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Go Ask Mom

New picture book redefines what "beautiful" means for girls

Posted November 13

Courtesy: Stacy McAnulty

Stacy McAnulty once designed first class airplane seats. Today, the mechanical engineer turned children's author is solving other problems - like redefining what the world "beautiful" means for girls of all ages.

McAnulty, a mom of three kids, ages 9 to almost 15, in Kernersville, N.C., has six books out this year, including "Beautiful," a picture book that aims to counteract stereotypes about girls and celebrates them for who they are and their potential.

She'll read "Beautiful" at an event at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh's North Hills. I checked in with McAnulty to learn more about her new book and her writing career. Here's our Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: You once were a mechanical engineer, but left in 2007 to become a full-time writer. Why and how did you make the jump to author of children's books?

Stacy McAnulty: I wanted a job where I could work while wearing pajamas. Kidding. Sort of. A lot of people think engineering requires math (and it does) and writing requires grammar and spelling (and it does). But both engineering and writing require creativity, problem solving and a willingness to redesign. I’m OK at math and rather awful at grammar. But luckily, I’m a creative problem solver who has learned to love the revision process. For years, I constructed prose and mechanisms for airline seats. Then, in 2007, my third child was born and I hung up my khakis for flannel pajama pants. It took a few years to find my writing rhythm (thank god for preschool), but now I’m blessed to write full time. Which means two hours a day writing and six hours a day on Facebook and Twitter (follow me @stacymcanulty).

GAM: Tell us about some of your books. Where do you get your inspiration?

SM: I’m so lucky. I had six books hit shelves this year. That sounds crazy (and it is), but let me take a minute to track my books through the years.

2016: 6 books
2015: 0
2014: 0
2013: 1
2012: 0
2011-2001: 0 (And yes, I started writing in 2001.)

Other than "Beautiful," I had two picture books published this year. "Excellent Ed" (Knopf, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach) is about a scruffy dog that doesn’t think he’s excellent enough to belong in his excellent family. Anytime I talk about this book, I seem to overuse the word excellent. Though, the reviews have been excellent and the illustrator is beyond excellent. I’ll stop now.

The other picture book is "101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath" (Random House, illustrated by Joy Ang). The pitch for this book is right in the title. I save myself a bit of time with that one.

I also authored the three books of The Dino Files series (Random House). These books started as a present for my son. He wanted a “real-life” dinosaur for his fifth birthday. But when your mom’s an author, you get stories instead of DNA experiments.

My inspiration mostly comes from kids. They’ve taught me to see the world in a different way. Is that a toilet bowl or is it a whirlpool for Barbies? It’s a toilet bowl!! - or occasionally the dogs’ water dish. (Maybe not the best example. Now I feel like I need to Clorox some toys.)

GAM: How long does it take to get a book from your computer to a book store? What's that process like?

SM: In the time it took "Excellent Ed" to leave the comforts of my hard drive to the time it was available in bookstores I could have…

Earned an MBA
Had three more children
Served in the House of Representatives
Walked around the world

To put it in more specific numbers, I finished Ed in May 2013 and it was published in May 2016. So three years.

The fastest I’ve had a book come to market is two years.

There’s a lot of waiting once a book is acquired. I can go months without hearing from my editor. We will work together on revisions, but then it goes to the illustrator and all gets quiet. I like to use Twitter or Instagram to stalk illustrators I’m working with. Sometimes I get little previews. Eventually, I’ll receive sketches of the art from the publisher. This is one of my favorite parts of the process. The book feels real when I see the characters.

The unfortunate part is that I can’t share this awesome step with people. I want to show the world, but the book is probably still a year away. In the meantime, I work on new projects (and illustrator stalking).

GAM: Your latest is "Beautiful." Share a little bit about what that book is all about and why you wrote it.

SM: "Beautiful" was an idea that swam in my head for five years. My sister and I both have daughters and we wanted a better definition of beauty. We wanted our girls to know that they are valued not on their looks and that they make the world beautiful. When I finally wrote the first draft, it flowed. That doesn’t happen often. Not for me anyway. When I started working with my editor at Running Press, we really dove into the message. The book is less than 100 words, but we literally wrote thousands of words exploring what it means to be beautiful. She challenged me to create a working definition, and this is what we used.

True beauty is a confidence found in what you do and how you feel. When a girl is doing something kind or challenging or fun, her inner beauty overwhelms her exterior, no matter what she wears or how her hair looks. When a girl feels empowered or strong or smart, the same thing happens.

GAM: A lot of people - especially parents who have read countless picture books - have ideas for one of their own. What's the No. 1 tip you give people who think they might have a picture book - or 10 - in them?

SM: Do it! Write a picture book. And then another. And then 20 more. Your first manuscripts will probably not be worthy of publication, but you will learn by doing. Assuming you fall in love with writing and revising picture books, I then recommend you join our tribe. You can connect with established and new writers at scwbi.com and 12x12challenge.com (both have fees, but are ultimately worth it).

McAnulty will be at Quail Ridge in Raleigh's North Hills at 7 p.m., Nov. 15.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday (and sometimes we stretch the borders of the Triangle a bit).

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