Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors & illustrators of the group Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is shining on author Kristen Schroeder (who happens to be an agency sister of mine at McIntosh & Otis). Her debut picture book, Alien Tomato, illustrated by Mette Engell, just released from Page Street Kids on July 14th, and it’s a beauty!
Lovely to have you! Now, this is one intriguing title. What is Alien Tomato about?
Thanks for having me, Katelyn! Alien Tomato is the story of a mysterious red sphere that lands in a vegetable garden. The veggies are convinced it’s an alien tomato and treat it like royalty, but the cantankerous gopher is skeptical.
The illustrations are so well-suited to your story with their vibrant colors and expressive characters.
Yes! I’m so excited and honored that Mette Engell has brought ALIEN TOMATO to life. I’m in love with her art!
I have to ask…Where in the world did the idea for this book come from?
My daughter was about 11 years old at the time and blurted out the words, « alien tomato ». « What did you say ? » She just laughed and didn’t even know why she said it. I started thinking about whether I could write a picture book about an alien tomato, and the kernel of the book idea came to me.
Ha! Too funny. Tell us about the book’s journey to publication. How long have you been pursuing this dream?
I started writing picture books in 2013, when my youngest child started first grade and I had a little more time to write. I joined the 12×12 community in 2014, which helped me navigate and understand the industry. In 2015, I got a gold membership and started submitting to agents. Although I didn’t get my agent through 12×12, I do credit 12×12 with helping me have the confidence to submit more widely. I am a #pitmad success story. I received two offers of representation in late 2015. And then…it took three long years to sell my first book. My son will be entering eighth grade in the fall, so it’s been a seven year journey, so far !
It IS such a long road, but you hung in there and triumphed. Looking back, can you describe a pivotal moment in your career? Maybe “The Call ”or “The Email” or whatever moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?
The pivotal moment for me was when my agent, Christa Heschke, told me we had an offer for ALIEN TOMATO. We had come close several times, with ALIEN TOMATO and other manuscripts being considered by editors or going to acquisitions meetings. So it wasn’t until we had an actual offer that I felt being a published author was going to happen for me.
You mentioned starting to write once your youngest began school. Had you ever dreamed of becoming an author before adulthood? And what other fields have you worked in professionally?
I was a huge reader growing up, but I didn’t really see myself as a writer or even enjoy writing until I was much older. I tried writing as a hobby on and off for about ten years, entering a few short story contests and trying to write a mystery once. I have a Bachelor’s degree in business and MBA degree and I still run my own business in Australia. When I discovered writing for children, it seemed to click for me, and I decided to pursue writing more seriously.
What are your preferred genres and target audiences?
Humorous picture books are my favorite to read and write, so the majority of my manuscripts would fall into this category. I recently received a rejection on two manuscripts for being « too quirky » which I took as a compliment, However, my second and third books would not be described as humorous. FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, published by EK Books, is a story about embracing differences and staying true to yourself. SO MUCH SNOW comes out in fall 2022 with Random House Studios and could be described as a lyrical read-aloud with some rhyme. I’m so glad I stretched myself creatively to try new things.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I live the glamorous life of a parent/business owner/writer. Get kids off to school. Answer emails for my business. Reward myself with writing time. Do household chores. Check social media. Repeat until carpool time.
How do you continue to feed your creativity?
Staying connected with 12×12 members, critique partners, and the writing community keeps me motivated. Attending SCBWI conferences is also a great way to fire up the creativity. I was registered to attend the NE SCWI conference for the second time (I’m hoping this chapter will adopt me – they put on a great conference !) but it was cancelled due to Covid-19. In the meantime, a lot of great online content is available, including webinars.
What advice would you offer other creatives?
We are not machines. Creative people tend to work in bursts, and that’s okay. Embrace the creative wave when it hits and ride that wave ! If you are in a slump, don’t worry, don’t stress and don’t force it. You will find your creative mojo again.
Amen to that! Now that your dream of publishing your very first picture book has come true, what’s next? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Keep writing and keep selling more books ! My next two books don’t come out until 2022, so I’m hoping to hold a delayed launch event for ALIEN TOMATO in 2021, if possible. I’ll keep celebrating my début as long as I can ! (Starting with these cookies made by a local baker : How Sweet It Is Desserts. I dropped some off for local friends and neighbors who pre-ordered ALIEN TOMATO. They were almost too cute to eat !)
Yum! Those cookies look amazing! Do you have any virtual events coming up, where readers can “meet” you?
I’m doing some virtual storytimes on Instagram, so that will have to suffice for now. Follow me on Instagram at @klschroeder for details, or drop by and say hi anywhere on social media:
Author FB Page: Facebook.com/KLSchroed
Thank you so much, Kristen. Congratulations on Alien Tomato, which I know is going to be a hit!
So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help Kristen Schroeder today by ordering her new book at any of the links below. (IndieBound helps you order directly from your local independent bookstore, which could surely use the support as well!)