AUTHOR INTERVIEW + WIN A BOOK: Mindy Baker
This week on my blog I welcome U.S. author Mindy Baker. Mindy has just released a beautiful Christian Christmas picture book entitled Mouse’s Christmas Gift. The book was published by U.S. publisher Zonderkidz this month, and is fabulously illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. (You can see some of Dow’s gorgeous artwork in the images below. Plus, something that doesn’t really show up is the gorgeous sparkles which have been added to the front cover of the book - just beautiful!)
Today Mindy joins me to chat about her book, her writing processes, inspirations, publishing journey, and more. She also provides a wonderful strawberry jam recipe, which ties in to the book and provides parents and other adult readers with a fun activity to do with children over the holidays.
Plus, better yet, there’s also an opportunity to win a copy of Mouse’s Christmas Gift! See details about the giveaway at the bottom of the post.
For now, let’s get into the interview!
Mindy, can you tell us a bit about your book? How do you hope that readers will connect with your story?
Mouse’s Christmas Gift is the story of a church mouse who must find a way to bring Christmas spirit to his little town when Parson gets sick and cancels the usual Christmas Eve Service. Mouse’s act of lighting a candle in the window of the church sets off a chain reaction in the village. In the end, Parson is surprised when all of the villagers gather and celebrate Christmas together, each doing their part to make the gathering a success.
I hope that readers will see how someone small can make a big difference in spreading light into a dark world. I also hope that they will learn to treasure the birth of Jesus Christ, the original reason that we celebrate Christmas.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
When my children were young, and I was a stay-at-home mom, I had let my teaching license lapse. During this time, I was looking for a way to renew my license, yet still do something creative.
I found the Institute of Children’s Literature online, and enrolled in their basic writing course. Following that I took their advanced course on writing picture books. There were many ups and downs along the way, but a critical step for me was landing an agent.
Without an agent, Zonderkidz would not have considered my manuscript because they are closed to unagented submissions. The key to it all was perseverance. It has been ten years since I took the original writing class, so I can relate to anyone out there who feels discouraged with the difficulty of the process. My advice: Don’t give up!
What is your creative process?
For me the story idea is like a seed. It could be an idea for a character, or a problem that I think is relevant to kids and families, something funny that happens in my family, anything really. That seed usually stays planted in my mind for weeks before it takes root, sprouts, and ultimately grows into fruition.
I water the “idea seed” in different ways. One thing I do is search the Internet and library to find books that are written about a topic that I am considering. I want to know how it has been done before, and to what degree or scope. The last thing I want to write is something that is already sitting on the shelves.
I am also a list maker. I brainstorm everything I can around that idea seed. Mouse’s Christmas Gift started with a publisher’s wish list asking for stories that explained Christian holiday traditions. I don’t remember my exact list but I am sure that --Mouse, the church, the Christmas Eve service, the candle, the nativity set, no money for gifts--were all items on my list, along with others ideas that were eventually crossed out.
Next I create a character, then give him/her a problem. Originally this manuscript started with a heavier emphasis on the idea of simplicity and not needing a lot of money to celebrate Christmas. I had a long, drawn out description of a village hit by hard times, and Alexander (the boy who first notices Mouse’s light coming from the church) had a much bigger role in the story.
Sometimes the best thing that you can do for a story is cut a huge chunk of text. If I don’t feel brave enough to make that cut in the original document, I copy all of it to a fresh new document and then make the cut. That way I don’t “lose” my precious writing if I don’t like the new version. J But usually as I trim and edit, the new version becomes so much stronger, and I laugh a little at the old version I was hanging onto so dearly.
With this story, once I put Mouse center stage, it came together pretty quickly.
What do you love most about picture books?
Some of my favorite memories with my children are of when we used to read books together. I loved going to the library and checking out a huge stack of books. Some books were serious, some playful, but the best part about them all was the togetherness we experienced as we read together. I also loved to try and “do” activities with my kids that somehow connected with the books we were reading. For example, Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.
Are there any ideas for parents that could connect with Mouse's Christmas Gift?
One idea I had was for parents to make strawberry jam with their kids like the jam Widow Bartholomew brings to the Christmas Eve celebration. Until recently, I had never attempted to make jam, and I wanted to try it out to see how difficult it was.
I have to admit, I’m not really known for my talents in the kitchen, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I have a friend who usually makes her own jam that way, and I gave her a call to get her “secret recipe.” To my shock she said she just follows the recipe on the back of the “SURE JELL” box (that’s fruit pectin, for Aussies), and I really only needed strawberries, sugar, and the SURE JELL. I decided to give it a try.
How did that go?
Maybe you would like to see some photos? First, my beautiful strawberries.
I didn’t need as many as I thought I would. I chopped them up, and then mashed them.
I added the sugar and stirred. Finally, you boil the pectin and mix it with the strawberries and sugar.
That’s pretty much it. You can freeze it or use it. If you don’t freeze it, it lasts 3 weeks. Here is my final product!
If you don’t mind a pretty big mess in your kitchen, this might be an adventure you would enjoy tackling with your kids. However, no pressure! There is nothing wrong with opening a can of jelly and putting it on a piece of bread and having a “party” with your child.
**In the last photo, I put a sneak peek of one of the pages in the book. It is a picture of Widow Bartholomew mixing her bread, baking up her contribution to the Christmas Eve gathering.
The jam and the book look amazing, Mindy! By the way, where can readers find your book to purchase?
For readers in Australia, Amazon is probably the best way.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Kellie. I really appreciate it!
Mindy’s publisher Zonderkidz has kindly sent me a copy of her book to giveaway to one of my Australian readers! To enter, all you have to do is comment on this blog post by end of day (EST) Monday 15th October. Plus, you’ll receive an extra entry if you share the post on Facebook or Twitter!
Please note: the competition is open to those with an Australian delivery address only.
About the author:
Mindy Baker was born in Sioux City, Iowa and graduated from Taylor University. She has served alongside her husband in full-time Christian ministry for over twenty years. Mindy currently resides in Indiana with her husband and three children where she is a high school Spanish teacher. She is passionate about her faith, family, people, travel, books, and living life to the fullest.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mindybakerbooks/