It’s release day for another of our author-friends here at Teen Writers Bloc and Tamera Wissinger was kind enough to stop by and chat with us about her debut children’s book, GONE FISHING, writing-in-verse, and the joys of being outside!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
From the time I was very young, I’ve loved rhythm and rhyme, stories and storytelling. After I studied English in college, I went into the most illogical field: Human Resource Management. During that time I did a great deal of business writing, and I wrote stories and poetry at nights and on weekends. Eventually, the call of poetry and story writing became stronger. I’m fortunate to now be able to pursue writing full time.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of Gone Fishing? How did you come up with the concept for the book?
Gone Fishing is about a young boy, Sam, who is excited for a fun fishing day with his dad, but when Sam’s little sister Lucy wants to come along, he’s afraid she’ll ruin the fun. There is also a section of nonfiction end matter called The Poet’s Tackle Box, where I’ve included tips and information on poetry writing and poetic forms.
The story is told through a series of poems, and it came to me in pieces, first as a single poem that is the opening to the book, and then a few other poems that created a poetry collection. Sam and his dad were the two main characters. Once Lucy came into the picture, the conflict began to develop and the story started to take shape. Even though the characters are fictional, I did draw on my fun memories of fishing with my own family when I was young.
What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?
I’m usually an early riser, and my preferred habit is to wake up, eat breakfast, workout, get ready, and be at work in my home office by 9 a.m. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s my ideal since my most creative energy is in the morning. If I’ve had a productive morning, and/or am not on a deadline, I’ll do something else in the afternoon, maybe research for submissions, market, or my favorite non-writing activity: read. If I’m on deadline, I’ll keep writing in the afternoon or after dinner, even, to try and push through to the end.
My inspiration comes from a combination of my imagination, my memories and experiences, and my surroundings. Wherever I am, being outside and feeling connected to nature helps spark my creativity. I’m lucky to live in south Florida where there is an abundance of flora and fauna to feed my artistic side.
What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?
I just came across notes from the first children’s writing workshop that I took and was surprised to see that it was ten years ago! After that I joined SCBWI, met a network of fellow authors, became brave enough to receive feedback on my work, took more classes, and eventually attended and became a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. All of those interactions helped prepare me for work on Gone Fishing.
As far as the book, the opening poem that I mentioned was published as a stand-alone in a magazine in 2007, so technically I began work on this story more than five years ago. Houghton Mifflin accepted the book in 2011, and my editor and I worked on it together from there.
The most surprising part of the process is really a confirmation of something that I believed: that there is a warm and welcoming community of publishing professionals, booksellers, librarians, teachers, and authors who all value placing quality stories into the hands of children.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?
Something that my husband told me: “If you want to write, then write.”
To that, I would add: give yourself what you need to be successful. Learn, connect, join a critique group, immerse yourself in reading and studying children’s literature, write and rewrite until you have a story that’s polished and then think about connecting with an agent or editor.
What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?
When I was a middle grade reader I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and I still love Pippi. While Pippi is comical as an independent, strong, rich, and often inappropriate girl, at the heart of the story she’s also lonely and vulnerable, which made me love her even more.
I just finished a wonderful novel by debut author Tim Federle called Better Nate Than Never. It’s about a boy who runs away to New York City to try out for the lead in E.T. The Musical. Tim writes with a striking balance of passion, wit, and tenderness.
What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?
Because much of my work is short, I go back and forth between several projects at a time. Right now I’m writing more poetry, a couple of quirky picture books, and a middle grade novel. I recently learned that my first picture book, a counting concept book, will be published by Sky Pony Press!
Aside from writing, I received a stand up paddleboard for Christmas and I’m learning how to maneuver that on the water. There is an art and science to doing it well.
Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
I think that both critique groups and writing communities are helpful and essential to writers. Because writing is almost always a solitary act, we don’t have the usual social outlets, quality checks, and direction that come with a traditional work environment. Critique groups and writing communities help fill that void, both as a quality and directional check on our work, and as a way to simply be connected with others who understand the challenges and joys of being an author.
What made you decide to write a novel-in-verse? What challenges did you face that might be unique to writing in verse as opposed to traditional prose?
When I originally submitted the story, there were about twenty poems – enough for a picture book length story. My editor had the brilliant idea of trying to expand the number of poems to tell a deeper, broader story, and move the book from a picture book format to a novel in verse format. That meant doubling the poetry to around forty poems, and also adding the end matter poetry descriptions. I was all for it and went to work.
The biggest challenges as the story evolved were to make sure that the new poems helped advance the story, and that those poems offered an additional variety of poetic forms. It was almost like putting together a puzzle, with every subsequent piece becoming more challenging to put into place.
It was great to learn about Gone Fishing! We’ll have to get our hands on it. Thanks for stopping by, Tamera!
Thank you for hosting me at Teen Writer’s Bloc today, Caela!