Friday, November 5, 2010

Interview Friday with Rachelle Burk

Rachelle's fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for children have appeared in Highlights, Scholastic Scope, Pockets, and other magazines. She is also the author of the picture book TREE HOUSE IN A STORM (Stemmer House Publishers, 2009).

Rachelle visits schools and libraries as an author and storyteller, and provides critique and editing services to other children's writers. 

As a children's entertainer, Rachelle performs at parties, schools, and other events. In a parallel universe, she is a licensed clinical social worker, specializing in crisis intervention, and a member of her local Rescue Squad. She resides with her family in New Jersey.

VS: I want to thank you Rachelle for being my guest here on The Writing Mama today. I am sure you have been in my shoes from time to time where you find yourself running around trying to get everything done. So to start here is the first question, what do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life? 

Rachelle: It’s worse than that: I have to balance my family life with my writing life, social work career, entertainment business, and volunteer work. Truth is, I forgo house cleaning, keep dinners simple (but healthy), and make a lot of lists in a vain attempt at organization. Sometimes I burn dinner because I’m busy writing, and I misplace most of my lists. Bottom line: don’t look to me for advice on balancing life.

VS:  But somehow, you seem to get things done even with a few bumps in the road. I give you “Kudos” for trying to find the balance. What inspired you to start writing?  

Rachelle: When my kids were small, they loved me to make up stories for them. I started writing some of them down. I sought a writers’ group through SCBWI, thinking my stories were quite good and possibly publishable. My group taught me that my stories were, in fact, neither good nor publishable. But my group stuck with me, and I with them, and together we changed all that.

VS: My children are also, why I started writing. Amazing how those little faces can inspire so much. Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If yes, how did you ‘cure’ it?

Rachelle: Ooh, just thinking about my writer’s block gives me post-traumatic stress syndrome. I had quite a dry spell not so long ago that lasted over a year. No inspiration. The good news is my house was clean and dinner wasn’t burned. But I was afraid “it” was gone forever. But I continued to critique for others, stayed connected through online writers’ communities and newsletters. One day a contest in one of the newsletters inspired me to revise an old story, and something I read on the internet inspired me to write a new nonfiction book…and I was back in the saddle (or office chair) again.

VS: Great advice about how to push through the block by doing things that help the creative process. I find being an editor really helps me when I just don’t have a thing floating around in my head to write. Reading and critiquing really do help like you said. What was the first thing you ever had published?

Rachelle: My first publication was a poem in a lovely online children’s magazine called Dragonfly Spirit, founded by Gisele LeBlanc. I got a $5 check, which was more valuable to me framed than cashed. That accomplishment encouraged me to work hard at my craft, and over the next few years, I had stories accepted by a number of national magazines.

VS: I know the owner/editor of Dragonfly Spirit! Gisele has helped and watched many writers down the road to success. We even worked together for a short time at Stories for Children Magazine. There is nothing like seeing your first publication. Can you share with us a little about your current book?

Rachelle: My picture book, Tree House in a Storm is published by Stemmer House Publishers (2009). This fiction story was inspired by my memories of Hurricane Betsy of 1965, when I was a child growing up in New Orleans. In the book, two children build a tree house that is soon destroyed by the hurricane. It’s a story of loss, hope, and resiliency after a natural disaster. My website offers a printable teacher’s guide and multiple fun activities related to the book.

VS: Sounds very interesting. I’ll have to check it out. What do you find is the most difficult part of writing?

Rachelle: For me, it’s getting the first words down. I’ll have an idea, dive into research, take notes—but it’s putting those first words down that I find the hardest. I actually enjoy revising (I know, more crazy talk!)

VS: Not crazy, unless I am too! What is the best writing advice you ever received?

Rachelle: You mean besides, “marry someone with money because writing won’t pay the bills”? That would be, “Join a critique group.”

VS: Great advice! Rachelle can you tell us about your writing space?

Rachelle: I have a spacious home office with a shamefully messy desk.  The desk faces out to my garden so I can daydream and get the words flowing. When I daydream too much for it to be conducive to writing, I move to the kitchen table with my laptop. Unfortunately, the kitchen table has an even better view of the garden, and we’re back to square one.

VS: And you get writer’s block with a nice view out your window perfect for daydreaming. The shame. LOL. Okay so what would we be surprised to learn about you?

Rachelle: One, I love caving—the kind with helmets, headlamps, kneepads, bats and spiders. Another would be, I’m a clown—for real.

VS: My son is big for the caving thing. Me on the other hand . . . I don’t like dark closed in spaces. How do you see the future of book publishing, both traditional, electronic, and print on demand?

Rachelle: I know I’ll never personally want to curl up with a good Kindle to read to my future grandkids. Picture books, for me, need to be held and not read on a screen. On the other hand, I’ve gone through dozens of books this year, nearly all on audio with headphones. I simply don’t have time to sit and read, but I can listen to novels as I drive, cook, clean, and do laundry. Clearly, there’s a place for books in all forms.

VS: Well said Rachelle. What well-known writers do you admire most?

Rachelle: I hate to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon, but I’d give up caves and my red clown nose for JK Rowling’s imagination. As for adult writers, I love Geraldine Brooks; the research that goes into her extraordinary historical novels, her voice, and the poetry of her words captivate me.

VS: I’m not much for historical novels, but I’ll jump on the Harry Potter wagon with you. I hate to admit it, but I’ve read the books over 6 six times each. Rachelle, is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama”?

Rachelle: The key word is “Mama.” Mamas nurture. That’s what I’ve set out to do with my website (It’s one list I haven’t misplaced). The 29 categories of nearly 250 resources are there to nurture all my fellow writers. 

VS: I’ll be book marking your site for sure. I can’t thank you enough Rachelle for taking the time to share with my readers about being a writing mama.

If you would like to learn more about Rachelle Burk, you can visit her websites at and her WRITING RESOURCES:

For those interested in reading Rachelle’s book like me, you can buy it at all major retailers. 

Tree House in a Storm (Stemmer House Publishers, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 0916144232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0916144234

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful interview. Rachelle, I agree, you can't substitute reading a good picture book held in your hands (and his/her's) to a young child with reading it online.

    I'll be getting your book for my grandsons.