Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Salon: Interview with children's author Emily Smith Pearce

Emily Smith Pearce is a friend of mine who is also a published author. Knowing her makes me almost famous, right? OK, maybe not. When I realized that I live in North Carolina and Emily lives in North Carolina and I am the North Carolina stop on the Literary Road Trip and that therefore she would make an excellent subject for an author interview, I was very excited. (We won't get into how long it took me to come to this realization; just go with the idea that slow and steady wins the race.) And Emily was completely amenable to let little old slow on the uptake me interview her, probably because she has already figured out how annoyingly persistent I can be if I don't get my way. And also because she has to work with me on our local WNBA chapter newsletter and the last thing she needs is for me to start missing my deadlines by more than I already do. But seriously, she was very gracious about it all and being a much less flip person than I am, she gave thoughtful and insightful answers to my off the cuff questions. Without further ado, let me introduce you to the lovely Emily Smith Pearce:

Which book or books are on your nightstand right now?

I like to keep a big stack nearby. I just finished When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. It was riveting. I’m now reading a lot of craft and creativity books: The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule, Twinkle Sews by Wenlan Chia, Bend the Rules with Fabric by Amy Karol, and Journal Spilling by Diana Trout. I’m also finally getting around to reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

I had lots of favorites, but Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terebithia is the first that comes to mind. I used to check out a record of it (yes, this was awhile ago) from the public library over and over again. I would play it in my room and cry and cry. I guess I was a little morbid! But I still love a book-induced catharsis. Katherine Paterson has always been and continues to be an inspiration to me. I can still picture the green and lavender illustration on that album cover.

What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

The Buffalo Tree, by Adam Rapp, another cathartic choice, beautiful and haunting. Also Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, wonderful on so many levels. Both are worth reading a number of times, but that first time just can’t be duplicated.

How did you get started writing?

I like to joke that I was born in a library. It’s half-true. My mother was my school librarian, and I spent numerous hours in her library reading and just being surrounded by books. I always dreamed that maybe one day I would write one of my own, and I always kept journals. I began to write short stories in college, and then in graduate school at Vermont College, I began to pursue writing seriously. I had some wonderful mentors there who really helped me hone my craft, and I had to find ways to fit writing into my life----it was there that I learned to be really disciplined about writing. Like any art or skill, you become better at it when you put in the hours. Since my time at Vermont College, my fellow alums and former mentors have been invaluable resources for me. I had a slow road to publication, helped along the way by all those folks.

Tell us a little about your books.

Isabel and the Miracle Baby is the story of a young girl whose mother, a cancer survivor, has unexpectedly had a new baby. Isabel is a very angry girl. She’s learning to renegotiate her relationship with her mother, to deal with her fears about cancer, and to accept the presence of a new person (her sister) in her life. She’s also facing some fierce playground politics at school.

Isabel was inspired by a little girl I once knew. Her story was different from Isabel’s, but she was also a very angry person whose mother was a cancer survivor. I began to write about her and to imagine a back story for her because I wondered if the anger and the cancer were related somehow.

Slowpoke, which will hopefully come out sometime next year, is for younger readers. It’s a humorous story about a slow-moving girl whose fast-paced family has grown impatient with her. They decide she has to change, and they send her to Speed School. Fiona is loosely based on me, because I’ve always been a dreamer and a famously slow eater. I’m sure my family wishes they could send me to Speed School at times. Slowness can be annoying but at times it’s also a good thing. Dreamers are the ones who write books, right?

Your books are targeted to different age groups. Which was harder to write?

I would never say that any form was easy. I have too much respect for the work that good writing takes. But for me, writing a novel was definitely more challenging because it’s so big. It’s easy to get lost among the trees, and I certainly did get lost a number of times. With a novel, you have to sustain a world and a cast of characters for a very long time, and plotting Isabel was a complex, hard-wrought process. I hope I’ve learned a few things to take with me while writing my next novel.

What's the coolest thing that's happened to you since becoming a published author?

I love to do author visits at schools. At one school I visited, the students made film-strip-like drawings about Isabel. They were totally awesome. Having students respond to my work is the best feeling. At another school, a student wrote me a letter saying that she wanted to buy my book but that her family didn’t have the budget for it. Her mother agreed to pay half if the girl used her own money for the rest, which she did. The thought of someone saving up to buy my book is truly humbling.

Thanks so much to Emily for stopping in here for a chat. Isabel and the Miracle Baby is available for purchase at amazon and I'll keep you all posted about when you can expect to see Slowpoke in stores as well. In addition, make sure to check out Emily's blog, where she chats about her books and scheduled appearances and, as she says, "I blog about writing exercises and my art and crafting adventures." You definitely have to see the darling Halloween costume she made for her daughter out of recycled and found fabric and stuff. Honestly, it's so cute I might have to rethink my friendship with her. A published author who is both creative and crafty? ::sigh::


  1. I agree that you are famous by association!

    I love authors who go to schools - I think that is such a nice way to give back!

  2. You are definitely famous!

    Slowpoke sounds to be such a fun read for young children. I can imagine the wonderful lessons it will teach about acceptance and family.

    Thanks for another great trip :)

  3. Saving up to buy a book... that's amazing. I love it.

    All posted about at Win a Book! Thanks for the e-mail(s)!

  4. This topic fascinates me, and I am excited to read the book. Yay to fellow VCFA grad!

  5. This is the first time an author interview left me with tears in my eyes...

  6. I love Bridge to Terebithia. Your books sound really interesting - I'll look out for them.


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