Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sanna Stanley is the Winner of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award!

Sanna Stanley and friend. Photo copyright 2015 by Paul Sprague

Sanna Stanley won this year's Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award! I caught up with her to find out more...

Lee: Congratulations! Tell us about finding out you won the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award! 

Sanna: When I saw an email in my inbox from Lin Oliver, at first I wondered if it was spam, but on a second glance felt the name was oddly familiar. I'm sure glad I opened that email! Lin's letter said I was this years' winner of Jane's Award, and explained it was to bring attention to good work I've done in children's books and put the word out about more great stories to come. 

Lee: How do you see this recognition helping your career?

Sanna: As I don't have an agent or editor at this time, this recognition is a bit like starting off on stilts to get over the high jump. A huge boost was being invited to the Friday night Cocktail Party at the NY Conference in February where I was able to mingle, as "the Jane Yolen Award winner" with editors, agents, and other authors. I'm hoping that when I add Jane Yolen's name to the subject line, my queries will be more likely to be read! That the award comes with a grant is not insignificant, and the monies will be applied toward my research on agents and editors, technology upgrades to bring me up to date with current practices in social media, and last, but my favorite, to assist with in the cost of another Highlights Foundation workshop with Patti Gauch. 

Lee: You've illustrated books written by other authors as well as picture books you've written. When you're creating both the words and the text, how do you approach the story? Do you write all the words and then handle it like someone else wrote it, or do you plot out with pictures before you write any words or...?

Sanna: I think as an artist I wander into all my stories through images. I may have an idea scribbled and explored in words, but I don't have a story until I follow an image. This can be as subtle as a felt sense of a character's mood, the gesture of an attitude, or as explicit as very specific details of place. But I am also a lover of words. When I write, I bend my ear, and quite literally listen to the sounds of a story being told, then scramble to capture what I'm hearing. 

Lee: I've read that you draw inspiration for your work from the time you spent "as a child traveling to remote villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo." Can you share us more about that connection to the people and stories of Africa?

Sanna: My mother tells me I got my flair for "telling stories" from the "talking" culture of the Congo. We didn't entertain small talk. I remember long talk, hours of stories around village campfires with a background clamor of children's games while mosquitoes buzzed at our ears and chickens pecked the ground near our feet. What will never leave my body is the rhythm of the Congo, it's in my blood, the call and response of church choirs and their songs, it's in my feet that walked barefoot on hot earth with friends to their fields, it's how I know to carry a baby on my back, and dig sweet potatoes from the ground. Once I made a clay pot and was so very proud when I was told I did it "just like a Congolese." I guess my picture books about Congo come from the place in my heart where Africa was my home. 

Lee: What's your latest project that you're most excited about and would love to see out in the world next? (Pitch us!)

Sanna: When I was fourteen, we moved from rural Congo to rural Vermont, and my latest project, a middle grade novel starts right there, at the intersection of a different kind of diversity, when two misfits fresh out of New York City are newcomers to a tightly knit community in rural Vermont. 

When foster kids Louise (14) and Owl (12) get one last chance to be with their mother Mami, she has no food in the house. Even worse, her job, and their staying, depends on no one in her rural Vermont village learning she lost custody of her kids back in NY. Louise knows they can't attract attention, and warns Owl to act normal. He runs into the woods where his Tai Chi turns mystical. Soon Owl clashes with local youth hunters over the wild animals which are Owl's friends and the hunters' wild game. Only Louise sees that his life is in danger.

Thank you, Sanna. Congratulations on winning the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award, and know SCBWI is cheering you on!

Illustrate and Write On,

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