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!
How did you find this great connection between your love of math and writing?The math ideas came first and the writing was just a way to share them with others. My first book was the result of a Christmas gift (a container of colored paper clips) that one of my children gave to a sibling. We were playing around with them one day on the bed, putting the clips in rows and patterns. Using math manipulatives in classrooms was just getting its big push, but most of the manipulatives were very expensive. I suddenly had an idea! Colored paper clips, cheap enough that any teacher could afford them, would make great math manipulatives. I started creating puzzles in which you try to determine the colors of the clips in a line using clues I gave. The result was my book Clip Clue Puzzles.
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 .
Thank you, Kate, for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful blog. I'm wishing the six of you blog authors and all your visitors the very best!ReplyDelete
A true privilege for us to feature you, Evelyn. Thanks again for your gifts of time, insight and prize for a lucky reader!Delete
I have definitely been reading more during the pandemic!ReplyDelete
Over the years I've been gifted some of Evelyn's puzzle books and they are so fun! And I've found they are great to have around so that when friends come over to visit with their kids, I have something to pull out to engage the kids with. She is so gifted!ReplyDelete
I have been a fan of Evelyn's work for many years, and I really enjoyed this interview with her! The interview questions were thought provoking and fun. I especially liked the question (and answer) about her first memory of her love for writing.ReplyDelete
Always interesting to hear about the background of authors. Great interview.ReplyDelete
I couldn't agree more with Evelyn's one word of advice, and I think it applies to just about everything in life. Having a growth mindset and learning all we can from putting ourselves out there and remembering the power of "not yet!"ReplyDelete
You are the lucky winner of our raffle for one of Evelyn Christensen's publications. Please respond to me via email at email@example.com. Congratulations and thanks for reading about Evelyn!
This is great! I am a huge fan of Evelyns work and really glad that you got to interview her.ReplyDelete
Love Evelyn’s genius ideas and so grateful for her sharing her expertise! Such fun ways to learn and play.ReplyDelete
Glad I read this interview. Evelyn is certainly an inspiration.ReplyDelete
Her suggestions on handling rejections is EXCELLENT - I've only ever gotten rejections :(
I have always been in awe of Evelyn's fun creativity, patience, and kindness which can easily be seen in her books. Her love for God and others is inspirational. Great interview!ReplyDelete
I want to figure out how to get Evelyn's books. My grandchildren would enjoy them!ReplyDelete
Thank you for your interest! Most of my puzzle books still in print are online with MindWare. If you search there for 'math skill builders' they should come up. Many of my books have gone out of print. Most of them are available as pdfs at the TeachersPayTeachers site link given in the interview.Delete
I love Ev's loves for puzzles, and used one of her puzzle book when I homeschooled my daughters. What a fun and creative gift you have, Ev!ReplyDelete
Loved reading the interview with this one-of-a-kind Kentucky writer and puzzle maker and learning what inspires her! Evelyn has a gift for weaving creativity, challenge and fun into her works! A true artist!ReplyDelete
What a great interview! Loved the questions and answers. Evelyn is truly an inspiration to all writers! With so many kids learning from home, now is the perfect time for parents to add some fun, challenging puzzles from her treasure trove of books!ReplyDelete
Love this interview and agree that PERSEVERENCE is the key word. But now I want to read/hear the poem Evelyn still remembers concocting while riding in the back of her parents' car and looking at the stars all these many years ago... Maybe in a comments here? Pretty please.ReplyDelete
Ummm...just because you're such a good friend, Mirka.Delete
The moon is bright.
'Tis coming night.
The hills are steep.
It's time for sleep.
Little, tiny sleep-heads,
Go to sleep in little beds,
And when you awake you'll find your friends.
Here's where my poem finally ends.
[As I said, very poor poetry, but I was definitely looking forward to seeing my friends the next day. :) ]
It's adorable and as soothing as you are to this day when one needs soothing. Seems at that time it was self-soothing.Delete
Oops! My typing just seems to get worse and worse. That line was supposed to be "Little, tiny sleepy-heads".Delete
I love Evelyn’s books and have enjoyed using them in my classroom. It is always nice to use materials made by an experienced teacher that really “gets kids.”ReplyDelete
I love your poem, Ev. And the interview was wonderful--I really enjoyed learning more about you and the genesis of the puzzles. I love how you acknowledge God's creativity in you. Blessings.ReplyDelete
I loved the content of this interview... very real and very personal yet applicable to anyone with an interest in writing and publishing. Who decides what is good poetry and what is poor poetry? I loved it and your description of the setting that set it free. BTW, I remember another of your poems from long ago... Ode to a Peanut Butter Jar. Did that one ever make into print? Love you and love your work.ReplyDelete
Wow! Although I've grown up as a nephew of Evelyn there were so many fun things I learned about her in this interview. Well done! And we have enjoyed all the puzzles and books and games she has created. Brilliant! MikeReplyDelete