Beth Ferry reads and writes near the beach in New Jersey where she lives with her husband, kids and a variety of creatures. She is the author of STICK AND STONE and the forthcoming LAND SHARK, PIRATE’S PERFECT PET and SWASHBY AND THE SEA. She loves alliteration and all types of word play. You can find out more at http://www.bethferry.com.
For what age audience do you write?
I write picture books. I hope that means they are for every age.
Henry: I write picture books too!! What a coincidence!!
Tell us about your latest book.
STICK AND STONE, my debut picture book, beautifully illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, is, at its heart, a friendship story. With a nod to the childhood saying, Sticks and stones may break my bones. . ., this story personifies STICK AND STONE and highlights the importance of friendship.
Henry: I first saw STICK AND STONE at a Texas Librarian Association conference, and was immediately drawn to the hilarious illustrations. I read the book on the spot.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope readers will see . . .
how one word, or one act of kindness, can make a difference.
how sticking up for a friend, or even a not-quite-yet friend, is important.
how friends rescue each other in different ways.
how nothing is more important than a good friend – having one and being one.
Henry: No man is an island, but sometimes a rock is a friend.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I think the most challenging part of writing is coming up with a worthy idea. There are so many amazing picture books in existence, so to come up with a unique idea that will add to the already magnificent collection is challenging.
Henry: That’s so true. I find it very hard to be objective about my own writing. Hence the importance of opinions from one’s critique group and literary agent.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
For every up, there is a down. I think this is a life lesson as well. Writing is definitely a roller coaster ride. It’s thrilling, but scary, with many peaks and dips.
Henry: Yup. Good news: I wrote a great story. Bad news: my critique group recommended a lot of changes. Good news: The rewrite is stronger. Bad news: Now I’m wondering if it really is a great story. Good news: My agent liked it. Bad news: No publishing houses responded right away. Good news: A publishing house expressed interest. Bad news: The advance is small and option clause too restrictive. Good news: My agent was able to negotiate better terms. Bad news: Now I have to wait 18 months to see the book in print. Good news: I’ve got other stories to work on in the interim.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Having a first grade class applaud after I finished reading STICK AND STONE. It was such a delightful surprise, one I will never forget.
Henry: You rock, Beth!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
This may sound cliché, but READ. Read everything that is being published. Although writing is a solitary vocation, publishing is not. You need to know what is working, what is selling and then try to reconcile what you like to write, or need to write, with what can be published.
Henry: Yup. A lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. A writer is the product of all the books he or she has read. But do NOT try to follow a trend. Just write the story that is inside you, demanding to be let out. That philosophy drove me to produce a rhyming picture book, NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI (currently on submission) when I kept telling myself that writing AND selling rhymers is doubly challenging.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Most emphatically yes! I love quotes.
My very favorite is by Emily Dickinson – “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” Not only does it appeal to me lyrically, but I think it is one of the truest things I have ever read
Another quote that speaks to me is by Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
Also “You know nothing, John Snow.” It is so much fun to say and a great retort. Thank you, George R. R. Martin
And lastly Roald Dahl’s, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” That one just breaks my heart.
Henry: Spoiler alert: Charlie Button from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is actually Darth Vader’s son!
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I usually memorize whatever story I am working on. This may sound crazy, but since the word count is pretty low, it’s possible. Then I basically revise in my head anywhere and everywhere. I can hear the weak and slow parts as I’m saying them out loud. So I talk to myself a lot! In the car, in the shower, walking around the house. Hearing my words out loud is the most valuable revision tool I know.
Henry: It’s generally not a good sign when you have to explain to people that you are not crazy. 🙂
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation. I would love to be able to Star-Trek myself from place to place all in a matter of seconds. “Beam me up, Scotty!
Henry: Not only would that be a time-saver and very convenient, it is also a very green form of transportation. But, as with all science fiction, we must take care to think things through. To wit, if you beam to Paris to have some baguettes and wine, how do you avoid materializing within a solid object? Is the momentum of an object (we are on a spinning planet, after all) transferred when you teleport? And now you see why an Engineering major should perhaps not be a picture book writer…
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Edgar Allan Poe’s raven. I just love that bird. With a bird like that, saying no would be a snap.
Henry: No dragons, sparkly vampires or werewolves for you. What about a helpful brownie or mischievous imp? My next book, WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY features the latter. They are cooler than ravens.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m an avid reader and could truly spend the entire day reading. I love going to the beach in the summer, and, hmmm, reading. Also, playing Catan with my kids or Scrabble/Boggle/Clue. I like to go on walks, but only if there is the possibility of seeing some interesting creatures.
Henry: Reading and word games. I did NOT see that coming…
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
A life well lived.
Henry: She gathered no moss.
Where can readers find your work?
Bookstores and libraries everywhere, filed under F for Ferry and hopefully for Fun.
Henry: Fantastic! Thanks for joining us. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.