Introducing…Rhonda Gowler Greene
Rhonda Gowler Greene is a long-time SCBWI member and lives in West Bloomfield. She has 23 published picture books and four more titles on the way. Rhonda grew up in southern Illinois, but has lived in the Michigan for 32 years. Welcome to the Mitten Blog Rhonda and thanks for being our first guest on Member Spotlight.
Now, without further delay, here’s Rhonda…
RGG: My family moved to Florence, Kentucky from southern Illinois the summer before my senior year in high school. I graduated from Northern KY University with a B.A. in education and a minor in music/piano. I then went on to earn a graduate degree in educational media from Xavier University in Cincinnati. After college, I was an elementary learning disabilities teacher. My husband took a job in Michigan in 1983, so we packed up and moved to West Bloomfield. We have four grown kids and two adorable grandkids.
M:When did you start writing for children? How did you know it was something you wanted to do?
RGG: I started writing for children when my kids were young. I left teaching and stayed home with them and we read and read! My plan had been to become a school librarian, so even in college, I loved children’s books. The more I read to my kids, the more I wanted to write books like that. I then started writing and submitting. Three and a half years and 220 rejections later, I made my first sale, BARNYARD SONG, to Simon & Schuster/Atheneum.
M: How did you find out about SCBWI and how long have you been a member?
RGG: I’ve been a member since 1988! When I first joined, it was SCBW. I’m glad illustrators are included now. I can’t remember how I found out about SCBWI. Maybe from a market book.
M: What genres interest you most and why?
RGG: I like most children’s genres and keep up as best I can with what is being published—picture books to novels. My biggest love is the picture book. I especially love picture books that rhyme since most of what I write is in rhyme. A close second is children’s poetry. I think these two are my favorites because so much is packed into so few words. I love playing with words and coming up with fresh, lyrical lines. For me, writing a picture book is like putting a very difficult puzzle together—finding those perfect words, then fitting them together in just the right way.
M: With 23 picture books under your belt and more to come, you’re a seasoned veteran! Tell us more about your publishing journey.
RGG: I’ve been published with S&S/Atheneum, Bloomsbury, Dutton, Holt, Houghton Mifflin, Scholastic, Sleeping Bear Press, Childcraft/School Specialty, Augsburg, Eerdmans, and ZonderKidz. I just had a book released this week with ZonderKidz called ONLY GOD CAN MAKE A KITTEN!
I sold my first three manuscripts on my own. In 1996, I acquired an agent. Even though I’m published and have an agent, I still get lots of rejections. Being a children’s author has been like a roller coaster for me—BIG highs and BIG disappointments. Besides my first sale being a huge ‘high,’ I also had one in 2012 when my agent got an auction going on a new manuscript. Four major houses bid on it. I ended up getting a three-book contract. Then it took almost three years before the publisher got an illustrator. Just two weeks ago, they signed up Daniel Kirk to do two of the books. They’re hoping he’ll do the third one also.
M: Many of us have jobs in addition to writing for children. Tell us something about what you do outside of writing.
RGG: Like many children’s authors, I speak at schools and conferences. March is busy, and in April, I’m headed to Florida for a week of visits and a conference presentation. I got invited there because my book, NO PIRATES ALLOWED, is a 2014-2015 Florida Reading Association Award nominee. The book is also up for a 2015-2016 state award in Nebraska. So besides writing and reading and being a grandma, preparing talks and PowerPoint presentations take up a lot of my time.
M: How does this occupation inform your writing?
RGG: Speaking at conferences and schools about writing makes me want to keep up even more with what new books are being published. I read and study new children’s books a LOT. And not just new ones, but great old ones I missed along the way.
M: Where do you get most of your writing ideas? Do you write them down, keep them in a computer file or just store them in your memory?
RGG: I get most of my ideas when reading other children’s books. They spark ideas in my head, and I usually jot them down on a post-it.
M: We all have favorite writers that inspire us. Name two of yours and why you like them.
RGG: It’s hard to pick just two! In 1993, I drove 5 hours to hear Cynthia Rylant speak. She was a real inspiration! Joyce Sidman, Mary Ann Hoberman, Alice Schertle- I could go on and on. It’s the way they have with words- such fresh writing. Two of my very favorite picture books are, SLEEP LIKE A TIGER and A VISITOR FOR BEAR.
M: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer for children? Why?
RGG: Read read read! On Linda Sue Park’s website, under “writing,” she says:“Read. That’s the single best thing an aspiring writer can do for his or her work. I once heard an editor say, ‘Read a thousand books of the genre you’re interested in. THEN write yours.’ ” And don’t give up!
Both are great pieces of advice because they’ve helped me reach my dream of getting published! Thanks for having me!
M: Wow! That was great Rhonda! Thanks so much for visiting The Mitten. You can learn more about Rhonda at her website www.rhondagowlergreene.com.