Thursday, April 18, 2013

Interview with Nancy Viau

It's a slow Thursday. I work from home and I relish the quiet, but right now I'm battling an infection. It's so hard to be productive when your brain is in a fog. I'm taking it as a sign to slow down, let things slide for a bit. I've given myself permission to just curl up in bed and finish reading Water for Elephants.

Publishing Perspectives is a blog series I started that's all about seeking insights from people on both sides of the publishing fence ―the folks who work in publishing and the writers working toward publication.

Today I'm happy to welcome picturebook and middle grade author Nancy Viau to the series, and to the blog. Last October when I attended the Philadelphia Stories Push to Publish conference at Rosemont College, I heard Nancy speak on a Writing for Children and Young Adults panel. I remember nodding along vigorously and thinking, "This lady really knows what she's talking about." I recently reached out to Nancy and she generously agreed to this interview. Thanks Nancy!



Your debut middle grade book, Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head, was noted by reviewers for its humor. How did you go about writing such a spunky, funny, chatty heroine?

I took the experiences of my four kids, mixed them in with those of kids I observed in stores, schools, and on playgrounds, added in a little of young Nancy Viau (my brother will tell you I was loud), and tweaked everything together to create Samantha. A lot of Sam’s spunk comes from the fact that she’s a work-in-progress, and readers connect with that.

I read somewhere that you were initially dead set on writing picture books until a critique partner suggested you write for an older audience (This is the story of my life by the way). You've said that you "dabbled" in writing a chapter book and Samantha Hansen was born. What would you say to children's writers who are trying to figure out where they fit?

I would ask, “What kind of writing do you enjoy the most?” In order to answer that, you may have to experiment. Try writing poetry and prose—everything from adult mystery to teen romance, picture books to chapter books. Send submissions out and get feedback from editors. They’ll tell you if your writing sounds too old for middle grade, too young for YA, etc.

You glean inspiration from nature and it's a theme that runs through your work. Did you have a conscious moment when you realized you wanted to write stories with nature themes, or did it just sort of happen?

Sort of both. Take cookies, for example. They are in the pantry and since I (consciously) love them, I’ll eat a bunch. It just happens. Nature is all around, and since I’m an outdoorsy person who loves science and the natural world, I can’t help but write about it.

Look What I Can Do!, released earlier this year, is your first picture book. What new or surprising skills has writing in this genre/format added to your repertoire?

I’m surprised that I can write a story that makes sense using less than 200 words!

And your second picture book, Storm Song, was released just this Tuesday. Congrats! I haven't read it yet, but I already love it since I love anything to do with rain. Can you tell us what the book is about? Also how long did it take you to write the first draft?

Storm Song is filled with onomatopoeia that describes the beginning, middle, and end of a thunderstorm. The underlying theme is that storms are really very musical, and I thought that if I could get kids to see this, maybe they wouldn’t be frightened when a big storm looms over the hill. In the story, the family spends quality time together and even the dog relaxes a bit. The first draft took six months to a year. I’d work on it, put it aside, and then go back to it.

You managed to get an offer for Look What I Can Do! from Abrams while you were still unagented. Many writers wouldn't dare venture into that territory. What's your advice? 

The one proactive thing writers can do is to go to conferences and meet editors. Pick editors’ brains; find out what’s on their Wish List.

I was browsing the Where's Nancy? page on your website. You make a lot of appearances! What's the secret to a great author event, be it a book launch, meet and greet, book signing, or author visit?

1. Be prepared. Practice what you will do or say. 2. Stay in touch with the organizer of the event so there are no surprises on either end. 3. Be on time. 4. Show up with a smile and an energetic attitude (even if the traffic was horrendous, your kid got sick at the last minute, the hotel had bedbugs, or the parking garage was full). 5. Put the audience first and be grateful they have come to listen to you.

You're represented by Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. What would you say is the most important thing you've learned about working with an agent?

It’s really hard to find the right fit—someone who is your business partner and advocate; someone who understands and respects your passion and the fact that you are not perfect; someone who sees value in your writing and your ambition. What I’ve learned is that you don’t settle for an agent who offers anything less.

You started the KidLit Authors Club which brings together published children's book authors from from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and surrounding states. What, for you, has been the most rewarding aspect of running this group?

Oooh, where to begin…? There are so many rewards! The best part is that, given any moment of the day, I am surrounded by people who have a common goal—getting the word out about our books. We share info and opportunities without hesitation, and it’s that team spirit that has led to our success.

And lastly, what's the most fun or rewarding thing (or both) about being a children's author?

I can act like a kid and no one can say it’s not part of my job.




Nancy Viau is the author of Look What I Can Do! (Picture Book/Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013), Storm Song (Picture Book/Amazon Children’s Publishing/formerly Marshall Cavendish Children’s, 2013), and Samantha Hansen Has Rocks In Her Head (Middle-Grade Novel/Amulet Books, 2008). Her stories, poems, and activities appear in Highlights, Highlights High Five, Ladybug, Babybug, and many other magazines. She is a member of The Authors Guild, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and The KidLit Authors Club—a regional marketing group she started that consists of published authors who bring interactive book parties to bookstores, libraries, festivals, and conferences. You can follow her on Twitter at @NancyViau1.