Monday, January 25, 2010

Michigander Monday: Rhonda Gowler Greene

I'm extremely pleased to welcome Rhonda Gowler Greene to Michigander Monday! Rhonda has written many wonderful books, and I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at an SCBWI-Michigan conference some years back.

Debbie: Rhonda, tell us a little about yourself.

Rhonda: I grew up in southern IL. My family moved to northern KY the summer before my senior year in high school. (Not a fun time to move! But...I met a great guy in KY!) We've been in Michigan 26 years now, so it seems like home sweet home. Out of college, I was an elementary learning disabilities teacher. I then got my Master's to be a school librarian, which is probably what I would be now if I wasn't writing. But, I had 4 kids within 7 years (what was I thinking!) and decided to stay home with them. That's when my interest in writing children's books began. I read a LOT to my kids. Reading great children's books to them fed my desire to write. Getting published wasn't easy though (understatement!). At first I tried my hand at other genres, but then found what I loved writing most-- picture books. I got 220 rejections over 3 1/2 years before that exciting first sale...Atheneum bought Barnyard Song. Then, luckily, I began selling more manuscripts. All my books so far are in rhyme. I love to write in rhyme. I have a music background, minored in music/piano in college, and often think that fuels my love of writing with rhythm and rhyme.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest books!

Rhonda: This spring I have 2 new books coming out-- Mommy is a Soft, Warm Kiss (in March) and Daddy is a Cozy Hug (in May). In each book, I use metaphors--for what a daddy is, and a mommy, during the twelve months of the year. These 2 have taken the longest of any of my books to be published--6 years! I had written a "daddy" story a few years back, and an editor at Little, Brown was interested in it. She asked if I would come up with a "mommy" one too. So I did. She was thinking of making them into a "flip" book. Then that editor left Little, Brown and went to Scholastic. She was still very interested in my stories. So my agent withdrew them from Little, Brown and submitted them to Scholastic. The editor wanted some revisions at that point, which I did. After a few months, she left Scholastic and went to Walker. The manuscripts were withdrawn and resubmitted--again! Finally, I got contracts on them at Walker. That editor then left Walker, but--my stories had a home by then. I had to do more revisions for a different editor there. The books were scheduled to come out in Spring 2009. But in April 2008, I got this email heading in my inbox from my new Walker editor..."Disappointing news." Yikes, my heart dropped. My first thought was that they were not going to even publish the books after all the years of waiting. The email started out: "I'm sorry to have to write and let you know..." I was scared to read the next words. She said the illustrator could not make the art deadline because of unavoidable circumstances--illness and her mother passed away, and so the books would have to be pushed to Spring 2010. Well, yes it was disappointing, but I totally understood. I was just glad the books were still going to be published. And anyway, what was one more year after 5 years of waiting! So this spring--Yeah!--the books will finally be released.

Debbie: Hurrah! What a story in perseverance -- and patience! Other projects on the horizon?

Rhonda: I'm always working on new projects. I just completed a couple of new manuscripts. Fingers crossed!

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Rhonda: School visits, both in and out of state. And my daughter's wedding in June!

Debbie: Congratulations to your daughter! Rhonda, how about your favorite places in Michigan?

Rhonda: One of my favorite places in Michigan is inside any bookstore. Book Beat in Oak Park is a gem of one with stacks of books I get lost in. I never go away empty-handed. And, though I don't go real often, it's always a total treat to go to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra downtown. Too, I love Michigan libraries. We have many gorgeous ones! Barnyard Song was the first Michigan Reads pick back in 2004 (I was honored!). When zigzagging all across the state for Michigan Reads, I presented at so very many beautiful libraries. One more favorite-- my husband and I recently bought a second place, a get-away place (only 15 minutes away!). It's in a wooded nature preserve. We love it! I'm looking forward to making a cozy writing room there.

Debbie: Sounds wonderful! Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Rhonda: First snowfall (though I might have a different answer for that one if I was the bundle-up-go-out-in-the-dark-and-freezing-cold-to-shovel person at my house!)

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Rhonda: Oakland University professors Linda Pavonetti and Jim Cipielewski. Their 4-week summer graduate class--Authors & Illustrators - Art & Craft--is unique and first-rate. They bring in children's authors and illustrators from all over the country to speak. They include local Michigan ones too. I had dinner with them the night before I spoke to the class. What a fun couple (and who know SO MUCH about children's books)--they're a delight! Also, I'd like to mention Aileen Fisher, whose poetry I admire. Many of her books are dated now, but she won the N.C.T.E. Excellence in Poetry for Children Award in 1978. She was born in the U.P., in Iron River, and grew up there. I wrote to her several years ago (she lived in Boulder, CO then) and I was honored that she wrote back to me. I treasure that letter (and also the one I have from Cynthia Rylant!). Ms. Fisher died in 2002 at the age of 96. A quote from her--"Poetry is a rhythmical piece of writing that leaves the reader feeling that life is a little richer than before, a little more full of wonder, beauty, or just plain delight." I like that.

Debbie: I like that, too! Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Rhonda: We have a National Park, a unique one, Isle Royale. It's way out in Lake Superior, so you can only get there by boat (4-hr. ferry ride) or seaplane. I've seen some amazing Michigan moose there! Also, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state. My husband and I stayed in a B&B lighthouse way up in Big Bay several years ago. While there, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the sun rise over Lake Superior. Beautiful!

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Rhonda: Michigander. I love when words "sing" and sort of sail on the air. Is pleasing to the ear. I think the word Michigander "sings" and "sails" more than Michiganian. Maybe because it has wings!

Debbie: What a beautiful answer! (And I completely agree.) Rhonda, thank you for being today's Michigander Monday!


Z-Kids said...

Eager to see those two new books! The path to publication makes me feel a bit sick inside, but I'm glad it has a happy ending!

Unknown said...

Great interview :) Her new books sound fun!