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Interview with Mary Jo Nickum, Author of Mom’s Story

I’d like to introduce you to an author who is also in
my critique group (and no, I had not critiqued this
project). Welcome, Mary, glad you could join me here
today. I’ve posted a book review of your book below,
but I thought it would be fun to also have my readers
get to know you a bit more. So let’s get going.

GO: Mary, why don’t you start by telling us a bit about
your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

MJN: My book is titled Mom’s Story; A Child Learns About
MS. It tells the story of a young girl who sees her mother
with some frightening health problems and learns she has
MS but she will not die from it.

Amy fears the worst, which is common when one is
confronted by the unknown. Information is the key to
allaying much of her fear along with understanding from
adults, friends and an older sibling.

I wrote this story because I saw my children experience
many of the same fears as Amy before I was diagnosed.
During my various MS meetings, whether in self-help
groups or MS Society chapter meetings, I heard countless
moms and dads expressing concern for their children. Such
questions as “What can I tell my daughter?” or “Is there
something I can get for my child to read? I couldn’t find
anything for a 9 year old at the library on MS.” This book is
written to address these types of questions.

GO: How long did it take for you to write the book, from
start to final edit?

MJN: From start to finish, it took almost exactly 2 years.
In addition to the writing, I had the manuscript read by
several psychologists and a neurologist specializing in MS.
So, in effect, it was peer-reviewed.

GO: What book made you want to be a writer? What was
it in the book that called out to you?

MJN: I don’t think it was any particular book that made me
be a writer. I got into it via “the back door,” so to speak. I
majored in English in undergraduate then went to library
school. Even that wasn’t enough to make me want to write.

My first position was as a special librarian with the National
Water Quality Laboratory. The scientists were writing and I
filled the shoes of “authors’ editor.” I edited their manuscripts
before they sent them to the scientific journal publishers.
Later in my career, I began to write magazine articles for the
public in science.

My decision to write science for the public for children began
after I attended an Outdoor Writers Conference in Lake
Charles, LA. I attended a session led by Kathleen Kudlinski, a
well known children’s author. She provided much information
and encouragement. She inspired me. It was enough for me
to join Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
(SCBWI) and I was off and running!

GO: What was the first book you’ve ever read?

MJN: The first book read from cover to cover was The Boxcar
Children. I didn’t know it was a series at the time. This was
the early 1950’s, I found it in the school library and that was
the only one there.

GO: Yes, I remember reading that one,too. Great book. Mary,
where can readers learn more about you and your work?

MJN: My website contains pages that tell about me, my
background and lists of all of the articles I have written.
The website is:

GO: What were the best and worst bits of writing advice
you’ve ever been given? What advice would you give
newbie writers?

MJN: The best advice I’ve received so far is, “Write what
you know.” So I started with multiple sclerosis. I know
about that, I’ve had it for 30 years and I’ve read
extensively and attended many, many meetings on the
subject. I know lots of other stuff too, so I’m working on
those now. I enjoy writing picture books about animals.

I may have received some bad advice along the way, but,
frankly, I don’t remember it.

For newbies, I would, first of all, repeat “Write what you
know.” Everybody knows something better than just about
anybody else. No one has had exactly the same experiences
you’ve had. For instance, I’ve been in the desert for almost
three years, I’ve never seen a rattlesnake in the wild. You
may have watched a tarantula climb over a stone, I haven’t.

Next, join a critique group. Even if you can’t find one in your
town or you live far from a larger town. There are several
available online. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Criticism at the
early stages can be your best friend. Criticism coming from a
publisher, if they’ll take the time to give you any, will feel
harsher and be more embarrassing.

That said; don’t be afraid to submit to a publisher. But, most
importantly, do your homework. The book, Children’s Writers &
Illustrator’ Market comes out every year. Get the newest one.
It is important to know which publishers are accepting new
submissions and how they want to receive them. Every publisher
is different.

A final word, you won’t get published if you don’t submit!

GO: How true that last statement is. And I’d like to add that
there is nothing one can truly call impossible. Look at the
letters in that word. What do you see? What? You don’t see it.
Let me tell you, if we split the word into the prefix and word we
get im + possible. Now, you tell me what’s missing.

Yes, that’s right, the apostrophe is missing. So let’s see, we now
have I’m possible. Wow, I feel like I can do it and all of you can
too. BUT if you don’t submit, you will be back at impossible. I’ll
stick with I’m possible.

Thank you Mary for sharing a bit more about you and your book
this morning.
Have a great weekend.

Until next time

2 comments to Interview with Mary Jo Nickum, Author of Mom’s Story

  • Mary,
    Excellent advice. I enjoyed the interview. Good luck with your book. It sounds like an interesting and needed piece of literature.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer

  • A wonderful interview, Gloria.

    I enjoyed reading about your work, Mary Jo. Congratulations on your book. What a great idea to help children understand an illness that affects their family.


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