Interview with Award-Winning Author Samantha Vamos

SamanthaGet to know Samantha…

Samantha attended Georgetown University Law Center and practiced law in Washington, D.C.and Chicago, Illinois.  Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (Viking 2009), her first children’s picture book, won the 2010 Washington State Book Award for Picture Book. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (Charlesbridge, February 2011, illustrated by Rafael López) is a spicy tribute to the classic nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built.”  

She and her family live near Seattle,Washington. She is a full-time mom and a part-time writer. Samantha loves seeing movies; listening to music; writing; reading children’s books; shooting endless photos of her family and friends; skiing; traveling; and dogs.  She’s a caffeine addict and her two preferred sources are dark chocolate (regularly supplied by her husband) and soy lattes! To learn more, visit her website

Let the conversation begin!

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I recently finished Alphabet Trucks (Charlesbridge, Fall 2013) – a rhyming, alphabet story about, not surprisingly, 26 different trucks and how they serve their communities. While revising the manuscript, I walked around our home reciting various stanzas so many times that my son and I ended up memorizing the story! 

I am now about to begin revisions on several stories at once: a rhyming story about a zoo, a picture book about a mischievous dog, and two manuscripts that I’d like to format as early or independent reader books. I have a six year old and we enjoy reading picture books, early readers, independent readers, and chapter books. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Three points:  read, write, revise. Read good writing regularly. Write as much as you can – stories, letters, notes, journals, poems, plays, articles. You’ll practice your grammar, punctuation, and style by writing. Also, often good writing reflects good revising so be willing to revise your work many times. 

SamMost valuable advice you’ve ever received?

My mom always encouraged me to pursue my passion, but she also made clear to me that just because I loved doing something would not necessarily mean that it would be easy to achieve my goals. 

Easiest book to write? Hardest?

Unfortunately, thus far for me, no story has been particularly easy to write. I try to focus on the necessity, rhythm, sound, and tone of each and every word in a manuscript. For a picture book manuscript, it is not uncommon for me to revise twenty times or more.   

In terms of ideas, however, I’d say that my first published children’s picture book, Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (Viking, 2009, illustrated by Santiago Cohen) was easier than other stories because the inspiration came from an event that occurred in my family.  

Before You Were Here, Mi Amor is about all the things that one family does to welcome a new child into the world. It was inspired by the birth of my younger sister’s first child. As my extended family and I began envisioning doing things to welcome our future grandson/nephew into the world, I remembered my mother telling me about my anticipation over the birth of my younger sister and the ideas just flowed. Of course, as I have complained before, my nephew took a mere nine months to birth and my book took eleven years!  

The hardest book to write thus far, yet my most fun to read aloud, may actually be my second children’s picture book, The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred (Charlesbridge, February 2011, illustrated by Rafael López). 

The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred is a children’s picture book based on the nursery rhyme, The House That Jack Built.  “Cazuela” means “pot” and five different farm animals and their farmer each contributes ingredients to a pot stirred by the farm maiden. A surprise recipe is created. At the book’s end, an actual recipe is provided.  There is also a glossary with a pronunciation guide. 

The manuscript was a bit more complex than others I’ve written because of the format. I structured the story like The House That Jack Built – but, in this case, I also made it bilingual.  So, as the action builds, specific Spanish words (animal names and ingredients, for example) repeat. That way the Spanish words are reinforced and easy to remember. 

Also, I wanted to incorporate a recipe and that meant weaving the storyline around specific ingredients. Then, I needed to create characters that could provide the necessary ingredients to the pot.  A cow and hen were obvious choices as they could respectively provide milk and eggs. 

When I thought about a pot, milk, and eggs, I realized that the farm maiden could make rice pudding. Now all I needed were a few more characters to deliver the remaining ingredients:  sugar, rice, butter, cream, and a lime. After including a goat, duck, donkey, and a farmer, I had the framework of the book. 

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