We are delighted to be celebrating the release of the beautiful picture book Night Wishes! In this enchanting poetry collection, Lee Bennett Hopkins and thirteen other poets imagine the wishes whispering through a young girl’s bedroom as she falls asleep. Stunning illustrations by Jen Corace offer new details to discover with every reading.
One of the poems included in this collection, “Pillow,” was written by Matt Forrest Esenwine, a poet, writer, and voice actor. We had the opportunity to interview him and discuss poetry, inspiration, and the writing process.
What made you decide to become a writer?
I had been writing poems, short stories, and skits since I was a kid and have had numerous poems published in various literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. Over the years, I accumulated several children’s poems I didn’t know what to do with! So in 2009 I decided to make a concerted effort to become published in the children’s literature field. I joined the SCBWI, began attending a local monthly critique group, and eventually connected with Night Wishes anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, who included my poem “First Tooth” in his children’s anthology, Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams). Lee also introduced me to the woman who would become my editor for my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), Rebecca Davis.
What’s a typical workday like?
Atypical. (Ha!) As a stay-at-home dad, my days consist of me trying to remote-school two elementary-school students while attempting to do house chores like that pile of laundry sitting over there, or the dishes, which are inexplicably growing exponentially like some sort of horrible math word problem. In-between all that–and after the gardening, baking, and yard work–I usually manage to fit in a couple of hours of work, checking emails or writing a few lines of a poem or picture book manuscript. It may not seem like I’m getting much done, but I’ve managed to sell two manuscripts since COVID hit, so I’m kind of afraid about what might happen once things get back to normal!
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
The easy answer is ‘everywhere,’ but it’s true. As you might guess, my kids are a constant source of inspiration, but so is Nature (we live with trees all around us, a brook behind our property, and Mt. Kearsarge looking down at us). I’ve written poems and books about dinosaurs, rainbows, farm equipment…so anything I see or experience is fodder for a story!
What qualities do you look for when taking on a new project?
I think I have only one prerequisite: it needs to be intriguing! The way I look at it, if I enjoy the process, hopefully the reader will enjoy the result. And I had a lot of fun imagining what a child’s pillow might be thinking as the child is falling asleep.
Do you have a favorite medium or style?
I love poetry and have written more poetry than probably any other genre–and that’s what got me into this business in the first place. I love the camaraderie and almost family-type of attitude of so many children’s poets, and it’s really my favorite form of writing. I suppose that’s why a majority of my picture books are either in rhyme or lyrical prose!
How much research do you do before you begin to write poetry?
It depends on the subject. I didn’t need to research my poem “Pillow” for Night Wishes, but I did have to put myself inside the mind of a child’s pillow–which was different and fun! Conversely, I spent a great deal of time researching dinosaurs for Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids, 2018), and weeks and weeks of research for an upcoming poetry anthology I’m editing for Eerdmans.
Do you have any advice for would-be authors and poets?
Learn the craft, learn the business, get your work in front of people, and try to meet as many folks as you can. Jane Yolen’s BIC Rule (“Butt In Chair”) really works–you won’t get anywhere if you don’t Do. The. Work.
What characteristics do writers need most?
Tenacity, certainly-it takes a lot of rejection before you’ll probably see your first book, so a writer needs to be prepared to get back up and keep going in the face of adversity. (This is why I never save my rejection forms—they are deleted or tossed out as soon as they arrive). A writer also needs talent, of course, which can be taught—but one also needs to learn patience, persistence, and a willingness to be a little more gregarious than many of us prefer to be!
What is your favorite image from Night Wishes?
Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t love my spread, ha! And I also love Lee’s because it’s a wonderful way to remember him. But honestly, I think the cover is my favorite – it just draws you in and sets the tone for the entire book. Jen did such a beautiful job!
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
I worked in radio for more than 20 years, both on-air as well as in production. I’ve hosted morning shows, dance-mix request shows, talk shows—just about every daypart in nearly every format, from rock to Top40 to country to talk. Little did I realize at the time, but as the production director for an 8-station group, all the commercials I was writing and producing were preparing me for my children’s lit career! When you’re dealing with 30 and 60-second commercials, every word, every breath, every beat of music counts—so word economy is paramount in telling one’s story. Just like in poetry and picture books!