Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jennifer Baker: SCBWI's Second On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award Winner For 2014

This year, SCBWI awarded both Jennifer Baker and Tiemdow Phumiruk with the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award. (Tiemdow was featured in another profile here.)

Today, we're going to learn more about Jennifer and the work she submitted that won her this award...

Jennifer Baker, Winner of the SCBWI 2014 On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award

Lee: Hi Jennifer! Pitch us!

Jennifer:  Oh man, pitch pressure! Here goes: For some the Facility is a haven, while for others, like new recruit Celia Walker, it is a place that stirs up more concern than comfort.

Disoriented and covered in blood, Celia arrives to learn of the sudden death of her parents. Not only that, but Celia’s a ‘have’ -- someone with supernatural abilities. Other recruits, and burgeoning friends, Fariza and Drew encourage Celia to appreciate what those at the Facility offer and the peace the campus provides in allowing them to forget their painful pasts and move forward.

But soon Celia finds out that there’s much more brewing than just training to defend themselves and taking classes. The peace of the Facility becomes overshadowed by extremes. And what Celia uncovers is a war brewing between those with abilities and those without.

The line between "good" and "evil" is not always distinct, and The Facility reflects that with characters whose good intentions result in bad outcomes and others who have strong motives behind ulterior ones.

Not only does The Facility give center stage to ethnic groups that are underrepresented in primary roles in literature but it reflects the decline of a contemporary civilization, not by putting readers in the aftermath of a larger dissension but by revealing the breakdown of a nation and how people come to question everything they’ve ever known.

Lee: Can you share about your journey so far in children's literature?

Jennifer: It’s been a learning process. Writing always is. I don’t think I found or fully realized my true narrative voice until 2009 when I started applying to artist residencies. Even though I’ve been writing since I was a kid, it didn’t mean I knew how to tell a story. And in writing lots of short stories and finishing The Facility—as well as a bunch of bad poetry we will not speak of—I've become much more comfortable with the whole process, or really my process, and more assured in my voice as well as the story I want to tell and the characters I want to represent.

Something else that’s been a learning experience is the market and knowing where you fit in. I write very character-driven pieces, especially in my short fiction, that may not be plot heavy so in writing YA I’ve realized how much more action could be woven in so that it’s not always internal crisis but internal and external that weighs on the characters and the reader.

I hesitated writing The Facility for years because I didn’t know if I could write an action-oriented book. With feedback and encouragement from my wonderful critique partners, and also reading a lot of good literature available for young adults and adults, I gained confidence that the story wasn’t all about the action but about the characters as well -- it's a balancing act, really. For me, if I don’t care about the people in the book I’m reading, I’m not as likely to follow them on their journey, whatever it may be.

Lee: Wise words. What are your hopes/plans for the 43rd Annual SCBWI Summer Conference?

Jennifer: First off, I’m excited to meet fellow Emerging Voices winner Tiemdow “Dow” Phumiruk. She and I have been corresponding since we heard the news. I’m a big fan of her illustrations. They’re so realistic and colorful.

I’ve been wanting to go to the L.A. conference for a few years but hesitated since I didn’t have a finished manuscript, so the opportunity to attend now is great. Conferences like this serve as a kind of recharging mechanism when you feel like your work may not be as good as you thought or perhaps no one is as into books because the market is not doing as well as it had before. All those outside voices, factors, and stressors that may deter you from pursuing your creative streak are squashed in environments like the SCBWI conference, so any time I can be around other artists I become a much more enlightened individual.

So my main plan is to meet other artists, writers and illustrators alike, and gain insight on their experiences and what keeps them motivated, while also hearing from agents and editors on trends and what they’re looking for. With the Emerging Voices grant I’m really looking forward to talking with and absorbing as much information about drive and persistence and the industry as I can as I draft my next novel and try to find a home for The Facility.

You can find out more about Jennifer at her website here.

Congratulations, Jennifer!


Dow said...

Jennifer, congratulations on this recognition for your hard work. The Facility sounds thrilling!! I can't wait to meet you, too! :)

Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod said...

Ooooh, this kind of YA fiction is sort of my secret passion. It does sound exciting. Enjoy the conference!
Jennifer at WriteKidsBooks

Jenn said...

Thanks, Dow & Thanks, fellow Jennifer!