As a writer — or painter, poet, scientist, or whatever amazing profession you claim — continuing to improve your craft is important, not only to sharpen your saw and remain competitive in your field, but also to help you remember what makes you passionate about that particular career in the first place.
For me, I strive to improve my craft by writing (a lot), reading (a lot), listening to podcasts on writing, and attending writing conferences. One of my favorite events is the Storymakers Conference in Provo, Utah each spring. Experienced and wannabe authors of every type and genre gather to learn, share, and geek out over their love for all things literary. (And burn their budgets on books. *shrugs* ) It’s a three-day event that I look forward to every year — not only because I feel like I’m with a tribe that really gets me and allows me to grow in a safe space (that’s really important!), but also because I learn so much and feel fueled to carry on writing with renewed passion.
This past May, I got to meet Jessie Oliveros, a children’s author and Storymakers presenter. Her book, The Remember Balloons, is one of my favorite children’s books of all time.
A tender telling of the memory loss associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, The Remember Balloons is a beautiful, resonant, and poignant story, and a meaningful teaching tool. (Plus, it’s already earned a host of impressive accolades!)
Meeting Jessie at Storymakers this year was a joy–she is kind and friendly, even with novice writers like me geeking out over her talent. Plus, as a fellow Texas gal, I like to think we’re kindred spirits. 🙂 In this Talking Shop feature, she chats with us about the inspiration behind The Remember Balloons, what she loves about writing children’s books, and the importance of seeing failures as stepping stones. Can’t wait for you to get to know her. Everyone, meet Jessie!
How did your journey to writing begin?
I practiced as a nurse for about six years before choosing to stay at home with my kids. It was then I decided to put my brain to work growing stories as well as children. I’d always loved writing. I started out writing picture books. In fact, I’m now just remembering that I actually entered the Cheerios writing contest. Then I jumped into YA and middle grade, still dabbling in picture books as I went. While writing, I started researching the publishing industry and craft. I ended up querying a middle-grade novel before I wrote The Remember Balloons.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I devoured books as a child. As a teenager, I created a bucket list which included “write a book.” In college, I had a roommate who was writing a novel. That was the first time I realized, “Regular people can actually do this!” I began pounding out children’s stories not long after I discovered Harry Potter, but still, it was just play. It wasn’t until I put aside my nursing career to be a stay-at-home-mom that I began thinking I could maybe, just possibly get published for real.
What inspired The Remember Balloons?
Four summers ago, I was visiting with my Grandpa in Kansas. He’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he was at the stage where he’d started repeating himself. I remember sitting with him and my kids and thinking I would like to write a children’s book about Alzheimer’s. When I began writing the book, it started as a straight forward story about a boy and his grandpa with Alzheimer’s. But it came across as boring and not very accessible to children. Then, the idea of balloons came to me (which I attribute to heavenly inspiration). Children can understand balloons and the frustration of losing a balloon and not being able to catch it. So…balloon became the memories in my metaphorical tale.
What is your typical writing routine?
My typical writing routine is atypical. I just grab time wherever I can. As you know, with young ones at home, it’s hard! When my toddler goes down for a nap, I’ll write sometimes. But sometimes I fall asleep instead. It is ALWAYS a struggle for me.
How do you work through writer’s block?
Taking walks always helps me clear my mind and let inspiration in. Driving helps, whether I’m the driver or the passenger. Really, it just helps to walk away from your manuscript or work on something new for a while!
What inspires you?
I just spent a week in the mountains in Utah, and I had a major breakthrough on a manuscript. Of course, since I went to school in Utah, I’ve long known that the mountains inspire me. Also, my kids inspire me! Just listening to them speak gives me a child’s eye view of life.
How do you stimulate creativity?
Reading. Always reading. Drawing. Sometimes drawing the ideas from my head helps them grow. Even if the end result isn’t pretty. Haha. I’m definitely NOT an artist. Playing the piano helps, too. I played when I was young, and I just play for fun now.
What do you love about writing children’s books?
I suppose they take me back to a time when I depended so much on books. And deep down I think I’m still eight.
What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book authors?
Don’t let rejection get you down. They are stepping stones! And be sure to surround yourself with other hobbies that you love so you can turn to those things when you need to.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from the beginning of your career to now?
Patience. Just, patience.
How have you seen yourself grow as a writer?
Slowly, gradually, I have seen myself grow in the craft. Although, I still feel like I have A LOT to learn.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished revising a middle-grade novel and sent that onto my agent. Fingers crossed!
Favorite San Antonio spot?
While the Alamo is a well-known San Antonio spot, the other missions along the Guadalupe River are lesser-known. My favorite is the San Jose mission. It makes me think of a crumbling old European ruin.
Your favorite out-of-office activity?
I have a few, but one I just rediscovered in the aforementioned trip to Utah is mountain biking. I also enjoy decorating cakes, although I just do this for my kids’ birthdays.
Best movie you’ve seen recently?
“Yesterday”—about a guy who finds himself in a sort of parallel universe where the Beatles never existed. I love parallel universe stories. I love the Beatles. And the love story is so dreamy.
Books you loved as a kid?
Peter Eastman books. Dr. Seuss books. Boxcar Children. The Babysitters Club. Books I’d find at my grandma’s house with yellowing pages like The Bobbsey Twins.
Your favorite song to sing in the shower?
I don’t sing in the shower, but I do sing in the car along to the “Greatest Showman” soundtrack. Or I make up songs in the car and then threaten my children to sing those songs in front of their classmates.
*GIVEAWAY! I’m giving away a copy of The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros. To be entered to win, simply follow me and @jessieoliveros on Instagram, and comment on this post with your favorite children’s book. Giveaway ends 9/25.
(US residents only. Giveaway is not endorsed or sponsored by Jessie Oliveros. Giveaway will be closed at 11:59 pm CT 9/25. Winner announced 9/26. Good luck!)
*This post contains affiliate links.
Love this interview! Love the Book!
I love children books that’s have incredible meanings, like The Giving Tree, and this book!
I really enjoyed this interview and the heavenly balloon inspiration!
Love this piece – and working with this woman is heavenly!!!! I am so lucky.
I love the book “I want my hat back” it’s so funny and makes me laugh out loud when I read it. Children’s books are amazing. What an amazing accomplishment to have written one!