Happy New Year to one and all!
All through 2020, I’ll be interviewing the new authors of Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is on LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss. Her first picture book, I Love Me!, illustrated by Beth Hughes, debuts with Beaming Books on April 21st, 2020.
Tell us a bit about I Love Me! ?
First, I want to thank you for this interview. I appreciate you taking the time.
I Love Me! is a fun, self-affirming, book that encourages children to love and appreciate their bodies. The art is wonderfully inclusive, sharing a diverse group of characters, expressing how they love themselves.
What a great theme for a brand new year! Now, let’s back up: What got you writing in the first place?And what has the journey to publication been like?
I was introduced to picture books as a mom. My son really loved story time and I saw how engaged he was and how he’d request (my husband) or myself to read books again and again. I loved finding new books to share with him and that really opened my eyes to the vast landscape of picture books. Still, writing picture books wasn’t something I was pursuing, it was something that just presented itself to me out of the blue. I was busy cleaning the house and thinking about my son and his bi-racial identity, and out of nowhere the words of a book popped into my head. It was such an exciting moment. And that was the beginning for me, the first spark, back in early 2015.
Incredible–a surprise “calling.” And you’ve come quite far in only 5 years! What other fields have you worked in?
Yes, I’m an incredibly late bloomer to the craft. I could have never imagined being a creative writer. My educational background is Industrial Engineering. So today, my non-literary career involves program management with elements of my degree woven in. I will say, since coming into the creative writing world, I’ve come to realize that being an engineer also requires a fair amount of creativity when designing processes and creating solutions to solve problems. That’s another form of creativity, so I already had that ability, now I’m exploring it through writing. I would not have made that connection in the past, though.
At what point did you realize that your writing career was taking off? How did your first offer of publication come about?
I participated in a Twitter pitch event called #DVPIT, aimed at amplifying diverse voices and stories to agents and publishers. During that event I pitched several manuscripts and two of them got hearts. Beaming books liked my I Love Me! pitch and an agent liked a different pitch. Hearts don’t come easily during Twitter pitch events, so it was both surprising and exciting rolled into one. I then did some research and moved forward with submitting the full manuscript to each, respectively. The agent replied quickly to my submission and asked for a ‘revise and resubmit’ for that story (she wanted me to increase the word count a bit). And while that was underway, I got an offer of publication on the I Love Me! manuscript from Beaming!
And now your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
I know, it’s so exciting! First, I hope that I Love Me! is embraced by children, parents…everyone. Not just in terms of my book, but as a mantra to know and realize that they are enough. Each of us have something positive to contribute to this world, and once we embrace who we are as we are…we can get to a place where that positivity radiates and helps make this world a better place.
Beyond that, my agent has other manuscripts on submission, so I am hoping for good news there. And I continue writing and creating art, hoping to someday be published as an author/illustrator.
So you like writing and illustrating! And what do you prefer to write/illustrate about, in general?
Picture books are my primary focus. The ability to empower, enlighten and entertain a child in 32 pages is just so appealing. I’ll also share that early in my journey I connected with an amazing Author/Illustrator who encouraged me to explore my drawing. I always wanted to draw when I was a kid, but didn’t quite have the confidence to pursue it. I was doing that awful thing of comparing my drawing to others. Never do that. That’s another lesson I’ve learned in this journey. It’s okay to get inspiration, but don’t compare. Getting back to my point, I followed her advice, embraced her guidance and have been working on art ever since.
What is it then, that feeds your creativity? Or helps you out of that “funk”?
Observing kids in real-life or in print. Or people and things in general, I would say. I’m an observer by nature. Sometimes just imagining a scenario playing out either differently or beyond where it ended at that point in time. Letting my imagination extend it to a different possibility. I let things roll around in my head long before I put pen to paper, and that really helps me keep my creativity sharp.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I returned to working outside the home this past May, so my days are mostly filled with that professional work, being a mom and wife. I am still adjusting to the balance of writing and creating art while working full-time, so unfortunately, I don’t have a nice buttoned up routine to share. I wish I did!
Nothing wrong with that! In the midst of that daily juggle, what advice do you have other creatives?
My humble opinion is to know why you’re doing it. That will be your motivation to keep moving forward. Oh, and don’t compare. Being inspired by another’s work is fine, but know that only you can tell the stories you are meant to tell and create the art that you are meant to create.
Great advice, which brings us back to theme of your debut book. How exactly did the idea of I Love Me! come to you? Do you remember your “lightbulb” moment?
Yes, it was inspired by my son, Ryan. I was teaching him to say and sign (ASL), I love you. And he would always say “I love me.” And those three simple, powerful words really stuck with me. Then the rhyming stanzas began filling my head. It became a sing-song that I did with him as I was teaching him various parts of his body. And working toward a picture book was mixed in there as well. I can’t say the events were sequential, I believe it was more a parallel journey.
A true labor of love. Congratulations on your debut, LaRonda! May I Love Me!, find a wide and loving audience. Can we look forward to meeting you at any promotional events in 2020?
We are working on putting some events together as we speak. I will post information on my website and social media as soon as it becomes available.
These days, preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and her new release, preorder I Love Me! through any of the following retailers: