When I’m not in Portland, I spend time on Great Cranberry Island, a small island off the coast of Maine.
And, yes, I am working on an idea for a new novel!
You can visit Ruth Freeman at her website.
Very simply, my students! I teach English language learners at an elementary school in southern Maine. At one point, I realized we have students from every continent except Australia and Antarctica! Some are brand-new newcomers, others were born here but speak another language at home. Because it takes approximately 5 to 7 years to become fluent in both basic and academic English, we will usually work with the same students over several years, and thus get to know them really well.
Being a writer, and working with these amazing students, each with their own unique story, it was only a matter of time before I wanted to record some of their stories on paper. The two most important reasons for writing this novel were so that my students, and students like them, could see themselves...in a book! The second reason was so that all readers could get a glimpse of how difficult it is to be in a new country with new customs, new words, new everything!
Which part of the story was created first?
Because I had written picture books previously, I thought this new story was going to be a picture book, too. The first draft was a few letters from Anaïs, the protagonist, but only covered September to December. It was my editor at Holiday House who thought it should be a novel and asked for more and more pages. So, the story grew, new characters wandered in and, in the end, the story covered Anaïs’ whole first year in America.
What is the best way to promote a book? What strategies did you use to promote yours?
I’m still learning about promotion! And, of course, every book is different so the promotion will be different, too. Way before the book was published, I knew I needed to get my ducks in a row. I hired a photographer to take a new author’s photo and began the lengthy process (with the help of a professional) of redoing my website/blog (www.ruthfreemanbooks.com). I think the website and blog are crucial these days. My blog posts are linked to Amazon and Goodreads, so any new post automatically shows up in those two places. I also created a page on Facebook for Ruth Freeman Author where I post photos and announcements about events.
I also rely heavily on my publisher Holiday House’s amazing publicity and marketing team. They drew up a marketing plan, sent out advance copies and press releases, and hired an additional publicity company who organized a blog tour for me. With this new book, I’m learning about the online possibilities...like Reading Violet! I’ve done a lot of online articles which is great because I work full-time and can’t easily travel. My last bit of advice is to think of any school, college or professional organizations you might belong to. I recently got a national teachers’ magazine in the mail and pitched them an idea for an article about children’s books dealing with immigration. Within a day they had replied and I had begun to write it.
What other books do you have planned for the future?
Whenever I finish a book, I never know if I’ll get another idea or not. Lots of little ideas come and go, but every now and then, one sticks and won’t go away. I love it when this happens! I got an idea about a year ago for a new book. It’s been sticking in my head ever since. It’s in what I call the “jelly stage,” a lovely fluid stage where it grows and changes. I’ve been so busy with One Good Thing About America that I haven’t worked on it besides doing some research and writing notes. But this summer, it will be time to dive in and start putting it on paper.
Who supported and encouraged you through your path of publishing and writing?
There are all kinds of writers, and I happen to be one who doesn’t rely too much on friends or writers’ groups. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends! But they aren’t writers and aren’t used to critiquing a piece of writing. I’ve enjoyed the few writing groups I’ve belonged to, but don’t feel the need to be in one at the moment. I’ve gotten more out of conferences and workshops I’ve attended. The person I most rely on is myself...as a writer and a reader. And, I almost forgot my editor at Holiday House! Mary Cash is an invaluable, experienced professional who gives me the feedback I need to hear. As I wrote in the book’s acknowledgements, the story wouldn’t be what it is without her.
What advice would you give to readers who aspire to be published authors?
Go for it! Be determined! Haunt your local library, get to know the children’s librarian, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), read children’s books! Figure out how and when you can write. Everyone has to find their own way to do it. Don’t assume someone else’s way will work for you. For example, I cannot wake up and write at 4 am! And when I had small children, I wrote nonfiction picture books because I could fit the research into odd bits of time.
Perhaps the most important thing is to write what you’re crazy about...not what you think readers or Hollywood will want. Write what you’re passionate about, but remember it’s a learning process. It is hard and will probably take a long time. Learn to get rejections and keep going. Somewhere along the way, you may find another creative path to take. Not everyone has to be a children’s writer! Or, you may get more and more determined to see a book in print. And that’s the way to get there.
What was the first book that made you cry?
The first time I can remember crying while reading a book was when I read my first long novel, The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter. It was one of the wonderful Scribners Classics series, big black covered books that had belonged to my mother when she was young. I think the illustrations were by N.C. Wyeth. It was the story of Sir William Wallace, an early Scottish hero, who later showed up in the Braveheart movie. After many adventures and hard-fought battles against the British, Wallace is killed at the end. One of the saddest scenes my young self had ever encountered.
What made you want to become an author?
When I began to read, I couldn’t believe the adventures and worlds I was discovering between the covers of books. It was, and is, the closest thing to real magic I’ve ever found. I was so in love with stories that I wanted to make my own. Words are how ideas come out of me. I’m not a painter, or a dancer, or a musician. What I love to do is use words to bring a picture inside my head to life which will then be recreated inside the reader’s head.
The funny thing is that, growing up, I thought everyone wanted to write stories. Who wouldn’t want to do that? And, because I went to school with a lot of smart girls (all of whom I assumed wanted to write) I didn’t think I could compete with all of them. I was so surprised to find out everyone did not want to be a writer! So, now, here I am many years later. Writing is hard, but I love it. There is nothing more satisfying than working an idea onto a page and having it come out, sometimes magically, the way you want. It’s the best!