It’s time to celebrate another holiday picture book debut!
Janie Emaus’s debut picture book, “Latkes for Santa Claus,” was released October 13th. She is also the author of the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. Her essays and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and websites. She has been a member of SCBWI for over thirty years. You can learn more about Janie at her website or follow her blog.
“Latkes for Santa Claus” is a fresh take on the common conundrum children face if they believe in Santa: what do I leave out for him to nibble and enjoy? Anna is excited to celebrate her first holiday with her new dad and stepbrother. She’s never had to think about this question before, but now she’s determined to make a good impression on Santa. This cute spin on the holidays brings in new foods and and traditions that young readers will want to learn more about.
Me: You have written YA and memoir in the past. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Janie: I’ve always written in many genres. I have unpublished middle grade novels, keeping company with a few adult ones on my computer. Most of them will never see the light of day!
But my favorite love is, and always has been, writing for young children. My very first published credit was a rhymed story in Cricket Magazine. After that, stories began forming into my head for older readers. I eventually sold a young adult novel to a small press. But the desire to work on picture books was always bubbling on the surface of my mind. So, I’d say, I circled back to my roots with this picture book.
Me: I love a fresh holiday story, especially one like “Latkes for Santa” that incorporates traditions that are unfamiliar to me. What inspired this story? Were you like Anna when you were younger?
Janie: The inspiration grew out of my own experience. I grew up in a Jewish home. My husband is Christian. Once we were married we began celebrating both holidays. When our daughter was little I wondered if she was confused. How did she feel about having a menorah and a Christmas tree? I looked for books with characters she could relate to. Not finding any that were fun and entertaining, I wrote my own.
The women in our family gather every year to make latkes. And since latkes are round like a cookie, I knew I had the foundation for a lively story.
Of course, I thought it would be easy to sell. Right? Nothing on the market quite like my story. How wrong I was!
It took fifteen years of perseverance. And I believe timing has played a big part. Today’s world is ripe for books about diversity and being different.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Janie: The title is the only thing which has stayed the same throughout the years. The story started out in rhyme format. I thought it was the perfect way to show the confusion in the little girl’s mind.
But one afternoon, while reading over the story, a young boy entered the page. Who was he? And what was he doing in my story? He was argumentative and feisty. And I had to listen to his ideas. He wanted me to dump the rhyme and add the cooking challenge.
Of course, I had to listen. Because he wasn’t going away!
This is the part I love most about writing. When the story begins to take on a life of its own.
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Janie: I get up around 7am and fortified with a cup of coffee, I check emails and then usually begin writing for a few hours. Lately, with the release of this book, I’ve been dedicating the morning hours to promotion and marketing. And to be honest, obsessing over sales and reviews.
Then I usually take a walk, run errands, help my elderly mother start her day. I’m back at my writing for a few more hours in the late afternoon.
I write everything except poems on my computer. For some unknown reason, at least unknown to me, poems flow better from my brain to pen to paper.
Once I have a draft of a manuscript, I print out a hard copy and makes notes on the paper as I edit. I then enter my changes back into the computer and repeat the process all over again until I get my final draft.
And my office is organized confusion. My son-in-law once reprimanded my grandson for messing up my office. But my grandson set him straight by saying “Grandma’s floor always looks like that!”
Me: LOL! Too cute! I thought you had an interesting assortment of food Anna considered leaving for Santa: matzo ball soup, noodle kugel, and tzimmes. Were these favorite foods when you were growing up? Do you enjoy them around the holidays even now?
Janie: The latkes and the matzo ball soup recipes are from my Grandma Anna. It’s a tradition for the young members of the family to help roll the matzo balls and plop them into the soup. It’s also been a tradition for the women in our family to have a latke making party a few days before our Hanukkah dinner. This year because of Covid, it will have to be a Zoom event. But nothing can take away from the pleasure of that first hot latke coming out of the pan.
The latke recipe is the best ever!
Me: The illustrations by Bryan Langdo are wonderful. I especially loved the imagined scenarios with Santa. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Janie: I fell in love with Bryan’s illustrations, the minute I saw the black and white previews. I was fortunate that my editor kept me involved throughout the process. I had imagined Santa in his sleigh and Bryan captured it perfectly.
I viewed the PDF before it went to print. But I was totally surprised when the book arrived. It is bigger and more beautiful than I ever imagined. I was crying so hard, I’m sure the gods could hear me.
Bryan did an amazing job of bringing my words to life!
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Janie: Joining SCBWI has been invaluable. I’ve met so many wonderful writers and critique partners by attending local Writers’ Days and conferences. And through SCBWI workshops I learned to use action verbs and leave room for the illustrator to tell his part of the story.
My biggest advice for all writers is believe in yourself and your story and don’t ever give up. It took fifteen years for me to sell LATKES FOR SANTA CLAUS then it sold in six days on #Pitmad.
Thank you Janie. Great advice. Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this story, track down a copy. It’s a fun read imagining Santa’s hijinks with food disasters while learning about other experiences.