Author Spotlight: Michael Armstrong
Dec. 18, 2020
Today we're excited to feature author Michael Armstrong and his debut picture book, THE BEST DAY EVER, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans (Sterling Children's Books 2020). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
Most of my career has been in nonprofit management, but I’ve always enjoyed writing. And I honestly never considered writing picture books. Then, when my daughter was born I became a stay-at-home dad, so I was constantly reading her picture books. Some were really great. Some not so much (in my totally subjective and uninformed opinion). Eventually I had that thought that so many parents have: I bet I could write picture books.
Anyway, shortly after I started working on my first book, I realized how hard this process actually is. I spent the next five years reading books, taking classes, going to conferences, and doing whatever I could to learn the craft. I still have a lot to learn.
Congrats on your debut picture book, THE BEST DAY EVER. Tell us about the book & what inspired you.
OK, so here’s my horrible elevator pitch: It’s the last day of summer vacation and ever-so-ambitious William has one goal left on his list: have the most fun ever. And being the type-A kid that he is, William attacks his “problem” with meticulous precision. Unfortunately, his next-door neighbor, Anna, keeps interrupting him with her outlandish ideas. William dismisses her each time. But as he struggles to accomplish his goal with time running out, William begins to wonder if maybe Anna knows something he doesn’t.
|© Églantine Ceulemans
Basically, Best Day Ever is about letting go of control and finding joy in the chaos. To a lesser extent, it’s also about being open to new ideas from people who are different than us. Often times, the bigger the difference, the more there is to learn.
And this is a personal story for me because it was inspired by my early experiences with my daughter. After I became a stay-at-home dad, I took it VERY seriously. Every moment felt important, and I wanted to make the most of each one. Like William, my approach was very businesslike. And my daughter was and is this wild, free-wheeling kid. I was always over-planning and over-structuring her days. Then one day I was watching her play with a stick in the backyard, and she was having the best time ever. And that’s when the light bulb finally went off for me. I needed to loosen up and let her – and, in turn, myself – be imaginative and find joy in the moment.
It seems so obvious – even embarrassing – in hindsight, but kids will teach you those kinds of things if you pay attention.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Not to be dramatic, but I would say long and winding…and painful. I met the editor who liked my manuscript at a small SCBWI conference. Six months and several revisions later, he acquired it. So far, so good.
But then he left the publisher. I was immediately worried that my book would get shelved, so I flew to New York to meet with my new editor. Then she left. Then two more left. I’m now on my fifth editor. Each time I was convinced that they would drop my book (thanks, imposter syndrome). And then…COVID-19. My release date only got pushed a month, but I had spent six months putting together a marketing plan that included over 30 readings and signings, all of which got canceled.
That said, it did get released and I’m thrilled with the response I’ve received. Still, I think children’s book publishing might have broken me. 🙂
What projects are you working on now?
Not as many as I should be. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but mine has had a lot of extra wrinkles that have consumed most of my time and energy. That said, I’m excited to get back to work on several projects with a new and very different mindset. Simply put, last year I was worried that I would never publish another book – probably not uncommon for first-timers - so I was trying to write things that I thought would appeal to my publisher. But after this year, I don’t really care what anyone thinks. I mean, I’ll listen to critique partners and editors, but I’m going to write what I want to write. And when.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
Yep. Write. Emotionally detach. Get feedback from honest critique partners. Get cheerleaders, too, if that helps. But also get honest, brutal feedback. Rewrite. Repeat.
I’ve never had a story get worse because of a rewrite. Mine always get better. But I’m a task-driven person, so I’m always in a hurry to get things done. I’m sure other people hang on to stories too long, continually tweaking things that don’t need to be tweaked. That’s not a problem that I have.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
That’s tough. I’m an open book, so my friends know pretty much everything about me – and probably wish they didn’t. Maybe it’s that I once I start eating Wheat Thins, I can’t stop. Seriously. It’s a problem. During this interview, I’ve eaten an entire family-size box. I’m not joking. Family. Size. This may very well be a cry for help.
Also, I’m Batman.
Where can people find you online?
Twitter and Instagram: @wrongarmstrong
After beginning his career as a marketing professional, Michael Armstrong changed course and joined the nonprofit world. He served as the Executive Director of The ALS Association, The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and other nonprofit organizations.
When his daughter was born, Mike left his job to become a stay-at-home dad. Soon after, he began writing children’s books and rekindled his love affair with Play-Doh. Today he is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and is represented by Curtis Brown, Ltd. His first book, Best Day Ever, was released by Sterling Publishing in June 2020. When he’s not negotiating screen time with his daughter, Mike spends his time procrastinating about home improvement projects in Cleveland, Ohio.
You can learn more about Mike at www.michaeljarmstrongbooks.com.
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