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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!

For years I’ve dreamed of hosting a Storystorm Workshop. Back when the event was still PiBoIdMo, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and I researched what we needed to make it happen—venue, faculty, meals…and found we couldn’t make it work unless we had a hundred attendees or more.

No. I wanted an intimate group in a cozy setting, where everyone could have access to the faculty and truly feel supported in every way. It would be special, small, and elevate every attendee’s career.

Then I discovered the Highlights Foundation! The location! The private cabins! The Barn! The FOOD!!! (I’m a huge fan of Chef Amanda!)

With the help of the Foundation staff—Alison Green Myers, George Brown, Jo Lloyd—we pulled it all together for March 5-8. I reached out to the best picture book author-teachers I know and we had our faculty:

  • Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
  • Heidi E.Y. Stemple
  • Courtney Pippin-Mathur
  • Josh Funk

Now all that’s missing IS YOU!

We have just a few spots left!

Here’s a sneak peek at our schedule:

Storystorm 2020 Picture Book Retreat & Workshop

Thursday, March 5, 2020
3:00pm Arrival
4:00pm Orientation—learn about the Highlights campus
5:30pm Appetizers (Barn)
6:00pm Dinner (Barn)
7:00pm Tara Lazar Welcome and “Stuff No One Tells You!” Presentation

Friday, March 6, 2020
6:30am Yoga in the Loft (Optional)
7:45 – 8:45am Breakfast (Barn)
9:00 – 11:00 Tara Lazar “Elevate Your Picture Book Game” + Q&A
12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (Barn)
1:30 – 2:30pm Josh Funk “What Rhymes with Storystorm?”
2:45 – 3:45pm Optional Walk with Heidi Stemple: Gathering Ideas for Texture in Stories
4:00 – 5:30pm Story Ideas Roundtable Discussion: Four Groups w/Faculty Leader
5:30 Appetizers (Barn)
6:00 Dinner (Barn)
7:30 Evening Creative Activity with Tara & Courtney (Optional)

Saturday, March 7, 2020
7:45 – 8:45am Breakfast (Barn)
9:00 – 10:30am Courtney Pippin-Mathur “How to Write by Drawing First”
12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (Barn)
1:30 – 3:00pm Sudipta Bardan-Quallen “7 Revision Tips to Take Your PB from WAH to WOW”
3:30 – 5:00pm Heidi Stemple “Finding Your Non-Fiction Voice”
5:30 Appetizers (Barn)
6:00 Dinner (Barn)
7:30 Open Mic with Josh, Sudipta & S’Mores (Optionally Mandatory)

Sunday, March 8, 2020
7:45 – 8:45am Breakfast (Barn)
9:00 – 10:00am Tara Lazar “Humor Trends in Picture Books”
10:30 – 12:00pm Q&A with Faculty (Barn)
12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (Barn)
1:00 Closing Remarks
1:30 Check-out

You can sign up at Highlights Foundation and room with a friend for a discount.

We hope to see you there soon!

Thank you to Melissa Sheperd for the photos of the Highlights Foundation Campus.

by Heidi E. Y. Stemple

Storystorm is all about ideas. Seeing them, searching for them, compiling them, listing them, gathering them…

I’m excited to be teaching about nonfiction ideas at the Storystorm Highlights retreat this spring because I love finding nonfiction ideas. I find them in news clippings, in the google doodle, on the radio, at museums, while reading. I stumble upon nonfiction ideas while researching other stories. I have been hit in the face by them while walking in nature or driving down the road (not literally, of course). They are everywhere.

But, once you have an idea, what do you do with it?

A nonfiction idea is different, in many ways, than any other idea. It comes with rules. If it is a biography or history, it can come with a plot built-in. You are presented with the entire story—beginning, middle, end. It has an armature already in place. But, the story already being set, can be deceptive.

Let’s take Jane Goodall’s story. You could tell her story about working with the chimps, whole-cloth, cradle to grave (though, her conclusion is far from written since she is still very much alive and still changing the world). Go find yourself a copy of the book ME JANE (by Patrick McDonnell). This book takes a unique look at Goodall’s origin story. The author found a small story arc in Goodall’s childhood and pulled it out of the larger story arc of her life. Imagine how many stories can be written about this one subject. You could come up with a story idea every day this month just for Jane Goodall! But, how do you make that story stand out? That is the REAL question. How do you take that idea and make it into something unique?

If you are talking about a nonfiction idea that has less strict lines, perhaps a science or nature-based book, it still has rules—you can’t plop in a fairy or a stream that rushes UP a mountain and call it nonfiction. So, how can it be different from what’s already out there?

Let’s take a look at some books about nests.  In my bookshelves alone, I can find a couple dozen books about nests. Fiction and nonfiction, narrative and expository. So many books on the same subject.  And, no two are alike (insert birds of a feather joke here). Here are three books on that same subject and all are different in the way they take it on:

What makes each of these books, written after each author had the same idea—to write about nests—completely unique?

The magic is in taking that idea and making it your own. What perspective you take to look at the subject. Will you look at the birds (or other nest builders) from an outside observer’s point of view? Or from the bird’s? What voice will you use to tell your story? Will it be poetic? Scientific? A combination of the two? Will you choose, and make the most of, a literary device? Will you rhyme? Use alliteration or pack it with similes? Be silly or serious.

Go further: Look to the history or nature of the story to inform your story voice.

In LIGHTS, CAMERA, ALICE (by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo) the story is about a woman in the film industry and parts of the story are told in old fashion (silent film) movie placards. That sets the book apart from any other book I’ve seen. Is your books about a mathematician? Can you integrate numbers into your story?

Does your protagonist have a catch phrase (look at I DISSENT by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley).

Carole Boston Weatherford uses rhythmic words to tell the story of John Coltrane in BEFORE JOHN WAS A JAZZ GIANT (illustrated by Sean Qualls) which makes the reader really feel the music that informed every aspect of Coltrane’s life.

What if you have a ridiculous idea? My book EEK YOU REEK (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Eugenia Nobati) is about stinky animals. We chose humorous poems to be the vehicle to drive this subject.  But, there is lots of nonfiction packed in those rhymes—even the really short ones:

The Shore Earwig (A Haiku)

Eat me. I dare you.
I’m a nasty stink bomb—POW!
Not so tasty now.

One more thing to think about—where it gets even more interesting—if you have a nonfiction idea, there is no rule saying you need to write a nonfiction book. Take, for example, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. My book COUNTING BIRDS (illustrated by Clover Robin) is the nonfiction account of its history. Since it published, two other books about the same subject, though in a fictional way, have come out (FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS, Amstutz/Di Gravino, and BIRD COUNT, Richmand/Coleman) and each has a new way to look at the same subject. Far from competing, these books work together for the bird-loving child.

So, don’t be afraid. Feel free to take a nonfiction idea and move away from it. Write something completely fictional or even fantastical. That nonfiction idea is your seed—the tree you grow from it is your choice.


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 20 books including You Nest Here With Me, Not All Princesses Dress In Pink, and 2 Fairy Tale Feasts cookbooks, as well as numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

Heidi lives on an old tobacco farm in western Massachusetts where she writes, reads, cooks, sews, and once a year, calls and counts owls for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Her website is HeidiEYStemple.com and she’s on Twitter @heidieys.


Heidi is giving away a copy of EEK YOU REEK when it’s released.

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

 

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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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