Author Spotlight: Terry Pierce
Dec. 11, 2020
We're excited to feature author Terry Pierce and her recent board book, LOVE CAN COME IN MANY WAYS, illustrated by Suzy Ultman, (Chronicle, October 2020). Be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
I was a Montessori pre-primary teacher for twenty-two years before I started writing for children, so I’ve always enjoyed working with kids. Around the same time that my school closed, I started seriously thinking about writing children’s books.
I loved reading to my students and like many people, thought writing a picture book looked easy (Boy, was I wrong!). I’m a planner so I decided to give myself five years to get a children’s book published. I joined the SCBWI, dedicated myself to learning the craft, and treated writing as a full-time job. I initially tried writing picture books, but my first published book was a joke book (because I loved them as a kid and thought they might be fun to write). Four years into my writing journey, Island Heritage Publishing published my first picture book, Two Tales of Hawaii. I like to let people know that it took 160 rejections before I got my first “Yes!” I kept every rejection letter in a file folder labeled, “Learning Experiences.”
Congrats on your recent book, Love Can Come in Many Ways. Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
Thank you! Love Can Come in Many Ways was born out of an unlikely place. Politics. After the 2016 national election, I was deeply saddened at how the civil discourse in our country had deteriorated. To put it simply, many people just weren’t being nice to each other! I found myself wanting to write about something positive. Perhaps this was to lift my own spirits, but I also wanted to create a book that would make children feel good about the world.
I decided to write about love. It’s a broad theme, so being a huge animal-lover, I thought animals would be great topic. It was uplifting to research the book by looking at photos of animals showing affection, particularly animal parents with their babies. This was one of those research experiences when I had to make myself stop because it was so fun! I also created word lists—animal parts used to show affection (wings, trunks, arms, tails, etc.), acts of affection (hugs, cuddles, kisses, snuggles, etc.) and ways in which animals show affection. Once I had completely immersed myself into it, I began writing the full manuscript.
I should note that when I saw a photo of mother and baby giraffe facing each other, my opening immediately came to me. “Nose to nose or gaze to gaze, Love can come in many ways.” At that moment, I knew the manuscript would be in verse. And I also knew the rhythmic pattern. I scanned the lines and put the scan marks at the top of my paper as I worked on the other couplets. It took about three months of joyful writing for me to get a polished draft. I sent it to my agent at that time and we sold the manuscript three months later to Chronicle Books.
To my surprise, Chronicle wanted to publish the manuscript as a novelty board book using felt flaps. I was thrilled, as I’d always thought about writing novelty books. They wanted one of their amazing illustrators, Suzy Ultman to illustrate the book. I think her fun, whimsical artistic style works perfectly for little ones, who love to seek out tiny art details in a book. Now, my hope for the book is that parents and their little ones everywhere will enhance their strong, loving bonds through reading Love Can Come in Many Ways.
You've been publishing a long time. How has the industry changed since you started?
I’ve seen a few changes implemented over my years. The economic crash of 2008 forced some big changes, as publishers downsized their staff (and acquisitions). To me, it became harder to sell a manuscript (I was agent-less at the time) and many companies adopted the, “If you don’t hear from us in XX months, it’s a pass” policy. I understood why they did this, but it also took something away—writers getting feedback on work that was “close but not acquired.” Additionally, due to the downsizing, editors were being more selective about what they bought. After about a year of struggling with the new reality, I decided to take two years off from writing and get my MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
After I graduated in 2011, the business seemed to have many more agents, which was good for writers but it also seemed to have made it harder to sell your work to major publishers if you were agent-less. Luckily though, there are still quite a few mid-sized and small independent presses that don’t require representation to submit.
And then there’s Covid-19. People are suffering through the pandemic in different ways, but I will say one positive writing-related thing that’s come out of the it are all the virtual opportunities for writers and illustrators. I live in a remote area of California, so it’s been helpful to stay connected through virtual conferences, webinars, etc. The SCBWI, The Writing Barn, universities, and other groups have done a fabulous job of adapting to a virtual format.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m anticipating the release of my next board book, Eat Up, Bear! (Yosemite Conservancy) next spring. Spoiler alert: It’s adorable! I’m also working on a second board book manuscript and a picture book manuscript, which I’m hoping will interest the Yosemite Conservancy. I live 40 minutes from Yosemite National Park, so they’re a dream to work for! I’m also tackling a humorous chapter book series for young readers, something brand new for me.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I’m going to pass along the best advice I ever heard as a new writer, given by the late, fabulous Kathleen Duey. She said, “Learn the craft before you learn the market.” Such great advice! If you learn the craft of writing and develop your writing skills first, you will save yourself disappoint and time later. And there are so many opportunities to learn the craft! KidLit 411 is a treasure-trove of information. The SCBWI got me off to a strong start. And there are so many writing courses available now (full disclosure: I teach online picture book writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program). And now, serious writers have options for low-residency MFA programs. There are so many learning opportunities out there!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
After I graduated from college, my husband and I hiked the John Muir Trail from Yosemite National Park to Mt. Whitney one summer. We walked 270 miles in five weeks, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much about myself during that time—my determination, persistence in achieving a goal, physical and mental strength. Any time I’m feeling challenged in life I think back to that experience and know I can achieve anything if I set my mind to it.
Where can people find you online?
Thanks for asking! Folks can find me at my website, Facebook, and Twitter.
TERRY PIERCE is the author of twenty-five children’s books, including the ever-popular Mama Loves You So, Soccer Time!, My Busy Green Garden, and Tae Kwon Do! (2007 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books). Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle) is her first novelty book. Terry was a Montessori teacher for twenty-two years before deciding to follow her dream of writing for children. She now writes full-time and is a UCLA Extension Writers’ Program instructor. Terry holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has been an SCBWI member for twenty years. Terry lives in Mammoth Lakes, CA and is an outdoor enthusiast, enjoying backpacking, hiking, and rock climbing.
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