Marcia Berneger interview by David Alan Binder

Post date: Jan 22, 2016 2:45:57 PM

Author Marcia Berneger interview by David Alan Binder

By way of introduction here is her bio from her website: Marcia is a retired teacher who taught elementary school children for over three decades. She has worked mainly with first and second graders. Many of the characters in her stories are modeled after students she’s taught. She has written about fidgety students, childhood worries, and even mysteries. Fractured fairy tales and nursery rhymes are favorite themes and some of her longer stories even combine elements for rollicking mystery-adventures into worlds populated by the likes of Little jack Horner and his friend, Miss Muffet. Watch out for that hairy spider!

Marcia lives with her husband and two sons, two dogs, a cat and a bearded dragon.

Her web site:

Her GoodReads page:

Her Amazon page:

1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?

It’s pronounced: Marsha Ber—neg—er

2. Where are you currently living?

I live in San Diego, CA

3. Where would you like to live?

I love living in San Diego. If safety were not an issue, however, I think I’d also love living in Jerusalem—at least for part of the year.

4. Why did you start writing?

If you count the fact that in third grade summer school, I wrote every assignment as a poem, than I’ve been “writing” since I was eight years old. My first complete story written just for fun was completed when I was 10 or 12. It’s actually not a bad story, either.

I’ve always enjoyed writing in school, but unfortunately, didn’t revisit that love until my early 30’s when I awakened from a dream at 3 AM and couldn’t get the image out of my head. I wound up writing for the next two hours. I finished that story, all fifteen thousand words of it, within about 3 weeks. A few months later I wrote another, equally long story. Then life intervened and twenty years zipped by before I started writing again. I’ve been writing with an eye toward publication since 2002.

5. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

Don’t give up! Writing is fun but it is also work. It can take years to practice and perfect your craft to the point where you are ready to submit.

Equally important… have an unbiased set of eyes read your work. I have both an online and a face-to-face critique group (and a few trusted friends with whom I swap manuscripts). Their suggestions are invaluable! Having said that, keep in mind that your preferences can (and should) override anything they say. I’ve even said no to editors (gulp!) who wanted to rip the heart out of my story to “make it better.”

6. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

One is that I love the revision process. Even if it means throwing out the story and starting over. (Which I just did with a 25,000-word novel… but the new one will be so much better!)

Another quirk is probably that I’ve come up with some of my best stories at writing conferences—I mean, while I’m actually sitting there listening to speakers sharing their ideas. I’ll get an idea of my own, and off I go. I wrote three picture book texts during the course of a writing class, and only one was an actual assignment.

7. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

I don’t feel like self-publishing is the way to go for me right now. I write mainly picture books and I’m definitely not an illustrator (although I did spend over a year trying to improve my stick-figure drawing).

a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

My publisher is Sleeping Bear Press. They are out in Ann Arbor, MI.

8. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I am not a fan of eBooks for picture books. I believe there is something special between an adult cuddling with a child, sharing the excitement of what’s going to be on the next page. For the older child, especially the one on the go, eBooks are probably a good thing. But even for them, there’s just something magic about turning the pages in a real book!

As far as alternative ways to publish, I think for some people, that is a good thing. If finding a traditional publisher hasn’t worked, there are many other ways to get a book out now. For me, I will stick to conventional publishing.

9. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?

I’ve known people who have gotten an agent or editor by submitting work at (or after) a conference. I personally haven’t succeeded that way, but I have made connections and there are a few editors out there who recognize me and say hi. Hasn’t led to any contracts yet, but you never know. I do think connections are helpful and that smaller conferences are better than the larger ones for that.

I also submit my work for critiques at those conferences. Again, I haven’t received a contract that way, but one editor’s comments led to the changes in Buster that I feel made the difference between the original manuscript and the offer that came (not from her) after I incorporated her suggestion.

10. How did you acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?

I have an amazing agent, Rebecca Angus from Golden Wheat Literary. I actually got her from a combination of Twitter sites. There is a site called #mswl (“manuscript Wish List—it’s also on Facebook) where agents and editors post what they’re currently looking for. Rebecca had a post saying she’d like a sloth story. Okay... so for the fun of it, I wrote a sloth story. Before submitting it to her, another site (PBParty) popped up with a contest. “Submit your first 50 words and if selected, it will be seen by several editors and agents.” I submitted Baby Sloth, and it was selected. There were actually several agents who liked it, including Rebecca, who (unknown to me) happened to be one of the agents participating. She loved my story and took me right on as a client.

11. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

Many of my ideas are spontaneous—they just pop into my head. Sometimes one idea will give rise to another. Buster came about when I was tutoring a very bright boy who was afraid to go to first grade. He loved garbage trucks, so I looked for a book about a young garbage truck, figuring I’d help him read it and give him the confidence he lacked. But I could only find books about grown up garbage trucks. So I wrote Buster for this child to help him work through his fears.

12. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers?

Find your nearest SCBWI group (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). They are in most major cities and many smaller ones. This group offers incredible support and resources (check them out online).

Attend local conferences, but avoid the really large ones to start with. Those can be overwhelming when you are just starting out.

Find a critique group!! This is probably the most important thing you can do. Find a group of people who write in the same genre as you (stick with a picture book group if that’s what you write, for example.)

Once you feel you are finished a manuscript, start another one. Build your writing portfolio with more than one project.

Check out on-line resources like Children’s Book Insider (CBI), 12 x 12, SCBWI. Learn as much as you can about writing for children.

13. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

My books take on lives of their own. Writing each one is such a joy. I talk to the characters, work through their problems, rejoice as I come to the end and the problems are resolved. It’s really fun!

14. How many books have you written?

I’ve written probably over twenty manuscripts. I’ve had several stories published in anthologies and magazines. So far I’ve had just one book published, my picture book, Buster the Little Garbage Truck. (But I have two books currently out on submission and am very optimistic that they will both find publishers soon!)

15. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer?

Read, be familiar with what’s currently selling, then go ahead and write your own story. When your writing partner/critique group offers suggestions, listen, but use your own judgment as to what to change and what to keep. TRUST YOURSELF! And WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!

16. We’ve heard that it is good to provide twists in a good story. How do you do this?

I write picture books, so sometimes a twist isn’t as easy. I do place obstacles in the path of my main characters and make sure they are the ones solving their own problems. And just when they are about to succeed-POW! Hit them with one last obstacle.

17. What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

Buster is about a young garbage truck who has a very child-like problem. The book has a garbage truck, a kitty cat and shows ways to work to overcome fears. It is a winning combination for preschool through Kindergarten aged children.

18. What are some ways in which you promote your work?

I have a website (, a Facebook page (marciaberneger) and a Twitter page (#marciaberneger). I try to post things, especially on Facebook, that concern Buster whenever I can. For example, Buster and Kitty wished everyone a happy New Year.

I also go to bookstores and libraries and offer to read Buster for their story times, and I’m hoping to go to schools this spring for author talks.

19. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing) and why?

It’s funny—you’re never truly done with your writing. If I could, I’d cut about 100 words from Buster’s text. I didn’t read it enough to children before I submitted it. I read the book, I can see where they wiggle and lose focus. Those words aren’t needed and shouldn’t be there. Now, when I think a manuscript is done, I read it to a group of children, pencil in hand, and mark any pages that need to be less wordy.

20. What would you like carved onto your tombstone? Or what saying or mantra do you live by?

Right now, I’d use Buster’s mantra: Be brave—Honk your horn!


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