I met Susan Verde last summer, on the first day of the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, when Pat Tilton eagerly introduced us to each other as fellow Children’s Book Hub members and picture book writers. I soon learned that Susan was looking forward to the publication of her first picture book, and I have been eagerly awaiting it ever since! I’m delighted that Susan agreed to this interview about her writing, and about the events that have led to the publication of THE MUSEUM (illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds). You can find a review of Susan’s book on Pat Tilton’s wonderful blog, Children’s Books Heal. Do come back here for the interview, though! AND don’t miss the giveaway mentioned below — one lucky commenter will receive a copy of the book AND an original watercolor by Peter H. Reynolds inspired by THE MUSEUM.
Susan Verde grew up in a brownstone in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City with her older brother Michael. She spent much of her time as a child clad in bell bottoms and rainbow suspenders, roller skating up and down her block with a skate key around her neck and a piece of chalk in her pocket (for spontaneous hopscotch).
Susan’s household was filled with books, music and the smell of mocha chip pies, which her mother made for their neighborhood restaurant. Susan often wrote stories and poetry to share with family and friends and even her high school poetry magazine. Susan’s love of literature began in utero (according to her mother) and never dwindled. She can, to this day relate very well to Amelia Bedelia.
Ultimately, she moved to the Hamptons and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s in reading remediation and become an elementary school teacher at a private school in Bridgehampton. She has also participated in the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference at Stonybrook University.
Although no longer a school teacher, Susan is a certified kid’s yoga instructor which allows her to frog jump and wag her tail in Downward facing dog with great frequency.
Currently, Susan lives in East Hampton New York amidst an explosion of Legos, art supplies, and picture books with her twin boys Joshua and Gabriel and her daughter Sophia. They are the constant inspiration for her writing. They never let her forget how to see things from a child’s point of view and keep the kid in her alive and kicking.
Beth: Susan, first I want to congratulate you on your upcoming picture book, THE MUSEUM – it must be so exciting to have your first book about to be released.
Susan: Thank you so much Beth! I know it sounds funny for a writer to say but I am really excited beyond words!
Beth: So that my readers can begin to get to know you, would you tell us something about yourself and your journey as a writer? Are picture books your main focus, or do you do other writing as well?
Susan: I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I was kind of a timid kid in class at school and writing was always a very freeing way to express myself. I wrote for my high school’s literary magazine and really came out of my shell in English and creative writing classes. As an elementary school teacher and subsequently as a mom I was (and still am) a collector and avid reader of children’s books. It felt natural to write for children since I have always been surrounded by kid energy and am really a big kid myself. Not to say that children’s writing is AT ALL easy but it’s where my heart is. Picture books are certainly my focus at the moment but you never know where creativity can take you.
Beth: Without giving away too much (because we want people to go out and buy it) could you give us a brief synopsis of THE MUSEUM?
Susan: I’d love to.
It’s the story of a young girl’s journey through a museum. Each piece of art she encounters evokes an emotion and a reaction and ultimately inspiration as she is challenged by a blank canvas to express her own unique creativity.
It makes reference to some very well known pieces of art, which are of course beautifully rendered and great fun to identify.
Beth: What led you to write this particular story?
Susan: This story actually began as a poem I wrote while visiting an art gallery with my own children. One of my sons was looking at a still life and began to complain about being “starving!” He said the painting we were in front of was making him hungrier. I grabbed a piece of paper and began writing about how the art around us made us feel. Thankfully I was able to distract him from his hunger pangs AND our journey through the gallery became an adventure!
Beth: Peter H. Reynolds is the illustrator of THE MUSEUM. Most of us can only dream of having such an illustrious person do the artwork for our debut picture book. Can you tell us how this came about?
Susan: I feel like I am still dreaming. It was all very serendipitous really. Emma Walton Hamilton actually connected us through her amazing Southampton Literature Conference. I had previously taken Emma’s workshop and at her urging took Peter’s the following summer. There really was no urging necessary because I was already a HUGE fan and the moment she said his name I was signed up!
One of the many perks of taking Peter’s workshop was the opportunity to share some of my work. I already had quite a collection and as Peter read through it he came across my MUSEUM piece. After reading it he gave me a few suggestions and in the same breath said, “I’d like to illustrate this!” After looking over my shoulder to make sure he was in fact speaking to me. I said “okay” and immediately went to work on turning THE MUSEUM into a “fuller” story. Thus began this amazing collaborative journey!
Beth: Since that initial offer, what has been the process of bringing the book to its current, primed-for-release, state?
Susan: After I took a long deep breath and had my children pinch me to make sure it was all a reality (which by the way they found quite amusing) there was some back and forth between fabulous agent, publisher, Peter and I, then the editing process began. The copy editor at Abrams went through the text with a fine toothcomb and sent me the edited version with a line change request.
Then came the art… only Peter can speak to that process directly but for me it was magic. To finally see my words and his art supporting each other was amazing. When the proofs eventually came in the mail it was an absolutely glorious feeling. And now, to see it transformed into an actual book…again, I’m speechless.
In total, it was about a 2 year process from inception to final product but it seems to have flown by!
Beth: I have to ask, since I don’t yet know from personal experience, what is it like to have your first book about to become a reality? What thoughts and feelings are foremost?
Susan: Again lots of breathing and pinching involved. It really is a dream come true. As you and every other creator out there know, it is very personal and emotional when you have “made” something you love and are proud of and eager to share with the world. You hope everyone will love it as much as you do and that it will contribute something positive to their lives. It’s MY hope that teachers, parents and kids might find a way to use this book THE MUSEUM to have an interactive, multi sensory experience with art as it is both viewed and created and tap into their own unique creativity! Art is an adventure!
But mostly, I have a constant swarm of lovely butterflies fluttering in my stomach!!
Beth: What is happening regarding promotion for this project? Is there anything my readers can do to help in getting the word out?
Susan: Abrams has lined up many events for THE MUSEUM which I will be posting on my website as well as facebook and twitter. The first, being the launch party at Blue Bunny Books and Toys. This is Peter Reynold’s bookstore in Dedham Massachusetts. It is run by his amazing sister-in -law, Janet Reynolds.
Peter @peterhreynolds will certainly be tweeting about and promoting these events as well.
Your readers can absolutely help by buying THE MUSEUM, loving it and telling everyone they know to do the same!!
Beth: I understand you’re in the process of starting a blog. Could you tell us something of what you hope to share on your blog? Where can we find you online? Are you on Facebook and Twitter as well? Other social media?
Susan: Yes, I am starting a blog. I have really been looking forward to this because it gives me an opportunity to explore topics that are my passion. People can expect some musings on what I find inspiring, on supporting and cultivating the creativity of children, on kids yoga and mindfulness, the journey of motherhood and more. I absolutely welcome guest posts and comments on it all!
My website is www.susanverde.com and on it you will not only find my blog but news and activities related to The Museum as well as links for purchase and my contact information for school visits and events.
Beth: Very importantly, when will THE MUSEUM by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, be on our local bookstore shelves?
Susan: THE MUSEUM will be on your local bookstore shelves March 12th!
Beth: Thanks so much for this interview, Susan. I wish you all the best with THE MUSEUM and with future projects.
Susan: Thank YOU Beth! It’s been my pleasure!
EDITED TO ADD: I nearly forgot the GIVEAWAY! I have one copy of THE MUSEUM for one lucky commenter. Anyone who makes a comment on this post any time between today and next Monday will be entered in the draw.
AMAZING ADDITION TO THE GIVEAWAY!: Peter H. Reynolds has added to the giveaway. He has offered an original watercolor inspired by THE MUSEUM to the lucky commenter whose name is drawn next Monday.