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"I love the fact that I am making a small positive difference in the world by writing books and other materials that children love reading."

Interview: Melissa Abramovitz, Author of ‘Helping Herbie Hedgehog’

0799Melissa Abramovitz began writing professionally 30 years ago after taking a writing course and realizing she had found her niche. She began publishing magazine articles and stories, along with educational books, working part-time while her children were growing up. Now that they are grown, being a freelance writer/author is her full-time profession. She specializes in writing educational nonfiction books and magazine articles for all age groups, from preschoolers through adults, and also enjoys writing some fiction and poetry. She has had hundreds of nonfiction magazine articles on health, science, nature, and history topics published in magazines such as Cricket, Boys’ Life, Current Health Teens, Current Health Kids, Guideposts for Kids, American Fitness, Ladies Circle, and many others. She has also published more than 40 educational series books for educational publishers, along with two picture books with Guardian Angel Publishing and a book for writers. Melissa graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in psychology. She is also a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and is a member of SCBWI, NABE, and the Working Writers Club.

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Helping Herbie Hedgehog. When did you start writing and what got you into children’s books?

I began writing professionally in 1986, after graduating from the Institute of Children’s Literature’s Writing for Children program. The first few things I had published were magazine articles and stories for children, and that gave me the courage to start writing children’s books. 

HHH9x150What is your book about?

Helping Herbie Hedgehog is a fun, interactive rhyming book about a clueless hedgehog who needs help making decisions about everyday activities. When he’s ready to take a trip across the ocean, he wonders if it would best to ride his bicycle or travel on a sailing ship. When he goes shopping for clothing, he’s not sure whether he needs a shoe or a hat to keep his head from getting sunburned. It’s recommended for children ages two to seven, and the kids get a kick out of helping Herbie make these decisions while laughing at the silly choices. 

Do you plot in advance or do you write by the seat of your pants?

With longer stories I do plot in advance, but with the type of book that involves rhyming stanzas, I usually write by the seat of my pants, although I do write character sketches in advance. With short rhyming sentences, I find that the rhythm seems to help move the plot or events forward, so even though I might not know exactly what will transpire in a stanza, the rhyming structure helps me get there. Writing character sketches and getting to know my characters beforehand also helps move the plot forward as I write. It often seems like the characters are telling me what should happen next or what they would do next. 

How was your experience working with an illustrator?

My publisher assigned the illustrator, Robert Lee Beers, to do the artwork, so I really had no interactions with him. I know that some picture book authors do work closely with the illustrator, but I guess that depends on the publisher and the writer and illustrator. But I was delighted with the illustrations! I think Beers really brought Herbie to life and added so much to the book. 

Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?

Since being a writer is my full-time job, it’s something I do just about every day, usually for six, eight, ten hours depending on what I’ve got going and when my deadlines are. What I like about working for myself is that I can take time to do my regular volunteer work at my local animal shelter, to have lunch with a friend, to attend a grandchild’s school performance or sports game, or even to run errands whenever I want to. I can then get back to work at any hour since my office is in my home; sometimes I eat dinner at my desk and work until bedtime if necessary. This does take discipline and self-direction. I’ve always been very disciplined and organized, so it’s second nature to me. I’ve relied on a trusty desk calendar to schedule and remember my activities since I was in junior high school.       

What was your publishing process like? Did you go the traditional way or did you self-publish? Are you happy with your decision?

I have published all my books and other types of writing the traditional way, through traditional publishers. I have no desire to self-publish, though I do know some successful writers who have been very pleased with the outcome of books they have self-published. But I don’t think self-publishing is for me. Although I am very willing to help promote my books, I want these efforts to complement the things a traditional publisher does.   

How do you define success?

I define success as achieving what you consider to be important about an endeavor. This definition can change over time. For instance, when I first began writing professionally, I felt successful when I made my first magazine article sale to a publisher and saw the article in print. Then I started defining success as developing good working relationships with a variety of magazine and book editors so they kept offering me assignments to sustain my freelance writing business. I still consider myself to be successful in this regard, but I have added new goals, such as having people enjoy and buy my books, to my definition of personal success. Interestingly, many years ago I envisioned true success as a writer to derive from having a book or books on the best-seller lists and from having subsequent interviews on programs like The Today Show. That is indeed how many people judge authors. But since then, I have realized that I honestly don’t want to be famous, and while of course reaping the financial rewards of a best-selling book would be nice, I really don’t care about that either. Instead, I consider myself successful because the editors and others with whom I work respect my competence and work ethic, and because those who read my books say they learn a lot, or laugh a lot, or just enjoy these books. 

What do you love most about being a children’s author?

I love the fact that I am making a small positive difference in the world by writing books and other materials that children love reading. Children who love reading are proved to do better in school and to have brighter futures in many ways. Today especially, with many other distractions like video games competing with books as entertainment choices, I think it’s great to create books that kids choose to read. I especially like it when kids tell me that reading something I wrote motivated them to make good choices or do good things in the world.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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