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by Heidi E.Y. Stemple

This is the dedication from my new book ADRIFT, available September 7, 2021 Oct. 26, 2021 November 9, 2021*:

For my mother Jane and my daughter Maddison—in their own boats in this same storm. And the two beautiful friends who helped make this a book: Nina before the story and Hannah after.

OK, I know that’s a weird way to begin a blog post. And, frankly, this might be a totally different (weird?) way to introduce a book. But, stick with me.

In the early days of 2020, just as I was about to get on a plane and teach writing in Alabama with my mother (author Jane Yolen) then visit my daughter Maddison in Georgia on the way home, the world ground to a halt. We were locked down. I was alone and scared. I am not ashamed to admit, I spent many days pacing and crying. I know my experience isn’t unique. We were all, in our own ways, struggling. Families were stuck inside together or kept apart from each other. Educators were scrambling. Creatives were trying to figure out how to create through the stress and uncertainty.

In a conversation one evening, my friend Nina—the one from the dedication (Nina Victor Crittenden, a talented author/illustrator) said to me “we may be in our own boats, but we are all in the same storm.” I know she didn’t make it up, but the metaphor stuck with me. I went to bed thinking about that storm. And, I woke thinking about it. After being an author for 26 years, I knew that was my brain telling me to write that story. I opened my computer and typed, “One tiny mouse on one tiny boat pitched back and forth, adrift on the churning seas…”

I often write just for the sake of writing. Clearing out what is in my head. I wrote a lot of poems about my fears during the pandemic. They were never meant to be published—a deep cleansing breath of words onto the page. When I couldn’t stand the sadness of being so far away from my daughter, I wrote about doing yoga with her over Zoom. I still can’t read this without crying.

Gratitude

The best part
of my day,
is filled with
pain.
One thousand miles away,
my daughter opens a room
on the internet
and I enter.
She instructs me to breathe,
in and out.
In and out.
And I do.
But, my breathing
is not for centering myself.
Oceanic breath
means nothing to me.
My pranayama
is a long sigh
of relief.
One more day she is healthy,
even if too far away
from me.
I do all the poses
and stretches
and impossible bends.
In truth,
they are getting easier
for these old bones.
But, I would walk across
hot coals
if that’s what it took
to see her face,
hear her voice,
know she is safe.
Close your eyes,
she instructs. Think
of something you are
grateful for.
I should be thinking
inward.
I should be one with
the intention.
But, I am bad
at yoga rules.
I look across those
one thousand miles
into those
oceanic blue eyes
and I know exactly what
I am grateful for.

©2020 Heidi E.Y. Stemple

That first morning, writing ADRIFT was like that. The purging of anxiety onto the page. In that white hot writing—the first draft when you are madly chasing along after the plot without having any idea where your character is taking you—there is just story, not yet book. I think I read it to friends over Zoom that night. I remember tears. Mine. Maybe theirs, too. Who knows. There were so many tears in those early days. We all needed that deep cleansing breath. It probably wasn’t particularly good, yet. But, it resonated. Like Little Mouse in my story, the contact with my own community was so necessary. So healing. My friends encouraged me to try to sell it. First, of course—revision.

Revision, my mother will tell you, is the opportunity to re-imagine, re-envision your work. When I am grumpy about revising—and I am always grumpy about revising—I remember that.

Then a funny thing happened—one of those things that, if you wrote it in a novel, your editor would tell you it’s not believable. But, it happened nonetheless. Michel Moushabek, the publisher of Interlink/Crocodile Books either posted on social media or emailed my mother (these stories get murky as they get further in the past) and mentioned the quote that Nina had said to me. He asked if she would consider writing a picture book based on it. She said, funny you should ask, I have just read that manuscript! My agent sent it right away.

Hannah Moushabek is a marketing genius. This isn’t my opinion. Look her up. She is presently working for Simon & Schuster (who did not publish ADRIFT but did publish my other 2 books that came out this year, TOUCAN WITH TWO CANS and PEOPLE SHAPES). In her (very) spare time, she acquires and edits picture books for Interlink/Crocodile. She is the Hannah in my dedication—who helped me after the story. Hannah found Anastasia Suvorova who created evocative, deeply moody, hope-filled illustrations. Anastasia created a color arc to the story that made visual what I had written. Blue-gray to peachy pink—fear to hope.  Hannah took my words and Anastasia’s illustrations and created a book.

That should be the end of the story, right? Today my book comes out and people get to read it! Yeah!

Ha!

Nope.

* As we know now, 2021 had its own ideas of how it would unfold. Enter a new storm—global supply chain issues. ADRIFT was supposed to come out September 7 when the pandemic was over and we were hip-deep in our long-awaited joyous celebrations of togetherness! None of that happened. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and we are not fully back together. Also, you may have noticed, September 7 has come and gone. And, if you check Amazon today, you will notice that the pub date is now November 9, 2021. This change happened just one week ago. I am lucky—we saw this coming and moved the pub date, the first time, back in July. And, I am a patient sort (who has been in the book business a LONG time), so while this last-minute change is inconvenient, I have decided it just means I will celebrate ADRIFT’s book birthday for the full two weeks between today and November 9th.  Others, friends with books tied to anniversaries and holidays, specific days meaningful to their stories, have not been so lucky—in their case, ‘late books’ translates to substantial loss of sales. I mention this because I want to honor how hard it has been for everyone launching a book. And, I want to encourage you to not overlook books that are on backorder. We can all wait a little, right We book creators are trying to all keep our heads and spirits up and keep bringing you beautiful, hopeful, empowering, funny, gorgeous, silly, and thoughtful books. Sometimes it is hard. On days like today, or maybe November 9th, when my book is finally out in the world, on shelves, and in small hands, it’s much nicer.

This past year and a half has been so difficult on so many levels. But it also helped me slow down and reprioritize my life. It made me look at community, including the 4 amazing women in the dedication of ADRIFT, in new and important ways—those moments where I, like Little Mouse, have held my loved ones “close enough to feel them near, but not close enough to crash.” Honestly, ADRIFT is my hope for our future—for every kid to know that alone and afraid may be part of life, but there is always something wonderful to look forward to after the storm—metaphoric or real.

Have I not told you enough about the book itself? Probably not. Sorry. Here’s the elevator pitch:

Finding himself alone and scared in the middle of a storm, a small mouse finds comfort and strength when he sees another boat and is joined by others. They ride out the storm together―close enough to see each other, but not close enough to crash. In a gentle metaphor for the global pandemic, ADRIFT is a way to start conversations with young readers about fear, hope and being together even from afar.

I hope you love ADRIFT. I hope you share it with the children in your life. And, I hope my words and the magnificent art by Anastasia Suvorova give you hope and joy even when times are stormy.

Thanks for reading!

Thank you for sharing, Heidi!

Blog readers, don’t go drifting off! You can win a signed copy of ADRIFT!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published more than thirty-five books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

Heidi lives and writes on a big old farm in Massachusetts that she shares with one very large cat who lives inside, and a dozen deer, a family of bears, three coyotes, two bobcats, a gray fox, tons of birds, and some very fat groundhogs who live outside. Once a year she calls owls for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Follow her online at heidieystemple.com, on Twitter @heidieys and Instagram @heidieys.


Thinking Outside the Box:

You know what else has been SO HARD this year? Promoting your book. We have all had to not only pivot from in-person to online book events, but we have had to figure out how to promote our books without the stuff we all count on—book festivals, school visits, books store signings…

How do you get a signed copy of ADRIFT?

You can purchase autographed and personalized copies of ADRIFT through my local bookstores:

Odyssey Bookshop, Hadley MA
High Five, Florence, MA
The Carle Museum, Amherst, MA (413) 559-6333
BookLinks, Northampton, MA (413) 585-9955 or through bookshop.org

What do you do once you have a copy of ADRIFT:

If you purchase a book from your own bookseller, I will send you a signed bookplate: email your address to adrift@interlinkbooks.com

If you are an educator and have purchased or preordered ADRIFT, send a copy of your receipt to:  adrift@interlinkbooks.com and they will send you a link to a recording of me reading ADRIFT for your classroom.

I will be doing an online event with Odyssey Books on Wednesday, Nov 3 at 6:30pm EST, with or without books!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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