Thursday, April 11, 2024

When Writer's Block Hits

Whether you are a new writer or a seasoned expert, it’s likely that you have experienced or will soon endure the dreaded writer’s block. Writer’s block is, according to Author Anne Lamott, not a block at all. If you are having trouble writing, she believes it’s because you are empty, not blocked. 

Maybe it can be both? 

The thing is, writing is hard. It’s not math, where 1+1=2 and there aren’t any other answers. Writing can be debated, unlike a simple math problem. And when you write something, someone somewhere is going to love it. And someone, somewhere is going to…not love it. 

That’s a lot of pressure. And that pressure can really add up and make it hard to create. I wish we would all give ourselves a break from that. If you put your writing into the world with gratitude and trust that it will reach whoever needs it, you will feel a lot of weight slowly melt off your shoulders. 

Easier written than done. I am still a basket case when it comes to my writing. But I’m working on it. Will you join me?

In the meantime, if you are having a hard time putting words on the page, here are some things that have worked for me in the past. Whether you are blocked or empty or feeling any kind of way that is making it hard for you to write, here are five suggestions.

1. Expose yourself to another form of art. Paint, sculpt clay (or dough or Play-doh, you know, whatever is around), draw, play or listen to music…do something creative that makes you feel joyful. And it’s important that you are doing this activity just for fun! The point is to clear your mind and open your heart.  

My stick figures are barely recognizable, but doodling and drawing makes me feel free. It allows me to step away from writing, but still exercise my creative muscles.  

2. Nature. Spending some time with nature is so powerful. Take a walk. Sit by a body of water. Hike a mountain trail and create endorphins. Stand barefoot in your backyard. Take mindful breaths while you are doing these things and feel your heartbeat. 

3. Ice bath. Eek! I know, I can’t believe I am suggesting this. I only recently tried jumping into a freezing cold tub, but I was impressed by how well it worked. It was a real reset for me and I felt rejuvenated after. Sure, it was horrible during. But the end result was worth the plunge.

4. Read. For me, reading always leads to more writing. I read picture books, craft books, parenting books, blog posts, newsletters, magazines, and so much more. It’s inspiration at its finest. 

5. BIC. When I was studying writing in graduate school and feeling blocked, my professors would always say, “Get your butt in the chair.” They may have used another word for butt. But it worked! It’s a great way to get yourself writing again. Just write. It doesn’t have to be good, but the act of writing may break whatever cycle you’re in.  

If none of these tips work for you, and you are still feeling blocked or empty, please consider these moving words from Author Lee Wind:

"We drive ourselves to produce (write every day!), ignoring the wisdom of the seasons: you cannot only harvest. You need to let crops lay dormant (winter), germinate (spring), grow (summer), and only then can you harvest (fall.) Plants and trees don't skip the resting time of winter, and we skip rest at our peril. That's also called 'burnout.'"

As Lee goes on to say, allow yourself the grace of seasons to your creativity. And while you are doing that, I challenge you to be kind to yourself. Fill yourself up, unblock all the things, enjoy the sunshine, and you’ll get back to your writing when it’s time. 

Hugs and happy writing to you!



Ashley's debut picture book The Balloonimals will be published in 2025. She is a former journalist and marketing executive with an MFA in Writing. Ashley has written for various magazines and newspapers, along with a top 10 market television station. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and fur baby.


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult

 

logo for "Middle Grade vs. YA: What's the Difference" session at the San Diego Writers Festival 2024, with Chris Baron (showing a photo of Chris and the cover of his middle grade book "The Gray" and Lee Wind (showing a photo of Lee and his young adult novel "A Different Kind of Brave")

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be in dialog with middle grade author Chris Baron at the San Diego Writers Festival, in a session sponsored by Anatasia Zadeik called "Middle Grade vs. YA, What's the Difference?"

Using Chris's most recent middle grade novel The Gray, and my own recently published young adult novel A Different Kind of Brave we covered so many things that come into play, and that are different, between the two age categories, including:

  • Character age
  • Inner journey
  • Outer journey
  • Voice (for your characters, as well as the voice of the novel's narration/POV)
  • Role of family
  • Intensity of opposition your main character faces
  • To kiss (or not) – how far do your characters go?
  • To curse (or not)
  • Reader age/maturity
  • Who you're promoting the book to once it's published (parents, teachers, librarians, and in the case of YA teens themselves.)

Some resonating takeaways for me included:

Middle grade are books you might imagine a young person reading with their family.
Young Adult might be more a book a teen would read on their own, so it's more personally theirs. Not that they need to hide it from their family, but books better enjoyed independently.

We also had a fun exercise, challenging attendees to do one-sentence pitch for their middle grade or young adult current manuscript and then do it again but this time for the other age category.

The one-liner pitch for Chris's middle grade The Gray (from the copyright page) is:

Sasha has been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he called the Gray, is growing, so his parents and therapist suggest a summer in the country with his aunt might help him.

Chris's new pitch to make The Gray young adult raised the stakes and the drama, and there was talk about aging the characters up as well.

The one-liner pitch for my young adult A Different Kind of Brave is:

My Gay teen love letter to James Bond movies has two main characters: Nico, living a life of adventure that's pretty terrible, and Sam, who lives a life of privilege and wants to be just like James Bond–when they meet and fall in love, everything changes.

What I learned when I tried to make the pitch for A Different Kind of Brave middle grade was that the whole premise of the book didn't work younger. The opposition was too intense, the whole opening sequence of Nico escaping from a gay reprogramming center and then fleeing on his own down to Peru and then Mexico--none of that felt middle grade. It's a book that had to be young adult.

Finally, we offered some tips to get published, both speaking about working on your craft, finding your community, and Chris spoke eloquently about writing your best book (not someone else's) with these words:

"Be your own breakthrough." —Chris Baron

It was a great discussion, and hopefully these notes can help you with your own middle grade or young adult work in progress.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, April 4, 2024

5 Things to Do If You're New to KidLit

As a new KidLit writer, do you ever feel like you're alone on an island with your laptop? It doesn't have to be that way! There are so many writers to connect with, critique groups to join, and reputable resources to dig into. 


One problem is, the amount of information can feel overwhelming. There are so many things to do and learn, it's hard to know where to begin. Here are five things to try when you're just starting out. 



1. Connect on social media. Consider signing up for some social media platforms. There are so many to choose from! BlueSky launched just last year. Author and Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Starter Thread really helped me get comfortable with the platform. You may also want to consider Instagram, X (Twitter), and TikTok (have you heard about BookTok?).  


Some popular hashtags to follow are #kidlit, #writingcommunity, and #childrensbooks. Follow agents you're interested in and other writers you want to get to know. This will immerse you in the community quickly. I'll see you there!


2. Find Critique Groups. Joining a critique group is invaluable. Whether it's in person in your community or virtual, these groups will be so beneficial to your writing journey. You can find critique partners right here within SCBWI. The 12x12 writing community connects critique partners along with KidLit411’s Manuscript Swap Facebook group, and so many more.  


3. Join SCBWI. The amount of resources, networking opportunities, and other gems that can be uncovered here when you’re a member are worth the small fee to join. Find events to attend, network, take advantage of free webinars, and read about scholarships and grants available for creatives. 


4. Industry blogs and podcasts. Get your information right from the source. Find agents and agencies that have blogs or podcasts, and follow along with the ones that resonate with you. Most will tell you exactly what they are looking for, and some even share query letters that have hooked them or turned them off.  


You'll also want to read or listen to some content from other writers. You'll find so many interesting and fun options.


5. Tools for submitting. Even if you’re not ready to query, familiarize yourself with QueryManager and QueryTracker. It can only be helpful to understand these tools and know how to use them so you’re prepared when you are ready to submit your work.


Some agents allow queries via email, but some only accept through QueryManager. 


QueryTracker can be utilized to track submissions and search for agents that are open to queries in your genre. It's still a great idea to keep a spreadsheet with all of your submissions so you can make notes and organize it in a way that works for you.


Hugs and happy writing!





Ashley's debut picture book The Balloonimals will be published in 2025. She is a former journalist and marketing executive with an MFA in Writing. Ashley has written for various magazines and newspapers, along with a top 10 market television station. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and fur baby.



Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Check out Authors Against Book Bans (Important for Illustrators and Translators as well!)

screenshot of the home page for Authors Against Book Bans

Authors Against Book Bans was featured last month in an article by Emma Kantor in Publishers Weekly. Their mission:

We are Authors Against Book Bans. 

We stand united against the deeply unconstitutional movement to limit the freedom to read. We unequivocally support the availability of diverse voices on our library shelves, in our schools, and in our culture. We pledge to band together against the oppression of literature, to speak when our voices are silenced, to go where our bodies are needed, and to fight as one to ensure this freedom. Together, we shall be fearless.

Our concern is not only for the books themselves, but for the children, families, educators, librarians, and communities that suffer when the freedom to read is challenged and taken away. We abhor the bias of the current organized attempt to censor books in schools and libraries across our nation, particularly because of these efforts’ insidious targeting of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories, erasure of history, and silencing of voices that speak truthfully about essential human experiences. The great power of literature is its ability to create empathy, foster self-empowerment, imbue knowledge, and enhance diversity of thought. We will defend this power from those who seek to subvert it.

As authors and as members of our local and national communities, we pledge to protect the rights of all young people to access the books they need and deserve.

If this is something you care about, consider signing up at the Authors Against Book Bans website. As they explain:

We need ALL authors on board, whether your books have been banned or not, because the fight for the freedom to read is every author’s fight.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Are You a Poet? (A suggestion for Poetry Month: say "yes")


artful paint-strokes spell out "POET"

Do you use words in creating your content for kids and teens? (Many illustrators do, so this is not just for writers and translators...)

Do you select those words carefully?

Do you use space, like line breaks and negative space on the page?

Are you thoughtful about punctation?

Poets do. And are. 

April, which here in the US is National Poetry Month, is a celebration of poetry, and I have two suggestions: 

1) For the month of April, read a poem a day. They don't have to rhyme. They don't have to be for kids. Just enjoy the power of words.

2) For the month of April, write a poem a day. They don't have to rhyme. They don't have to be for kids. They don't have to be crafted with the intention of being published. Just enjoy the power of words—your words.

Allow yourself to play. Allow yourself to be poetic...

See if that practice helps you with the art you're creating. It's possible you'll find creating poems is worth it in and of itself. And then maybe you'll allow yourself to say, "yes, I'm a poet."

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

AI and the fourth party cheated... The creative experience you didn't have

I don't intent this to be a screed against technology, but in all the talk about artificial intelligence and these newer re-generative large language models, much of the focus has gone to:

First party damage

This is the impact on creatives (that's us) when these AI models are trained on our work without compensation. 

Second party damage:

There's also been discussion about the need for transparency with consumers, so, for instance, they're not "fooled" by a digital audiobook narration when they thought they were getting a human performance.

Third party damage:

Translators and illustrators and writers not getting the gig because the publishers are just using AI programs to re-generate "good enough" work instead.

There's a fourth to consider.

Today in my online journey I was presented with an ad for an AI company's product that "can write up to 20 books per month" with the tagline: "Your book idea, finally written."

It took me twenty years from the time I started seriously writing KidLit and wanting to be published to having my first YA novel traditionally published this month. I wasn't working on that novel for the entire time, but I've put in a LOT of hard work on my craft, over many years. 

Having an idea is not the creative work. It's crafting a story to deliver that idea, and that's how we develop the unique voice we each learn to use when creating our art. (When editors talk about looking for "voice" this is what they mean. How is your version of idea A different from everyone else's version of idea A?) 

And it feels like this company is encouraging folks to cheat the process -- to not do the hard work, to not learn how to write over many many drafts, and just have a computer model do it for them. So easy! Write twenty books a month! I can't even begin to imagine how terrible those twenty books would be. And in a marketplace that's already so crowded, it just makes it that much harder for consumers to find the good stuff -- the stuff we've been working so hard to craft so well.

I shared my admittedly salty take on the ad with some friends, and one of them brought up how amazing the creative process is -- how yes, it can be hard, but it's also incredibly rewarding: to conceptualize something and then put in the creative time to craft it into the piece of art you want it to be. And that someone looking to have a computer model do the writing for them was cheating themselves out of a creative life.

Graphic that reads "A Creative Life" with a starburst of lines around the words


And I think that's right. And we should maybe consider that Fourth party damage

I'm very grateful I get to live a creative life, and create books for kids and teens. I hope you get to enjoy that creative life, too. It's pretty wonderful.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Donna Janell Bowman discusses her newest nonfiction biography for children and her writing process

 

By Suma Subramaniam

I'm thrilled to welcome Donna Janell Bowman to the SCBWI Blog today.

We're eager to learn about your new book, Wings Of An Eagle, illustrated by S.D. Nelson (Hachette Book Group, 2024). Could you tell us what it is about?

Billy Mills and I can't wait to share this book with the world! His autobiographical story recounts, in free verse, how Billy (Oglala Lakota) faced being orphaned, poverty, health challenges, and systemic racism, by doggedly chasing a dream. In 1964, his dedication and persistence paid off when he became the first (and still only) man from the Western Hemisphere to win Olympic gold in the 10,000-meter event. In fact, as of this writing, he and Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox, 1912) are the only Native America athletes to have won Olympic gold medals in any track and field event.

Billy's Olympic win is still considered one of the most stunning surprises in Olympic history.  But what makes his story even more wonderful is how his Olympic success inspired his traditional Lakota Giveaway. He co-founded a charitable organization that provides educational and cultural resources, and, most importantly, supports the immediate survival needs of Indigenous communities around the country. For decades, Billy has used his platform to better the lives of others.

Does writing nonfiction biographies for children give you a different perspective about history and historical figures? If so, how?

Oh, how I love this question! Everybody is more than what we see or assume. It reminds me of a time, as a kid, when I was in the grocery store with my mother. We turned down an aisle and saw--gasp!--my teacher! I asked her what she was doing there. Why wasn't she at school? Kids think everybody is one-dimensional. Unfortunately, we retain some of that limited mindset as adults. When we don't consider the full, complicated kaleidoscope of a person's inner and outer life, we cannot relate. We cannot connect. As a writer, I try to uncover as much as possible about what made my characters tick.

Every time I learn about another person and their journey, I can't help but also learn about myself, the world, and humanity. We are all shaped by the complexity of our lives and the generational triumphs and tragedies that linger in our DNA and communities. I know that the more open I am to the perspectives of other people, the more my own perspective broadens. However, pervasive revisionist history presents a unique challenge. There are ample examples of historical figures being sanitized in print to teach morals or achieve political or social favor. I faced similar alterations when I researched Native American history and realized just how deeply the history textbooks of my youth were flawed, with intentional falsehoods and omissions. I am appalled! And don't get me started about the racist and historically inaccurate depictions of Indigenous people in TV westerns, then and now. Changing or omitting difficult truths is wrong and dangerous. We must be honest with young readers if we want them to grow as critical thinkers and compassionate individuals. They live in a gloriously diverse world. By honoring the perspectives of others, we can show them how to bridge divides. Open-hearted books are a great place to start.


For your books, do you interview your subjects?

Interviews are one part of the research process, but they can provide some of the most valuable information when I'm working on a new project. For two of my previous books, I tracked down descendants who, during interviews, dispelled mistruths and provided information not available anywhere else.

My collaboration with Billy is a rare example of how an interview can blossom into much more. I became fascinated with Billy's story while researching a different project in 2015. However, because I am not from his culture, I knew it would be inappropriate and insensitive for me to publish a book about Billy without his blessings and direct involvement. It took me two years of creative outreach to make contact. Suddenly, I had a one-shot opportunity to visit Billy in-person during a short break in his speaking schedule. My college athlete son and I flew to California for a day at the Mills' home. The hours-long conversation with Billy and Pat became personal and deep. 

I began to understand Billy, his beliefs, his voice, his mannerisms, his heart. By the time he gave us a tour of his Olympic memorabalia and slid his gold medal over my head, we were bonded in an unexpected way. But other children's book writers had also contacted Billy. I told him that I would understand if he preferred to work with a Native writer. It would make sense. Whether I was involved in a book about him or not, his story was meaningful to me. But he and Pat had already discussed it. They chose me. We would closely collaborate on Wings Of An Eagle. It was an enormous honor and a responsibility that I take seriously! The book, publishing on July 2nd, 2024, would not have been possible without that first interview and the many telephone and Zoom conversations that followed. Today, I count Billy and Pat Mills as friends.

What is your writing process like? What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing?

Oh, geez, I learn from scratch with each book. Nonfiction can be especially challenging because we can't make anything up. With picture book biographies, our character is a bazillion-piece puzzle made up of many smaller puzzles that represent different aspects of their life. Once we zero in on our nonfiction story focus, we must stick to the actual puzzle pieces in front of us. Sure, we can rearrange the pieces for our desired structure, adn we can add logical connective details, but we can't invent stuff. That is both liberating and constraining.

I'm a big fan of outlining, for all genres and formats. To me, it's like knowing my destination before I start a journey. I also spend a lot of time NOT writing as part of my writing process. While I do other things away from my project, my brain plays with narrative ideas, metaphors, story, voice. It is helpful to my writing when I go for extra walks, play pickleball, shampoo the dogs at midnight, or fiddle with a different book. Once I sit down to write, a crummy and overwritten first draft lands on the page. From there, I can trim, mold, shape, and layer the narrative for as long as it takes, often for months or more.

What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep working on their nonfiction projects and if their voices and visions for their stories matter?

Firstly, I would remind writers that it's normal to feel the full range of emotions while working on a book-- from despair and frustration to blissful elation. As Henri Matisse once said, "Creativity takes courage." Hang in there! Whether your book gets published or not, you are already doing something that most people cannot do. You're writing a book! Pat yourself on the back, give yourself a high-five, and be kind to yourself! Above all, choose to invest your time and skill in the projects that mean something to you and your inner reader. That way, if your manuscript is not acquired for publication, you will still love it without resentment, and you will appreciate it for what it taught you.

The publishing landscape, amid book bans and censorship, is in flux. But readers need your voice and perspective more than ever! Remember that, even in "normal" times, the industry is cyclical. When you hear that the market for this or that genre is saturated, it's temporary. Maintain your momentum so that, when the pendulum swings back, you'll be ready for it. And so will your readers. 


Donna Janell Bowman is an award-winning Central Texas author, speaker, and editor. She's especially drawn to true stories that, like lightning bugs, are too irresistible not to follow. Her books for young readers include STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS, illustrated by S.D. Schindler; KING OF THE TIGHTROPE: WHEN THE GREAT BLONDIN RULED NIAGARA, illustrated by Adam Gustavson; and the forthcoming WINGS OF AN EAGLE: THE GOLD MEDAL DREAMS OF BILLY MILLS, co-authored with Billy Mills and illustrated by S.D. Nelson. Donna's books have garnered such accolades as starred reviews, NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommendation, a Carter G. Woodson Award Honor from NCSS, inclusion on ALA/ALSC and NCSS Notable lists, multiple best-of-the-year lists, Junior Library Guild selection, Writers League of Texas book awards, and book fair inclusion. Her books have also won state book awards after being nominated by a dozen states, including Texas. Donna has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in central Texas.

Suma Subramaniam is a recruiter by day and a children's book author by night. Her picture books include Namaste is a Greeting (2023 Crystal Kite and 2023 Northern Lights Book Award Winner), She Sang for India (2023 Northern Lights Book Award Winner and 2022 NYPL Diverse Voices Book), The Runaway Dosa, and more. Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Finalist-Massachusetts Book Award). Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation's Poetry Magazine, What is Hope?, and another anthologies for children. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who will do anything for Indian sweets and snacks. Learn more at https://sumasubramaniam.com.



Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Audiobook Pre-Production - Have You Prepared Your Manuscript?

Becky Parker Geist talks about the work that has to be done to prepare a manuscript to be recorded as an audiobook.

Besides the obvious, like how do you pronounce a character's name, other issues have to be thought about in advance, and you'll need to have a plan: How are you going to handle images (describe them, or include them as a free PDF from your website?), and what about bonus materials?

If you're exploring turning your book into an audiobook, it's well-worth a listen! Here's the spotify link, and it's available where you listen to podcasts.

logo for Becky Parker Geist's podcast on Pre-Production Prep for Manuscripts


Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!
Lee

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Jenn Bailey discusses her books and writing secrets





I'm thrilled to welcome Jenn Bailey to the SCBWI Blog today.



We're eager to learn about your new books, Henry And The Something New (Chronicle Books, 2024), illustrated by Mika Song, Henry, Like Always (Chronicle Books, 2023), illustrated by Mika Song, and The Twelve Hours Of Christmas (Little, Brown For Young Readers, 2023), illustrated by Bea Jackson. Could you tell us what they're about?

Well, Henry, Like Always and Henry And The Something New are early reader chapter books that are based on my picture book, A Friend For Henry (Chronicle Books, 2019), illustrated by Mika Song. I am so excited we've added to Henry's stories and let him grow up a grade or two. He's got a bit more confidence and can have more involved adventures with his classmates. I have loved being able to continue sharing how Henry sees and experiences his world. As long as there is more to explore and share in an authentic way, I hope there will be more stories.

Actually, a third book, Henry's Picture Perfect Day, will hit shelves in 2025. 

The Twelve Hours Of Christmas is a beautifully illustrated picture book that came out this holiday season with Little Brown. Bea Jackson did the art and it is everything!

I've always wanted to write a Christmas book and one day I just thought what even is a calling bird? Like, why are the lords leaping and how many drummers drum? I wanted to make that classic song something that kids could relate to and so instead of twelve days of Christmas, we follow a family through twelve hours of Christmas days. I grew up with my huge extended family all gathering for the holiday and Bea totally got that vibe and Ta-da. The book was born.


Does writing early reader chapter books for children give you a different perspective about the craft when compared to picture books? If so, how?

I love this question! I made some careful and considered decisions when I shifted from the Henry picture book to these early readers, but I hadn't stepped back to look at them as craft decisions and they totally are!

So first, let's look at what picture books and these early readers have in common. They are both highly illustrated. And the word count isn't that far apart - 700 words compared to about 1,200 words. There is a main story arc that finds a positive resolution at the end.

However, a big difference between my picture books and chapter books is that generally I consider picture books to be read, aloud, by an accomplished reader. The reader can handle big vocabulary and can be there to talk about concepts and ask questions to the listeners. I always write my picture books as conversation starters or interactive, oral experiences. Having broad engagement among multiple people is what makes picture books so magical!

With the early readers, I am dealing with emergent readers. These are kiddos who are tackling this great, wonderful world of books and ideas very possibly on their own. There is a closer style of storytelling here. You are closing psychic distance between reader and character, much like you do in a novel. So, I make sure vocabulary words have plenty of context or are illustratable. I make my first chapters shorter than other chapters in the book. I want this new reader to feel accomplished!

I also make sure each chapter has some kind of resolution. Sure, the book as a whole will have a positive resolution, but I want to reward the reader with a bit of story satisfaction for reading all of those words and making it to the end of each chapter. If they had to close the book midway because of bedtime or classwork, I want them confident and intrigued enough to open it back up when they get the chance.
There are other craft elements I play with but that is the biggest one.


What is your writing process like?

I'm horrible! I wish I were a better drafter. I can't seem to kick that disapproving editor off my shoulder so 
I tend to write and rewrite sentences and paragraphs until I think they are pretty polished before I move on. This makes me slow, or should I say slower than I'd like to be.
And I have to write in sequence. I can have a story goal in mind, but I have to write my way there. No jumping ahead.

I usually start drafting with paper and pencil. There is something about the blank, white screen of the computer that makes it all feel too professional and too final. When I get a good start on the project in my notebook, then I can go to the computer and transcribe and move on from there.

I also do a lot of what I call "priting"-- that's pre-writing -- in my head before I even get to the paper and pencil part. I walk my dog, Oliver, every morning and he is my best audience as I flesh out story ideas and arcs with him. I try out different scenarios and scenes in my imagination. It's kind of like running a movie in my head, and when I feel pretty good about one, I'll share it with Ollie. He hardly ever disagrees.


What was the most challenging part of writing the Henry books?

Finding a publisher who would give them a shot. I thank Chronicle, and my editor Daria Harper, with all my heart! They have been a huge advocate and cheerleader for Henry. They shared my vision from the very start.

Henry is a quiet character. He's no Fancy Nancy or Captain Underpants. He's fairly shy, rather reserved, and has a quirky sense of humor. He's a lot like my own children and is crafted to appeal to those quieter kids who don't always get a voice. We are finally in an age where these voices are being valued more and being published. Hooray for that!


What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if their voices and visions for their stories matter?

Oh! It matters! All experiences matter. Otherwise, how can we understand each other and how can we learn and practice empathy? How else can we live a thousand lives so we can figure out how to navigate the life we are living? Stories that make us feel, stories with a point of view and resonance to personal truth always matter. And they come in so many forms. 

I find the advice "write what you know" to be misleading. Until you get into the deep craft of storytelling, that advise can set you on the wrong path. I grew up reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy--worlds and magic systems that nobody could "know." While i read about wizards and aliens and dragons, I was really reading about resilience and loyalty and courage. I was reading about hope and companionship and love. These were the elements that made up the voices, visions, and experiences of those authors. And this is what connected me to their stories.

So let's change that advice.
To write stories that matter, write what you know in your heart.



Jenn Bailey is an award-winning author who has her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has received the ALA Schneider Family Honor award, Bank Street Book of the Year award, been star-reviewed by Kirkus, The Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly, and been included in numerous state reading lists, among other accolades.
Jenn is a frequent guest lecturer and workshop leader for SCBWI, Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens, and the One Year Adventure Novel workshops. Jenn is published by Chronicle Books; Arcadia Press; Magic Cat Publishing; Little, Brown and Company; and Levine Querido and is represented by Erica Silverman with The Stimola Literary Agency.


Suma Subramaniam is a recruiter by day and a children's book author by night. Her picture books include Namaste is a Greeting (2023 Crystal Kite and 2023 Northern Lights Book Award Winner), She Sang for India (2023 Northern Lights Book Award Winner and 2022 NYPL Diverse Voices Book), The Runaway Dosa, and more. Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Finalist-Massachusetts Book Award). Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation's Poetry Magazine, What is Hope?, and other anthologies for children. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who will do anything for Indian sweets and snacks. Learn more at https://sumasubramaniam.com.





Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Kids Ask KidLit Authors Some Great Questions

This roundup of great (and some hysterical) questions from kids was SO much fun! 

screenshot of the Publishers Weekly article, "Children’s Authors on Their Favorite Questions from Kids"


Cheers to Diane Roback for pulling it all together over at Publishers Weekly, and gratitude to Meg Medina, Sophie Blackall, Jacqueline Woodson, Jeff Kinney, Katherine Paterson, Christian Robinson, Linda Sue Park, Jason Reynolds, Mary Pope Osborn, Rick Riordan, Gene Luen Yang, Kwame Alexander, Lois Lowry, R.L. Stine, Kate DiCamillo, RenĂ©e Watson, and Jon Scieszka for contributing their favorite kid question!  

Illustrate, Translate, Write, and occasionally answer some wacky kid questions!
Lee

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Yamile Saied Mendez Discusses Writing Craft

 

By Suma Subramaniam

I'm thrilled to welcome Yamile Saied Mendez to the SCBWI Blog today.

We're eager to learn about your new children's books this year. Could you tell us what they're about?

    2024 will be a fun and intensive year for me, as I have a story in an anthology, an original translation, two picture books, and two middle-grade novels coming out. 

    Out of Our League: 16 Stories of Girls in Sports, edited by Dahlia Adler and Jennifer Iacopelli (Macmillan, Feb 3rd, 2024)

    En Estas Tierras Magicas , MG translation of On These Magic Shores (Lee & Low Books, May 12th, 2024)

    Grandmas Are Magic, PB, illustrated by Minji Kim (Disney Press, August 6th, 2024)

    Pockets Of Love, PB, illustrated by Sara Palacios ( Harper Collins, September 3rd, 2024)

    The Beautiful Gathorme (MG): September 17th, 2024

    Super secret MG: September 24th, 2024

                                                      

You write for children, young adults, and adults. Does writing books for different age groups give you a different perspective about approaching craft? If so, how?

Yes, and no. My process is very similar, whether I'm writing a picture book or a romance. But of course, editing an 85,000-word novel is much more time consuming than editing a 200-word picture book. Notice I'm saying more time consuming, not more difficult. Writing for different age groups has its set of challenges and joys.


What is your writing process like?

I'm very eclectic. I start collecting ideas in my phone notes and my notebook. My least favorite part of the process is drafting because I love having all the pieces of the story puzzle, and arranging them during the re-writing and editing process. That's why I write my first drafts very fast, to get the story out of my system, so I can get to the fun part which is working in collaboration with my editors to make the story in my head reflect on the pages of a book.

What is the most challenging part of your author life?

The most difficult time is how different publishing timing can be from that of everyday life. Sometimes there are long times of waiting for news, and then it seems like all deadlines fall on the same week or even day! But I like the ebbs and flows that allow me time to think about new stories to write.

What would you like to say to your readers and writers who are wondering if their voices and visions for their stories matter?

Every voice matters! Every vision matters! And no one else can tell the story that is in your heart but you. So silence the haters, and write!

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Mendez was born and raised in Rosario, Argentina, but has lived most of her life in a lovely valley surrounded by mountains in Utah. She's the award winning best-selling author of many books and short stories for young readers, and occasionally, for adults. She's also the co-editor of the anthologies OUR SHADOWS HAVE CLAWS: 15 LATINE MONSTER STORIES (with Amparo Ortiz) and CALLING THE MOON: 16 PERIOD STORIES FROM BIPOC AUTHORS (with Aida Salazar).

Her novel FURIA is a Reese's Book Club pick and the 2021 inaugural Pura Belpre Young Adult gold medal winner.  A Walter Dean Myers inaugural grant recipient, she's also a VONA Workshop (Voices of our Nations) alumna and a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's a founding member of Las Musas, a community for Latine authors. Find her online at yamilemendez.com.

Suma Subramaniam is a recruiter by day and a children's book author by night. Her picture books include Namaste is a Greeting (2023 Crystal Kite and 2023 Northern Lights Book Award Winner), She Sang for India (2023 Northern Lights Book Award Winner and 2022 NYPL Diverse Voices Book), The Runaway Dosa, and more. Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Finalist-Massachusetts Book Award). Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation's Poetry Magazine, What is Hope?, and other anthologies for children. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who will do anything for Indian sweets and snacks. Learn more at https://sumasubramaniam.com.




Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Publisher Brooke Warner On Returns (Yes, they're "heart-troubling" for authors, but there's more to consider...)

Over on substack, Brooke Warner wrote this column, Things That Make Authors Cry.

screenshot from Brooke Warner's substack column "Things that make authors cry"

So when your publisher sells your book to a retailer it's not a for-sure sale, because the retailer then needs to sell it to a customer. If they don't, the retailer can send it back to the publisher, which is called a return. And they'll want their money back. And they'll charge for the shipping. This all impacts your royalty statement (look carefully and you'll notice there's a reserve usually held for future returns).

In addition to explaining more about how returns work and how publishers figure out how many books to print in the first place, Brooke also shares wisdom from her publisher perspective, including:

“It doesn’t feel good to have books returned, but it’s also the case that it’s not an indictment on a given book.”

and

“Your publisher will always do everything in its power to push your books out the door, to get the most possible exposure, the most possible buys.”

and

“Authors who hoped they’d sell more are also proud of their books. Books can surprise us with their longevity, opening up doors and possibilities many years after they come out.”

The article is well-worth checking out.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!
Lee