Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Amanda Wastrom!
Amanda Wastrom is an award-winning graphic designer, museum curator, and writer. In addition to children’s stories, she writes about art, culture, and local history for nationally distributed magazines such as Cape Cod LIFE and Cape Cod Magazine. She lives in East Sandwich, Massachusetts with her husband and kids, a flock of chickens, an overgrown garden, and some feisty honeybees.
Amanda is seeking agent representation.
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? Only three??!! The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis, and The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Tea (usually mint or chamomile).
- Where is your safe place? I have a huge clawfoot tub out on my deck (we are surrounded by woods, so privacy isn’t an issue ;)). It’s amazing. I take a nice, long bath almost every night. It’s my place to decompress.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Both! The more animals, the merrier at my house!
- Early bird or night owl? I’m a wannabe early bird. The days when I’m the first one up and I get an hour to myself? Those are the best.
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…grit, perseverance (are those the same thing?), and community.
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.
AW: I’ve always loved picture books, and I still have many of the ones I grew up with. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and she used to bring me to a big kidlit festival they had at Keene State College in New Hampshire. I remember seeing Tomie DePaola speak there. Writing and illustrating my own book has been a goal of mine for a long time—since high school, actually. But, as you’ll see from my answer below, I have wandered around quite a bit in my life, with the connecting thread being that storytelling has always been a part of my life. Whether you’re a teacher or a graphic designer or a curator, you are, at the heart of it, telling a story (hopefully a good one that gets your students, viewers, or visitors hooked). I got serious about my own kidlit writing about four years ago. I was in my mid-30s at that point and I felt like, ok—if you’re going to try to do this, you’ve gotta get started! I started taking classes, joined SCBWI, and found a critique group. I’ve been slowly trying to immerse myself in the community.
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
AW: I have always been a bit of a wanderer. I was a serious athlete in college (you could say I majored in soccer). When I wasn’t playing sports, I was studying a mix of science and art. I was a curious learner—loved school—and had a really hard time deciding which direction to go. I pursued art and went to art school for graduate school. Not sure why I didn’t pursue illustration while I was there (I got my MFA in Studio Art). I’ve worked as a teacher (Visual Art and English), graphic designer, copywriter, exhibit designer, and curator.
Right now, I’m a museum curator as my day job. I love it as it puts all of my skills to use—researching, writing, working with artists, designing. Plus, I get to keep learning. Every time we take on a new exhibition project, I get to learn about something entirely new! And puttering around in our museum’s collection is like digging through the most amazing (and most organized) attic in the world. I would say that the downside is that my day job is demanding and sucks up a lot of my creative energy. I fit my personal work in when I can.
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
AW: My writing tends toward the lyrical and sweet. I am earnest. That’s my gig. I learned all about that from my days as a high school teacher. I would regularly have to get up and speak in front of 800+ students and I learned pretty quickly that I am not funny. I am not quirky. But sincere and earnest? I can do that pretty well. I want to be the writer whose books make you go “awwww” at the end (maybe with a tear…or at the very least, a smile).
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?
AW: I started to get serious about my writing right about the same time I had children. Balancing parenting and a full-time job along with my own creative projects is definitely a challenge. I know there are a lot of people out there who are able to work after their kids go to sleep. I’m not one of those people. I’m often falling asleep alongside them. So, I struggle to find the time and the creative energy to keep my own projects going and to keep the house clean, the garden going, and exercise (yeah, I used to be sporty!). I have found that in the free time I have I can either a) make art or b) exercise. I haven’t figured out how to do both. Has anyone else figured this out? If so, please share your secret!
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/illustration journey?
AW: Right now, I have three PB manuscripts that feel pretty strong and polished and I think I’m ready to start querying. That may seem like a small victory but to me, I’ve been waiting and waiting until I could assemble enough strong work to take the next step. I feel like I’m ready. Some of the best (and simplest) advice I’ve gotten is to just make good work. You can’t do anything or get anywhere if the work isn’t strong to begin with. And you’ve got to spend a lot of time in the trenches to get it to a point where it is strong. To me, that’s a win.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
AW: I think I have a pretty strong, consistent voice. I love playing with words at the line level and crafting language that’s on the poetic end of the spectrum.
AD: What inspires your work?
AW: I live on Cape Cod, and I find that for me, place is a big inspiration. Many of my stories are memories from growing up here or about life on the ocean. Cape Cod has a rich history—it’s full of great stories about the people who have lived here, the architecture, the landscape, and the wildlife. Endlessly inspiring.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
AW: There are artists out there who are the 9 to 5 working artists. They show up every day, put in the hours, and cultivate their creative tools that way. I was never one of those artists—either with my art or my writing. I’m the kind that keeps things open, keeps exercising my creative muscles in other ways and is ready when inspiration does strike. I remember reading Louisa May Alcott’s diary, and she wrote about how she would let her stories percolate in her head. She’d be thinking about them as she was doing her chores around the house. I felt inspired (and validated) by that. The reality is, my own creative time isn’t always there. I try not to beat myself up about that. If I don’t write every day or if I don’t have a chance to make my own work, that’s ok. But if there’s a night when my schedule is free and the kids are asleep, and I’m still awake (like tonight!), I seize on that chance and dive in.
Having multiple projects going certainly helps keep the ideas flowing cause if it’s been a while, I can always pick up a manuscript and start revising. That’s a pretty low bar to enter on. I don’t even have to write anything new!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
AW: I would say that single biggest thing for me was finding a solid critique group of like-minded, equally committed writers. From my days in art school, where critiquing is a part of your everyday life, I know how valuable it is. I can’t evaluate my own work. Every artist knows that. You need community to bounce off of. It took me a while to find one but my crit group is amazing. They have helped me push my writing and my stories further. And just having a deadline to hit keeps me accountable.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
AW: I’ve been thinking about how my most meaningful work that I’ve done so far has also been my most personal. The stories that are really about who I am, what I love and what I’ve learned from my life. People say it all the time but if you follow what you love, good things happen. I have always found that to be true. Oh, and the make great work thing. That’s key too. The work has to be great. That’s the first step.
AD: Yes! I totally relate to this! I think my best stories come from my personal experiences. They tend to be my strongest and the ones I’m most passionate about. When writing them, they also allow me a space to reflect on these portions of my life and feel good knowing that telling my story may help a child connect, feel inspired, or cope with something similar.
Amanda, 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! Best of luck as you continue your journey! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Amanda and her work.
Stay tuned on Monday where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out, and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.
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