Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Q&A with Sue Ganz-Schmitt


Sue Ganz-Schmitt is the author of the new children's picture book biography Skybound!: Starring Mary Myers as Carlotta, Daredevil Aeronaut and Scientist. Ganz-Schmitt's other picture books include That Monster on the Block. She lives in the Los Angeles mountains.


Q: Why did you decide to focus on aeronaut and scientist Mary Myers (1850-1932) in your new picture book biography?


A: In 2018, I was attending a graduate school program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My advisor, Jane Kurtz, was leading a picture book intensive and she gave us the assignment to write a picture book biography. I had written and published several picture books, but I was nervous, as this was my first attempt at a nonfiction project.


I knew that I wanted to write about an extraordinary woman that the world knew little about. When I came across Mary Myers, I was astounded by her daring ballooning adventures, scientific experiments in the sky, and passion for flight.


She lived in a time where most women were contained by the expectations for their gender, and confined to small social spheres. Mary broke free from all confines to have high in the sky adventures alone in her balloon (and sometimes with her dog).


I could not get her out of my head and have been delving into her history ever since.

Q: How did you research her life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I researched dozens of old newspaper articles, contacted museums, historical societies, read her book (Skylarking in Cloudland), and searched through family records on Ancestry.com. 


I also went to the International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque for my first balloon ride. It was surreal as a big crowd gathered around our basket and we lifted off.  For a moment, I felt a rush of what it might have been like for Mary as she lifted off for her first flight.


The thing that surprised me the most about Mary Myers was how she saved a crowd of people being crushed while they tried to get close to her balloon. She ran across the heads and shoulders of the people from across a field and jumped into her balloon, knowing it was damaged by the crowd—to save everyone from harm. 


Her balloon ripped apart in the sky and she quickly gathered the flaps into a parachute. She was able to safely land at the same spot she had promised to. This was her first parachute flight. Mary always put her audience, their safety, and expectations ahead of herself. 


Q: What do you think Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations add to the book?


I find Iacopo Bruno’s artwork to be magical and exquisite! I think it will pull children into the late 1800s, and inspire them to want to know more about that time period. Iacopo did a lot of research and got the visual details right. 


I had him on my wish list as a possible illustrator for Skybound, but did not imagine that we would ever get him. I feel that he is one of the most talented illustrators of our era. I encourage everyone to look at his work.


Q: The Foreword Review of the book said, “Her story will inspire budding scientists to let their dreams carry them up, up, and away.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I hope that this story inspires kids to not be intimidated to pursue their dreams in science. I wish that I had read a book like this when I was growing up. I would have loved to have been an astronaut, but there were no women role models in my time, so it didn’t seem possible. 


I love how Mary was a self-taught scientist and made her dream of flight happen, even though there was not a traditional path for her to follow. I hope that kids will realize that you can forge your own path and seek out the science that interests you. 


It is so much easier for kids today to access science today, especially with high-speed internet coming to more communities.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: In graduate school, I worked on nearly two dozen manuscripts. Some have been published, but there are many I would like to get back to, including some chapter books, a middle grade fantasy, and a young adult novel. 


I am also just beginning work on a screenplay about Mary Myers and her husband Carl. In the years I spent researching them, I gathered so much more material than could fit into Skybound and I really want to share their stories and challenges with the world. They have both been nearly forgotten from history.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Some manuscripts come easily for me and some take a lot of revision. This book came out of over 100 drafts (there was a lot of hitting the undo button). 


I wanted to get the lens just right. It started with a wide-angle view, but then I narrowed the story down to her first flight. I am really grateful that my editor, Carolyn Yoder, saw my original vision and helped me stay on course when I veered off.


I cannot wait to launch this story so that Mary will be remembered and honored for her accomplishments. Maybe one day she will be featured on a postage stamp with other great women from the history of flight.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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