Susan Verde, Debut Author — Interview
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.
You can also like me on facebook susanverde/creativecollaboration and follow me on Twitter @susanverde.
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.
Beth, you’re right I love the interview! Susan has written a beautiful book and I enjoyed learning how it came into being. Learned some things I didn’t know about Susan. It is so obvious that her book came from her heart. I wish her a fun and successful book launch! Lovely interview ladies!
Hey Susan. I loved reading of your journey. And you are so right! That moment when you know that you know the story is RIGHT. What beautiful feeling.
I too was roller skating up and down my block with a skate key around my neck and a piece of chalk in my pocket. Ha. The chain for the key was given to me by my mom. I wore that thing EVERYWHERE.
I cannot wait to read your book. Thanks for such a heartfelt interview. Great job ladies! 🙂
So looking forward to reading your book, after Pat’s review, and even more so now, knowing more about you and the process, Susan. What a superb experience to collaborate with Peter Reynolds, also. Good luck with the book’s promotion and launching your new blog. Thank you for this interview, Beth and Susan.
Wonderful story! Wish I could have met you,Susan, at the Blue Bunny last weekend – alas! Can’t wait to read more from you on your blog. Best wishes for spectacular book release as THE MUSEUM launches into the world!
This sounds wonderful! Will keep an eye out for THE MUSEUM!
So very exciting to have your first book out soon – Congratulations! Peter is an incredibly talent illustrator, so you are lucky X 2!
Congratulations Susan! And another great interview, Beth! I definitely have to read THE MUSEUM, and go to more myself!
Congrats to Susan! This sounds a great book that my family would love to read together. It just so happens that I will be celebrating Peter H. Reynold’s birthday very soon on Happy Birthday Author. I will stick a link in the post to let people know about this collaborative effort!
Thanks for sharing this interview, Beth. I love hearing about new PBs and the story behind the story.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Beth! And thanks for introducing me to Susan Verde and her wonderful debut picture book!
Nice to meet you, Susan…I grew up in NYC…and remember the Greenwich Village of the late 60’s and early 70’s very well.:) My daughter wanted to know where all my bell-bottoms and sunflower dresses were when they came back in fashion during the 80’s.:) Your book will be a welcome addition to the group I am collecting for my new granddaughter-to-be…if I am not the lucky winner, I will definitely purchase a copy.:)
Thanks so much for this interview. I loved hearing more about the author who wrote the museum. I can’t wait till I read it. When will it be in libraries?
This sounds like a perfect book. When I was a child I spent many hours in our local museum while the other children played sports etc. I loved reading about the author and how she got her ideas.
Great interview, Beth! So fun to “meet” Susan and hear all about the process, and how cool that she met Peter at Stonybrook – talk about serendipity 🙂 The Museum looks fantastic, and I hope I will be the lucky commenter 🙂 And Susan, I also grew up in NYC, though on the upper east side, and while I did skate, pogo sticking was my real love 🙂 Best of luck with your book! Can’t wait to read it!
From one roller skating New Yorker to another, much success with The Museum Susan!
Congratulations to Susan! She must be into “retro” because here is no way she looks old enough to have been wearing bell bottoms. I enjoyed Pat Tilton’s pre-release review of The Museum and hope I’m the lucky winner.
Great interview! That is so awesome, Susan, how this all came about AND having Peter illustrate it! I love reading the story behind the story. Thanks so much, Beth, for sharing.
What a fantastic idea for a book. Congratulations Susan! Looking forward to reading the book. How wonderful to collaborate with Peter Reynolds, another one who encourages creative thinking with his books.
I’ve been looking forward to this book, so it’s extra fun to know the behind the scenes story. So fascinating. Awesome collaboration.
I just wanted to thank you all for your comments! This is an incredible journey and all of your kind words and thoughtful comments are just an amazing part of it all! I am thinking of putting together a group of roller skaters, pogo stick users and hopscotch lovers…what do you think? Seems like we’d have a big crowd!!
Thank you again and I hope reading THE MUSEUM brings you joy and fills your hearts with art!
What wonderful story, Susan! And to have Peter “want” to illustrate your story is pretty amazing. I am looking forward to getting my hands on THE MUSEUM. Thanks for the interview Beth!
I love this story and can’t wait to see the book. I am on the journey towards publication so this was very encouraging. So nice that you were a teacher…I was elementary and reading specialist.
We took our kids to the Art Institute in Chicago and we would sit in front of different pieces and
write. It was amazing what the kids would write about. THE MUSEUM would be a great addition
to this activity. Much success with the book and future writing projects.
Your story was inspirational. I love how you got the idea and the words just flowed. I have been traveling with paper and pen for years now so I can capture the moment. Good luck with the book!
Thanks for sharing. I love museums, especially art museums. Your book sounds wonderful! Look forward to reading it and seeing the illustrations as well. Congratulations on the publication of your first picture book!
Beth, what a lovely interview. I always loving hearing the stories of how other picture book writers have found success, and this story is certainly unique! How wonderful for Susan to have found her illustrator the way she did. Happy book birthday, Susan!
Beautiful interview. Loved how she felt about working with Peter and when she knew her book was going to be released. Hope I am not too late!
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