This interview is with my friend, mentor, and critique guru, Rachel Kenyon. Her second book, Alphabet Love, was release December 28, 2021. It is illustrated by Anna SüBbauer. Rachel’s first book, You Know How To Love, is a beautiful book illustrated by Mary Lundquist.
How many years have you been in publishing?
PAL 2 years
Could tell me how many years you have been working on this book before you got a contract on it for publication.
The idea for YOU KNOW HOW TO LOVE came to me on my yoga mat. I was thinking about friendship and what it means to be a true friend. That morning, I wrote what would become the first stanza. It probably took four months or so to get the full manuscript written, critiqued, revised, critiqued, revised (etc, etc), before I sent it out on query. I received a reply from my now agent, Mary Cummings, a couple of months in to querying. One of the things I love about Mary is her thoughtful process. We volleyed back and forth for a month or so before she signed on to represent the manuscript. From there, her submissions began. A mix of her talent and some luck, and we had an intent to offer within about a month. Now the more volleying…. It was about another month (or more, I can’t remember!) or so before we solidified the contract with Philomel Books. Now the long stretches began! From signing of the contract to the books birthday – two years! So, all in, a three-year journey!
Is this your first publication? If yes, do you have other manuscripts under contract or preparing for submission (if you want to share). If no, talk about your other publications.
You Know How To Love was my first… Alphabet Love is the second, release date was 12/28/21. Currently, my agent is pitching another PB manuscript. But it’s a “many balls in the air” world here. Mary is working with a PB manuscript on my behalf, and I am meanwhile working on four others, as well as a middle grade contemporary novel. And if that wasn’t enough to have in the hopper, I have a chapter book series started with 3 full manuscripts ready to roll when the time comes!
Do you write full-time? If no, what do you do besides write?
I wish! But no, I am also an independent bookkeeper. Although I see more and more time shifting to writing and author visits, which is awesome!
What inspires you to create picture books? Do you write any other genres (MG, YA, adult)?
I write for all ages. I have not published outside of Picture Books yet, but my agent is sitting with a chapter book series, I have a completed contemporary YA that I WILL publish someday, and I’m currently working on a contemporary middle grade. My inspiration is the kids. I love hanging out with kids talking about words and love and how we make the world better. Kids are so powerful and capable and full of love. I just love being around them and helping to foster their potential.
What surprised or surprises you most about being an author?
Hmmm. I don’t think I’ve really felt surprised, except the good surprises! Maybe the fact that there are SO MANY AMAZING writers with SO MANY AWESOME manuscripts in just my small community. I wish every single one could be published!
Where do your ideas for new manuscripts come from? Has a manuscript ever started out in one direction and by the end been a totally different story?
For picture books, I usually start with an idea of a message I want to deliver. For older books, its usually a teenager’s conundrum idea that sparks. For me, I think more than a manuscript changing directions, I have run into a manuscript that just didn’t have any direction at all. When that happens, I put it away. Maybe it will grow legs someday, but sometimes, what starts out as a seemingly BRILLIANT idea just fizzles.
But one thing definitely happens with MG and YA work… the characters grow and change. Sometimes one of the characters (main or not) will grow into something I had never envisioned!
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Author visits with kids!!! Getting to share my journey with them, talking about the power of words, and encouraging them to find their own power. Every classroom visit is different. Every time, I leave with more power of my own, more inspiration.
What is the most difficult thing about being an author?
When something I absolutely love doesn’t get picked up. It actually hurts. Learning to just set aside something you truly believe in is hard.
When you are “stuck” or have “writer’s block”, what do you do to help you over the hump?
Professional napper. And then I turn to my critique partners for conversation. I’m also lucky to be writing for different age groups. Sometimes I get stuck on a picture book manuscript, so I work on something older for a while. When I go back to the PB, it’s with fresh eyes. I don’t think I could write two Middle Grade novels or two YA novels simultaneously but having the different age-range projects definitely works!
Do you write in the morning, evening, or late at night? Do you have any music or background sounds to keep you focused on writing?
So completely a morning writer. I can do afternoon or evening, but I’m definitely at my best in the morning. Caveat to that – writer’s retreat…but that’s special.
I like it quiet when I’m writing. I sometimes wish I could do the ‘play list’ thing, but I don’t. So even working on these blog questions, I’m sitting in a very quiet house, early morning, one of my dogs is curled up at my side, and the only sounds are my keyboard keys clacking.
When you first started out, where did you find the most positive influence or support to help you with the process of becoming a children’s author?
SCBWI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you are thinking about writing for kids, if you already write for kids, if it’s on your radar at all, look into SCBWI. My regional community is everything. That’s not only where I find education, but it’s where I’ve met my critique partners and mentors.
To date, what would you say is the biggest moment of your career?
Oh, geez. I think the first publishing contract signed. Although, signing with my agent was top as well! Both of those are on the wall in my office.
Oh, also, the first time I went to Parnassus Books to sign copies of You Know How To Love. I was actually the author in the back room doing the signing!
Oh, also, and this is going back a bit, calling my mom to tell her I had signed the contract for the first book. My mom is an artist and poet and writer, and I swear she was more excited than I was…well, maybe not MORE.
When you first started out, what is something you wished you knew about the process of being an author?
That it takes sooooo looooong. Every step is LONG!!!
Tell me more about your book and share about your illustrator.
YOU KNOW HOW TO LOVE is a celebration of the power we all have inside of us to be loving and kind. We know from the day we are born how to love and be loving and be loved. Sometimes in life, we need to look back at that simple truth.
Mary Lundquist is amazing! She was selected by Talia Benamy, my editor at Philomel. From the very first sketches I saw, I was so inspired by Mary’s vision. She told the story in pictures and it just doubled the message of You Know How To Love!
Writers and illustrators don’t’ always get to connect, but I was lucky to get to do our virtual book launch together! She is fabulous!
What is next for you as an author? Any news you can share about an upcoming project?
Several projects in the hat…fingers firmly crossed!
I’m super excited that my author school visits are ramping up!
When this blog interview posts, ALPHABET LOVE will officially be on the shelves!
If you could tell an aspiring author one thing, what would that be?
Find your people! Find people writing in your age/genre and make connections. Those networks are my support during the really tough stuff, my cheer leaders during the work, and my party-throwers for all the celebrations. They will keep you going!
For more on Rachel, go to:
Thank you for reading about my friend, Rachel Kenyon. Rachel is offering a giveaway of Alphabet Love. To enter, comment below midnight before January 15, 2022.
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