Interview with Nancy Wagner aka N. L. Sharp
Nancy’s outgoing, never-throw-out-an-idea personality charmed me when we worked together at the 2011 Beatrice Business Expo. She’s willing to take the lead, but does not insist on it.
When you visit her web page at www.nlsharp.com the first thing you notice is her mantra “A teacher who writes, A writer who teaches.”
Nancy writes children’s books. She visits schools to talk to children about writing, and she holds workshops for teachers about writing with children.
Nancy lives in Fremont, Nebraska. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the area of Language Arts (with an emphasis in Writing) and an endorsement in Educational Library Media from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. http://nlsharp.com/Author_Profile.html
Q. Nancy, I have your book EFFIE’S IMAGE that imparts an interesting way of dealing with self-image. It is a charming story of a little girl who helps an 82-year-old woman regain her sense of self worth. Please tell us where you got the idea for EFFIE’S IMAGE.
A. I got that idea when I was teaching first grade in Fremont, Nebraska. I had a volunteer from the foster grandparent organization helping in my classroom every day. She was not a teacher and had never been a teacher. However, when her son and his family moved to another state and her husband passed away, she knew that she needed to find a reason to continue to get up each morning. I was so grateful that she found that reason in my classroom with my students. My students loved Hazel and she loved my students, and I knew that was a story I needed to tell.
Q. I had the pleasure of listening to you talk about your flip over book THE RING BEAR/THE FLOWER GIRL. You have found a special market for this precious book. Can you explain how your market for this book got started and how it developed and changed?
A. Several years ago, I overheard a conversation between two mothers who were talking about weddings. One of the mothers said that when her son was asked to be the ring bearer in a wedding, he thought he was going to get to be a bear and dress up in a bear suit. They laughed (and I laughed) but I thought, "That would be a great idea for a story." I took out my notebook and made a note to myself: Boy thinks he's a bear in a wedding. Later, at home, I rediscovered that note and wrote a book called The Ring Bear.
Of course, I just thought it was a funny story, but other folks thought it was the perfect gift for the ring bearer in a wedding. Many people who bought the book also wanted a flower girl book. Therefore, when we had almost sold through the printing of the original Ring Bear book, we discussed whether to reprint it or let it go out of print. We decided that it did not make sense to reprint the book unless we also created a Flower Girl Book. Therefore, I wrote The Flower Girl, with the idea that it would be the ideal gift for a flower girl in a wedding, just as we believe The Ring Bear is the ideal gift for a ring bearer.
Then, a bookstore owner suggested that these two might be fun "back-to-back" stories. In other words, since they are about two kids in the same wedding and their stories are parallel stories, it might be fun to place both stories in one book, and the reader would read one story, and then flip the book over to read the other story. That is exactly what we did, creating two gifts in one book!
Q. Your presentation in Beatrice explored types of publishing and the affect on the author’s choice. You also explained some of the pitfalls. Would you be willing to share a brief outline of your experience with publishing?
A. Absolutely, I’m blessed to have worked with a variety of different types of publishers, and all of my books have won recognition of some type, regardless of the way they were published. A traditional royalty publisher (Boyds Mills Press) published my first book. Today I’m Going Fishing with My Dad. It was accepted in 2001, was released in the fall of 2003, and named a Nebraska Golden Sower nominee in 2005-2006. That book was very popular (I guess lots of folks relate to fishing!) and Boyds Mills Press kept it in print (in some form) until 2011. This was a run of 18 years, which is great for any type of book! Actually, they have not "officially" taken it out of print yet, but it is listed as "out of stock indefinitely" for anyone who tries to order it. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, it is now out of print.
My second book, The Ring Bear, I published with a partnership publisher out of Crete, Nebraska. I define a partnership publisher as any publisher that requires some sort of financial commitment from the author, before that publisher will publish the book. In order for The Ring Bear to be published, there were some things I paid for (illustration, printing) and some things the publisher paid for (distribution, award contests, publicity). This book had just been selected as the winner in the Children's Category from the Nebraska Center for the Book Awards Contest when that publisher declared bankruptcy.
With a basement full of books and a third book (Effie's Image) almost completed, my husband and I decided we would create our own publishing company. We created Prairieland Press, to distribute The Ring Bear and to self-publish Effie's Image (which was named a Teacher's Choice Award winner by Learning Magazine in 2006, and a Nebraska Golden Sower nominee in 2007-2008). And after we sold through the original printing of The Ring Bear, we republished that story along with my flower girl story in the book: The Flower Girl, The Ring Bear: A Flip-Over Book.
Recently, I have just been offered (and have accepted) a new opportunity in the publishing world. A Christian royalty publisher has contacted me and offered to republish my two self-published books (Effie's Image and The Flower Girl, The Ring Bear: A Flip-Over Book) in both softcover and ebook format. So these books will be re-released under their imprint, probably in 2013.
Q. I’m going to take a different direction now and ask about your school programs. What kind of reaction do you generally get from the children when you talk to them about writing?
A. Because I am an elementary teacher with more than twenty years' experience in the classroom, and because I love to write and talk about writing, I am well versed in what types of presentations work best with the various age groups. With the younger students, I usually read my books and talk to them about ideas for stories, and they usually have a great time listening to my stories and then sharing their own ideas. With the older students, I usually do not read my books (since they are geared for primary students). Instead, with these students, I share what I consider the four truths of writing (writers write, writers read, writers share their writing with other writers, and writers keep a notebook of some kind) AND then I share with them examples of my various writers' notebooks--and how those notebooks contain the seedlings for my assorted writing projects. Students are always fascinated to see my notebooks and get at peek into my own personal writing process.
Q. Working with children is only a part of your writing program with elementary age students. You also work with teachers. With teachers complaining of time crunch to get the mass of material, they teach into a relatively short time; how receptive are teachers to your workshops?
A. Because Nebraska has a state writing test that all 4th grade, 8th grade, and 11th grade students must take, and because I am trained in this assessment model, my staff development workshops are designed to help teachers feel more comfortable with the process of teaching writing and preparing their students for this writing assessment. In fact, many times I am invited to present in a district because a classroom teacher has seen me present somewhere else (the state reading conference, the state kindergarten conference, a class for Wayne State College, etc) and that teacher, in turn, convinces his or her administrator to invite me to their building. So I would say that teachers are not only open to my presentations, they are my biggest advocates!
As it states on my website, I do believe that we learn to write by teaching, and that writing is a craft that anyone, of any age, can learn, as long as we adhere to the four truths of writing: writers write, writers read, writers share their writing with other writers, and writers keep a notebook of some kind.
It’s not often I have the chance to spend a day with one of the writers I will interview. My day with Nancy at the Beatrice Business Expo gave me a personal edge with developing this interview. Nancy is one of the prolific Nebraska Authors who is dedicated to education and writing. I’m not sure whether to describe Nancy as an educator that writes or a writer who educates. Thankfully, Nancy answers that question in her motto “A teacher who writes, A writer who teaches.”
Visit Nancy’s web site at www.nlsharp.com