Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on author Sydra Mallery, children’s book author and elementary school teacher. Sydra will be at our 65 James Street store on Saturday, August 25, from 1:00 – 3:00 with her newest picture book, A Most Unusual Day—a beautiful story of adoption.
Thank you so much for joining us, Sydra! We’re very excited to have you come out to our store and to see your newest book! For those not familiar with your work, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I am a writer for love and an elementary science teacher in a public school for work and love. I have lived in Brooklyn, NY since the mid-90s, or as my eldest son says, since the 1900s. My cousins own a small house we call “camp” on Lake Quaboag, in nearby East Brookfield, MA, that I have been visiting since I was three years old. I have two sons.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out A Most Unusual Day? How did you overcome that challenge?
It took almost two years for my agent to sell my first book. During that time, I practically re-wrote the entire book. People didn’t understand that the message of the book was a story about familial love, but also a story about how one thing different can throw off a kid’s whole day. But with loving, understanding people around, a child can get through that day whole and happy. They just didn’t get it. One of the best parts of that process was when an editor from another publishing company really wanted to buy the book. She asked me some really tough questions and pushed me as a writer to make the book much better. She wasn’t able to get it past her editorial board, but she did reccommend it to my current publisher, who snapped it right up.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
I really love playing with words. I have been writing poetry since I was around ten years old. I would say that the actual writing is my favorite part of the process. I like revising, because it can take me a really long time to think something through. Then, eventually, it all flows out in a rush and I get it down on paper.
I always wanted to publish a book, because I just really love books. I wanted my name on a book on a shelf in a library. It felt like a tiny bit of immortality. Even though I know that books go of out of print and paper doesn’t last forever. Now that my book is actually out in the world, I would like to add that I really love seeing kids enjoying my book. When my friends send me video clips of their kids reading my book and knowing the words to it, it makes me feel like I have super powers.
I think the greatest lesson has been to keep loving the writing. I’m lucky, in a way, that writing is not my main source of income. I get my salary from teaching and I can write for the love of it. (Although I do not have a lot of time and energy to do so after a full day of giving one hundred percent to my students.) I don’t need to worry about selling the next book to pay my bills, so I don’t have to get my ego tied too much to the results of my efforts. I just write and write and write.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
My late English Literature professor, Alan Grossman, once said to me, “Sydra, you’ve got to read like mad!”
If you want to write picture books, I recommend reading at least a hundred high-quality picture books first. Then, choose your ten favorite, and read them aloud at least 20 times each, preferably to a child. THEN write. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I have read Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes to my students so many times, and my first book was purchased by Kevin Henkes’s editor. You’ve got to read like mad!
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I have another picture book coming out from Greenwillow about the journey of a pencil named Stubby. It is pretty adorable, if I do say so myself. It doesn’t have a definite publication date, yet. But I promise to post it on my website as soon as it does.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
For me, the hardest part is coming up with a framework for the story. I’m really a poet, so describing something really well, or adding details that make a character special comes rather naturally. I can also think of a plot. But putting the character and the details into a structure that serves the plot best can take me a ridiculous amount of time, considering that picture book manuscripts tend to be about two pages long. I have one story I have wanted to tell for about seven years and I still can’t figure out the best way to tell it.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
My first and only picture book that is available now, A Most Unusual Day, is available in all of the usual places—independent book stores, large chain book stores and virtual book stores, as well as many libraries. All of those places are wonderful. But it is most fun to purchase it from a local independent bookstore like ABSW, don’t you think? I also have a poem in the poetry anthology, One Minute Till Bedtime Poems, edited by Kenn Nesbitt. It was quite an honor to have my poem on a page in the same book as some of my favorite writers, like Naomi Shihab Nye, and Jane Yolen. One Minute Till Bedtime Poems is also available in all of the usual places. I have another book in the works with Greenwillow Books.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
My brother helped me set up my lovely little website, Sydramallery.com. Look for me there. You can follow me on Twitter @SydraMallery and on Instagram @sciencekyd. I also hope to set up a Facebook page soon. When I do, I’ll add a link on the website.
Thank you, again, for the great interview, Sydra! We’re looking forward to your visit at our 65 James Street store on Saturday, August 25, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM!