Today we have a special guest, friend and critique partner, Yvona Fast. She shares the emotional story of her mother’s childhood experiences during the Holocaust in her upcoming middle grade book,GOOD IN THE MIDST OF EVIL, with Clear Fork Publishing. Dana Fast is one of many whose personal experiences during such a horrific time, have given her the strength she has today.
TS: Welcome, Yvona! I am so excited to read your book and hear about how your mother’s important story came to be. Her experiences help us understand our world’s history, especially such difficult times.
AF: Thank you, Tina. Yes, they really do!
When I was growing up and we studied history and the Holocaust, I would ask Mom questions – I knew she had lived through it – but she never would talk about it. It was only later, when I was in my forties that she started talking.
Her brother – who is 5 years younger – asked her to write it down for his kids, since he remembered so little, being so young. This was in the 1990s. I was in Europe working in Yugoslavia, Poland and Slovakia from 1989 – 1995, and she typed it on our friend Olga’s word processor… it wasn’t even a computer back then. I just recently came across this early draft when cleaning out the filing cabinet.
Her friends in Poland wanted to read it – so she wrote it in Polish for them, using the same word processor…
When I came back to the states, I read both versions – and they were not identical. She recalled different things each time.
TS: Wow, so fascinating. I am sure after so many years, sitting down to write the difficult memories in both languages must have been very challenging.
AF: This really inspired me to want to share her story. I was living and working in Rochester, NY, then, and combined both versions into one, editing as I went. I tried submitting the story to publishers, but there was no interest.
A few years later, in 2010, a friend of Mom’s, Andrea, asked if she could write mom’s story down. She was on the board of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Society in Montreal, Quebec, and they were looking for Holocaust stories to publish.
We told her the story was already written – and in 2011 they published it, with only minor edits, under the title, MY NINE LIVES. When I said we wanted a thousand copies, they thought we were crazy… but we have sold most of them. The nonprofit only publishes the books, but they do not distribute them, so the only way to get a copy is either through the agency or through us.
Mom is well-known in our community, since she has worked here and lived here and volunteered for various organizations from the local library to the Visitor’s Interpretive Center, and served as a Master Gardener Volunteer for years, giving talks on gardening, composting, preserving food, and so on. Over a hundred people came to her book release party.
TS: She is amazing! You must be so proud of her.
AF: I really am. But I wanted a wider market for the book, beyond our small village. Since there are about a dozen books with the title MY NINE LIVES, I wanted a unique title that fit. A friend, Karen Davidson, designed a more engaging cover. These are things that are important to book marketing… the cover and the title.
A friend offered to help me publish it through Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) but part-way through she dropped the project. Her Apple computer and my IBM version did not seem to work together well. That’s when I sent a copy of MY NINE LIVES to Caliie Metler of Clear Fork Publishing. She loved the book and offered to publish it under the Rise Imprint – books that empower women and teach them to rise.
TS: Yvona, how wonderful for your mother and your family to be able to do this for her. Great thinking on your part to submit her story to Clear Fork and the RISE Imprint is a perfect fit.
AF: My mom, Dana, is definitely a strong, independent woman. Her life made her that way.
I say she wrote the book – it is her story. She claims I wrote it. I definitely edited and improved it, but the story and voice are clearly hers.
TS: Something tells me both of you are sharing this important history, together. We wish you every success as the release her incredible story releases Tuesday, April 5th!
Yvona Fast grew up on three continents, speaking three languages by age ten. She thought many of her challenges were due to these changes in culture, but in her forties she discovered she is neurodivergent and needs words – not pictures – to understand her world, a condition known as Nonverbal Learning Disability.
Her love of books and language first led her to become a librarian, and later, to writing. She has written articles and essays, writes a weekly food column for her local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and has published several books, including three poetry chapter books. Her first book, Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning Disability, was published in 2004 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Welcome, Word Wonders to today’s post on inspiration! This time I’m interviewing three authors AND an illustrator at once and it’s because they all worked together on the sweet story of friendship, PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, Melissa Stoller, illustrated by Kate Talbot. I’m eager to learn more about the creativity behind this collaboration so let’s jump right in!
Hi, Ladies! Thanks for joining us on the Wonder of Words blog. What was the inspiration behind this story?
Melissa: First, Candice – thank you so much for inviting me to your blog! I enjoyed answering these questions about creativity!
I am so lucky to be working with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman on this project! PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot, Clear Fork Publishing) has been an absolute pleasure to work on together. Shirin brought the idea to Callie and me, and I will be forever grateful that she did. I have met them both in person (on separate occasions – we still all need to meet together!) and I knew that we would bond perfectly as a group. The inspiration behind the story is to tell a tale of three girls of different faith traditions that would mirror our faith traditions (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim). We wanted to show that, although the three girls in the story are different, they are more alike than they realize at first, and their differences and cultural heritages should be shared and celebrated. The backdrop of the story is the first day of school, and their teacher, Ms. Blume (obvious nod to Judy Blume!) starts a planting project. As the plants bloomed, the girls’ friendship blossomed. Illustrator Kate Talbot’s artwork is just exquisite and she brought her own unique vision to the story and elevated our words!
Callie: The inspiration for Planting Friendship came from Shirin. She wanted to create a book about three girls coming together and so we worked on it together and brainstormed what the story came to be.
Shirin: I have thought about this story since I became a mother. I strongly believe that if children grow up knowing and respecting different faith traditions- and all differences- our world will be better for it. My children are my inspiration. I did not want them to experience the challenges I faced as a child. I want every child to feel they belong. I want every child to be proud of their identity and heritage, while appreciating all others.
Our world is enriched by all the diverse faiths, cultures and traditions–we are one human family.
It’s an important lesson that children need to learn before they begin school. Picture books are so important. They can play a crucial role in a child’s development. I hope our book has a positive impact in the world.
Kate: Callie approached me in late 2020 to ask if I’d be interested in illustrating Planting Friendship: Peace Salaam, Shalom. Upon reading it, I instantly knew I wanted to be involved. The message and the timing of the book seemed perfect and I was excited by the challenge of creating three unique main characters.
Candice: It’s such a great idea! What is your favorite part of the creative process? And what was your favorite part about working with co-writers? Did you learn anything about your own process?
Melissa: As far as the creative process and writing – I enjoy it all. I love brainstorming ideas and find stories all over, especially by observing nature, strolling through my NYC neighborhood, and mining my family history. Also, I enjoy revising and teasing out the heart and themes of a manuscript. Those are not always evident in the first draft and I rely on my amazing critique partners as I work through the story.
For this project – it was an absolute joy to work with Callie and Shirin. We have an amazing energy together. We met almost weekly to write, revise, and polish the manuscript for PLANTING FRIENDSHIP. And we continue to meet to work on the next book, BUILDING BRIDGES: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM, as well as the third picture book to complete the series. My favorite part about working with co-authors is the collaboration itself – bouncing ideas off each other, engaging in meaningful dialogue, and the deep friendship that has resulted. We shared a lot and also had many laughs throughout the process! I learned that I LOVE working with co-authors! When illustrator Kate Talbot joined the project we became a true #DreamTeam and I’m so blessed that our work together is continuing!
Callie: I love the discussions and the partnership. We each added something special to the story, and communicated what was important to us for the story.
Shirin: I love writing stories for children. I’m so grateful to be able to live this dream. Working with Callie and Melissa has been such a joy, that I am so thankful we are continuing this collaboration indefinitely! I could not imagine a better team to work with. We schedule zoom meetings and figure out the story together. I am constantly amazed by the ideas we come up with. After every meeting, we all agree that we accomplished a lot. I have learned that I am much more productive when we talk over plot possibilities. The ideas seem to flow better when we brainstorm together.
Kate: I adore working in colour, so for me, the final stage of colouring and rendering my art is my favourite part. For me, this is where the magic really happens and bringing these three gorgeous little girls to life left me with a permanent smile on my face.
Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? If so, do they ever cross into your writing?
Melissa: I love being creative and crafty! My kids and I especially enjoy holiday art projects like decorating a menorah for Hanukkah, making a seder plate for Passover, or baking macaroons for Purim. I also love collecting – I collect shells, sea glass, beach rocks, driftwood, and snow globes. During the summer, I’m always painting shells or making found beach object projects. I think that any creative pursuit does cross over into writing – as I’m creating I’m also thinking and mulling over story plots! Creativity involves using your imagination so whether it’s doing a craft or writing a story, the mind is always active and finding new solutions or ways of doing things, and working around any problems that may arise.
Shirin: I love to paint and I’m learning to draw, as it has always been my dream to write and illustrate my own books. I don’t know if it will take another ten years or more, but I’m content with the journey of learning for now. It’s a way to change gears and still be creative, when I am seized by the dreaded writers block
Callie: I love to play computer games, read, and paint. They often cross over into my writing.
Kate: While I was the illustrator on this project, I am also a writer, so when I’m not at my iPad sketching, I’m busy dreaming up story ideas.
Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Shirin: For me, creativity is sparked by moments of quiet solitude. Mornings are my favorite times, when I watch the sunrise with a cup of tea. Writing morning pages helps clear my mind and prepares me for a good day of creativity
Melissa: I love finding creativity in my life in small ways throughout the day. I have adult coloring books, tiny blank canvases, and markers on my desk, and I use them if I have a few minutes. And by reading kidlit, keeping a writing idea journal, and always trying to add a spark to an existing manuscript, I hope I am keeping my imagination and my creativity alive. And of course, my book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke, Clear Fork Publishing) is all about creativity! The theme is letting go of perfection and finding your own creativity – whatever form that may take. And for fans of Scarlet, the sequel, RETURN OF THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is coming soon. Sandie’s illustrations are just gorgeous! I’m so excited for readers to be immersed in that world surrounding creativity and imagination once again!
Callie: Creativity can come in any form. The trick is to see and accept the magic in the world around you and to capture that to pour into your writing.
Kate: Like all creatives, I struggle with motivation at times. I’ve found, that for me, the best way to counteract this is to have multiple projects going at once. This means that when I hit a seemingly impassable creative wall, I shift focus for a couple of weeks before circling back. I’ve found that while sometimes I need to push myself, other times, the best thing to do is take a break.
Thank y’all for joining us and sharing your thoughts on inspiration and creativity!
Consider adding PLANTING FRIENDSHIPS to your holiday gift-giving list! Support local by requesting at your indie bookstore or purchasing online at bookshop.org (book specific link) to benefit your favorite indie.
Call to Creativity: have you ever thought about co-writing? What strengths of your own could you share with others?
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush;Ready, Set, GOrilla!; and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot), released from Clear Fork Publishing in 2021. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks.
Shirin has lived on three continents and sees herself as a global citizen. Through sharing stories from her heritage, she hopes to inspire an appreciation for all the diversity of our beautiful planet. A member of SCBWI since 2010, Shirin is now represented by Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary Agency. http://www.shirinshamsi.com @ShirinsBooks
Callie Metler is the owner of Clear Fork Media, and an author and illustrator of several children’s books. She lives in Stamford, Texas with her two sons, and enjoys looking out her office window at the trees and nature in the local town square. http://www.CallieMetler.com
Kate Talbot is a Children’s Book Author and Illustrator who has a passion for quirky stories, especially when told in rhyme. She has a degree in filmmaking and spent several years as a Film Producer (the highlight of her career was spilling an entire tray of drinks in Russell Crowe’s lap before falling butt-first into a fountain). In 2011, she made the shift to children’s writing and illustration, when she moved to Germany with her Spanish husband. Until recently she lived there with her family, but has now relocated to New Zealand. https://www.katetalbotbooks.com
Hi y’all! We have a special guest on the Wonder of Words blog today—one I’m excited to introduce (though needs no introduction), debut author AND fellow critique group partner, Sandra Sutter. Welcome, Sandra!
Thank you, Candice, for asking me to share a little about my debut picture book and my overall creative process. I love working with you and our other critique partners on this blog, but I have to admit it is a lot of fun to drop by as a featured guest, too.
Where did you find the inspiration for your story?
Like many authors I know, my child gave me that initial spark of inspiration for THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL. He is one of those kids who will ask a million questions about anything you can possibly imagine. That can be inspiring and, well… exhausting, all at the same time. With this story, I was walking by as he looked up from his iPad to ask, “Did you know the farmer took a wife?” When I explained that yes, that was how the song went, he replied, “Well, I did not know that!” Then I thought… it doesn’t have to go that way, does it? What if the farmer didn’t take a wife? What if the farmer didn’t live in a dell? I ran off to write down answers to these and other questions, and out of this, my story was born.
I have a couple of those Million-Question-Kids, too! Love that your son’s question led to the What-If game in a sense. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I am an ideas person; my head is filled with them. I like to look at things from different angles, brainstorm, then get it out on “paper” and see a story come to life. This is also one reason I like to do critiques. To see the way someone else tackles a subject or comes up with a completely unique storyline. It is fascinating to think of all the stories already out there and yet to be written.
Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?
The short answer is yes, I do. I just wish I had more time to do them. I am not an illustrator, but I love to draw and paint for inspiration. It might be a picture of an animal or the main character in one of my stories, or just colorful lines on a paper. I also like photography and used to do more of it when my kids were babies. It was just for fun, but it was a creative outlet for me when I was working as an attorney before going full into writing as a career. My “hobbies” would be mountain biking, hiking, cooking, yoga, and traveling.
Character sketches of works-in-progress
I love yoga too. A few minutes in usually leads to me running for paper and pen. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
I had to be “open” to creativity before it really took hold in my life. Before I started writing, I was a counselor for four years and then an attorney for ten. With the exception of being able to think outside-the-box and help people re-write their own narratives, I didn’t see myself as creative. I wasn’t very “artsy”, or so I thought. But then these stories started to pop into my mind and I couldn’t shake them. I just HAD to get them on paper even if it scared me to have anyone read them. When I allowed myself to do this, it was like someone opened the flood-gates in my mind and a river of ideas poured into my life. So here I am.
As far as a practical tip, I find it helpful to use time-blocking strategies. Schedule an appointment with yourself to be creative in whatever way you like as if it were a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference. You can accomplish absolutely nothing during that time, but at least do something you love. For example, I aim for at least one day each month that I draw or paint something. No writing!
Wonderful how you phrased that, being open to creativity, because that’s exactly how one needs to be. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
I am one of those writers who tends to juggle a dozen or so projects at a time. I like the variety, and sometimes one project bleeds into another which can also lend itself to unexpected, but beautiful outcomes. One of my newer projects is a picture book about possibilities and probabilities. Again, my son may have something to do with that! I have also started a second middle-grade novel about a boy who has to navigate changing peer relationships and an absentee mother who reappears after his single-parent dad wins the lotto. Don’t ask me where that came from, because I have no clue. The idea just appeared one day and now I have to write the story.
Of course, there have been other wonderful creatives that helped bring THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL to life. My publisher, Callie Metler-Smith, at Clear Fork Publishing and Dr. Mira Resiberg, my editor and art director, were instrumental in bringing it all together. They found the incredibly talented illustration team, Chantelle and Burgen Thorne, to put the right pictures with my words. I couldn’t have done it without this exceptional group of people!
Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Candice. It has been a pleasure!
Enjoyed our interview, Sandra, and always your insightful critiques. Congrats again on your debut!
THE REAL FARMER AND THE DELL officially releases March 19th but if you’re like me and can’t wait ‘til then, you can ask your favorite indie bookstore to pre-order it, or purchase it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble:
For y’all’s creativity challenge inspired by this interview, play the What-If game to encourage brainstorming. If you have or are around children, listen for prompts they may inadvertently send your way. Let me know in the comments and I’ll randomly choose a winner for a picture book critique by me!