Carol Gordon Ekster: Adria, welcome to Writers’ Rumpus! Your debut picture book My Sister, Daisy, illustrated by Linus Curci, Capstone, 2021 came out in September. Your book handles a sensitive situation in such a lovely way. Please tell us the story behind this story.
Adria Karlsson: This story is loosely based on my own family’s experience when my daughter told us she was a girl a few years back. We were happy she told us and supportive of her identity, but since she had been assigned male at birth, it was a change and we weren’t entirely sure what, if anything, had changed. I had friends who were trans, friends whose kids were trans… but I hadn’t ever parented a trans-kid myself! Naturally, we turned to picture books when we talked to our kids about it. We already had the books in the house and had discussed gender identity and sexual orientation with our kids since they were able to talk… but our conversation had a new focus. It became clear, however, that our experience was different than what we saw in books. Our kid didn’t change outwardly in dramatic ways – she had always dressed in clothes from “across the aisles” and played with toys of all types. She also wasn’t told she couldn’t be who she said she was or dress how she wanted to. Those typical hurdles weren’t ‘our story’ – but we still had questions! My Sister, Daisy is what grew out of those questions and I love the message it turned out to be. The theme of acceptance is what I hope will always imbue my parenting, our children’s actions in the world, and my writing!
CGE: Tell us your journey into becoming a children’s author.
AK: My journey has been a surprise twist in my life! I’ve always loved picture books. I remember the ones I read as a kid and they still help me remember what it’s like to be a child – to live in a world of possibilities and imaginary play that feels real.
When I first started making my own money as a teenager, I took it to the bookstore and started buying picture books for my own collection. Eventually this became a professional necessity when I went into teaching elementary aged kids and that knowledge flowed nicely into reading to my own children. I wrote short stories for kids I taught and longer ones for professional journals– but I never imagined that I could become a picture book author. Daisy’s story felt so vital to me, however, that I took the chance and with the encouragement of friends, hired a local editor and then queried my agent. I couldn’t believe it when they picked me up and in less than a month found my book a publisher. I’ve spent the last two years learning how remarkable that was, what a leap of faith my agent took on me, and what it means to do this professionally. I love it and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have found my way here.
CGE: Do you only write picture books and if so, what draws you to that genre?
AK: I write picture books and middle grade fiction, so far, but I have spent far more time with picture books than anything else. I love the way that it takes two minds to create the story of a picture book. Two people that tell the story in their own way and in doing so, create an entirely new one. I also love the way the pictures draw kids in, appeal to them, and then leave a lasting impression.
Picture books showcase amazing art and I feel honored to see my words next to Linus’s creations in My Sister, Daisy. It’s truly such an amazing thing to think that all that artistry and talent was put to work to bring this family, that was roughly sketched out in my mind, to life in such a tangible way. I honestly can’t wait to see what other illustrators do with my future words! It’s like an exciting surprise that I am promised if I can finish a good enough manuscript.
CGE: Can you tell us a little about your writing schedule and process?
AK: I wish this was an easy question… but honestly, with five little kids and four elderly pets, I feel like each week throws me another curve ball. I try to write as soon as kids leave for school in the morning, and nominally have 8:30-2:30 Monday through Friday to do so. But honestly, a lot of my days have doctor appointments, vet visits, parent-teacher conferences, other professional obligations, and household management built into them as well. On the busiest weeks, I end up writing late into the night when all the “distractions” have gone to sleep.
In terms of process, I am very diligent in making sure I put any idea, no matter how small, immediately into my notes app on my phone. I know these disappear from my mind quickly and often seem to arise at the busiest times! Drafts tend to come out as either one big writing moment or with one period of writing getting me into the story and then a second when I figure out where the story wants to go. Once I have a draft, revising becomes an endless game of reworking during any empty moment of my day. It’s definitely my favorite part of writing – trying to figure out how to turn my concept into an actual story.
CGE: Have there been any unexpected or surprising aspects of having your first book published?
AK: How much time I need to set aside to connect with people, visit bookstores, and work on blog posts and interviews! I’m not sure I understood the business side of authorship at all before my book was announced last year.
CGE: How are you dealing with the marketing side of becoming an author?
AK: It’s challenging to balance the needs of this book with my writing goals. I write a lot and have a ton of stories at various points saved on my computer… but I often feel like I don’t have time to sit down and focus on them. Marketing feels like an endless churn to try and stay in people’s consciousness, but it is also such an amazing opportunity to connect with really interesting people – so I feel torn about the time I spend on it. I’ve depended a lot on my debut group, “New Books for Kids”, for ideas, advice, and to split the time spent on promotion.
CGE: What advice would you give new writers that helped you break into children’s publishing?
AK: I wish I had joined 12×12, the picture book group, before I was in the throes of publishing – there’s so much information and community there. It didn’t help me to break into this because I didn’t know about it at the time, but that’s one big piece of advice I’d give the me-of-three-years-ago. Other than that, take calculated risks, work hard, listen to people that know more than you, follow people you admire on Twitter, and spend time with kids. I think my story succeeded because it came from a very deep place and meant a lot to me. That comes through in the story. I also took a risk and paid a local editor who knew more than me to help me with my manuscript – it might have been a waste of money, but I considered it an investment. Similarly, it was an investment when I paid for a subscription for Publishers Marketplace to learn more about agents. While the community can do a lot, sometimes these things do take some level of investment in professional help or knowledge.
CGE: What does the future hold for Adria Karlsson?
AK: Right now I have a few picture books out on submission that I’m hoping will land with the right editor and several more that are getting close to polished. Hopefully the future holds one or more of these stories turning into books! Meanwhile, lots and lots of writing, revising, and working with my amazing critique partners and mentors!
MY SISTER DAISY
By Adria Karlsson
illustrated by Linus Curci
Capstone Press, 2021
You can connect with Adria here: