Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Carol Gordon Ekster 
Passionate. Determined. Caring.
Carol knew she wanted to be a teacher since Mrs. St. Peter’s first grade class in New York City where she was encouraged to stand in front of the other students and lead. And that’s what she did. She taught fourth grade for thirty-five years. Now retired, she combines her love of teaching with her new-found passion for writing.
She lives with her husband, Mark, of 38 years, in Andover, Massachusetts.

Carol can be found on Facebook, Twitter @cekster,
Pinterest:, and
her web site:

Carol and I met up at Breaking New Grounds in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and had a wonderful chat while sipping coffee.
You’ve written over 50 stories.
Yes, some of them are horrible. (said with a laugh)
I was just reading one of my stories that I really liked it. I thought it was such an important story. It’s called Making the Team. It’s about a kid who doesn’t make the team. Everybody thinks they’re going to have success right away, but that’s not the way it goes. I guess we all need to have a little rejection in our life so that we can better appreciate our successes.
If your kid feels failure, then you read a book and they learn that it’s going to be okay. Books enable us to sit with our kids and read about a real life situation and then talk about it.
I wish I had a better sense of humor. I wish I could write a funny, silly book. I write, really, from the heart of a teacher. I think that’s what I am first and foremost. I’m always trying to get teaching in there. What’s the lesson? If you can combine the fun of reading with learning an important life skill, that’s powerful.

You’re published books are Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room and Where am I Sleeping Tonight? A Book about Divorce. What was the magazine article?
“The Library is the Perfect Place.” 
To me, it would have been the perfect picture book about the correct behavior in the library and the amazing wealth of materials you find in a library. That was in February of 2010. If the picture book market was better, who knows what would have happened...
I read that you’re in three writing groups. How did you find them?
Through SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

All of them. Wow. So how do your writing groups help you?
Just tremendously. They find inconsistencies and help you improve your story—from little things like word choice to bigger things like changing the plot.     
I always feel that I need the feedback. I could be missing something and you don’t even realize it because you’re so close to your work.

It’s different perspectives.
Yes, I love different perspectives. And I feel you don’t write alone.  Some people have fabulous ideas. I had an editor who liked my writing and she encouraged me to keep sending (my manuscripts). I met her at the (NESCBWI) conference. She would give me comments and specific things to do. I sent this (Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room) six months after I wrote it which is too soon usually. She sent it back and said, “I don’t see enough growth in (Ruth).” Now I look for those things.

It’s a learning process.
It’s a learning process. I immediately went back and changed the story so (Ruth) learned. Every time I brought it to a different (writing) group, people gave me ideas. Someone said to give her a ten-minute time limit. Then I thought to put a clock in the bottom corner of the page.

I do strictly picture books, so to hear an illustrator’s perspective—they’re visualizing the story— they can add so much. They really have a whole different perspective. I remember (the Illustrator) said to have fun with the clothes. She said to take the shoelace, tie it around her head. And when I saw it, I was so grateful to her.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment?
My daughter developed into a very special woman.  That is a big accomplishment, certainly, and to me, all my years of teaching and touching lives is an accomplishment.  But my first book was probably my biggest accomplishment. 
The chances are so slim (to be published), but I’m a very determined person. I kind of knew it was going to happen because I felt it. I knew I just had to keep going and going.

That’s a good point, though. As far as being a writer, what characteristics are important to possess?
Perseverance.  It really is because there are talented people who do not like rejection.
 I was in such a different field. Sure there are some parents who are going to give you a hard time in education, but it’s not the same. Most days the kids love you and look up to you and you see it.
Here, I’m getting rejection after rejection. I’ve sent out nearly 800 submissions and I’ve had three things published: one magazine story and two books. That’s a very small positive affirmation as opposed to the negative. Most people can’t take it. I’m not really thrilled about it.

And then there’s marketing.
I’m not crazy about that because that’s a new stretch for me. At my first book signing, I had never been so nervous in my life because it was something new.

You have to believe in your book because it does take years. informed me that my book (Where am I Sleeping Tonight: A Story of Divorce) was a finalist for best children’s book for divorce. Somebody nominates you and I didn’t win, but at least my name was out there.  And that was more than three years after it was published. It takes time.

I’m not a patient person. To know some things take time, it’s helped me to settle down. It’s not going to happen in a minute.  It makes me think, “Maybe I should re-read that before I send it out. Sit with it a few days.”   

35 years of teaching. What were your favorite memories?
Joy. I remember so much joy. The feeling in the classroom. I always had speakers. We did art projects. We built statues. It was a very special environment.

Well, some of the best memories of the last few years, when I started writing, the kids got to share in my accomplishments. I shared my writing with them. I’d read everything to them and ask for their feedback.

That helped them with their revising. It made them better writers and they trusted me because I go back and re-write over and over. Before I started writing, kids would get emotional when I’d give them feedback.

So, when I found SCBWI and I brought my first book, they started ripping it apart. I realized that’s why the kids got so upset. It took me a while to say, “Oh, I want to make it better.” So I learned to give that back to kids. I don’t think I was as sensitive as I could have been. I didn’t realize…

But then your students saw that with all your revising, your book got published.
That was a special year when my book got published. The students were so excited for me. That was a special memory.

How long have you been retired?
Three years.

Do you miss teaching?
You know what? Yesterday I was looking through some old notes which was why I was feeling so emotional about some of the kids. The notes people wrote me were beautiful. And it made me think, “Really? Did I have such an influence?” But it’s so nice.

I miss the teaching and the touching lives. During the last week of school I give a little assignment to show one way you’ve changed this year. Some kids are so talented. They draw amazingly. I saved a couple of them because they were touching. One showed that now she was responsible. The details… the way she drew me! Another kid said she used to not like science and now she loves science because we did activities. I was determined to get them excited about science.  Half the time the experiments didn’t work out, but…  We just had fun.
I love teaching. I didn’t love all the correcting… I didn’t have a life. I have a life now.

What’s retirement like for you?
Everything used to be so scheduled to the exact point. The last thing I want to do is be held to a schedule. I want to write when I want to write.

I don’t spend a lot of time cleaning or doing that kind of stuff. Most of my free time is on my writing. I might do some marketing, but if I haven’t worked on a story or sentences then I feel sad and I miss it. I love when I’m working on a story. I particularly love when I come back a few days later and I see something that (snaps her fingers)…. When did I write that?  When I have a new story and I get a draft down and it sounds like a good start, I get so excited.  
Having distance, leaving stuff sometimes, a couple of days, and then coming back to it, having a fresh perspective on it, is fabulous. I love it when it clicks and I’m in the writing mindset. And I can do it when I want, when I feel it.

What are your plans for the future?
To keep doing what I’m doing. I feel very open as opposed to my structured life for ten months a year. I feel blessed to have this open time. I start most days with an aerobics class and a yoga class. I think the yoga helps open my mind and I go home and write. I love it. I like variety from time to time—a little traveling or whatever.

I feel blessed to have the time to be open with whatever happens or whatever thoughts come my way.