Heart & Spirit Author Interview: Eileen Meyer on Persistence

By Carol Coven Grannick


I’m an author and poet and recently retired clinical social worker who loves to explore the writer’s emotional and spiritual journey, and more recently, how that journey intertwines with our characters’ journeys.

I’ve long been particularly interested in the many facets of emotional resilience—the behaviors and beliefs that fuel and flow from it, such as optimism, gratitude, hope, joy, persistence, and productivity.

I believe in the importance of a gentle and non-judgmental attitude toward our own emotions, and a Self that is able to experience range of feelings and return to the journey at hand stronger and more knowledgeable for having been through disappointments, failures, and losses.

And I believe it’s important to remember that many devoted and persistent writers work hard and long without reaching publication.

I’m interested in the many ways we struggle, survive, and come out strong and hopeful.

Today I’m speaking with Eileen Meyer, picture book author and poet, and natural-born optimist, whose books include The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President, illustrated by Dave Szalay (Charlesbridge, November 2019) and Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals, illustrated by Laurie Caple (Mountain Press, 2015). Eileen’s perspective is one of the many ways writers travel the inner journey!

Mountain Press

Eileen, what can you share about your own “inner” journey as you write?

Great question, Carol! Like most writers, I usually am filled with self-doubt especially when I am beginning a new project.

My brain rumbles with negative self-talk:

  • Is the project a good one?
  • Can I write this?
  • Will I have new insights on this topic?
  • Will my book be different from others out there?

How do you handle that critical voice? Any things you do that might be helpful to others?

I have a number of ways that I try to balance negative thinking with positive support, language, and experiences:

1. I tell myself regardless of the outcome of my new project, I will grow from it.

Ma’am-uscripts Critique Group – Back: Cathy Velasco, Mary Sandford, Fernanda Valentino, Seated: Julie Phend, Eileen Meyer, Dana Easley
Natalie Rompella Dolph and Eileen in the nonfiction section of the Waukegan Library.

2. Listen to Critique Group Partners and/or Close Colleagues.

I’ve been a critique group member for two decades. The groups are comprised of talented writers, both published and pre-published. These women are smart and insightful; we all want to help each other advance our work.

I certainly get the pulse of whether something is working or not by listening to this circle of treasured friends who show up online and in person for regular meetings. I wouldn’t be a published writer without these ladies!

3. Take the Long View.

I’m an optimist at heart, and that quality has served me well. Sometimes when I feel low, I step back from my current project and look at where I’ve been. I’ve been taking small steps forward, and it is helpful for me to see that I’ve actually moved forward more than I thought I had.

From my first poem sale to a magazine editor 15 years ago, to a few books published from the slush pile, and now working with an agent and my current projects—I see a positive progression.

I also try to set goals each year as to what I would like to accomplish. Sometimes taking a step back and looking at your journey can be helpful.

Poetry Gang: Eileen, Heidi Roemer, Michelle Schaub, Patricia Toht

4. Start the Day with a Positive Outlook.

I like to frame my day for success. How do I do that? I feed positive thoughts into my brain as I begin each day. Via email, I subscribe to Dr. Bryan’s Daily Motivational Quotes and an upbeat email greets me each morning.

If a particular quote resonates with me, I jot it down in my journal. (Don’t you love that C. S. Lewis quote on the cover?) If my mind is muddled or I feel flat at the start of a day, I flip open my journal and read a few quotes. These snippets of support from the likes of Aristotle to Jillian Michaels serve to inspire. Here are a few examples:

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Greek Philosopher Aristotle (If that won’t help you dive into a bad first draft, nothing will!)

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically – to say “no” other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.” – Author and Businessman Stephen Covey (Reinforces saying “no” to things in order to leave your schedule free to write.)

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – 26th U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (For those days when you spend too much time on social media!)

“It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs.” – Personal Trainer Jillian Michaels (Forward progress occurs even when you can’t see it.)

5. Work on projects that inspire and fill you with positive emotion! Abraham Lincoln was the ideal subject to keep me going. Abraham Lincoln’s life is a metaphor for perseverance and resilience. Consider the story of his education “by littles,” which is the subject of one of my poems.

Readers may be surprised to learn that our 16th president received only one year of formal classroom education. He was a self-learner: borrowing books, asking questions, seeking new opportunities, studying the law on his own, etc. He had many obstacles. His father wanted him to work on the family farm. He had little means. He lived in a rural area with limited access to books and news. But Lincoln persevered and found a way. So in this case, inspiration also came from my own picture book content about Abraham Lincoln.

Interior spread from The Superlative A. Lincoln, illustration by Dave Szalay, used with permission.

Eileen, do you experience ups and downs, and if you do, what aspect of the writing or business do they seem to relate to?

I do experience ups and downs in response to my inner critic, but I try to manage that critic in a thoughtful way.

Also, I think my recent ups and downs related to rejections of my newest manuscript, and how hard a sell poetry can be in the kidlit world.

In 2013, I was reading an adult biography about Lincoln and it dawned on me that there were still many interesting stories about him that could be shared with children. I had collected a lot of anecdotes about our 16th president that I chose to write as story poems for young readers. I drafted an early version of my picture book throughout much of 2014 and sent it out to agents. That strategy was poor. Why? I discovered that most agents were leery of poetry collections.

Around the same period, it was time to sign up for the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles. I had an insightful critique with highly-regarded author April Halprin Wayland for my Lincoln poems. She liked them so much she nominated the poems for a post-conference award. I won Most Promising Picture Book Award at the 2015 SCBWI-LA Conference.

Agent Deb Warren with Eileen

After winning that honor, I submitted the manuscript to agents and garnered attention. I found a fabulous agent, Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency.

Deborah found it challenging to sell a poetry collection, too, but she did not give up!

Even though writing in that form had its inherent challenges, both my agent and I maintained our vision for the work.

That was a major ‘up’ that balanced out the challenges and the ‘downs.’ We ultimately found the perfect editor in Alyssa Mito Pusey and the ideal home for the book at Charlesbridge. Amazing artist Dave Szalay came on board to illustrate the book and the magical journey was complete. The book was released late in 2019 in time for Lincoln’s birthday and President’s Day celebrations.

Thank you for sharing your outlook with us, Eileen, and best wishes for your continuing work!

Cynsational Notes

Eileen R. Meyer writes picture books. Her works include The Superlative A. Lincoln (Charlesbridge); Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals: A Story of Sleep, illustrated by Laurie Caple (Mountain Press, 2015) and other titles.

Eileen loves visiting schools and speaking to gatherings of fellow writers, educators and librarians.

Eileen is a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and has volunteered for SCBWI-Illinois in many roles over the years.

Eileen and her husband split their time between Illinois and North Florida and have three sons.

Carol Coven Grannick is an author, poet, and chronicler.

Her debut middle grade novel in verse, Reeni’s Turn (Fitzroy Books, September, 2020) handles issues of courage, self-awareness, and self-acceptance in the context of preteen body changes and the high percentage of dieting in younger children.

Her poetry and fiction for young children appears/is forthcoming in Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, Hello, and Hunger Mountain.

She is a regular columnist for the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind, a reporter for Cynsations, and a member of the GROG group blog.