Carol Gordon Ekster writes picture books–all kinds of them, inspired by all sorts of different topics that engage her, and in turn, engage her young readers. I know this, because my own sons are some of her biggest fans. But do you know who is an even bigger fan of Carol? Me. Because she is a wise mentor and supportive friend to many of us in the kidlit writing community, having written and sold numerous books over the last decade. I am lucky enough to be in one of Carol’s five writing critique groups–that’s right, she’s in a whopping five of them (!)–and I have learned so much from her.
I am so honored to have her here on Writers’ Rumpus today to talk about her brand new picture book Some Daddies, which comes out this month, just in time for Father’s Day. It is a joyful and colorful celebration of daddies of all kinds, and the loving impact they have on their children’s lives.
Carol Gordon Ekster: Thank you, Hilary! My heart beats with gratitude!
Hilary Margitich: Carol, it is wonderful to be sitting here with you. I love that we live local to one another and get to meet in person! I have to start by telling you how much I love Some Daddies. It reminds me of my own father, my husband, and all of the different daddies out there that I know. You always seem to find such creative story ideas as you go about your daily life. Can you tell me how this story came to be, and what inspired it?
CGE: I was FaceTiming with my grandson on December 17th, 2017, when he was three years old. He noticed my husband had just shaved, and told me his daddy shaved, too. But his daddy had a beard, so he was going to have a beard when he got older because he was going to be a daddy. I said to him, “Some daddies have beards…” I paused, my writing brain igniting, and wrote that down as a title.
I truly believe ideas open before us in the universe and we have to know when to catch them. I immediately knew this was a topic I wanted to pursue. I am very aware that not all the manuscripts I write will become books. I do think there are certain ideas for books that the world needs, and others that won’t sell. But I trust in the process, believe it essential to do what calls to me, and work on my craft no matter what the outcome.
HM: One of the most powerful things about this book is how inclusive and contemporary it is in its representation of fathers of all kinds. Can you talk a little bit about that, and why that was important to you?
CGE: I’m pretty much a “pantser” when it comes to writing. I let my fingers do the talking and the ideas flow without a lot of planning. So I don’t think I realized my full intention until I completed the draft. Then when I got my acceptance, everything became clearer.
“We are pleased to inform you that Beaming Books would like to acquire “Some Daddies” to be published in a future list season. We love how this book celebrates the diversity of what it can look like to be a dad. This is so important for young kids who are starting to notice other children’s parents and compare them to their own, as well as how they develop their perception of healthy masculinity. This is a joyful book with a serious message—the type of book we would be proud to publish at Beaming Books.”
It touched on why I wrote the book–so kids would understand that they are not alone. We all realize at some point that our daddies are not perfect and are, in some ways, different from other daddies, but we love them for who they are. It was clear that my amazing editor, Naomi Krueger, had a vision for this manuscript. And one of the page spreads is my heart open on the page,
“Some daddies share comforting words and cry with you.
Others love making you laugh.
Some barely hug.
Others hug like bears.”
My daddy barely hugged. He was such an amazing man in countless ways, but he was not affectionate. As a child, this was at times difficult for me. I hope my book can help families with acceptance and understanding of each person in their family.
HM: Carol, tell us about your journey as a writer for children. Have you always dreamed of doing this, or was it more of a gradual realization for you?
CGE: I always tell people who ask that writing came to me. It is not something I would ever have chosen for myself. Writing is difficult! It truly came to me as a gift one summer day on the beach when I was fifty years old. Something came over me and I walked to the car and grabbed a pen and post-its, the only paper I had, and began writing my first picture book. It was pretty horrible–overwritten, too long, too many adjectives. It never sold and there was already a book with that title.
As a teacher, I would read picture books to my fourth graders on a daily basis that tied in with every curriculum subject and thought I knew how to write them, but there is so much to learn. And I am still learning! But this path is so perfect for me. It allows me to be productive with my life, and also continue to communicate with children.
HM: From what I know of you, you seem to really cherish the children that you write for, and you bring so many different topics of interest to them in your stories. What would you say is the main thing you set out to accomplish in writing a book for a child?
CGE: Hilary, you are the sweetest! I do cherish the children I write for. And I loved the students that I taught for 35 years. I was so passionate about teaching. Now I’ve transferred that passion to the page. I want kids to not feel alone, and I want to help them navigate their way through life. We all need a little help, and if my books can do that in some way, I’ve done my job.
HM: I feel like I am one of the lucky people who, as a pre-published children’s author, has gotten to receive first-hand advice from you. You have given it to me over the phone as you take your fitness walks, and also as you have read over my manuscripts at our critique group meetings. Can we share some of this magic with our readers? What advice do you have for aspiring writers of picture books? It can be big picture, specific, or both!
CGE: I am so glad you found my advice valuable. And now I feel such pressure! But I think most importantly, is to remember that it takes the time it takes, and to persevere. I have a book coming out in 2023 that I wrote in 2013. I believed in this title, and revised and revised, and submitted and submitted, and never gave up on it.
I also continue to take out piles of picture books from my library. Any new book, any title mentioned favorably in a blog, any picture book that wins awards, I order from my local library. This is your homework as a picture book writer. You must know what works and what doesn’t. What you like and what you don’t. I have typed out the complete texts of a few titles that I thought were perfect picture books to help me better understand the pacing, page turns, and the text.
You also need to continue learning. Take courses, join SCBWI, meet with other writers, and put in the effort to make the most wonderful book you can possibly make. Ask yourself is there a better verb? (The thesaurus is your friend!) Can I reword this to sound better? Do I have examples of assonance, alliteration, similes, onomatopoeia? Is it my best work?
HM: You are a big fan and advocate of writing and critique groups, and seem to really enjoy the many that you belong to. What do you find is the most helpful thing about them to you, and what do you look for in a writing group?
CGE: I feel we do not write alone. I am open to the universe helping me produce the best book possible. I want to hear any and all suggestions that might influence my writing. Each one of my books is improved because of all the hands that touched it. To me, it is a miracle, those who were involved in each of my books. Sometimes it was a small illustration suggestion, or something larger, like a different ending or cutting a character. I am grateful to each of those creatives who influenced my book in some way.
I have to know which ideas to accept into each story, but I look for honesty. I don’t just want to hear what’s good. I want to work with people who like to brainstorm suggestions to make it better, who are partners in this path to publication, and who are vested in our collective success. There is room for us all in this business!
HM: Carol, what kind of things are you working on now/next and where can our readers follow you on social media, etc.?
CGE: I am working on a title that is coming out in 2023, Trucker Kid, with the Capstone editor who acquired it. It is such an amazing group process that I have been involved in from the start. I’ve been sent early sketches with the art director and editor’s notes and invited to add my thoughts. I’m loving watching the book come together.
I also have multiple manuscripts on my desk top that are in some stage of development, from unfinished draft, to early draft, to an older manuscript that I’ve pulled out again to share with a critique group and revise. I never know when a new idea will grab hold of me. It is an art that amazes me. I’m also working on an R&R, a revise and resubmit, for an editor. There’s hope in my heart! I’ve had a few other R&Rs, and those manuscripts were not acquired. But this one might be different!
This link will bring you to all of my social media links. I love social media, and find it essential and informative for this second career that can be very isolating, compared to teaching where I was always surrounded by people!:
Thank you so much for talking to me today, Carol. It is always a pleasure, and I’m sure we will do it again soon.
Thank you, Hilary. You have added so much to our group and blog. I am grateful for your #kidlit love, support, and dedication.
Carol Gordon Ekster was a passionate elementary school teacher for thirty-five years. Now retired, she is grateful that her writing allows her to continue communicating with children.
Carol is the author of BEFORE I SLEEP: I SAY THANK YOU, which won 3rd place in the children’s category of the Catholic Press Association Book Awards and was also a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016. Her picture book, YOU KNOW WHAT?, came out first in Dutch (MAMA, WIST JE DAT?), December 2016 with Clavis Books. The English version released September 2017 and was a CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Talk (2018) and a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award in the New England region, 2018. The Korean language edition came out 2019, and Arabic and Chinese editions are in process. SOME DADDIES, illustrated by Javiera Maclean Alvarez, comes out May 17th, 2022 with Beaming Books. TRUCKER KID, illustrated by Russ Cox, comes out in spring 2023 with Capstone.
When Carol is not in a critique group or at her computer, she might be doing yoga or biking. She lives in Andover, Massachusetts with her husband, Mark.
Find out more at www.carolgordonekster.com
And connect with her here: https://linktr.ee/carolgordonekster