It was about four years ago that I brought home a book that, to this day, remains one of my children’s favourite. Baby Loves You So Much was an instant hit with my daughter, who was five years old at the time and easily related to the main character. After all, she also happened to have a baby brother whose theatrics were less than amusing. And so, for the next several months (and years), we read the book over and over – and still, over and over again (I’m not even exaggerating).
With pure admiration for Eileen Spinelli’s work and ability to engage my children with her words, I began to fill my library with more of her great stories. When I contacted her recently, she was kind enough to share her story with us.
What were you like in school – I read you started with a simple typewriter?
I was a fairly good student in school. In kindergarten I ‘composed songs’ – notes scribbled on a page which my teacher, Miss Sinclair, played on the piano. It wasn’t till a few years later I realized I hadn’t really written music. I was six when I fell in love with words and books and decided to become a writer. My father gave me his old manual typewriter and I taught myself two-fingered typing. It’s still how I type. Just faster. The first thing I remember writing was a poem about a sailboat. In High School I won a poetry prize. I used the money to buy a new typewriter and a pair of red high heels.
What is your favourite character from your books? Why?
It’s difficult to choose one favorite character. A few favorites: Sophie from Sophie’s Masterpiece because she has a good heart and wants to make her world a sweeter place. Grace, the homeless woman in The Dancing Pancake because she is kind and brave. Parker in Another Day As Emily because he makes me laugh. And the narrator of When No One Is Watching because she’s shy and so am I.
Do you write an outline before you begin writing or do you let it come to you?
Sometimes I write an outline midway through a book. I seldom start with an outline.
What is the least amount of time it has taken you to complete a book? Longest?
I wrote When Mama Comes Home Tonight, a picture book, in a couple hours – revisions took longer. The novels I’ve done generally took about a year.
Who do you partner with during the editing phase?
My husband, Jerry, and I share each other’s work as we go along. We think of each other as “first editor”.
How important do you feel the book cover is for children’s picture books?
I think book covers–for children as well as adults—are quite important. I have often picked up a book because of its cover.
How do you typically market your books?
I try to keep my best energy for the writing, rather than the marketing process. But when I do approach marketing I try to give a very personal touch. An example: for my book Tea Party Today I mailed personal notes to teashops across the country as well as to tea magazines etc.
Which of your marketing strategies do you find had the most immediate impact?
I don’t keep track of which marketing strategies make the most impact. Very often interesting things happen which I’ve had no part in (except to write the book) My book Do You Have A Hat was featured in boxes of Cheerios. Friends asked how I managed that. It all happily happened without me.
Who do you picture as your reader when you write?
When I’m writing I think more of the story than of a reader. It’s only when I finish a piece I think: who would be interested in reading this.
How do you use book reviews, if at all?
I don’t know that I use book reviews. I think the publisher is more apt to use them. But it’s lovely to get a good review, something to celebrate, with a cupcake or a cookie.
Why do you think well-written books sometimes just don’t sell?
There is an element of luck, serendipity, to getting a book published. Many wonderful stories don’t sell. I would encourage unpublished writers to keep at it. That gentle bit of luck could be just around the corner.
Do you do book signings, tell us about a funny story?
Yes, I do book signings when I can. But I have to balance those with family, housework, yard work and of course my writing. So I can’t accept every invitation. A funny story: I was at a conference with a dear friend Paula Danziger. The conference was winding down and she and I didn’t have anyone at our signing table, so Paula pulled out sparkly purple nail polish and proceeded to give me a manicure.
How did you and Jerry meet?
Jerry and I met when we both worked for Chilton Publishing Company. We worked for the same magazine: Department Store Economist. He was an editor there. I was a file clerk who wrote poetry in her spare time and dumped the poems in his lap.
What do you enjoy to do on weekends beside writing?
I love ordinary days – writing in the morning, puttering in my herb garden, reading on the side porch, baking cookies, watching old movies, hanging out with the grandkids and beating Jerry at Scrabble.
My favorite author as a kid was Marguerite de Angeli. A neighbor gave me her beautiful book: Thee, Hannah! for my 12th birthday. It was a treasure then…and now. I still have it. I had the privilege of meeting Ms. de Angeli years ago. She signed that copy for me over lunch.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Advice to my younger self: Allow more of life to unfold. Someone wiser than I put it this way: “Don’t push the river.”
Tell us about your most recent work.
My most recent book: Another Day As Emily. I’ve always loved Emily Dickinson and looked for a way to fold her into a book. Besides writing books I write for Highlights Magazine and their other two publications: High Five and Hello.
You can read more about Eileen:
“Taut, fast-paced, economical, devoid of sham, Spinelli’s book echoes Dickinson’s own deceptive simplicity.”—The New York Times Book Review
Eleven-year-old Suzy just can’t win. Her brother is a local hero for calling 911 after seeing their elderly neighbor collapse, and only her best friend was able to win a role in the play they both auditioned for. Feeling cast aside from all angles, Suzy sees a kindred spirit in Emily Dickinson, the subject of her summer project. Suzy decides to escape from her disappointments by emulating the poet’s life of solitude: no visitors or phone calls (only letters delivered through her window), no friends (except her goldfish, Ottilie), and no outings (except church, but only if she can wear her long white Emily dress).
But being a recluse is harder than Suzy predicted. Will she find a way to fold Emily into her life while also remaining true to herself?
Eileen has been an amazingly prolific author with 97 works. We feel privileged to have spent a moment with her. Take a look at a small sample of her vast body of work (books below published since 2010)
Inspirational video about Eileen and Jerry’s special connection with writing:
Words on a Limb would like to extend a warm hug to Eileen. In my conversations with this accomplished author, I’ve felt nothing but kindness and genuine affability. It was a pleasure connecting with her. Eileen Spinelli’s stories have spread over 30 years in books, magazines, publications and anywhere a child is willing to hear a wonderful story. Our family will be enjoying your work for years to come.
We wish you continued success, Eileen and Jerry; your careers are an inspiration!