Q&A with Madelyn Rosenberg, children’s author

Madelyn Rosenberg is an author of several children’s books. Her latest, “The Canary in the Coal Mine,” will be released in April. Before going into fiction writing, Rosenberg worked as a reporter and editor at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Rosenberg talks about her writing, the editing process for children’s books and her transition from the newsroom.

Q. What inspired your move from writing for newspapers to writing for children?

A. I’d always wanted to write for kids and to tell my own stories as well as the stories I was telling about other people. I think it was more a matter of finally getting published in kid-lit than a conscious decision to move from one thing to the other.

In my latest middle-grade novel, you will find that newspapers play a pretty vital role (not a coincidence). I remain a journalism fan, and I still freelance, mostly for Arlington Magazine, where I get to do profiles.

Q. What sorts of stories are you interested in telling, and how do you generate ideas for them?

A. I’m interested in telling stories about the environment, pretty much anything that has to do with music, “otherness,” and finding your place in the world.

If there’s a theme to the stories I’ve found homes for so far, it’s The Outside. My whole childhood was spent outside. Now so much is set up to revolve around The Inside.

I tend to fight that by keeping all of my characters out of the house. I get ideas from everywhere: things I see, places I go, something I mishear and my kids.

Q. How does the collaboration with an illustrator work, and how are your books edited?

A. So far there really hasn’t been much collaboration with illustrators. I think that’s the way it usually is, though I’ve had friends who have had more of a collaboration process than I have.

There are lots of reasons for keeping writers and illustrators separate. I don’t agree with all of them. But I think one reason might be that it’s a sure way to make sure the writing speaks for itself and generates the images naturally. That makes sense to me.

I’ve been really lucky so far in the illustrators I’ve gotten to work with. And I did have a nice back-and-forth (via the editor) with Paul Meisel for “The Schmutzy Family,” where he asked if I could create a mess in another color, because I’d had two spreads where the mess would have been red. I ended up having to delete some of my favorite lines, but I ended up liking the lines I replaced them with even better.

The editing process is really pretty similar to the process for newspapers, only with a longer turn-around time. My novel also went through a copy editor who kept a sharp eye out for anachronisms. The story is set in 1931, and she flagged words that surprised me because I hadn’t checked the etymology. For instance: Gobbledygook didn’t come around until the 1940s, and since my story was set in 1931, it had to go.

Q. Looking back at your career in journalism, what do you miss about it? And are you happy you made this transition?

A. I’m very happy that I made the transition, but sure, I miss it, especially the meeting-different-people-everyday part of it. I also miss my coworkers, the teamwork, and the banter.

The Internet is a sorry surrogate for newsroom banter. And I haven’t felt right on election night since I’ve left dailies.

Read Rosenberg’s blog and follow her on Twitter.