We had the pleasure of chatting with Children’s Author Carol Gordon Ekster all about their work!
What makes you create?
Writing came to me at the end of my teaching career. It fills a need and has been a productive and joyous way for me to spend my retirement after teaching 4th grade for 35 years. I love the meditative state of writing and that complete focus on the words. I am grateful for this purposeful life.
What drives you?
I want to continue touching children’s lives and bring books into the world that allow children to feel less alone. I’m a highly motivated person and work hard at my craft.
How did you get started in your craft?
I think I was led into writing picture books. My masters’ degree was in reading and language, and it seems that all the workshops and courses for recertification all throughout my career dealt with either writing or picture books. Though I never wanted to write myself (at the time), I did feel having writing workshops for my fourth graders was imperative to their education and growth as individuals. We didn’t write fiction. They wrote about what they knew. Each child left my class with a book of their writing from the year…something I know families cherished. Reading so many picture books throughout the year to support all aspects of my curriculum as well as social issues that arose, as well as helping children write, prepared me for becoming a children’s author.
A few years before retiring, it was like the universe aligned for me to have another career. I’m absolutely not the sitting around type, so this was a gift. Out of the clear blue, I walked off the beach on this particular day, went to get post-its and a pen from my car, and wrote my first picture book from my beach chair. It seriously felt like I had no control over this action. Writing happened to me. I never looked back and dug into the writing life. That first manuscript was didactic, too long, read more like a magazine article, and would never sell. I joined SCBWI and a critique group and the stories kept coming. The 20th manuscript I wrote was the first one to sell. Six years after that day on the beach, I held my first published book in my hand. I now have more than 125 completed manuscripts.
What’s your favorite part about your craft?
I love when a new idea catches me and I get excited about it. That happened with the picture book, SOME DADDIES, that came out in May, 2022, with Beaming Books, illustrated by Javiera Maclean Alvarez. I was FaceTiming with my grandson on 12/17/17, when he was three years old. He noticed my husband had just shaved, and said his daddy had a beard…so he’s going to have a beard when he gets older because he’s going to be a daddy. I said…”Some daddies have beards…” I paused, my writing brain igniting, and wrote that down as a title. After drafting it and revising it, and bringing it to three of my critique groups, I thought it ready to send out. (It really wasn’t!) But a year later it was picked up during a #pbpitch on Twitter. And I just love this book when I read it aloud, with a repeated refrain and the important theme that every daddy is different, every child is, too!
I also love working on a story, kind of like a puzzle. Figuring out what will make it better, going over each word and asking questions like, “Is there a better choice for that verb?” (The thesaurus is my friend.) There’s immense satisfaction when the universe and critique groups help me get it right.
Some struggles along the way?
Oh, goodness! There have been many. But I’ve learned they are all part of the journey of being an author. First it was learning patience. I have never been a patient person, and everything in education was immediate. In publishing, there’s waiting and more waiting. There were lots of hopeful possibilities, requests for revisions, and almost-acquisitions that ultimately didn’t pan out. Then after 17 years of selling five books on my own, I got an agent. It was so wonderful to have a partner in this industry. We sold a book together, and then she dropped me. I was shocked and extremely hurt. Luckily, about a year later, I found another agent who believed in my work. But the industry can still be frustrating. If you love it, you have to accept this path and find others who can support you. I’m in five critique groups and belong to SCBWI, 12×12, and Courage to Create through the Writing Barn. These connections help me through all the ups and downs of the industry.
What would you change about your industry?
I would love it if editors got back to you about your submission in a week. And I’d like it to take less than two years for a picture book to get into your hands once it has been acquired. But unfortunately, I don’t make the rules!
Your inspirations and favorite creators?
My inspirations are the many picture books I have read and continue to read. I get stacks out of the library weekly to keep up with the industry and see what I like and don’t like. As for favorite creators, there are too many amazing authors to choose only a few. I am in awe of all authors who write so lyrically and beautifully it feels like the story sings. I record beautiful sentences and verbs used in unusual ways in a document to refer back to. And I loved going to three picture book boot camps with the incredibly prolific and talented children’s author and poet, Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi Stempl. Those were fabulous professional opportunities, inspirational and taught me a lot.
Any rituals when you create things like drinking tea or breathing exercises?
I don’t have rituals when writing. I have a flexible schedule and can write when I’m moved to do so, which is most days! But I do have a daily yoga practice, and while I’m in down dog – which feels like I’m making an impression on the earth with my hands and feet – I always think, “I’m an author making an impression with my many books.” And when I’m doing the warrior two pose, I say to myself, “I’m not in the past or the future, I’m right here right now with all the hope and possibilities.” I think about the manucripts on submission. These rituals give me the calm, focus, and positive energy to bring into my writing life.
What makes your writing stand out from the crowd?
I don’t think I do stand out from the crowd in talent or ability. But I do work very hard on my writing. I reach out to others when needed and do the homework necessary to achieve some success in this business. It is not easy!
Your favorite piece you’ve worked on?
Oh, that’s like choosing your favorite kid! I always get attached to whatever it is I’m working on, until it gets some rejections. And of course, I get excited about new books that come out. I just read my ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of Trucker Kid (coming out with Capstone on January 1, 2023) to an audience in a bookstore and felt happy with how it sounded. It took ten years from the time I first got the seed of the idea until it will be out in the world. And I got a crazy number of rejections. But I revised and revised and worked in so many truck-related phrases in the book. Here are some of them:
“She deflates like a tire”
“I sleep like a stalled vehicle”
“Everyone’s interest rises like a liftgate”
“Silent as a stop sign”
“Out of gas tired”
“Truckload of clapping”
I have to say, it makes a great read aloud! Also, in addition to highlighting an often overlooked career, 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. And the illustrations by Russ Cox are awesome! I had no idea until after the illustrations were done that Russ’s son is a truck driver! That is just so cool! I think I hit the right timing for this book. We saw during Covid how important trucks were in our life. I pulled out this old manuscript that I had always believed in, tightened it a bit and added backmatter to explain what might happen within just a few days of trucks stopping service. Picture books are such a powerful art form and genre.
Any tips to give about your craft for beginners?
Be patient. Persevere. Read lots of books in the genre you want to write in. Take courses and workshops. Enjoy the journey!
What do you think about All Ages of Geek?
You are awesome! I love the focus on creativity, community, and information
Who do you think we should interview next?
I’d love to hear from some gatekeepers in the publishing industry, like editors and agents. I’d like to know about their daily lives and motivation for doing what they do.
Any creators you want to give a special shout out to?
Yes! To all the writers and illustrators in my critique groups, I couldn’t write without you!