Nancy Stewart is the bestselling author of the four Bella and Britt Series books for children: One Pelican at a Time (18 weeks on Amazon Bestselling List), Sea Turtle Summer, Bella Saves the Beach and Mystery at Manatee Key. All are published by Guardian Angel Publishing.
She and One Pelican at a Time and were featured in the PBS Tampa (WEDU) special, GulfWatch. Pelican was nominated for a Global eBook Award and has won the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.
Nancy’s travels take her throughout the world, most particularly Africa. She is US chair of a charity in Lamu, Kenya, that places girls in intermediate schools to allow them to further their education. She and her husband live in Tampa and St. Louis.
I understand you were a university professor teaching classes about children’s and young adult literature before you started writing. How did the leap from teacher to author come about?
I thought fleetingly about writing for children through my years as an academic, but it never seemed the right time. After teaching children’s and young adult literature, though, the idea crystallized. The day after my granddaughter, Leah, was born, I wrote my first children’s book, I Held You on the Day You Were Born. Since then I’ve never looked back, and those pent-up books flow faster than I would ever have expected. So, in a real way, Leah (who is now five) is the true catalyst behind my writing.
What makes you passionate about writing for children?
My entire academic career has been about children, from teaching young kids to teaching pre-service teachers. It was, I think, a natural segue to begin writing for them. The combination of my love of all things books and the real joy I feel about children and their growing awareness of new ideas led me to this passion.
Congratulations on the publication of your latest children’s picture book, Sea Turtle Summer. What was your inspiration for this story?
My morning walks on Clearwater Beach provide me with so many ideas, particularly for the Bella and Britt Series. With Sea Turtle Summer, I walked by a cordoned off area of the beach that contained a sea turtle nest. The orange tape and the affixed state seal warning about the serious consequences of tampering began the process in my mind.
Clearwater Beach, always voted one of the three best beaches in the world, is a sea turtle’s nightmare if she happens to lay her eggs there. There is so very much activity — from sun worshiping, to volleyball games, to kids’ digging sandcastles (hatchlings cannot get over them), the problem became defined. The tension was set up. All we needed was a sea turtle laying her eggs in an unfortunate place, and Bella and Britt were back on the job!
Tell us something about your protagonist, Bella. What kind of girl is she and why do you think young readers will love her?
Bella is a go-to girl. She thinks on her feet, is self-assured and makes things happen. Bella sees a problem and spares no time in trying to solve it. She will not take no for an answer. This attitude can be tricky and fraught for a child dealing with an adult world, but Bella perseveres. She is an empowered kid and as such, I hope she’s a model for other kids who need that assurance.
What is the message of your book? Why do you think parents and educators should buy it for their children/students?
The message is two-fold. It is, of course, an ecology book for children. It will, I hope, help make children aware of the natural world and the responsibility they have for it. It also, as I mentioned above, is a book about empowerment. There are times when children do have the best answers, and navigating an adult milieu can be a sensitive issue. I hope that giving children permission to empower themselves will not stop with ecology but will help them stay safe and make good choices.
I understand you get up at dawn every day and by 6am are already pounding away at your keyboard on the balcony of your beautiful, gulf-view Clearwater apartment. Tell us more about your writing schedule and writing process, especially for Sea Turtle Summer.
It is true that I’m at my computer around six each morning and has become a joke with friends who always look at the time I send or answer emails! I do find that time to be more productive for me than any other.
I’ve learned to parcel my days into bunches of hours, each bunch dealing with one area. For instance, my best creative writing is early in the morning. About mid-morning, I turn to marketing and do that several hours. Later in the day, I go back to writing, many times on a different manuscript. I tend to finish about 5pm, but my computer is sometimes on my lap in the evening as well.
My blog does take some time almost daily. I publish new posts three times a week. I try to write them in groups and usually have seven or eight ready to go. I enjoy blogging and find writing for adults helps keep my mind focused in a different way. In that regard, it’s a worthwhile exercise.
What do you do when the words ‘just won’t come out’? Do you stay and force it until something begins happening on the page?
Free Association is the name of that game for me. I don’t fight writer’s block any more. Rather, exercise or running errands or doing anything not related to writing helps greatly. When I’m disengaged from writing is usually when engagement happens. An idea, a notion, a nugget of a thought will pop into my consciousness and, as if by magic, the block is finished.
Do you have any tips for aspiring children’s authors?
Yes! Don’t write in a vacuum! Join a writer’s group — immediately. It is the best thing you can do for yourself. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is beyond valuable for the new writer, and local groups are everywhere.
Realize you have to promote your own book, and you must do it constantly. The days of sitting back and letting your publishing house do it are over! I have a friend whose name you’d recognize here. She’s had 32 books children’s books published. Recently she told me that she still gives one day a month to marketing.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
You can obtain a personalized, autographed copy of my books there.
Listen to an audio interview audio interview with Nancy.