Shapleigh artist: ‘I find my inspiration everywhere’

28

Following her lifelong dream of becoming a professional writer, Brenda Reeves Sturgis of Shapleigh has published several children’s books in the last five years, including her latest, “10 Turkeys in the Road,” a counting book.

Sturgis’ favorite activities, reading and writing, have never changed since the time she was a young girl growing up in Westbrook. She initially wrote poetry, but then at the age of 42 joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and never looked back.

Immediately after graduating from Westbrook High School, Sturgis joined the Air Force, and after basic training she was posted to Aviano, Italy. Most of her time in the service was spent in Italy. Before retiring from the Air Force, Sturgis was last posted to South Dakota.

She married husband Gary a year out of high school, and the two have four children – Seabren, 29, Stephen, 27, Stephanie, 25 and Stacie, 13. She also has four grandchildren.

Sturgis spoke with The Reporter this week about her fascination with writing and what inspires her.

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?

A: I always, always wanted to be a writer, and filled up poetry book after poetry book while still in high school. My weekends were filled with reading and writing and those are still my favorite pastimes to this day.

Q: Why do you now write children’s books?

A: Ever since I was 8 years old, all I ever wanted to be was a mother. When my eldest daughter was 5, I opened a licensed day care in West Baldwin that I operated for five years. I’ve also worked as a preschool teacher at The Lil’ Pumpkin Patch in Baldwin and I’m presently a nanny for Portland Nannies.

Writing for children fulfills the love I have for both writing and for children. I think children are wonderful and brilliant. You never know what they’re going to say. To hear their laughter fills my heart with such joy, and to hear them laugh at stories I’ve written means the world to me. I feel like I make a difference in their lives, if only for the amount of time it takes to read my 500-word book. If their parents can share a cuddle along with my words at night, and tuck them into bed with love and laughter, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

Q: Where do you get your inspirations for topics?

A: I find my inspiration everywhere and never know when or where an idea will hit. The idea for “10 Turkeys in the Road” was formed one day when I was taking my daughter Stacie to school. Turkeys are everywhere where we live, and on this one particular day they were blocking the road. I was late and wanted to honk at them to get them to move, but instead sat there and watched their lively antics. I enjoyed that moment immensely. I awoke several nights later with the story in my head. I got up and wrote it all down at 3 a.m. It originally wasn’t about a circus.

My good friend, and editor at Flashlight Press, Shari Greenspan, had some thoughts about things the turkeys should be doing. I entered “10 Turkeys in the Road” in the 2007 Smart Writers contest, along with another manuscript titled “The Football Game,” (now entitled “Touchdown!”). “The Football Game” won first place, and “10 Turkeys in the Road” received an honorable mention. I was really excited because I was up against fierce competition and 400 other manuscripts. In 2008, I was accepted into the Rutgers Council of Children’s Literature. It was here that I was paired with Margery Cuyler of Marshall Cavendish. She loved the story, but asked for a rewrite. She wanted the turkeys to be performing in a circus. I came home from New Jersey and rewrote the entire manuscript. It sounds like it would be an easy task. But, to rhyme 10 stanzas with the word away (the refrain is “one turkey flew away”) and have it be about a circus took a good deal of trial and error and a lot of thinking. Picture books have a format. Editors don’t want them to be any longer than 500 words, and if you’re writing in rhyme there can be no forced rhyme and no near rhyme. It took me about two years to write and rewrite and rewrite “10 Turkeys in the Road,” from the first draft to the time it was accepted for publication.

Q: Do you always use the same illustrator?

A: Writers generally have no say in who illustrates their books. When a picture book is sold to a publishing house, the publisher decides who should illustrate it. Normally the writer and the illustrator never even meet, and in fact have very little contact.

For “10 Turkeys in the Road,” I was matched with David Slonim. He is incredibly talented, and it took him a year to illustrate the book. He painted in oils, so the illustrations are fabulous, bold and vibrant. The illustrator brought his own vision to the text. In fact, there is one stanza I wrote which said, “They caused a long delay.” And David, being the genius that he is, put the turkeys on stilts for the word “long.” It was a very clever addition to the turkey circus. To me, a picture book is really a work of art.

Q: In this day of e-readers, do you think it’s still important to have books published on paper?

A: This is a great question. I believe there is a definite place for e-readers, and actually “10 Turkeys in the Road” is available on e-book. A Kindle and a kid are great together. However, in my opinion there is something very unique and special about having a book with paper, hardcover or soft, in your hands and in the hands of a child. To flip the pages back and forth, to feel the weight of the book in your hands, to smell the aroma of the paper, is a magical experience for children and it creates wonderful memories for them.

Q: What do you most like to read?

A: I am an avid reader and read anything I can get my hands on. My favorites though, are picture books. I read them for enjoyment as well as for work. I also read mid-grade and young adult novels and love biographies and memoirs.

Q: Are you working on your next book? If so what is it about and when do you expect it to be published?

A: I have several polished projects in my portfolio, including lots of funny manuscripts that my agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, is trying hard to sell. In the children’s literary world, it really helps to have a great literary agent behind you, because many publishing houses do not accept manuscripts from unrepresented authors. There are a lot of talented writers in the children’s literature world, and so to answer your question, I do not know. Hopefully something will strike the fancy of an editor and they’ll want to acquire my work.

If anybody wishes to purchase “10 Turkeys in the Road,” it’s available, signed for $15 plus shipping, or through Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or many other wonderful independent booksellers.


A CLOSER LOOK

Brenda Reeves Sturgis of Shapleigh will read from and sign copies of her latest children’s book, “10 Turkeys in the Road,” Saturday, Nov. 12, 1-3 p.m., at the At Once All Agog toy store on Main Street in Limerick. Call 793-2464 for more information.

“There is something very unique and special about having a book
with paper, hardcover or soft, in your hands and in the hands of a
child,” says Shapleigh-based children’s book author Brenda Reeves
Sturgis. She will sign copies of her latest book, “10 Turkeys in
the Road,” Saturday at the At Once All Agog store in Limerick.