Nancy White Carlstrom
I am enjoying the best time of my life, as Grammy or Grandma to Mattias, Rafael and Linnea, whether in Seattle or on San Juan Island, in Brazil or Alaska.
Most of the writing I do these days is contemplative, expressing my faith in poetry and prose. But I also have been storing up memories of delight from the past six years of being a grandmother. It is such a joy to share many of the books their fathers inspired – Jesse Bear and Joshie Otter – and others with my grandchildren.
For my recent birthday, we had a wonderful family time with Mattias (6) and Linnea (3) from Alaska and Rafael (5) from Brazil gathered around the table.
The next day we all went on a seven-hour Puget Sound sail on Josh’s boat. This is one of our favorite family things to do.
When I was in elementary school, I wrote lots of poetry, especially the rhyming kind.
In high school I worked in the children’s department of our local library in Washington, Pennsylvania.
I dreamed about becoming a writer.
During college I visited West Africa on a mission trip and majored in Elementary Education.
I also tutored a little boy named Sammy and decided I wanted to teach in the inner city.
Later I spent time working with children in the West Indies and the Yucatan of Mexico. All of these experiences contributed to stories, specifically in the books, Baby-O and Light: Stories of a Small Kindness.
I taught first and second grade in inner city Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in Gloucester, Massachusetts. for four years after which I decided to try writing children’s books. Since my husband and I were living in Boston at the time, it was a place rich in all things Children’s Book related. I took a summer session at Simmons College that was the beginning of their master’s in children’s literature.
I didn’t write poetry then, and I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to write about. So, I read lots and lots of good children’s books.
We moved to Seattle in 1976 and I opened my own store, The Secret Garden Children’s Bookshop in 1977. I did a lot of children’s book programs and book fairs and really thought of myself as a children’s book specialist. Before moving to Seattle my husband and I spent four months in the Yucatan of Mexico and Central America. While in Merida I helped in a school for Down’s Syndrome Children. The bookshop was run by volunteers so we could send money to that school as well as one for Disabled Children in Haiti. My husband and I still contribute to St.Vincent’s today.
My Writing Career
In the summer of 1981, I was part of a two-week writers’ workshop with the author Jane Yolen at a writers’ conference in Port Townsend, Washington. During that time, I wrote Wild Wild Sunflower Child, Anna in its entirety. I was greatly encouraged by Jane’s response and generous support as well as that of the other participants. Jane did caution, “This is poetry and it may take a while to get accepted.” She was right. I sent it out to thirteen different publishers in four years. And even though it was the first book I wrote, Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? was the first to be published.
My husband took the author photo in case I ever had a book published. This is the only time I’ve used it in forty-one years.
But first I received over 100 rejection letters!
One really has to persist to become a published writer.
Our sons, Jesse, born in 1982 and Joshua, born in 1985 brought us much joy and many new book ideas for me. By the time we moved to Alaska I had seven books under contract, with the first one published spring of 1986.
I remember the night Josh was crying in his little kitchen swing and I was trying to figure out what to fix for dinner when my husband (just home from work) answered the phone and handed it to me.
The woman on the other end – a complete stranger- said “I’m calling from New York City. I bought your book today, Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? and I think it is very good. I hope you write many more books.”
And then after a mumbled thank you from my side, we hung up and ever since I was sorry, I didn’t get her name though it was a little intimidating at the time. I would like to tell her I have written many more books.
Move to Alaska
When my husband showed me a classified ad in the Seattle Times advertising for a Marketing Director of the Airport for two years in Fairbanks, Alaska, I replied, I know it’s north but how far north. Of course, it didn’t take long to find out how far north and two years would turn into eighteen.
Our family arrived in Fairbanks on January 15, 1987, and it was very dark and very cold.
We moved to a log house where we saw moose, foxes, and snowshoe hare in our own neighborhood.
When Josh was just a baby, I took him with me when I drove to Arctic Circle Hot Springs Hotel where I did a program for a Young Authors’ Conference. We drove over 100 miles without seeing another person or car. I remember singing to him, “Joshie, we are really in the Arctic now!”
Those first few years were the best! So many new experiences, so many story ideas. In the BAT POET by Randall Jarrell, the chipmunk tells the bat to say his poem to the other bats. They’ll like it. “When it has all the things you do, you can’t help liking it.”
My stories were growing out of all the things we were doing.
Soon I had organized a writing group and after attending the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) national conference the summer of 1988, we officially became Alaska’s regional SCBWI group.
I still tell aspiring authors today to check out this website first.
Our boys never complained about the cold and played outside even at forty below. Jesse became a competitive cross-country skier, winning a National Gold Medal his senior year of high school. He went on to ski in college and was a two time all American at University of Nevada Reno. Josh played hockey and skied, but his real love was flying. He soloed his senior year of high school and went on to Utah State University where he majored in Aviation Technology and became a professional pilot, which he is today.
My husband, David and I moved back to the lower forty-eight at the end of 2004. We spend time on San Juan Island as well as the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle.
The water, mountains and wildlife of this area have worked their way back into my writing.
Give thanks for all good gifts. This singing week brings.
An eaglet learns to fly,
A red fox crosses the field
Where rabbits stand like statues,
And in the distance a great blue heron
Reaches beak-first across
the widening of the sky.
So give thanks.
~ From This is The Day