Are you enthralled by the space program like I am? Author Nancy Derey Riley just published a picture book staring the Mars rover, Curiosity, and she illustrated it too! What talent! The book is truly fabulous, and contains fun facts about Mars, the NASA Mars rover program, and Morse code.
Nancy and I met on Facebook and burned the midnight oil on Messenger discussing writing and publishing books. It’s my privilege to interview Nancy and introduce her debut children’s picture book.
Barb: Tell us a little bit about yourself and include a tidbit of information not many people know about you.
Nancy: First, thanks Barb for this wonderful opportunity! Let’s see, I am the child of military parents, born in Alabama and raised mostly in northern Virginia and Colorado. I earned a B.S. and M.S. in wildlife biology from Colorado State University and worked for the federal government for over 32 years. I worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. I spent the majority of my time helping private landowners restoring or improving their lands for fish and wildlife habitat.
I am left-handed and right-brained. As such, I’m a serial hobbyist and have tried many different types of arts and crafts. My main interests are: silversmithing, drawing/illustrating, figure skating, and home DIY, especially tile work.
I retired in January of 2012 and have been having a blast every since. One fact many people don’t know is that I am a national medalist in competitive adult figure skating. Many people know I love to skate, but few know I earned a bronze and silver medals when I skated at the 2015 Adult Figure Skating Championships.
Barb: You launched your debut children’s picture book that you illustrated and authored called Curiosity’s Discovery on November 10, 2020. Congratulations! Tell us about your journey in writing this book.
Nancy: This is actually a short journey! In February of this year, 2020, I entered Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny contest. Rules: write a child-friendly (up to age 12) story with a complete story arc in 214 (Valentine’s day date) words or less. It had to be about Valentine’s Day and use the word curious or show someone or something being curious. I immediately thought of the rover on the planet of Mars named, Curiosity. I wrote my story called, Finding a Friend, in rhyme and entered the contest. Lo and behold, I finished 4th!
I decided to turn it into a full picture book and began sending out queries to agents in April. I created a book dummy with rough sketches since some agents want author/illustrators. In May (I know that isn’t much time) after a long discussion with my husband and daughters, I decided to try the print-on-demand self-publishing route. And that is how I met you! My publication date was November 10, 2020 and my sister’s birthday.
Novel – Memoir – Picture Books
Barb: Why did you pursue writing children’s picture books?
Nancy: My first writing adventure was a 125,000+-word modern fantasy novel. I had no idea about word count or things to avoid. Needless to say, it is stored in my computer awaiting a major overhaul. That may never happen. Just know that unicorns do exist, you just need to know how to look for them!
Next came an 84,000-word memoir about the 2.5 years I lived in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs by day and coveted every possible animal I could have on our 40-acre ranchette. In two years, I managed to have two horses, a pony, three Toulouse geese, two dogs, two cashmere goats, a bottle lamb, and a flock of 4-H chickens that my daughter hatched for her 4-H project. It’s a wonder my husband didn’t shoot me. The working title was, I Never Got the Llama. I submitted it to several agents and got as close as the first 50 pages with a rewrite and then rejection. Sigh!
I know I’m wordy and I turned to picture books and writing contests as a way to write succinctly. I found that I loved writing stories for children, especially about animals.
Barb: According to your website, your past writing endeavors have been mostly educational in nature. Tell us how this has influenced your current writing goals.
Nancy: Technical writing is so different from writing for children, but it does require a certain kind of organization. I am a true pantser – I write by the seat of my pants, rather than a plotter – plotting or outlining a book or story and then developing the parts. So, I have had to draw on my technical organization abilities to draft, revise, and polish my stories to the degree needed to submit to literary agents.
Barb: Do you have any advice for someone who is starting out as a new author?
Nancy: I’d give the same advice I received:
- Read the genre you want to write so you understand what is on the market and what agents and publishers are looking for.
- Write what touches your heart. Or, write what you know.
- Don’t try to write what an agent says they want. If you have written something they say they want, that is different. Don’t turn yourself into a pretzel to write a story, you’ll likely be disappointed.
- Find a critique group. Local or on-line. These people have the best interests of the craft of writing in their hearts and the best interests of their members.
- Join writers’ groups. If you are writing for children, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They have so many resources available to help.
Barb: Tell us what you do in your spare time.
Nancy: Too many things! I’m retired so some people would say it is all spare time. I ice skate 3-4 times a week. I am learning to ice dance and I train for competitions. My husband and I have two horses. They are friendly and lazy, and we occasionally ride them. We have an American Brittany dog named, Scout. I walk him nearly every day around our 35 acres or in adjoining open space. I always have a DIY house project in the works. Right now, I’m finishing the sides of our basement egress windows. The next big project is to rip out the basement carpet and replace with laminate flooring. I will start illustrations for another of my stories very soon.
Work in Progress
Barb: Tell us what you are working on now.
Nancy: My newest work-in-progress is a story about a little bat who is afraid to fly. It is in rhyme and is getting close to be ready to query agents.
I’m also about to start working on a full dummy for an earlier work to pursue self-publishing for it.
I own a copy of Curiosity’s Discovery, and it is a remarkable book. Watch the book trailer here.
After you purchase Curiosity’s Discovery for that special person in your life, take a peek at my books for the other special people in your life. The holidays are right around the corner, and books are the perfect gift that will last a lifetime.
You can order my books from my website. Upon checkout, please enter your mailing address and to whom the books should be inscribed.