Gayle Rosengren: WHAT THE MOON SAID

We have a lot of amazing authors at OneFour KidLit and we’re excited to introduce them all to you.  Today we’re talking to Gayle Rosengren, author of WHAT THE MOON SAID. One author, four questions. Here we go!

What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?

I’d love to!

WHAT THE MOON SAID is a middle grade historical fiction novel set during the opening days of the Great Depression.  It’s the story of one tumultuous year in the life of Esther and her family when Pa loses his job and they move from the big city of Chicago to a ramshackle farm in Wisconsin.

But this is just the backdrop for the story.  The heart of it has to do with Esther’s determination to get her undemonstrative mother to say “I love you” or at least to give her a hug.  Despite many failed efforts, Esther stubbornly persists, even though she is often derailed by Ma’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of superstitions.  Ma brought them with her from Russia the way other immigrants brought seeds, and she planted them just as carefully in her new home and family, believing it was the only sure way to keep them safe and to keep luck on their side.

Life on the farm brings many changes, and some of them–like not having indoor plumbing–are bad  But many of them are good–like Esther being able to have a dog at last, and having horses to ride, and witnessing the landscape change so beautifully through the seasons.  And Esther’s wonderful friendship with Bethany.

When Ma’s superstitions threaten the girls’ friendship Esther is put in the horrible position of having to choose between obeying Ma or keeping Bethany as a friend.  The decision she makes is the first step she takes down a path of choosing what role superstitions will play in her own life and also in understanding why they play such an important role in her mother’s.

It is a year of good times and hard times and everything in between.  Laughter and celebrations contrast with disappointments and struggles–even for survival itself–in this coming of age story about one unforgettable year in a young girl’s life.

My editor, Susan Kochan at Putnam, said she’s going to have to warn people to have tissues handy if they’re reading it on the subway!  But there’s a lot of humor, too, and warm, family times.

Where did you get the idea for this story? 

I’m all about family.  I’ve always been fascinated by the great fragility–and at the same time the enormous strength–of the love that binds members of families.  This resonates in everything I write, but most especially in WHAT THE MOON SAID, which was inspired by some events in my mother’s childhood.

What was your road to publication like?

In a word?  Long.  And winding.  And bumpy.  I’ve been writing for a long time.  Although I always wanted to write children’s novels, I started, as so many children’s writers do, by writing picture book manuscripts because I was raising young children and had limited time available for writing.  I figured that shorter pieces made the most sense.  And I learned a lot about word choice from attempting that very unique and condensed version of our craft. But it wasn’t long before I moved on to short fiction pieces that I published in children’s magazines like Cricket and Ladybug and Children’s Digest. I was thrilled to see my stories in print, but they just made me more certain than ever that what I really wanted to write were novels.

So began my real trek to publication.  Which translates to the usual zillions of rejections and rewrites over a long period of time. I had a wonderful agent for a while but when she fell ill I continued on my own.  I had just about given up hope of ever being published when I met Susan at a conference.  She loved Esther and asked me if I’d be willing to up the ante on the superstitions.  I said I would, and that was the beginning of a process that ended a year later with being offered a contract. I know as a writer I’m supposed to have words for every emotion and occasion, but I can’t come close to describing how overwhelmed with joy and excitement I was–and still am–that I’m going to be a published children’s author.  It was a dream for so long, I have to figuratively pinch myself daily to believe it’s really happening!

That’s my message to other writers seeking publication–never give up.  Not that keep-on-keepin’-on is necessarily going to end in success.  There are no guarantees.  Or rather, I should say there is only one guarantee:  if you quit trying you will never succeed.  How long you keep trying depends on how passionate and how determined you are and also how much rejection you can handle. It’s not for everyone.

Can you share a few of your favorite books from childhood?

Absolutely. My favorite hands down was Little Women.  And I’ve read it dozens of times in the years since.  The March sisters became my sisters. When Beth died I cried–and still do, every time.  I was a bit of a tomboy then myself, so I identified with Jo, and she was my earliest inspiration to be a writer.  Another favorite book was Anne of Green Gables.  Anne is such a unique and funny-sad character.  You had to love her!  Books like these are why I became a writer.  They contributed so much joy and understanding to my childhood and to the person I was to become; I wanted more than anything to make that kind of difference in children’s lives too.

Gayle Rosengren is a film and live-theater devotee, loving “story” in all its forms and taking inspiration from well-chosen words wherever she finds them. If she’s not at her laptop writing, she might be spotted at a bookstore, staggering up to the register with a wobbly stack of children’s books piled to her chin. (Oh, for longer arms!)

8 thoughts on “Gayle Rosengren: WHAT THE MOON SAID

  1. Family is a theme I love in books. And so important in MG. I think it’s wonderful and impressive you connected with an editor without an agent. Definitely speaks to the importance of conferencing!

    • Absolutely, Jaye. Anytime you can make a face-to-face connection with an editor and tell them a little about your story you are miles ahead of someone just sending in a query cold. Even with an agent the conferences are valuable for getting that personal introduction. Not to mention simply for learning more about the market and our craft and for meeting fellow writers! 🙂

  2. Oh my gosh, this book sounds absolutely WONDERFUL. I can’t wait to read it, Gayle! And I love your story of how you got published, too. You’re so right – it’s not a business for everyone, and the rejection is so hard.

    • Thanks so much, Michelle. I really appreciate your enthusiasm about Moon. As for rejections, I’ve seen way too many truly talented writers throw in the towel because they got so depressed from the repeated turn-downs. So sad!

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