We had the opportunity to interview poet and author Rebecca Grabill. Some of her books include Violet and the Woof (HarperCollins), Halloween Goodnight (Atheneum) and A Year with Mama Earth (Eerdmans). She lives in Michigan with her husband, six children, and two cats.
What made you decide to become an author?
Summer evenings I would drift to sleep with the click-clack of a typewriter floating through my open window. My mother was a former teacher and wrote stories for children’s magazines, so stories, books, and writing were always part of my life. And I was always writing—journals, letters to pen pals, silly poems, notes to pass in class. Writing was what I did to process my thoughts and feelings, to remember things that needed doing, to communicate. I’m not sure I could pinpoint the time when that constant need to write turned into desire to become an author, to share my writings publicly. It was likely many small events like seeing my mother’s published stories, placing my first short poems in the elementary school annual anthology, and other gentle nudging.
What’s a typical workday like?
I’m up at 8:30am and relax on the verandah for a solid six hours of writing in—5:30am, my alarm goes off and I slap snooze once, sometimes twice. I make my bleary way to the kitchen table where I read, pray, study (and drink coffee) before the kids get up. By seven in the morning my husband is on the way out the door to take the teens to school, and my day officially begins. Rushing the preschooler to the bus, homeschool math and language arts, history and Spanish, then driving children to activities or speech and occupational therapy appointments. Most days I’m home by about two, and I can usually convince my children to spend two hours outside, or doing crafts, or bickering without (much of) my involvement while the preschooler rests in bed. That’s when I write. By four I need to get something started for dinner or take care of/clean up from all the crises and messes that built up during the previous two hours. I always hope to have another hour after the younger set of kids is in bed, but most evenings I’m proofreading my high schooler’s lit assignments, chatting with them, or am too tired to form comprehensible words, let alone whole sentences.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I buy them off eBay. Just kidding! They come from life, from my children, the news, things I read or watch or remember from childhood, from the inside of a cereal box, the back of a gum wrapper, everywhere, anywhere. They come from the imago dei, from my reflection of a creative God who shaped me in His image and called me, as He calls everyone, to create as only I can.
How many books have you published?
I have three picture books published: A Year With Mama Earth (a lyrical trip through the seasons), Violet and the Woof (a mashup of Little Red Riding Hood and Where the Wild Things Are), Halloween Good Night (a counting book where all the cutest creepy creatures come for a visit). I also have a book of poetry and photographs: Sweetened Condensed about motherhood, daughterhood, and life as a writer, and a super fun Sci-Fi one-act play for kids published in the UK called A Whole New World and a handful of essays and poems.
Do you have any advice for would-be authors and illustrators?
Keep a notebook with you at all times, give yourself freedom to write badly, read everything, live and love life, celebrate rejection, pray without ceasing, never ever quit.
What characteristics do writers need most?
I think one thing authors need is unflinching honesty to both tell the truth in a story (even when it’s hard or inconvenient) and to evaluate one’s own work. They need courage to slay favorite sentences, and tenacity to keep going when it seems like eons since the last success. And finally, an author needs faith. This is the biggest one. Although markets have trends and careers have ups and downs, it’s the Lord who directs our careers, who opens doors and who closes them, and who moves all things according to His purpose.
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
Hmm, good question. I’ve performed mime on three continents. How’s that?
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Favorite things… (see what I did there? I made it plural!) I adore my community of writers. You are my people, my tribe! I love you! I also love the sense of purpose that pushes me out of bed every morning (or keeps me out of it when I really should be in it at night) and the deep satisfaction I feel after a good day at the keyboard. A day when I wrote even one sentence that’s not total rot is a very good day.
What do you find difficult working as an author?
I struggle with balance—parent, educator, chauffeur, teen-drama counselor, chef, housekeeper… There’s not enough of me to go around, and some things are always left undone. Always. I also struggle with impatience, and with the double edged sword of community—comparing my career with those of others, especially those who can move more quickly because they aren’t balancing so many other vocations.
What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?
My favorite creative inspiration involves watching and reading in genres not even remotely related to what I’m writing. For example: when I was working on a contemporary novel, my reading was almost exclusively fantasy and nonfiction, and I binged a lot of Star Trek. Plus Jane Austen, because, Jane Austen. Right now I’m working on a Sci-Fi manuscript, so I’m reading quite a bit of poetry, some historical fiction, and more Jane Austen.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Without question, it’s the times when a parent or caregiver says that my book is their child’s absolute, all-time favorite. One parent (with a wee bit of fatigue) said her child asks for Violet and the Woof night after night after night after night. And at one book reading, a little boy knew Halloween Good Night so well he was laughing in expectation of certain lines—he knew the funny parts were coming! I had my own favorites as a child, and it fills me with awe that something *I* wrote could be that favorite for even one child somewhere in the world. It’s also pretty cool that A Year With Mama Earth was recently translated into Italian!
What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?
To answer that, I’ll first say that it’s now an industry expectation that authors are also marketers, public speakers, bloggers, web designers, and social media influencers. So I have a little math problem: An author who is also a parent, spouse, and educator (because most of us have day jobs!) has carved out two hours a day to write. If she spends 26 minutes on her professional Instagram to nurture her following, 41 minutes drafting a blog post, 8 minutes saying something smart on Twitter and Facebook, 19 minutes fixing a broken line of code on her website, 16 minutes emailing her agent, publisher, advertisers who have an opportunity she Can’t Afford to Miss!, 39 minutes trying different passwords for a locked social media account, 23 minutes creating a Facebook promo event and spamming all her friends with invitations (two will RSVP, one will attend—a fellow author who already owns all her books; they’ll drink wine and laugh together), and 20 minutes wondering why her latest YouTube video only has sixteen views (all of which are probably her grandmother), how much time does she spend writing?
Being a professional author has very little to do with actual writing.
Tell us about A Year with Mama Earth? What inspired you to write this book?
I love poetry, and I love lyrical poetic picture books that do multiple things at once—books that give the reader something useful—be it information, emotion, an experience, do so with beautiful language, and can be read aloud several times a day without making the reader weary. I wanted to write that book. I also wanted to celebrate God’s creation in all its beauty, yet with the specificity of a single place (Michigan!), and to involve metaphor, personification, and invoke the many references in Scripture related to God’s nurturing of us and His caretaking of the earth—consider the lilies of the field…. A Year With Mama Earth began as a poem and grew, with Rebecca Green’s evocative and whimsical illustrations into something so much more.
What’s up next for you?
Right now my agents are looking for homes for a few things—more picture books and an early middle grade novel with a Ramona the Pest vibe and a faith-filled twist. My current WIP is a dystopian novel for adults, which may seem out of step with what I’ve done so far (it’s not—I have two unpublished fantasy manuscripts!) but is a story I feel compelled to write.
Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
Listen for the Still, Small Voice. Listen, trust, and obey. Find me at www.rebeccagrabill.com!
Written by Rebecca Grabill
Illustrated by Rebecca Green
In September, Mama Earth sighs out the first autumn frost, which crunches under children’s feet. Mama Earth looks after nature’s plants and animals throughout the year—singing lullabies to fat bears in the fall, dressing evergreens in icicles in winter, and waking up the crocuses in spring. And in the summer, Mama Earth sends warm sunbeams to her beloved children, so they can play outside and enjoy the amazing world around them.
With enchanting text and radiant artwork, A Year with Mama Earth offers a joyous celebration of nature’s beauty and the changing seasons.