Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on children’s book author Sheri Sinykin. I asked Sheri how she would like to be introduced, and to tell us a little bit about her writing. This was her wonderful response:
I considered myself an active writer from 1980 until 2006, when life and family propelled me in another direction. Early in my career, I wrote stories for children’s magazines. My first novel, SHRIMPBOAT AND GYM BAGS, was published in 1990, a month before my 40th birthday. By that time I had collected 156 rejection letters, but I always felt if I gave up trying to publish, I’d never know if I could have made it.
During the 1990s, I published several novels for middle grade readers and I was lead author of the Magic Attic Club series of books that had associated dolls. In 1997, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 endometrial cancer. I worried that I would be too scared to take care of her at the end of her life, so I signed up to be a hospice volunteer.
Between 2001 and 2003, I earned my master’s degree in writing for children at Vermont College. While I was enrolled, I worked on a manuscript that eventually became GIVING UP THE GHOST (Peachtree, 2007). It was inspired by my mother’s battle with cancer, my love of New Orleans (where my middle son attended Tulane University), and my hospice volunteer work. It was published a year after her death.
My only picture book, ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE (illustrated by Kristina Swarner; Peachtree, 2012) was inspired by the little Jewish girl inside me who wanted to know where a beloved relative “would go” after death.
Where can people find your work, Sheri? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
In addition to local independent book stores like Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester, my books can be found on Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Calling Cobber?
Early in my career, my novels usually involved a theme of self-acceptance—a character feeling out of place and wanting to fit in. These were often inspired by my three young sons, who now have children of their own. My most recent books grew out of my work as a hospice volunteer. CALLING COBBER, however, was written over twenty years ago. The original inspiration came from a haiku I’d scribbled in the margin of my notebook when an African-American author challenged us to write about our own culture, not hers. What IS my culture? I wondered. Aspects of my son’s bar mitzvah figured into the plot. I marketed it for many years but was always told it was “too Jewish.” Several years ago, I read about a company that was looking for books for Jewish boys and I submitted the manuscript. An editor at PJ OUR WAY found promise in it and worked with me over a two-year period until it was accepted by their committee. However, I needed to first find a trade publisher! My editor at PJ agreed to shop it around for me as I no longer had contacts with editors in the industry. A London publisher, Green Bean Books, accepted it within a couple of weeks, and CALLING COBBER was finally on its way to publication. In Jacob (Cobber) Stern, readers will meet a boy whose mother has died, whose father works non-stop, and whose best friend is abandoning him, it seems, for Hebrew lessons. Cobber’s relationship with Papa-Ben, his almost 100-year-old great grandfather, drives much of the plot, which features a magic show and a friend’s bar mitzvah.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out [newest release/spotlighted release]? How did you overcome that challenge?
CALLING COBBER is set in the year 2000, so my biggest challenge was making sure it was accurate historically. For example, how would Cobber learn magic tricks if YouTube had not yet been invented?
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I usually find something to love in all my characters. In CALLING COBBER, I especially love Papa-Ben because much of his personality and history mirror my own grandfather’s Russian immigrant experience. Boolkie makes me laugh, and I love how Cobber keeps trying to get his needs met, despite many obstacles.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
My best advice to other writers is to keep writing, as long as doing so fills your soul. Love the process more than the results. Don’t take rejection personally. Remind yourself that each rejection brings you closer to eventual acceptance. Take in critique and let it simmer before you respond. If the suggestion makes your writing better, embrace it. If not, let it go.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) is the best organization for anyone interested in writing or illustrating children’s books. Each state or region hosts conferences or retreats (pre-Pandemic) where members can meet agents, editors, and other authors who share their experience. Critique groups are also facilitated. I met my first editor at an SCBWI conference. For several years I was an SCBWI regional advisor in Wisconsin and was awarded lifetime membership as Member of the Year.
Thanks so much for answering our questions so thoroughly, Sheri!