Author Spotlight: Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia
November 5, 2020
We are excited to feature author Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia and her debut picture book, BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG, illustrated by Katie Hickey (Page Street Kids, September 8, 2020).
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I grew up in the rural Midwest surrounded by fields, blue sky, and a multitude of comical animals. I loved creating stories about the world around me. And I loved to read. Books were a way to learn about my world, but also a wonderful escape. After college, I wore many hats – a researcher, an elementary school teacher, and an audiologist. Most of the writing I did during those years was scientific and methodical in a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of way. Then, when my own children arrived, I rediscovered my love of creative writing. I loved reading story after story with them and watching them share stories with each other. Slowly with time, my love of writing for children grew and blossomed.
|Illustration © Katie Hickey 2020
Congrats on your picture book, BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG. Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
My idea for BESS came from my love of old barns. I have many wonderful memories of being in and around barns. As a child, I loved visiting my grandpa’s cows, feeding the mama cat and her kittens in our neighbor’s hay loft, watching the mama pigs feed their young, and jumping in the piles of hay. To me, barns were always a safe place to run to as the summer storms rolled in across the prairie. But what I remember most were the sounds the old barns made. With the rain pitter-pattering on their roofs and the wind humming through their boards - I was sure they were singing to me. It was comforting and felt like home.
Many years later, there was an old barn that sat perched on a hill on a city street I drove up and down each day. It seemed out of place surrounded by all the new. But for me, it was like seeing an old friend – familiar and comforting – home. Years past and the barn sadly succumbed to the urban sprawl around it. When it did – my heart broke. It left me wondering what stories that barn could have told? What had it seen? Who had it sheltered? What if its story ended differently? And with that Bess’s story was born.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
My road to publication was definitely a long and winding one. I have always loved picture books. I fell in love with them again as I read to my young children - so much so, I wrote my first picture book draft in 2007. It was horrible. I had no idea what it took to write for children, but I was determined to find out. I read books on craft. I also read oodles of picture books, middle grade, and YA. I attended writing conferences through SCBWI, I actively joined in the wonderful and supportive Kid Lit community, and of course, I continued to write.
When I submitted BESS to Page Street Kids in September 2018, I had received my fair share of rejections. And to be frank, I really wanted to quit. I had been actively working on my writing and submitting for about six years. I started to question whether I was cut out for it. I truly believed in BESS and it had received favorable peer and professional critiques, but it wasn’t resonating with editors. But at the urging of my husband, I decided to submit it one last time. And… on Monday, October 15th, 2018, I was waiting for to-go order when my phone buzzed. It was an email from Page Street Kids. I sighed and thought, I might as well get this over with. I assumed it was a “thanks, but no thanks” email. Then, I opened it… “Dear Elizabeth, Thanks so much for sending your manuscript, CELEBRATION BESS, to Page Street Kids….Reading BESS felt like home to me...” It continued and was far from a “thanks, but no thanks” email. It was an offer to acquire and publish my story. I was so flabbergasted, I walked straight out of the restaurant without my lunch and didn’t realize it until I pulled out of the parking lot. ☺
What projects are you working on now?
I am working on two picture book manuscripts right now. I am excited about both of them. I am also trying to step out of my comfort zone and flesh out a draft for a middle grade novel…a first for me.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is it the same you'd give to other aspiring authors?
Work hard. Learn unceasingly. Have faith. Be patient. Your time will come.
Yes, but I would add --
Never say never. It is never too late to pursue your dream. I was 50 years old before my first picture book was published. I worked for over a decade on my writing before my manuscripts were considered for publication.
Read. Read. Read.
Believe in yourself and have faith in your work.
Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. (This is still the most difficult one for me.)
If you have done all of these things and done them well, then know with a sprinkle of luck…it’s only a matter of time.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
In my first-grade school picture, I had a scab running from my forehead to my chin. How, you might ask? As a child, I often visited our neighbor’s farm. They had barn cats and kittens that I loved to feed up in the hayloft. On one occasion right before the school year started, I was climbing up the ladder on the side of the corn crib that led to the hayloft, when my shoe slipped, I lost my balance and fell. I wasn’t hurt, but my face and knees were badly scraped up from the wood ladder. Needless to say, my first-grade school picture was never a favorite of mine. ☺
Where can people find you online?
I’d love to hear from you!! Feel free to reach out to me through my website: https://elizabethgilbertbedia.com or on social media. I am active on both Twitter and Instagram – my handle for both is @lizbedia.
Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert Bedia grew up in the rural Midwest surrounded by fields, farms and a multitude of jovial animals. She became a keen observer with a big imagination — always creating stories about the world around her. After college, Liz wore many hats — researcher, teacher, and audiologist. While raising her own children, she returned to her creative roots and started writing picture books. Liz lives in central Iowa with her husband, two children and two enormous dogs. Her debut picture book, BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG out now from Page Street Kids. Her second picture book, ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON from Upside Down Books/Trigger Publishing is out now in the UK. For more information, visit: http://elizabethgilbertbedia.com.
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