Many years ago, Gretchen Griffith commuted to Charlotte to be a part of our SCBWI critique group. Since then she has found a group much closer to her home in Hickory, NC, but I have watched from afar as she got her much-worked on article "Finding Forty Two" published in Highlights in 2009, and then went on to publish two books set in the North Carolina mountains. Today, I'm happy to share the story behind her newly-released picture book, "When Christmas Feels Like Home." Her publisher, Albert Whitman, is providing a giveaway copy. Details at the end of the blog.
Carol: Can you share the backstory of this book? What influenced you as you wrote it? How did you come up with the story idea? How did you find your publisher?
Gretchen: I wrote the manuscript in 2008 for the 2009 Highlights for Children writing contest when the theme was “contemporary world culture stories,” but it was in my head for quite a while before that. I lived in Lima, Peru when I was in high school, so I have experienced the anxiety associated with moving into a new culture. For several years I’ve worked with high school exchange students who go from the US to other countries and those who arrive in North Carolina as well. Our orientation materials tell them to anticipate milestones of when they will fit into the new culture, as well as the ups and downs they'll experience.
With that concept in mind, I began to think about the milestones my fourth grade students would face moving into a new culture, or even if they were just moving from one town to the next. When would their new city feel like home?
By the time I received word that my manuscript didn’t win, I had gone on to other projects, to honing my craft, attending conferences, and studying how to revise what I had written. Most key to this manuscript, I began reading blogs that offered tips on submitting. Somewhere along the line I found a reference to an editor at Albert Whitman & Company looking for international or diversity themed children’s picture books.
I dragged out the manuscript from the floppy disk (yes, it was that long ago technology-wise) and took a new look at it. Being away from it for over a year helped me see it as a stranger would and through this new perspective I was able to find flaws. I rewrote, fielded it to my critique group (essential step) and revised it again. I submitted and returned to my other projects, always writing, always tending to improving my writing, and I admit, always checking the mailbox.
When the letter came, it wasn’t an acceptance. It was a “the pacing needs some work and we’ll look at it again” kind of letter. I revised and resubmitted a few more times until the offer finally came. Even then, I had to mold and refine until the words sang.
Carol: The illustrations truly complement the story. What are your thoughts about how the book has been illustrated? Did you submit the manuscript with many art notes?
Gretchen: The illustrator, Carolina Farias, is from Argentina. I had nothing to do with selecting her, but what a perfect match to my manuscript! I offered no input other than a few minor points. I did say that there couldn’t be any older brothers in the family illustrations because the story line of the main character being alone wouldn’t have worked.
I'm on the picture book authors’ panel at this year’s fall SCBWI Carolinas conference in Charlotte, September 27-29 where I’ll fill everyone in on more details. Meanwhile, stop by and visit my blog. Comments are always welcome!
To win a copy of this book (think: present for a fortunate child or grandchild!) please follow these rules: