|Author and Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant Winner Karen Coombs|
In the 1970s, I spent my first SCBW conference (no “I” back then), zombie-ing around with my mouth agape.
Sid Fleischman. Jane Yolen. James Cross Giblin. Frank Sloan. Sue Alexander. Eve Bunting. Plus, the featured presenters. In person! In the same room! I silently blessed Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser for founding the organization and tried to close my mouth so as not to appear a total greenhorn, or to say something obsequious and appear a sycophant. I had, after all, been published in magazines. And I knew other well-known children’s writers, such as Barbara Williams, Gloria Skurzynski, and Ivy Ruckman, who had mentored me and introduced me to the organization. I returned home inspired, motivated—and filled with the realization that I was meant to write for children.
At another conference in 1986, now living near San Diego and missing my old critique group, I hopefully posted a notice on the conference bulletin board: Published writer seeks critique group in North San Diego County. Into my life walked Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson. We held our first meeting soon after and have met twice a month ever since—thirty years this coming summer.
SCBWI has surrounded me with colleagues who keep me writing, who gently tell me my manuscript is ho-hum and offer suggestions on how to make it sing, who squeal with glee at successes, who pick me up and give me a swift kick when I toy with never writing another word, colleagues who “get it” when no one else does. SCBWI gave me “my people.”
While SCBWI gave me my people, Emerson gave me my favorite quotation: “May the work that you do be the play that you love.” What I love best about writing is that it allows me to follow my interests no matter where they lead. I’ve published both fiction and nonfiction for young children to young adults, which means no one can say, “Oh, she writes MG magical realism/PB biography/YA dystopian,” etc. I don’t fit into a slot. When an idea calls to me, I write that book, no matter the genre. Ships that brought women to Virginia to marry settlers in the 1600s. Animals used for research. Confronting a bully when I was six. Talented people I admire. The loss of a child’s toy. All these inspired books in different genres. Ideas are like my “to be read” stack of books—they continue to pile up, waiting patiently for me to get around to them, until the one that calls the loudest gets my attention.
Currently, I have underway or ready to submit a middle grade historical novel set in the West in the late 1800s and a number of picture book manuscripts. One humorous picture book deals with a character’s reluctance to face new experiences, even though it means spending all his time alone. When an unfortunate event forces him to leap headlong into the shunned activities, the experience is a revelation.
Moving can be wrenching for a young child, especially moving away from beloved grandparents. In another picture book manuscript, a young boy—with subtle help from loving grandparents and his single dad—discovers a satisfying way to stay in touch.
Can a reluctant cricket save the bees’ honey hive and turn an enemy into a friend? In a world where peace seems precarious and differences divide, young readers of this manuscript will be reassured to learn about natural adversaries who find an amicable solution, and who, with a nod to American folk hero Davy Crockett, discover that even one small creature can make a difference.
To qualify for the Jane Yolen grant, the applicant must be a traditionally published writer with no book published in the past five years. I find it bittersweet to have qualified, but thrilling to be a recipient. I am exceedingly grateful to Jane Yolen for recognizing this mid-list author. Her grant will inspire me to hold on until an editor once again says, “Yes.”
You can find out more about Karen at her website here.