The Backstory: MISSING VIOLET
I am excited to kick off a brand new year of The Backstory and to do so with someone I consider to be a kidlit friend, Kelly Swemba. Kelly is a constant source of kindness and positivity in the writing community and her debut, MISSING VIOLET aims to bring hope and understanding as it tackles the difficult topic of grief in an honest and child-friendly manner.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind MISSING VIOLET.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
I’d love to chat about MISSING VIOLET and want to thank you for this opportunity, Andrew!
Mia and Violet are best friends, inseparable, until Violet goes home sick from school and doesn’t recover. Mia’s world changes and she feels all sorts of emotions, shown through the colors of the rainbow. Her journey through grief helps her see that she isn’t alone when she finds a special way for her class to say goodbye to Violet.
I want to note it was very important for me to show a real presentation of grief – that it doesn’t just go away. Mia feels a lot of emotions and my hope is for readers to know that this is ok. It’s important to allow children to feel all emotions, even the not so happy ones and be there for them throughout.
Kelly, this is so beautifully written and illustrated. You handle the many emotions associated with grief with honesty and care. This book is sure to help so many children and families who have experienced difficult times.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
It actually came from two different points in my life. The first seed of inspiration was planted when I was in nursing school. (I wasn’t even thinking about being a writer.) I had a rotation on a chronically ill unit where children spent a lot of time there. I wondered how that made them feel, and who could be missing them. This pinched my heart and I never forgot them.
The second event was the one that brought the inspiration to write the story – the pandemic. I kept thinking about children all around the world that were affected by tragedy. About children who wanted to see their friend, but would never get the chance. Again, I wondered who they were missing. And my heart broke…it still does when I think about it.
Anyone who has ever interacted with you knows what a supportive and compassionate person you are, so it is no surprise to me that you created this book to help all of these families who were on your mind and in your heart.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now MISSING VIOLET? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
Undeniable is a great way to explain the feeling I had. My heart poured out a story about friendship, loss, and love in one sitting.
That is an amazing feeling and one that is hard to come by. Clearly, this was a story that needed to be written.
Did MISSING VIOLET undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
Yes! So many changes! While I wrote it in one sitting, I revised it many times!
I am so grateful for all the CPS that touched this story. They pointed out things that I hadn’t even thought about. Because of them, this story became clearer, more focused, and inspired me to really dig and improve on the previous version.
Critique partners are the most valuable tool a writer can have for exactly the reasons you listed. Through their thoughtful suggestions and encouragement to see new and different possibilities, they are often what allows us to take a good story and make it great.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I’m one of those writers that only write when inspiration hits me. Because of this, I tend to find whispers of inspiration everywhere. I’m blessed with two children that are always showing me the world in a way I never thought about. (Children can do that.) My favorite stories to write rely on a lot of heart, so I pay attention to things that move me. Things that make me feel, or topics that won’t let go. This is usually a hint that there’s something inside me that wants to be put down on paper.
Writing from the heart is a surefire way to pack the story with emotion and ensure it is relatable to others. And I love that last line you wrote. You're absolutely right that so often we as authors are writing a piece of our heart on the page whether we mean to or not.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I love all kinds of books. I find inspiration in books that make me laugh, teach me something, or make me feel.
I absolutely love:
STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS
EVELYN DEL REY IS MOVING AWAY
THE LITTLE BLUE COTTAGE
THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES
BEFORE WE STOOD TALL: FROM SMALL SEED TO MIGHTY TREE
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I love writing in our extra bedroom. My kids had the idea to make it “my office” and made a special sign to hang on the door. This blossomed and my husband painted the room and I decorated it. I also write at our kitchen island (which is where I’m at right now), and occasionally outside, unless my kids and their friends take over my space (which has happened multiple times).
I don’t really have anything I use regularly, aside from snacks. (Which is another bad thing about writing in the kitchen!)
Sometimes I’ll reference books to see how they’ve handled situations, structure, or an element that I’m stuck on.
Being flexible about our writing spaces seems like a necessity when kids are in the house. And how nice is it that your kids suggested the idea of your office? Such a sweet way for your family to show their support for you and your writing.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Oh my gosh I have so many words! Sorry friends! But I’m passionate about encouragement :) Let’s start with these two very important words…keep going. This is a tough industry, which I’m sure you know. And it’s hard to have dips in creativity, receive passes, or critical critiques. I have had all of these. The important thing to remember is your love for creating, writing or illustrating. I feel that each of us have stories to tell. It may take time to figure out how best to approach telling them, or to find someone that will bring them into the world.
MISSING VIOLET was passed over by numerous agents, even when I informed them I had an offer of representation. It didn’t make sense at the time. Now I see that agents might be looking for something specific, and this story didn’t match that. It’s also a very sensitive topic, which is why I’m so grateful to Beaming Books for seeing its potential.
This brings me to my next piece of advice. There isn’t one path to writing/publishing. Your journey is YOURS! Don’t compare yourself or where you’re at to someone else. As I said just a minute ago, each of us have stories to tell in our own way, with our unique voice. Maybe instead, focus on your craft, the things that make your inspiration stir, and lean into that. Because your passion will come through when you write stories that are important to you.
So well said! By taking Kelly's advice and surrounding yourself with a supportive community the journey to publication (even if it takes a while) can be an enjoyable one.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I signed a contract for my second PB! I’m thrilled with this opportunity and can’t wait to share more when I can.
In terms of writing, I am working on a PB that dips into my Polish side. I’m also in the process of revising my first upper middle grade fantasy novel.
Yay, congratulations, Kelly! The world needs all of your books so I am ecstatic to hear more is on the way. And good for you on the fantasy novel. I am in awe of authors who write longer pieces. I look forward to hearing more.
Where can people connect more with you?
I’m still on Twitter @Kswemba and am part of the wonderful debut group @PB23Bunch
My website is https://kellyswemba.com/
Readers be sure to check out MISSING VIOLET (Beaming Books, 2023) with amazing illustrations by Fabiana Faiallo. And if you aren't already, please give Kelly a follow on social media to learn the latest about her publishing journey.
Thank you so much for participating. I loved learning about MISSING VIOLET and I can't wait for this book to be out in the world!
Kelly is generously offering 2 giveaways! First, one winner will receive a non-rhyming critique. Second, one winner (US only) will receive a signed copy of MISSING VIOLET.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post. Mention which prize you would like.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT KELLY SWEMBA
Kelly Swemba has been passionate about big feelings since she was little. She holds a master's degree in psychiatric nursing, has worked as a preschool intervention aide for children with autism, and is a special education secretary. When not writing, Kelly can be found outside exploring with her children, walking her dog, or reading.
Visit her online at kellyswemba.com
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 book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 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.