Rising Stars continues in 2021! Hooray! The goal of this series is to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Author Gennie Gorback
Genevieve “Gennie” Gorback, M.Ed. is a picture book author living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a mother, early literacy curriculum writer, toy design consultant and the president-elect of the California Kindergarten Association. Gennie’s background in child development has a huge influence on her writing.
Gennie is a county coordinator for her regional SCBWI chapter. She is an active part of the #kidlit community and, because of her extensive knowledge of current picture book publishing trends, has been affectionately dubbed the “Comp Queen” by her critique partners.
Gennie is currently seeking agent representation.
Welcome to the blog Gennie, and thanks for joining me for the Rising Stars in KidLit Series. I can't wait to hear more about your work, your inspiration, and your projects! Your animated portrait is so cute, too! Asia did such a great job! If other's are interested, more of Asia's work can be found on her Instagram page HERE. Alrighty, let's dive in!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
Frog and Toad (Sorry, I know I am cheating by picking a series…) by Arnold Lobel –For many children, the Frog and Toad series is their first introduction to chapter books, and it's a wonderful start to a reading journey.
BIG PUMPKIN by Erica Silverman and S.D. Schlinder – In college, I worked as a camp counselor with 3 and 4 year-olds. For some reason, BIG PUMPKIN and its jaunty cassette tape, were included in my supplies for the summer. This was in 2006, so I had to search out a tape player… but it was worth it because the story-song had a magical effect on the children in my care! They begged to hear the story again and again and AGAIN. Drop-off was never difficult because I could distract even the most severely tantrumming toddler with “the pumpkin story.” My co-counselors and I made up hand motions and dance moves and genuinely enjoyed reading this Halloween story all summer long. Eventually, the tape wore out… and it was up to me to recreate the voices for each of the characters!
Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer – Sorry! I know I am breaking the rules AGAIN, by giving you a fourth book… *shrugging emoji* It is a cute, quick read with beautifully detailed illustrations that feature a variety of different family structures. This story is just delightful!
AD: That wooded area by the beach sounds magical!
Joey and Phoebe Gorback. Photo Credit © Gennie Gorback
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
GG: My entire career has revolved around the power of Read Alouds (capitalized to show respect!) As my career grew from babysitter to camp counselor, then teacher and on to President of the California Kindergarten Association, my passion for high-quality picture books grew in parallel. I love harnessing my inner diva and using voice, facial expressions and hand movements during my Read Alouds. Currently, my two young daughters have access to my entire classroom library, as I have temporarily stepped out of the classroom to stay at home with them. I’ve been writing picture book manuscripts of my own since 2012 and started casually submitting my work to agents and editors in 2018. I started seriously pursuing agents in late-2019.
AD: I love that "the power of Read Alouds!" Your own animated Read Alouds sound like so much fun, and I'm sure you've been able to spark a love of learning for many children because to them :).
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
GG: In first grade, I wrote a story about a dog and a cat named Feefee and Deedee. I loved thinking up the silly character names and deciding what to draw on each page! I worked so hard on this little book that I assumed I’d win the Young Author’s award… but it didn’t even place. Embarrassed that my work didn’t stand out in the crowd, I told myself that I was not a good writer… and I waited about 25 years before I allowed myself to find joy in writing again. Luckily, I’ve gotten more resilient over the years!
AD: Aww! I'm glad you didn't let that experience deter you for good and that you found the joy in your writing again! So important to find joy in the process and maybe it's time you dust off Feefee and Deedee?!? :)
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in?
GG: When I interact with children, in my roles as an educator or as a mother, I am very silly! I laugh A LOT. Half of my finished manuscripts are humorous stories meant to appeal to young kids. The other half of my writing leans toward more heartfelt stories. I am very interested in children’s social-emotional development. I enjoy guiding children to recognize their own emotions and the emotions of others. I help children work through BIG feelings and develop strategies for managing their emotional responses. My heartfelt stories are about the main character experiencing an emotion that the reader may have also experienced. I want my stories to inspire the reader and their grown-ups to talk about emotions and emotional responses.
AD: Social-emotional development is such an important topic. As an educator, I see a high need for these stories. Thank you for putting in the work to help children and students work through these BIG feelings and develop strategies they can use to manage and process them in the future.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
GG: At first, I was so hesitant to share my work with other writers. I shared my early manuscripts with friends and family who all loved my work, so I assumed my work was great! I started submitting to agents and publishers and, I’m embarrassed to admit, it took me TWO YEARS to realize that I needed to learn more about the industry in order to start gaining some attention!
Eventually, I joined SCBWI, participated in manuscript swaps and started a small critique group with three helpful, sweet, talented, supportive and wonderful PB writers. I grew more in three months of manuscript swaps than I had in 3 years of writing alone!
AD: I totally relate to submitting too early. I think at some point we just have to dive in, which takes courage. There's always something to learn, which is what I love about this industry. Keep on trudging, and keep on learning! :)
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
GG: I learned to play by the rules. When I first started writing, I figured I could rest on my hotshot early childhood educator laurels. I understand children, so writing books for them was the obvious next step. It took me wayyyyy too long to figure out the rules of submitting. I feel nauseated when I look back at a piece I submitted in 2018. The query letter was so poorly formatted; the agent must have immediately thrown it out! It took me even longer to realize how imperative a strong critique group was for developing my craft. Now that I understand the rules a bit better, my stories can truly shine!
AD: We've all been there! Part of the process :)
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
GG: I am a picture book connoisseur. I read at least five picture books a day (and track them on my Instagram page!) I always keep an eye on new releases and buy them or check them out from the library. I know what style of books are popular and I track the trends in publishing. More importantly, I also know what books I like. I am cognizant of reading developmentally appropriate books and won’t make children sit for longer than they are able. I compile mental lists of the books that are best for certain lessons and which are “everyday” stories. I notice the holes in the industry and try I write the stories to fill them.
AD: What inspires your work?
GG: My children. I have always loved talking to kids and taking time to understand the ways in which they view their world. I feel so lucky to spend my days playing and learning along with my daughters. I want to give my children a piece of my heart, sandwiched between the covers of a picture book.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
GG: I talk to kids! I LOVE how conversations with children can lead me down long, winding roads with unexpected turns. Need ideas for stories? Talk to some kids. Need more ideas? Talk to some more kids!
AD: Yes! So, true! Kids are great inspiration!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
GG: Critiques Critiques CRITIQUES!! I cannot stress enough the importance of having your work critiqued by other writers!!!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
GG: Don’t give up! Surround yourself with other writers who are on the same journey. The path to getting published is looooong, so you have to find a way to enjoy the ride!
AD: Right on!! :) Perseverance, partnerships, and passion help keep us moving forward!
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Gennie, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Gennie and her work. Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.