Day 27: S.A.M. POSEY

February 27, 2014

shellie

Since writing can be compared to a recipe, clearly debut author S.A.M. Posey has something cooking.  She mixed three cups of teenage characters, one cup of terrorist, seasoned her pages perfectly with African American history, and added just enough trouble to bake us one of the best drama cakes ever, The Last Station Master.

Raised in Alabama, S.A.M. Posey has always loved reading.  Like most readers, books were a window for her that opened a view to the world.  She now resides in Florida with her family and pets.  For more information about S.A.M. Posey, (including her real name) visit her website at http://www.samposey.com.

On this the 27th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight young adult author:  

S.A.M. POSEY

The Journey: I never imagined ever writing a book, but I have always loved reading. I grew up in a small, isolated Alabama town, but thanks to books, I had a window on the world. I loved all the places books took me, and the fascinating characters I met along the way. I jokingly tell people I have read the library of every school I have ever attended. I LOVE TO READ. Consequently, I couldn’t imagine being the mother of a child who did not love reading. So, when my son was born, mission make-baby-a-reader was launched. Eventually I noticed that baby wasn’t taking naps because I was constantly reading to him. Sadly, reading had to be cut back to mainly bedtime hours. But even with the mission slightly curtailed, my wonderful boy grew into a happy reader. Then one day the happy reader read no more. The problem? Not enough books on the market that piqued his interest. My voracious reader discovered that boy-centric books were hard to find and books geared toward African-American boys were harder still.  Naturally, I did what moms do best.  Promised to fix things. I can remember my exact words. “I’ll write you a book, sweetie.” In that moment, S.A.M. Posey the storywriter was born. It would take another five years to get a publishing contract, and another two years for the book to be published, but that most definitely was the moment that sparked my writing adventure. Who knew writing could become addicting? Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The Process

 I hear voices. You know, the imaginary kind. Characters come to me with these killer elevator pitches and they just won’t go away until I tell their stories. They are constantly whispering into my ear. Wait, did that sound crazy? Uh, then I mean, I do a great deal of academic research into a particular period in history and then try to outline the most effective means of turning this information into a modern-day, kid-friendly story. Yeah, that’s it. I plan, I outline, I do a rough draft and eventually the story blossoms into a full manuscript. There is, of course, no figment of my imagination shadowing my every move, intruding into my thoughts, pulling me from my slumber to write the next chapter and throwing tantrums if it feels ignored. Ahem, no, that’s just silly. So, let’s move on. 

The Inspiration  

I love many writers, but all of my favorites authors write for kids. I love Jacqueline Woodson. She had me with Locomotion, Miracle’s Boys, Feathers … I’m crying halfway through her books. I love the way she pulls the reader into a character’s world so that you care what happens to them. A couple of years ago, my publisher asked me to set up a Facebook page, which I did. I somehow saw Jacqueline Woodson’s name as someone I could friend so I sent her a friend request. I was thrilled beyond words that this social media allows me to stalk, I mean follow, such a talented lady.

I also love Angela Johnson. I believe First Part Last was the first book I read by her. Such a powerful story and so masterfully told. I became and instant fan and had to read more of her stuff. I loved Bird, and Haven. I just love her.

Lois Lowry may have been the first children’s writer I read as an adult. I read The Giver, then found Number the Stars and then made sure to read everything she wrote. The Giver remains my favorite book of all times.

 I can’t say that I write like any of these ladies, only that I have learned lessons about writing from them. Lesson one, a character doesn’t have to be likable to make a reader care about what will happen to them. The reader just has to be able to relate to the character. Characters who have flaws and doubts are interesting people; so write well-rounded characters, with all their flaws intact. Lesson two, there doesn’t have to be a dire emergency or immediate danger around every corner for the main character to have to deal with in order for a book to be interesting. The writing should be compelling enough to capture the reader’s curiosity and then hold that curiosity to the end.  

The Last Station Master

The Backstory 

The Last Station Master is my debut novel, but it is not the first book I wrote. The first book I wrote is unsalvageable. The second story I wrote is a sci-fi with so many plot twists that I’m still reworking it. The Last Station Master would be book number three in this writer’s arsenal of words. All of my stories involve me taking some unsuspecting kid just minding his own business and dropping him into an extraordinary situation. Pity the kid who doesn’t know enough history to work his way out of that situation. What can I say? I love history. All of my stories merge the present with the past, because really, least we forget, the past is always with us. 

The Buzz  

*A Royal Palm Literary Award Winner: “An intriguing story with an unusual twist.” 

*School Library Journal Reviewed on JUNE 1, 2013  |  Grades 5-upGr 6–9—In this fast-moving story, African American Nate Daniels expects to be bored when he’s sent to spend the summer with his grandparents in rural North Carolina, but he quickly learns his vacation will be anything but dull. In her debut novel, Posey successfully juggles multiple story lines while developing appealing characters. Posey vividly depicts the rural setting and conjures images of the Old South as Nate’s sleuthing solves his ancestors’ mystery. Information on influential African Americans of the era is provided in the author’s notes, which could encourage further exploration.—M. Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

The State of the Industry: 

The Industry is changing with the times, me thinks. It is so good to see that the publishing world is becoming more diverse and boy-oriented. I have two books on preorder. They’ll both be coming out later this year. Boys of Blur - N. D. Wilson and The Great Greene Heist - Varian Johnson. Both sound like a fascinating read. Can’t wait to get my hands on them!

Thank you, S.A.M. Posey, for your wonderful debut, and we look forward to reading more from you in the future.

 

 

 


Day 26: Kadir Nelson

February 26, 2014

kadirnelsonphotoKadir Nelson is an award-winning American artist whose works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Born in Washington, D.C., Nelson earned a Bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Nelson illustrated several New York Times best-selling picture books and his authorial debut, WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball was winner of the Coretta Scott King and Robert F. Sibert Awards, as well as the 2008 CASEY Award for best baseball book.

Nelson is a two-time Caldecott Honor winner, and received an NAACP Image Award for the book JUST THE TWO OF US. His book NELSON MANDELA was a Coretta Scott King honor book in 2014.

Visit with Kadir Nelson at his website, and this video interview from Scholastic.

Sources: Wikipedia, Author’s web site.
Photo Source: Author site.


Day 23: Stephanie Kuehn

February 23, 2014

SkuehnhighresBWThe Journey

When I was growing up, my father was an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and he worked with freelance writers from all over the Bay Area (and beyond). My whole life, we had diverse and creative people coming in and out of our home, and I was enthralled by their passion and the stories they wanted to tell.

Consequently, I wanted to be a writer from a very young age. My parents encouraged me and I was that kid who spent all my classes daydreaming and jotting down stories in notebooks. However, when I went to college, I became interested in linguistics and philosophy, and I stopped writing fiction. That’s disappointing to reflect back on, but if I’m being honest with myself, I think I was at a school with so many talented writers and artists that I was intimidated to take classes with them. The linguistics department was small and vibrant, and it suited my analytical temperament well.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I found writing again. I had young kids and I was going to graduate school (for psychology), and I needed a self-directed creative outlet. I found some of my old writing that I had saved from high school and it inspired me to try and write a full-length novel. I did that, and I kept writing. Writing for teens felt natural to me. I work with young people and find it meaningful to tell stories that they can relate to.

The Back Story
I suppose I got the book deal for Charm & Strange in a fairly traditional manner. I wrote the novel, revised it, and queried agents that I thought would be a good fit. I was fortunate enough to connect with a really wonderful agent who wanted to represent it. The manuscript went on submission to editors and found the perfect home at St. Martin’s. It was definitely not an overnight thing at all, which is what you always hear about. There was a lot of revising and rejection and waiting, waiting, waiting, and some days I thought nothing would happen. But it all worked out and I am very grateful for that.

The Inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere! My reading taste is somewhat eclectic, but I really dig Robert Cormier, Isabel Allende, Walter Mosley. Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Janne Teller, Nick Burd, John Barth, John Fowles, Flannery O’Connor, Blythe Woolston, Meg Rosoff, Toni Morrison, Josephine Miles, and I’ll stop there because I could go on and on. As far as music goes, I’m a huge jazz fan (I played bass for years) and some favorites are Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

The Process

I start with a concept. That’s what first piques my interest, although it’s usually a concept that’s abstract and difficult to explain. But that difficulty makes me want to write it even more, so that I can say what I mean and say it just right.

Then it usually takes me playing around with the concept and finding a character and voice to see if the idea takes. If it starts to become less abstract and turn into more of a story, and I’m excited to write it, I’ll go with it. If I can write a few chapters and then compose a rough synopsis of what I’m trying to do, I’m usually committed. What I’m finding is hard is learning how to set something aside and then come back to it. I’m getting better about it, but it can be frustrating because inspiration and motivation can feel so fickle.

I live in a small house with a husband and three kids, and there is no sacred office space. I have tiny desk in my bedroom, but I write anywhere I can find a free moment.Charm and Strange

The Buzz

Charm & Strange has been nominated for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal, and WON YALSA’s 2014 William C. Morris award! (ed. note: woot!)

Under The Radar

Brandy Colbert is a young adult author whose first novel, POINTE, will be published in April by Penguin. I’ve read POINTE and it is amazing. Beautiful and layered and complex, with a narrator who is very special and whose story unfolds in ways you wouldn’t expect. Sumayyah Daud is another young adult author whom I really admire, and her debut BEGIN AGAIN, is forthcoming from Dutton.

Thank you so much, Ms. Kuehn! It’s been a pleasure, and we’re looking forward to COMPLICIT this summer. Visit Stephanie Kuehn online for more!


DAY 20: KIMBERLY REID

February 20, 2014

Kimberly Reid_author_photo

Dossier: a file containing detailed records on a particular person or subject. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Most blogs and individual websites contain a “bio” or an “about me” section.  On Kimberly Reid’s website, her personal information is listed under “Dossier.”  Let’s use that as our first clue of the kind of books Ms. Reid writes.

According to her dossier, Ms. Reid grew up in Atlanta, but now resides in Colorado.  Both places have provided beautiful scenery for her Langdon Prep Series. Also interesting are the similarities between Ms. Reid, and her main character, Chanti.  These similarities provide the next set of clues:

1.  They both attended a prep school where they did not fit in;

2.  Their moms were police detectives and both Kimberly and Chanti wanted to help solve crimes; and

3.  Both have lived most of their lives around law enforcement types.

Have you figured it out?  Yes!  Ms. Reid writes crime-solving mysteries!

Like many authors, Ms. Reid held several jobs prior to finding her dream work as a writer.  She enjoyed many of those jobs (and they provide great background for books) but she found her joy when she became a writer, the job she dreamed of doing since childhood.

On this the 20th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight author, Kimberly Reid.

The Journey:

A decade passed between my first attempt at publication and my first sale. I knew nothing about the business and sent full manuscripts to publishing houses. After a handful of rejections, I gave up on seeing my book in print, though I continued to write. By 2005 when I gave it another go, I’d taken workshops, studied the publishing process, and learned that a handful of rejections meant I was just getting started.

I attended a writer’s conference and discussed my novel with agent Kristin Nelson during a pitch session. We’re both in the Denver area so I had met her at some local publishing events. She was the agent I wanted, but she didn’t seem excited by the story I was pitching. I switched gears and quickly pitched my work-in-progress about growing up during the Atlanta Missing Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead detective. That got Kristin’s attention. She asked me to send the manuscript when it was complete. Several months later, I sent it to her, she offered representation, and we sold No Place Safe to Kensington Books in 2006. It won the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction the following year.kim reid no place safe

The rights recently reverted to me and I just released the e-book, so now I’m a hybrid author, traditionally and self-published.

 The Back Story:

Memoir puts it all out there, which can be a little unnerving. I decided to make things up from that point on, but I wasn’t sure what to write. I studied my trunk novels to discover what they had in common: a crime and a teen protagonist even though I’d written them for adults. They also shared a failed attempt at being deep and earnest. I got over my dream of someday winning the Nobel and figured out YA crime fiction with a touch of humor is my thing. I stole from my life again, this time only for the basic premise of a story—a teen girl becomes an amateur detective thanks to skills learned from her cop mom. I really did learn a lot about detective work from my mother, but was never brave enough to put the knowledge to use. Now I can through my heroine, Chanti.

 Kristin pitched My Own Worst Frenemy to my memoir publisher. They liked the story but turned it down because they weren’t sure it was a good fit for their list. Every writer has likely received that particular rejection letter, but what happened a few months later is rare. The editor called my agent to see if the manuscript was still available.  Kensington was launching a new YA line called K-Teen and she was looking for stories for the multicultural imprint K-Teen/Dafina. You need to write a good book, but you also need a very big dose of luck and timing when it comes to being traditionally published.

Kimberly Reid MY_OWN_WORST_FRENEMY_final_cover_original

The Process: 

With my early manuscripts, I had a let-the-muse-guide me approach to writing, thinking it wasn’t very artistic to plan a book. Those manuscripts went unsold because they were a convoluted mess. In my day job as a project manager, I was all about the planning, so I applied those skills to writing. I found it especially useful to outline mysteries. You have to figure out where the red herrings go, keep track of who knows what and when—I found it was just too hard to wing it. There are mystery writers who do it well, but I’m not one of them. Now that I have a basic process, I usually tweak it with each new manuscript.

That’s the thing about The Process. Not only is it different for every writer; it’s different for every book.

Generally, I start by figuring out who the main character is and what she wants. That first step is huge because conflict drives story. My protagonist must want or need something she can’t have, but will try to get, anyway. I also have to know the end before I start. The original endings never stick, but it gives me something to work toward. All of that planning happens in my head for a couple of months before I begin writing, which goes fairly quickly because I know what has to happen to reach the end.

The writing starts with a one-sentence description of the action in each chapter. This helps with the pacing, gives me a high-level view of the story, and ensures something is happening in every chapter to move the story forward. Then I turn the one sentence into a one-page synopsis per chapter, which becomes the outline. kimberly reid sweet-16-to-lifeOnce I have the outline done, I power through the first draft because it’s my least favorite and the most difficult to write. I prefer revision to writing. The final book only vaguely resembles that original outline, but I have to trick myself into thinking I know exactly what will happen or I’d probably never start, much less finish.

The mental writing happens anywhere—grocery store lines, waiting at the doctor’s office, while riding the bus. The physical writing can only happen in my home office, on an ancient laptop with no internet connection. I’m too easily distracted (by pretty much anything) to write anywhere else.

The Buzz:

 My Own Worst Frenemy 

From Kirkus

Chanti is smart and funny, and this multicultural cast is a welcome addition to the world of teen mysteries. This clever mystery with a biting look at class and privilege is a breath of fresh air.

 Creeping With the Enemy 

From School Library Journal

Chanti is an engaging and well-developed character; she’s full of humor and spunk, and readers will definitely want to know if she gets her man—the bad one and the good one. All of her friends, foes, loves, and neighbors round out this intriguing and suspenseful mystery. A great choice for those who like a bit of romance and suspense in their mysteries and a lot of spirit in their detectives.

 Sweet 16 to Life

 From Kirkus

Reid continues the snappy dialogue and clever storytelling of the previous volumes, and readers will detect real growth in Chanti as she works her way through her difficulties. There are times when Chanti’s insight is laugh-out-loud humorous. A cliffhanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.

Find out more about Kimberly Reid on her website:  http://Kimberlyreid.com 

Thank you, Kimberly, for giving us a glimpse of you, your books, and your path to publication!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 19: Diane Browne

February 19, 2014

portrait.promo.formal smiling

Diane Browne has written over 40 stories/books. She has been published by Ginn in the United Kingdom; Harcourt Brace and Friendship Press in the USA; Heinemann Caribbean, Carlong Publishers, Arawak Publications, and the Ministry of Education in Jamaica.

She has been a visiting author for the Students’ Encounter Programme at the Miami Book Fair, and has presented papers on children’s literature at the National Association of Teacher’s of English, UK; the International Association of School Librarianship, the International Reading Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. She has frequently participated as trainer/consultant in writing workshops for both writers of children’s fiction and textbooks, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

    THE JOURNEY

My journey began when I was quite young; I loved books. I read the usual books, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys as well as listened to Anancy stories. But I knew that I wanted someone
to write books about us, people who looked like us and lived like us. I longed for this. And then when my two girls were little, I realized that this person could be me. There was nothing for them to read that represented them. There was a particular Enid Blyton book ( a British children’s author) in which there was a golliwog, which was a doll depicting black people, a caricature really, and he was always the one giving trouble or getting into trouble. A subtle but significant message. My older daughter, was then only about eight, and she remembers feeling uncomfortable about this. Our story book heroes were still the golden haired girls and princesses. I had to write children’s stories so my children, all our children would have books reflecting positive images of themselves.

However, my journey is not only a story of my writing for children. It became a journey as a children’s writer with a passion for raising the consciousness, here and in the Caribbean region, of the importance of our own children’s stories to validate our children and their lives. Children must see themselves in books.

My actual writing journey began on a project for the Ministry of Education. The project was to write supplementary readers, the Dr. Bird Readers, for our government-run primary schools (elementary schools), which the majority of the children in the island attend. This was in the late 1970s early 1980s, and it was revolutionary. Story books which featured snow, ice skating, sledding and firesides and chimneys were presented as the norm for children, who lived in a country which was hot all year round, where beaches and palm trees and towering green mountains and tropical vegetation were what they saw. When our writing team went into schools to meet our target audience, we discovered that the children thought that all writers were either foreigners or were dead. The Dr. Bird books changed this. They are still in schools, and even now, I run into adults, a policeman, a nurse, who remember favourite books from that series. My most recent experience was last year with a team interviewing at risk youth, ages 15 – 20, all male. When asked what books they could remember reading, we got the not unexpected looks of astonishment. How could anybody expect them to remember a book? And then they began to recall books they had read in school and call out their names – books I had written.

I grinned with pleasure, as it dawned on them: “Is she write it?” (Amazement!) “Yes, is she write it!”

(Discovery): And I replied, “Yes, is me write it.” Creole is often used to express surprise, a familiarity one with the other. Grins and laughter all round. We were one in this delight of writing and reading our own stories. These were their story books. These are what they remember.

One of my picture story books produced by Heinemman Caribbean at this time was Cordelia Finds Fame
and Fortune. This was also published in the USA in a library series called Passports by Harcourt Brace and Company. Although I had only used Creole structures in the dialogue, and very modified ones, the American edition totally changed those so that a folk song in the book, the first line of which read , ‘Oh Cordelia Brown, whe mek you head so red?’, became ‘Oh Cordelia Brown, what makes your hair so red?’ Nonetheless, I was thrilled that there had been an American edition; at the recognition. And I was fortunate to be part of a Student’s Encounter Programme for the Miami Book Fair where we were able to sing the original version of that folksong.

Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, is about a little girl who is teased because she has red hair with dark skin, an anomaly. That was connected to my younger daughter’s experience, although I did not realize that that was my inspiration then. Our passions inform our writing journey even when we aren’t looking.

My journey has taken me from picture story books to ‘tween’ books, two Time Travel novels in which the protagonists go to historical events in our past,( because we can do time travel too just like people in big countries); and to my most recent book, a novel in the YA genre, Island Princess in Brooklyn, published by Carlong Publishers, Jamaica, 2011. Island-Princess-front.final

    THE BACK STORY

ISLAND PRINCESS IN BROOKLYN is a coming of age story of a 13 year-old protagonist, who reluctantly leaves her Granny with whom she has grown, to join her mother in Brooklyn. Princess has to adjust not only to a mother she barely knows, but also to a stepfather she never knew existed, a new country and a new school.

My connections with New York go way back. Most of my father’s family migrated in the 1930s and eventually lived in Jamaica, Long Island (which we always said, to differentiate it from our own Jamaica.)

Did this back story begin with my 15 year-old self who went to visit them, and had such a magical time discovering more family, and Radio City Music Hall, and the United Nations (where she planned to work when she grew up) that she fell in love with New York?

Did that girl reach out across the years to Princess? Or was the genesis of the back story more in the present? Some few years ago when my older daughter was in New York as her husband was doing a fellowship at a hospital in Brooklyn, I went up for the birth of my two grandchildren. And I fell in love again! Big time – with Brooklyn; the Brooklyn of migrant peoples and old-time houses turned into apartments buildings, laundromats where people who did not speak English helped you anyway, dollar stores, grandmas watching children in small front yards, old men sitting on steps in the sun. Different ethnic groups, all there working for the American dream; I saw their lives, our lives.

I was dizzy with joy! I would have written an ode to Brooklyn. Instead Princess McQueen turned up and said, ‘Tell my story’. I wrote in the first person, so it is Princess’ voice we hear. By the end of the story, Princess grows to discover that it may be possible after all to love both Jamaica and New York, that family, may not be perfect – but they are family.

This theme of migration is a part of the fabric of our lives. Everybody has family or knows of someone who has migrated to the USA, the UK or Canada. And therefore there is the social construct of the absent parent who has left children to make a better life overseas before sending for them. These
children left behind here are often called ‘barrel children’ because of the barrels of goodies sent home by the parent, ‘evidence’ of their love and success.

Many have told me how much they love this book; women from cultures as different as Puerto Rico and Uganda said it speaks to them of their lives, the dynamics of their families. They recognise the various levels in the story, including that of the women in a family. In this novel there are three pivotal female figures circling around one another, Princess, her Mum and Granny. As Princess’ Mum says about the relationship to Granny: She was my mother before I was your mother, she was my mother before she was your grandmother.

We all belong to each other. Nothing can change that.

However, the character who has the greatest impact on Princess’s coming to terms with her new life is an African American boy. I didn’t plan that; he just stepped forward and played that role.

In a way Island Princess in Brooklyn celebrates my father’s family and their journey. Interestingly
enough, Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune celebrated the fact that fame and fortune can be found here
at home (no need to migrate). However, Princess is forced to migrate and forced to make a new life
or return home. Is this back story then part of the journey, a journey in which I am now able to look outwards from our island to our people overseas? This circle of family, of story, fills me with wonder.

    THE BUZZ

“This delightful well-wrought novel . . . All the challenges of the young protagonist, who tells her story in the first person, are handled with emotional impact and veracity of experience. We are treated to the world as seen by the new migrant. It is a fresh and appealing point of view that makes for fast-paced reading that often melds the two countries . . . Browne builds a solid map of Jamaican culture and mores that her youthful migrant can use to comfort herself in the strange new situations she encounters without being obtrusive or in any way false or forced. This is one of the attractive features of the narrative, for the young protagonist becomes more and more appealing as she faces each challenge that comes her way.” Mary Hanna: Bookends, The Sunday Observer: Jamaica

“a delightful read” — Geoffrey Philp

Diane Browne has won awards for her children’s stories/books in Jamaica, including a prestigious Musgrave Medal for her contribution to the field of children’s literature from the Institute of Jamaica.

She also won the special prize for a children’s story in the Commonwealth, (a worldwide association of countries) from the Commonwealth Foundation, 2011.

    MY INSPIRATION

I was inspired by the West Indian writers of adult fiction like Sir V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Edgar Mittelholzer, John Hearne. They were telling our stories, stories I understood about people whom I recognised. This was the understanding and recognition in literature that I wanted to bring to our children. In contemporary children’s literature I was inspired by the American Judy Blume, especially her book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, as she presents us with the multi-faceted characters of real young people; Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time led me to a fascination with time travel, made me want to create time travel for my people. I suppose everything I read and liked, urged me onwards to create our own stories.

    THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

In the Caribbean we need more opportunities for publishing of children’s books, and more people buying books, but too often disposable income is limited. Moreover, foreign children’s books undersell local books because of their economies of scale. Nonetheless, I do not think that indigenous literature gets the support of our education institutions which our children and our countries deserve. I’m delighted that there are more and more African American children’s books. That these books, as well as Black British books are also available to us, is a good thing. They provide our children with images of children like themselves, even if there are cultural differences. What I would love to see is Americans being interested in children’s material from the Caribbean. The Brown Bookshelf by affording me the opportunity of writing this blog, has highlighted us, and I thank you.

    THE PROCESS

I write as the spirit moves me, as the characters appear, as a story set in a place or time calls out to me.

I have no set pattern and often I’m thinking when next I’ll get the time to write while I’m doing other things. I usually write an entire story and then rewrite, edit, etc. over a period of time. If it’s a novel, the first draft is always done before I return to any specific thing within the story. Then I grow my story in layers.

Thank you so much, Ms. Browne! I love thinking of growing a story in layers. (*And* it makes me think of cake, which I also happen to love.) Readers, visit Diane Browne’s blog for more about her extensive work, and a wealth of resources on Caribbean children’s literature! You can also read an excerpt from ISLAND PRINCESS IN BROOKLYN over at Anansesem Magazine.


DAY 17: Nikki Shannon Smith

February 17, 2014

Nikki Shannon Smith Headshot

Last summer, I visited the Little Golden Books exhibit at the Smithsonian. As I perused the historic titles, I had no idea I would meet Nikki Shannon Smith, a current Little Golden Books author. Her story is amazing. She’s a perfect picture of a “can-do-never-give-up” attitude. An attitude that resulted in The Little Christmas Elf.

Please join us in honoring Nikki Shannon Smith on Day 17 of 28 Days Later.

The Journey: My Path to Publishing

I’m not one of those people who always knew she would be an author. I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, the first female president, and what I actually became: an educator. Somewhere along the way, between teaching and being a wife and a mother, I lost myself. There was nothing I did “just for me.” Every moment of my day was spent on other people, and I had forgotten to play, to dream. I was becoming resentful and bored. I was wilting. I stayed home alone one day in 2007, and watched Oprah. (I know how this sounds, but I’m telling the truth.) This particular episode was about women who looked way younger than their age. Oprah asked each one of them what their secret was, and they all said they had hit a point where they realized they weren’t happy, and changed course to follow their dreams. I didn’t need to be as drastic as they were (leaving husbands, quitting jobs…), but I had to nourish myself.
Within minutes, I hopped out of the bed, ran to my kids’ rooms, and started pulling books off the shelves. I had always been a reader and a writer, even as a little girl. It was how I escaped and made sense of the world. It was how I forgot that I wasn’t sure where I fit in. It was what set my imagination free. I needed to write for children. And maybe… if I worked really hard, my stories would make their way out into the world and into the hands of little people. Maybe they would laugh, or wonder, or try, or believe… or see themselves on a page in one of my books.
A few of the books in my hands that day were by Nikki Grimes. I went to her website and found all the resources an aspiring children’s author could ask for. I methodically followed those steps. I joined SCBWI, I bought the recommended books, joined a critique group, attended my first conference… the trajectory had been set. I wrote as often as I could, usually at night. All of my early manuscripts are picture books. Many of them are light-hearted stories with African-American main characters. None of them are published.
The one that got published was the one I didn’t want to write. It was a December homework assignment for my critique group—a story about Christmas. I struggled to even come up with an idea. I waited until the last minute… and then a story that I really loved came pouring out. A couple of years later, it sold!
Elf Cover (641x800)The Back Story: How I Got “The Deal”
I submitted the story (then called The Littlest Elf) for critique at my local SCBWI conference. It landed in the hands of Diane Muldrow, Editor at Random House/Little Golden Books. She said nice things about it, and made some suggestions, but didn’t ask for it. I liked her suggestions, edited the manuscript, and sent it to her a month later—snail mail. (I did this myself, I didn’t have an agent…still don’t.) I waited and didn’t hear back. I spent a lot of time perseverating over the whole thing. I literally paced the hall. I waited some more, and then decided to move on. Thirteen months after I sent the manuscript, I got an email from Diane… wondering if it was still available. I made quite a scene in my school office, and then started researching how to negotiate my own contract. I have to say that my first publishing experience has been nothing but delightful. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about people being unhappy with their editors, or the illustrations, or the timeline, or the deal, or whatever. I don’t have a single complaint or regret. It has been a dream-come-true.
The Inspiration: Who Inspired Me
I have many sources of inspiration, so it’s hard to pinpoint just a few. When I was a very young child I was an avid reader. (I got in trouble for reading instead of doing what I was supposed to do.) There weren’t a wide variety of children’s books by and about African-Americans, though. I do remember re-reading Black is Brown is Tan, by Arnold Adoff, over and over again. I remember looking at those pictures and thinking about how the shades of the people in the family resembled my own. That may well have been the first time I was inspired by a book. Two other authors I read a lot of as a young person were Judy Blume and Stephen King. When I was a teenager, my father gave me a box of books by African-American authors that were his from the 1960’s. Among them were books by Nikki Giovanni and Richard Wright. There was an honesty in their work that struck me.

Although I still didn’t consider becoming a writer, those books stayed with me in a way that I still feel today. Once I became a mother and an elementary school teacher, my love of children’s books resurfaced. There was so much more available, in terms of diversity. I’m inspired by, and thankful for, all of those who create work with the brown child in mind.

Another inspiration for me was Bill Cosby. In my parents’ house, we weren’t allowed to watch TV on weeknights… until The Cosby Show. I knew just by that change something important was happening. I loved the way the show (and later A Different World) paid homage to the culture while still addressing universal themes. I loved that the parents were professionals, but slipped into dialect sometimes—they portrayed the complexity of being African-American. Again, I was seeing myself—my family. More than that, EVERYBODY was watching. People from other races were seeing “us” and finding similarities, relating to our lives, and laughing with us instead of at us.

These varied experiences with books and media inspired me in a way that influences my writing. I write everything from funny to serious, from picture books to young adult. I write stories with Black characters that aren’t about being Black, and stories that directly speak to the Black Experience. I have a few stories with non-human characters, and of course The Little Christmas Elf, with an elf who in my mind, is Latina. I even write poems that should never see the light of day. I feel fortunate to be witnessing a change in children’s books, and I hope I can contribute, and maybe even inspire someone else.

The Process: How I Work

The process for The Little Christmas Elf was not my typical process. This was early in my writing career, and most of the time little ideas would just pop into my head and I’d start writing, sometimes not knowing where the story was going to go. Other times, the full plot would come to me, and I’d just add details along the way. ELF was incredibly difficult for me. For one thing, I don’t like to be told what to do. It was homework, for goodness sake. Another challenge was that a Christmas story didn’t feel like “my thing.” I don’t know why; I love Christmas. Probably, I was being stubborn—putting up my own hurdles.

With ELF, I sat at the computer numerous times and got up again without writing a word. I didn’t have a single idea. NOT ONE. Right before the homework was due, I knew I didn’t have a choice, and figured it didn’t have to be good. It just had to be done. I came up with the character first: the smallest elf in the workshop. I named her Nina, for the Spanish word niña (little girl). I got a mental picture of her, very small at a great big table, making a toy, but didn’t have the plot yet. It didn’t take long to decide that she would be struggling to finish the toy on time. From there, the story flowed, until it was time for Santa to arrive. I didn’t want to give her an easy out, but couldn’t think of a way for her not to finish the toy on time and still have a happy ending. I sat for a while, and then got the idea for the end. I drafted it in one sitting, and was pretty satisfied with it. Of course, I revised and revised, but the characters and plot never changed. Sure wish I could do that again….

If you can’t tell from this, I’m not an outliner. It’s strange, because I am such a planner and an organizer in all other aspects of my life. I actually get on people’s nerves with it. With writing, I tend to let ideas marinate in my brain for a long time, and then one day I sit down and write. I’m writing young adult novels now, and I work the same way with those. By the time I start writing, I have the characters and plot figured out in my mind. Except for some reason, I get to page 60 or so, then have to plot and take character  notes get “un-stuck.”  

Nikki signing

THE BUZZ: ELF Publicity
Little Golden Books aren’t reviewed and publicized in the same way that some books are, but there has been some fun “buzz.” Little Nina even made a cameo on The Today Show for Christmas 2013.

“This sweetly tender story feels like a Little Golden classic already and the gentle art evokes the happiest of childhood memories.” Connie Goldsmith, reviewer for The Book Report/California Kids Newsletter

TELEVISION:

The Today Show: Jill’s Steals and Deals, 12/4/13, The Little Christmas Elf and other Little Golden Books are featured. http://www.today.com/video/today/53733735#53733735

INTERVIEWS:
Cynsations, 11/19/11, New Voice: Nikki Shannon Smith on The Little Christmas Elf http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-voice-nikki-shannon-smith-on-little.html
Writing Teazurs, 7/12/12, Interview with Nikki Shannon Smith: Author of The Little Christmas Elf http://teazurs.blogspot.com/2012/07/interview-with-nikki-shannon-smith.html
REVIEWS:
California Kids! December 2011, The Book Report, p. 13 http://www.valcomnews.com/wp-content/PDFs/CalKids/CK1112.pdf
NEWS ARTICLES:
The Davis Enterprise, 9/15/11, Korematsu Teacher Celebrates her First Book http://www.davisenterprise.com/home-page/featured-stories/korematsu-teacher-celebrates-her-first-book/
The Davis Enterprise, 11/27/11, Downtown Says Happy Holidays!http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/downtown-says-happy-holidays/
Davis Life Magazine, 4/13/12, Korematsu’s Author on Stage http://www.davislifemagazine.com/2012/04/korematsus-author-on-stage/

More about Nikki . . .

Website: Nikki Shannon Smith and

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/NikkiShannonSmithBooks

Twitter: @nikki2smith

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks


Day 9: Pamela Tuck

February 9, 2014

pamelatuckauthorPamela M. Tuck was born in Greenville, NC telling stories. As a child, Pamela entertained her family by recording her own voice and telling “made up silly stories.” She won her first poetry contest in elementary school and continued to write short stories and plays. Her picture book, AS FAST AS WORDS COULD FLY, was the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award winner in 2007. We at The Brown Bookshelf are proud to have her join us here for 28 Days Later. Welcome, Pamela!

The Journey
I grew up as an only child. So, books were more than just a source of entertainment, they became my companions. Before learning to read, I would climb into a loved one’s lap while they read to me and I’d become part of the story. I often requested to hear the story over and over again, until I could recite it back page by page. That was my version of “reading” a book. (Reading the pictures is what my family called it.). Some of my favorite books as a child were the Little Golden Books and books by Richard Scarry. As I became older, I read almost anything I could get my hands on. I just loved a good story. Fortunately for me, my grandfather was the master storyteller in our family. For years, I thought Bruh Rabbit, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Fox were his characters. Although I found out otherwise, I’m persuaded to believe the stories he told about them were original. As my cousins and I sat around his feet, my grandfather exploded into eye-popping, jaw-dropping stories. He turned storytelling into a performance. I often tried to imitate his technique by recording myself telling made-up, silly stories and using different voices for my characters. When I played those recordings back for my family, I was thrilled to see my grandfather and father bent over with laughter. That was confirmation that I too would be added to the list of family storytellers.dad with royal typewriter

pamelatuckfamily picture

My writing journey actually began with a poetry contest in elementary school. I submitted a poem about my grandmother and won first place. I was convinced from that point that I was a poet. That experience taught me that I could win contests for my writing. So, poetry coupled with storytelling predetermined my life as a writer. Throughout my school years, I ventured into writing short stories and plays that received recognition from my teachers, friends and local newspapers. The encouragement from my family and community were the biggest influences on my writing.

As an adult, I found serenity in pouring my feelings out on paper. I often used poetry or inspirational compositions as encouragement for myself or gifts for close friends and family members. Once I became a mother, I enjoyed watching my children’s faces as they sat around my dad’s feet and listened to his eye-popping, jaw-dropping stories. It was a night of storytelling that prompted my interest in writing for children.

The Back Story
My husband, Joel, has always been a positive force in supporting my writing. Together, we read many books on writing and publishing books for children. During our research, we found out about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). We attended our first SCBWI conference in June 2007, and that’s when I learned the “rules” of writing for the mainstream market.

I was excited about all the valuable information I received from the authors, agents and editors, but I left the conference feeling discouraged. I felt that my lifestyle as a wife and mother of 8 children (at that time), did not fit the writing regimen of other authors. My husband served as the kindling to my inner writing fire. He assured me that I was a writer and I didn’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. He found out about the New Voices Award offered by Lee & Low Books, and urged me to write my dad’s story of desegregating the public school system in the 1960s. I was reluctant at first, but I decided to read several of Lee & Low’s titles to get a feel of what they were looking for. I eventually took my husband’s advice and submitted my manuscript in September 2007. In December 2007, I received a call from one of the editors telling me I had won the award!
pamelatuckcover

I’m thankful to have my dad’s story honored with the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award, and the fabulous illustrations of award-winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez, which vividly capture the “spirit” of my family’s pride and determination. The publication of As Fast As Words Could Fly does more than serve as a long-overdue recognition of my dad’s accomplishments, it includes his story where it belongs: in African American history.

The Inspiration

I admire the work of several authors, but I think the one who inspired me the most at the start of my children’s book writing journey, is Mildred D. Taylor. I remember when I first discovered Ms. Taylor’s work. I had visited my local library to get books for my children and I noticed a poster of Newbery Award titles. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry seemed to have beckoned me to come closer. I checked out the book and was immediately drawn to the Logan family. Ms. Taylor’s family reminded me so much of my own. I was captivated by her dynamic writing style and her boldness in laying bare the realities of the time period she wrote about.

Ms. Taylor’s books inspired me to draw from my family’s stories of pride, oppositions, and triumph, as civil rights activists. Many of my friends and I learned about African American history in school, and we were exposed to the famous civil rights icons, but very few of us realized how many local unsung heroes walked those integrated hallways before us. That was all the more reason to write about my dad’s courage to take a stand against injustice by using his typing talent to help break racial barriers.

The Process:

I get a lot of my story ideas from life experiences, so in most cases, the story is already there. I just have to piece it together with “creative” glue. I try to find a plot point to work around and focus on developing it. I don’t formally outline my stories, but I create a mental or brief written outline that I use as a guide. If possible, I conduct interviews to find out the emotions surrounding the event, along with the dialogue for the time period. I do research to make sure I’m historically correct and accurate with my details, dialect and setting. By the time I’m finished with my interviewing, asking “what if” questions, and researching, I’m ready to write if I feel as if I can “walk” in my characters’ shoes.

My ideas flow more freely when I’m typing rather than writing them down on paper, and I require complete silence. That’s a lot to ask of a family of 13, so I generally isolate myself in my bedroom, send my children to a different part of the house, and give my husband the warning not to talk to me until I’m done (unless we’re writing together). Once everyone complies with my rules, I commence unto typing my first draft on my computer. When I’m done, I read out loud to test the flow of my sentences and how natural my dialogue sounds. I edit questionable spots and then I “sound the trumpet” for my audience. I enjoy bouncing ideas off my family, friends and fellow writers for their helpful critiques. I like to let my manuscript rest for a while before I work on it again so I can read it with “fresh eyes”. My next round of edits includes concentrating on more questionable spots, word economy, grammar, and checking the flow of events and details.

I’m grateful to my family for understanding my writing antics, and giving me the space and silence I need; in addition to being there as cheerleaders, making a lot of noise, for my writing successes.

The Buzz

    2013 Book Lists:

As Fast As Words Could Fly was selected as one of the Diverse and Impressive Picture Books for 2013 by IRA Reading Today Online.

Conversations Book Club also selected As Fast As Words Could Fly as one of the Top 10 Literary Finds with Young Readers in Mind for 2013.

    Reviews:

School Library Journal:: “This well-crafted tale would be an excellent complement to overviews of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Booklist: “Told from a personal viewpoint and appended with a powerful author’s note, this is a story to share across generations.”

Publisher’s Weekly “Tuck lays bare the challenges that faced Mason and black students like him, but she also tempers the story’s cold realities with moments of hope, echoed by the pride and determination visible in scenes of Mason and his family.”

Kirkus: “A warm…title about the struggle for equality.”

Thank you, Pamela!

Find out more about Pamela M. Tuck at at her home on the Web.


DAY 8: LAMAR GILES

February 8, 2014

LRGiles_Fake_ID_Headshot_Color_med

Lamar Giles grew up in a small, riverfront city in Virginia called Hopewell.  It is a diverse community known for its busy ports.  Like most towns in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Hopewell is highly decorated with American history.  Mr. Giles later moved to Chesapeake, Virginia, another city rich with history and natural wonders, where he currently resides with his wife.  

A love for comic book heroes and sci-fi novels started Mr. Giles on his path to publication.  Although his debut, FAKE ID (Harper Collins) is the first book he published through traditional methods, this is not his first novel.  From the blurbs sited on his website, he also has a flair for writing dark fantasy thrillers!

 On this 8th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight young adult author, Lamar Giles.

 The Journey  

My journey to publication began with a radioactive spider bite. I was drawn to comic books as a child (Spider-man in particular) and would beg my mom to buy them off the convenience store rack even before I fully grasped the English language. As I became a more competent reader, and learned to care about the captions and speech bubbles as much as the four-color action panels, it occurred to me that someone had to decide what happened in the stories each month. To a 6 year old, that seemed like power on par with the Hulk and Superman. Not that I craved power, but I was curious. Could I make up a character? Could I put him in danger and pull him out again? I got my chance a few years later when my elementary school held a Young Author’s Contest.  

I wrote a story called “Giant Dinosaur Inside” about a boy who roots through his breakfast cereal box for the toy at the bottom only to unleash a Godzilla-like reptile on the city. The story took 1st place and my questions were answered. I could make up a character. I could control the danger. I had a superpower. With great power comes great…well, you know. From that point, I felt compelled to tell stories.  

Though comics were my first love, I began to gravitate towards long-form prose when I discovered Stephen King at the wise old age of 11. Specifically, the novel IT, which, if you squint, COULD be considered 50% MG/YA. I started my first novel when I was 14, finished it when I was 17, then decided it was best for me and the world to never show it to anyone. I stand by that decision.  

I spent more than a decade after that writing stories and novels, mostly dark fantasy and horror. There were small successes, many rejections, and an infinite well of doubt. But I never gave up. Spider-man would be proud.

FakeID_final

 The Back Story  

I started FAKE ID in early 2009. Before then, I’d been writing stories for adults, and my intent was that FAKE ID would be an adult book, too. However, the story just wasn’t coming together. Around that time, I was reading some really great YA books and I thought about ways to shake up my stalling novel. I decided to change the age and gender of my protagonist, and I ended up with 15 year old Nick Pearson. The change offered fresh perspective and challenges that were really fun. I swear, the book just about wrote itself. I had a clean draft by the end of that year, but a number of setbacks followed. 

Even though seven out of ten agents queried requested my entire manuscript, I ended up with no offers for representation. Back to the drawing board. One agent offered a critical piece of feedback along with her rejection. I altered a major plot point based on her feedback, and queried a small number of agents in Summer 2010. Within two weeks I had an awesome agent, and we were out on submission by Fall of that year. Though FAKE ID received near universal praise from each house and imprint we submitted to, many editors seemed reluctant to take a chance on a “boy book.” One editor’s note even said, “YA thrillers aimed primarily at boys are often dead in the water.”  

After four months of similar reactions from the major publishing houses, I got fed up and decided to experiment with self-publishing, putting some of my adult horror and dark fantasy work out in the world. I had some modest success and, frankly, forgot about FAKE ID. My self-pubbed work got the attention of the GoOnGirl! Book Club, a huge national organization that was holding their annual conference in Washington, D.C. in May 2011. They invited me to come hang out and speak about my work. It was on the train ride to that conference that I received a call from my agent about an incredible offer for FAKE ID from HarperCollins Children’s books. Nine months after going on submission, one of America’s biggest publishers wanted my high school murder mystery. It was exciting and I tell the story that way to make a point. I truly believe part of that offer coming when it did was because I’d decided not to leave my hopes and dreams in the hands of strangers. If no one wanted to publish FAKE ID, I was laying the foundation to publish it myself. I think the universe rewards preparation. 

Not only that, I feel like all those previous rejections were for the best. After all, I didn’t want to be with an editor/publisher who had lukewarm feelings about my work. I’m with a publisher who GETS me. HarperCollins has shown great faith and we’ll be doing at least two more books together. I never thought my work was “dead in the water” and I’m happy to be with a publisher who feels the same.  

The Inspiration 

Well, as I mentioned, there was Stephen King. IT, followed shortly after by THE STAND and THE SHINING. Once that fuse was lit, well, let’s just say I learned to hide my paperbacks in my backpack because I was reading at a level that seemed to frighten my 6th and 7th grade teachers. King wasn’t all I read at that time, though. I had an appreciation for the Charlie books (Chocolate Factory/Great Glass Elevator) by Roald Dahl, probably because I read them like horror stories. There were others, but it was discovering the work of Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes in my late teens that really put me on the path of pursuing a publishing career. Those writers were like me, and wrote the kinds of stories I liked to write. They’ve published two YA zombie novels recently, DEVIL’S WAKE and DOMINO FALLS that really appealed to my sensibilities. Some people find it strange that I now write YA Thrillers when I have such strong ties to darker work, but I don’t see a huge difference. In my thrillers, my heroes still face off against monsters, they’re just human monsters.

 The Buzz 

FAKE ID has received some lovely reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. And, it’s been selected as a spring pick by the Junior Library Guild. Here’s what folks are saying:

 

Kirkus: “Fast action, judicious plot twists, and sufficiently evil teens and adults should keep thrill-seeking readers awake long into the night. ”

 

PW: “This engrossing thriller blends gritty crime storytelling with solid, realistic family drama.”

 

Booklist: “Conspiracy theorists and thriller fans alike will be guessing right up to the end of this exciting debut.”

  

For more information on Lamar Giles, his blog, and his books, please visit his website at http://www.lamargiles.com

 

Thank you, Mr. Giles, for your contributions to the world of YA novels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 4: Jason Reynolds

February 4, 2014
photo courtesy of the author and http://authors.simonandschuster.com/

photo courtesy of the author and Simon and Schuster

Jason Reynolds is the author of two critically acclaimed books. My Name Is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story. Our Way. (HarperCollins, 2009), an autobiographical collaboration co-written with his friend and artist, Jason Douglas Griffin, was published in 2009 and received two starred reviews. His debut novel, When I Was The Greatest, was published in early 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. The novel has already been lauded by critics, receiving starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal. Kirkus also praised the novel, noting that Reynolds is “an author worth watching” and calling the novel “a moving and thought-provoking study of the connectivity among a family and friends that plays upon and defies readers’ expectations.” Please welcome Jason Reynolds to The Brown Bookshelf as he discusses his journey.

The Back Story

When_I_Was_The_Greatest-2The back story behind the publishing of When I Was the Greatest is…well…an interesting one. I’ll try to shorten it, as to not spiral out of control (which happens often when telling this story.) Through a strange turn of events, I found myself without a place to live in New York, and was forced to move back home to my mother’s house. I was almost twenty-five years old, and there aren’t too many instances more demoralizing than returning home to your childhood bedroom — music posters still on the wall and everything — after trying to chase your dream. At least, that’s what I thought. Turns out, there was actually more demoralization  just around the corner. I couldn’t find work. I mean, the recession was in full swing, my resume was all over the place, and I had never held any real job, so I ended up working in the stockroom of Lord & Taylor. It was my responsibility to unpack boxes and put sensors on every garment. EVERY garment. My shift was from three in the morning to noon, for a whopping $150 a week.

Meanwhile, I was working on my first novel, BOOM. I still had an agent in New York, and after BOOM was complete, I sent it to him. It took him about five months to tell me that it sucked (it was TERRIBLE.)

Shortly after my first rejection, I started a new job as a case worker servicing mentally ill people. There were twenty-seven people on my caseload, ranging from Schizophrenics, to drug addicts, and my job was to help them get back on their feet and assimilate back into society. I was also working on another novel — a dystopian tale about the island of Bermuda, a place that I had visited many times and had grown to love. My agent and I had parted ways by this point, and I decided to pitch it directly to a publishing house (had an insider) to see if anything would happen. This time, it took six months to tell me it sucked, but by then I was already on my way back to New York. My experiences as a case worker traumatized me to the point that I had to quit and was willing to take anything to get the weight of it and the stories of the people (the most amazing people I’ve ever met, by the way) off my shoulders. So I took a job, back in New York, selling jeans.

I had decided that I was going to quit writing. Maybe I’d push denim the rest of my life, or teach, or get one of those lucky New York City jobs that pay well to have fun. But there were other things in the cards. Christopher Myers, son of Walter Dean Myers, had become a close friend of mine when I lived in New York the first time (before the stockroom and caseworker stuff.) He and I were hanging out one day, and he asked me how the writing was going. I told him that I was done. No more writing. What he said next changed my life. He asked me, “When my father is done, who’s going to carry that banner, that tradition?” I suggested he do it. He suggested I do it. He told me to take one more swing, after all that I had been through, all that I had seen, all the people that I had interacted with and the stories that I had heard, and see what would come of it. What came was, When I Was the Greatest.

My Inspiration

WalterDeanMyersPhotoWalter Dean Myers has been a major inspiration for me. There’s something brilliant in the looseness of his language, though it actually isn’t loose at all. But it seems that way. He’s been able to write tight stories that still come across as eye-level, and human. And that’s my goal, to write slice-of-life, human stories about the communities that have made me who I am. And, of course, to make my mama proud.

My Process:

I always begin with a theme or a particular story I want to tell. There are so many stories, and perspectives, and angles, and I spend a lot of time thinking of which ones I could do justice. Then I think of characters, and usually I pull right from my pot of friends and family, which, let me tell you, are a colorful bunch. It means a lot to me to make sure that every character is real. That these stories read like memoirs, each character, breathing. I typically start with the protagonist. I flesh him/her out pretty thoroughly, that way as he/she begins to live, he/she will tell me what happens in the story, who joins in on this journey, what twists and turns occur, etc. I do just as much observing of the characters I create, as I do writing them. To me, that’s the fun in it all, the adventure of conceiving a character, and then having it lead you through the story it wants to tell.

Others under the Radar:

So many. But if I had to name one, Sheri Booker. She’s the author of Nine Years Under, which is about her time working in a funeral home for nine years in Baltimore City. But recently, she mentioned that she was thinking about writing a YA novel. PLEASE SHERI! I think she’d be a serious asset, especially when it comes to a fresh take on YA for girls of color.


Day 3: Octavia Spencer

February 3, 2014

Octavia SpencerThanks to Minny, the bold and loveable character played by Octavia Spencer in The Help, I’m now suspicious of all homemade chocolate pies! Many of us know Ms. Spencer as an amazing actress in movies stemming from A Time to Kill, to her unforgettable role in The Help.  But many of you may not be familiar with her accomplishments as a children’s book author. 

On this 3rd day of February, The Brown Bookshelf proudly highlights the beautiful actress, and now debut author, Octavia Spencer

According to her biography on Biography.Com, Ms. Spencer was born and raised in Alabama, and is the second youngest of seven children.  She graduated from Auburn University where she studied English and Theater Arts.  Ms. Spencer has always loved reading.  She emphasizes her love for literacy, and the inspiration behind her debut novel, NINJA DETECTIVES, in this YouTube clip:

 

 

Reviews have been extremely favorable for NINJA DETECTIVES:Ninja detectives

 

Kirkus review

A quick read about a girl sleuth whose fiery determination will leave readers wanting Book 2.

Publisher’s Weekly

Academy Award–winning actor Spencer debuts with an assured, entertaining whodunit that launches the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series.

Thank you, Ms. Spencer, for your contribution to the world of children’s books.

Photo of Ms. Spencer courtesy of Blog.Chron.com


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