Happy Thanksgiving friends both within and outside the kidlit community! This year has been challenging in many ways, but I am still so grateful for many things, including another year of truly pursuing writing. I have learned so much about writing, revising, editing, submitting, and the craft from you, fellow writers, and I am so thankful.
Today’s First Story interview is with Kari Gonzalez who’s debut picture book, HOW TO HATCH A READER, will be released in 2023 by Little Gnome, an imprint of Gnome Road Press. Read a little more about Kari below:
Kari writes children’s fiction and informational fiction with a heaping helping of humor and STEM concepts. When she is not regaling her family with tall tales or creating colorful characters for stories, you will find her reading voraciously. Two cats and six chickens are kind enough to share their home with Kari, her husband, and two little girls in California. HOW TO HATCH A READER is her debut picture book. For more information, visit her website at: https://www.karianngonzalez.com/
Me: Hello, Kari! Thanks for joining me on First Stories!
Kari: Thanks for having me, Heather!
Me: So, Kari, tell me about your “first story.” The one that really pushed you to consider publishing. What inspired you to write it? What was it about?
Kari: Great question. Thanks for asking! I have always been an active reader and writer, but when my youngest daughter joined our family through adoption, I couldn’t find the type of stories I wanted to read to her that simultaneously celebrated how she joined our family and the loving decision that her first parents made in choosing us. So, I wrote the story I couldn’t find…because writing for children is easy, right? I just knew I’d write it, find my own illustrator and I would be the next New York Times Best Seller. Soooo easy! That is how is how my first story, ONE HAPPY ADOPTION DAY! was born.
Me: I feel you so much in this last section! I, too, thought, “How hard can this be? I mean, it’s a picture book, right?” Ha! Oh, boy. But I absolutely LOVE your story of adoption!! I have many, many friends who are adopted or who have adopted. There is so much to learn about love and grace when you bring a child into your home. How special!
So, where is this story now?
Kari: Well, I wrote it and submitted it after my very first draft. Now, I’m a New York Times Best Seller…in my wildest dreams! In all seriousness, I am 28 drafts in and my story is still not complete, but vastly improved from that first draft.
Me: I am delighted that you haven’t shelved this story completely! You are one of the first to talk about still actively working on their first story. Awesome!
Are there any themes in that story that you can see in your writing today?
Kari: Yes! That story helped me find my authorial voice and unique qualities to my writing style that have become more apparent with each revision and each new story I write. I have learned that part of what encompasses my writing style is unique characters and unusual perspectives, wordplay and, as often as I can, I like to close with a twist ending to surprise and delight readers.
Me: Wow, Kari! How fantastic that you learned so much from your first story.
Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Kari: My poor critique partners looked at this story with me relentlessly as I figured out how to work through multiple story structures, changing characters and narrative arcs. They are saints!
The most egregious aspect of my first story though, was how didactic it was. I poured all my heart into the story- everything I wanted to tell my daughter and her incredible first parents. It was, and still is such a beautiful love letter, but that first draft was not a picture book.
The amazing feedback I receive continues to help me design the story I envisioned, but now with a fun and marketable count up and back down again structure celebrating love, family and a special family holiday- adoption day!
Me: I love this so much! That you’ve incorporated so much feedback and it sounds like you have added even more layers to your original story. I really hope I get to read it one day!
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Kari: This story will always be near and dear to me. It fills a gap in the market that I want to fill for my daughter and other adoptive families like ours that wish to love, cherish and honor their child’s first parents. The need to create this story encouraged me to read more picture books, take writing classes, join SCBWI and a critique group. These actions were pivotal in my growth as a picture book writer. I love this story and I am excited to continue revising.
Part of learning and growing as a writer is also the art of self-revision and recognizing when work is ready to send out. Embarrassingly, I sent this story out for professional critiques and to agents FAR before it was ready (face-palm).
Me: I know I can relate to this last part! I did the exact same thing with my first story. Ha! But yes, I agree, I can’t think of a book that talks about the unique and beautiful relationship between adopted children, their birth parents, and adopted parents.
But while we’re waiting on that story to be acquired, let’s talk about your latest project! You just had a book deal with Gnome Road Publishing announced – HOW TO HATCH A READER! What can you tell us about this book? How did you come up with the idea for this book? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Kari: Thank you so much for asking how my debut picture book hatched! This story was inspired by my two emerging readers. As I looked for creative ways to help my daughters learn to read in a pandemic, we began taking our books outside for a bit of fresh air. Amazingly, our six chickens always flocked to be near the action of my daughters reading aloud and often perched in their laps listening to the stories and looking at the pages. I could swear every time our chickens bokked, they were begging for more ‘BBB-book, books’!
I poured heart and humor into this story about a child teaching their chickens to read and wove subtle emerging reader support tricks into the plot. HOW TO HATCH A READER was born and quickly took flight, signing just about one year after my first draft. Now, HOW TO HATCH A READER will be flying to bookshelves in 2023! But…my debut contract would never have been signed if it wasn’t for that original first draft- HAPPY ADOPTION DAY! that prompted that first critique, that lead to that first writing class and all of the other firsts that have come thereafter and helped me become the writer I am today.
Me: Kari, I’ve loved every part of this interview!! Huge congratulations to you on your book contract! Little Gnome Press is such a neat company with a great mission.
Thank you so much for being on First Stories and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Kari: Thank you so much for having me!
Kari is donating a non-rhyming picture book critique to one lucky winner! To enter, retweet the link to this article on Twitter AND/OR comment below. You will receive one entry for each of those. The giveaway will end on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 25, and will be announced on Friday, November 26.