Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 27, 2012

December’s Featured Author – Muriel Weinstein

BarbaraJN-snowParty

This was sent in by Barbara Johanson Newman was featured on July 14th, 2012. Click Here to View.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI would like to introduce you to Muriel Harris Weinstein.  I think her journey to getting published in the Children’s Book Industry will be an inspiration to everyone one who reads this post.

Muriel taught elementary school for 22 years and sang every morning while driving to work. That says more for how much she enjoyed teaching than anything else she could say.

Today over 30 years later, she got her first picture book published. Here is Muriel and below her answers to my interview questions:

Children’s fiction hooked me. It always has as I read so much of it to my classes, my grandchildren and yop, my great grand children. And there’s that special something in them that lures me, that begs me to say. “Come… come and look and you’ll never want to leave.”

I must’ve been born under a lucky star, my first picture book, When Louis Armstorong Taught Me Scat, (about the joys of chewing bubble gum) was a Junior Library Guild Main Selection.

And two years later came Play Louis, Play! the true story of a boy and his horn, the biography of the grrrreat Louis Satchmo Armstrong’s young years. It has garnered a Junior Library Guild Selection, it has won the Paterson Prize, a national poetry award, that for the first time has expanded its sights to children’s lit, and it is a nominee for The Texas Bluebonnet Award and just came out in a Japanese edition and Amazon now has it on kindle and in paperback. WHEE! How lucky can anyone get???

I’m an octogenarian. WOW! that’s six syllables. That means that I’m in my eighties. I’m not a kid, although kids are my lifeline.

What was your first published book?

My first published books were work-books, The World of Vocabulary, which incorporated not only vocabulary but comprehension and grammar. We wrote them for one company, but they kept merging and with other companies, but we stayed on for over 35 years. The publishers were initially, Learning Trends & Globe, then Simon & Shuster, & Pearson. I was collaborating with my husband, Alfred Weinstein, who had taught English & then became a principal.

These books have been on the market over 35 years & are still out there today. I still collect royalties. It is amazing. that our books, which were later declared the most popular vocabulary & English workbooks on the market were initiated in the early ‘70’s and are still going strong today.

Muriel scat240My first published Children’s picture book was When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat from Chronicle Books. The music teachers loved it. The reviewers from Kirkus and Booklist & other reviews, called it a tribute to Louis. I thought I was writing mostly about the joys of chewing bubble gum which I love, to this day It relieves stress and anxiety. I just chew away & off all my cares go. It seems to make me focus more on what I’m doing..

What was the inspiration for writing it?

Simple. I LOVE bubble gum. I chew it when I’m thinking hard. I chew it when I’m upset. I chew it when I’m anxious. I chew it a lot & I even blow bubbles. Have a picture of me blowing a HUGE bubble. That was not easy to get. It all started when a doctor saw a nodule on my throat & he suggested that I chew gum to promote the saliva. He said that keeping it moist was good for my throat. I did and learned that it calmed me…even was handy when I was hungry & had to wait a short while for lunch, but I was impatient and threatening to eat a bear.so the bubble gum helped me enormously.

How long did you submit to editors before it was published?

First of all, every time I submitted it, I edited it and it began to change…even now, when I look at it I’m dying to change a few things. Can’t tell ya’. Can’t snitch on myself… my other self will cry.  Sooo, I guess it was a about 4 or 5 years. And then it took 2 years to become a part of Chronicle’s book list. They had to have the heroic nods from every editor or so it seemed to me. Then they didn’t have a meeting several times because they merged with another company… then the then head editor was on vacation… all kinds of reasons but I just chomped on the bubble gum and that saw me through it.

How did you feel when you found out about they wanted to publish your book?

WOW! I felt like a MACY BALLOON so pumped up…I felt like those huge sails on clipper ships with the wind blowing into its sail….have you ever seen how they swell???? EEEEnormous. I felt so good that I literally, wanted to stand on every street corner with fliers telling the world my book , When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat, was puiblished.

Was Scott Treimel your first agent?

Yes, Scott Tremeil was my firsffffffffft agent but how he came to be my agnet is very interesting. I was a children’s conf. KINDLING WORDS, in Silver Bay, N.Y., the most northern part of Lake George, near Ft. Ticonderoga, near Lake Champlain, Canada. And we were asked if we wanted to read on Sat. night as that was the entertainment. So, enjoying reading, I signed up. When I finished, Scoptt cam over to me & told me that he knew a publisher who would love it

I was thrilled beyond words. First I never knew there was an agent in the crowd. Then for him to give me this info, I thought, “Geeee, is he terrific!!!
That Monday morning instead of getting info on Chronicle, I called Scott (found out his address & number). And I thanked him for his help, but wanted to know the name of an editor at Chronicle as I just didn’t want to mail it to the Children’s Dept. And Scott very helpful, gave me the name fo an editor, who, by the way, is no longer there and that’s how it got to them. Within one week I was told that they wanted it, but it took TWO YEARS for them to publish it.

How did you connect with Scott?

As I mentioned it above, he was one of the “hidden” guests of KINDLING WORDS & I didn’t know him from Adam. So I was just dammned lucky. We never signed a contract. We didn’t even have a handshake. There was just trust.

Is he the one who sold your first book?

Technically speaking, I sold my own book. I sent my book to them and they purchased it. But when it came to the contract, I asked Scott if he would protect it & handle it, I He said, “ YEAH, sure…no problem.. And he did. There wasn’t anything special in the contract. It was “boiler plate.” which meant, I guess, both ususal and the ordinary contract. But I could NEVER have sold it wihout Scott as he GAVE me the info about the publisher and he GAVE me the name of a good editor, etc… So I consider that Scott done did the deal. Yes, he came in on the sealing & signing of the contract.

Mureil Louie240Tell us about your second book.

My 2nd book, PLAY LOUIS, PLAY ! the true story of a boy and his horn is the bio of Louis Armstrong, which breaks all the rules of biography. That came about because I always loved Louis & when Chronicle asked me to write an Afterward about him for my SCAT book and stated that it should only be one page, I found that I couldn’t stop. I just had to write about him. I fell in love with a guy who was dead. He had such a remarkable disposition, such fine character, that I just kept going. Could not resist writing about him. I wanted to show the world, LOOK AT HIM! LOOK at what he does. Observe him. Learn from him.

Do you plan to continue to use the music theme with other books you write?

Of course, I want to write about music or musical themes or musicians or poets, who have music in their language, or artists who have music on their canvasses. In fact, some of my poetry is like a jazzy blues.

Tell us about the awards that you have won.

AWARDS:

The Scat book, When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat, is a Junior Library Guild Main Selection.

Play Louis, PLAY! the true story of a boy and his horn, is also a Junior Library Guild Selection. That book also won a prestigious poetry award, The Paterson Prize, which is the first year they included children’s prose. And I’m very honored. It also is a nominee for the biggest state award in the U.S., The Texas Bluebonnet Award which means that my publisher, Bloomsbury, had to print 20,000 books to be distributed to the students of Texas so they could vote this coming January…as they decide the winner. I wouldn’t care if I don’t win because I am in such illustrious company, Brian Selznick & so many others, I just can’t believe it.

It also has been printed in Japanese and maybe come out in Korean.
Amazon put it on kindle the first month it was out. I regard that as validation like an award. And it is coming out in paperback this coming Jan. 2013.

I have won several awards for my poetry which is really for adults. But I’ve written a small volume of nonsense poetry for kids and have never sent it out. Am now going to do that. So we’ll see.

Do you have anything new coming out?

Yes, I have another book coming out, a chapbook of poetry for adults, WHAT WOMEN WILL DO from Finishing Line Press, a publishing press in Kentucky, only for women. They believe in Emerging Poets. It is known throughout the poetry world and is highly regard.

How did you learn to scat?

I learned to scat listening to Louis’ & Ella’s records. Listening to them is a treat. Try it. It’s relaxing. I LOVED doing it… felt like areal jazz artist. In fact, if you go to my website www.murielharrisweinstein.com  you can hear me Scat.

What are you working on now?

I’m now working on something that has taken years of research…I love research so it was hard to stop. I fall into such a mode of amazement that my mind is boggled by what people living in the past did… In fact, the ancient people without the knowledge that we have yet managed to create insulation, understanding of the human body, etc. I’m working On the Ancient Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut & her life…how she was denied what men were allowed & her struggle to attain some of those privileges. It’s about her life from birth onward…broked up because a pile of papyri were found & she wrote what we would call a diary. And it’s of her rise to power and how actually became a KING.

muriel in action 240I see you are doing school visits.  Can you tell us about how the kids interact with you?  Do you have fun going back to school?

I LOVE going back to school. Went yesterday to the Little Red Schoolhouse on Bleeker St in NYC. Went with Patty McCormick… her book, NEVER FALL DOWN is one of the best 100 book published this year, a/c to The N.Y. Times.
So I go to this 5th gr. class & I tell them I’m home..I taught for 25 yrs & that when I enter a school, I smell it, I feel it, I am at Home. I’m extremely comfortable in front of kids. My feeling for them must shine out as they always behave well & enjoy listening. I say, enjoy, because they are quiet and so attentive. I wish I could do this once a week for the whole year…but I’m careless in calling & forget or get involved with calling the schools.

Do you feel that editors treat you differently when they find out you are an octogenarian?

The editor who bought the bio of Louis, never responded differently. She acted most normal & matter of fact alth’ she loved Louis, the attention was on the book, which I was thrilled with.

The teachers & administration of schools DO give me a great deal of respect… but it’s not unusual. I can see them being polite & thoughtful to others. After all, an author visiting is a wonderful situation. Yesterday, at the The Little Red Schoolhouse, one of the teachers asked me how old I was… I tell them the truth. And they are overwhelmed…. I think that’s what eggs me on. I love to startle them It’s such fun. Because they can SEE I’m much older, but they never expect to hear that I’m 89, going on 90 !! Aren’t you surprised?? I am …I’m shocked !!!

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with other writers?

I can pass on what was passed on to me in so many ways and to all writers. NEVER give up. That’s why I give my true age. You never know. And your creativity NEVER dies. Your mind continues to work in spite of the rebellion of the body.. So if you want to write, DO NOT GIVE UP !! And join a workshop or a group of writers you know…it’s important, I feel, to have a community of writers around you. In fact, I call it essential… Of course, there a few who do not need it, but most do… so try it. If you prefer your own company, by all means, enjoy it !!!  Good Luck !!!

Hope you enjoyed your visit with Muriel.  I know she inspires me.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. What an inspiration!

    Like

  2. Very inspiring! Thanks for posting this interview, Kathy. Muriel, how nice of you to share so much information. Everyone should take encouragement from this.

    Like

    • Rosi,

      I agree, Muriel’s story should give everyone the inspiration they need to keep plugging away.

      Kathy

      Like

  3. love this! another eye-opening thrilling interview! thank you!

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  4. Kathy, thank you for posting about Muriel. It was enjoyable as well as inspiring! It looks to be that Muriel has a very strong constitution for a woman turning 90. How wonderful! I find that most inspiring of all!

    It IS true that our creativity doesn’t stop, but GROWS if we are lucky enough to have a healthy brain 🙂 Sometimes I wish I wrote non-fiction. If I were to write a biography, I think I’d choose Helen Keller first 🙂

    And I love Barbara’s happy, dancing snow people!
    Donna

    Like

  5. Great inspiration to all of us! Never give up! Thanks for the interview!

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  6. Wow! What a lovely woman and such spirit! Being a lover of Louis myself, I will run out and find these books today. Thanks for a great article and much needed inspiration.

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  7. i’ve been in bed sniffling with the flu…moaning is a better word. But reading your responses is the BEST medicine of all. From what each of you say, the only answer I can give is STICK-TO-IT !!! NEVER give up. I clicked on Sharon’s blog. I loved it and the poem you wrote about writing while changing diapers, while sitting in the bathroom, while anywhere & everywhere, is THE BEST thing…you gave everyone a lesson: GRAB your time, as small as it is. NEVER say, “Yuck, it’s only ten minutes.” In those ten min you might give birth to a Brain- storm….Keep writing, in your head if you don’t have pencil or paper…Try to always have a pad with you , in your pocket, in your purse, in the baby’s carriage., or in your backpack. And never give up when you get rejections. Every voice is important. Every voice is different so don’t compare yourself to others. Your voice is special. So Good luck. Oh, and one more thing; try to form or get into a writing groups where you each support each other & critique in a constructive fashion…never hurtful. THAT DOES DAMAGE !! So, Keep writing! Keep thinking! KEep dreaming!@ And keep reading! Good Luck!
    muriel

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  8. Muriel – I hope that you are feeling better. This interview certainly made me feel good! Just as we are never too old to write, neither are we too young. I encourage my 9 year old to save all the scrips and scraps and bits that she writes. Kids are such natural, honest observers of life in the way they write!

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