When Pat Brisson, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, was a young mom, she spent hours in the Phillipsburg Public library with her four boys, perusing picture and easy-to-read books. Checking out bags of books and watching how much her sons loved to read gave her an idea—why not put pen to paper and write her own? Though it would take five years to publish her first book—she never gave up on her dream even when she wasn’t sure it would happen—she’s been busy writing children’s and YA books ever since (2 more will be published this year). We chatted with Pat, who’s also a former teacher and librarian, on why she owes her career to her kids, her inspiring work with incarcerated moms and to the best places to spend an afternoon, with or without her grandkids.
Featured image via Emil Brisson
Children’s Book Author & NJMOMpreneur, Pat Brisson
NJMOM: Where do you live with your family in New Jersey?
Pat: My husband and I live in Phillipsburg. We have four sons, but they’ve moved all over the place—only one lives in New Jersey.
NJMOM: Did you always want to be an author?
Pat: No—it didn’t occur to me until I had kids, and I was taking them to the library and bringing bags full of picture books home. It was only after reading hundreds of them that I realized it might be fun to do. So, I do owe my career to my kids, and the library in Phillipsburg—we have a wonderful children’s section, and I had access to all of those books as my children grew up.
I encourage anyone to follow their dreams—if you think your kids are holding you back, they might just end up being your incentive to get out and start that dream.”—Pat Brisson, Children’s Book Author
NJMOM: How did you begin writing children’s books?
Pat: I just started writing. You can always go back and rewrite. I also began going to writer’s groups—I would take my work to the group, and they would critique it. When I started doing author presentations at local elementary schools, the kids would ask if my feelings were hurt from receiving criticism. I would answer no because there is always room for improvement, and I would do rewrites from those critiques. I always read my work out loud since picture books are meant to be read out loud. It also helps to make sure my sentences aren’t too long, or that I’m not repeating myself over and over. Sometimes you can use repetition, but you have to do it artfully.
NJMOM: Does being a parent help you write your children’s books?
Pat: Absolutely—Benny’s Pennies, one of my books, is based on my third son, Benjamin. If he had money, he would spend it on anything, even if he didn’t want it. The book is very short and sweet, about a boy named Benny McBride who uses his pennies to buy items for his family and friends. I wrote it with the intention of it being about a sweet, generous kid—until a teacher pointed out that it could help with math lessons, so they could easily learn about addition and subtraction. I couldn’t even believe I had written a helpful math book, but I did, and 25 years later, Benny’s Pennies is still my longest book in print.
NJMOM: You’ve had an extensive career working with children—you were also an elementary school teacher, a school librarian, and a reference librarian. What is one thing you’ve learned about kids, that you wish more parents knew?
Pat: I think what I would want more parents to know is that kids can be fragile and vulnerable and that they feel more than what we think they feel. Encourage them to pursue their strengths, and support what they are interested in the most. Parents should also not think that all children are alike, or that their children will be the same that they were growing up.
NJMOM: What was the first book you ever wrote? How did you come up with that idea?
Pat: The first book that I ever wrote never got published. Actually, I wrote and sent out my book manuscripts for about five years before any of them got published. But, the first book that I ever sold was called Magic Carpet. It’s a story about a girl and her Aunt Agatha, and they try to figure out how the “magic carpet” got into Aunt Agatha’s house. The carpet is from China, and they have fun trying to figure out how the carpet could have traveled from China to Aunt Agatha’s house in New Jersey. In between, I wrote Your Best Friend Kate, and that was published before Magic Carpet because the illustrations were in first.
Pat: Project Storybook is a program at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, located in Clinton, which allows the women to choose books to read and record for their children or grandchildren. Then they send the books, the CD and a letter home to them. I’ve been volunteering with the program since its inception in 2003. I had written a book called Mama Loves Me From Away about a young girl whose mother is in prison and how they manage to stay connected through the stories her mother has written down for her to read each night. I was inspired to write it by my friend, Mike Tofani, who was a psychiatrist at a prison in Maine. After that book was published, I decided to see if I could volunteer at Edna Mahan, which is a 20-minute drive from my home. I helped to get Project Storybook started. As a mother, a reader, a writer, and a librarian I realize the importance of books in the lives of our children (my license plate is READBKS) and I am proud of my work with Project Storybook.
NJMOM: What is the most valuable parenting lesson you’ve ever learned?
Pat: My oldest son will be 44 next month, and my youngest son is 38. They all live far away now. I was a stay-at-home mom and I was very happy in that role. I just felt like that was a time that I didn’t want to miss, and that it would go by fast. And now I realize how truly fast that time has gone by. People had always told me that my children’s youth would fly by, but amid changing diapers and running after toddlers, it seemed so untrue. But it is true, and that’s the most valuable and important parenting lesson I’ve learned.
NJMOM: What is the most difficult thing about writing a children’s book?
Pat: Getting it published! I wouldn’t say just anybody could write a children’s book, but that is the easy part for me. The hard part is getting up the nerve to send out your book again and again and again. I have a friend in my writer’s group who has sent her book manuscript out a hundred times with no response. Publishers are receiving twelve times as many manuscripts as they did when I first started out, and sometimes it will take nine months to a year to hear back from a publisher—if you hear back at all—which can be discouraging, but you have to be resilient and keep going.
NJMOM: What are some of your favorite spots in New Jersey?
Pat: My husband and I have a subscription to Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. We also love Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton—a museum, sculpture garden and arboretum. When we’re with our grandkids, we take them to Johnson Park in New Brunswick. It’s a big park with three playgrounds, a picnic area and they have a little zoo with goats, pigs, horses, alpacas, and ducks. Some people bring food to feed the animals, but you can pick up the oak leaves there and use those to feed them, too.
NJMOM: Do you have any advice for other NJMOMpreneurs who are just starting out?
Pat: Have confidence in yourself, and don’t be afraid to work hard. Take yourself seriously and believe it can happen. Who was I to get a book published, or a bunch of books published for that matter? I just decided I wanted to do it and I tried, and I did it. I encourage anyone to follow their dreams—if you think your kids are holding you back, they might just end up being your incentive to get out and start that dream.
To learn more about Pat Brisson and her published works, check out her website.