Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Debut author Jeannine Norris Talks about Writing

Jeannine Norris and I first got acquainted and then became friends through Twitter. I was drawn to the jacket of her book and thought that she would make a perfect guest for December. We chatted back and forth via Twitter, and now I am pleased to introduce her to all of you. Please join me in welcoming this remarkable picture book author.
Jeannine is the author of Tonight You Are My Baby: Mary’s Christmas Gift (HarperCollins, 2008). She loves to visit schools, and is also a frequent speaker for women’s organizations. Jeannine’s family includes her husband Peter, children Shane and Quinn, and a dog named Harry Potter. She is also the founder of At Least Kids, a foundation supporting pediatric brain tumor research.

Jeannine, please share with us a little about your debut book, Tonight You Are My Baby.
This book, for ages 3-6, takes us to Christmas night as Mary cradles her new-born baby. It's the story of a mother's boundless joy, when Mary experiences the miraculous love that all mothers feel for their babies. My hope is that moms will snuggle with their little ones and read the love story that took place long ago.

Q. How long were you writing before your first book was published?
I was writing sporadically when my kids were babies, but when our youngest went to first grade, I gave myself one year before returning to work. I landed a contract with three months left in that year - whew! My book was on the shelves about 18 months later.

Q. Did you take any writing courses? If so, what were the most important things about craft that you learned?
Years ago, I took a class at the local high school. However, most of the "craft" I learned through my critique group and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I learned the technical craft of meter and footing while writing verse, and the importance of a unique voice. Most valuable is the revision process. I learned to be open to revision, and embrace it, because ultimately the book becomes so much better.

Q. What drew you to picture books? Have you considered writing novels for children?
I used to think, "I could never write a novel!", but I’m becoming increasingly intrigued with the idea. Picture books were a natural fit for me, as our children were of that age. I could read to them and do research at the same time!

Q. What can you tell us about the refrain in Tonight You Are My Baby? Was that in the original text or was that added later in the revision process?

The refrain was always in the book, but I think we may have added one.

Q. How much did the story change through rounds of revision?
When the illustrator, Tim Ladwig, started working on the book, we found the book needed several more stanzas. After a momentary panic attack - sure that I would be struck with writer’s block - I realized this would enhance the story. Good thing Tim asked for more stanzas - my favorite illustration is the angels welcoming the baby. That was one of the stanzas that I later added!

Q. Word count is a huge factor with picture book acceptance. Was your original ms longer or shorter. How much did your word count change?
The word count became longer when I added the additional stanzas. While working on current manuscripts, I try to stay under 500 words. The temptation is always to add, but in the world of picture books, less is more.

Q. What part of the writing process do you enjoy most?
I actually enjoy the revision process. It’s amazing to me how much the book improves with advice from my critique group, editorial advice at SCBWI workshops and ultimately, my editor’s advice. Everyone enjoys watching their babies realize their full potential, and a writer’s book is her baby.

Q. What part of writing is the most difficult for you?
Well, the ideas come fast and furious - writing is the difficult part! I have several manuscripts that are written in rhyme, which is quite challenging. Rhyme has to be perfect, and changing a word usually means changing an entire stanza.

Q. What personal writing tips can you share with readers
Don’t write for a fad. Whatever "it" is (vampires, fairies, etc.) will be over by the time your manuscript becomes a book on the shelf. Write what you love - it will shine through your manuscript. I can’t wait to sit at my desk everyday - that’s the excitement we all desire. Writing is a tough business filled with rejection. You must love your work to be successful.

Beyond that, be active in the SCBWI! There are many opportunities to meet with editors, have a first page critiqued and meet other writers. I always feel inspired and energized when I leave a workshop. I would also strongly encourage joining a critique group or starting one of your own.

Q. What are you working on currently?
I am working on a variety of manuscripts. Isn’t variety the spice of life? Works in progress include a book about a kangaroo, animals in nature, a fancy dog, a book for mothers, and several magazine articles. Whew - I better get writing, I didn’t realize I had so much work to do!
Many thanks, Clara, for inviting me to share time with your readers!

Thank you so much for taking time to share your writing life with us, Jeannine. You can learn more about this author by clicking on these links:

Jeannine has graciously offered to personalize a copy of Tonight You Are My Baby to one of you, your family, or a child of your choice and mail it out to reach you in time for Christmas! Simply leave a comment here, on Facebook or direct e-mail: claragillowclark@gmail.com

Comment on some part of the interview, tell us what you love best about Christmas, or share your favorite Christmas book. The drawing will be December 10th, so we'll be looking forward to hearing from you soon. I will personally donate $1.00 to the At Least Kids Foundation for each comment. Now there's a challenge for you!

Along with the drawing, Jeannine will be sharing about the non-profit organization At Least Kids Foundation.


  1. I can relate to your comment that "the ideas come fast and furious- writing is the difficult part!", Jeaninne. I have that problem, too. Sometimes the ideas sit in my head for so long before I find time to write, that I finally wake up in the middle of the night and just have to write the story!

    Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I especially love the smell of the Christmas tree and how it looks once we've decorated it. We have a tradition that we decorate it as a family, no tv, no cell phones, no texting, just the five of us and some popcorn. It's wonderful! And much cherished with two teenagers in the house- not an easy accomplishment.

    Thanks for the great interview, Clara.

  2. Jennifer, Thanks so much for sharing how you connected to Jeannine's writing process and also for your own special Christmas tradition of tree decorating. It sounds like a joyful time!

  3. Jeannine,
    I enjoyed your interview and your book cover is absolutely beautiful, so I would be excited to read the book! But I have to tell you that I just absolutely love that you named your dog HARRY POTTER!!! :) I don't know if I could get my husband to go for that. . .:) Have a blessed Christmas season.

    Margo Dill

  4. Margo, I agree that the jacket of the book is beautiful. Just looking at it warms my heart, and I know that you'll love the story as well. Thanks for writing in! Blessings to you, too!

  5. Margo, I agree that the jacket is beautiful. Just looking at it warms my heart. I know you'll love the story as well. Thanks for writing in. Blessings to you, too!

  6. What a beautiful story concept! I felt like I could relate on so many levels with this author. Having a child diagnosed with a devastating illness and wanting to share those experiences for the good of others are formost.
    But the story! What an awesome thought on what it must have been like for Mary to share her precious gift with the world, knowing he would be taken from her.
    though, I don't have children in that age bracket anymore, wouldn't it be just a lovely Christmas coffee table book?
    Clara, I'm posting this as anonymous because I don't know how to do this, lol. But it's Georgia.
    My favorite part of Christmas, hands down, are the lights! In California where I grew up, lights took the place of snow for me. In the Northwest, snow AND lights! Paradise.
    Love you Clara, and love these encouraging interviews.

  7. Thank you for sharing, Georgia! I know how much Jeannine's story resonates with you. God Bless. I love you, too!