Release Interview: CALLING COBBER – Sheri Sinykin ’01

CALLING COBBER - Sheri Sinykin

Tell us about your book. Where did the inspiration for writing this book come from?

CALLING COBBER was inspired by a haiku I wrote in the margin of notes I took at a writer’s conference. The speaker, a Black author, challenged us to write about “your own culture” and not try to write about other cultures. I wondered what my culture was and came up with culturally Jewish, but not religious. But what was that? My middle son’s bar mitzvah some 27 years ago provided further inspiration.

Were there any unexpected hiccups along the way?

After I thought I was finished with the manuscript, I shopped it around in the late 1990s. The universal response was that it was “too Jewish” and no editor saw a market for it. More recently, I noted a call for Jewish middle-grade novels for boys from PJ Our Way, a unique book club that sends books at no charge to Jewish readers. I worked with an editor over a two-year period to reshape the manuscript until it was accepted by a committee. At the time, I didn’t understand that PJ Our Way would not actually publish the book; I needed a trade publisher for that. I was fortunate that the PJ editor agreed to shop it around for me. Green Bean Books in London accepted it two weeks later.

Tell us a little bit about your background before VCFA, and how you came to decide to enter our program.

I had published 18 books for young readers before I enrolled in VCFA, but I was disappointed that none of them received glowing reviews; most went out of print in short order. I wanted to learn how to deepen my writing in the hope that future books would receive more respect.

What year did you graduate from WCYA and what was your class name?

I graduated in January 2003, but I don’t recall our class having chosen a name.

Could you talk about your experience in lectures or during your semester work with advisors and how it may have shaped the writing life you are living now?

To my great disappointment, my creative thesis—SAVING ADAM—has never found a publishing home. I worked on it my first semester with Louise Hawes as well as my last semester with Marion Dane Bauer. I still consider it my best work, but some themes have been deemed controversial. I wasn’t willing to excise them for the sake of selling the manuscript. My novel, GIVING UP THE GHOST, which I worked on [my] third semester with Carolyn Coman, found a publishing home with Peachtree, garnered respectful reviews, went to paperback, sold foreign rights to Korea, and is still in print. My first picture book, ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, published by Peachtree, won several awards, including the Sydney Taylor Honor Book Award for Younger Readers, 2013;  Parents’ Choice Recommended Award, 2012; Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People /NCSS/CBC/ 2013; Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (honor book) / The Poetry Center at Passaic County (NJ) Community College / 2013; and the Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award / Wisconsin Library Association / 2013.

What’s forthcoming for you and your writing life?

To be honest, I have not written for children since the death of my mother in 2006, my father in 2008, and the birth of my six grandchildren, beginning in 2007. I felt that I would rather spend my time with real children rather than with fictional children—that life was too short to isolate myself and obsess about publishing, reviews, awards etc. I never imagined I could be at peace with not writing, but I am. I’ve taken up watercolor—a completely out of character thing for me to attempt—but it’s brought me much joy.

We are heeding the Brown Bookshelf’s call to action and raising up Black authors. Would you recommend a book by a Black author that you are interested in supporting?

Any book by Jacqueline Woodson is bound to be a treasure, but I don’t think the “if you liked my book, you may also like hers” applies. I don’t think she needs lifting up from me!

CALLING COBBER is published by Green Bean Books, October 30, 2020.

Sheri Sinykin collected 156 rejection letters before her first novel was published in 1990. “In the long run,” she tells readers, “perseverance is much more important than raw talent.” After having worked as a newspaper reporter, a hospital public relations director, and as the assistant executive director of a convention and visitors bureau, she decided to devote her energies full time to raising sons Aaron, Rudi, and Joshua, and to writing books for children. She became active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), serving for six years as Wisconsin Regional Advisor. In 1995, SCBWI awarded her its Member of the Year Award for service to the organization. In 2003, she earned her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, studying with mentors Louise Hawes, Ron Koertge, Carolyn Coman, and Marion Dane Bauer.