Heather E. Schwartz has written more than 200 children’s books for publishers and brands including Scholastic, Disney, Sesame Street, Time for Kids, and the Smithsonian. The Shaker High grad also writes and performs comedy. Her most recent books include “Locked up for Freedom,” a nonfiction title about teen Civil Rights activists and “How to be Ridiculous: 28 Tips for a Brand-New You,” a humorous title for adults. The former entertainment reporter grew up in Latham and performs at The Mopco Improv Theater, in Schenectady. She and her husband de ella live in Burnt Hills with two kids and two cats. Her websites of hers are Connections-for-Kids.com and QuietGirlComedy.com.
Q: In the age of Facebook, cell phones and 15-second video clips, why do you think books are still important to our society?
A: I’m not a scientist, and I’m not about to pretend to be one here. But I do think words on a page get into your brain differently than soundbites and images, memes and that sort of thing. When you read a book, you take in the words and imagine for yourself what it all means and looks like. Well, unless there are pictures in the book. What I’m trying to say is I think books are good for your brain. They’re like a healthy snack or nutritious meal, where social media posts and quicker bursts of information are more like candy and chips. Yummy! But not a great source of sustainability.
Q: What is the process you follow when starting a new book?
A: First, I bask in the glory of a new assignment, since many of my books are assigned by publishers. Next, I get started right away on research, since many of my books are nonfiction and I’ve also learned the lessons of procrastination. (It’s not worth the stress.) Whether a book is on assignment or an original project, I generally like to chip away at it over time to avoid panic about getting it done. I also like to work on at least a couple of books within the same timeframe. That way, when I hit a mental wall on one book, I can switch over to another and still feel productive.
Q: Who or what inspires you as an author and why?
A: I’m inspired by personal experiences, history, hidden cultures, school subjects, the way the wind blows — pretty much everything in life is a book idea to me. Assigned work-for-hire books can be a jumping point for inspiration for original projects. I sometimes come across information in my research that leads to a new book idea. I also think a lot about different ways to write about the same topic. I write picture books, chapter books, and middle grades, so those are all for different ages and readers need information presented in different ways. I can think of several authors who’ve inspired me, too. I grew up on Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, and I think what I loved about them was their honesty. I’ve reread the Ramona books as an adult, and they’re surprisingly dark. Margaret Wise Brown is an author I admire for her careful attention to language. She wrote “The Color Kittens” and many other lyrical and literary picture books and really deserves to be more of a household name.
Q: Who is your favorite comedian and why?
A: Amy Schumer springs to mind right away because I love her new show “Life and Beth.” It’s autobiographical and real and funny, but also some aspects are not funny at all. I think she’s much more vulnerable in this than some of her other work, and I admire her for it. My true favorite, however, is Mindy Kaling — for her books, her shows, and her unapologetic ambition. “Never Have I Ever” was the best thing I ever saw until I just started watching “The Mindy Project.” (If you know her, please don’t tell her I’m so late getting to that. And please talk up my “Ridiculous” book.)
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring author looking to get published?
A: The only way I can think to answer this is to address myself, as a younger unpublished writer. So here’s what I would tell me: Don’t freak out! First of all, you can write whatever you want to write. Nobody can stop you. So do that. Write your book(s). As for the getting published part, sure, that’s more difficult. But don’t be put off by the gatekeepers. There are loads of ways to get published. Yes, you could aim for a literary agent and a “Big Five” publisher. You could also approach smaller publishing houses yourself. Other options include writing books on assignment as a work-for-hire author and self-publishing. And don’t forget publishing articles and blog posts and anything else people might read. My younger self would have no idea what a “blog post” is, but you get the idea. Publishing is just a matter of getting words you wrote out to readers. So if you want to be published, look for every avenue. They all count!
If you would like to see someone featured in Five Questions contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or [email protected]