Coffee and Conversation with Lois Szymanski

Happy Friday everyone! I am so excited because I have the pleasure of welcoming our co-RA, the lovely Lois Szymanski, to the Cyber Cafe!  Lois and our other regional RA, the equally lovely Edie Hemingway, will be headlining an ABC Event in Newark, Delaware this Saturday.

Lois is the author of 20 books for children, including fiction for young readers and middle graders, nonfiction and picture books. Her short stories have appeared in a long list of children’s magazines, including Highlights for Children, U*S*Kids Magazine,Turtle Magazine for Preschoolers and Hopscotch Magazine for Girls. Her 2012 releases are WILD COLT, a picture book written in light rhyme about a colt on Assateague Island, and CHINCOTEAGUE PONIES: UNTOLD TAILS, a nonfiction book for all ages.

First off, what’s your favorite coffeehouse beverage?

Chai latte with caramel! I am addicted to it!

And your favorite snack?

I wish I could say carrot sticks, but no such luck. I snack on all sorts of things and have never been picky or stuck in a pattern, but lately I am hooked on caramel rice cakes. (Do you see a pattern here?)

What was your favorite book as a child? 

Misty of Chincoteague (Is anyone surprised?)

Love, love, love this book! I can’t even count how many times I read it. So, when did you decide to be a writer?

I always daydreamed about it and wrote reams in journals, but never believed in myself enough to try. When my kids were little I made up stories for them. My husband kept telling me to “Please, send them someplace,” but it wasn’t until he came home with an electric typewriter and I felt obligated to prove I would find rejection. Low and behold, when I sent my first story to a children’s magazine they bought it! (Can you believe I started on a TYPEWRITER!)

What advice for beginners do you wish you would’ve followed?

Join SCBWI.  I didn’t do it until after I’d sold my first book.

What is your favorite writing how-to book, technique, or website that have helped you improve your craft or provide inspiration?

“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg is pure gold. When I found that book I read it over and over. I also like “Children’s Writer,” the newsletter put out by the Institute of Children’s Literature.

One of the first ones in my how-to collection.

Where’s your favorite place to work?

In a comfy chair in the living room with my laptop. I need racket and life buzzing around me. I think that comes from when I started writing with two little kids.

How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release?

I do a lot of research on Assateague Island. Whenever in the marshes, I’d hear the gulls calling and the frogs wumping and the mosquitoes buzzing around my ears. I’d hear the whistling wind and watch the boughs of loblolly pines sway while deer passed underneath and I started to wonder what a wild foal saw daily growing up in the wetlands.

What did he hear? What frightened him? Was his herd like family to him? I’d wanted to write a very sparse picture book in cryptic rhyme and one day I realized I’d found my topic. I knew I wanted a curriculum guide in the back and lots of wetlands critters scattered throughout the artwork.  The illustrator they chose truly brought my vision to life.

What is your favorite line(s) from this book?

White moon rising

Raccoon night

Dark and snarling

Foxes fight

Eyes wide open

Colt huddles close

Shivering, touching

Momma’s nose.

If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?  

Illustrating children’s books

You’ve been locked in a bank vault like the man from Twilight Zone, so you finally have time to read! Your glasses remain unharmed, (whew,) so what’s the first book you crack open?

“Clan of the Cave Bear” – I know, it’s not a kid’s book, but I’ve been dying to reread this series.

For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased author you want. Who do you pick?

Marguerite Henry

You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it?

An evening out alone with my husband, since we seldom find time for those dates anymore.

If you could go back in time and make changes to any of your published books, would you?  If so, which one and why?

Oh, heck, yeah! More than one!  When I do author talks at schools I tell the kids they have a muscle no one knows about and no one can see. It’s a writer’s muscle. The more you work it out the stronger it gets. I look at books I wrote years ago and I KNOW I could do a better job now. That muscle never stops growing.

If I could change one thing about my career path I would not have started with mass market paperbacks. It is much harder to break into trade books after you’ve carved out a name in mass market.

What is your favorite quote?

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all. – Emily Dickinson

If you could sum up your best advice for new writers in only four words, what would they be?

Always believe in yourself.

Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it? Both

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped? Talk

Sell by proposal or completed draft? Complete draft

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing? Rough drafts

Dread marketing/blogging or love it? Love it, but wish I had more time to do it

Read Kindle or traditional books? Both

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work? Evening

Music to listen to while writing? Music of the 70s and 80s

Writing tool? Laptop

Pair of shoes?Comfy beats stylish any day

Guiltiest pleasure? Naps in the middle of the day

Line from a movie?

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


We are so glad you stopped by. Thanks so much for all that you do for our region, Lois. Good luck with your two current releases!

Happy writing everyone and have a great weekend!


About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
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7 Responses to Coffee and Conversation with Lois Szymanski

  1. Great interview, gals. And loved learning more about your background, Lois!

  2. Thanks for the interview. It was fun, and we don’t always say that about interviews, do we?
    :>) Lois

  3. What a treat to read this interview with Lois! I loved Misty, too, as a child.

  4. Oh, Lois! Your answers gave me goosebumps. The “writer’s muscle” — I’ll remember that one, and the Emily Dickinson quote. Thank you both for a fun and informative interview!

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