Interview with Lisa Gerin


About the Author: Lisa Gerin grew up in Queens, New York. A proud graduate of the New York City public school system, Lisa received her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Media and English Literature from Queens College and a Master’s Degree in Education from CUNY at Hunter College. Formerly a High School Language Arts teacher, she is now an elementary school librarian and picture book writer. Her humorous fiction stories for young readers can be found on the Amazon Rapids app for children. She has also had news features published in The Village Voice. Lisa currently lives in northern New Jersey but will be relocating to Vail, Arizona in July. She has two daughters, both teachers; a husband and one tabby cat, Lucy. Lisa loves reading biographies and historical fiction. Her favorite authors for children are Eric Carle, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, Patricia Polacco and Jan Brett. When not writing or teaching, she enjoys traveling and photography.

Find Lisa Gerin on the following platforms:

Thank you Lisa Gerin for taking the time to talk with us about her career as a librarian as well as her writing career. Check out her blog here!

Julia Shelton: What made you want to be a librarian? What that your first choice of career or did something inspire you as you grew up?

Lisa Gerin: I have always been an avid reader; one of those kids who was always reading books and signing out stacks at the public library. My first job as a teen was working as a page for the NYC Public Library in Queens, NY. After majoring in English Lit and Media Studies in college, I worked in publishing and public relations for a few years. I then decided to go back to school for a Master’s Degree in Education and started teaching High School Language Arts. After 15 years of teaching High School Literature, I was ready for a change. I got my Library degree and love being a librarian. I love the feeling of putting the right books into the hands of young readers. I’ve been an elementary school librarian now for almost fifteen years!

JS: Was there a single event that inspired you to start writing by night?

LG: About five years ago I attended a New Jersey Librarians Convention. After meeting authors there and attending some nonfiction workshops, I knew I had to start writing the stories of unsung heroes in history, especially women who I admired. I noticed a lack of biographies for kids about so many important and diverse historical figures. I began writing my first kid’s biography in 2012.

JS: What was the process of sending your first book to publishers without an agent? Has your process of writing/sending out manuscripts changed now that you have an agent?

LG: I had some success with sending out non-fiction manuscripts before being agented. But my agent, Jen Hunt, at Booker Albert Literary, has submitted my narrative non-fiction children’s bios to many more editors than I could ever connect with on my own. I currently have a few out on submission, as well as a couple of fiction manuscripts.

JS: How do you feel that your writing has most improved? Did you find webinars and/or conferences more helpful or spending your time just writing on your own?

LG: My writing improved when I decided to step way out of my comfort zone and write for Amazon Education. A writer friend of mine told me that they were looking for stories for a new app for kids aged 7 to 12. I spoke with the editors about the concept and I have written four stories for the app, Amazon Rapids. My three-part humorous series is entitled, “The Day the Dolls Escaped” and another story, “Cupcakes or Churros,” is about a grandmother and granddaughter with a baking decision to make. Writing fiction was not easy, as I primarily had written nonfiction. I know that my nonfiction writing has improved through writing fiction and becoming more concise in my writing style. Conferences and webinars are helpful, but writing and revising is the best way to improve.

JS: What do you think is the best way for an aspiring author to grow in their writing?

LG: The most valuable resources for aspiring writers are to join critique groups and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization. The SCBWI has a wealth of information for those who are beginners or long-time writers. The workshops and events they offer are always inspiring and you can make many connections with editors and agents who can help critique your work. Read lots of mentor texts in your area of writing. Read and write, revise and write again.

JS: Do you prefer writing nonfiction or fiction?

LG: My heart is in narrative nonfiction and biography, but I also enjoy writing humorous fiction as well!

JS: You wrote in your blog how “rejection has only made [your] writing stronger and tighter than it ever was.” What advice do you have for writers trying to overcome rejection and keep trying?

LG: In looking back over my first years of writing, I realize that the first manuscripts I wrote were probably not ready to go out on queries. It was only after about my 4th or 5th story that things became tighter. I realized the importance of multiple revisions for each manuscript. I had queried agents with one story and received multiple rejections. It wasn’t until I had multiple polished manuscripts that I was able to find my agent through a Twitter pitch contest, #PBPitch. I would recommend new writers have at least 2 or 3 finished manuscripts before seeking representation.

JS: How do you motivate yourself to write?

LG: As a librarian I keep up with the current children’s market and read and purchase many books. They often spark innovative ideas for me. I love wandering through bookstores to glance at the new titles. I usually come up with a kernel of an idea and jot it down first longhand on paper, before I get to the computer. For biographies, I try to find interesting tidbits from the childhood of the subject I’m writing about, so that kids will be able to relate to him/her. I usually devote a block of a few hours at a time to focus on writing and edit/revise in shorter blocks. Sometimes I am working on 2 manuscripts at a time and often put one down for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes.

JS: Who are your author inspirations? Are there any books that you read as a teen that influenced you?

LG: My author inspirations are so varied. I’ve always loved realistic or historical fiction like the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder or John Steinbeck. As a young teen, of course, I admired the books of author Judy Blume. Right now, my author inspirations for writing biographies for kids are Melissa Sweet, and Jen Bryant. And since I work in an urban school district I admire authors who are writing diverse stories which represent kids who might not have ever seen a child like them before in books. That would include the authors Vanessa Newton, Matt De laPena, Jacqueline Woodson and others.

JS: What are your favorite things to write about? Do you enjoy descriptions, dialogue, facts, fantasy, etc?

LG: I love crafting a strong opening to grab reader’s interest. Once I have my opening paragraphs, I find the mid-section of a picture book the most difficult to craft. Description and narration are easier for me than dialogue writing. I find it very difficult to write dialogue between characters. Sometimes I find it easier to write it between 3 characters than just two! Of course, I love doing research to weed out the best facts and quotations that will be woven into the narrative of a biography.

JS: Are you excited about your move to Vail, Arizona?

LG: South Tucson and the Vail area are filled with natural desert beauty and surprisingly mountain ranges! I am so excited about the vibrant writing community in the Tucson area. There are some great picture book writers living there! I plan to join the Tucson branch of the SCBWI after leaving New Jersey year and moving to Arizona.

JS: What do you aspire to see for your writing in the future?

LG: I am currently working on a fractured fairytale! It is a classic story with a twist. I can’t reveal the title yet, as I’m still revising.

JS: Any last advice for aspiring authors or anyone looking to break into the book business?

LG: This business is not an easy one. There are many great writers out there. Find what you like to write about and find your own voice. Hone your craft by attending workshops, reading all kinds of books in your genre and just keep at it. Strong writing means lots of editing. And you must have a thick skin to accept rejection and change to your work, as writing is very subjective. Thanks, so much Julia, for your great questions and sharing my thoughts with your readers!

PRR Writer, Julia Shelton