The Backstory: TRUCKER KID
It is my pleasure to welcome back one of my favorite kid lit friends, Carol Gordan Ekster. Carol joins us today with her latest picture book, TRUCKER KID (Capstone Editions, 2023) with illustrations by the incredible Russ Cox. Read on to discover the chance encounter that inspired this book and for the opportunity to win a manuscript critique.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind TRUCKER KID.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
TRUCKER KID, illustrated by Russ Cox, published by Capstone Editions, came out Jan. 1, 2023. It is a story about Athena, who is proud of her truck-driving daddy but misunderstood by her classmates for her love of all things trucking. In addition to highlighting an often overlooked career, this book shows how attitudes can be changed through education. Athena explains about trucking and they listen and understand, rather than making fun of her. At the end of the story is a list of some effects of what would happen within just a few days if trucks stopped service, and I also wrote an author's note.
This is such a great approach to discussing misunderstandings and the judgment that children sometimes pass unknowingly. I love that Athena is able to educate her peers and your focus on understanding and acceptance.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
It was March 2013 when I went for some mother-daughter time to Taos, NM, where my daughter lives. It was a very sweet few days, with hiking and dining and soaking in hot springs. My favorite restaurant in Taos is the Love Apple. The food is delicious, the atmosphere cozy. And that's where we ate on this particular night. My daughter went to Taos to train as a midwife and wherever we'd go, it always seemed like we'd bump into one of the families whose child she helped bring into the world. And on this night, we were seated right next to one of those families. After introductions were made, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation as our tables were so close together. Three year old Athena was discussing a trucking trip she took with her daddy. My writing brain ignited and I immediately had my title, Trucker Girl. I told the family that I was a children's author, how their discussion inspired a title, and I asked for their contact information.
Wow! Authors being able to pinpoint the moment inspiration struck is one of my favorite things. I also love that this idea was so motivating that you not only struck up a conversation with the family but also had the forethought to get their contact information. I bet they never expected for that conversation to turn into a book using their child's name.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now TRUCKER KID? 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?
This was one of those undeniable story seeds that I had to start right away. I came home from that trip and took out books on trucks and trucking. I knew nothing about this topic! About one month later I started e-mailing with the dad to ask some questions. And about a month after that I brought the manuscript to a critique group. Almost ten years later I held the book in my hand.
What a process! 10 whole years between inception and final product! If this isn't proof of the patience and dedication that is required for this industry then I don't know what is.
Did TRUCKER KID undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
There have been major revisions, too many to count. In the first draft Athena didn't want to go trucking with her dad, but came to love it. With wisdom from others in my critique groups the manuscript continued to change and improve. I also had professional eyes on it. Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple offered some suggestions when I took this manuscript to their Picture Book Boot Camp in 2015. But it still went on to more revisions, and gathered close to one hundred rejections. I was an avid submitter! But then during Covid, I pulled it out again. I had seen for myself the importance of trucks and their drivers during this difficult time. I added in back matter to show how we rely on trucks, tightened the manuscript yet again, and this ended up being one of three manuscripts that helped me secure my first agent.
That agent had a few small but brilliant suggestions that made the manuscript even tighter before she sent it out on a small round of submissions. Capstone editor, Chris Harbo, who acquired it, wrote in an e-mail when we first worked on the text together, “In terms of the story text itself—I don’t really have much in the way of comments or revisions. I have loved the way you wrote this story right from the start and I only made a few minor editorial tweaks here and there.” That made my heart incredibly happy. And it set the course for a fabulous relationship with that editor and made for a joyful experience. I was included in all aspects of the process. Capstone did request a title change from Trucker Girl to Trucker Kid, and of course, I said yes!
I had so many critiques on this over the years and so many creatives who helped make this better. I am always keenly aware of the fact that I do not write alone. I count on the universe to help me get each story right. And something that blew my mind, which I found out after the book went to print, was that the illustrator’s son is a truck driver. I passed on his name to the editor as some buddies in one critique group offered up Russ Cox’s name thinking he would do a good job with the manuscript. The Capstone team came up with a few other illustrators, but they decided on Russ. We had no idea that his son was a trucker. I love the mysteriousness of this writing life and often think about what if I had not sat next to that family that night. Trucker Kid was meant to be!
So serendipitous! It absolutely seems like this book was destined to be and your hard work and dedication to it made sure that happened. And we have to acknowledge the incredible illustrations by Russ Cox. They are a perfect fit for your words and the fact that he has a connection to truck driving is the cherry on top.
Did you use any mentor texts while working on TRUCKER KID?
I took out a few trucking picture books when I first started writing this, but other than that, no. Now, ten years later, I have piles of picture books always awaiting me at the awesome Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA. I consider reading widely in your genre part of the homework of being a #kidlit writer.
Where would we be without our local libraries? Those stacks of books are the perfect tool to learn the market, build our craft, and find inspiration.
Last time you were with us you gave us some exceptional advice. I am wondering if there are any other tips or tricks you want to share with your fellow writers?
You are so kind, Andrew. My advice would be to trust in the process. If you love a project, keep it alive and know that it takes the time it takes.
Wonderful advice, though I know many writers, myself included, can struggle with accepting the long, slow process that is the publishing industry. But TRUCKER KID is the perfect example of never losing hope in a manuscript.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I now have another agent and am hopeful we will sell something. I believe in the picture book biography I originally subbed to him that helped me land him as my agent. I wait (not so patiently) for this or another manuscript from the many I have completed, to sell. But I’m also well aware that not everything I write will become a book, but that it’s all part of my writing process.
I can't wait to hear that you have sold this biography and all of the other wonderful stories I am sure you will create.
Where can people connect more with you?
Here’s my Linktree that will connect you to everything Carol Gordon Ekster!
Readers please support Carol by following her on social media. And don't forget to spread the word or pick up a copy of her latest book, the amazing TRUCKER KID (Capstone Editions, 2023) with illustrations by Russ Cox.
Carol thank you so much for making a return visit to The Backstory and I can't wait for you to visit us again!
Carol is generously offering one lucky winner a non rhyming, PB manuscript critique.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT CAROL GORDAN EKSTER
Carol Gordon Ekster grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Boston University and getting a Master’s degree in reading and language she was a passionate elementary school teacher for 35 years. At the end of her career she began writing unexpectedly. You can find out more about her books and writing life here: https://carolgordonekster.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.