3 Question Interview - MATT FORREST ESENWINE
I'm happy to feature my friend Matt Forrest Esenwine on the blog today. I particularly enjoyed learning about the collaboration process with his co-author for ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME. And I was interested to read about the interplay between poetry and puzzles in his books. Read on for Matt's thoughts about stories, creativity, and connection. Welcome, Matt!
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
For ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME, my co-author Charles Ghigna had written the first four stanzas back in 2013 but wasn’t sure what to do with them. He emailed them to me and asked if I had any ideas. So I spent some time thinking about it and came up with a loose narrative for a picture book, and wrote four additional stanzas – in his writing style – to follow his original lines. Charles loved my plan and suggested I finish up the rough draft, which I finally did in April 2014.
We then began emailing each other with revisions, back-and-forth, until we got the manuscript where we wanted it. Then the submission process got underway! Our little story suffered more than 25 rejections before Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books told us how much she loved it and wanted it. So about 16 revisions and 25 rejections over the course of 8 years – that is why tenacity and persistence are so important in this business!
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I’ve always loved writing and puzzles – so creating poetry and rhyming picture books is like combining both of those! Getting rhyme, meter, internal rhyme (assonance, consonance, alliteration), and imagery to all work together is like a giant word puzzle, and it’s really one of the most fulfilling pursuits I’ve found! So when I have the opportunity to utilize some of these poetic tools in a picture book format, it’s a lot of fun. And now that I think about it, perhaps that’s why I love playing soccer so much – because there are so many pieces of the puzzle – ball-handling, footwork, passing, positioning, etc. – that need to work together.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
Writing workshop presenters will always tell you to know who you’re writing to – well, I tend to write to my 10-year-old self. Sometimes a bit younger, occasionally a little older, but I find my ‘sweet spot’ is an upper-elementary grade level. It’s where I feel I can make the most use of a wide vocabulary while still having a playful, childlike perspective; because let’s face it, once kids get into middle school, they’ll be the first to tell you they’re not “kids” anymore, ha!
I’m fortunate that I have a couple of older daughters from my first marriage as well as two younger kids with my current wife, so I’m able to draw on the inspiration from the young ones while pulling from my previous “dad” experiences in my past life, so to speak. I get to share my manuscripts with my son, who’s 11, and he helps me to know what makes sense and what works.
As for the KidLit community, it’s a wonderful place that I try to stay in touch with as much as possible! I’m on Facebook, Twitter, IG, Pinterest, Goodreads, YouTube, and I have a blog, Radio, Rhythm, & Rhyme, where I share poetry, picture book news, and parenting thoughts from the perspective of a guy who left fulltime employment in radio in 2012 to be a stay-at-home dad who wanted to develop his children’s writing. I really owe so much to the online KidLit community, which has been so welcoming and supportive to me over these past 9 years.
Matt Forrest Esenwine’s poetry has been published in various national journals and anthologies over the years, including the Donald Hall tribute, Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). His debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), received multiple positive reviews including a Kirkus star and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017. Matt has ten other books out or under contract, and his children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015) and Night Wishes (Eerdmans, 2020), as well as “Highlights for Children” magazine.
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