One night as a thunderstorm raged outside, Michelle Meadows rocked her son Chase to sleep and the words for a poem sprang to life: “pitter pitter / plam, plam / on my window pane . . .” So began her children’s book journey. In 2003, Michelle’s debut, The Way the Storm Stops, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Henry Holt & Company, 2003), won praise for its lyrical style and warm illustrations showing multicultural characters exploring a universal theme. Since then, Michelle has been busy. She has six forthcoming picture books including Pilot Pups, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster, 2008), the delightful story of toy puppies on a special search and rescue mission, debuting in May. Biker Pups (Simon & Schuster, 2009) will follow next year. We are proud to feature Michelle Meadows as part of our 28 Days Later campaign.
What inspired you to write for children?
Ever since I was a young child, I have always loved the sound of poetry. When my son (Chase) was born, I read to him all the time and re-discovered my love of poetry. I enjoyed reading him rhythmic stories such as Jamberry by Bruce Degen (HarperCollins, 1983) and Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang (Greenwillow, 1983). I wrote The Way the Storm Stops after rocking Chase to sleep during a thunderstorm when he was about 2 years old. I wrote the book while the storm was still going on, which helped me capture the sounds of the night.
How did you turn your dream into a book deal?
For my first book, I used a resource called The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. I picked various publishers out of the book and sent the manuscript off in the mail. Two months later, I came home to find a message on my answering machine from Christy Ottaviano, an editor at Henry Holt and Company. She said she loved The Way the Storm Stops and wanted to publish it.
How did you feel when The Way the Storm Stops debuted?
It was very exciting! I think it’s amazing how scribbles on paper develop into a bound book that you can hold in your hands. I was happy that the book received many positive reviews. I also enjoyed going to schools and libraries and sharing the book with young children.
Describe what it was like to work with an illustrator. How did her work enrich your story?
Rosanne Litzinger did a wonderful job with the art for The Way the Storm Stops. For many picture books, the author and illustrator never meet or talk. So I never talked with Rosanne while she was working on the book. This gives the illustrator space to bring his or her vision to the work. I was delighted with how everything turned out. The colors are bold and bright. There is a very cute cat that experiences the thunderstorm along with the little girl in the book. I think the pictures perfectly capture the emotions of the characters.
That book, your first, won good reviews from publications such as The Washington Post and Kirkus and made recommended lists including Bank Street College Library’s Diversity List for Children. Then years passed before your next deal. Tell us about what you did in the between time. Did you ever feel discouraged? If so, how did you keep going?
What I was doing during all of that time was working on my craft—writing a lot, submitting a lot, and getting rejected a lot. Even though I had sold The Way the Storm Stops, I still had a lot to learn about picture books. And I’m still learning. I received more than 100 rejection letters over the years. There were times when I was very discouraged. But I can see now that I had to go through all of that rejection to get better at the craft of writing. It’s all part of the publishing process. I kept going because I received encouragement from writer friends and editors who saw potential in my work. I also kept going because I am truly passionate about children’s literature. Writing new stories comes naturally. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I feel that there’s always a new idea to explore and a new story to tell.
Congratulations on your forthcoming May release, Pilot Pups (Simon & Schuster, 2008)! My daughter loves it. Counting that one, you have six picture books on the way. That’s amazing! How did you build your success?
I signed with a great literary agent named Rosemary Stimola. Three weeks after sending Pilot Pups out, Rosemary told me that multiple publishers had made offers. She sold Pilot Pups at auction to Simon & Schuster (S&S) in a two-book deal. So that meant that I would have two books about the Pups. Then over time, Rosemary sold four more of my picture book manuscripts to my S&S editors—Kevin Lewis and Joanna Feliz. They were both very enthusiastic about the stories. Now I am looking forward to getting those books into the hands of young readers!
Tell us a little about your forthcoming titles. Will they all feature the fun, rhythmic style of your first two?
Yes, all of my forthcoming picture books are in rhyme, and I think they are loads of fun! I have definitely had a lot of fun writing them. Following the publication of Pilot Pups in May 2008, there will be more books about the Pups—all illustrated by the fabulous Dan Andreasen. In the future, keep an eye out for Biker Pups, in which the Pups take on the role of motorcycle police. My other forthcoming books also feature animals. Hooray for talking animals! For example, one book is about a mouse who gets lost. I am terrified of being lost. I think this book will help children who also may worry about getting lost. I also have forthcoming books about some energetic pigs. So stay tuned!
What was the hardest part of your publication journey?
Getting rejection letters is hard. Getting close is hard. There were times when I felt like I almost had a sale—like when an editor asks for a revision and then you revise and re-submit and get your hopes up, and then you still get a rejection letter. It happens. All you can do when that happens is determine if there are any more improvements you can make and then send the work back out there.
What was the best part?
The best part is watching a child flip through the pages of a book that I wrote. Even better is when I see that the book makes the child smile or laugh. I have also had some children recite lines from The Way the Storm Stops for me. That is always a treat—to see that my words stuck with them.
What do you hope children take away from your stories?
I hope that children find my books fun to read. I would like to help young children develop a life-long love of reading. I also hope that children discover something new in my books. Pilot Pups is about toy dogs who go on a search and rescue mission. So I hope the book helps children look at aircraft and transportation in a whole new light. I hope the Pups show children the importance of teamwork and helping others. The Way the Storm Stops celebrates the special bond between a parent and child. With that book, I hope children find a sense of comfort so that thunderstorms don’t seem so scary.
Beginning writers are often told that rhyming picture books are tough sells. You excelled in that area. What advice would you give to those who want to break through?
I think that children enjoy good rhyming stories, and editors do too. I would say that if rhyming comes naturally for you and you enjoy writing in rhyme, then go for it!
How do you balance the creative side of writing with the business side?
Well, now I am fortunate to have an agent who helps me with the business side. This allows me to focus my energies on the creative side. I focus on writing the best stories that I can.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
I see myself writing many more books for children. I will continue writing picture books for very young readers, and I am also working on some beginning reader projects for the 6-9 age group. So we’ll see!
If you could go back and whisper in your ear when you were starting out, what advice would you offer yourself about the children’s book industry?
I would have whispered this: Everything happens for a reason. Getting rejection letters now will help you in the long run. So hang in there, learn from rejection, and keep writing!
How do you strike a balance between the different parts of your life – mom, wife, author?
I am very lucky to have a supportive husband and son. They both give me ideas and feedback on my stories. They also know the realities of living with a writer. They know that I might get up in the middle of the night if an idea strikes. I just work hard to try to keep a good balance of everything.
What’s your greatest joy?
My greatest joy is my family.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. We wish you continued success.
The Buzz on The Way the Storm Stops:
“When thunderstorms strike, dogs have basements to run to. And small children, who can be just as terrified by sudden, sky-high banging, flashing, and crashing, now have Michelle Meadows’s cozy first picture book . . . Bright colors and simple shapes keep the illustrations as reassuring as the words.”
— The Washington Post
“Stamped raindrops splash throughout the pages and endpapers . . . filled with bright images and rousing sound effects, this book will work well one-on-one or in toddler storytimes.”
— School Library Journal
“The rhyming verse and onomatopoeia make this a fun read-aloud . . . a gentle and comforting book to share with anyone afraid of thunderstorms.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“In this every-beat-just-right-debut, Meadows crafts for young readers the beauty, excitement, awe, scariness, and comfort of a storm.”
— Children’s Literature Resources
To learn more, please visit Michelle Meadows on the Web at http://www.michellemeadows.com