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  • Writer's pictureMary Boone

Six Questions with Jessica Stremer

Jessica Stremer is a mom, former military spouse, and the author of Great Carrier Reef (Holiday House, 2023), Lights Out: A Movement to End Light Pollution and Save Migrating Birds (Paula Wiseman Books, 2024), and Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (Holiday House, 2024). Jessica enjoys writing books for children that instill curiosity, wonder and respect for our natural world. She received honorable mention for the SCBWI 2021 Ann Whitford Paul award, took first place for her nonfiction entry in the 2021 Rate Your Story writing competition, and has received honorable mention in the 50 Precious Words writing competition in 2021, 2022, and 2023. She obtained a B.S. in Biology, with an emphasis in Ecology, from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. When not writing, Jessica loves spending time with her family traveling, hiking, camping, and reading.

1. Do you ever struggle to come up with your next project? Or do you have lots of ideas and find it a challenge to narrow down your ideas?

I have ideas running through my mind all the time. I find inspiration in nature, podcasts, tv shows, and in my day-to-day life. One word or phrase can be all it takes for a new idea to form. Most of my stories are nonfiction. I keep an eye out for unique or lesser-known subjects, then try to think of a way to make the subject appeal to a larger audience. Sometimes my research on one topic leads to an idea for something else. If I’m having a hard time choosing what to focus on next, I’ll pitch ideas to my critique partners and see which ones receive a better response.

2. What one piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring kidlit authors?

You have to put in the work. Find a way to carve out time in your day. Give yourself permission to create. Let go of the guilt. Guard that time and space. Own it, but don’t waste it. I communicate to my husband and kids my goals and why they are important to me. This communication allows everyone to be aware of my needs, and helps me feel less guilty for stepping away from my other responsibilities. I also think it helps them feel more excited for the wins. It’s a team effort and they did their part by allowing me to create.

3. What are you working on? What’s next for you?

My next picture book, Lights Out: A Movement to Help Migrating Birds (Paula Wiseman Books) publishes spring of ’24. This book is based on the real-life Lights Out movement and shows kids how even the smallest of actions can make a big difference in helping birds and other wildlife, especially during migration.

I’m also working on my first nonfiction middle-grade book, Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (Holiday House), publishing in summer of ’24. I noticed there were a lot of picture books being published about wildfires, but nothing in the middle grade realm that covered both the benefits and downfalls of wildfire, or what happens to animals and plants when fire rips through their home. With more and more people being affected by wildfires, I feel it’s a very timely and important topic that I can’t wait to share with young readers.

Of course, I’m always trying to squeeze in research for the never-ending list of picture book ideas when I need a break from my current writing.

4. What was the process or timeline for Great Carrier Reef, from idea to publishing?

I first discovered the Mighty-O’s story in early March of 2021, when my youngest daughter turned on a documentary about reefing ships. As a military spouse, I was instantly intrigued by the fact that a military vessel, designed to be unsinkable, was deliberately sent to the bottom of the ocean. I also love all things nature/science so the topic appealed to me even more.

I had a critique with an editor through a SCBWI event in May of 2021. The critique was really positive, and the editor’s comment that the manuscript was ready for submission boosted my confidence. About the same time, my now editor tweeted a #mswl request. My agent saw the tweet and agreed to submit Great Carrier Reef right away (patience is not my thing). By mid-July of 2021, I had an accepted offer!

5. How was the editorial process? Did you do any revisions?

My editor at Holiday House is an absolute dream to work with. Before the offer she asked for a revise and resubmit. She commented with ideas and suggestions directly in the manuscript, so I had a good idea of what I needed to work on. I shared my changes with a few trusted critique partners to ensure I was interpreting the editor’s feedback correctly, then sent it back. Luckily, she loved it!

After the manuscript sold we had a few small changes to make on the revisions I had just completed, and a bit more work to do on the back matter. My editor respected my vision and voice, and her suggestions really helped the story shine. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, especially for my debut book.

6. As a nonfiction creator, how do you divide your time between research and writing?

I have a little trick I use once in a while which helps me research and write at the same time. As I research, I’ll jot down notes as if they’re an actual line from my story by changing the voice of the fact. For example, in Great Carrier Reef, I may have noted something like, “Welders spent hours removing old pipes from deep inside the ship.” Next to the fact I may have written a note that said, “Torches blaze. Welding sparks fly.” Consolidating information, in the voice I’m writing in, helps me process the information and draft the initial story more quickly.

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Joy Moore
Joy Moore

Love the point about notes and the two voices!

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