Vicki Berger Erwin
PAL Author interview of the month - October 2017
Welcome to our PAL Author of the Month, Vicki Berger Erwin. Besides writing books for children, Vicki has worked as a children’s book buyer and a sales rep for Scholastic, and she and her husband owned the independent bookstore, Main Street Books, in St. Charles, MO for seven years. She is the author of many books for children, including SCOOBY DOO AND YOU, as well as some single Scooby Doo titles. She was also a ghostwriter for several popular girls’ book series. DIFFERENT DAYS, is historical fiction for middle grade readers, and was released this month by SkyPony Press.
Congratulations, Vicki! Can you tell us where the inspiration for DIFFERENT DAYS came from?
I have always been fascinated about internment during World War II and wanted to write a children’s book about it because I didn’t know anything about that until I was an adult. How could a country like the US, who prides itself on freedom and inclusion, lock up people because of where they came from? I also thought internment was limited to Japanese. Whenever I saw a new book about internment, I immediately read it. While on vacation, I happened across a book called THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY. It was a fascinating read, and most of all opened my eyes to the fact that Germans (and Italians and Latin Americans of Japanese, German and Italian descent) were also interned. I researched by reading every book I could find about German (my ethnicity) internment. I ran across the story of Doris Berg in several of the books and websites that I came across in my research, and it fascinated me. I decided this was the story I wanted to write. Of course, there are many parts I fictionalized, but the basic outline remained her story.
What kind of research did you do to write your book?
One of the best things that happened during the research process is that I managed to contact Doris Berg (Nye) and we have exchanged many emails. She sent me a longer version of her story as well as answered many, many questions. I feel so fortunate that she supports the book and is so willing to be a part of it. She is a great lady as well.
How did you go about writing this book? Did you use an outline?
Since this book is based on something that really happened (the first time I have ever written a book like this), the basic outline was there.
How did you find your editor?
This is a story in itself, and it kind of combines with the “do you have an agent” question. My very first editor, who found my very first published book in the slush pile at Scholastic, had, as I was finishing this book, become an agent. I submitted to her because I love everything about how she edits and she worked with me to polish the manuscript. As we were finishing and almost ready to submit it to editors, she called and said she was returning to publishing as editorial director at SkyPony Press. Could she take the book with her? Of course, she could! Time passed and we were about to start final revisions when she called again. She had a new job and was leaving SkyPony. Of course, I was devastated. Fortunately, the editor who took over my book is so good and has been so supportive, and it has turned out well.
If you do work for hire, how did you get your assignment?
I haven’t done work for hire recently, but I did earlier in my career. Editors that I worked with passed my name along, usually, and I picked up work that way. It was about contacts. I had written mostly mysteries, so when there was a project that needed a mystery writer, they suggested me. I think it stemmed from being easy to work with, doing a good job, meeting deadlines and keeping in touch.
How has your experience from your other jobs informed, inspired, and affected your writing?
I am so fortunate to have had, besides my writing career, a career in various aspects of publishing along the way. I worked for an independent bookstore as the children’s buyer, opening up worlds of books. After that I was a Collection Development Manager for a wholesale book company, meaning more books. Then I went to work at Scholastic as a sales rep for independent bookstores. Finally, I achieved a dream job of owning my own bookstore. What did this mean? It meant that I had to keep up to date on recent publications, that I learned how all levels of publishing work (sometimes this part is more daunting than helpful) and I met publishing professionals, booksellers and authors all across the country. In fact, when I worked for Scholastic, I had customers literally from coast to coast! When I owned the bookstore, I have to admit, that I was too busy to write much and it was one of the reasons I sold it two years ago.
I am obsessed right now with World War II and historical fiction written about that period. I absolutely loved THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE. I also really liked SALT TO THE SEA and PROJEKT 1065. The latter had an element that I always look for when I’m searching for ideas and that is little known historical incidents.
What books are you reading now?
I have REFUGEE on my shelf as well as some adult mysteries, another genre I love.
What encouragement helped you along your way? Did you face any early challenges to finding success on this path?
The encouragement was that the first manuscript I sent out was accepted. At that time I didn’t know anyone else who was writing and thought that was just the way it happened. But, my next two manuscripts were declined and it was five years before I had a second book published. It was so discouraging to go out with that first book and hear over and over, when is your next book coming out? I didn’t have a next book! After the second book, things started to happen. I did some work for hire, I wrote a series for a religious publisher, and I suddenly had a number of books out.
From the time of that first book to the breaking-in period, as I think of it, I joined SCBW, as it was called at the time. The friends I made through the organization were what kept me writing in the “dark days.” I still value my SCBWI friendships. My current writers group is so supportive and I love meeting with them. Plus, they keep me motivated to have something to present.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?
At the very beginning when I decided to write, I thought it would be for adults. I sent in ten pages of a manuscript to a writers’ conference at a local college and it was reviewed by several people, with one of the reviewers doing the face to face critique. One thing I remember vividly is that one of the reviewers wrote across the top of the page “Who cares?” I met with a different reviewer (thankfully!) who, after chatting awhile, said “Have you ever thought about writing for children?” It was like a light bulb went off! I had several ideas before I even got home from the conference.
There are several pieces of advice I go back to from time to time. One I heard early on from Patricia McKissack. I took a class from her, and every week I would come home and rewrite that first book that was eventually published. What she said at the end of the class was, “You have to send that work out. No editor is going to call (a beginning writer) and ask if there is a manuscript in the bottom drawer.”
I think the greatest piece of advice ever is to write and keep on writing. There is no way to improve without writing. And be patient. It all takes time, so don’t give up!
What projects are you working on now?
Believe it or not, I have a contract to write a true crime book for adults. I am writing it with my son. It is about a murder that occurred in St Louis in 1963 and the victim, sadly, was my brother-in-law’s mother. It sounds awful to say that I’ve enjoyed writing this book, but in that macabre way, I have. I learned so much about interviewing and how willing people are to be interviewed, about how crime was dealt with in the 1960s, BEFORE the Miranda decision and how that decision influenced how the police worked.
Thank you so much for visiting with us here this month, Vicki! I’m looking forward to reading DIFFERENT DAYS.
Vicki and her husband have two grown children and four grandchildren. They live in Kirkwood, Missouri, where she writes full-time. Read more about Vicki and her books on her website at : https://www.vickibergererwin.com/.
DIFFERENT DAYS, SkyPony Press, October 2017,
FORMER Authors of the Month
Laura S. Schmidt writes contemporary fiction and mysteries for young adults. Her first novel, SWEETER THAN LIFE, was published in 2015. Laura has worked as a community education coordinator, and has spent several years as a staff counselor at an agency that supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. You can find out more about Laura and her books on her website at www.laurastewartschmidt.com
Jessica Shaw writes for children from the picture book age through young adult, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in several magazines for children as well as doing work-for-hire projects. She received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI 2016 Magazine Merit Award committee for her poem My Favorite Sounds, published in Ladybug, May 2015. You can find out more about Jessica and her books on her website at www.authorjessicashaw.com
Patricia A. Miller writes picture books, including nonfiction, historical fiction, and fiction, and she has written several board book manuscripts as well. She has had two nonfiction magazine articles published in Highlights for Children magazine. Her latest article is “A Century of Blossoms,” which appears in the April 2017 issue of Highlights. You can find out more about Patricia and her writing on her website at www.patriciamillerbooks.com.
Clare Vanderpool writes adventure and historical fiction for middle grade readers. Her book Moon Over Manifest won the 2011 Newbery Award, and her newest book, Navigating Early, was a 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Visit her website to find out more about Clare and her books at www.clarevanderpool.com
Claire M. Caterer has been a freelance writer and editor for more than a dozen years. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Woman’s World. She lives in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Find more about Claire and her books on her website at http://www.clairecaterer.com/
Sue Lowell Gallion writes picture books, early readers and chapter books for children from her home in Leawood, Kansas. She is the former Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and is currently Co-Regional Advisor with Kim Piddington for Kansas/Missouri SCBWI. Sue has been published in children’s magazines and educational publishing. PUG MEETS PIG, released in September 2016 from Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), is her first picture book. You can find out more about Sue on her website at www.suegallion.com
Lisa Wade McCormick has written eighteen non-fiction books for children, and her stories have appeared in several children's magazines. Besides being a children's book author, Lisa is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years experience as a newspaper reporter and television producer. She is currently the investigative producer at WDAF-TV in Kansas City. You can find out more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisawademccormick.com
Rita Arens is the author of the contemporary realistic young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013), a 2016 Library Journal Self-e Selection. Rita is also the editor of a parenting anthology, SLEEP IS FOR THE WEEK (Chicago Review Press), winner of a 2009 gold National Parenting Publications award (NAPPA) and winner of an honorable mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival. You can find our more about Rita and her books at www.ritaarens.com
Patricia J. Norton is the author of phonics-based beginning readers and narrative non-fiction for children. In 2006, she started a new publishing house, Short Vowel Phonics, to provide phonics-controlled short stories for beginning and struggling readers. You can find our more about Patricia and her books at http://shortvowelphonics.com/phonics/
Amy Houts, Maryville, MO, is a freelance writer and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction books on assignment for educational publishers, as well as working on her own projects. She is the author of over 60 books, many for young children ages 3 to 7. You can find out more about Amy and her books on her website, www.amyhouts.com, or follow her blog at http://www.houtsandhome.com/amys-blog.
PEGGY ARCHER, O'Fallon, MO, loves to talk to students and adults about writing and her books. Readers can learn more about her author presentations on her website at www.peggyarcher.com. They can also check out her author blog, Peggy’s Pages, at http://www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm. NAME THAT DOG! ( Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN# 978-0-8037-3322-0) is also available through Scholastic Book Club and Scholastic Book Fairs.
JANIE CHEANEY is the author of novels for middle-grade readers. Her book, THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book by the Kansas State Library. Janie is also a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and co-publisher of RedeemedReader.com.
HOLLY SCHINDLER's first two published works, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt, were both YA novels. Her debut MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, released with Dial / Penguin on February 6, 2014, and her next YA, Feral, is forthcoming from HarperCollins. Find out more at hollyschindler.com
BRIDGET HEOS is the author of Mustache Baby (Houghton Mifflin, May 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0547773575) She lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children. Check out her Facebook page, Author Bridget Heos, or website www.authorbridgetheos.com for updates!
BONNIE HINMAN writes non-fiction books for children. She lives with her husband in Joplin, MO, close to their children and grandchildren. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at http://www.bonniehinman.com.
SHANNON MOORE is the former Assistant Regional Advisor for Missouri SCBWI. You can find out more about Shannon on her blog, Great Books for Children, where she reviews children’s books. http://greatbooksforchildren.com/index.php/about/.
JODY FELDMAN lives in St. Louis where she writes middle-grade contemporary novels for young readers. The first book in her series, The Gollywhopper Games, was an ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults nominee, and received the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award Honor Book for Children’s Literature. The second book in the series, The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion, recently made the St. Louis Post Dispatch Best Sellers list for kids' books. http://jodyfeldman.com
NANCY POLETTE of O’Fallon, MO is the author of picture books, fiction and non-fiction for middle grade readers, and has four easy readers coming out this year. Nancy is a former teacher of students in K through 8th grades, and is currently a professor of education at Lindenwood University where she teaches Children’s Literature.
ANN INGALLS was born in Cleveland, grew up in Detroit, and now lives with her husband and three children in Kansas City. You can find out more about her and her books, including J is for Jazz, on her website at: http://anningallswrites.com/ann-ingalls/
CYNTHIA COLLINS, from Jefferson City, enjoys writing for the teen and young adult audience. Her debut novel for teens, THE UNICORN TREE, was released by Mockingbird Lane Press in 2012. Two of her short stories published in the quarterly writers’ journal, The Storyteller, received a People’s Choice Award for 1st Place in Fiction. You can find out more about Cynthia and her writing on her website at www.cynthia-collins.com, and you can contact her at email@example.com
KRISTIN BAIRD RATTINI, Foristell, Missouri, is a freelance writer who has written for children’s magazines for 17 years, Kristin has enjoyed the challenge of introducing young readers to a wide range of topics and the thrill of hooking their attention with writing that’s both educational and entertaining. You can find out more about Kristin and her books at: Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristin-rattini/5/900/33a and MediaBistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/fm/PD.asp?user_id=6628
MARGO L. DILL, of St. Louis, Missouri, is the SCBWI Missouri webmaster and a children's and YA author. She currently has three books out: Maggie Mae, Detective Extrordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies (picture book), Finding My Place (middle grade), and Caught Between Two Curses (young adult). She is also a freelance editor and writing teacher. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com
SUE BRADFORD EDWARDS writes from her home in Florissant, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and son. You can find out more about Sue and her work on her website at www.suebradfordedwards.com, and on her blog, https://suebe.wordpress.com/
VEDA BOYD JONES is the author of 47 books and over 500 articles and short stories. She writes children’s picture books and middle grade novels, fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in children’s magazines. She also writes romance novels for adults. Find out more about Veda and her books on her website at www.vedaboydjones.com
CYNTHIA REEG writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her writing includes fiction, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Her books have been published by Guardian Angel Publishing, and her work has been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her newest book, BUNNY BUSINESS, was released from Guardian Angel Publishing in September 2014. http://www.cynthiareeg.com/index.html
STEPHANIE BEARCE is the author of non-fiction for children and she also writes middle grade fiction. She is a past SCBWI Regional Advisor and is a full member of the Missouri Writers Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers. Find out more at www.stephaniebearce.com
BARBARA STUBER, from Kansas City, brings visual art and writing together as she weaves artwork into her stories for young adults. Her latest book, Girl in Reverse, was an NPR (National Public Radio) pick for the Best Books of 2014 in five categories. Her earlier book, Crossing the Tracks, was an ALA Wm. C. Morris Award Finalist in 2010. Find out more at http://www.barbarastuber.com
JEANIE FRANZ RANSOM, from O’Fallon, Missouri, sold her first story to Seventeen magazine when she was a teen, and has been writing ever since. She is an award-winning author of children’s picture books, and her books have received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. She is also a former elementary school counselor. Find out more at www.jeanieransom.com
JODY JENSEN SHAFFER is the author of 26 fiction and nonfiction books, which include titles like NINJA WARRIORS, INSIDE MY MUSCLES, BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS, and FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Her debut picture book, ROCKY, releases in 2017 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Find out more at: http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com/
ANOLA PICKET is a former teacher and school librarian and writes historical novels for middle grade readers. She is also the author of an I-Can-Read book for younger readers, and co-author of a book for teachers and parents, Multiple Intelligences and Positive Life Habits. Anola lives in Kansas City but loves to travel and finds ideas and inspiration in her travels. You can find out more about Anola and her books at www.anolapickett.com, or meet her on Twitter at anolamarie.
AMY SKLANSKY, University City, is a former editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Amy writes picture books and board books, and is the author of children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her books have received many awards including the Bankstreet College of Education Best Books of the Year, Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council, and have appeared on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers list. You can read more about Amy at: www.amysklansky.com.
CATHY GILMORE, St. Louis, is a picture book author, and freelance editor. Her goal is to help children discover the joy of God’s love through her books. A Certified Catechist of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, she creates stories that bring the gospel to life for children. Her newest book, LITTLE LAMB FINDS CHRISTMAS, won the 2015 USA Best Books Award in the Children’s Religious books category. Read more about Cathy and her books on her website at www.catherinecgilmore.com.