Thinking in Threes: Pat Zietlow Miller

Today we’re thrilled to have an interview with award-winning picture book author Pat Zietlow Miller, who’s celebrating the release of her latest, THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE. To get a sense of how hardworking and inspiring Pat really is, I highly recommend listening to her Golden Kite acceptance speech. To get a sense of how brilliant she is, I highly recommend buying her books–all of them. 🙂 But for today, we’ve got her playing Thinking in Threes and have convinced her to give us three answers to each of these three questions:
TTOF: What were your most significant “ah-has!” when revising/editing this book?

  1. How many rewritings and reworkings this book needed to come together. I wrote a blog just about all the step this book went through from the initial idea to the final, saleable manuscript. You can read it here. If you want a start-to-finish look at picture book creation, this post is it.
  2. How cool Wilma Rudolph was. She overcame illness and poverty to win three Olympic gold medals in 1960. She handled the subsequent fame with grace and contributed to the eventual desegregation of her hometown, Clarksville, Tennessee, by insisting that her welcome home victory parade be integrated.
  3. How recent segregation really was. Wilma won her medals in 1960 when many U.S. towns were segregated. And segregation didn’t officially end until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. That seems like forever ago to kids today, but many people are alive who lived through segregation.
TTOF: I love the dedication for this book. Could you tell us where it came from?
I dedicated the book to my husband, Mark. The book’s dedication says, “To Mark: Who believed it was possible from the very start.” I dedicated the book to him for three reasons:
  1. His support. When I decided I wanted to write for kids, I went to the library and came home with more than 50 picture books. I was sitting on our living room floor, surrounded by the books, reading, when Mark said, “I’m more proud of you than ever before.” I said, “Why? I’m just reading.” And Mark said, “You know what you want and you’re working toward it.” He’s so sweet.
  2. It was a perfect fit. Each of my daughters inspired my first two books, so it only made sense to dedicate those books to them. And my third book was a family-inspired Thanksgiving book that was dedicated to my parents. But THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE was perfect for Mark. It’s about two girls who want to be just like their hero, Olympic gold-medal sprinter Wilma Rudolph. And Mark, who is a sportswriter, ran track in high school, so it was a perfect fit.
  3. Just because. Not dedicating a book to my husband would be weird.
TTOF: Can we see a “right now” pic of your work space?
Umm … sure. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you look at the photo closely, you’ll notice:
  1. The location. It’s the kitchen table in my house. I don’t write in a charming stone cottage on a Scottish moor with peaceful sheep gazing through the window while I work. I don’t write in a funky coffee shop in downtown Manhattan surrounded by creative hipster artist types. It’s just my house, surrounded by the detritus of my everyday life.
  2. The debris. Oh, look. There’s a lone Chapstick. My credit card. A bunch of marketing postcards waiting to be mailed. I believe there’s a dirty dish by some books. And, is that a basket of unfolded laundry in the background? Why, yes. Yes it is. I could spend lots of time cleaning this up, but then I wouldn’t be writing.
  3. My laptop. Everything is on there. My drafts. My final manuscripts. My ideas. Sometimes, I pack the laptop up and go to the library where I can write without feeling the accusing eyes of the laundry basket on me, but usually I stay right where I am and type away. It’s not beautiful, but somehow it works.
Thank you so much, Pat, and congratulations on another really wonderful book!

Interview by Elaine Vickers