Author Spotlight: Reese Eschmann
August 19, 2022
We are excited to feature author Reese Eschmann and her debut middle-grade novel, ETTA INVINCIBLE (Aladdin July 2022).
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|cover/interior art: Gretel Lusky. Designer: Laura Lyn DiSiena.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Hi! My name is Reese Eschmann and I'm the author of the middle grade contemporary fantasy Etta Invincible and the chapter book series Home for Meow. Thanks for having me!
When I started writing, I wrote part of a YA novel first, then part of a novel for adults. Neither was really working, and looking back, I'm so surprised I even tried to write for older audiences! I was working in elementary schools as a social worker at the time, and when I decided to try writing books my students could read, it just felt right. Now I'm writing middle grade and chapter books, and I can't imagine myself doing anything different! I love the freedom in middle grade that allows authors to tackle emotional coming-of-age themes and difficult situations in the middle of a fun, rollicking adventure!
Congrats on your debut MG novel, Etta Invincible! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you! Etta Invincible is a story about a young aspiring comic book writer who's grappling with a recent diagnosis. Lately, she's been feeling like pretty much the opposite of the superhero in her stories. But then she befriends a new student at her school, Eleazar, and together, they begin to notice strange things happening in their neighborhood that no one else can see. When Eleazar's dog disappears onto a mysterious, magical train, Etta has to summon her inner hero to help him. Onboard the train, they discover a series of riddles and challenges that must be solved before they can rescue Louisa May. The train's magic is malfunctioning and spreading fear through the streets of their home. Etta and Eleazar are the only ones who can save the city, Louisa May Alcott, and each other!
There are so many things that inspired this story: my own experiences, my love of stories and superheroes, and the kids I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with—kids with big feels and big dreams, trying to figure out the meaning of home and friendship and how to follow hurt with healing. Here's an extra fun inspiration though: When I was in graduate school, I would take the elevated train in Chicago to campus. In December, Chicago has something called the "CTA Holiday Train" which is a festive, decked-out train car covered in pulsing string lights that sometimes surprises people on their daily commute. It's such a bright contrast to the other gray trains and the equally-gray winter days, and it also struck me as strange that you could just have this zany, fun experience in the middle of the day, but then you still have to get off the train at your stop and go about your business as usual. I wanted to write something just as weird and magical and (seemingly) impermanent. I want readers to see the train as I do: filled with endless possibilities, a place to return to over and over again. But I also want them to know that sometimes coming back to face the real world after going on an adventure is the most magical thing we can do.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I think it was something in-between! Etta Invincible was the first novel I completed, and I was fortunate to be able to work with mentors (shoutout to Jessica Vitalis and Julie Artz!) who helped me through multiple rounds of revision. The most challenging part of the publication rollercoaster came during querying for me. I received multiple R&Rs from agents, and it took me a long time to rework my book and gather the courage to query again. I thought about leaving my author dreams behind more than once, and I'm so grateful for the people who supported me and didn't let me give up on Etta's story. Then my agent, Danielle Burby, saw something in my work, and she's been an amazing advocate for my writing career ever since!
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
Some of my favorite classics include The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle In Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Little Women. Little Women especially influenced my writing—the dog in Etta Invincible is named Louisa May Alcott after the author, and there are a few references and quotes from the real Louisa May Alcott that encourage and inform my characters on their journey through the magical train.
Some of my recent favorites include The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera and A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. Both of those have everything I love in a book: beautiful writing, speculative elements, endearing characters, and the kind of emotional depth mixed with whimsy and hope that is at its best in middle grade stories. And I'm not sure whether this is recent or a classic, but When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is always a favorite—and the book that made me want to write middle grade.
What projects are you working on now?
I have two more books in the Home for Meow series releasing soon! Kitten Around releases on September 6, and Two Fur One releases on February 7, 2023. I'm also working on a few middle grade projects at once: a co-authored book, a graphic novel, and another contemporary fantasy.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
The most important thing I've learned from writing Etta Invincible and Home for Meow is how important perseverance and community are for people pursuing a career in writing or publishing. There have been so many times during this process when I've been close to giving up, but both Kira and Etta are characters who persevere when things get tough, and their stories remind me that I can keep going, too. I'm incredibly grateful to have a wonderful support system of agents and editors, friends, family, and other writers around me to encourage me and give feedback when I need it. I wouldn't be here without them! So my advice to my younger self and to aspiring authors would be that it's okay to lean on other people and trust them when you're struggling. Writing doesn't have to be lonely or solitary, and, as Etta says in Etta Invincible, perfection isn't real—you shouldn't feel pressure to make your book "perfect" before sharing your accomplishments with others (because any writing is an accomplishment!)
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Okay, answering this question has made me feel like I'm an open book! I think people know a lot of things about me—maybe too much! But one thing people might not know is that I'm someone who's always read the back of the book first—but I'm trying to change! I'm currently in the process of trying to learn (aka force myself) to read books from first page to last, and it's really hard haha. There's a point in the middle of many books where the plot gets so tense that I just really, really want to find out what happens at the end to ease my own worry for the characters. But I recently read two books without skipping to the end—progress!
Where can people find you online?
Reese Eschmann holds a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois-Chicago and worked in schools for six years. When she's not writing or taking naps, Reese enjoys rock climbing, baking, and making movies with her family. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and their hound dog. She is the author of Etta Invincible and the Home for Meow series.