Sophie’s Squash Go to School! (An Interview with Pat Zietlow Miller)

SSGTS-1Fans of Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book, Sophie’s Squash, will be thrilled to hear that the sequel, Sophie’s Squash Go to School, releases on June 28th. Today, Pat, my friend and former neighbor, joins us to talk about her work.

Pat, welcome to The Winged Pen! Sophie’s Squash is a humorous but poignant story of friendship and devotion. Tell us about Sophie’s Squash Go to School.

A: In Sophie’s Squash Go to School, Sophie heads to kindergarten with her two squash friends – Bonnie and Baxter. Sophie’s not sure kindergarten is for her, and she’s not sure she needs any friends besides her squash. Meanwhile, her classmates don’t immediately succumb Bonnie and Baxter’s many charms. It takes everyone time to learn that some friendships are worth the wait.

Sophie’s Squash was discovered in the slush pile. Since you already had an editor, I imagine the process for writing Sophie’s Squash Go to School must have been much different. Can you tell us about who came up with the idea and how the story came to life?

A: After Sophie’s Squash came out and did fairly well, my editor Anne Schwartz suggested a sequel. I sent her several ideas and we agreed on one that became this book. But, writing the sequel was more difficult than writing the original because I had to do it on a deadline and I felt a certain amount of pressure to make it a worthy follow up to the first book. So I tried to go back to the voice and humor and heart that the first book had, and I hope I was able to reconnect with everything that made Sophie memorable.

Is there any talk of a third book?

A: Not yet. It might be possible, but right now I don’t have any other adventures for Sophie in my head.

I have five other books coming out in the next few years, so I’ve been busy editing and revising those, plus trying to write new things.

You and I used to bemoan our collective rejections together. Now that you’ve published five picture books (with more on the horizon), do the rejections hurt any less?

A: Yes and no. I don’t freak out about rejections or get too bummed out, probably because I have a certain base level of confidence that I didn’t have before. And because freaking out or bumming out just wastes time that I could be spending writing or revising.

But when you’re submitting something you really love and other people don’t see it, that’s never fun. And it’s a little harder when editors you know and have worked with on other successful projects turn you down. It seems more personal, even though it isn’t. I think some future authors think that once they sell that first book, everything will be smooth sailing. And while the seas are certainly calmer, that’s simply not true. You still have worries, they’re just about different things. (What if no one buys my book? What if it gets poor reviews? What if I never sell another?)

What has surprised you the most about being a published author?

A: Seeing enthusiastic reactions to my work from people I don’t know who aren’t related to me. That’s been really fun and unexpected and moving. I’ve received some great emails from parents sharing things their kids have done or said about my book. And I’ve heard from several grown adults who have connected with my books, further cementing my belief that picture books are for everyone.

What advice do have for aspiring picture book writers?

A: Check out every book ever written by your five favorite picture writers and then sit down and read or re-read each one. As you read, focus on how the story is structured. When is the character’s problem introduced? Where are the page turns? What is shown in the illustrations versus being told in the text? How does the ending of the book tie back to its beginning? How many words is the entire story? How are those words used on each page? When I was starting out, I studied hundreds of books at this level of detail. And I still do it today.

Before we go, I’d love to do a lightening round so readers can get to know you on a more personal level. Are you game?

A: Bring it!

Coffee or Tea? Neither. Water. And not the fizzy kind either. Bleh.

Sweet or salty? Sweet. (Can I say that more than once? Sweet.)

Dog or cat? Cats all the way. I have two – Sunny and Ollie.

E-book or physical book? Physical book. I have not cozied up to the e-reader.

Since I happen to know you are a shoe aficionado, I can’t resist throwing one last question at you:

Birkenstocks or heels? My daughters have Birkenstocks, but I do not. And, I am too uncoordinated to walk in heels, although I just bought my daughter a red, patent-leather pair that are marvelous. I like funky, clunky, colorful shoes with a special appreciation for John Fluevog. I don’t own these, but I would like to.

 Pat, thanks for joining us today!

 Thank you for hosting me!

Me

Pat Zietlow Miller knew she wanted to be a writer ever since her seventh-grade English teacher read her paper about square-dancing skirts out loud in class and said: “This is the first time anything a student has written has given me chills.” (Thanks, Mrs. Mueller! You rock!)

Pat started out as a newspaper reporter and wrote about everything from dartball and deer-hunting to diets and decoupage. Then, she joined an insurance company and edited its newsletter and magazine.

Now, she writes insurance information by day and children’s books by night.Pat has one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two pampered cats. She doesn’t watch much TV, but she does love “Glee” and “Chopped.” Pat lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

 Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

img_5993-e1262576912668Jessica Vitalis is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate). She’d love to connect on Twitter at @jessicavitalis

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