January 29, 2014

INTERVIEW with DENISE VEGA, author of GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come?

When I first noticed the picture book, GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come?, I was immediately grabbed by the blue foil word grandmother that floated like a cloud over the cover juxtaposed with the vibrant colors. I was at an SCBWI conference in Denver. I quickly looked at it and put it down because I purposefully chose not to bring money to spend on books.  I knew if I lingered, it would wind up on my bookshelf.

In less than a month, I saw a Facebook post by the author, Denise Vega mentioning that publication had stopped.  I quickly sought out a copy.  There are books that I love, and then there are books that bring tears to my eyes and give me goose bumps. GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come? did both of those things.  I had to know more.

Denise welcome to Book Wisdom.
     Would you please tell us a bit about the story behind GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come?

It was years ago when my grandmother was still alive and I watched her struggle with all the things that seem to come with getting older – losing eyesight, hearing, mobility, etc. She sometimes would complain or get upset about these losses and I wondered if there was any way to turn any of it into a positive (mostly to make myself feel better for when my turn came J). I began playing around with a free verse poem about it.

How did you approach or work at looking for a publisher for your manuscript?

This is an interesting story. I didn’t originally envision it as a picture book. I was telling my critique group about it and they asked if they could see it and after reading it and giving me feedback, convinced me it could be a picture book. Once I had a manuscript finished, I assumed that only a religious or spiritual publisher would take it so that’s where my agent concentrated her efforts at first. After a few rejections, she said, “Why don’t we try Little, Brown?” which is the publisher who was publishing my first middle school novel, Click Here. And they took it! Frankly, I was a little surprised, but very pleased because they are a wonderful publisher.  
      It is obviously a story written from the heart. As a writer, can you share with us how that impacted this story from your perspective?

It was very personal and from my heart, which made it both exciting and scary because once it was accepted, I needed to take a step back and let it go so that I could work with the editor on revisions. There weren’t a lot of changes – mostly tightening in places and adjusting the order and flow – but I had to begin to look at it as a story with its own momentum and direction and work from that perspective.
Illustration by Erin Eitter Kona
      In today’s picture book market, quiet stories are harder to sell. What would you say to someone who puts heart into writing quieter stories?

I get this question a lot in the picture book classes I teach. There are still publishers who look for and publish these stories so I tell people if they want to publish traditionally, they should submit. If that doesn’t work out and it’s a story that they feel strongly needs to reach a wider audience, I would encourage them to explore self-publishing. It’s more challenging and costly with a picture book, especially if they aren’t also the illustrator, but could be well worth it. If I ever went this route, I would pay a professional for all the services I receive from my publisher: an editor, a copy-editor, an illustrator, a book and cover designer, etc. It would be a significant investment, but worth it because my name would be on it and I’d want it to be the very best it could be!
     As a parent and a writer, do you think it is important for us as a culture to have quieter picture books for little ones? Why?

I absolutely do. That’s why it’s frustrating to have a lot of the larger publishers asking for shorter, fast-paced stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love those too and recently signed a contract for one that I wrote. But in a world that moves so quickly, especially with technology now being used regularly by our smallest humans, it’s imperative to slow down, take a breath, and take in a quiet, thought-provoking book. We all need down time and kids do too with all they are expected to do and how scheduled many of them are. I was thrilled to see the success of Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld because it’s a lovely rhyming book that’s quiet. That said, I believe the juxtaposition of a noisy construction site and going to sleep (and the excellent rhyme) are what grabbed the editor’s attention and made it a bestseller.
     Now that this treasure of a book is no longer published, do you have any regrets or thoughts about what you would do differently?

You are so kind to say that. I do regret not implementing some of the marketing ideas I had early on, including getting some coverage in periodicals read by seniors and connecting with people online. There was a lot I could have done that I didn’t do. It may or may not have mattered, but now I’ll never know! That said, I decided recently to donate copies to hospices that are recommended to me by friends and family. I can’t change the sales, but I can get the book to places where it may offer some comfort and inspiration. Any sales I happen to make before it’s completely out-of-print will go to help offset the cost of packing and shipping the books. Right now it’s still available at online retailers, but that could change at any time.
      Do you have any other thoughts about the process of writing a picture book and the ending of it being published that you would like to share?

Every book that we are privileged to share with a larger audience is a part of us so when the time comes to say good-bye to that, it can be difficult. But the story still lives even if it’s not readily available for purchase and I learned a lot from the process—most specifically the marketing aspect, but also a few things I would change in the manuscript itself—and I’m always engrossed in a new story or stories that I’m excited about. Each experience is an opportunity to learn and grow if we can approach it that way!
Illustration by Erin Eitter Kona
     Is there a chance of ever getting the text and illustrations released so that you may look for another publisher?

Yes, I will definitely get the rights back for the text and have a good relationship with the illustrator so will talk to her about what she’s interested in doing. It’s possible we could have it picked up somewhere else, though that’s fairly unusual. Thank you for the seed of hope this question plants!

Thank you Denise for sharing your thoughts and story behind this wonderful book.

GRANDMOTHER, Have the Angels Come? is a picture book written by award winning author, Denise Vega and illustrated by award winning illustrator Erin Eitter Kona.  The text of this story poetically tells the truth about aging through the bond of a grandparent and grandchild. There is a strong sense of timelessness that text and illustrations convey.  Denise shows us how you can take a difficult topic and present it with gentleness, dignity, and love giving a sense that regardless of the outcome the connection is always there.

I give this book 5 apples, cream of the crop for it's beautiful prose and vibrant illustration that breathes life into the subject.  The themes of this book are aging and the inseparable bond between child and grandparent.

I would recommend this book for counselors who work with children and bereavement as well as teachers and adults who are comfortable about approaching the subject of aging and change.

If you would like to know more about Denise Vega, where to buy this book and her other books, you can find the information at


Mirka Breen said...

The art is stunningly beautiful and *YES*- another vote form me for quiet and thoughtful books to read to children. Thank you for showcasing Denise Vega's book.

Wendi Silvano said...

Wonderful review for a beautiful book! Thanks Diane!

Wendi Silvano said...

Wonderful and informative review for a truly beautiful book. Thanks Diane!

Tina Cho said...

Wonderful interview! I agree that quiet books are especially needed to help wind kids down. This looks like a beautiful book. I like the title.

Linda Armstrong said...

What a lovely and informative interview. Thanks to both of you for sharing.