Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Super Star Interviews: Michelle Nott

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm happy to be catching up with the lovely, thoughtful author, Michelle Nott! Michelle's new children's picture book, TEDDY, LET'S GO!, debuts this fall, and we're chatting all about it! Michelle has enjoyed words from the moment she could copy her first letters. She writes in poetry and prose inspired by art, music, travel, nature, and family. She currently lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two daughters, and their rescue dog. You can enjoy more of Michelle's book work here!

Hi, Michelle—children's book super star!

Q: Your NEW picture book 
TEDDY, LET'S GO! releases in December with Enchanted Lion Books! Congratulations!!! Give us the full scoop on this sweet story—what inspired you to write it, how it found its way to publication, your experiences working with your editor—you know, ALL the good stuff!

A: The character of Teddy is inspired by the teddy bear that my grandmother handmade me when I was born. I’m a December baby, and Teddy was my first Christmas present. I’ve kept Teddy close all my life and eventually gave him a home in my daughters’ bedroom. Currently, he sits on a bookshelf in my office. The story is not autobiographical, but the love I tried to instill in it comes from the love I share for my grandmother and my daughters.

At the time I wrote the first draft of this story, my daughters were in Pre-K and kindergarten. But I didn’t discover SCBWI or CBI until 2010. That’s when I started to really learn about children’s publishing and how to improve my craft.

Spring of 2011, I saw that a very successful agent from NYC was giving a master class in Paris with SCBWI France, a quick trip from our home in Belgium. So, with high hopes, I boarded the train. To make a long story short, I received very helpful advice during my one-on-one critique, stopped at the first café I found afterwards (looking at the Eiffel Tower, of course) and started revising. And I revised over the next several months with my SCBWI Belgium critique group. I finally started to query by fall of that year. But year after year, revision and after revision, I received basically the same response, “It’s really nice, but too quiet.” I put it away.

Fast forward many more stories, picture books, early readers (two published), and middle grade manuscripts, I queried an agent in 2016 with a middle grade story. She replied that she really liked my writing and asked if I wrote picture books, too. So, I “dusted off” the teddy bear manuscript from its computer file and pushed “send.” It had always been my favorite manuscript. I took a chance with it. That agent, Essie White at Storm Literary Agency, got back to me the same day saying how much she loved it. As we see, she found the perfect publishing home for it.

Isn't this cover the sweetest?!

In 2018, I received an email from Essie that said Claudia Zoe Bedrick from Enchanted Lion Books wanted to publish the manuscript and that Nahid Kazemi would illustrate it. I’d always loved Enchanted Lion books! (Who doesn’t? They are so gorgeous.) And, I had already seen Nahid’s portfolio and knew her style would be perfect for Teddy’s story. Publisher’s Weekly announced the deal for a Fall 2020 release. Champagne!

Then, 2020 and 2021 came and went in a pandemic blur. Earlier this year, we finalized the text, the illustrations, planned for a September release only to come upon the supply chain debacle (no containers!). And so, the release date was pushed from September to October 11, 2022. Two years past the original publishing date, the timing is actually better in many ways.

I have appreciated getting to know Claudia and Nahid over the past few years. I’ve had great phone calls with Claudia, not only specifically about my book but also about publishing and art and life. Nahid and I both speak French. So, it’s been nice to communicate in both languages and make sure the story is clear in text and image.

Publishing a picture book takes time—a lot of time! There were edits, of course. And Nahid spent an incredible amount of time to make sure the illustrations were nothing short of brilliant. I think it’s obvious how much love and energy from the whole team at Enchanted Lion Books went into creating TEDDY, LET'S GO!

So, yes, this book took the greater part of my daughters’ childhoods to make its way into the world (they’re both at university now), but as everything has its time, it is Teddy’s moment...

(Psst! You can pre-order your very own copy here:)

Best friends!!!

Q: I love the gentle, comforting text of TEDDY, LET'S GO! that is captured in tone by the soft, expressive illustrations. Chat with us a bit about your approach to writing 
TEDDY, LET'S GO! and how you reacted when you saw your story fully illustrated for the first time.

A: I dreamed up a story with Teddy in it while sitting in a rocking chair in my daughters’ bedroom. Maybe it was the rhythm of the chair or the sweetness of the moment that infiltrated my thoughts and chose my words.

Although not always the case in most author and illustrator relationships, Nahid and I have been in contact with each other from very early on. Her first few images she sent filled me with such delight! And when I received the final PDF of TEDDY, LET'S GO!, my heart filled. This was it. This was the story inspired by my teddy bear, handmade by my grandmother...she never could have guessed what this bear would inspire while stitching up its final threads so many decades ago. What is also amazing is that Nahid’s illustrations of the grandmother in 
TEDDY, LET'S GO! look very much like my grandmother, and I’ve never shown her a photograph of her.

Grandma snuggles are the best!

Q: What plans do you have for sharing 
TEDDY, LET'S GO! with the world? And what advice would you give fellow creatives about 1) arranging book events, 2) creating supplemental book materials for teachers, librarians & readers and 3) partnering with book bloggers & influencers?

A: My current plans include interviews on a variety of kid lit blogs. I will also be signing copies of 
TEDDY, LET'S GO! in bookstores. And I am very excited about doing school visits!

I have a background in education, so getting back into classrooms to share my love of books and to support literacy is one of the best parts of being an author. I enjoy creating all sorts of programs and working with teachers when they have something specific in mind. I’m happy and prepared to offer everything from story time to SEL lessons to writing workshops for grades Pre-K to 12.

A bit of advice about supplemental materials for teachers, librarians, and readers...if you are not comfortable creating your own, or simply just do not have the time, ask your publisher what they can offer. They may have someone in-house or a contact to share with you.

I would also encourage fellow creators to reach out to your friends: fellow writers, librarians, teachers, booksellers...but they don’t have to be in the book business at all. Friends genuinely want to encourage and support you. You never know who can introduce you to a PTA member or at a bookstore in a nearby town or even create some supplemental materials for you.

As picture book creators, we naturally have been following kid lit blogs for years as we hone our craft and learn this business. So, my final two-cents worth, whether you have a new book or not, is to reach out and let your favorite bloggers know. Kindly ask if they might consider your book for a post. I’m grateful for the generous offers and responses I’ve received in regard to 

On the go...straight to sweet dreams!

Q: You have a background rich with diverse experiences in traveling, teaching and living abroad. Dish with us a bit about how your background has influenced you as a writer.

A: In college, I majored in French Education and minored in Creative Writing then left Ohio for France to be a nanny. With three little girls in my care, I didn’t have much time for writing, but that experience has always stayed with me. I have also been a lead teacher in a pre-school (in Ann Arbor, Michigan) and taught in a French immersion elementary school (in Charlotte, NC). After graduate school (split between France and Ohio), I taught French (k-12) and Creative Writing (9-12). Those experiences on top of the best one—raising and observing my own children navigate their world—all make their way into my stories, consciously or not.

While raising my daughters in Belgium, we were very fortunate to easily travel to at least a dozen countries, get to know many international families, hear their stories, learn their cultures, and find extraordinary books in English and French (we’re bi-lingual) and many in translation from other languages. I feel that reading so many French picture books, MG, YA and all the literature during my graduate studies in French and beyond heavily influence my style of writing.

Q: Tell us about your typical workday as a creative professional—routines, rituals, inspiration & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

A: My daily workspace is a large farm table we moved with us from Belgium. It’s the perfect size to spread out lots of papers, books, folders, etc. all around my laptop.

My routine changed drastically this fall. With my youngest starting college, my regular routine of squeezing in as much writing as possible (plus walking the dog, running errands, etc.) during the hours of 8 and 3 can be a bit more flexible now.

Happy, Happy, Happy!

If I’m not at an author event or working on some form of publicity, a typical day will look more-or-less like this:

After breakfast and a long walk with my dog, my mornings include joining other authors in a virtual workspace that an author friend started during the pandemic. I tend to use this time to work on client work (I’m a freelance editor, too) and weekly picture book reviews for my blog. Once that’s done, I work on revisions of my own work, research, or write.

After lunch and another walk with my dog, I’ll get back to my computer to continue writing and/or researching. I also like to use the afternoons to sit somewhere else—at the library, a café, or just outside on my own deck with paper and pen.

As far as rituals and routines...as soon as I get out of bed, I do a combination of Qiqong, yoga, and tai chi. I need this to not only wake up my mind, but also my body. This ritual prepares me physically and mentally for the day. My daily morning walk also helps my brain wake up and start to focus. Once I get to my desk, I like to write something new before starting what’s on my schedule. By new, I mean the first words that come to me, inspire a few more lines, and let me see where they want me to go. The page may not ever evolve into more. That’s’ ok. It’s just really a brain exercise to get me going.

As for inspiration, it comes from many directions. I am very moved by music, art, travel, and nature, and of course by my daughters’ childhoods and mine. Whether I’m out in the woods or walking down a city street, if a sight, sound, or feeling inspires me, I will jot it down.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday, weather permitting, I’m kayaking with my husband while my daughters are paddleboarding nearby. Being on the water and the act of rowing are so soothing. I don’t do rough waters or rapids...it’s Sunday, right? ;), a day of relaxation. The perfect Sunday also ends with my husband and I cooking dinner and all enjoying it together.

Thank you so much, Michelle, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your beautiful book!