By Kate Carroll
In this pandemic, I often imagine that we’re living in an alternative universe. Many changes have abruptly impacted our world. Each day, I embrace a new normal but also cling to the constants that will never change for me. Among those is learning more about craft and those who have creatively carved a successful career in children’s literature.
I’m confident that writers still write, and children still read. That’s the good news. In some instances, children and adults are indulging in more reading since their time isn’t as divided as before the pandemic.
We also rely on digital communication for so much of what we do nowadays, and today’s interview with amazing author/puzzle creator, Evelyn Christensen, is no exception. Evelyn, as gracious as ever, has shared so much about her life and her career with us. An expert in her field, she parlays multiple passions into a successful and unique writing career. My humble gratitude to Ev for her professionalism and her generosity in helping others on their journey to publication. She makes it look easy!
Thanks to Evelyn’s generosity, we will have a drawing in conjunction with this blog post.
Simply comment at the end of this post by August 21st for a chance to win a PDF of one of Evelyn's books. Check out her TPT site to see what choices you have, should you be the lucky winner.
As a celebrated author/creator of so many books and puzzles, is there a favorite type of project that you enjoy doing?
I have the most fun with puzzle books that use a variety of formats, like my Mensa for Kids: Fun Puzzle Challenges or my state puzzle books. The majority of my other educational puzzle books have used a specific kind of puzzle throughout an individual book.
What is your first memory of your love of writing?
I was 8 or 9. We were driving home to Kentucky from visiting my grandparents in Georgia (the only kind of vacations we had). This was before seat belts, and with 6 kids in the family, my parents would pack the station wagon so the back of it was a ‘bed.’ At least part of the long trip was at night and we kids were expected to sleep. I remember lying there, looking out the car window at the moon and stars and the shadows the car made on the mountainside, and composing an 8-line poem in my head. It wasn’t a very good poem, but I still remember it more than 60 years later!
Where do you find the wellspring of ideas for your many publications? How do you keep the creative and unique ideas flowing?
If you don’t believe in God, then you probably won’t understand my answer to this question, but I truly believe my creative ideas and the inspirations for my books have been gifts to me from God. Being creative makes me feel especially close to God. I think that’s because I believe in a Creator God, who made us in his image, so when I’m creating, I’m expressing some of that image of himself he’s put within me.
Do you rely on common core or grade level objectives to direct your writing?
Not explicitly, but having been a classroom teacher for many years, I know from experience what kinds of things are taught at different grade levels .
What was the most exciting or the most challenging job for you? Why?
How has the industry changed since you started out in the business?
When I started, we didn’t have the ease of emailing submissions. Everything went ‘snail mail,’ which cost more and was a lot more hassle. Of course, the ease of subbing by email meant exponentially more subs landed in publishers’ inboxes, which in turn, meant lots of publishers closed to unagented subs. That put additional pressure on authors to find an agent. Another change in the industry is the ease of self-publishing which many authors opt for now. The industry is also beginning to be more open to ‘own voices’ which is an excellent change, in my opinion.
Do you still face rejection, and if so, how do you look at rejections now as compared to when you got your first one? What advice can you shed on looking at rejection in this industry?
Yes, I definitely still get rejections! Early on, rejections hurt more because I had unrealistic expectations of the industry. I expected to get acceptances more easily than I did. After about a thousand rejections, I no longer expect acceptances. If one comes, I can be ecstatically happy. (Of course, with some magazines, mostly out of print now, I built relationships with the editors over the years and knew what they wanted. I expected acceptances there and usually got them.) When I was a fledgling submitter, this is what helped me with rejection: as soon as I put a sub in the mail, I planned where I was going to send it next. Then when I got the rejection, I immediately popped that manuscript back in the mail (assuming there were no suggestions for revising it). As long as I had manuscripts out there in Submission Land there was hope. And hope is what kept me going. If I didn’t make a plan in advance, then a rejection could discourage me so much that I might wait weeks or months before getting the courage to send it out again. Not a good way to get published.
A hallmark of your journey is helping other authors in their publishing quests. Thank you for your generosity! What advice would you give aspiring writers in the fields of nonfiction and magazine publishing in today’s market? How do you think things will change in the wake of the pandemic?
For nonfiction, if you’re interested in doing work-for-hire for educational publishers, you’ll want to prepare a high-quality resume and writing samples and get them sent out to lots of publishers. If you’re looking for an educational publisher for a nonfiction manuscript you’ve written or are proposing, you might want to consider whether the subject can be expanded into a series or at least a two-book set. In my experience, educational publishers usually prefer series, as opposed to stand-alone books, because they sell better for them.
Magazine writing for kids and YA is tough in today’s market, because so many magazines have folded. If you’re an aspiring writer, you may want to begin with writing some for low-pay or no-pay publications. It will give you experience and will give you some publishing credits to mention in your cover letter when you’re later querying higher-pay magazines.
The effects of the pandemic are uncertain. In the spring, when so many children were learning at home, sales of math and science books, activity books, and language arts books for young readers did well. We don’t yet know what the fall will be like, but if lots of kids are still having remote instruction, nonfiction books and books for helping with learning are likely to continue to do well.
In ONE word - share your advice for writing success.
Can you give us a peek at what you are working on?
Actually, my goal for the summer is to finish reformatting my educational puzzle books that have gone out of print to make them available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site (https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Wonderfun-Learning). These were royalty contracts and the rights have reverted to me. I hate to have them just ‘gathering dust’ on my computer drive when they could be available to help kids have fun learning.
What are some of your personal favorites?
Guilty Food Pleasure? Turtles (chocolate, caramel, pecans)
Favorite hobby? Interacting with my five young grandchildren
Dog or Cat? Cat (I’m allergic to cats so we don’t have one, but I still love them)
What time of day/night are you most creative? Evening
I hope you enjoyed this peek into the “puzzle pro” and her many other distinguished credits. Be sure to comment by August 21st to enter the drawing!
You may also go to https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Wonderfun-Learning to see what Evelyn has available. Should you win, Evelyn will forward you a PDF of your choice.
Evelyn Christensen grew up in eastern Kentucky, one of six children of a Presbyterian minister and a teacher. Family values focused on God, helping others, and education. After marriage and a doctorate in math education, Evelyn was blessed to be able to stay home for ten years with her three little ones. When she was ready to look for a college job teaching prospective teachers how to teach math, she realized she should probably have some elementary school teaching experience first. That was supposed to be just for a couple of years, but she fell in love with the little ones and taught K-2nd the rest of her career. Along the way, she discovered that God had given her a gift for creating fun learning materials. She compiled some of these ideas into educational puzzle books and math games and had success in having more than 50 of them published by traditional educational publishers. Over half a million copies of them have been sold. Ev also discovered that it was fun to write for children’s magazines, where more than 400 of her puzzles, poems, and stories have appeared. As a writer, Ev’s greatest joys are helping kids have fun learning and helping other writers succeed in their publishing goals. She lives in Lexington, KY with her husband Ralph who has always been a wonderful support and encourager of her writing career. More about Ev and her books can be found at http://evelynchristensen.com .