I am so lucky to be able to be able to sit down today with one of my favorite writing mentors and critique group buddies, Carol Gordon Ekster. If you regularly read my blog posts, you may remember that I chatted with Carol just a few months ago when she released her last picture book Some Daddies, and we got to talk all about her writing journey, her creative process, and her inspiration for that book.
Well…Carol’s been very busy writing and publishing books! And here we are again, discussing her latest release Trucker Kid, which just came out this new year from Capstone Publishing. In true Carol Gordon Ekster fashion, it is a sweet and heartfelt glimpse into the mind and world of a young child, using carefully crafted layers to convey a universal type of message that all kids (and their adults) will want to hear. And as is the case with all her books, it is completely unique and one-of-a-kind.
Trucker Kid follows a little girl named Athena, who looks up to her trucker daddy and takes great pride in helping him on the road. Her friends at school don’t understand what’s so special about trucking—so she tells them—and soon everyone is wanting to hop aboard her daddy’s big rig!
Hilary Margitich: Carol, it’s so nice to talk to you again about yet another amazing book you’ve released! Welcome to the blog! We are always so happy to have you.
Carol Gordon Ekster: You are so kind, Hilary! And I’ve been here, writing and reading the blog since it began. Actually, my first post was in 2013, just around the time I first drafted Trucker Kid! I am so grateful to Marianne Knowles for encouraging our critique group to begin this #kidlit venture.
HM: I really loved Trucker Kid, and in reading your author’s note at the very end, I was able to learn the story of how the idea first came to you. It is such a great story—would you be able to share it with our readers?
CGE: I’d love to! It was March 2013 when I went for some mother-daughter time to Taos, NM, where my daughter lives. It was a very sweet few days, with hiking and dining and soaking in hot springs.
My favorite restaurant in Taos is The Love Apple. The food is delicious, the atmosphere cozy. And that’s where we ate on this particular night. My daughter went to Taos to train as a midwife and wherever we’d go, it always seemed like we’d bump into one of the families whose child she helped to bring into the world. And on this night, we were seated right next to one of those families.
After introductions were made, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. Three-and-a-half-year-old Athena was discussing a trucking trip she took with her daddy. My writing brain ignited and I immediately had my title, Trucker Girl. I told the family that I was a children’s author, how their discussion had inspired a title, and then asked for their contact information. I came home from that trip and took out books on trucks and trucking. I knew nothing about this topic!
About one month later, I started e-mailing with the dad to ask some questions. And about a month after that, I brought the manuscript to my first critique group. It has been a long journey with this title. (Capstone requested a title change to Trucker Kid, before acquiring it. And of course, I said yes!)
There have been major revisions—too many to count. In the first draft, Athena didn’t want to go trucking with her dad, but came to love it. With wisdom from others in my critique groups, the manuscript continued to change and improve. I also had professional eyes on it. Jane Yolen and Heidi Stempl offered some suggestions when I took this manuscript to their Picture Book Boot Camp in 2015. But it still went on to more revisions, and gathered in total close to one hundred rejections. I was an avid submitter!
But then during Covid, I pulled it out of the submissions queue again. I had seen for myself the importance of trucks and their drivers during this difficult time. I added in backmatter to show how we rely on trucks, tightened the manuscript yet again, and this ended up being one of three manuscripts that helped me secure my first agent.
HM: Both the real-life and reading research you did for this book is impressive. And it shows—both in the story details and the backmatter information—that you really entered this world of big rig trucking to understand it better. Is this something you do for a lot of your books?
CGE: Well, if I can be perfectly honest, I really dislike research! It gets in the way of me getting to the story. I’m impatient to start writing! But I did it early in my writing career for a soccer story I wrote. I knew nothing about soccer and took out books and even went to games to watch kids’ actions/movements. That book never sold! I also wrote a story about braces, and went to observe in an orthodontist’s office. And I have written four nonfiction picture books, where I did have to struggle through a reading and learning period before drafting them. I do what needs to be done; it’s just not my favorite part!
HM: In this story, you delve deeply into the life of a trucking family, providing a window for those who might not be familiar with it. Yet, you also make it universal and relatable to almost all kids who take pride in what their adults do for a living. I know you’ve mentioned in the past that you are a “pantser” rather than a “plotter”. Did you initially plan for these layers, or did they just come out as you wrote?
CGE: I am a pantser! The layers just organically developed, and for that I am grateful. I recently read an early review of the book that said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “This book shows how attitudes can be changed through education. Athena explains about trucking and they listen and understand, rather than making fun of her.” I loved that! It was something I hadn’t thought about. For me, especially as a retired educator, this was a powerful layer I would have loved to have intentionally added in, but if I had tried, it probably would have sounded didactic. I really do trust in the writing process. Trucker Kid took the time it took to come into the world for a reason. It wasn’t ready before then!
And I actually didn’t plan to do a book trailer for this title, but my brother-in-law surprised me with an original song. Then my husband worked to fit some of Russ Cox’s illustrations into a trailer, and it came out pretty cool!
[Click the link below to view and listen to the trailer]
HM: You have written picture books on so many interesting and important different topics over the years. Is there a type of picture book genre that you have not tried yet, but would like to?
CGE: Thank you, Hilary! I have written different kinds of picture books including concept books, Jewish stories, and nonfiction topics. I’ve tried a few different formats. Recently I wrote my first cumulative tale. Since I am a pantser, none of the ones I’ve written had been planned, and I don’t have anything in mind to try in the future. I’m going to see where this writing life takes me!
HM: I know how much you enjoy visiting schools and groups of children to share your books with them. What are some of the most important things you try to do during your visits? What makes a visit a successful one for you?
CGE: I do enjoy visiting schools and communicating with students—once it’s over! I get nervous before the visit: planning, practicing, and wondering if my Powerpoint slide show is good enough. But during the visit, I muster up all my joy and passion and excitement and bring that to my audience. I try to get kids to interact with the program, whether it’s helping me read one of my books, or asking them questions and having them raise their hand for an a, b, c, d response. Because I was a teacher, I want to make sure kids get something out of the visit to use in their life or in their writing. If I’ve given my best, I can feel the audience’s positive reaction, and it’s a successful visit for me.
HM: Carol, can you tell us what you’re working on next, and where our readers can follow you on social media?
CGE: I have quite a few revisions cluttering my desktop and new manuscripts that haven’t been submitted anywhere as of yet. I’m trying to slow down and be more patient with the process. I have my second agent now, and I have to wait until he’s ready to submit new stories and be respectful not to overwhelm him with my many manuscripts. I spend my days doing some promotion and some writing, and am grateful for this second career that allows me to do something purposeful.
You can find all my social media links here:
I especially love Twitter for my #kidlit connections. I find it valuable to keep me informed about the industry, and that is also how I sold Some Daddies—through a Twitter #pbpitch.
HM: Carol, thank you! It was great to catch up with you today, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
CGE: Thanks, Hilary. I’m so glad you’re a part of Writers’ Rumpus. You’ve added so much to our group, and are a true #kidlit supporter and a pretty fabulous writer!
To win either a picture book critique or author chat with Carol Gordon Ekster, comment on this post! If you share on Facebook or Twitter, you get another entry. Giveaway closes in one week.
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 third 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?), in December 2016 with Clavis Books. The English version released in 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, came out in May 2022 with Beaming Books, and TRUCKER KID, illustrated by Russ Cox, came out January 1st, 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