The Write2Ignite team is very excited about hosting Laura Sassi for our Picture Book Master Class on April 24. We thought you would enjoy getting to know her so she kindly agreed to this email interview.
CAROL: What inspired you to become a writer? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
LAURA: My grandmother was a storyteller. I vividly remember sitting around her table after meals and listening intently as she told story after story about her life. My mother, too, was a storyteller, but she told her stories in pictures rather than words. Storytelling was the special way we connected. And that shared experience was magical.
As soon as I was old enough, I joined the ranks of family storytellers. Like my mother, I loved to draw, and like my grandmother, I loved to animatedly share all about my day at the dinner table.
By age eight or so, this love of storytelling, expanded to writing. Influenced by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who beautifully recounted her youth in fictionalized form in the Little House on the Prairie series, I was soon keeping journals and writing little poems and stories – not for school – but just for the storytelling joy of it! My mother saved many of those. Here is a sample. It even rhymes!
CAROL: How does your faith influence your writing?
LAURA: My Christian faith is the lens through which I view the world. And since I hold my faith dear, it cannot help but overflow into my writing both directly and indirectly. That is, some of my stories and poems are outrightly faith-based, such as bible retellings and faith-infused poems and articles I’ve written over the years for magazines like Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr. Other writings, such as my first picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK and the more recent LOVE IS KIND, meet at what I regard as the intersection of faith and mainstream. In other words, they can be enjoyed in a secular setting just because they are good stories with universal themes, but they can also, if desired, be used as sparks for deeper conversations with our little ones about matters of faith. Finally, some of my writing is purely mainstream and fun – like DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE. But even that has a message of treating others with kindness and respect that emerges from my worldview.
CAROL: Agented or not? If not, how did you find your publishers?
LAURA: I’ve been both agented and unagented and, for me, the answer is a resounding “agented”. Five of my six books sold with the expertise of skilled and knowledgable agents who not only provided excellent editorial feedback before each story went out but also invaluable insight and negotiation expertise after the offers came in. I know, hands-down, that the contracts for each book signed with an agent, resulted in a better deal than I could have gotten on my own.
That being said, in the spring of 2019, I found myself agent-less and decided to try submitting on my own. I had a faith-based picture book in mind and carefully researched publishing houses. A friend of mine had recently published a darling book with Beaming Books, an imprint of 1517 Media, the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and so I investigated their submission guidelines. I discovered that even though they are closed to unagented submissions for most of the year, they were offering an open window for unagented submissions that June! Their submission guidelines were thorough and specific. With those close by my side, I carefully prepared my submission and sent it in June of 2019. Two months later I had an offer from the editor! And on my own, with lots of reading and comparing to my previous contracts, I read through the contract, asked for clarifications etc., and finally signed the deal. That book, I’m delighted to say is LITTLE EWE which just released this spring and which we share among a host of mentor texts as we delve into the ins-and-outs of writing picture books.
CAROL: You’re drawn to rhyme. Any reason for that?
LAURA: I’ve always loved the sound of words and making meaningful patterns with those sounds using rhythm and rhyme. This might be because I spent my childhood years in France where even the simplest sentence possesses a poetic quality. Or, it could be because I’m still a kid at heart who loves word play. Another reason, though, is that I know from experience that children, and especially our littlest ones, are drawn to rhyme and it makes stories extra connective for them. A word of caution though for my fellow rhymers. Having a natural ear for rhythm and rhyme and being willing to revise until it’s perfect is vital to writing in rhyme because there’s nothing that will get a manuscript tossed into the “reject” pile faster than a story with poor rhythm and rhyme. (But, hooray, hope is not lost because we’ll be devoting a whole workshop to this very subject at the Master Class!)
CAROL: I’m always curious about an author’s path to publication. Can you tell us about that?
LAURA: I began my career as a fourth-grade teacher. Not surprisingly, my favorite subjects were reading and writing. And on my own during those early teaching years, I was always writing in my journal and playing around with words. But being a very practical young woman, I didn’t at first consider pursuing a career in writing. Most of the creative types I’d encountered in college wrote serious novels or poetic works for adults, very compelling, but I liked light-hearted humor and rhyme, and I especially liked children’s literature. It wasn’t until my children came along and I took time off from teaching to care for them, that it dawned on me that there was a place, and maybe even a need, for a writer like me. That’s when I took the plunge and began writing in earnest. And what did I like writing best? Humorous rhyming stories and poems. And, now with five books out and another set to release next spring, and oodles of poems and stories published in various children’s magazines, I’m still at it and loving every moment.
CAROL: Thank you Laura!
LAURA: Thank you for having me on the Write2Ignite blog today. I’m delighted to be here and even more delighted that I get to spend a whole day in April sharing my love of all things picture book at the Picture Book Master Class. I can’t wait to meet everyone in April!
REGISTER FOR LAURA’S CLASS!
Laura’s publisher has given WRITE2Ignite two of Laura’s books to give away. You must have a US address. Just leave a comment by 6 PM on Wednesday, February 17. We will try to honor book preferences.
Laura Sassi has a passion for telling stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of five picture books including the best-selling Goodnight, Ark, which was a 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist; Goodnight, Manger; Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, which won First Honor Book for the 2019 Best in Rhyme Award; Love Is Kind, which was a 2020 Anna Dewdney Read Together Award Honor Book; and Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep. Her next book, Bunny Finds Easter, will release in 2022. A graduate of Princeton University and UCLA, Sassi had a successful teaching career before becoming a children’s author. She’s been a homeschool mom, children’s ministry director, historic museum interpreter, and more. She writes daily from her home in New Jersey and finds special joy in sharing her love of reading and writing with the next generation at school visits and other book events. Find her on the web at https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com.