Simply 7 with Heather Kinser: NATURE IS A SCULPTOR

Today I get to share another beautiful nonfiction picture book with you.

HeatherHeather Kinser visited my blog in 2020 to discuss her amazing debut picture book SMALL MATTERS.  She’s a former technical editor who now spends her days writing stories from her home on the San Francisco Peninsula. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter.

ApprovedNatureIsASculptorCoverImageNATURE IS A SCULPTOR is her second nonfiction picture book and just like her first, it’s a journey through photographs set alongside her lyrical text.  It’s stunning!  This book, however, doesn’t focus on the microscopic (like the first book did), this one focuses on geology and giant earth structures that are formed from erosion, weathering, or deposition.  There were a few natural formations I had seen in person myself (glaciers, volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite’s Half Dome, the Garden of the gods, etc.), but there were some I had never even heard of before!  Each page of this book is resplendent with glorious color and texture.  This is a book you will have to see for yourself.

Welcome back Heather!

Me: This is your second nonfiction picture book published with Millbrook Press.  How did you manage to get two great books published with them?  Can you tell us about your journey to this book?

Heather: What a great question! After my first book with Millbrook Press was published (that is, Small Matters), I eventually learned that my acquiring editor, Carol Hinz, was willing to look at other manuscripts from me. I used this opportunity sparingly and judiciously. First, I wrote a manuscript about surface tension, intended for the same photo-illustrated nonfiction line, called Ripple, Droplet, Bubble—Pop! I sent it off to Carol, who politely declined because the topic didn’t particularly connect with any curriculum standards. After that, I perused the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) until I found a topic I could engage with. I was determined to focus on a subject that I knew teachers could use in the classroom. But it also needed to resonate with me on a personal level. My approach worked! Rock formations hit that sweet spot.

Me: Going from microscopic details to large geographic features around the world seems like a bit of a topic leap (though both are informational).  What gave you the idea to explore how these natural formations are made?

Heather: It was the NGSS that pointed me in the direction of writing about geologic formations. Perusing through this national science curriculum, I hit upon the Earth’s Systems standard (“wind and water can change the shape of the land”) and a lightbulb went off. This I could connect to! I’m a great admirer of rocks and rock formations. When I travel, if I have a choice between lounging by a pool or tramping off to look at a cool rock, I’ll take the rock. I don’t travel much, but the rocks in Sedona made a strong impression on me when I had a chance to visit, long ago. And I also loved the volcanic outcrops on Maui, like the “dragon’s teeth”—a site I found through a guidebook on my honeymoon. I have quiet a large display of rocks and minerals on my windowsills, too—a collection I’ve been amassing since childhood. I thought it would be a fun challenge to see if I could convince others to love rocks, too.

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Me: I love that!  I don’t know how you do it, but the writing style here is very similar to your first book.  It’s so lyrical and concise, and it works incredibly well for the subject matter.  What made you decide to approach this book in this book in this way?

Heather: In terms of poetic meter and tone, this piece pretty much flowed out of my fingertips fully formed. My first drafts are quite similar to the finished piece, poetically speaking. The opening line, “Nature is a sculptor,” came to me first, and I built off of that. But hand in hand with beginning to write, I did research into different types of rock formations and looked at stunning images on the Internet…and also mined my own memories. I wouldn’t have gone forward with this project if I didn’t know, ahead of time, that I would be able to fill the book with a variety of impressive photos of nature’s geologic handiwork. The photos provided inspiration, and the rest came from years of experience with writing lyrically.

Me: I’ve seen several books about weathering and erosion, but never one written quite like this.  Was it like this from the first draft?  How many revisions did it undergo?

Heather: My original submission to Carol was only 86 words. It was an ode to rock formations that did not go into detail about weathering and erosion. I owe all the weathering and erosion material to Carol. She liked my original draft, but needed it to tie in more closely with the elementary school curriculum. Carol sent me back to the drawing board, with a generous revise and resubmit opportunity. (This happened with my first book, too. So I knew I was capable of getting the job done, and I applied myself to it intensively.) I ran to the library for weathering and erosion picture books, and I researched on the Internet. I made a list of weathering and erosion terms and topics I needed to cover, checking and cross-checking to make sure nothing essential was left out. Then, by brute force and a sprinkling of fairy dust, I fit it all into my poetic manuscript without breaking the rhythm. Of course, I ran the results past my critique partners as well! They see everything I do and pull me out of the weeds, unfailingly. How many revisions did the manuscript undergo? Well…I saved it under a slightly different file name 43 times after the R&R request, if that’s any indication. But those were all me finessing the information and language. In terms of approach, the manuscript was kind of the same all they way through. It just became more detailed.

Me: Wow!  How did you pick the natural sculptures you talked about in the book?  Did you have to do a lot of research?  Did you visit any of them?  Can you tell us a bit about your research process for this story?

Heather: Well, I’ve seen my fair share of rock formations in real life—like the buttes surrounding Chico, California, where my brothers lived during college. I’ve glimpsed the glory of Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley. I’ve journeyed into caves in Calaveras County and clamored up the red rock sculptures of Sedona. I’ve driven past the Grand Tetons on my way to Yellowstone, and stopped to drink them in. And I saw a cluster of weird rocks in Yellowstone that were labeled “hoodoos”—and never forgot that fabulous word. I made darn sure that one got into my book! I’ve looked over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and tramped through the dunes at White Sands and Monterey. I heard about the basalt columns of the Devil’s Postpile on a travel show a long time ago, but could never quite get there. Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means adventurous or well-traveled. I won’t go see a rock unless it’s relatively easy and low-risk. But I’ve managed to see plenty. The rest, I visited on the Internet from the comfort of my armchair. Which is what we were all doing, weren’t we, during lockdown—when this manuscript was written.

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Me: What a wonderful way to travel.  The photographs for this book are once again just stunning.  I noticed that no one person was credited for them.  I know that last time you helped to choose some of the pictures.  Can you talk about that process here?  How were the photographs chosen for the book? 

Heather: Although the books’ concept was mine, and I visualized what types of formations would appear on each page and even provided sample photos from the get-go (cut-and-pasted from the Internet, as place-holders only), the final photos were all selected by the team at Lerner Publications. I believe that, for Nature Is a Sculptor, Lerner purchased the rights for all the photos from stock photography sources. Millbrook is an imprint of Lerner, and Lerner has top-notch photo-acquisitions and design departments that make my books look GREAT! There is nothing more thrilling than seeing the first proofs of their work! The photos…the fonts…the layout. I love what they do!

Me: There are so many beautiful locations showcased in this book.  What is your favorite (either in the book or left out of the book) that you discovered while writing this book?

Heather: I love the images of Antelope Canyon! I wish I could see those slot canyons in-person and watch the play of light on the red stone walls. But trips to remote desert locations are probably not in the cards for me at this phase of life. Happily, I did wrangle my way to Garden of the Gods after this book was in production, strategically wheedling my way into my husband’s business trip to Colorado. The Garden of the Gods formations were fabulous, and I felt lucky to feast my eyes on them. But as I page through my book, the rock formation of my heart is the tafoni at Bean Hollow State Beach. This beach is a day-trip away from my home, and I’ve been there with my kids and stumbled across these pock-marked stones in a way that felt like a magical discovery. When I submitted placeholder photos with my manuscript, I included a Bean Hollow photo that I’d taken myself. I was thrilled that the finished product included a professional photo from the same beach my family knows and loves.

Oh how wonderful!  Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Heather.

Dear readers, today is this book’s birthday, as it is released into the world as we speak.  This is a book full of visual and literal poetry.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.  You won’t want to miss it.

7 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Heather Kinser: NATURE IS A SCULPTOR

  1. Congratulations, Heather! I love hearing your behind the scenes story about how your poem was acquired. Come visit me in Las Vegas and I’ll take you to some nice slot canyons. 🙂

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