Hello friends and welcome back to the First Stories series, where I talk to writers (published, unpublished, agented, unagented) about their first story – the one that really compelled them to pursue writing and publishing. The previous interviews from 2022 with Bonnie Kelso, Laura Zimmermann, Chelsea Lin Wallace, and Valerie Bolling have been incredible! I enjoyed hearing about what their first stories were about and what they learned from them. Shout out in the comments below if you also loved their interviews!
Today, I’m delighted that Amber Hendricks agreed to drop by my website to talk about her first story and how it inspired her forthcoming debut board books – BUTTERFLIES SOAR and WILDFLOWERS GROW (Little Explorers Series from Amicus Ink). So without further ado, I’d like to introduce:
Born and raised in the Midwest, Amber Hendricks grew up reading everything she could get her hands on- including the morning cereal boxes. That passion melded into writing as well, and by the age of 11 she was writing and binding her own “books”. Amber has worn many hats in her career but she has always circled back to her first love of reading and telling stories. Amber currently resides in Missouri with her husband and two children.
Me: Thanks so much for stopping by today, Amber!
Amber: Hi, Heather! Thanks so much for having me on your blog. I love the idea of delving into an author’s journey and looking back to where we began!
Me: I agree! It’s been great to hear about the beginnings of so many authors’ journeys! So let’s start at the beginning… 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?
Amber: Like many writers, I’d always dreamed of seeing my stories in a book. As a kiddo, I often wrote and bound my own “books” (my mom kept them all for me!) but it wasn’t until I was grown and running a daycare for teachers’ children that the idea for my first story sparked. One day, the kids and I were pretending to be hungry pirates. We imagined all sorts of silly ingredients that pirates might enjoy in a stew– everything from pantaloons to gold doubloons! I was hooked and it wasn’t long before I had the first draft of a zany, swashbuckling, cautionary tale about what a pirate chef could do to appease a hungry crew.
Me: A pirate chef?! What a great mash-up. And I completely relate to writing and “binding” my own books as a kid! I used a stapler or glue or a folder for all kinds of “novels” that I had written. Ha! One of my favorite memories as a child is from third or fourth grade. Somehow, my mom found out about a creative writing class where the whole class wrote a complete story of a certain length, drew accompanying illustrations and worked to bind it! I still have that story – “The Brown Gingham Dress”!
Where is Pirate Stew now?
Amber: It is safely tucked away in a “drawer” on my computer, where it will most likely stay forever. I will always have a soft spot for Pirate Stew and even though the manuscript caught the eye of my first agent, looking back I can see that I wasn’t quite as ready as I needed to be in terms of craft. I’ve learned so much since, so every now and then I’ll get a hankering to revisit Pirate Stew and see if I can whip it into shape.
Me: Well, I certainly hope I get to read about your pirate’s recipe adventures! Are there any themes in that story that you can see in your writing today?
Amber: Pirate Stew was a very silly story that didn’t take itself too seriously. I adore those kinds of stories, especially ones that deliver on humor. Humor with heart is even better! Though my manuscripts vary in theme and I don’t consider myself a super funny writer, humor seems to pop up when I least expect it, or when I need it the most! Like a lot of writers and creative folks, the pandemic sucked the creativity right out of me. I went months without writing or even thinking about writing. Then, viola! A hilarious (to me and hopefully to others) and very silly story about a no nonsense badger and a riotous family of ducks pulled me out of my writing slump.
Me: Your new story sounds hilarious! Humor is SO important, especially today, and it is quite difficult to do well. I have immense admiration for humorous picture book writers. I’m not sure that’s where I am…YET…but I’d love to dip my toe into that genre of picture book one day.
Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Amber: At the time we were submitting Pirate Stew, pirate stories were immensely popular and the market had become oversaturated making it a difficult sell. I also broke a cardinal rule in picture books. I wrote my first story in rhyme. Not terrible rhyme, but not great rhyme either. There’s a reason that agents and editors are always cautioning writers about writing in rhyme!
Though Pirate Stew got a lot of positive comments, the feedback from industry professionals and critique partners alike showed me that I needed to spend time learning more about rhyme and meter. Lucky for me, there are tons of great resources out there and I have a very talented and very patient critique partner who excels in writing picture book and board book manuscripts in rhyme!
Me: Truly excellent rhyme is also difficult…I’ve learned that as well! Maybe one day, I’ll talk about my first story – which was also in rhyme!
What aspects of your “first story” make it special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Amber: Pirate Stew will always be special to me because it was the story that gave me so many “firsts”. It gave me my first agent, my first chance at being a published author, my first introduction to the wonderful kidlit community, and my first group of kidlit friends (many of whom have remained close friends and critique partners). Pirate Stew also taught me a lot. That first story taught me the power of revision and the persistence to keep trying. It also taught me how to handle rejection and that not every story is meant to become a published book. Mostly it showed me that there is always room to learn and grow your craft.
Me: I love all of that – especially the part about learning about revision, handling rejection, and learning to discern which manuscripts are promising and which are not. That has been such a huge part of my learning process as well. And I echo you – there’s still so many more ways to grow!
But to transition a little – I would love to hear about your upcoming book releases – WILDFLOWERS GROW and BUTTERFLIES SOAR! 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”?
Amber: WILDFLOWERS GROW and BUTTERFLIES SOAR are my debut board books with illustrator Gavin Scott. They are the first two titles in the Little Nature Explorers series from Amicus Ink with two more to follow in July. Told in sparse rhyme, each book introduces and explores a different life cycle: caterpillar to butterfly and seed to wildflower. Gavin’s vivid and colorful illustrations pop off the page!
Both of these stories were inspired by Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest. I loved the idea of telling a full story in so few words and it seemed the perfect opportunity to put into practice what I’d learned since writing Pirate Stew all those years ago!
Me: The timing of this interview is beautiful! We get to talk about your new board books about to release – just in time for spring and Easter basket gifts! – but also, right after Vivian’s 50 Precious Words contest this year! Be sure to check out and congratulate this year’s winners using the link above! And see! Board books and picture books and magazine stories and more come out of these contests – so cool.
Anything else you would like to share about your writing journey? (Or more upcoming release news?)
Amber: Thank you so much for asking! While I am thrilled to finally see WILDFLOWERS GROW and BUTTERFLIES SOAR as published books, I am just as excited for the following two titles coming in July. Whereas Wildflowers and Butterflies celebrate all things spring, AUTUMN LEAVES FALL and FOREST FRIENDS SLEEP explore and celebrate the changing seasons. I cannot wait for everyone to see Gavin’s dreamy illustrations and adorable forest animals!
Me: Amber, congratulations on FOUR board book releases in one year! What fabulous news! And readers, please consider picking up a copy of WILDFLOWERS GROW or BUTTERFLIES SOAR as a gift to your favorite small person! Links to order are below…
Thanks so much for joining me today, Amber!
Amber: Thanks for having me!
If you are interested in ordering Amber and Gavin’s lovely books, please follow the links here and here. Amber has generously offered a picture book critique GIVEAWAY as well! To be entered in the random drawing, you MUST comment below OR retweet the link to this interview on Twitter. The giveaway will close on April 10 and the winner will be announced on Twitter on April 11.
7 thoughts on “First Stories!! Featuring Amber Hendricks”
Congratulations to all on the board books… they look beautiful!! Love using contests as great inspiration! Thank you for sharing! Rosanna Montanaro
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Thanks for reading Rosanna!
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These books are beautiful! Well done. Congrats on the new release!
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Thanks for dropping by Rebecca!
Congratulations, Amber, on all these successes! The books look lovely! Enjoyed hearing about Pirate Stew and how it got you started on this journey.
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Glad you stopped by Holly
Congratulations Amber on your upcoming releases, the covers look wonderful, and thank you, for sharing your journey.
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