Author Spotlight: Norene Paulson
Oct. 30, 2020
We are excited to feature author Norene Paulson and her debut picture book, BENNY'S TRUE COLORS, illustrated by Anne Passchier (Imprint), coming out Nov. 17, 2020. Enter to win a copy (US and Canada only)!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I credit my two sons for propelling me into the world of picture book writing. Early in my writing career I wrote non-fiction for kids’ magazines, but while reading Mercer Mayer Little Critter and Berenstain Bear books to my young boys, I fell in love with the way the sparse text and the art melded together to create the story like a puzzle where all the pieces had to fit together perfectly. I was fascinated and hooked.
Congrats on your debut picture book, BENNY'S TRUE COLORS. Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
Thank you! BENNY is the story of a little brown bat who looks like a bat on the outside but on the inside knows he’s really a butterfly. The story idea come to me when a friend noticed bat droppings in our front entry area. I just thought what I had been sweeping off the stoop was bird poo. Curious, I waited until dark one night, snuck out, and shined a flashlight up the side of the brick entry wall, and there about 12 feet up roosted a little brown bat.
Of course, at that point my creative-self kicked in, and I wondered “why?” followed by “what if.” WHY after dark was this little brown bat not out doing bat things like the other bats in the backyard? WHAT IF he was afraid of the dark? WHAT IF he hated the taste of bugs? WHAT IF poor echo location skills made him directionally-challenged? And then I had a lightbulb moment. WHAT IF inside he was really a butterfly even though on the outside he looked like a bat? How many times are assumptions made about people based on how they look? I was a middle school teacher, so I knew the answer. Too many times. And that is when I named that little brown bat Benny and sat down to write his story.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Definitely long and winding with detours. As I mentioned before, I started writing for kids’ magazines decades ago…literally. My first magazine article was published back in the early 1990’s. That how long I’ve been on this journey. I took a detour for more than a few years when I returned to teaching full-time at the high school level. Too many classic lit novels to revisit and too many advance composition papers to read and grade.
When I moved to teaching middle school, I knew I wanted to write picture books; however, in order to do that, I knew I had a lot to learn. I joined SCBWI, meet wonderful, supportive kidlit people, found a critique group, and began submitting and getting rejected. Again, it took me another decade+ to eventually become agented and sell my debut picture book. I’m the poster person for “Never give up on your dreams no matter how long it takes or how old you are.”
What projects are you working on now?
My second book WHAT’S SILLY HAIR DAY WITH NO HAIR? comes out March 1, 2021, with Albert Whitman. In addition to SILLY HAIR, I have multiple manuscripts out on submission and several new ideas swirling around in my head.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is it the same you'd give to other aspiring authors?
I wish I had taken my pre-published writer-self more seriously. I spent too many years thinking my writing wasn’t good enough for me to call myself a children’s PB writer/author. That was somebody else. I was just someone who wrote. Now I know if you write, you’re a writer. It’s that simple. “Claim it and proclaim it” is what I would tell aspiring authors.
Be patient and don’t internalize the rejections. They are the rungs on the ladder to success. Also I’d remind them that there is no expiration or “best if used by” date stamped on creativity. That first “yes” can happen at any age…30, 40, 50, 60 and beyond. It’s all about the right story to the right agent/editor at the right time. That’s why you have to keep putting your writing out there because you never know when it will be the right time for you.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
As a college freshman I received a failing grade on my first written assignment in my Intro to Creative Writing class. Yep, a big red “F.” I was devastated. All through public school, my teachers loved my writing and encouraged me and then my first English professor said I didn’t have a clue how to write. On top of that, when I asked her about the grade, she brushed me off as if trying to explain anything beyond her written comments would be a waste of time. In retrospect that moment more than anything else prepared me for the difficult moments in a writer’s journey. Rejection is part of the process, and I’m glad I learned early that not everyone will love everything you write, but that doesn’t make you less of a writer.
Where can people find you online?
You can learn more about me on my website www.norenepaulson.com, on Twitter @NorenePaulson, and on Instagram @nrpaulson.