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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Joint Interview: Author Melissa Stoller and Publisher Callie Metler-Smith

I’m delighted to interview the friendly and talented author, Melissa Stoller. Plus, I have the pleasure of welcoming Owner/Publisher Callie Metler-Smith of Clear Fork Publishing. Callie has published several of Melissa’s picture books and the first book of her chapter book series. This October, SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES will be released into the world.

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, there are two prize offers!

Callie will consider one above the slush pile picture book submission.

Also, Melissa will offer a choice of either a PB critique OR a copy of one of her books.

To WIN these special prizes, follow the directions at the end of this post.

Hi Melissa! Congratulations on your third picture book, SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES.

Please share your submission pitch to your publisher, Callie Metler-Smith.

Thank you so much, Manju. I’m so happy to be here with other Kidlit Creatives! And it’s extra special to be featured with my publisher and friend, Callie Metler-Smith.

I loved working with Callie on my first two picture books, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINT BRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke) and READY, SET, GORILLA! (illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew). I also collaborated with Callie on my chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (illustrated by Callie!).

So when I wrote a new manuscript, straight from my heart, I pitched it to Callie as a Jewish-themed story celebrating family connections and the power of storytelling. SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES is about a girl who loves listening to her Nana’s stories about their relatives, surrounding the ritual objects used during the Sabbath – candlesticks, a Kiddush cup to hold grape juice or wine, and a cover for the special challah bread. Sadie hopes to find her own voice and tell her own unique stories, just like Nana. The book releases on October 20th, and I know that readers will adore the stunning artwork by illustrator Lisa Goldberg.

The vignettes in the book are based on my family history, which made writing the story truly meaningful. For example, one story is about my father, who visited his grandparents in Europe as a toddler and was stuck there for years during World War I. And another story is based on my husband’s grandfather, who left Russia in 1917 as a young boy with only his brother and a few items from home. So, my pitch to Callie included universal themes of family heritage and immigration, as well as the idea of a girl finding her voice as a storyteller and a keeper of her family’s history.

Hi Callie! Why did Melissa’s Sadie manuscript appeal to you? Please explain your acquisition process at Clear Fork.

Hi Manju! Thank you for having me! First off, I am a big fan of Melissa’s writing. I have noticed when something is aligned with her heart it is extra special and this was true for SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES. I knew some of the stories because of another project Melissa and I are working on for adults, but I was excited how Melissa brought some of her family stories to a picture book. I had a grandparent who was first generation American and I used to love hearing about her culture. I think this is a significant part of the family model and it is so important to highlight family history and make kids excited about their own.

I believe in the case of SADIE, Melissa asked me to look it over and give my thoughts. I connected immediately with it and told her I wanted it to be the next project we worked on together. With most submissions I read over them and post some initial thoughts, then I let the manuscript sit for a few days and come back to it. Usually I have thought it over in that time period and can tell if it is a project I can be passionate about.

Melissa, after your Sadie manuscript was accepted, were further edits requested?

I am so lucky that Mira Reisberg was the editor and art director for the book, and of course Callie as the publisher weighed in as well. One edit Mira suggested was streamlining the vignettes which made the story flow much more smoothly. She offers video critiques of the text and also works with illustrators regarding the art. It’s a wonderful collaboration and I learned so much during the process. And I have to say that I tear up every time I read the book – Lisa’s Chagall-inspired illustrations truly bring the text to life in such a beautiful way.

Callie, please take us through the editorial and art director process. How did that differ for Melissa’s chapter book?

In the case of SADIE, the lovely Mira Reisberg served as the art director and editor. Usually I like to monitor this process and be in the loop, and I weigh in as requested. I had edited the story with Melissa, and then Mira went over the manuscript with Melissa and streamlined it some more. I also review the art at different stages including the character design, sketches, and color processes. Mira is so good at what she does that normally my comments are about how special it is, which it is definitely true with this book. Illustrator Lisa Goldberg did a wonderful job bringing Sadie and her grandmother to life.

Melissa, what are you working on now?

I am so delighted to be collaborating with Callie and author Shirin Shamsi on a new picture book titled PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM. It’s a story about three girls from three different faith traditions who find common ground on the first day of school and beyond when they work on a class planting project. Callie, Shirin, and I are each from the same faith traditions as the girls in the book, and we will offer back matter about our religions, as well as STEM-related planting information. I am so excited about this project and look forward to sharing more details sometime soon!

Callie, what makes a manuscript the right fit for Clear Fork’s list?

My vision for Clear Fork and the future of the company is going in the direction of books that make a statement and that align with the values I want reflected in the world. I want to highlight topics like disabilities, STEM, art, and other disciplines that I think are needed in the world.

Thanks very much, Melissa and Callie!

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, and the picture books, Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork Publishing). Sadie's Shabbat Stories will release from Clear Fork in October 2020. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal research and writing instructor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a volunteer with SCBWI Metro New York, a blogger and course assistant for the Children's Book Academy, a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs group, and a member of the Jewish Book Council’s Literary Society. Melissa lives in New York City, where she is a board member at Temple Shaaray Tefila, and enjoy museums, theatre, and researching ancestry.

Callie Metler-Smith is the owner of Clear Fork Media Group in Stamford, Texas. She answers to the following titles: Publisher of Books, Newspaper Chick, Bookstore Owner, Writer, Illustrator, Mom, and Friend.

She is the illustrator of THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION Chapter Book series written by Melissa Stoller. She has also written three other books: Swensons, Penick, and the TCR; Ben’s West Texas Snow; and How to Babysit a Logan.

When not working in her store on the Stamford Square, she is spending time with her two sons, Logan and Ben.

Prize offer 1: Callie will consider one above the slush pile picture book submission.

Prize offer 2: Melissa will donate the winner’s choice of either a picture book critique OR a copy of one of her books.

To win these special prizes, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on Twitter or Facebook.

Deadline to enter is Monday, September 21st.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support. Request to join us by hopping over to our FB page and answering our 3 easy questions.

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