It is my pleasure to be speaking with award-winning children’s book author Pamela Tuck about her writing career, her inspirations, and her new book, Mother of Many. Pamela’s other books include Color Struck, The Adventure of Sheldon, the Mushroom, and As Fast As Words Could Fly, which has received much recognition and multiple awards, including the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award in 2007.
Pamela’s latest book, Mother of Many, was released on June 4, 2019, and has received a gold-level Mom’s Choice Award.
Laura: Pamela, thank you so much for talking with me, and congratulations on the release of Mother of Many and the award. Tell us about the book and the inspiration behind it.
Pamela: Thank you! It’s my pleasure to be here, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story and writing journey. First, let me start by saying I am the mother of 11 children. (Yes, 11 children!) Thus, the title Mother of Many. Now, as for the book, Mother of Many is a rhyming picture book, highlighting my life as a mother and some of the antics that go along with it. Judah Tuck has ten siblings, and he’s on a mission to give the old woman who lives in a shoe some advice on how to manage a large family! Although a typical day in the Tuck family may contain some chaos, Judah and his siblings find a way to pull things together before Daddy comes home. Join Mom, Judah, and his brothers and sisters as they work through the day . . . and learn what family is truly all about.
The inspiration to write this book stemmed from a 30-day picture book idea challenge I joined in November 2013. I sat in the high school parking lot, waiting for one of my sons (just one of my many tasks for that day). I told my husband, Joel, that I felt like the old woman who lived in a shoe. He replied, “Why don’t you write about the young woman who lives in a shoe.” I really think he was being sarcastic, but I jotted the idea down for day #12 in my journal. At the end of my challenge, I had 30 story ideas, but not one single story written. As another attempt to spark my writing inspiration, I joined a rhyming picture book group on April 1, 2014. What a challenge! Not only did I have to come up with a story, but now it had to rhyme. As I skimmed through the story ideas in my journal, entry #12 was the best choice. I’d simply have to write a spin-off to the nursey rhyme. Easy, right? Wrong! The first draft I submitted to my group was a sweet little rhyme, displaying a perfect little family. It was ripped apart by one of my critique group members. It hurt, but it certainly sparked my writing fire. I read over the comments and said to myself, “You want reality? I’ll give you reality.” My next draft held the raw truths of a day in the life of the Tuck family, and Mother of Many was born.
Laura: You clearly get inspiration from your amazing family. In addition to your children, I understand that your book As Fast As Words Could Fly was inspired by your father and that Color Struck was inspired by your grandmother. Can you tell us about the experience of writing your father’s and grandmother’s stories? What were the challenges and triumphs?
Pamela: My husband, Joel, was the inspiration behind writing both stories. After attending my first SCBWI conference, I gained a lot of insight, but I felt very discouraged about being a writer. My husband assured me that I WAS a writer, and he discovered that Lee & Low Books offered a New Voices Award for new writers. He suggested that I write my dad’s story of desegregating the public-school system in Greenville, NC, in the 1960s. I came from a family of civil rights activists, so I grew up hearing a lot of family stories.
When I decided to write my dad’s story, I wanted to do his story justice. I heard his fear, his determination, his sadness, and all the emotions he used in telling his story, but capturing that on paper was a challenge. It was the same with my grandmother’s story. While writing my dad’s story, I interviewed my grandmother to find out how she felt about my dad’s journey of desegregating the schools. She answered those questions but began drifting off into her own story of the prejudice she faced within our family (our own race) because her skin color was too dark. I continued taking notes as she talked, only stopping her to clarify certain things. When I shared the notes with my husband, he said, “Let’s write about grandma!” So, we started writing Color Struck, while I wrote As Fast As Words Could Fly.
The benefit of writing family stories is that some of the storytelling elements are already there: character, voice, plot, setting. The challenge was trying to find the focal point of my dad’s story—what little snippet to make into a children’s picture book. My grandmother’s story became a novel, so I could share more of her experience. The challenge with her story was filling in the gaps for things she couldn’t remember and framing the story for YA. Although this was my grandmother’s “adult” story, I wanted it to be a story for children, so I created a frame story using young adult characters as the focus for spiraling into Grandma Bell’s journey.
Of course, I shared the stories with my dad and grandmother, and they greatly approved my writing. That was the first triumph, but receiving such positive feedback from readers and awards for their books was SO very rewarding. It not only gave them the long-overdue recognition they deserved, but it acknowledged how valuable their stories are.
Laura: Your father must have been so proud when you won the New Voices Award from Lee & Low Books. What was his reaction?
Pamela: I think he joined me in a state of shock! My parents have always encouraged me to believe in myself, and they were convinced that I could do anything I set my mind to (even though I wasn’t so sure at times). My dad is still overjoyed at how others respond to his story. He was someone who wasn’t trying to make history; instead he was trying to make a difference. He’s proud of me and all the recognition the book has received. (Can you believe he thanks me? Then I remind him that he deserves the thanks. We’ve been doing this for years.)
Laura: I know you’ve been a writer and a storyteller since you were a young child. What was your path to publication like? Was it more of a winding road or a wide, straight highway?
Pamela: My path to publication was a winding road. I self-published my first children’s book, The Adventure of Sheldon, the Mushroom after several rejections. That’s when I decided to join SCBWI. I learned a lot from the conferences and fellow writers. I submitted Color Struck to a major publisher and received a very encouraging rejection letter that reflected more on the idea that they thought it was more of an adult book than YA, but they said the story had merit. That inspired me as a writer because I felt that my writing had improved. Winning the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award was my “foot-in-the-door” break into traditional publishing. Although I’m still traveling a few curves along the way, I’m moving.
I value the experiences I’ve had as an independent and traditionally published author because the insight gained compliments each other.
Laura: Tell us about your writing process. With such a large family, I can imagine it must be difficult to find the time and solitude that writing typically requires.
Pamela: I usually create a mental or brief written outline that I use as a guide. If possible, I conduct interviews to find out the emotions surrounding the event along with the dialogue for the time period. I do research to make sure I’m historically correct and accurate with my details, dialect, and setting. By the time I’m finished with my interviewing, asking what-if questions, and researching, I’m ready to write if I feel as if I can “walk” in my characters’ shoes.
My ideas flow more freely when I’m typing rather than writing them down on paper, and I require complete silence. That’s a lot to ask of a large family, so I generally isolate myself in my bedroom, send my children to a different part of the house, and give everyone the warning not to talk to me until I’m done. Once everyone complies with my request, I begin my first draft. When I’m done, I read out loud to test the flow of my sentences and how natural my dialogue sounds. I edit questionable spots and then I “sound the trumpet” for my audience. I enjoy bouncing ideas off my family, friends, and fellow writers for their helpful critiques. I like to let my manuscript rest for a while before I work on it again so I can read it with “fresh eyes.” My next round of edits includes concentrating on more questionable spots, word economy, grammar, and checking the flow of events and details.
I’m grateful to my family for understanding my writing antics and giving me the space and silence I need in addition to being there as cheerleaders—making a lot of noise—for my writing successes.
Laura: What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects that you are working on?
Pamela: Yes, I actually have a forthcoming historical fiction picture book scheduled to be released with Lee & Low Books, hopefully Fall 2020. This story is also inspired by family stories. I have another manuscript with my editor that highlights my mom’s journey as one of the first African-American surgical technologists in 1970s Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, NC. I’m hoping that story will find a home as well.
Laura: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us on the blog, and congratulations again on the release and recognition of Mother of Many.
Pamela: Thank you, Laura. I appreciate the enthusiasm and support from my extended SCBWI family.
Pamela M. Tuck is an award-winning author and mother of 11 children. She has been writing poems and stories since she was a child growing up in Greenville, North Carolina. She is the author of Mother of Many, As Fast As Words Could Fly (the 2007 Lee & Low Books New Voices Award winner), Color Struck, and The Adventures of Sheldon, the Mushroom. Pamela credits her writing to her upbringing surrounded by southern storytellers. Her family inspires many of her stories. Although Pamela grew up as an only child, she enjoys the excitement of having a large family.
You can find out more about Pamela and her books on her website at www.pamelamtuck.com and follow her on Twitter (@pamelamtuck) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/pamela-m-tuck-3031b639/).