|2013 Crystal Kite Winner Kim Baker!|
I contacted Kim to find out more...
Lee: Hi Kim! Please tell us about your book.
Kim: PICKLE is about Ben Diaz, a new 6th grader who enlists a crew of new friends to form a secret prank task force. Their front is an after school pickle making club. The type of pranks the club pulls off are more about goofy fun and surprise than anything mean-spirited, with varying degrees of success. Ben decides not to include his best friend, Hector, in the club. Hector's grandmother/guardian is the school's authoritarian principal and Hector can't keep a secret.
It starts with a classroom full of ball pit castoffs, and gets crazier from there. Complications and hijinks ensue, friendships are tested, and Ben has to decide what he stands for. My editor describes it as FRINDLE meets FIGHT CLUB for middle schoolers (Without the boxing. Or the soap.). That's about right. I honestly wasn't sure what kind of audience it would have, but PICKLE was a Junior Library Guild Selection, one of the New York Public Library's 2012 Best Books for Reading and Sharing, a finalist for the 2013 Children's Choice Awards (Book of the Year for 5th-6th grade readers), and the 2013 Crystal Kite West winner (!!).
Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?
Kim: There are a few parts to my answer, but they're all pretty intertwined. I've been a member since 2005. I thought I would write picture books when I first jumped into writing for kids, but I was terrible at it. I learned that being a picture book appreciator is not the same as a picture book writer. I joined SCBWI, went to a regional conference, and quickly realized I had NO idea what I was doing. I can be a little introverted, and I'm not a big joiner, but I wanted to have all my chips in for becoming a children's book writer. I started volunteering for my SCBWI Western Washington chapter, everything from bringing snacks to the meetings to regional advisor. Being closely involved helps me to stay active and present. It gave me a reason to overcome shyness and be part of the community. I attend all the conferences, workshops, and book events that I can. It's like an apprenticeship for me, and it's fun.
I spent some time just finding my voice and honing my writing. I thought about giving up a lot, but I didn't. I pulled back and didn't send anything out on submission after my lousy picture book manuscripts in 2005. I wrote a lot, but that stuff is locked away in a dark drawer. Forever. The odds of getting published are not in anybody's favor, and I wanted to make the best impression that I could. I wrote PICKLE in 2010, revised it a few times, and had a feeling that it was ready. I can be, um, overenthusiastic about things, so before I sent it out I confirmed that with faculty consultations at conferences and peer critique feedback (from great friends that I met through SCBWI!).
I took the leap and sent PICKLE to a short list of prospective agents that I had connected with at conferences. I'm fortunate to be working with Sara Crowe, who then sold it to Roaring Brook Press.
Our region is large and very active. The community is amazing. Being around such warm and creative people is so fun and inspiring. Lin Oliver calls it "the tribe," and you really get a sense of what that means at events. When I began attending the big summer and winter conferences as part of the SCBWI WWA regional advisory team, my tribe grew even bigger. I keep in touch with friends I've made through SCBWI all over the world through social media. We have a fab new regional advisor team this year, but I'm thrilled to be attending the summer conference as a panelist. It's important to me to attend every chance I can.
I thanked the SCBWI in PICKLE's acknowledgements, because I know I wouldn't be published without this fantastic organization. So, I've gained education, community, focus, confidence, friendships, and a path to publishing I would never have found on my own. I am forever humbled and grateful.
Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?
Kim: Hmm, advice is tricky. I believe that everyone has their own path. I thought I was doing it wrong for a long time because my writing process is pretty different than how people advised me that it should be (read: Disorganized. Slow. Crazy). I tried it their way, and it didn't work. I didn't want to quit, so I went back to my way. I implement new ways here and there, but it's stayed basically the same since the beginning.
I would say to be genuine, patient, and brave, whether you're published yet or not. Give yourself permission to invest the time it takes to find your unique voice and stories and be the best writer (or illustrator) that you can be. Most of the crummy stuff I wrote in those first few years were stories that I thought might be marketable. You can't really write to the market (particularly if you write a bit on the slower side, like me), and I couldn't do my best unless it was a story that I felt needed to be told.
You should feel that your story has a place in the market, but isn't for the market, if that makes sense. Writing a novel takes enough commitment that you need to be as invested as you can be. PICKLE is silly, but it's also a little subversive and about standing up for yourself and finding your own path. It's a common theme, but I knew that nobody else was going to tell it the same way I would. In the past, I wrote stories that I worried that someone else would write and sell before I finished. I didn't really think about that with PICKLE. It's a little weird, and I know it's my own.
Find your weird.
I think I need to get that on a t-shirt. "Find your weird." Excellent. Thanks, Kim!
I also connected with Joni Sensel (SCBWI Western Washington's Published Member Liason) to find out more about SCBWI Western Washington and Kim's win...
The Western Washington region typically serves about 700 active members living in the western half of the state (more or less), including Seattle and the greater Puget Sound area. We have a couple of dozen events a year, most notably an annual conference serving 400, a fall weekend professional retreat, workshops, Inside Story events to promote PAL members' new books, northern and southern network events, and more than our fair share of Kid Lit Drink Nights. About a third of our members are traditionally published, many as bestsellers, and about a quarter are illustrators or author/illustrators.
Kim recently spent two years our region's co-regional advisor (with Jaime Temairik) after serving three previous years as assistant regional advisor, and she continues on our Advisory Committee. She's one of our resident stand-up comics — the humor in her book comes naturally and is regularly on display for those of us lucky enough to know her in person — and members often comment on how much they've enjoyed her MC duties at a number of our events. She's also the best faculty-spotter, face-recognizer, and schmoozer imaginable; as ARA, she made it immensely easier for us to chat up and snag great faculty for our events. Her handcrafted Cookie Contest trophies, medals, and other coveted prizes have made our annual holiday cookie contest a growing hit for a number of years. It's been great fun for many of us to watch her career as she worked on manuscripts, shared them with us for critique, and ultimately sold Pickle as her debut. We're thrilled to see the book's great reviews, Children's Choice Finalist honor, and well-deserved Crystal Kite award!
Brenda Winter Hansen (Western Washington's co-regional advisor along with Dana Arnim) added,
"We're so proud of Kim."
To learn more about Kim, visit her website here.
And to find out about all the great things SCBWI Western Washington is up to, visit them at their website.
Thanks to Kim, Joni and Brenda, and cheers to Kim on her Crystal Kite win for PICKLE!
Illustrate and Write On,