Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Interview with Puzzle Creator, Evelyn B. Christensen

Evelyn B. Christensen has a doctorate in math education and has taught at various levels of education, ranging from kindergarten to graduate school. She wrote her first book as a stay-at-home mom with three young children underfoot. Today she is an award-winning author and puzzle creator with more than 45 educational puzzle books and math games to her credit.

What was your path towards publication like?
I was blessed in that my first book was accepted almost immediately… by the second publisher I sent it to. Being totally unfamiliar with the publishing industry, I had no idea that was unusual.

That publisher also accepted my second manuscript and asked me to expand the pair into a set with additional books based on different math manipulatives they carried.

Unfortunately, as we were just finishing, my publisher got taken over by a big conglomerate that divested the imprint my second and third books were with. My three books ended up being with three different publishers, so the whole concept of the set, with all its advantages (which in educational publishing are considerable) got lost in the shuffle.

My real publishing break, however, came a couple of years later when I emailed a company that had been carrying my first book to ask if they’d like to carry my second book.

Serendipitously, (or from my perspective, by God’s grace) they were looking for an author right then, because they had decided to start publishing some of their own books instead of just carrying other company’s products. My first book had been selling well for them so they jumped at the chance to have me write for them… my next book out will be my 24th with them.

After writing just puzzle books for about ten years, I expanded to write picture books and to write for children’s magazines. I’ve been reasonably successful with the magazines, but all I’ve got to show for my six years of picture book submissions is a mounting stack of rejections.

What is your biggest obstacle when it comes to pitching yourself as an author and what steps have you taken to overcome that obstacle?
My biggest obstacle is finding someone who wants to publish what I have to offer.

Overcoming that obstacle has involved extensive research looking for potential markets. It means I constantly have my eyes and ears open for possible leads. I check market guides, scout out bookstores and libraries, am active on several writers’ forums and listservs, read newsletters aimed at writers, visit other writer’s websites, and belong to a couple of critique groups whose members graciously share market news.

In the process of accumulating a long list of leads for the education market, I realized that I wanted to "pay it forward" and find a way to share my research efforts with other authors who might like to write for the education market.

The result is a page on my website that includes an extensive list of educational publishers with links to their sites and to their submission guidelines, if they post them. If you’re interested in writing for the education market, feel free to check it out. . I hope you find it helpful.

How do you balance your life as an entrepreneur with your duties as a parent or spouse?
My children are all grown, and although I usually have great nieces and nephews over at least weekly to visit, that’s not quite the same as trying to juggle parent responsibilities on a daily basis.

What I did do when my children were younger, and what I still try to do, is involve them in my authoring career. That goes for my husband, as well.

My children have frequently helped proof my manuscripts. My daughter has co-authored eight books with me. My youngest son has co-authored four with me. He also designed and built my author website with my input, and is my go-to-person whenever I have computer questions.

My husband is a wonderful beta-reader and editor. He enjoys attending book signings and book fairs with me, and is my biggest fan. If we're talking with someone, and the topic of my author career or books comes up, he’ll usually pull out his wallet and offer the person one of my business cards. So basically, what I’ve tried to do is help my family feel an ownership in my authoring career.

If they feel a part of it, then it’s easier for them to understand and make allowances when I need to be focused on my work.

What is your best advice for getting past writer's block?
There’s probably not a single solution that will work for all writers for all cases, but my best advice is to read lots of books in your genre then sit yourself in your chair and force yourself to write.

What you write may end up being trash, but it can help you get past the block. If you write for kids, spending time with kids the age you write for can also sometimes get the creative juices flowing.

What was the best writing-related advice you ever received?
The best advice I received was, "Don’t give up."

Writing is an incredibly tough career. It’s full of rejections and disappointments, even for the successful and famous authors. It’s easy to let it all get to you. But if you give up, you certainly won’t win the prize of publication.

Hearing people, who make it, reminding us not to give up, helps me have the heart to keep trying. Who knows, maybe my turn for a picture book acceptance will be just around the corner. I keep trying and hoping.

What do you feel is the single most detrimental thing an author could do to destroy his/her career?
I think the most detrimental thing authors can do to their writing careers is to fail to savor and enjoy the process, and to fail to savor and enjoy the successes they have along the way… however small those successes may be.

Some of us have a tendency to always be looking ahead for the next step, so much so that we forget to enjoy what we’ve accomplished. It’s not bad to have goals and to work for them.

But it is bad if we always want the next thing so much that we never appreciate what we already have and are always dissatisfied. That kind of career is not a career worth having, in my opinion.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
My latest book, Aba-Conundrums, was published last year by Fat Brain Toy Co. It’s a set of puzzles, for 4th grade and up, based on the abacus, and Fat Brain did an awesome job with the design. I love it!

The book has write-on/wipe off, full color pages, and is accompanied by a colorful abacus. It’s won a Parents’ Choice Award and a Creative Child Award.

This is a book that took me five years to find a publisher for. It’s my ugly duckling, my baby nobody else thought was worth anything… so it feels extra good that it has won awards and proved them wrong.

(So just remember, if you have a baby you believe in, don’t give up—keep on trying.)

How did you come up with the idea for your book?
A friend of mine went on a trip to Asia and brought me back an abacus as a gift. He knew I wrote puzzle books, and said he thought I might like to write some puzzles for the abacus. At the time, I knew almost nothing about how the device works, but I took his suggestion as a challenge, and the result was – Aba-Conundrums! As you can imagine, I’m very grateful to my friend.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?
The most challenging part of writing this book was that I initially made the puzzles too hard. When some teachers field tested them with their classes who were the targeted age, the kids had trouble with them so I had to go back to the ‘drawing board’ and create easier ones.

Then, of course, the challenge was deciding which puzzles to cut to make room for the new ones. Since I liked all the puzzles, that wasn’t easy.

If you could choose just one thing for your book to accomplish, what would it be?
To help kids enjoy stretching their minds and to help them learn to ‘stick with it’ when a problem or puzzle seems challenging.

What’s ahead for your writing?
I’m excited to have a new book coming out in September with MindWare. Coin Clues: Making Change is a set of puzzles for 2nd grade and up, designed to give to them practice in making change and in using their money and logic skills. I’m hoping it’ll sell well enough that MindWare will want a sequel.

You can learn more about Evelyn B. Christensen and her books at

Order Aba-Conundrums on for just $20.


This post was sponsored by The Dabbling Mum.

For more articles like this, check out The Dabbling Mum eMagazine.


Diane said...

What a wonderful interview Ev. Your attention to detail shines through in your career as well as your relationships to others. We are blessed.

Anne Payne said...

What a wonderful and encouraging interview! I am not a writer, but I can certianly apply Evelyn's advice of sticking with something and not giving up to the areas where I struggle with frustration!

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