Happy pub day to Erin Peabody and her spectacularly reviewed A WEIRD AND WILD BEAUTY: THE STORY OF YELLOWSTONE, THE WORLD'S FIRST NATIONAL PARK, which publishes tomorrow, and to Katherine Fleet on her exciting YA book, THE SECRET TO LETTING GO, which debuts today!
Take a look at Erin's Kirkus and Publishers Weekly review, and read her interview below!
Tell us a little bit about your background and what made you want to write this book.
I’m a nature enthusiast who grew up hiking, camping and spending time outdoors. Like so many who grew up in the 1970s and earlier, I enjoyed a fair amount of freedom playing outside. As kids, my neighborhood pals and I spent summers roaming the woods, prying fossils out of the dirt, building forts and picking giant bouquets filled with daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace. There were fewer fears then about stranger dangers, etc.—and we benefited enormously from those experiences. That juncture of nature, freedom and imagination can be pure bliss.
From there, I went on to study environmental science in college, then onto to an internship with the National Park Service in Yellowstone that set me on my current path. I worked several years as a park ranger interpreter (or educator) connecting visitors to the incredible natural, cultural and historical resources of our country. The rewards of those experiences were so great, that when planning started for the National Park Service Centennial a few years ago, I knew I wanted to share something with young people—and adults too—about the origins of our parks and how unique the concept is to our country. The National Park Idea is a feel-good American story, something that’s too rare in these overly politicized times.
What was researching the book like? Can you tell us how you chose to write the story in a way that would be interesting for children, and some more adult information about the park's history that didn't make the cut?
I enjoy researching immensely! Probably too much. For me there comes a point where I must acknowledge that I’ve pretty much exhausted all the materials associated with my book’s topic and start synthesizing and writing. Nonetheless, I think good nonfiction writing requires you to be almost obsessively familiar with the characters, events and historical periods featured in your story. This frees you, creatively, to construct a narrative that’s both compelling and as true to the facts as it possibly can be. A compelling narrative is the key to any great story—that’s true for both kids and adults. Good storytelling is an art, but there are great resources out there that can help writers deconstruct the process and present the facts of their story in more meaningful and entertaining ways. One good source is: “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism to Everything in Between” by Lee Gutkind. Even better is reading authors whose work inspires you. For me, for instance, that’s John McPhee, Rachel Carson, and Erik Larson.
What are some things you've learned about the publishing process that you wish you'd known before you began the journey?
All the conventional wisdom on this topic is true, but I’ll just add: write. Write sooner, write more, just write! For every opening paragraph or closing one, for instance, you want to feel as if you’ve exhausted all ways of using your words to make the most impact, of engaging your reader the most.
Also, more mundane, but if you’re responsible for acquiring the images and photos for your story, do so early and often. It was a major time commitment of mine.
And in general, don’t be afraid to reach out to your editor with any questions. The sooner you can develop a solid rapport with him or her the easier it will be to discuss concerns or difficult issues that may arise.
Tell us about your experiences being with a small publisher. Do you have any advice for writers who are thinking about signing with a small press?
Quite positive. I think, and as my agent so wisely pointed out to me early on :) it’s the relationship you have with your editor that is most important, regardless of the size of their house. And, as mentioned, feel free to voice any concerns or questions you have. The more earnest your communications, the more feedback you’ll enjoy.
You've been experiencing a lot of interest from both adults and children about this project. What do you think it is about the history of Yellowstone that attracts so many different kinds of readers?
I think the nexus is really nature. Americans have a curious relationship with the outdoors that I explore in the book. That our Euro-American ancestors feared wilderness, detested it, associated it with witches and sorcery, is rather provocative. It took Americans time to develop a connection to the woods, mountains and deserts—places we ultimately praised for their ability to invoke wonder and awe, and for their capacity to restore and heal too. National parks are Americans’ ultimate expression of our relationship with nature— our acknowledgment that “weird and wild beauty” is vital to our lives. Yellowstone was our first national park. It’s a place that still amazes—that beckons people from all over the world for a chance to see a spontaneously erupting geyser or wild wolf or grizzly on the prowl. Where else can you do that?
What are you thinking about working on next?
Fearful fungi. The strange, bizarre-looking ancestors of our modern-day crops. Animals, like fish, locusts, bees, and even humans, that school, swarm and crawl en masse.Not sure which one. Whichever piques my curiosity the most!
Any advice for non-fiction writers out there?
Stay curious. Read. Write about something ONLY if it's a topic you won’t grow bored with. You will dedicate a few years of your life to it—it must excite you!
And now for Katherine's interview for THE SECRET TO LETTING GO, which officially releases today! Isn't her cover gorgeous?
For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
Hi everyone! I’m originally from Newfoundland, Canada, but I’m now lucky enough to live in the Caribbean with my husband and three kids. I love to travel, read and bake. I started writing because I was constantly making up elaborate stories in my head, so I figure it was time to start writing them down!
What was your road to publication like?
Long…really…long. I wrote my first novel in 2003, submitted it and was rejected. At that time, I was really busy with a career and young kids, so I put the writing on hold. In 2007, we moved to Curacao, and with more free time, I committed to the goal of becoming published. I wrote an adult paranormal, a YA paranormal, and then the contemporary YA that is debuting today. But even after finishing “The Secret to Letting Go” in early 2013, it took a solid two years of querying, rejections and revisions, before attracting the attention of Carrie and Entangled Publishing in late 2014.
After the contract was signed, were there any unexpected aspects of the publishing process that surprised you?
I wouldn’t say that there were any surprises, but I’ve definitely learned a lot about the publishing process. It’s longer than most people realize – from signing a contract to release day. There’s also a lot of responsibility on the author to be pro-active with respect to marketing and promo. I’d been told this before and read about it, but I didn’t truly realize how time consuming these activities can be.
How do you think your manuscript has changed since you started working with your editor?
It’s definitely stronger. I was very lucky to work with an editor (Karen Grove) that had a vision for the story that matched my own. I knew the latter half of the book needed work, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the problem. Karen quickly and clearly identified the issue, but never told me how to fix it. She left that part to me, which was perfect.
Did you feel like you were involved in the various stages your book went through? What kind of input did you have?
I definitely felt involved in all the revisions the book went through. As I mentioned above, editors at Entangled were great at pointing out concerns, but letting me come up with revisions that addressed the issue. I was also asked for input on cover design and other aspects of promotion and marketing.
What part of the publication process has been the most interesting/fun? What part has been the hardest?
I really enjoyed the revision process, because my role was clear and I could see the improvements in the book with each round of edits. In my day job, I work as a technical editor, so I also just enjoy the editing process. The hardest part was after I finished the edits and before I started actively working with the promotion team. There’s a gap between the time you finish revisions and when the promo really kicks in, where it feels like you are in limbo, just waiting for something to happen. In my personal life, I like having control and tend to micro-manage, so I’m sure I’ve probably driven the promotions team crazy with all my questions and e-mails.
What have you had to do to promote your book? How important do you think social media is in promoting THE SECRET TO LETTING GO?
I had to do my part to make sure my social media presence was as strong as I could make it – so making sure my website was up-to-date and picking social media forums to focus on. I personally like Twitter and Instagram, so that is were I am most active. My gut feeling is that social media is very important in book promotion. It’s certainly where I find the next book I want to read, so I assume other readers, especially YA readers, are also getting their book recommendations online.
Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?
Be patient, but also be clear in what you want. I like that you (Carrie) encouraged me to come up with my “dream” marketing plan as a starting point for conversation with my publisher. Also, I’m finding it hard not to obsess over the preliminary feedback I’ve received about my book – ARC reviews, comments by bloggers, etc. It’s a very surreal feeling to know that strangers are reading your book and making their own connections with the characters and plot you’ve created. I’ve talked to other authors and they’ve experienced similar feeling. So happily it’s not just me! I was starting to feel a little crazy. Fortunately, they tell me it will pass.
What's a fun fact about yourself?
Hmmm…I have two fun facts. First, I learned how to fly a glider and a plane before I finally learned how to drive a car. Second, I love over-the-top, Hollywood-
explosive, kick-ass, cheesy-one-liner action movies. I don’t even care if they are bad. I will still go and see it, because then I get to make fun of it for years to come.