Interview with Award-Winning Author Laura Krauss Melmed

AhugGoesAroundGet to know Laura…

Laura Krauss Melmed is the author of seventeen fiction and non-fiction picture books, including The Rainbabies, I Love You as Much, and New York, New York, the Big Apple from A to Z.  Her work has garnered many awards including the ALA Notable, Notable Children’s Book in the Field of Social Studies, Fiera de Bologna Graphics Prize for Children, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and the National Jewish Book Award. Some of her titles have been translated into French, Mandarin, Japanese, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. She has been privileged to partner with such wonderful illustrators as Jim LaMarche, Betsy Lewin, Ed Young, Frane Lessac, Henri Sorensen, Jane Dyer, and others. Before We Met, Laura’s next picture book, will be published by Beach Lane. Laura is delighted to be working with Allyn Johnston. 

Laura loves kids, cats, dogs, flowers, cooking for friends and family, hiking, traveling and reading, reading, reading. A past president of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, she is a member of SCBWI. She is a literacy tutor and mentor. She enjoys meeting her audience at school presentations, offers writing workshops, and is available for author-in-residence programs. For more information about Laura, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What is the weirdest thing about your relatives?

When I was a child my father’s family would gather most Sundays at my grandma’s apartment in Brooklyn.  While the eight cousins played, drew, jumped on the beds or otherwise ran wild, the grown-ups could be heard hollering at one another from the living room.  The weird thing is that they were never really fighting, just arguing about politics, books, astronomy, geography, or some other random topic.  They just loved this verbal sparring.  No one fought about anything serious or got into scenarios where they stopped talking to each other for years.  It was just how they interacted.  In a way, it was reassuring to us kids overhearing them, like baby geese being soothed by the honking of the gaggle. 

What item have you kept over the years for no good reason?

This might sound gross, but I still have the knot that fell off my youngest son’s umbilical cord.  He’s my third child and we weren’t planning on more, so I felt nostalgic.  Fast forward to last week:  He just received his doctorate in psychology (yay, Michael!); now he can analyze his mother’s strange behavior. 

If you talked in your sleep, what kinds of things would you say?

I would talk about about whatever dream I was having and record it so I could play it back to myself the next day. Or I would speak poetry. 

What is the most physically painful thing that has ever happened to you?

Intellectually I know that going through labor and childbirth three times (not counting my own birth, which probably hurt, but I don’t remember) was the most painful thing. But in this case the old cliché is really true, at least in my case.  The memory of pain evaporates in the joy of holding and gazing at the new love of your life. 

Fill in the blank.  If I had a pet robot _______.

She would go to the gym for me but the effects would still accrue to my body!  I guess this goes along with the question I didn’t answer about being lazy. 

What is the most childish thing about you?

My sense of wonder.  

What is the expression you normally have on your face?

As a child and young adult I was quite shy.  People would often say to me, for instance in the elevator at work, “Smile! Things can’t be that bad.”  I finally took the “hint” and tried my hardest to drop the poker face, quickly learning that a smile costs nothing yet reaps great rewards. 

What is the most annoying thing about computers?

That you might fall in love with an OS and then it could leave you (just kidding; I loved the movie Her.)

When is it essential to speak your mind?

When you see injustice. 

What keeps you up at night?

Worrying.  Trust me, I can always find something! 

If you could bring someone famous back from the grave, who would it be?  

I would bring back Abraham Lincoln to give a TED talk on the state of politics in this country. 

What was one of your most embarrassing moments?

At a recent local authors event, each author was called prior to the general signing session to give a short synopsis of his or her book to the assembled audience. Mounting the podium, I tripped and fell up the steps.  This had happened to Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars maybe a week before, but I didn’t have the excuse of wearing a long gown (instead I think it was due to the clunky moto boots that were supposed to make me look cool).  The point is, this klutzy move didn’t ruffle me at all, whereas years ago it probably would have left me mortified.  One of the perks of getting older is not giving two hoots! 

If you had a personalized license plate, what would it say?

“Shiviti,” a Hebrew word that means perceiving the world as an expression of divine oneness.   This is something I strive for in my meditation practice. 

laura-melmed-book-signingWriting Questions 

How do you know when a book is finished?

My published books still aren’t finished!  At some point you just have to let go of it. 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing?  Have you ever questioned that decision?

I might have pursued a career in writing earlier had it not been for a professor in my sophomore year of college who gave me a D accompanied by mean comments on a paper about Tristram Shandy.  This was a crushing blow for an eighteen-year-old formerly always an A student in honors English.   After that I majored in Sociology and confined my creative writing to poems for special family occasions, etc.  I got an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from a wonderful program at Tulane University that was very kid-lit based, which nurtured my fascination with picture books.  I taught pre-school and kindergarten, and then got a government job in Washington where I wrote, but not creatively.  

One night while putting my son Jonathan to bed (not an easy endeavor on any evening), he, then and now a person of unique intellect, asked me, “What was the first song ever sung?”  My answer to his question, a poem I composed in my head as he at last drifted off to sleep, became my first picture book. The First Song Ever Sung, illustrated by Ed Young, is dedicated, of course, “to Jonathan, who asked the question.”  After that I continued my part time day job for many years, but knew that being an author was the real me and wrote and published many books. 

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity?  If so, how have you dealt with this?

The hardest thing for me is dealing with that naysaying self-editor trying to dam up the natural flow of my writing.  I know that this little devil sitting on my left shoulder (or squatting inside the left side of my brain) must be silenced until later when it’s time for the editing process to kick in, but it can be a battle to control that little demon.  I’ve used the technique of attending poetry or visual arts workshops to free up my right brain in an environment where getting published is not the goal for me. 

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Drink tea (latest passion: black tea purchased on a recent, fascinating trip to Turkey).  Dance around the room to something upbeat, currently Pharrell Williams’ Happy.  I’d be all right with your sharing a cup of tea with me, but having anyone observe my solo dance party would be truly mortifying! 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing.

Make friends with your children’s librarian.  Read the best of the genre you’ve chosen to write in.  Join SCBWI.  Go to workshops and conferences.  Get your work critiqued.  Network.  Avail yourself of the plethora of fabulous online resources, like the Author Turf website!

How would you define creativity?

I just received Chronicle’s catalog in the mail.   The cover shows the company’s eyeglass logo, with the motto, “See things differently.”  I think that says a lot. 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Philip Roth, and Alice Munro, among many others.

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