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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hacket

The Backstory: GNOMES & UNGNOMES

What better way to cap off the 2023 Backstory lineup than by featuring 109 creators? It's true! Now while I can't chat with all 109 creatives at once, I am lucky enough to have the captains at the helm of this literary ship, co-editors Kristen Wixted and Audrey Day-Williams here to talk all things GNOMES & UNGNOMES: POEMS OF HIDDEN CREATURES, the latest poetry anthology releasing from The Writers' Loft.


I am also lucky enough to be one of those 109 creators to have their work featured in this collection, making this behind-the-scenes look even more special to me.


So without further ado, let's dive into the world of cryptids and learn how Kristen and Audrey made this project happen.

AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind GNOMES AND UNGNOMES: POEMS OF HIDDEN CREATURES.


First off, please tell us a little bit about the anthology.


Kristen: The Writers’ Loft has been making anthologies for several years. The first one, FIRSTS, was short stories about first time events. During the pandemic we did a poetry anthology by New England BIPOC teens. The first two books were not illustrated but both have beautiful covers! GNOMES AND UNGNOMES: Poems of Hidden Creatures is the third in a series of illustrated children's poetry anthologies. The first two were AN ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS, and FRIENDS & ANEMONES: Ocean Poems for Children. They are all chock full of poetry written especially for these books.


AH: There is so much to love about these anthologies. It is wonderful how many creators you are able to bring together and the variety of poetry that families get to enjoy as a result.


What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration for this theme? Did you consider any other themes?


Kristen: When we chose “animals,” a very general topic, for the first kids’ poetry anthology, Heather Kelly asked, “But for the next one, can we do something with dragons?” Then we chose “things having to do with the ocean” for the second because Kristen Wixted thought New England writers writing about the ocean made a lot of sense. But again, Heather said, “But the next one will have dragons, right?” And so it does. Dragons and other mythological creatures, aka cryptids.


One other detail–from the first kids’ poetry anthology, I wanted to hide something on every page. In the first book, we wanted the artists to hide a ladybug on every page. The second … we couldn’t figure out what to hide. Anyway, this idea never happened, until Gnomes! The awesome artists, many of whom thought this was a really fun idea (and others who humored us) worked hard with us to make sure there is a gnome on every two-page spread. Sometimes there are two or three.

Also, for this book I really wanted to work with Audrey Day-Williams and was thrilled when she said yes. She’s a great kids’ poet, has an amazing ear for rhythm, and is generally a fun person who really throws herself into projects. She was a fantastic partner for this book!


Audrey: Aww, I was so honored when Kristen asked me to co-edit this with her. I didn’t know what I was getting into but I knew it would be a fun adventure and I adore Kristen! Oh, the hidden gnomes! Up until the very final proof and edits we were still texting each other screenshots of gnomes we hadn’t seen before. I bet in 20 years one of us will spot a new one!


Well, Heather definitely got her dragon fix with this one. We have a library dragon, an autumnal dragon, baby dragons, both a three and a seven-headed dragon, dragons that burns the flame at both ends, a unicorn riding a dragon, dragons who hold back rivers, a dragon that goes POP! and even a Japanese dragon-headed beetle! Whew, it’s a virtual dragon stew! But with almost 100 different creatures, there is a large variety of mythological creatures tucked inside this anthology.


AH: There certainly are an amazing amount of creatures within the pages of this anthology. Kids of all ages will be able to find their something they love and while they are at it probably discover a few new cryptids and some new favorite poems.





AH: What was the process like for selecting poems?


Kristen: Audrey and I sat together at the Writers’ Loft space in Hudson, MA and read all the poems from the spreadsheet aloud. Heather Kelly was there for the initial round, and then we had a few series of cuts.


Audrey: Yeah, it’s a blur for sure. When the call went out for poems we wanted to make sure poets didn’t appropriate other cultures' myths, we asked that the poet have some connection to the creature they write about. For example, I lived in Australia for a year, so I felt comfortable writing about the fearsome Drop Bear. And they delivered. We have creatures from all over the world as well as some local “tall tale critters” like the Agropelter and Specter Moose of Maine, and the Jackalope of the Southwest & Wyoming. My favorite North American one is the Squonk of Pennsylvania. It even has its own annual Squonkapalooza festival. The book weighs in at 86 pages, so uhh…maybe we could have selected fewer poems. Ha! What was really fun was reading the different takes on the same creature. We did have to cut a few poems after the acceptance notices went out because there was too much redundancy, but poets understood and we only cut poets who had other poems in the anthology. Also, all the poets (and artists) agreed to critique groups, which were fun. Also we found out there are a lot of scary mythological creatures out there, and we didn’t want to cut these. So if you’re brave enough to venture in, there’s a scary section at the very end of the book.


AH: I can only imagine how hard it must have been trying to decide which poems to include. This was such a fun topic and I am sure the creators had a blast researching and imaging the various antics these cryptids could find themselves in. I know I did!



AH: You also have amazing illustrators participating in this anthology. How did you pair the illustrators with the poems?


Kristen: Yes! Can you believe all the incredible poets and artists who contributed their work? We let the artists choose which poems they wanted to illustrate. With a project like this, where people are volunteering their time, they have to be moved by something to want to illustrate it. One of the artists told me, “The artist is taking a writers’ idea and turning it into a picture, so it has to excite them.” Some artists loved working on the scarier poems, some loved the funny ones, some loved the sweet ones. For some it was a combination. Many of the new-to-the-Loft artists who participated in this book also wrote at least one poem, which made us very happy! Also, a BIG shout out to Bob Thibeault our book designer, art director, cover illustrator, and illustrator coach from some of the newer artists.


AH: Bob and all of the artists did a fantastic job bringing this book to life. The talent is undeniable and I love the variety of styles represented in the book as a result of having so many creative hands involved.

Audrey: It always happens that more than one artist will want to illustrate a poem but luckily, the artists are pretty good about working it out amongst themselves. Or they keep their anthology fight club on the DL. ;-)


AH: I was going to ask if there were any especially coveted poems that the illustrators fought over. I guess we will never know.

Illustration by Robert Thibeaut


AH: Does the Writers’ Loft have any upcoming events or news you would like to share with us?


Kristen: We have our annual Winter Bazaar & Gnomes & Ungnomes book launch coming up on December 2 at the Loft space in Hudson (43 Broad Street, unit B404B) from 10-3 pm. It’s the same day as the annual Hudson Holiday Stroll, so local people can go to the Bazaar and then join right in with the stroll! We also have classes and workshops, details at thewritersloft.org.

AH: Yay! I can't wait for the Winter Bazaar and anthology launch. Not only do we get to celebrate Gnomes & Ungnomes, but we also get to meet many of the creators and if that weren't enough, we of course get to buy books! Is there a better way to start the holiday season? I think not!

Audrey: We’ll also be at Aesop’s Fable in Holliston on Saturday, December 9, with special guest and loooooong time Writers’ Loft author, Josh Funk, celebrating GNOMES & UNGNOMES, and DEAR UNICORN (written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Charles Santo).


AH: Readers if you are in the area check this event out. You will not be disappointed.


Where can people learn more about the Writers’ Loft?


Kristen: If folks have questions, write to writersloftma at gmail. Otherwise, check out our main website thewritersloft.org and our press website (they are linked to each other too!) writersloftpress.com



AH: Readers, please check out The Writers' Loft website for more information about what they have to offer including, classes, events, and critique groups. Don't forget to sneak a peek at the anthology page where you can learn all about the creators as well as explore bios for the mythological creatures! And while you are at it, please consider supporting GNOMES & UNGNOMES in any way you can.


This could include:


- ordering from your favorite indie


- marking as want to read on Goodreads


-leaving a review


- making a library request



Kristen and Audrey, thank you so much for participating. It was amazing getting to hear the behind-the-scenes scoop of what went into creating this magical anthology!

 

GIVEAWAY!


Kristen and Audrey would love to give away a copy of GNOMES & UNGNOMES and a selection of punny mythological stickers. (US only)


Also, they have a general pre-order sweepstakes going on through November.



Ways to enter:


1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!

or

2. Leave a comment on this post.

or

3. Post about this interview on social media and tell me in the comments that you did.


Each method earns an extra entry!

 

ABOUT KRISTEN WIXTED


Kristen (she/her) writes picture books and middle-grade novels, sometimes alone, sometimes with other people. Her childhood was filled with reading poetry about things like bedsheets, peas, and lakes in Ireland, so now that she’s grown up she feels totally qualified to be editing children’s poetry anthologies.

She co-edited The Writers’ Loft’s Friends & Anemones and An Assortment of Animals, she is co-editing Gnomes & Ungnomes with her friend Audrey Day-Williams.


Kristen loves the outdoors and first saw dryads playing hide ‘n’ seek in the woods near her house in Massachusetts where she lives with her family.


She founded and runs Little Book Locker which gives books to kids who don’t have easy access to their own books.


Miss Rita, Mystery Reader which she co-wrote with her nephew Sam Donovan was published by FSG/MacMillan in the spring of ‘22 and earned excellent reviews, including one starred review.

She’s represented by Moe Ferrara of BookEnds Literary. She’s a board member at The Writers’ Loft in Hudson, MA.



 

ABOUT AUDREY DAY-WILLIAMS



Audrey lives in MA with her family who, while delightful, don’t laugh as hard as they should at her jokes. Although she grew up in Los Angeles, she is completely smitten with Massachusetts—even though it takes her three times to spell it correctly. Every. Time.

Audrey is co-editor of GNOMES & UN-GNOMES with her friend Kristen Wixted.


When she’s not writing about herself in the third person, Audrey writes funny and quirky picture books and poetry. You can find her in the garden, in the kitchen (but in a totally feminist way), or pulled over on the side of the road jotting down ideas.


Audrey wrote a poem about drop bears after some close encounters with them when she lived in Sydney, Australia at the age of 15.


Audrey’s car is named, Dolores. She also has a stapler named, Reggie, a calculator named Katherine (of course), and a miniature emotional support vacuum named, Todd.


Audrey is represented by the Imma Ginary Agency [insert winky face].

She’s a board member at The Writers’ Loft in Hudson, MA.


You’ll find some of her whimsical poems floating or dancing in the Writers’ Loft’s beautiful anthologies.

 

ABOUT ANDREW HACKET


Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.


Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture books, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024) and HOPE AND THE SEA (WorthyKids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.


Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.


Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.

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11 Comments


Thelia Hutchinson
Thelia Hutchinson
Dec 09, 2023

This looks amazing. So many talents in one place!

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Hayley Diep
Hayley Diep
Dec 06, 2023

This looks beautiful!!! Can't wait to get this anthology! The illustrations look wonderful.

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gu10tagbooks
Dec 04, 2023

Thanks for the kind words all and Andrew, thank you for listening to our backstory! Such a gift to be part of this wonderful book! Audrey

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seschipper
Dec 01, 2023

wow another great interview! This anthology sounds incredible! 😊

I've shared and tagged on Twitter

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Shirley Fadden
Shirley Fadden
Dec 01, 2023

Loved reading this interview and learning about the making of the anthology. Grateful to have the opportunity to showcase some art. Thanks and congrats, everyone!


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