MS: What was your pivotal moment in life that made you take this direction?
DMF: While I wrote stories all through my life, back in school those stories were for my eyes only. I ended up going to college to follow my other passion, animals, and received my degree in Zoology with a minor in English. I had a professor tell me I should change my major to English (I didn’t listen) and my creative writing instructor encouraged me to try to get my short stories published (I didn’t listen). I’m stubborn it seems. I was a raptor rehabilitator, outdoor educator, and classroom teacher, and then an Associate Curator of Education at a zoo. And all the while I kept writing stories. It wasn’t until I married my husband (Bob Florence) and moved to...
MS: What made you want to be what you are now?
DMF: I have always loved to read and write. From the time I could hold a pencil I wrote stories. My mom kept some of my earliest creations from when I was 6 years old. Some of my strongest & fondest memories of books are from my childhood.
Mexico for his job that I decided to pursue a career in writing books for children and teens.
MS: How did you get started/where did you begin?
DMF: I read a lot of children’s books, craft books, took writing workshops, and went to writer’s conferences. I joined writing groups where I exchanged manuscripts with other writers and gave and received feedback. I learned about the publishing industry, then I wrote stories, revised, and finally started to submit manuscripts to editors and agents. Then as every writer does, collected a LOT of rejections before finding the agent I have today and selling my work and getting published. Just to give you an idea of my long journey, I decided to pursue a career in writing children’s books in 2001 and sold my first book in 2015.
MS: What are your favorite parts about what you do?
DMF: Taking an idea or premise and then developing characters who inhabit these stories. I lose myself in the writing and nothing brings me greater joy. I love the revision process best (over writing first drafts).
MS: What are your short-term and/or long-term goals at the moment?
DMF: Short-term goals: To promote my two newest books, a middle grade novel, Just Be Cool Jenna Sakai (Scholastic/Aug 2021) and Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, a picture book biography, co-authored with Jamie Michalak with art by Yuko Jones (Farrar Straus Giroux/Sept 2021). I’m very excited about my next middle grade novel Sweet and Sour, coming out from Scholastic in July 2022. It’s set in Mystic! I also have looming deadlines to revise a new middle grade novel and I have four chapter books in my Jasmine Toguchi series under contract.
Long-term goals: Continue to write books with Japanese American main characters – representation matters!
MS: Do you have advice for people interested in the same field?
DMF: Learn as much as you can by reading books in the genre of your choice. Books change over the years. The books you loved as a child may not be the kind of books that are selling today. Take workshops and courses – one of my favorites places to take writing workshops is The Highlights Foundation. I started off as a student and am now on the faculty there. There are many resources (books, websites, organizations) out there to learn about the industry and about writing.
I highly recommend any workshop at the Highlights Foundation, but for writers just starting out, this one is excellent: https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/programs/2817/crash-course-in-children-s-publishing-everything-you-need-to-know-online-course-sept-dec-2021/
MS: What is something you wish you knew in the beginning?
DMF: That every writer’s journey is different and it might take a while before getting published. There is so much out of a writer’s control when it comes to getting published.
MS: Who/what are your biggest inspirations and why?
DMF: The children’s literature community – they inspire me with their stories and illustrations and their dedication to the work they do and the readers they write for. This community is extremely supportive. Also, educators who put books into readers hands are always an inspiration.
MS: What is your favorite food/drink-related memory?
DMF: I spent many childhood summer vacations in Japan, visiting relatives. It’s still my favorite place to travel. My great-aunt lived in a fishing village on a small island. She made umeboshi – sour and salty pickled plums (which are really a type of apricot). One day, she had them drying out in the sun. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old and loved umeboshi. So I ran out there, grabbed handfuls, and greedily stuffed them in my mouth. Right now I have a jar of ume with my name on it in our fridge, made by my aunt in California.
MS: What is your favorite quote and why?
DMF: “Forward, always forward.” This quote is from Hayao Miyazaki from his documentary Never-Ending Man. It reminds me of my long journey and the need for perseverance and passion to find success.
MS: What is your favorite meal and/or drink to share?
DMF: New Year’s Day is a big deal in Japanese culture. The celebration means large family gatherings and food like inarizushi (sushi rice in deep fried tofu skins), sushi, wontons, potato salad, and mochi – a sticky sweet rice treat, is a big favorite of mine.
MS: What is your ideal day in the work life?
DMF: Having nothing else to do but write.
MS: What is your ideal non-work day?
DMF: Spending the day with my husband, hiking, eating good food, and then reading a book for hours, uninterrupted. Also, getting to spend time with my daughter, but she lives all the way in CA so I don’t get to see her as often as I like.
MS: What are some things that keep you going?
DMF: I run and practice mindfulness meditation. These things center me. But my husband is the reason I can do what I do today – on the long journey to publication, he never once gave up on me, never once hinted that maybe I should think about doing something else. He encouraged me and believed in me, even on those days that I didn’t believe in myself.
MS: How do you approach a work life balance?
DMF: Work doesn’t feel like work to me. I’m happiest when I’m writing. That being said, I do take evenings off when I can. Pre-pandemic, I scheduled regular vacations and get-aways. I love to travel with my husband and daughter. Someday I hope we can do that again.
MS: What is something you wish people learned or knew more about in your industry?
DMF: Writing isn’t easy. And it’s not lucrative (unless you’re a best-seller). It’s a passion but it’s also a serious career that requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Also, writing for kids isn’t a “stepping stone” to writing for adults. It’s a choice and an honor to write for young people.
MS: What does supporting local mean to you?
DMF: I make sure to shop at independent bookstores whenever possible, and in particular I support my local independent bookstore, Bank Square Books in Mystic. By shopping local, it means more personalized and knowledgeable interactions. The booksellers have read and can recommend books – and they also support local authors.
MS: Do you have advice or encouragement for ways to support local?
DMF: Take the time to get to know local shops/restaurants, and the staff. It’s so nice to be greeted warmly (and often by name), and it’s wonderful to support the community.
"I learned about the publishing industry, then I wrote stories, revised, and finally started to submit manuscripts to editors and agents. Then as every writer does, collected a LOT of rejections before finding the agent I have today and selling my work and getting published. Just to give you an idea of my long journey, I decided to pursue a career in writing children’s books in 2001 and sold my first book in 2015."
"Work doesn’t feel like work to me. I’m happiest when I’m writing."
author photos (photo credit: Roy Thomas), and covers for some of my books: Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen (art by Elizabet Vukovic) - FSG; Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai - Scholastic, Niki Nakayama: A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites (co-authored by Jamie Michalak, art by Yuko Jones) - FSG, and my upcoming middle grade novel, Sweet and Sour (cover art by Jacqueline Li) - Scholastic.
to learn more about debbi michiko florence, share her work and support, please visit her website at www.debbimichikoflorence.com.