HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
As an undergraduate at Harvard, concentrating in Anthropology, I was awarded a grant to do field research for my senior honors thesis in Senegal. After completing my research, I traveled to Niamey, Niger, to visit friends. We would often travel into the bush to enjoy the sight of giraffes roaming free in the savanna as they grazed on thorny acacia trees. On the return trip, we would often stop at a small Zarma village to visit an elderly woman who was the village griot. Soon, there would be dozens of children and a few adults gathered and she would tell stories in her native Zarma language. On the way back, my friend, who spoke Zarma, would give me a recap of the stories in French—a language we shared—and I would take notes in my little blue notebook. Years later, when I became an aunt, I always loved reading bedtime stories with my nephews and niece.
One day, cleaning out a closet, I came across my old blue notebook. This notebook has been the source and inspiration for two award-winning children’s books: Animal Village (Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2018) and The Hunter and The Ebony Tree (Moon Mountain Publishing, 2002). The idea of gathering threads from an old story from West African oral tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation and then weaving the threads into a new tapestry relatable to my audience is very exciting. Always take notes. You never know when they will come in handy!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK AND WHY?
“The moon moves slowly, but it crosses the sky. Everything is possible, by and by.”
I find the visual aspects of this line inspirational. It is sung throughout the story by the main character and captures the essence of the book: how a tortoise, through sheer will and perseverance saves her village from the ravages of drought with wisdom passed down from an “old story.”
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE IS MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
I share with my main character, a tortoise named Timba: patience, stubborn perseverance and utter confidence in the merit of my story. Like Timba, who was certain water could be found by digging deep in the earth, I, too, was certain stars would align and a publisher for Animal Village would emerge.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
The message I would most like readers to glean from Animal Village is that with determination and the power of perseverance you can accomplish anything.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” inspired me to write my first book interviewing outstanding female achievers entitled, Working Women for the 21st Century: 50 Women Reveal their Pathways to Success. This was an exciting book to work on because I had the opportunity to meet and interview so many extraordinary women who forged careers in a wide range of professions such as Geraldine Ferraro (politician), Debbi Fields (entrepreneur), Wendy Wasserstein (playwright), Joan Goody (architect), Jeana Yeager (pilot), Jacqueline Barton (chemist), Cathy Guisewite (cartoonist), Judith Jamison (dancer/choreographer), Susan Seidelman (film director), Ellen Goodman (journalist), Alice Rivlin (economist), Kay Unger (fashion designer), Diana Walker (photojournalist), and Anita Flynn (scientist). I sought their advice on how best to pursue and to prepare for a career in their particular profession and they were generous in sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Researching and writing this book, I discovered my calling as a writer! The book, published in hardcover and paperback, was recommended by the New York Public Library as one of the best career books for teens and those interested in second careers.
WHO HAS HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOUR WRITING STYLE?
Freshman year in college my expository writing teacher returned one of the first assignments I submitted with a sobering message scrawled on the top of the page in red ink: “Nelda, more women are ruined by Roget’s thesaurus than by drink.”
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
Quotes taped to the wall next to my computer that I glance at for comfort as I am working include:
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne
“I spent all morning taking out a comma and all afternoon putting it back.” –Oscar Wilde
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR WRITING PROCESS:
Writing is easy; editing is the hard part! When I am done writing my children’s story, I read the story over and over again and always out loud to hear how it sounds. Each time I read the story it amazes me how much I delete. When I think there is nothing more I can add or delete I like to set the story aside. After a couple of weeks, I pick the story up again and read it anew with fresh eyes for yet another round of edits. With each new round of edits, the wonder is seeing the story evolve.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE AS A WRITER?
Being ruthless with a red pen and the delete key! Not so much for deleting words and sentences but for deleting whole paragraphs and entire pages that I have grown attached to having invested time and effort.
HOW DID YOU GET PUBLISHED?
The mantra “persistence pays off” and Winston Churchill’s exhortation: “Never, never, never give up!” both apply to my getting published. I was persistent. I believed in my work. And I was unwilling to give up.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
My advice to writers is the same exhortation directed my way by my wonderful editor Bob Holzman (and yes, this is taped on my hallowed wall): “Book sales will depend on your efforts. Ask friends for reviews. Get on social media and talk it up. Send copies to friends in the media. Solicit signing and reading opportunities, etc.”
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
After receiving a starred review by Kirkus Reviews, Animal Village was selected by the editors of Kirkus Reviews as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Books of 2018. Also, a Spanish edition has just been printed by a Chilean publisher who will be distributing the book not only in Chile but in Mexico where the government will be purchasing Animal Village for inclusion in their public school curriculum and for their public libraries.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ASPIRATIONS?
To keep writing and continue to get my works published and recognized!
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING:
When I write children’s picture books I am both the author and the illustrator.
WHAT OTHER BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
The Hunter and the Ebony Tree (Moon Mountain Publishing, 2002)
Working Women for the 21st Century: Fifty Women Reveal their Pathways to Success (Williamson Publishers, 1992)
Women of Lebanon: Interviews with Champions for Peace (McFarland & Company, 2012)
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS?
LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org