I connected with Lena to find out more...
Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal Kite-Winning book!
Lena: WITCHLANDERS is about a poor farm boy named Ryder who must discover his heritage as the descendent of witches in order to defeat a magic that threatens his village. It’s a YA fantasy adventure full of snow monsters, swords and singing magic all wrapped up in a frozen, wintry setting. I loved writing it—which is a good thing because the book took me ten long years to finish!
It’s my first novel, so winning the Crystal Kite for it has just floored me. It’s such an enormous honor. Or “honour” as we Canadians say.
Lee: I love debut novelist success stories! Can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member of SCBWI?
Lena: The highlight of my SCBWI membership was probably attending the Annual Summer Conference in LA in 2006. I loved how positive and encouraging everyone was. There’s a lot of doom and gloom about the publishing business going around and I was happy to see that SCBWI wasn’t falling into that. I just walked around goggle-eyed at all the literary stars like Caroline B. Cooney and Mo Willems… Jane Yolen sat down at the table next to me to eat her lunch and I think I stared at her throughout her whole sandwich, poor woman!
It was at that conference that the manuscript for WITCHLANDERS (although it had a different title back then) was deemed worthy of consideration for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. What validation! It didn’t win, but just being considered gave me such hope that I was going in the right direction. Later that year I won a Toronto Arts Council grant for the work. If those two things hadn’t happened, I might have thrown in the towel.
This summer I’ll be attending a local SCBWI conference in Niagara, Ontario, and I’ve just been asked to come to Ottawa for a fall event to receive my beautiful Crystal Kite (!) and to give a speech about my writing process. I’m really looking forward to getting to know my local SCBWI community a bit better, because for me getting to know other authors and illustrators, whether online or in person, has been the best thing about joining the organization.
Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?
Lena: I have taken so many writing courses where people come in with wonderful first chapters and I think, “This person can write; this book is going to sell.” Sometimes I’m right about that. But oftentimes that author comes in with a totally different Chapter One the next week, and the next. It takes persistence and commitment to finish a novel and even more persistence and commitment to sell it. Just look at WITCHLANDERS. Ten years! Keep at it and keep perfecting your craft and you will get where you want to go—I truly believe that. Oh! And join SCBWI!
Lee: Thanks, Lena!
I also contacted Lizann Flatt, Regional Advisor for SCBWI Canada East, to find out more about their region and Lena. Here's what she wrote:
The Americas Crystal Kite category includes chapters in Canada, Mexico, South and Central America. In Canada we have two chapters: Canada East and Canada West. Canada East is honored that this year's Americas winner Lena Coakley is from our chapter.
Canada East works closely with our sister chapter Canada West. Canada East includes the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the territory Nunavut. We currently sit at about 320 members. To bring members together across the vast geographic region that our chapter covers we have a yahoo listserve, a facebook page, a twitter feed, an illustrators' blog, and virtual critique groups. We put on two major events a year at the moment: a spring retreat-style conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and a fall conference in Ottawa, the nation's capital. Smaller schmoozes are held informally throughout the year in different parts of the region.
It's wonderful to see Lena win this year's Crystal Kite. She's been a member of SCBWI since 2005. Lena has been dedicated to working on her craft for a long time. She previously had two picture books published in Canada.
Here in Canada we're lucky to have several strong and important Canadian organizations for writers and illustrators. Their national focus complements SCBWI Canada East's focus on helping writers and illustrators find and secure publishing opportunities internationally through SCBWI's international network. That makes us a gateway to the world of children's publishing around the globe. Seeing Lena's novel WITCHLANDERS win the Crystal Kite among all the wonderful books published in the Americas is exactly the type of success story that SCBWI Canada East tries to foster.
SCBWI Canada East, Your Gateway to the World of Children's Publishing
You can find out more about Lena Coakley at her website, and there's a Witchlanders website as well.
More information about SCBWI Canada East is available at their website here.
My thanks to Lizann for the info on SCBWI Canada East, and Cheers to Lena for winning the Crystal Kite Members Choice Award for her YA fantasy novel, WITCHLANDERS!
Illustrate and Write On,