Author Spotlight: Risa Nyman
July 24, 2020
We are excited to feature author Risa Nyman and her MG debut, SWALLOWED BY A SECRET (Immortal Works LLC January 21, 2020)
Enter to win a copy!
|cover design by Ashley Literski|
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
My path to writing fiction was not direct or predictable. For years, I wrote press releases, grants, op-ed articles and testimony on public policy issues for the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, an organization dedicated to promoting active participation in our democracy. Among other positions, I served as president of the Massachusetts League and Chair of the Diversity Implementation Task Force for the League of Women Voters of the United States.
After I retired, my creative writing kicked off when I found three pennies stacked on a windowsill on my last sad walk through my mother’s empty apartment. I was certain there was a magical message in those pennies that would make a great picture book. Aware that I had no clue how to begin, I signed up for online courses, workshops and conferences to learn the craft. One thing I discovered fairly quickly was that my writing voice and passion belonged in middle grade. The pennies picture book will have to wait.
Congrats on your debut middle grade novel, SWALLOWED BY A SECRET. Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
In SWALLOWED BY A SECRET, 12-year-old Rocky overhears his mom admit her explanation about how his father really died was bogus. Now along with his grief, Rocky’s trust in his one remaining parent starts to unravel. Determined to crack open the secret, Rocky partners with his new friend Olive, who offers to be his sous sleuth. Although the pair’s schemes go bust, they embolden Rocky to embark on a journey of risks, eavesdropping and snooping to discover the truth about the father he thought he knew.
The inspiration for this story started with an impactful event in my community. While writing, many questions floated in my head about whether it is ever right to keep a secret even for good and loving reasons. Can holding on to a secret be a burden? Do opening up secrets sometimes have unintended consequences? I wanted the reader to grapple with these issues as much as I was while writing.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Unlike so many writers, I have the luxury of being retired which gives me more freedom than those who juggle family responsibilities and day jobs. When I read about authors having to join the 5:00 AM writing club on Twitter to find time, I’m in awe of their dedication.
SWALLOWED BY A SECRET’s road to publication started with a Twitter pitch, encapsulating your story in 240 characters is a challenge. Twitter pitch parties are a fantastic way for new writers to be noticed. An acquisitions editor from Immortal Works, a small traditional publisher based in Utah, liked my pitch and asked to read the manuscript. When her email arrived offering publication, I had to reread it until I was 100% sure I was reading it accurately. I replied with a resounding YES!
What projects are you working on these days (and can you concentrate)?
Concentrating at this time, like for most people, is super difficult. At first, I thought the pandemic stay-at-home orders would mean writing nonstop without temptation to go anywhere, but it was difficult to stay focused. After two weeks, I needed to give myself a kick in the you-know-where to get back to work.
Then, the protests and turmoil came which increased the challenge to keep your head in the game and that your writing is important. Fortunately, I wasn’t starting something new, and I’m near the end of revisions for my next novel. I’m pushing ahead.
My current work is a stand-alone sequel to SWALLOWED BY A SECRET. I didn’t start out to continue Rocky’s story. It just happened, and before I knew it, Rocky was a year older and again facing a momentous life change. This book is tentatively titled SPOOKED BY A SUSPICION.
Your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
I love contemporary middle grade books that grab your heart and never let you go. Katherine Paterson’s classics, THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA are my all-time favorites.
A few recent middle grade novels that should be at the top of everyone’s to-be-read list are WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW by Cindy Baldwin, GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN by Alicia D. Williams and ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. They are full of emotion with characters that stay with you long after you read the words “The End.”
What advice would you give to your younger self, and is this the same as you'd give to aspiring authors?
In my younger years, creative pursuits were not usually encouraged and often were considered too impractical. My advice to aspiring creatives in whatever field they are in is to shrug off any negativity and stay on their path. Your artistic creations will fill a special place inside you that should not stay empty.
I would like to tell aspiring authors that the writing community is made up of exceptionally generous and supportive people. On any social media platform, you can reach out for help, suggestions or just plain encouragement when you need a boost, and they are there.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
So my hidden secret, which I have previously revealed to a very few, is that I find ironing therapeutic. It helps me decompress, and the sheets look great too! When I have mentioned this to others, I get the odd stares and confused eyes or a request to drop off their ironing to help me relax.
Where can people find you online?
You can find me online on my website https://www.risanyman.com and on my Facebook author’s page at https://www.facebook.com/risanymanauthor/?modal=admin_todo_tour.
My Twitter handle is @risanymantweet and @risanyman on Instagram. I’d love to connect with everybody.
Born in Boston with the accent to prove it, Risa lived within ten miles of the city for decades until a recent move to the neighboring Ocean State.
For many years, Risa worked in a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting active participation in our democracy, with a special focus on voting and elections.
Risa’s deep dive into creative writing started with finding three pennies in a neat stack in a completely empty apartment that belonged to her mother. It’s a long story.
When not writing, Risa is reading, exercising or doing therapeutic ironing – unless the grandchildren are around.