Saturday, September 29, 2012

Author Interview: Laura Murray, Author of The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School

This month’s debut author is Laura Murray, author of THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL.  Laura may be a first-time author, but there is nothing newbie about her.  She is a passionate mother, teacher, and writer who has done her homework.  As she puts it, her journey is "part luck, part research, and hard work, with a dose of persistence and patience."  Read on to find out Laura’s journey to becoming a published picture book writer.

I know you are a wonderful mother to 3 young children and a teacher.  When do you find time to write? 
I've taken time off from teaching for now to concentrate on my family and on writing. I tend to work my writing time around our family time, but when it is "writing time," I stick to it. I believe writers have to decide to make time to write. So I try to establish a daily routine when I am working on a story and make my writing time a priority. My brain seems to work best in the morning, when things are quiet. I have also tried to make my writing environment fun and cozy, filled with children's books, writing quotes, pictures, a big window to stare out of and think, a warm cup of coffee, and of course - my friend and occasional enemy - the computer. (Although, plain paper and a pen work just fine as well!) I also try to break writing into bite-sized pieces that are doable in the time I have and not to go back and "fix" my work while I am writing. It is never perfect the first, second, or even third time I write it - I don't expect it to be - I just try to let the ideas and story come out and turn off my inner critic.

What classes, if any, did you take to prepare you to become a children's writer? 
I feel like many of the classes that I took to become an educator helped me to understand some of the essentials for children's writing. Classes in early education, child development, child psychology, and children's literature all helped. Reading out loud to my students and to my own children each day, also helped me understand what they liked, what they found funny, what was too long or too wordy, what rhyme and repetition worked best, etc. The many workshops and conferences that I attended through SCBWI, and books on how to write for children were also great resources.  I found the Institute of Children's Literature writing course very helpful as well.

What inspired you to write The Ginger Bread Man Loose in the School?
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School was inspired by two ideas colliding. One was when my 3 year old daughter proudly announced one day that she was “one smart cookie.” Her cute comment reminded me of another “smart cookie” I knew – the freshly baked Gingerbread Man that always managed to escape from my Kindergarten classroom at the end of the first week of school! Every year, the class hung missing posters and searched the halls, discovering crumbs and dropped candies, as we asked school staff where he might be. But he always found his way back to our classroom on his own!

My students absolutely loved this unit and would come back years later asking if the Gingerbread Man had escaped yet. Even though we read many versions of the Gingerbread Man story during the unit, there was not one that mirrored the fun of our school Gingerbread Man chase.

I started wondering what adventures the Gingerbread Man might have had while he was out and about, and then I began to ask what if…? What if the story was set in a school? What if the story was told by the Gingerbread Man himself? What if he was trying to find the class who made him, instead of running away from them? Those "what if" questions helped me imagine a Gingerbread Man adventure that was sprinkled with fresh, funny twists to set it apart from the traditional tale.

You wrote this story in rhyme (such a difficult thing to do, but you did a marvelous job).  What steps have you taken to get your meter/rhyme to perfection?
As a teacher and reader, I always loved word play, rhyme, rhythm, and great read-alouds.  This story just started coming to me in rhyme - it was like working on a puzzle, and when I managed to revise a stanza enough times to really make it sing, it was such a thrill!  But I also had a lot to learn about rhyming, such as stressed and unstressed syllables and words, meter, true rhymes, forced rhyme, etc. I looked up and read as many picture books as I could in rhyme - out loud - so I heard and felt the rhythm. You can immediately tell if a rhyming book flows well or not by reading it out loud. In fact, if you are writing in rhyme, always have several people read your manuscript back to you out loud - you'll hear when the meter isn't working. Books by expert rhymers like Mary Ann Hoberman, Lisa Wheeler, and Hope Vestergaard are wonderful resources. I also had several writers in my critique group that were very good at pinpointing when they tripped over the meter in the stanzas.

Here are two wonderful posts on writing in rhyme:
How did you know this story was THE one?  
I wrote several other stories, but this one was the one that made me excited and seemed to have the most possibilities. I turned the story in, time and again, at SCBWI conferences for professional critique, then I would revise. Finally one day, the manuscript was paired with Stephen Mooser (SCBWI president, author, and presenter at the Miami conference,) and he basically confirmed my hope that it was ready to be sent out into the world. This was the only manuscript I submitted at the time.  I am now working on a couple of other PB ideas, but the stories are still "under development."

Putnam Juvenile does not accept unsolicited manuscripts.  How did you make that contact?
I didn’t have an agent at the time the manuscript was submitted. I submitted it to an editor at Putnam whom I had researched, after I heard at a SCBWI conference that Putnam was looking for picture book manuscripts. I looked up several other publishers in the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market Guide, and made a short list of them to send the story to. This was in 2007, when Putnam was still open to unagented submissions.

Going to SCBWI conferences, both locally and nationally, is a wonderful way to learn the business, meet other writers, and find out what editors and agents who are attending are looking for. Often the editors and agents at these conferences will accept submissions from writers who attended the conference for a certain period of time afterwards. This is a good opportunity to submit to normally closed publishers or agents if your manuscript fits their guidelines and interest.

How many publishing houses did you send your ms to before it got accepted?  
I did a lot of research online, through writer's newsletters, and with The Children's Writers and Illustrators Guide, to come up with a group of 7 publishing houses that seemed to be a good fit for my story. I researched their book lists, and researched specific editors before writing a cover letter that was specifically for that publishing house and editor. THE GINGERBREAD MAN…was rejected by 6 houses before GP Putnam's contacted me about the story four months after submission. But everyone's journey is different. My journey was part luck, part research and hard work, with a good dose of persistence and patience.  And I know of writers that tried for 10 years before they got an acceptance. My best advice here is don’t give up. Learn as much as you can from other writers, critique groups, and SCBWI to make your writing the best it can be, but your success will come with persistence and patience. I have a quote that hangs over my computer that says: A professional writer is an amateur that didn’t quit.  I look up at it often on days when I want to bang my head against the wall, when the words aren't coming easily, or I got another rejection.

What do you think is the most important step you've taken that helped advance your career as a writer? 
Joining SCBWI, going to conferences, networking with other writers, listening to the agents and editors, and loving and respecting children and children's literature.

Any new picture books coming out for you?  
Yes, THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE ON THE FIRE TRUCK, is due out summer of 2013. It was a load of fun to research and write, and stars the same dapper Gingerbread Man on a field trip with his class to a fire station. And, OH - the adventures that he gets into when he finds himself on the nose of the fire house Dalmatian. I am currently working on other picture books and middle-grade stories as well.

Thank you so much Romelle for hosting me on your fabulous blog!  It has been so much fun, and I hope that some part of my writing journey so far, will spark an idea or "take away" that will be helpful to another reader and writer!

Thank you!  It’s been great having you, Laura. My favorite quotes from you is:
"Writers have to decide to make time to write"
I guess it's because I am struggling with finding a good chunk of time to write these days.  Anyway, I learned so much about the writing process from you.  I’m sure your journey will inspire other’s as well.  But as you said:
"Everyone's journey is different"
THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL is a fresh take on the traditional Gingerbread Man. Laura managed to create a fabulous story that is full of fun, adventure, mystery, and humor- it has something for everyone. 

For those who haven’t yet, please pick up your copy of THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL today!  Please visit her website too.  Laura has a wonderful list of book-related ideas and activities that she's created for parents and librarians.

Here is a video trailer created by Carter Higgins for Laura Murray:

Some interesting tidbits for aspiring writers about THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL:

  • It took 2 years from draft to submission-ready
  • It has been revised about 50 times (some were small edits, some were large plot revisions)
  • It sold unagented
  • It had been rejected by 6 houses before GP Putnam accepted the ms
  • It took 4 months for GP Putnam to respond

For more debut author interviews check out:
Amy Dixon, author of MARATHON MOUSE
Karin LeFranc, author of A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS


  1. Great interview with Laura Murray. I learned a few things. Thanks Romelle. :)

  2. Great interview. And the fact that Laura revised her story around 50 times gives me hope. There are couple of stories that I love but it seems like I've been working on them forever.

    1. I know what you mean, Rena. But I'm sure your ms gets better each time!

  3. Awesome interview! We love this book can't wait for the sequel! Thanks, Romelle and Laura!

  4. Great interview! As for time, I read on Ann Whitford Paul's site advice that said to write whenever the kids are away and do your chores when they are around because they need to see what it takes to run a house. Love that because it turned my idea of bad parenting into good parenting!

    1. How about write when they are away and have THEM do the chores. :o) Happy writing!

  5. Great interview! I really like the quote of "A professional writer is an amateur that didn’t quit" :)

    1. That is one of my favorites too. So keep on writing, my friend. You have a bright future ahead of you.

  6. I really appreciated hearing the importance of researching publishing houses thoroughly and targeting submissions tightly. Not my favorite part of the work, but sure to pay off in the end!

    1. Yes, this is so important. This way we don't wast the pubs. time and our time. Laura did her homework and it paid off!

  7. It was great to read everyone's comments here on Romelle's blog! As I said to her, blogs like hers are a great resource to new and seasoned writers alike. I love to read about other writer's journeys as well - they are a source of inspiration for me too. Writing can be glorious and frustrating at the same time, it is good to know that we are all in this together and are an inspiration for one another :). Thank you for your kind words - and keep writing, everyone. We all have stories that are worth telling!

  8. I'm late to the party, but made time to read the interview! Thanks Romelle and Laura. I love the stats at the end. Really gives me the nuts and bolts of the process. Good luck with your next book.

  9. Ha! Stacy, you think you're late to the party :D

    Romelle, appreciate the share about your road to publication!



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