Welcome back, valued readers! As the weather becomes cooler in my part of the world, I love spending more and more time outside. So, I hope that you enjoy this fun interview with a cup of your favorite warm beverage (Hawaiian Hazelnut coffee for me…with lots of sugar and creamer!) near a warm fire, curled up on an outdoor sofa. 🙂
Today’s First Stories features the kind, compassionate, and caring picture book author, Kelly Swemba, who’s DEBUT releases next year! But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself… Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Kelly Swemba.
Kelly went to school for nursing and has her master’s in nursing with a focus on adult psychiatric assistance. She loved working in various settings and enjoyed helping people heal their wounds – those physical, mental, and emotional. When she stepped away to raise her kids, she found the world of kidlit to be a wonderful place. As she read more and more books to her children, she saw their connection to the stories, their favorite characters, and “must read again” books. She started writing and haven’t stopped since.
Me: Hello, Kelly! And welcome to First Stories!
Kelly: Thank you so much for having me, Heather!
Me: I’ve been looking forward to hearing about your first story, Kelly, because your picture book pitches are full of heart-warming themes and thoughtful characters. So tell me about your very first story! What inspired you to write it? What was it about?
Kelly: I’ve been thinking about this question and I just can’t remember! Ha! I have two in mind and both grew from a place where the main character’s personality and outlook were different then everyone else around them, yet they found the courage to be themselves.
One was called (cue the embarrassment) THE LION THAT MOOED, where a lion became king and mooed – to the shock and horror of the others animals living in the jungle. Despite their outrage, he stayed true to himself. The other was JETPACK JERRY where a bird inventor changed history by inventing a jetpack because he refused to fly the typical way.
Me: I love it! What fun ideas – so kid friendly and creative! And I notice that they both feature animals as main characters. 🙂 Where are they now?
Kelly: HIDDEN! Never to be seen!
Me: Ha! Don’t give up on them all the way. You never know what could happen after many years in a dark drawer and tons of revision. 🙂 Do you see any themes in these first stories that are still in your writing today?
Kelly: Surprisingly, YES! I love writing about courage, about being true to oneself, and following your heart.
Me: Such great themes! And when we get to talk about your upcoming debut, I’m sure our readers will see a few of those in MISSING VIOLET as well! Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Kelly: So many things made this unmarketable!!! The lion story was my attempt at rhyming, and I quickly learned how much I didn’t know, and that it wasn’t for me. I also learned the importance of critique partners and groups, both which I wasn’t a part of when I queried these two stories. (GASP! I know! Can you believe I sent these out into the world?!) After receiving passes on these gems, I quickly joined SCBWI, the writing community on Twitter and 12×12 the following year. I wanted to learn all I could to improve my writing and find others who were as passionate about creating.
Me: One day, I’ll write about my own first story and you’ll see how many other writers make the same rookie mistakes. 🙂 I also queried my first story with no critique groups, no networking, no knowledge, nothing! But, like you, I’m so glad I did – those rejections drove me to find the writing community!
Why are those first stories special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Kelly: These first stories introduced me to a completely new world where I was given the freedom to create. They nudged me further into being serious about writing. Because of these stories, I joined organizations, found groups, and made new friends. I slowly stepped away from certain structures and started to move in the direction that was more in tune with my voice and what was in my heart.
Me: I LOVE it! And now we get to celebrate your “yes”! Your upcoming book release – MISSING VIOLET! What can you tell us about this book? How did you come up with the idea for it? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Kelly: Thank you for asking, Heather! I’m so excited for MISSING VIOLET to be out in the world. It truly comes from a place filled with love for families who are experiencing loss.
The idea of this story started in nursing school when I did a rotation on a critically ill children’s unit where they stayed for extended periods of time. I thought how hard that must be for them and their families– to spend so much time apart. Then fast forward to the pandemic, a time filled with heartache and again my mind went to the children who experienced loss…who were waiting for a friend, missing a friend that they wouldn’t get to see again. My heart broke (and continues to hurt) every time I think of this very real scenario. I wanted to help, and that’s how MISSING VIOLET came to be – because my wish is for this story to comfort, offer hope, and perhaps help start a journey toward healing.
Me: What a critical, important story! I am so glad Beaming Books picked this story up and that it will soon be in the hands of kids who may be hurting. Anything else you’d like to share about your writing journey?
Kelly: My writing journey has had a lot of ups and downs. I feel so grateful to have been given the support from Beaming Books to share my story. This was done without an agent, and I’m still actively querying and submitting, so please know that there are many ways to get your first yes!
Me: Kelly, it’s been wonderful to talk to you about your first stories! Thanks so much for being a part of this series!
Kelly: Thanks for having me!
Kelly is generously giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique!! You don’t want to miss this opportunity. To enter the giveaway, comment below OR retweet the link to this article on Twitter. The winner will be announced on Twitter on October 17.