You may know today’s guest as our resident indie author who pens the bimonthly “Indie Way” column here at Writer Unboxed. Today, Erika Liodice joins us to launch Rookie of the Year, the first book in her new High Flyers chapter book series for children ages seven to ten.
Three years ago, while driving on the highway, Erika spotted a truck with the words CONTAINS LIVE RACING PIGEONS stenciled on the side. What are racing pigeons? she wondered. This question sparked a journey that led her to discover the fascinating sport of pigeon racing, its wonderful winged athletes, and the passionate community of people who raise and race them. And it ultimately inspired her to write her newest book, Rookie of the Year.
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
Rocket’s got speed. He’s got talent. He’s even got two blue racing stripes on his wings. But one thing stands between this rookie racing pigeon and his dream of scoring a spot on the High Flyers racing team: ground school.
Determined to fast-track his way onto the team, Rocket crashes a race to prove that he belongs flying at the front of the flock, not sitting in the back of a classroom. But when danger strikes, he makes rookie mistakes that cost him the race and push his dreams even farther from reach. With the help of an unlikely friend, a forgotten legend, and lessons from his long-lost racing champion father, Rocket learns that racing takes more than speed, and he discovers what it really means to be a winner.
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
Rookie of the Year is a humorous yet heartwarming racing tale that touches on themes of teamwork, perseverance, and friendship. It introduces children to the two-hundred-year-old sport of pigeon racing, which, until a few decades ago, was an international sensation and popular family pastime. Today, the sport is in danger of dying out because not enough young people are getting involved. Few even know about it, which was one of my motivations for writing the High Flyers series.
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
The main character, Rocket, is a hotshot rookie racing pigeon whose overconfidence stems from being the son of the late, great racing legend Silver Arrow. Rocket’s sense of entitlement and determination to join the elite High Flyers racing team blind him to the realities of the hard work required to achieve his dream. His misguided attempts to bypass ground school and fast-track his way onto the team ruin his reputation, jeopardizing his friendships and dashing his dream. Faced with an uncertain future, Rocket must decide whether to fly away from his mistakes and start over somewhere new or find a way to make amends with his teammates and become the great racer he was meant to be.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
This book posed significant challenges because I’d never written a children’s book, never published a book with illustrations, and didn’t know the first thing about pigeon racing. At first, these challenges served as the perfect excuse not to write the book. The problem was, I couldn’t shake the idea. Inspired by a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, “Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you,” I decided to arm myself with the knowledge to meet these challenges head on and transform limitations into strengths.
Over the past three years, I’ve immersed myself in the world of children’s literature and surrounded myself with experts who could teach me about writing for young readers. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, connected with a local critique group of children’s book writers, worked with two writing coaches, and studied character development at Highlights Foundation. I learned more about producing illustrated books from other indie publishers’ best practices, using resources available to me through my membership in the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). I also learned a lot from working with an experienced children’s book illustrator.
Learning about the sport of pigeon racing was easier than I expected. I was ready to hit the road and travel to far-off places to learn about the sport when I discovered that Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived my entire life, is an epicenter for pigeon racing. Within hours of deciding to learn about pigeon racing, I found myself at a race just down the road from my house. I also met a local pigeon fancier who’s been racing pigeons his whole life. Not only did he teach me about the sport and serve as an expert beta reader, he recently allowed me to adopt two racing pigeons from his flock so I can get firsthand experience in their care and training.
(Side note: if you’re feeling creative, please help me name my pet racing pigeons by entering my Name Those Birds! contest—the contest ends January 31, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. EST. Two names will be chosen, and the winners will receive an autographed copy of Rookie of the Year and a surprise gift.)
In hindsight, the challenges that initially deterred me from writing this book became the impetus for tremendous growth both as a writer and as an independent publisher.
Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Entering the imaginative world of children’s literature has helped me reconnect with my inner child. The High Flyers series is intended for elementary school children, ages seven to ten, which is the age I was when I fell in love with reading and first knew I wanted to be a writer. Writing for children now, as an adult, feels like coming full circle.
You can buy a copy of High Flyers: Rookie of the Year, hang out with Erika and her racing pigeons, and learn more about the fascinating sport of pigeon racing at TeamHighFlyers.com.