs...
Congrats on your debut picture book, THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE. Tell us about this story and what inspired you.
Thank you so much! I'm a big fan of Kidlit411 and so happy to be here! I can't believe it's actually my release month.
One hundred years ago, after decades of pounding the pavement, women were finally given the right to vote. The book tells the little-known story of the mother who saved suffrage. She did that by writing a letter to her son, who just happened to be the swing vote for the 19th Amendment. Illustrator Vivien Mildenberger has done an incredible job bringing the characters and scenery to life. Her art has a unique, old-world feel. It really gives you the sense of being back in Tennessee in 1920, watching this historic moment unfold!
Although I've always been passionate about women's rights, the inspiration for this story came from my agent, Steven Chudney. He sent me an email back in 2018, letting me know the suffrage centennial was coming up in 2020, and asked if I'd be interested in writing a picture book about it. Having always been drawn to the stories of unsung heroes, I began researching little-known figures in the women's suffrage movement. I found the story of Febb Burn and her son Harry, and instantly felt that pull of a "YES!" in my gut.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Definitely long and winding. I will be 49 when my first book publishes. So keep at it!
My very first job out of college was actually in publishing: I was an editorial assistant for the textbook company Addison Wesley (remember those grade-school books where you had to rate the condition, inside the front cover?) Working with the writers, however, made me realize how much I wanted to be writing. So I left that job, became a newspaper reporter, and spent the next 15 years writing and reporting for newspapers, television stations and magazines. That whole time, though, I was going to SCBWI conferences and writing picture book manuscripts, but never submitting them. Some are handwritten, which tells you how old they are!
Fast forward to three years ago, when I finally decided to see if I could make it as a children's book author. I queried several agents, signed with Steven Chudney, and we sold THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE to the amazing Sarah Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press. I couldn't have asked for a better home for my first book!
What projects are you working on now?
I have four more picture books and a middle grade in the works, all featuring unsung heroes. At the beginning of my book- writing journey, I couldn't work on more than one project at a time. But now I actually prefer to have multiple projects going at once, so if I momentarily lose my mojo on one (it happens almost daily), I can pick up another.
What research tips would you give to aspiring nonfiction picture book writers? What general advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Gather more information than you think you could ever need! And then gather more. I tend to go a little overboard here. When I'm in the research phase of a project, I pretty much hole up and read books, call experts, surf the web, and print out pages nonstop. Then I'll write facts, quotes and ideas on dozens of index cards and spread them out over every surface in the house. I sometimes forget to eat during this phase.
My personal method is to absorb all of the information and know it so well, that I could outline and tell the story without looking at any notes. I think it harkens back to my journalism days of researching often complex topics and then distilling them down to a bite-sized stories. While this very left-brain process is going on, I am also thinking about themes, subtext and heart.
The heart brings me to the next part of your question, about general advice. And that would be to never lose sight of the heart of your story. What's the message you want readers to internalize? For THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE, my message to every child is: Your voice matters.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I was in a Stephen King movie. Back in 1998, I was anchoring the morning news in his hometown of Bangor, Maine, and he asked me to play a meteorologist in his upcoming tv miniseries Storm of the Century. Here's the trailer. I pop in around 30 seconds in. Fun fact: the actual meteorologists at the station made fun of me because I held my hand the wrong way as I was gesturing toward the weather map. Apparently, you're supposed to keep your palm facing the wall? 😂
Where can people find you online?
facebook: Elisa Boxer, journalist & author
Elisa Boxer is an Emmy-winning journalist and columnist whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Inc. and Fast Company. She has been a newspaper, magazine and television reporter, and has been writing stories for children for as long as she can remember. Elisa lives in Maine, and you can visit her at http://elisaboxer.com/.
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