CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Alison, you are not new to writing. You have another publication with a beautiful mission, Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy: The Next Generation, Soft Skull Press, 2006. How did you venture into picture books? Is your debut picture book, I Love You For Miles and Miles, coming out December 2017 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, your first attempt at this genre?
ALISON GOLDBERG: For several years, I worked for non-profit organizations focused on economic justice. Writing campaign materials, articles, and grant proposals was part of the job. Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy grew out of this work and gave me the chance to see an idea through to publication.
At the same time, I’ve always loved creative writing. About fifteen years ago I was lucky to find Grub Street, a wonderful writing center in Boston where I took a variety of classes and connected with a critique group. In 2012, after my kids were born, I started writing picture books. The pairing of text and image, the possibility of verse, and the opportunity to write for children made this genre feel ideal. I Love You for Miles and Miles was my sixth or seventh attempt at a picture book.
CGE: Can you tell us the story behind the story for I Love You For Miles and Miles?
AG: I am drawn to biographies so my first few picture book manuscripts were non-fiction, focused on creative individuals who created change in their fields. Meanwhile, I realized I was deep in a different sort of research project with my own kids.
At the time, they were ages three and five and enthralled with trucks and trains. Together, we gazed at construction sites, rode trains, and learned about the greatest street sweeper in the world. Immersed, I started to understand what vehicles meant to my kids: powerful, large, and mysterious characters full of metaphor.
The bedtime game, “How much do you love me?” turned into a comparison of the size, strength, and length of all things that go. After many nights of coming up with these examples for my own children, I thought this could be a fun take on a love book.
CGE: Can you tell us about your journey into writing and how and when you got your agent?
AG: After I started working on picture books, I realized I wanted to pursue publication. Up until then, my creative writing was something I just did on the side for fun. So I took more classes, went to an SCBWI conference, and started a new critique group with people I met at these events.
I began blogging about activism in children’s literature. This felt like a way to bridge what I had been doing with what I wanted to be doing and to seek out people with similar interests. The writers I interviewed were so generous, sharing their stories and offering advice.
After submitting a manuscript to a few slush piles and not hearing back, I decided to research agents. It was June 2013 and I found a request on Manuscript Wish List (on Twitter) that described my project. The agent wanted nonfiction picture books introducing “little-known info on a historic figure or event that caused change.”
I queried the agent who posted it, Kathleen Rushall, now at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She encouraged me to send her another picture book. But since I was so new to the process, I didn’t have another one ready to send. So I got to work, and after a few months I shared a second manuscript with her. Again, she liked it, but wanted to see another. To make a long story short, eight months later I sent Kathleen a fourth manuscript–a love book for kids who love trucks and trains–and she offered me representation the next day.
Now I encourage all querying picture book writers to have at least three manuscripts ready to send!
CGE: And as a retired fourth grade teacher, I loved reading on your website that you vividly remember your introduction to the editing process when you were in fourth grade. In guiding others who aspire to become authors, what else do you think has helped you to become the published author you are today?
AG: Finding critique partners has been so important to my writing. For the past four years, I’ve met monthly with a picture book group.
Also, I revise a lot. I find that each project comes with its own process and set of challenges. The more I practice writing, the more tools I have to find my way in.
CGE: What does the future hold for Alison Goldberg?
In the short term, I’m excited to share I Love You for Miles and Miles with schools and libraries and families! I’m continuing to work on several picture books as well as a middle grade novel. And I’m keeping my eyes open to new book ideas—especially the one my kids bring to me.
Alison is generously giving away a copy of her beautifully written, I Love You for Miles and Miles, illustrated by Mike Yamada. Click this link to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.
It’s also available for pre-order here.
And you can connect with Alison here:
Alison on Twitter
Alison is a member of Picture the Books, a group of 2017 debut picture book creators.