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Author Spotlight: Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer

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I had the pleasure of talking with not one, but two authors this week as they prepared for their World of Ink virtual tour. One of which is Natasha Yim, a children’s book author and freelance writer. Charlesbridge Publishing published her first book, Otto’s Rainy Day in 2000. It was selected as a Kids’ Pick of the Lists. She has written for Highlights for Children, Appleseeds and Faces magazines, and her new picture book biography, Cixi, The Dragon Empress was released by Goosebottom Books in October 2011. Natasha is also a full-time Mom. She shared, “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be home with my kids. Now that they’re in school at least part of the time (My son is in a half-day kindergarten), I can have larger chunks of writing time.”

Prior to having kids, Natasha worked as a counselor/social worker in-group homes, foster homes, residential treatment centers, and finally with child protective services. “Because I worked with kids, it gave me an insight into how kids thought and felt. The way kids perceive the world, their imaginations and creativity is always an inspiration. One of these days, I’d like to write either a book about the life of a social worker or foster kids and what they have to go through,” shared Natasha.

The other author touring with Natasha Yim is Gretchen Maurer. She has been published in Frances Mayes’ The Discovery of Poetry, and in Adventure Cyclist and Highlights for Children magazines. She also co-wrote a short film, Alma that has won multiple awards. Mary Tudor: Bloody Mary is her first picture book. She lives in Northern California with her family.
Gretchen shared, “My main job is taking care of my family and I’m glad I get to do it. I have 3 kids at 3 different schools right now, and life gets busy!”

Up until a few years ago, Gretchen started to give more time to her writing. “I also held various jobs in education: high school and college English teacher and teacher mentor. I worked full-time outside the home before my kids were born, and after that, part-time…and now instead of working part-time outside the home, I write most mornings,” shared Gretchen.

It’s rare to meet two women who not only write but are able to do it full time. “I feel thankful I have my family’s support and that we can swing it, at least for now,” stated Gretchen.

However, do not think the road to publication is an easy one. Natasha was quick to share her thoughts on this. “It can be agonizingly long and the road from Point A to Point B is often NOT a straight line. My first book, Otto’s Rainy Day, was fairly straightforward. I submitted the manuscript unsolicited to Charlesbridge Publishing. It was the one and only house I submitted this story to. They took a year to make a decision on it but decided to acquire the manuscript. We had to wait a year to sign the illustrator, as she was busy with other contracts. It was finally published 3 years after I signed the contract.” A long road indeed and a fairly positive experience for Natasha.

Charlesbridge Publishing also published Natasha Yim’s picture book, Goldy Luck and the Three Chans. “This one took quite a torturous and circuitous route to publishing. I had submitted the manuscript unsolicited to Tricycle Press in 1996. It went through three editors, as the editors kept leaving the company. There were long lapses when I had no communication whatsoever—the last editor who had the manuscript went on emergency maternity leave and the manuscript was left in limbo; it was lost once, and I had to send another copy. Finally, in Aug. 2010, after three and a half years with Tricycle, the editor gave me the good news that they wanted to acquire it. I wasn’t represented by an agent then, so I had to do a lot of research into publishing contracts and negotiated my own contract,” shared Natasha.

A few days after Natasha signed the contact and sent it back, Tricycle Press’ parent organization, Random House, decided to close Tricycle. “Most of the books on their list, including mine, were sadly orphaned. It was very discouraging. I sent the book back out to my former publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing. They don’t do a lot of folk tales or fairy tales, so I wasn’t holding out much hope that it’d find success there. My former editor Yolanda Scott had encouraged me to send it to her though because she thought the multi-cultural aspect interesting. In March 2011, I received an email from Editor Alyssa Pusey. She really liked the story. Several rounds of revisions later, it was taken to acquisitions, but the Marketing Department wasn’t sure whether Charlesbridge should publish a fractured fairy tale as it would be a departure from what they normally publish. They decided to table any decisions on Goldy Luck till the fall. Yet another delay! But at least it wasn’t a rejection,” stated Natasha.

Gretchen shared, “I do get discouraged sometimes as well and I know there are no guarantees, but thankfully, I’m addicted to the writing process so I never get overly discouraged. I shoot for the outcome of getting published, but I don’t focus on it. I focus on getting stuff on paper and improving my writing. As far as rejections go, I keep them in a file because they remind me that I’m trying. It’s like having scars I’m strangely proud of: I got that scar when…”

It wasn’t until October 2011 Charlesbridge offered Natasha a contract on Goldy Luck and the Three Chans. “It has been a very long road for this story, and I’d like to tell those writing and aspiring to publish: Never Give up. Keep working on your manuscript and your craft, and your manuscript will find a home,” shared Natasha.

Both women shared how important it is to lob the manuscript right back out into the world. “I think of it as a game of tennis: when the ball bounces back, I swing, hit it back over the net … and hopefully, ultimately, I’ll score,” stated Gretchen.

Natasha Yim’s current book, Cixi, The Dragon Empress is one of six books (all written by different authors) in Goosebottom Books’ series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. The series profiles six women in history who have earned dastardly reputations. Cixi was the last empress of China who rose from the ranks of a lowly concubine to become ruler of a nation. As with all the dastardly dames, she was a woman who wielded great power at a time when women had very little to say at all. She was vilified for many things from stealing funds from the imperial navy to support her extravagant tastes to poisoning rivals. But was she truly evil or merely misunderstood? Would she still have attained this reputation if she had been a man? In addition to telling her fascinating story, the book (as are all the books in the series) is filled with cultural and historical details of the time in which Cixi lived. And it poses the question: did she deserve her dastardly nickname? And begs kids to consider the long-lasting effects and consequences of name-calling.

Gretchen Maurer was happy to get her first choice from The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames series, Mary Tudor, the first reigning queen of England, out of the 6 dames the publisher of Goosebottom Books planned to feature in the series. “I chose Mary Tudor because to me her nickname, ‘Bloody Mary’, was the most brutal-sounding out of the 6, and I wanted to find out more about why and how she earned it, and whether or not she deserved it. I wanted to know if she did anything good too, what her childhood was like and who she was as a person. I dug into my research and wrote a boiled down version of the fascinating stuff I learned, which, once edited and put into book form became Mary Tudor: Bloody Mary,” shared Gretchen.

It’s definitely a book that makes you think. Mary Tudor was the first reigning Queen of England who believed fervently that Catholicism should be the religion of the land, leading her to burn at the stake hundreds of Protestants. Was she just a ruler of her times? That is for the reader to decide.

“I believe it’s important for girls to read books about powerful women in history, books that really flesh out their lives and explore the social/political times in which they lived. A lot of children’s books have been published about influential men in history, but not as many about women,” shared Gretchen.

You can find out more about Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer’s World of Ink Virtual Tour schedule at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/YimandMaurer.aspx. There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Yim and Maurer, along with the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork. The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer about their books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Yim and Maurer will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 14, 2011 at 2pm EST.

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