Taking a Hike with Michelle Houts & Erica Magnus

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Michelle Houts, the author of the picture book When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike, and Erica Magnus, the book’s illustrator, discuss the life and adventures of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Houts and Magnus share Gatewood’s incredible story while discussing the power of perseverance, the art of picture books, tips for aspiring authors, finding inspiration in nature, and more. When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike was the Ohio Center for the Book’s Great Reads from Great Places youth selection at the 2023 National Book Festival.

In this episode:



Michelle Houts (00:00):
The book had 16 rejections before it was published by Ohio University Press. So if there's a story of perseverance that I learned from Emma Gatewood, there's one right there.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:14):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:30):
I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're joined by two special guests. Michelle Houts is an award-winning author of dozens of books for young readers, ranging from middle grade novels to picture books. A picture book that she authored will be the focus of today's discussion, WHEN GRANDMA GATEWOOD TOOK A HIKE. We're also joined by the book's illustrator, Erica Magnus, who is an author and illustrator of children's books, a concept and creature design artist for film and television, and a teacher. WHEN GRANDMA GATEWOOD TOOK A HIKE was named a School Library Journal Best Picture Book of 2016. And now, it's Ohio's 2023 children's book selection for the Great Reads from Great Places initiative at the National Book Festival. We're here to discuss hiking, nature, persistence, the art of picture books, and a lot more. Erica and Michelle, welcome to the podcast.

Michelle Houts (01:26):
Thank you.

Erica Magnus (01:27):
Thank you very much.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:28):
I usually start by asking my guests about their personal Ohio connection, and we're going to get there in a minute. But before that, the subject of your book, WHEN GRANDMA GATEWOOD TOOK A HIKE, has a definite Ohio connection itself. So I thought we should maybe just start right there. Can you tell us: Who was Grandma Gatewood, and what is the book about? Michelle, maybe we could start with you.

Michelle Houts (01:50):
Sure. Well, Emma Rowena Caldwell Gatewood, as she is officially known, although she became Grandma Gatewood to everyone, was born in Guyan Township, which is in Gallia County near Raccoon Creek, which I just think is so poetic, in 1887. And she lived a pretty unremarkable life as a farm wife, a mother of 11 children. And then in 1954, when she was 66 years old, she heard about the Appalachian Trail and attempted a hike and failed miserably and was sent home by park rangers who told her, "You're too old to be doing this. Does your family know you're out here?" So her story almost ended there as far as this book wouldn't exist if she hadn't persisted, persevered. And in 1955, at the age of 67, after much better planning and preparation, she did complete the Appalachian Trail. She was the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail in one through-hike alone. So there's a lot of parameters there, but that became her claim to fame and how she became known as Grandma Gatewood, America's hiking grandmother.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:05):
It really is an amazing story and that it has that Ohio connection is great too. Can both of you share your own personal Ohio connection? Can you tell us where you're from, where you live, and how Ohio plays a role in your life? Erica, we can start with you.

Erica Magnus (03:22):
I was born in Waterbury, Connecticut and grew up in the countryside of Bethlehem, Connecticut. So nature was my very first friend. And in those days, I was born in 1946, so there was nobody to drive you around to friends and stuff like that, <laugh>. And it was a farming community with not very many girls in it. So I was pretty limited, and yet it was nature that became my basic friend in every way. Later on when I got married, we moved around the country because my then-husband was taking jobs with various universities and so forth, and we were living in San Antonio, Texas. When I heard that we were going to be moving to Athens, Ohio, and my first book was just coming off the press, OLD LARS with Carolrhoda Books. And so I had to change from what I knew about where I lived in Texas to Athens, Ohio, which I didn't know anything about <laugh>.

Erica Magnus (04:19):
And that was in 1984. And my youngest daughter, who's still living here in this area, was just turning one. And my older daughter was turning six, and she's living in Los Angeles now. So they grew up here and this is home to them, but it was through Athens that I got introduced to all kinds of things. I kept working with publishers that were in New York and so forth. But when that ended, I left for LA. But after six years, I came back here and I realized this is where I belong. There is something about Athens County and this area that just feels like home to me. And it could be that there's a lot of my childhood, you know, familiarity with the landscape and so forth is echoed here in these incredible hills where we live.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:14):
And Michelle, what about you?

Michelle Houts (05:16):
I've lived in Ohio since I was four years old. I was born a Nittany Lion at Penn State University where my dad was a professor of agriculture, but both my parents were from Ohio, Delaware County and Coshocton County. So they were eager to bring their family back home to Ohio. So when he got a position at Ohio State University where he taught for more than 30 years, we moved back to Ohio. So I spent my whole childhood in Westerville in Franklin County. And then in 1989 I moved to Mercer County, which is on the far opposite side of Ohio from where Erica is. So <laugh> I'm close to the Indiana line, and she's not far from West Virginia. And I have lived up here in Mercer County near Grand Lake ever since.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:59):
WHEN GRANDMA GATEWOOD TOOK A HIKE was published in 2016 by Ohio University Press, and I believe this was the first children's book published about Emma Gatewood. Is that right?

Michelle Houts (06:12):
It was the first children's book about Emma Gatewood. I know there's at least one other picture book about her that's come out since, and my research and my process was going on at the same time that Ben Montgomery was writing his book for adults about Emma Gatewood called GRANDMA GATE'S WALK, and his book came out in 2014.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:32):
Oh wow. That's so interesting. And you know, I didn't realize that the first books published about her were so recent. Really. I knew about Emma Gatewood through my mother-in-law who was just fascinated by the story. I'm not sure if she read the 2014 book or not. I'll have to ask her. But she told me about this amazing woman who had so many children <laugh> and went and hiked the Appalachian Trail. So I feel like now there's a lot of material out there about her because it is such an amazing story, which we'll get into. But what led you to decide you wanted to research her and write this book?

Michelle Houts (07:04):
Well, it's funny as a writer, and this is what I tell kids at school visits, writers, the biggest thing they do is they keep their eyes open because the stories that are waiting to be told are all around us. So it doesn't matter if I'm at the grocery store or on a trip with my family, my eyes are open for story ideas and my family and I went to Hocking Hills, such a beautiful area of Ohio. We were hiking and I kind of had it in my mind that I wanted to write about the old man who old man's cave is named after. So I was digging around to find out more about Richard Rowe, and it turns out that there's very little known about him, and his story is more legend. There's not a lot of documentation. There really wasn't enough for me to write an accurate picture book unless it was going to be fictionalized.

Michelle Houts (07:53):
So I was a little discouraged as we left Hocking Hills Lodge campground area, and we walked right by a rock with a plaque on it, and it said, you're entering the Grandma Gatewood Trail. And there was maybe three sentences that said the trail was named for her, gave her birthdate. But really there was not a lot more about it. So I did what everyone else does. I got home and Googled her, and you know, that's when the research began. That's when I found out what she was famous for. And then that's when I really needed to dig deeper and find family members and um, and try to find the untold story, the story you can't find on the internet.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:34):
Yeah, absolutely. And I have been to that trail in Hocking Hills, such a beautiful place, and it is exciting to see her name on the plaque and just to think all these years later that now her story is being told. That's really fantastic. But let's talk about the realities of her hiking this trail. It was in the fifties. The Appalachian Trail is, you can correct me if I get anything wrong, but 2,168 miles long. And she, I think, did this under extraordinary circumstances. Can you talk about what kind of equipment she brought and or didn't bring and what kind of challenges she faced along the way?

Michelle Houts (09:13):
Well, the trail back then was actually very different than it is now. It wasn't always as well kept. There were places where the trail was unmarked, where she was traveling over rocks and mountains and through thickets. And that's actually how she got sent home on her first attempt was she got lost in the, what they call the hundred Mile wilderness in Maine. So she had a lot of challenges. Of course, she was 67 years old. She was alone. She was kind of a pioneer in the minimalist hiking movement, though she didn't even know it at the time. But she hiked with a denim bag that she sewed herself. She carried a shower curtain that doubled as both like a tent as a lean-to, or a ground cover, depending on how she needed it. She carried a plastic baby bottle for water. She carried the minimal amount of supplies that would possibly be necessary.

Michelle Houts (10:12):
She, like a lot of hikers relied on the goodness of families, farmers, mountain families along the trail to occasionally give her a barn to sleep in or a guest room or a hot meal. But she also, with her years in southern Ohio, had learned a lot about nature her whole life. And so she knew how to find a spring for fresh water. She knew which berries and plants were edible and which ones to avoid. She was very familiar with wildlife. So she had spent her whole life preparing for a hike she didn't even know she was going to take.

Erica Magnus (10:49):
I was living in Connecticut while she was hiking this trail, and it was 1955, and believe it or not, there was a huge flood. And I know that she didn't get stuck in it, but she got the aftermath of it. So she was actually blocked off at various times because the waters were still high. My brothers and cousins and so forth were on a camping trip up into Vermont and they could not get back to our little place down in southeastern Connecticut <laugh> because the roads were washed out. So she actually was out there during this flood, but somehow missed it where she was. And I think Michelle wrote a few things about that too. But I remember that flood, it was my birthday and they couldn't get home for my birthday party.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:37):
Oh my goodness. <laugh>. That is, that is wild. She definitely faced so many challenges. And I know the year she did the successful through hike, it became a national news story. Is that right?

Erica Magnus (11:47):
Oh, yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:47):
Were people were writing about it? Do you remember that at the time of, of hearing about her hike?

Erica Magnus (11:53):
At the time, I did not hear about her because it wasn't on the radar of my family. And I wasn't, you know, reading magazines. I think it was like 11 or 12 or something like that. And I don't remember exactly. No, I actually was 11, 10, 11. So they didn't talk about it. I didn't know about it until Michelle doing this research, but I had a lot of my own background feelings about that time to draw upon as well, which ended up helping me a bit with diving into her way of putting this together, which I fell in love with the minute I read the script, by the way.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:26):
Yeah. And we'll get into how the book came together, definitely. I had to be honest reading about her journey, which is so amazing and really inspiring, but it's also so terrifying. I have such a terrible sense of direction. The thought of being set loose on this trail that wasn't even a trail really at the time is quite a lot. But how brave she must have been. Yeah. One thing I wanted to ask both of you is, so as you mentioned Michelle, the year before Emma Gatewood made her successful hike, she tried and she got lost and basically failed and had to be taken out and was told to just kind of go home and was dismissed as an older woman trying to do this hike. So I'm just really curious about that nature of failure and persistence and how both of you might tie that to your own work as writers and artists of any lessons maybe that <laugh> could be learned from Grandma Gatewood.

Michelle Houts (13:14):
Oh, well, yes, I was learning it as I was working on the book because I just looked this morning to see, and the book had 16 rejections before it was published by Ohio University Press. So if there's a story of perseverance that I learned from Emma Gatewood, there's one right there. You have to, in the world of publishing, have a thick skin and not give up. And she didn't give up. When she failed hiking the trails, she went home and spent the whole winter planning on how to do it differently and do it better. And she was successful. So I can relate to that. In the world of publishing, we get our work rejected even after we have been published before.

Erica Magnus (13:55):
The reason I was chosen is that when I first moved back here in 2011, I did a small illustration job for them, and then they remembered me and called me back to do the cover for a different published book. And the author was very happy with it. And with Michelle, they were very predisposed to write novels about women of Ohio and especially southeastern Ohio. So they really, really wanted to do her book. And it was a huge step for them because most of the time they were doing books where there were photographs. Well, that just wasn't the case. She didn't take a camera and that was not why she was hiking. So they had to make a big step, and that's part of why we got to work so directly together. And they trusted me from the other work I did. So it was really an interesting situation.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:46):
That had been one of my questions, how you came to work together on this book. Maybe if you'd like to just generally explain for our listeners, when it comes to a picture book with a different author and illustrator, it's usually the publisher who makes that pairing, I believe. Can you discuss that a bit? You know, the difference between illustrating and writing your own book versus working collaboratively with a partner.

Michelle Houts (15:08):
When an author that is not an illustrator creates a manuscript and sends it in for publication and it's accepted, that is usually the point at which the author has given up control of the visual aspects of the book. So I asked, so often when someone learns, I write picture books, they say, oh, who did you get to illustrate? Or How did you get your illustrator <laugh>? And when I say the publisher does, I don't get to choose my illustrator. Many people are often shocked because it seems like the book belongs to the author and the author should get to choose. And if one self-publishes, one does have that control over their whole project, but in traditional publishing, authors send their manuscripts, and if it's purchased, then the publisher finds the best illustrator for that book. There's a good reason for that because picture books are a marriage of word and art.

Michelle Houts (16:03):
And there was no illustrator looking over my shoulder when I wrote manuscript saying, oh, don't use that word, use this word. Or Are you sure you don't want to say it this way? And so likewise, I can't stand over the illustrator's shoulder and say, I think those shoes should be blue unless it's nonfiction and the shoes were blue. And then of course, accuracy is important. But Erica and all the illustrators in the picture books that I've published have their own vision to lend to this story. The important thing was that Emma looked like Emma and that the setting looked like the setting, but if she wanted to use vignettes, she used vignettes. And if she wanted to do a bleed across a whole page, she could. And so she chose how she wanted to visually tell the story that I wrote. And that's where that perfect marriage of word and art happens.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:00):
Yeah. And Erica, I'd be curious to hear from you, because I know you have illustrated and written books on your own. And this is one where someone else has written the book. So can you talk about the difference between those two types of books?

Erica Magnus (17:13):
My editor was amazing, and she said, never say in pictures what you've said in words. They're a marriage, you're not illustrating the words. They support each other. You're not describing something in that sense. So then I kept that in mind as I worked and as I continued to work with authors where I didn't write it. I was told, when I worked with New York, it's a marketing thing, we can bring in a new illustrator that we're interested in with a known author, but we don't put an unknown author or a new author with a new illustrator. So a new author that they've never worked with before, they just learned about and they're working with, they try to pair it with a known illustrator who already has a track record. So it's a large part of it is the total process that the publisher has to think about because they're investing in basically a product that they plan to sell, and they use all this kind of thinking with it. So that's some of the reasons behind it.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:18):
Even though, Erica, you were illustrating for another author's text for this book, when you first read it, what was your reaction and did you have an artistic vision kind of right away for the illustrations? It's very beautifully illustrated, kind of soft bucolic illustrations that I really liked. So tell us about your process and how you envisioned this book coming to life.

Erica Magnus (18:40):
Well, first of all, I was excited by Emma Gatewood because of Michelle's script. I had not heard about her. I went ahead and read that book by Ben, whatever his name was, so that I would have similar background. And I had wonderful discussions with her, but I can't think in words. Everything is pictures for me. I have to translate. Even right now I'm translating from pictures to try to talk to you. So I was flooded with images and having grown up in the country, I had a little bit to draw upon, not a city person in that sense. So I really understood where Emma Gatewood was coming from. And being a woman, I understand all the prejudices against a woman. And now I'm older, so I'm aware of those prejudices very well. But she was a determined person who just, when she decided to do something, she found a way.

Erica Magnus (19:35):
And what really impressed me and made the images easy was the fact that she got lost. She didn't get permanently lost. She got off the trail and found her way back. So they, you know, they were busy sending up planes and imagining her being killed or bitten or something. And she was, she'd just been attacked by black flies and gotten off the trail. And then she figured out her way back. So she was back on the trail within a day or so. I don't remember exactly, Michelle might know, but the point is, she wasn't lost forever. Like they weren't looking for a corpse or something. <laugh>

Laura Maylene Walter (20:12):
<laugh>. Right, right.

Erica Magnus (20:15):
So I just fell in love with the person that Michelle revealed. I had so many pictures in my head. And then her writing is so visual. I mean, her words were helping me find the right images. And it was very clear. She wrote clearly and directly. And I think what I really liked about it was the way it was appropriate to the age she was writing for not too wordy and not too, you know, talking down too. So that made me feel extremely comfortable with it and help me find the right images. And of course, you know, we work it out in just sketches first, and it's called a dummy. And that gets sent to the publisher. And normally when there's an art director, as Michelle informed you, she doesn't have any control over it. It becomes the publisher's decision about the drawings. And so the publisher works with what the artist comes up with and they're not really running it by the author. But the beauty of this situation was I was able to send Michelle the dummy <laugh> while it was still in its sketching stage. And we did change a page. She had a one where there was a bear, and we changed it to a, I guess it was like a bobcat, right? Kind of cute, because it's the mascot for OU <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:41):
So the image of the bobcat is, I believe, kind of licking its chops and looking at Emma Gatewood sardines. And I love that. I think that was one of my favorite illustrations.

Erica Magnus (21:52):
I really happened.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:52):
Again, she was so brave. <Laugh>

Erica Magnus (21:55):
It was a better solution than the bear. And then later, Emma Gatewood say, well, I never met a bear, but you can correct me Michelle, if I got that wrong.

Michelle Houts (22:04):
Well, you know, in telling a true story, accuracy is critical. And with someone as legendary as Emma Gatewood stories had been passed down. And I was working with, um, her granddaughter, who is one of the families keepers of diaries, letters, memorabilia, photographs. And I got to have access to all of that through this granddaughter. But one of the stories that had been passed down over and over again through the family was that there was this bear encounter and she scared him off. And the stories were similar, but they were all a little different. And I never could find a firsthand account in Emma's words of the bear story. And then I found the Sports Illustrated article where she told Sports Illustrated reporter, Mary Snow Fiddlesticks. I never even saw Bear, you know? So now I have documentation that she says she never saw a bear. But then I have this great bear story that the whole family swears, you know, they heard many, many, many, many times and they probably did. So at the very last minute after Erica had done sketches and everything, I don't think she had finished art done. Erica, did you have the finished art done of the bear? No,

Erica Magnus (23:15):
That has to be approved by you. Well, okay. The publisher.

Michelle Houts (23:18):
And so that was a change that we made to the text because I also had the great bobcat story. That's when she was eating her lunch and it's a tin of sardines. And he came by and smacked his lips and she, I had the quote and everything, if you come too close, I'll crack you. She said to the podcast, which when I read it aloud, kids just roar at that <laugh>. And you know, it's a testament to her bravery. But also, you know, that story in itself tells about the accuracy and care that we have to take when we're telling true stories.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:50):
Yeah, that's such an important lesson about research and being so thorough that you really had to dig to find that quote and that was a direct quote from her. So you knew to believe that instead of perpetuating a kind of a myth even farther. So I think that's fantastic. We mentioned the bobcat illustration. Do either of you have another favorite illustration or scene in the book you'd like to mention?

Erica Magnus (24:14):
Well, along these same lines that she went over about the change from bear to bobcat to stay accurate, I was really concerned with what the sign looked like on the top of the mountain when she got there. The summit of the Mount Kettle

Michelle Houts (24:31):
Kain, thank

Erica Magnus (24:32):
You. I didn't say it right, because she went in 1955 and now there's a completely different type of sign and everything. So I went back to, you know, there were some early ones from the twenties and thirties, and then there was some from the sixties and seventies. And so we are trying to figure out, well what would it be like? And I tried to be as accurate as I could to what I understood to be the case, but I had to really, what do you call it when you powwow <laugh>? I was pow wowing with Michelle over trying to make sure I picked a sign that would be believable for that time. I think it's accurate, but I can't remember if she actually found a photo or something. Did you Michelle?

Michelle Houts (25:18):
I, you know what? I can't remember exactly either. I do remember a lot of back and forth about Emma's physical appearance because she lost 35 pounds during the course of the hike. Right. And also, one of the tricky things was all of our photographs of Emma are in black and white, but this picture book, of course, has beautiful color illustrations. So there was a lot of discussion about what color were Emma's eyes, you know, I attribute the fact that it's nonfiction and that we worked with a small press, we worked with Ohio University press for those two reasons, I think they allowed us a level of collaboration between author and illustrator. That doesn't often always happen in picture books.

Erica Magnus (26:05):
I think it benefited this book, Michelle, don't you?

Michelle Houts (26:08):
I do. I agree. And

Erica Magnus (26:10):
Michelle caught things that helped me a lot. I tried to show her heavier <laugh> and then losing weight, but she was in the same clothes, so, you know, it's hard. But the one they chose for the cover, which is the double page spread, I tried to get in there her smartness. And I hope that it works. 'cause it's in the book, it's hard to tell. But she had learned that sassafras leaves could repel the black flies. So she made a hat to wear on her head to keep the black flies away. And she had a stick. And she wasn't afraid of snakes, you know, that she knew how to not worry about the nature around her and not interfere with it, and at the same time enjoy it. And I wanted to get a little bit of the feeling of that area that she was in.

Erica Magnus (26:59):
One of my favorite things that happened in this story is that they wouldn't let her go from Maine to Georgia, but she didn't let them stop her. She said, well then I'll go from south to north if you won't let me go from the north to the south. That is why everything happened in a very different way than for most people. She ended up arriving in September up at the top when the, all the stones were icy, it's windy, and there was a storm coming <laugh>. I mean, you know, she was actually in a lot of, uh, physical danger right on the last thing. And that's what I tried to get on that page. The other thing that we were concerned about as a book was to very quietly show that it wasn't just for white people. And it turned out from what Michelle told me, that Emma did stay with some families, some black families, the, you know, because she's hiking the Appalachian trailer. Many uh, farmers were black family farmers and often they gave her shelter and food and let her sleep in their barn or their porch. So that's why we included that page where the kids are waving goodbye to her and the dog and so forth. And there's a father using a mule to get the hay. So the people get a sense that there were different people, not just all the same color people. And the very last picture is her worn out sneakers. She went through seven pairs of sneakers. <laugh>,

Laura Maylene Walter (28:30):
I meant to ask about the shoes, but yeah, that's the thought of hiking that far. I can't do that now. And I'm not as old as she was <laugh>. I mean, the whole story is just such a testament to persistence, bravery, community, because she did rely on people to help feed her and sometimes give her shelter. You know, I can't imagine sleeping out there with just a shower curtain. It's very admirable, but also terrifying. <laugh>.

Michelle Houts (28:54):
Yeah. Yes. She tells about mice nibbling on her hair in oh my gosh, the shelters <laugh>. Yeah, along the trail and yeah, that there's a lot that didn't make it into the book. Yeah, because it's a picture book and it has limited word count. But then there's a lot about her life that Ben Montgomery tells in his biography for adults.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:14):
I wanted to ask about that if we can, because I believe most of our listeners are adults. And this is a picture book, which means it is appropriate for children and it doesn't cover every aspect of her life. And before she did her hike, she really suffered a lot of horrific abuse. I'm wondering if you want to talk about that a little bit or share a bit about what she went through and knowing that about her before I read your picture book just puts it into a little more context of this woman taking off on her own and making this really empowering trek. So is there anything you'd like to share about that?

Michelle Houts (29:47):
Her husband, Perry, they called him pc. PC Gatewood. They married in 1907 and had 11 children. And they had what family have described as a very tumultuous relationship, very contentious, a lot of fighting, a lot of breaking things. And the family will tell you that Emma was feisty and held her own ground and fought back, but there's no excuse for abuse of any sort. And she was an abused, uh, wife. And he had a place in society as a farmer, as a respected gentleman. And so there was, uh, one particular evening where they were fighting and he knocked her teeth out. And when the sheriff came, they put her in jail for the night.

Erica Magnus (30:33):
Oh God.

Michelle Houts (30:34):
You know, he was very slick, smooth. I suppose probably today we would call him narcissistic, but she divorced him in 1940, which right there is a testament to her courage and strength and bravery because women who were in abusive relationships in the forties didn't often have the option or the means for divorce. So that was a whole 14 years before her first attempt and 15 years before she hiked the trail. So, you know, it's a little bit romantic to say, oh, she was fleeing from an abusive husband. But I know there are members of her family that prefer the narrative that she was walking because she loved nature and she wanted to do something no woman had ever done. And she had been away from that relationship for 14 years. So the whole narrative that she was running, you know, that she had this horrific life to walk away from, you know, maybe isn't as accurate as we first think when we first hear her story. But she got away from that relationship

Erica Magnus (31:43):
Along these lines. I certainly had picked that up from what I'd been told and also what I'd been read. So I found ways to show that when she's sitting sewing and she makes the decision to take it, if a man can do it, so can i. I wanted to show that in the visual too, that this was a person who didn't let other people, and especially the appalling male, you know, crushing thing that was going on and we're still dealing with it in many ways. But she fought against it, as it sounds like. And the fact that she divorced him, I thought that was really helpful for me to hear that. She said, no, you know, 11 children, are you kidding me? You know, like that's a lot of children to give birth to and raise and take care of and find a way to live with them as well as someone who is making life even harder. So I, I think it was part of her spunk to say, well, all these guys are men, but that doesn't mean a woman can't do it. So she had a spirit of fairness, of equality that I really wanted to emphasize. And I got a chance when she's leaving the monument, which was not where it is now, but it was in a different place. Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia, I put in the tower, which was sort of a IC symbol of her turning her back on it, <laugh> walking away with it with her staff

Laura Maylene Walter (33:10):
<laugh>. I love that. Yeah, I think she definitely is an inspiration for carving your own path in life. Sometimes literally when you're hiking a trail that still has to be developed across the country. I think that's really great. Back to the kid friendly nature of the Picture book. Do you have any reactions from kids to this book that you'd like to share? What do children tend to think of it?

Erica Magnus (33:35):
Everyone I showed it to when it was in process and when it was finished, really happy to have it because it helped them see what she had accomplished. It emphasized what she actually did for everyone. And people are hiking that trail all the time now, and she just wouldn't let it slide. So putting it into pictures helps a lot of people.

Michelle Houts (33:59):
Teachers are amazing. And when I go to schools very often, the kids have already read the book. And maybe in art or language arts or science or geography, they have used the book to do all sorts of amazing projects and investigation and research. So I'd love to see when, you know, a picture book of mine is being put to use in the classroom like that. That's so amazing. The kids usually love that bobcat page the most <laugh>. They just think, because, you know, at first of all, there's this element of danger on the page, but then her response, you know, "If you come too close, I'll crack you." Just really shows her spunk and her bravery and courage. But then after we read the whole book, I'll ask them sometimes what they think the most important page of the book was. And they say, you know, oh, the day she started.

Michelle Houts (34:52):
And then I'll turn to the page where the rangers are all standing around her and she's fly-bitten and she's broken her glasses and they're telling her to go home. And pretty soon, you know, she's on a bus back to Ohio and her dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail had ended. And I think that's the most important page because what do you do when a dream ends? What do you do when you hit a dead end when you're told you can't because you are too whatever, you're too young, you're too old, you're too fat, you're too something, too accomplish what you want to do. And so then we turn the page and we say, okay, so what did she do? And that's where we talk about her preparations and her perseverance and her determination that she was gonna try again. And the kids will often do a little writing project where they draw a picture and send me a few sentences and the teacher will send me the whole packet. And I love getting those because you know, they say the cutest things. <laugh> "Grandma Gatewood was amazing. She was, you know, so strong and I liked the part where..." And they'll tell me their favorite pages.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:58):
There are so many lessons in that for writers as well. So I know we're running short on time, but I have two more questions. So speaking of writers, is there anything you'd like to share? You're both very experienced professionals in the publishing world. Anything you'd like to share either about your experience of how maybe publishing has been changing over time or any advice that you would give for writers or illustrators hoping to break in perhaps as picture book authors today?

Michelle Houts (36:27):
Well, I always tell writers, new writers that come to me or teachers, librarians, parents, often those are the people that are most excited about potentially writing a picture book someday. And that's good because those are the people that have been knee-deep in picture, not knee-deep, elbow...higher than elbows. Neck-deep in picture books! <laugh> They've been immersed in storytelling as a visual art and in the picture book form. The ones that I worry about the most are the ones that come to me and say, I have an idea for a picture book. And the last picture book they read was, you know, maybe 25 years ago. So my advice to writers that want to write for children is make sure you're reading and reading widely in recent books in the genre you want to write. So if you want to write picture books, make sure that you're reading 20-30 picture books that came out this year on last and last year. And if you want to write middle grade novels, make sure you're reading the newest Newbery winners. I love the Newbery winners from the sixties and seventies, 'cause those are what I grew up on. But books have changed, publishing has changed. So make sure you are reading widely and recently.

Laura Maylene Walter (37:37):
Erica, is there anything else you'd like to add?

Erica Magnus (37:39):
Yeah, I want to underscore what you just said and say, I was told research, research, research. And that's very much what Michelle is saying. Don't just say, I have an idea. And also if you can't draw, you want to write a story and you can't draw. Don't even think about hooking yourself up to someone until your manuscript has been accepted somewhere. I don't know. And I'm not privy on any of the self-publishing stuff, honestly, so I can't talk to that. But you really have to know your audience, which is sort of what Michelle was saying with do your research with who you're writing for and don't talk down. I've got a four-year-old granddaughter who can name all the dinosaurs from all the different things. Don't forget that they can Google pictures and information and documentaries very well. Don't try to tell them how to be people based on what you went through.

Erica Magnus (38:39):
They're living in such a different world. I don't mean don't do your idea, but make sure your idea is a sound one. I don't know how else to say it. You know that it's really giving something. And when you write out of your own experience and you feel that it's universal, in other words, if you have a personal experience that feels like it could support something universal, I don't know. I guess I'm not saying that quite correctly 'cause I don't mean you have to plan it that way, but most of the time a personal experience that you've been through that helped you grow in some way can be a good place to start. But if you come from the outside trying to write, oh, children should learn about death and they should learn about this and that and this, and so don't go there <laugh>, that doesn't make a good book and you're way off the beam.

Michelle Houts (39:32):
Publishers are looking for a great story. Yeah. And the biggest thing that picture books do is entertain. And if they teach, that's great also. But that's kind of secondary. Yep. To picture books transport the child reader into a world they have never experienced. And so it's an entertainment factor that sells books and that publishers are looking for. And one of the mistakes I see new writers doing often is being a little too didactic or preachy or having a moral or a lesson to the story. Are there morals and lessons to Emma Gatewood story? Absolutely. They're leaping out of the book, but we're not hitting the reader over the head with them.

Erica Magnus (40:16):
I absolutely, totally reinforce that. And you said it better than I could say it. And that's what I was trying to say. And the publishers are not just looking to entertain, but they're looking for the magic. They're looking for that creative spirit that's at the heart of anything magical about dance or music or anything that captures the interest of every kid and every grownup with a kid still in there somewhere.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:43):
Yeah. Looking for the magic. I really like that.

Michelle Houts (40:47):
I do, too.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:48):
If I'm able to squeeze in one quick final question, we can keep it short, but since when WHEN GRANDMA GATEWOOD TOOK A HIKE is really a celebration about nature and her love of nature, I was wondering if each of you could maybe share one of your favorite natural spots in the world, or favorite place in nature you like to go or favorite memory of a special spot.

Michelle Houts (41:11):
I think I'm gonna have to say a place in Maine. It's on the Penobscot Bay and it's a place where a group of writers and I went for several years. The pandemic and other factors kind of have changed where we're meeting when we meet once a year. But I have a group of writer friends from five different states and we only see each other once a year. And for many years we met at a fantastic waterfront, cottage, rustic, nothing fancy about it, but magic happened there year after year after year.

Laura Maylene Walter (41:47):
Wonderful. And Erica, what about you?

Erica Magnus (41:50):
I haven't been there for many, many years, but I fell in love with the Cape Cod beach Wellfleet, which had these huge dunes. I was able to visit there the last time in 1998, but I haven't been back to the ocean since then. And I really miss the ocean. So I tend to find the beauty in beautiful little niches here and there around where I live in Ohio. But I was gonna pick a place where I would love to go and just stand up there. I don't care what the weather is, you know, stand at the top of that dune. And unfortunately it's protected now and you have to pay money to get into it. And you can't go down the dunes like we did as children. 'cause that disrupts the soil and then the grass erodes and the sea waves come in and stuff. Right? That's a place that comes to mind. But otherwise, I just look around me and I have a favorite little area on the road that I drive every day that lifts my spirit.

Laura Maylene Walter (42:47):
Wonderful. Well, I have really enjoyed this conversation and I thought maybe we could end with some inspiration directly from Emma Gatewood, especially for any writers out there listening to this. It's what she said when she completed the hike. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler, you can tell me if it is, but since we do know she completed the hike, I think it's okay. <laugh>. Would one of you like to do the honors and share her last quote, or would you like me to do it?

Michelle Houts (43:12):
Laura, go ahead and do it.

Laura Maylene Walter (43:13):
Okay: "I did it. I said I do it, and I've done it." So I think that is a perfect note to end on. Michelle. Erica, thank you so much for joining us today.

Erica Magnus (43:25):
And thank you.

Michelle Houts (43:25):
Thank you, Laura.

Laura Maylene Walter (43:31):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at Ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @cplocfb or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email ohiocenterforthebook@cpl.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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