Today I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Elissa Brent Weissman and her memoir/anthology OUR STORY BEGINS: YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS SHARE FUN, INSPIRING, AND OCCASIONALLY RIDICULOUS THINGS THEY WROTE AND DREW AS KIDS.
Title: Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids
Genre: Memoir, anthology
Age range: 8+
Launch date: July 4, 2017
Please tell us a little bit about your book?
Everyone’s story begins somewhere.
For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license. For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third-grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw. For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day–and perfected through draft after discarded draft. For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, or a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of word and pictures and stories.
Our Story Begins presents some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators as their quirky, smart, vulnerable, youthful selves, revealing young talent, the storytellers they would someday become, and the creativity they inspire today in kids everywhere.
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
Our story begins with a box in a basement. In my parents’ basement, I found a box filled with stories that I wrote when I was a kid. Some were genuinely funny, others were so bad they were funny. The box even had the first three chapters of the novel I wrote and tried, unsuccessfully, to get published when I was in elementary school. When I go into schools as an author, I tell kids about that novel, and many of them ask if they can read it. Here it was! It struck me that I couldn’t be the only one with a box like this in a basement somewhere. How cool would it be to see what other children’s authors were writing when they were their readers’ age? Illustrators too. What were they drawing? When I realized a collection like this did not exist, I knew I’d have to be the one to put it together.
Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?
This was my first time editing an anthology, so I had a big learning curve. I started by talking to authors I know about my idea, to see what they thought and if they had any childhood writing or art saved that they could contribute. Once the book was under contract (with a few authors on board), my editor and I worked together to build the list of contributors. I reached out to potential contributors directly, which was intimidating but also exciting—I admire them all tremendously, and I’ve been a fan of some since I was a kid myself! Once contributors were on board, it was a matter of collecting their materials, suggesting revisions on the memoirs that accompany their childhood work (which appears in the book as scans of the handwritten originals!), figuring out the order, writing the introduction, and dealing with all sorts of administrative responsibilities. Even figuring out the title was a process (you can read about it here: http://rivetedlit.com/2017/07/07/enter-title-here-how-a-book-gets-a-title/)! The main thing I learned is that putting together an anthology is a lot of work. But in this case, it was absolutely worth it.
We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?
I’ve had so many wonderful teachers who encouraged me to write. One of the best was Mrs. Berman, who ran the gifted program at my elementary school years. In her class, I chose writing and publishing as a year-long independent study project, and she had me read aloud chapters of my book as I wrote them. I cringe now to think of my poor classmates having to sit through my read-alouds! (I recently apologized to my friend Dan, who was in the captive audience back then.) But Mrs. Berman clearly believed in me, and that kind of encouragement makes all the difference. (Fun fact: My friend Dan also ended up in the field that he studied in Mrs. Berman’s class: architecture!
What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?
This book has so much classroom potential! The memoirs by the authors and illustrators show a range of styles, experiences, and points of view—great for comparing and contrasting. The childhood work is hilarious and moving and ridiculous—rich material for endless creative writing prompts. There’s a list of tips for young writers and artists at the back of the book, and a Common Core-aligned curriculum guide is in the works. But the most valuable thing of all that I hope teachers and their students take from this book is the idea that there’s no right or wrong way to become an author or an artist, and that hard work and passion matter more than natural talent.
I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?
My son and daughter, ages 4 and 6, like to play dog. One of them will be the dog—crawling, barking, and panting—and the other will be the owner, taking care of the “dog” and making it do tricks. A little weird? Probably. But it’s still completely adorable.
Elissa Brent Weissman is an award-winning author of novels for 8-to-12-year olds. Her most recent books, Nerd Camp 2.0 and Nikhil and the Geek Retreat, are follow-ups to the popular Nerd Camp, which was named a best summer read for middle graders in The Washington Post. The Short Seller, about a seventh grade stock-trading whiz, was a Girls’ Life must-read and featured on NPR’s “Here and Now.” Named one of CBS Baltimore’s Best Authors in Maryland, Elissa lives in Baltimore, where she teaches creative writing to children, college students, and adults.
You can find her online at: