Author Spotlight: Mary Wagley Copp
We are pleased to feature author Mary Wagley Copp and her debut picture book, WHEREVER I GO, illustrated by Munir D. Mohammed. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, April 21, 2020)/
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First of all, thank you for having me on Kidlit411! I have followed you from Day 1 of my writing life and I appreciate your informative and encouraging posts.
I have had a very winding path leading to writing for children. And I’ve loved every juncture along the way! After getting my MPH in Health Policy and Administration (with an emphasis in nonprofit management), I went to work for a national management consulting agency that focused on strengthening social justice nonprofits. That led to jobs as executive director of two nonprofit health organizations. Three children in close succession kept me happily busy until they were in all in school. We moved to Ecuador for a few years where I taught AP Psychology. In turn, that experience led to producing documentary films.
Reading to my children throughout their young years and producing films reaffirmed my belief that storytelling, in all its forms, is an entertaining, connecting and healing activity that can plant so many seeds of wonder and empathy. After a few films – and one of them inspired my debut story - I decided to try my hand at writing. And with my own kids grown and fledged, I am sure I wanted to re-live and re-connect to the delight and magic of children.
Thank you! It is so exciting to have a book out in the world and I am immensely grateful to all who have been involved in this process! WHEREVER I GO was inspired by a film I produced about the journey of refugees and the process of resettlement. The fictional story is about courageous and creative Abia. Of all her friends, Abia has been at the Shimelba Refugee Camp the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. Papa says that’s too long and they need a forever home. Until then, though, Abia has something important to do. Be a queen.
I have been involved in the resettlement feeld in my community for many years but it wasn’t until I visited a camp (in northern Ethiopia) as part of the film team that I had the idea (which I tucked away for years) to share some insights in a children’s book. The real inspirations were the children in the camp – their joy, curiosity, courage – amidst such difficult, daily challenges. And as an ESL teacher in my community, I hear so many stories of journeys and hopes and new lives – all so amazing.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Well, I’d say it was probably somewhere in between. I started studying the craft of writing in earnest about 2014 and my debut came our April, 2020. There were definitely bumps (rejections) along the way, and there still are, but also enough encouragement, and determination, to keep me going. I took my manuscript to a writing conference in 2016 and met an agent there who was interested (not so much in the original but in my revision) and I signed with her a few months later. A deal came fairly soon after – again, though, amidst rejections!
What projects are you working on these days (and can you concentrate)?
Good question on the concentration front! Every day is different. I always can focus if I have revisions, and I’ve had a few to work on. I have a few manuscripts on submission so fingers crossed! Two have asked for revisions so that is encouraging.
On the creative side – coming up with new ideas during this unprecedented, chaotic and enervating moment in our lives – has been more challenging. I always have a few darfts in different stages, though, so I re-visit them as I await new sparks for story ideas.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Oh, there are so many little pieces of advice that have helped me along the way. I think the most important one - and I remind myself of this often - is to LISTEN. Really listen, openly. Listen to your critique partners, mentors, editors, agents. Listen when you read – for sounds, pacing, tension, etc. And, perhaps most important of all, listen to your heart. What is the story you want to share? And what is the deeper dimension of that story? Inherent in listening is openness and receptivity and compassion - that allows for so many possibilities.
Also, stick with it. Determination and stamina are musts!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I can recite, with great speed, several ‘spoonerisms’ and I know the MIT football cheer by heart - (I was a math major so the formulas in the cheer are easy to remember!)
Where can people find you online?
FB: Mary Wagley Copp
Besides writing for children, Mary teaches ESL to newcomers in her area. She lives in Westport, MA with her husband, their dog, Rosa, and too many chickens. Mary loves to long-distance swim and to garden. She has 3 grown children who are spread out within the US – so, she loves to travel, too!
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