Interview: Carol Gordon Ekster, Author of Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room

Carol Gordon Ekster’s first published children’s book, “Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce”, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was inspired by one special former student who lived the schedule described in the book. Another of her stories was in Library Sparks magazine, February 2010. And her newest picture book,”Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room”, is on the debut list of Character Publishing, December 2011. After 35 years of teaching, Carol is retired. She now works on her writing and book promotion, and has supervised student teachers for a local college. She is excited that her writing gives her another way to communicate with children.

Do you work another job when you are not writing?
I taught fourth grade when I first started writing. Luckily it was at the end of my 35-year career because teaching was a profession that took most of my energy and passion and left little room for anything else. I used every spare moment of free time to launch my writing career.  Now that I’m retired, I am free to focus on the craft and promotion of my books.

What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t writing?
I make sure to fit in exercise every day.  I do aerobics and a yoga class.  Yoga brings me an incredible feeling of peace.

What is your favorite season? Why?
Well, as a retired teacher, I can’t get past loving summer…..it was vacation time!  I still love summer now, so I can bike ride and go to the beach, and be outside a lot.  I love to write outside on my deck in the warmer weather, under an umbrella, of course!

What/who do you read for pleasure?
I read a lot of literary fiction that is recommended in newspaper best seller lists and Goodreads.  I love to hear how other authors string words together.  And then, I read hundreds of picture books, especially those that win awards.  I need to keep up with the publishing industry and know what my peers are writing.

If you ruled the world, what are the first three laws you would pass?
-Everyone needs to be responsible. (That covers most aspects of life, if you ask me.)
-Every family must make family time to talk to one another without television or iphones, etc.
-Parents must read a book a night to their children for the first five years of life, at least!

How long have your been writing? Was it a dream, a goal or is it just a hobby?
I’ve been writing for ten years now.  But it was never a goal or a dream of mine.  Until I started writing books, I had always found it a difficult skill.  It is difficult…lots of skills are needed to do it well.  Though for years I’d been writing poems to my family, friends, and even my students.  Writing books for children seemed to come out of nowhere.  It all started ten years ago on the July 4th weekend as I sat on the beach.  A feeling came over me and I went to the car and got post-its and a pen and started my first story.  I stepped into the life of a children’s writer, joining SCBWI, becoming passionate about the craft, reading many books on writing and joining critique groups.  I stuck to my new path and never looked back.  It was wonderful to be able to share my journey of becoming an author as well as the writing process with my classes. Now that I’m retired, it is the writing that allows me to continue communicating with children.

How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you have a set routine or do you write when the mood strikes?
I don’t have a definite set routine.  Though most days, after I come home from the gym, I do either promotion or some aspect of writing, revising, critiquing, or sending out a manuscript.   I write out of passion and desire.  After teaching 35 years, living life by a bell and set periods, I now want to get away from such a structured day.

Is there some place special you like to be when you write?
I love to write on my sun porch or on my deck when the weather permits.  And I write with great focus when I’m on a plane or in a car, not driving, of course.  For me those tight spaces lend themselves to little distraction.

Do you listen to music or do you need a quiet place to write?
I love listening to yoga or chanting music, beautiful and peaceful music that helps inspire me.

What is the name of your book and is it part of a series or a stand alone book?
“Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room” is my new picture book, which just came out at the end of December 2011.  I’m hoping there will be more Ruth the Sleuth books.  I’ve already written a second story with Ruth as the main character, but it’s a first draft at this point.

Where did the idea come from?
The idea started on the beach on vacation in Jamaica in February 2006.  The beach is a perfect place for inspiration for me. Teaching 35 years gave me lots of experience with children who couldn’t find what they needed in their desks. I worked hard to help children become more organized.  I thought it would be great to write a story that would stress the point that being organized makes your life easier.  My mom’s name is Ruth, and when she misplaces something, she perseveres until she finds it.  I put the fun sound of Ruth the Sleuth together with my goal for a story theme, and started working on it.   It went through many revisions with the help of critique groups and an editor’s rejection comments.  Two years later, at a small critique group, I got some great suggestions to add more humor, making it the story it is today.

How long did it take to write?
From that first seed of an idea on beach in Jamaica, it took me two years to bring it to where it was ready to sell.  But I don’t just work on one manuscript.  This was actually the 30th book I wrote.  I work on many manuscripts and the promotion of my first book, so it’s hard to tell how much time I actually spent on that one story. And then it took another two years to submit it to the right publisher.   It wasn’t until October of 2010 that I saw a call for submissions from a new publisher, Character Publishing, on the SCBWI discussion boards, and “Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room” met the criteria of the type of stories she was looking for. The publisher was looking for stories that helped children build positive character traits. This story helps with organization, time management, self-motivation, and focus. I sent it out by e-mail and heard back seven months later that she was interested. It was just about five years after I started the story that I sold it.  I didn’t hold the book in my hands until December 2011.

What is it about?
Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room” begins when Ruth’s mom needs something that’s in her child’s messy room. She sets a timer, which motivates the “sleuth” in Ruth.  The clock, counting off ten minutes, is shown in the page corners, as Ruth looks for her mom’s potholder in time to take out the cookies that are baking in the oven. As Ruth looks for the potholder, she keeps finding other things she’s lost.  Readers and listeners can laugh together while having the opportunity to discuss this universal family issue.  It will help four through nine year olds, and maybe parents, too, see the benefit of being organized, as Ruth discovers when her disorganization prevents her from playing with a new friend.  In the back of the book is a bonus for parents….”A guide to growing organized kids” complete with a section for kids to play games that encourage cleaning up their room.  There’s even a recipe for the cookies Ruth’s mom was baking!  Here’s a link to the book trailer on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IQeZaDUpt4&feature=youtube_gdata.

Do you have any upcoming projects in the works or other books that have been published?
My first published book, “Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce“, Boulden Publishing, 2008, tells a story about a child in a shared custody agreement.  It is one of the only fiction books on that topic for elementary school children.   I just heard that it was nominated for a Readers’ Choice award by About.com.   Knowing it has helped single parents is an amazing feeling.  To touch others is the reason I write.  And I have many projects I’m working on….over forty other stories I’m hoping to get published someday.

Where can readers connect with you?
My website: www.carolgordonekster.com.  I’m also on Twitter and Facebook.

Where can we buy your books?
You can purchase them from Amazon, the publishers (which you can find links to on my website), and of course, requesting my books from your local independent bookstores, is always wonderful.

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