Charles R. Smith, Jr.

February 28, 2010

“This was my first book and it came about by accident,” says Charles R. Smith, Jr. regarding his first book for children, Rimshots: Basketball Pix, Rolls and Rhythms (Dutton, 1999).   In the years that have followed this work of happenstance, Smith has written, or photo-illustrated (or both!) more than 20 titles for young readers, including: Hoop Kings and Hoop Queens; Brown Sugar Babies; Loki and Alex; I Am America; Dance With Me; The Mighty 12: Superheroes of Greek Myth; and My People (Ginee Seo, 2009), recent winner of the 2010 Coretta Scott King Book Award for Illustration.

Smith, the husband and father of two, is a graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography, and a California native who currently resides in Poughkeepsie, New York. Prior to his career in children’s literature, he worked as a freelance photographer doing magazine shoots, novel covers and even projects for a cruise line. Smith is also an ardent sports fan—with a particular passion for the game of basketball.

Over the past decade, Smith has published an array of books for children ages pre-K through young adult, with some of the most highly esteemed publishing houses in the business:  Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, Scholastic, Candlewick, and Ginee Seo/Atheneum. Still, of the project that jumpstarted his career in children’s literature, Smith says, “If there was no Rimshots, there are no other books.” On behalf of the kidlit community, thank goodness there was a Rimshots!

On this final day of our 28 Days Later campaign, we present our final Spotlight feature: Mr. Charles R. Smith, Jr.


BBS:    Charles, welcome to The Brown Bookshelf…and congratulations on your CSK win!
CRS:    Thanks for featuring me.

BBS:    Where were you when you found out the news?
CRS:    I was actually eating breakfast and had my son grab my cellphone off the charger. Since it was charging, I never heard it ring. He saw that there were two missed calls and I had to figure out who would be calling me so early during the week. My wife thought that the awards might be given that day so she dashed into her office and looked up the awards and they had literally just announced that I had won. I guess the only number they had was my cell phone. I’ve made it a point to keep it on my nightstand now.

BBS:    What have these past weeks been like since you won—both personally and career-wise?
CRS:    Personally, it’s been great because when you do what I do, you’re pretty much alone, but with the award came press and local publicity which drew attention from friends and colleagues. Career-wise, it’s already opened doors to projects that use photography. The old knock that photography doesn’t do well seems to be moot now.

BBS:    You won for your book MY PEOPLE, a photo-illustrated version of the brief, but poignant Langston Hughes poem. Your pictures in this book are beautiful and resonant.  How did this project come to be?
CRS:    I had always loved the poem and considered doing photos for it for a while, but since it was so short, I wasn’t sure it could be done. Finally, at one point, I just broke it down page wise and saw that it would be very simple but strong with so few words.

BBS:    I’ve read how your first book, RIMSHOTS, came about, and find the story fascinating. Recount for us how one of your greatest passions, your acquired technical skills, and your natural abilities—all converged at one point in time, and set you on the path to a whole new career.
CRS:    I truly believe that we create our own luck. That book (Rimshots) came about in the oddest way, because I wasn’t there to sell a book at all; I was there to do photos for a jacket. Nonetheless my skill in photography was there and my passion for writing was there and since I had been hustling my tail off until that point, it was only fitting that things happen the way they did. One thing I’ve learned is that if you do something you love, then that love will shine through and it can’t help but be noticed. Those basketball photos were done for the sheer love of the game. My skill in photography allowed me to share that love with others.

BBS:    Your love for sports, especially basketball, is evidenced in the majority of your books to date. What’s your first memory of the game…how’d you fall in love with it? Why do you think it still occupies such a prominent place in your heart today?
CRS:    When kids ask me why I love basketball, I ask them the same question and get a million different answers, but the primary one is simply that it’s fun. I can’t remember my earliest memory, but my childhood is filled with memories of the game being played with my father and family and friends. That’s probably what I remember the most; the connection with all the people. I have two boys now and we have a hoop in the backyard and I look forward to teaching them things my father taught me, about ball and life.

BBS:    You are one who is equally writer and illustrator. You even have books where you’ve served as writer, solely (the graphic novel, THE MIGHTY 12: SUPERHEROES OF GREEK MYTH; LET’S PLAY BASEBALL and LET’S PLAY BASKETBALL). At what point in your life did you first start writing? Did you ever take any courses or workshops to develop your talent in this area?
CRS:    I’ve been writing for enjoyment as long as I can remember. While in school, we all have our favorite subjects and writing just happened to be mine. What I do remember standing out is that I always had a big vocabulary and knack for words. Probably because my parents emphasized education and my mom was always telling me to look up a word in the dictionary if I asked her how to spell it. I was in honors English all through high school but the college I went to was an all photography school, so I didn’t get to really study my writing. I actually think that’s a good thing, because writing is a very individual thing and if you study with a group of people, you can all end up sounding similar because you’re constantly listening to others critique your work. On my own, I just relied on knowledge gained through reading lots of books through the years.

BBS:    DANCE WITH ME (illustrated by Noah Z. Jones) is a popular picture book for the pre-K set that you authored. How did you come up with the idea for this one?
CRS:    That actually came from seeing my oldest son (who, at the time was about 3) dance when music was played. I wanted to do something for that age set and something musical made sense.

BBS:    Let me ask you about CHAMELEON, the first YA novel you’ve published. As a writer, how was the transition from crafting picture books, to crafting a novel?
CRS:    To me, they’re all words. It’s just how they’re put together. Picture books are not easy because you have to be mindful of page count, so you choose your words carefully. In a novel, you can use as many words as you need. In that regard it was much easier. When I would re-read what I had written, I just asked myself if I wanted to read more. I try to keep it real simple.

BBS:    While your photographs are all phenomenal, I must say I’ve got special fuzzies for your “baby” books:  the BABY LOVE board book series, and the one that started it all, BROWN SUGAR BABIES.  The text is pure and simple, the pictures beyond adorable.  And the only project direction you had for BROWN SUGAR BABIES was a title, is that right?
CRS:    Basically. I had a meeting with Andrea Davis Pinkney and she just wanted to do something that focused on diversity regarding blackness. The first thing that popped into my head when she said the title was Sugar Babies the candy. That led to treats that we often use to describe ourselves like honey or caramel or chocolate.

BBS:    Your children have inspired your work. Of course, so have sports.  Is there any other person, place or thing that spurs your creativity?
CRS:    As an artist I’m really just inspired everyday by life. The best way I like to describe it to kids is that I’m a raw nerve and everything triggers something in my brain. I could be speaking at a school and hear a child’s unique name and questions pop into my head like, why did their parents name them that? Or, how will that affect them when they’re older? Or, who else in that family had that name? What were they like? Things like that. My mind is ALWAYS going, but I think that’s the case with any creative artist; painter, photographer, actor, musician, etc. We see the everyday and take something creative out of it.

BBS:    What’s been the most difficult professional obstacle you’ve had to face thus far?
CRS:    The biggest obstacle probably has to be, editors and others asking, what am I? Am I a photographer who writes? Or a writer who take pictures? These questions are posed to me in a roundabout way, because I just consider myself an artist; I create. I’ve done a CD where I did the music, but I don’t call myself a musician. I’ve done some acting, but I don’t call myself an actor. I’m simply an artist. When people are used to artists doing one thing, they have an idea of what they can do, but once they start doing very different things (such as writing and photography) it confuses them because they don’t know the skill level you might possess in each. The biggest thing the CSK award has done is open people’s eyes to my talents. I also received the CSK Author’s Honor award for (writing) my book, Twelve Rounds to Glory, about Muhammad Ali. Now that I’ve WON the award for illustration, people see that I’m serious about both.  

 BBS:    Is there anything you haven’t yet done in the childlit field that you’d still like to do?
CRS:    Well, I’m not dead yet, so there’s plenty left for me to do. I would love to do a few different novel series. I would particularly love to do a series that has the same appeal as Percy Jackson or Harry Potter but featuring black characters, without the focus on them being black. Black people could fly too ya know. :-0  I have many more biographies I’d like to do. I’d like to write a modern day Native Son. I’d like to write more novels that appeal specifically to boys, young black boys. I have tons that I’d like to do and I’ll keep creating until I heave my last breath.

BBS:    Charles, list five words that describe the traits aspiring authors and illustrators must have to achieve success in their craft.

CRS:    Confidence. Perseverance. Creativity. Teamwork. Discipline.

BBS:    What new projects are you working on?
CRS:    I’m currently working on a biography of Jimi Hendrix. It’s written as a song. Right now, it’s a long song, but that’ll change.

BBS:    I know this is an exciting, but crazy period for you. Thanks for taking time out to share your thoughts and experiences with us.
CRS:    No prob. It’s fun looking back on the past and forward to the future.

BBS:    A few more questions, I promise they won’t take long… Planned or pick up game?
CRS:    Pickup.

BBS:    Wood floors or concrete?
CRS:    For basketball, wood floors because of my knees.

BBS:    Hot Dogs or Nachos?

CRS:    Neither. Chips and salsa. (Hey, I’m a California boy!)

Critical Praise for My People:

” ‘At just thirty-three words total, [this] poem is a study in simplicity,’ writes Smith (Rimshots; If); in its visual simplicity, his picture-book presentation is a tour de force. Introducing the poem two or three words at a time, Smith pairs each phrase with a portrait of one or more African-Americans; printed in sepia, the faces of his subjects materialize on black pages. The night, reads the opening spread, across from an image of a mans face, his eyes shut; is beautiful, continues the next spread, showing the same face, now with eyes open and a wide smile. The text, sized big to balance the portraits, shows up in hues that range from white to tan to brown-black, reflecting Smiths reading that the words celebrate black people of differing shades and ages. An inventive design adds a short, shadowed row or column of small portraits to the edge of many spreads; these quietly reinforce the concept of my people. Whether of babies, children or adults, Smiths faces emerge into the light, displaying the best that humanity has to offer—intelligence, wisdom, curiosity, love and joy. Ages 4–8.”— Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

“Smith’s knack for pairing poetry and photography is well documented in books such as Hoop Queens (Candlewick, 2003) and Rudyard Kipling’s If (S & S, 2006). Here, his artful images engage in a lyrical and lively dance with Langston Hughes’s brief ode to black beauty. Dramatic sepia portraits of African Americans—ranging from a cherubic, chubby-cheeked toddler to a graying elder whose face is etched with lines-are bathed in shadows, which melt into black backgrounds. The 33 words are printed in an elegant font in varying sizes as emphasis dictates. In order to maximize the effect of the page turn and allow time for meaning to be absorbed, the short phrases and their respective visual narratives often spill over more than a spread. The conclusion offers a montage of faces created with varying exposures, a decision that provides a light-filled aura and the irregularities that suggest historical prints. A note from Smith describes his approach to the 1923 poem. This celebration of the particular and universal will draw a wide audience: storytime participants; students of poetry, photography, and cultural studies; seniors; families. A timely and timeless offering.”—Starred Review, School Library Journal

Learn More about Charles and his books at

Denene Millner & Mitzi Miller

February 27, 2010

After a crisis of the computer, I’m proud to present (albeit a bit late) two authors who came onto the YA scene with a series that epitomizes a slice of African American life that’s yet to be showcased on a consistent basis.

Denene Millner & Mitzi Miller hit the scene with the Hotlanta series in 2008. A series that screams potential for not only adaptation to big or little screen but also best selling or break out. However you choose to define it, the series should be among the most well-recognized brown YA series out there alongside it’s mainstream counterparts.

The fact that it’s not is the very reason 28 Days Later exists.

The ladies tag team and tell us about their journey, process and why Hotlanta is dear to their hearts.

BBS:The void that used to exist without Hotlanta and books like it is slowly filling. But not nearly as quickly as I thought it would. What’s your take on why it’s taking so long to see more books like these on shelves? And, while we’re at it – take a shot at poking a hole in the “books with people of color don’t sell” fallacy.

MM: Unfortunately, it seems that the recession hit hardest just as the “Black” YA movement was picking up speed. So publishers are forced to take less ‘risks’ and stick with the tried and true “mainstream” books that deliver sales they can consistently predict. So while the more established writers and highly marketable celeb names like a Monique might sneak through the cracks with new teen series, it’s challenging for new writers to get a toehold in the industry. And without new writers, the genre just doesn’t thrive and continue to grow, hence the stats that seem like we’re not selling.

BBS: How has Point, your publisher, marketed the series? In hindsight, are there things you wished you could do to get more awareness for the series but can’t simply because the dynamics of publishing take so much out of the authors hands?

DM: Point did a reasonably aggressive campaign to try and get Hotlanta into as many hands as possible when the first book hit stores. They hired a videographer to create a vlog featuring us talking about the series, the characters, and all of the incredible places around Atlanta that we highlighted in the book—spots about town that were characters in their own right. They also did online advertising and giveaways with a few websites and blogs that are popular amongst the black teen set, placed ads in a few teen magazines, and invited us to some high-profile book expos so that booksellers, librarians, and teachers could meet us face-to-face.

But again, we found it really hard to break through the stereotypes all-too-many tastemakers in the industry slam against books written by or featuring characters of color. The automatic assumption is that if there is a black face on the cover, the book has very little nuance beyond hard-luck stories about teens living in unfortunate circumstances, trying to scratch their way out of intense situations—stories that get short shrift when it comes time for reviews, features, and the traditional, tried-and-true ways more successful mainstream books get the attention they need to stand out. We still haven’t figured out how to crack that nut—to be able to have an institution like the New York Times review a book about black teens, or have, say, a hugely popular morning news show include a book featuring black teens in a round-up of great summer reads. It’s a shame, really, that this kind of oversight still exists.

BBS: Both of you have origins in adult fiction. Now, it’s been nearly two years since the first Hotlanta book hit shelves – what’s been the best part about the journey? What hasn’t been so great? How have either (good or bad) differed from your adult fiction journey?

MM: The best part of the journey was creating something that we are proud to see young women excited to read. There’s not a page inside any of the three books that either of us think would give the parents of a teenager pause. And that’s a huge statement considering the types of media that are readily available to teens today.

The most challenging part was definitely convincing older adults not to judge our books by their cover. For the Hotlanta series, Scholastic opted to take a chance and create something a little slicker than their standard teen book covers. Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction from some of the more traditional librarians and older book buyers was reluctance in their support of the series because the cover’s look reminded them of urban street fiction.

For me, the biggest difference between the two journeys was the reduced face time with readers in the YA market. When writing for adults, book readings/ signings can go a long way towards generating buzz. But hanging out in or visiting bookstores are almost foreign concepts for most of the core YA market readers. The buzz is predominantly created and maintained online.

BBS: Does writing a series like Hotlanta have any special significance to you? How has Hotlanta changed the literary landscape?

DM: It has great significance for us, for sure. We created characters that bucked stereotypes—who in the arch of the series were able to become dimensional characters whose circumstances forced them to see past their own little worlds and personal biases to accept people for more than just their face value. The series as a whole is a testament to the diversity of our community and the beauty and spirit of the African American teen. They are so much more than TV and videos and music makes them out to be, and we feel like we shouted that from the rooftops in the Hotlanta series. So we’re probably most proud of that.

We’re not so sure Hotlanta changed the literary landscape. That’s a tall order for any one author to handle—for any one book to take on. But we do feel like the stories and characters we created with our series put a bold splash of color in an exciting genre that’s given birth to some pretty amazing institutions, like Gossip Girl and The Clique and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The TV rights to Hotlanta have been purchased; boy would it be amazing to see those characters come to life!

BBS: Give us a little insight into your writing process: Are one of you the primary voice of Sydney and the other Lauren? How does collaborating work for you?

MM: For the Hotlanta series, Denene penned the voice of Lauren and I wrote Sydney’s chapters. What’s interesting about this is that in picking characters, we went against our normal personality type; Denene is more conservative and I tend to wing it by the seat of my pants. We did this just to challenge ourselves, and it turned out to be a lot of fun!

As for the actual process, we collaborated on the overall book outline from start to finish. And then we retreated to our respective corners of the country (Denene is in Atlanta and I’m in New York City) to write our chapters. As we finished a chapter, we’d send it to the other person for editing.

BBS: How many books are planned for the series?

DM: There are three books in the series—Hotlanta, If Only You Knew, and What Goes Around.

BBS: If you had to choose one approach, which do you think is the key to getting multi-culti books like Hotlanta into the hands of more readers: A) Create a “Black” section for YA and put them all there so that readers of color can find them more easily? B) Distribute them more widely including a more aggressive push from publishers that may include front cover of the catalog, author visits with booksellers and other tactics reserved for front list books?

MM: YIKES, this is a hard choice! But I’m going to go with Choice B. I believe that more books will get sold if all readers—African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, etc.—are encouraged to feel like there’s something they can relate to in any story regardless of the ethnicity of the lead characters. You know, at the end of the day, I didn’t love Sweet Valley High any less because Elizabeth and Jessica were White. It was a great story and that’s all that mattered

BBS: Can we expect more YA from you ladies once the Hotlanta series ends?

DM: We look forward to telling more great stories about our teens—our people—for sure!

Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard

February 26, 2010

As a child, Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard loved to read. That her books showed a white world didn’t matter to her back then. She identified with treasured characters and didn’t question the lack of diversity. But when Howard grew up, and multicultural children’s books began to bloom, she realized she missed something important — reflections of her people and herself. 

Howard set out to change that. She mined her family life for tales that spoke to the African-American experience, the American experience. Her book, Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crabcakes Later), illustrated by James Ransome, is a beautiful example of how a tale rooted in black culture speaks to people of all races. Howard said she’s delighted when people say to her Aunt Flossie reminds them of someone in their family. Next year, she’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of that classic picture book. It’s one of her most acclaimed works.

Publisher’s Weekly called Aunt Flossie’s Hats ” . . . an affecting portrait of a black American family and of the ways in which shared memories can be a thread, invisible yet strong, that ties generations together.”

Howard’s books, often inspired by real-life family stories, follow the adage, “write what you know,” in a powerful way. Her characters bear the names of family members. She explores relationships and experiences in a black middle-class family. Howard hopes her books will show children that their stories are important.

“I want them to see themselves as part of America’s past and future,” she said.

Howard, a former librarian and professor, is a beloved author who lives in Pittsburgh, my hometown. So I’m particularly proud to share her work.

Please join us in celebrating vanguard author Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard on day 26 of our campaign:

Please tell us about the role storytelling played in your family. How did that experience help shape you as a writer?

Storytelling was definitely important in my family. My mom, dad, Cousin Chita, Aunt Flossie, Aunt Jo were all storytellers. Sunday dinner was the best time. We heard about Raw Head and Bloody Bones, Uncle Clem and the great train, great Baltimore fire, waffle man, Chita’s dad (Uncle Harry) and Cuba, etc. I learned the joy and necessity of family stories and their importance in African-American family life.

I read that you call yourself the “Grandma Moses” of children’s books because you began writing them later in your life. What inspired you to write for children?

I was a children’s librarian for five years at Boston Public Library. When I had my own kids, I became dedicated again (as when growing up) to books for kids. As a professor of library science, I taught mainly children’s literature and began meeting authors as I attended many conferences. I recognized forcefully the dearth of books about African-American experiences by African-American authors. I was inspired by the charm and simplicity of family stories by Cynthia Rylant such as When I was Young In the Mountains. I wondered if my experience as a 7-year-old riding with my 4-year-old sister all day on the train from Boston to Baltimore could get published. I did not know any family stories about just the every-day life of the regular middle-class, so in my mid 50s, I gave it a try.

How did your first picture book, Train to Lulu’s, come to be? Please share your path to publication. What were the toughest and most rewarding moments?

I joined the writers workshop at Marilyn Hollinshead’s wonderful Pinnochio, children’s book store. I sent my story off to good friend Trina Schart Hyman for comments. She was VERY helpful and said the story needed conflict which I added. I sent it off. It was rejected by several publishers. I accosted Richard Jackson, an editor at Bradbury, at ALA. I told him I had sent it to him and received no answer. He was chagrined. He grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me away from the hubbub around his booth and urged me “Send it again!” I did and he accepted it!!!! Happiness!

He soon left Bradbury leaving the book with editor Barbara Lalicki, one of the editors who had rejected the manuscript. Help! But she wrote to me: “I see it is my happy fate to be involved with TRAIN TO LULU’S after all and she saw it through to publication in spring 1988. Joy! My most rewarding moment was driving over to Pinnocchio Bookstore to a book party for ME! But I certainly didn’t think I was a children’s book author.

My family was ecstatic! My dad kept grinning and repeating: “I can’t stop reading this book!” My sister Babs loved it although she was a little unhappy that I had made her cry (in response to Trina Hyman’s advice regarding the story needing some conflict . . . (“I never cried!” she said.)  Lulu had left us at age 96 way back in 1966, but all of the named folks gathering at the train station in Baltimore raved! I was already a grandma when my first book was published.

What was the racial landscape like when you first entered the field? How has it changed? What gains make you proud? What do you hope the future brings?

Well, there were very few books about African American kids, very few black authors…hardly anything about contemporary families i.e. mid-20th century. So the field has changed exponentially!!! I am excited about Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Flake, Angela Johnson, etc..etc..etc.. Many distinguished authors. Starting in very late ’80s, ballooning in the ’90s , multicultural books were hot!! Every regular publisher and new one had to have a multicultural list. African-American books and authors got mixed in that madness. For a time, I had a sense that some teachers and school districts might have been thinking, ‘Maybe we’re getting too many “multicultural” books.’ For a while, it seemed interest in black authors and books was flagging.

You’ve been heralded for your portrayal of loving relationships in middle-class African-American families. I read that you love to show that African-American stories are true American stories. Could you please talk about that? Why is that important? 

 I’ve always stressed to audiences that the African-American story/stories is/are the AMERICAN STORY. People forgot that we were here. We were not on the edge of the history. We were very much part of it. The picture books I’ve had published show family relationships… One of my speeches/ talks is titled: We All Have Our Aunt Flossie’s. I’ve been told that the stories about a particular person (Aunt Flossie) and her role in a family mirrors people in any American family…listeners see themselves in Chita’s relationship with her dad…WE ARE CONNECTED beyond blood or ethnic heritage. We are human.

Your books have won many accolades and awards. What writing accomplishments make you most proud? How do you measure success?

Aunt Flossie’s Hats, illustrated by James Ransome, continues to get sizeable royalties every year. The illustrations were absolutely stunning. I’m proud of it for all of those reasons. I’m excited about Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, because it came about as a result of travel we did.

We knew my dad had said my grandfather had been born in Tennessee. The brothers had all gotten educated, but we didn’t know anything about their childhood. When I heard about the walk through the woods carrying their food for the week, I immediately thought picture book. I read that the Quakers had established a school after the Civil War and the building was still on Main Street in Jonesborough, TN. I got very excited. We stayed for a week and found out there were Fitzgeralds still there.

I read that you didn’t see black characters in the books you read as a child. How did this influence your work? Why it is important for children to see themselves in books? You’ve been a librarian and professor of library science. In what ways can authors and libraries work together to raise awareness of black children’s books?

I think when I was a young reader the race of the people in books didn’t matter . . . We lived in an African-American lady’s rooming house. The other dwellers were black grad students. The house was the biggest and best on the street. No one else on the street was black. All the kids at our schools were white.

The only black kid I saw was my sister. Sooo . . . if kids we played with were white, and the people I met in books were white, in my early years, I identified with them. Maybe I thought book people just happened to be white. And I grew up identifying with Heidi and the Five Little Peppers and the Bobbsey Twins and Understood Betsy and most of all with Jo and Beth March. And it didn’t matter what color they were.

But suppose I had had black book friends? I know now that I would have been delighted to see myself in a book. When our daughters were brownie scouts and saw that book about the little African-American brownie, I was so pleased. And of course, there was the SNOWY DAY. It was so exciting to have a Caldecott winner with a black main character. I belatedly began to miss reading books with me in them. So in the ’80s, publishers, librarians and teachers got “religion” and began sloooowly to realize the importance of books about black children and I recognized how important it truly was for NON-BLACK kids to have access to books showing how black kids were basically like them.

And still, in West Virginia, I heard from teachers: “We don’t have any black kids in our school so we don’t need to buy books about black kids” [or Mexican, Chinese, Indian, etc.] So when I began to visit schools and talk about multicultural books for kids, I stressed/shouted that if they didn’t have black kids , it was all the more essential to have books featuring African-American characters. I am convinced of the power of books in developing self worth. Librarians and teachers have a responsibility to work to foster this. 

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of one of your most celebrated works, Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crabcakes Later). How has your career grown since its debut? What have been some of the most meaningful moments?

I am forever grateful to James Ransome and to Dorothy Briley, beloved late editor at Clarion (before Dinah Stevevson) for this book!  Nine-and-a-half years ago or so, I called the publicity director at Clarion reminding her that Aunt Flossie was coming up on 10  years. I said, “Shouldn’t we celebrate?” She said, “Oh yes, maybe an article in Horn Book or something.” And I think I also called Dinah. At any rate, Dinah called me and told me that Clarion would like some biographical material and they would publish a new edition!!!!!!!!!
My career sky-rocketed after Aunt Flossie’s Hats. It took off on its own. People have been so enthusiastic, because everybody has an Aunt Flossie… Aunt Flossie got me the invitation to South Africa where I gave a keynote address for the first international children’s literature conference in Africa on the topic: We All Have Our Aunt Flossie’s. I have been all sorts of places where when people realize I’m me, they say, “Oh, Aunt Flossie’s Hats!”

What’s your mission?

My mission broadly is to get kids connected to books. I want them to see themselves as part of America’s past and future. I want to tell stories of the African-American family. I want to have black kids meet black authors. I want to remind children that they have stories.

Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crabcakes Later) was brought to life in a special way last year as part of Pittsburgh’s Storywalk. What did that mean to you?

Storywalk was so much fun. They take a section of Frick Park and set up tents and have golf carts that take authors to one place or another. Aunt Flossie’s Hats was at the end. They had put up a sort of stage and the Park’s department had made models of Aunt Flossie and Sarah and Susan. It was totally delightful. I told Aunt Flossie’s Hats about twelve times. It was so much fun.

What advice would you give to writers just beginning their journey to write for children?

You need to know children’s books. Ideally, read a lot of children’s books. If you know you want to do an alphabet picture books, you better look at a whole lot of alphabet books. Check out to see what’s already been done. Such a logical, almost no-brainer, first thing to do. I think that going back to one’s own childhood, trying to be a kid. When you’re young and have young children in your house, that’s ideal. If you can, be part of a writing group. It’s very encouraging and affirming. At Pinnochio bookstore, we would come and hear what anyone had to read. Maybe a half-dozen or so folks would be there and we would hear what someone was reading and offer suggestions. It’s good to join a local SCBWI, go to conferences, things like like that.

Your beautiful books have endured in libraries and classrooms around the country. What tips can you offer those who would like to become an author with staying power?

If you’re writing picture books, hope you’ll be paired with an illustrator who will be really helpful. I have been so fortunate with the illustrators – E.B. Lewis, James Ransome, Floyd Cooper. Ten books had nine illustrators.

You have to know if you’re trying to write a picture book that it’s a joint production with the illustrator. In writing the book, don’t over tell. The illustrator needs to be part of the whole story. His or her vision of the story can be quite different from yours. The illustrator does have freedom and you can be disappointed. But sometimes you’re lucky enough to have the right illustrator for your book.

People are doing much more school visiting today. If children’s book authors are trying to make money, it’s school visits that can really do it. Once upon a time, it was just the book itself.

What’s next for you as an author? 

I’m working on a novel about growing up in a rooming house in the Depression.

What’s your greatest joy?

Family. Seeing what our children turn into. And if you think children are fun, wait until you have grandchildren. It’s just a total delight. So many things that provide pleasure – a concert, reading a book, the snowstorm we just had was beautiful. The sun shining on snow-laden branches really is glorious.

The Buzz on Virgie Goes to School With Us Boys:

Howard (Chita’s Christmas Tree) plucks fruit from her family tree for this stellar story of an African-American girl determined to get an education just like her brothers. Narrated by the young C.C. (Howard’s grandfather), the tale is set during Reconstruction, when schools sprang up all over the South to help educate the children of freed slaves, and it is based on the particular school attended by the real-life C.C. and his siblings in Jonesborough, Tenn. Virgie, the youngest of the siblings and the only girl, is determined to attend the school, despite the protests of her family (“You scarcely big as a field mouse. And school’s seven miles from here!”). Finally, her parents acquiesce, sending her off with her five brothers with a week’s worth of food and clothing in a bucket. Undeterred by a slip in the creek and a scary trek through the woods (“Didn’t I tell you about Raw Head and Bloody Bones? Get you if you’re not good, folks said. Might get you anyway”), Virgie is a radiant heroine. The easy flow of vernacular effortlessly propels the story, and Howard proves herself adept at plucking a large-scale episode from history and adapting it to the scale of a picture book. Lewis’s (The Bat Boy and His Violin) luminous watercolors capture both the rhythms of C.C. and Virgie’s rural existence and the story’s emotional subtext, and his character studies fairly burst with life.

— Publisher’s Weekly

The youngest and the only girl in a family with five boys, Virgie works hard to convince everyone she is old enough, strong enough, and smart enough to attend the school set up by the Quakers for recently freed blacks in Jonesborough, TN. By the end of summer, she has convinced her family that she can make the seven-mile walk to board at school each week and willingly handle the job of “learning to be free.” The story is a superb tribute to the author’s great aunt, the inspiration for this book. Howard crystallizes each of the family members, setting the protagonist snugly in the midst of annoying but loving brothers and wise parents. A note provides more information about the school and family. Lewis’s watercolor illustrations capture the characters with warmth and dignity; the many double-page spreads evoke the vastness of both the land and the immensity of Virgie’s undertaking. There is a blush of dialect and two thrilling references to Raw Head and Bloody Bones waiting in the woods to catch the children on their way to school. Youngsters will enjoy Virgie but it will be years before they can harvest all that is planted in this gentle tale. A worthy choice for read-alouds and independent reading.

— School Library Journal

Martin Mordecai

February 25, 2010

The gorgeous novel BLUE MOUNTAIN TROUBLE from Martin Mordecai debuted to rave reviews last year. Kirkus gave it a starred review, Booklist called it “rich in characterization with a beautifully realized setting”. Publishers Weekly noted that “the author captures the rhythm of the children’s daily life and effectively conveys their hopes, fears and family love as they look toward the future and learn secrets about the past.” BLUE MOUNTAIN TROUBLE was just recently named an Ontario Library Association (OLA) Best Bet — one of their top 10 Canadian novels for children. Mr. Mordecai was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, far from Top Valley, where his novel is set. Martin’s professions have included television, radio, journalism, and the foreign service, but he has written all his life. Martin now lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Pamela.

In BLUE MOUNTAIN TROUBLE, intrigue and a sense of romance are intertwined with the daily realities of the twins lives, and the life of their community. Do you consider your book a fantasy tale? How do you see the concept of ‘magic’ playing a part in your work? In readers’ lives? How have you seen the ‘magic’ of literature in your own reading life? In your readers’ today?

I think perhaps that the ‘romance’ is in the tone of the writing, which is deliberate — BMT started life as a bedtime story told to a child. And it’s a fantasy only insofar as there is the element of the ‘duppy Goat’. I think the ‘magic’ is really just the goat and the sense of wonder it brings to the lives of the twins. Much of the rest is very reality-based.

For me there is definitely magic to be found in literature, and it saddens me to see and hear people who do not read or “have no time” for books. The magic in books, even in non-fiction, is a shared magic between the author and the reader,— it’s interactive. You bring yourself to the author’s and character’s selves, and something quite alchemical can happen. When you watch television you’re merely observing someone else’s magic — and in many cases there’s no magic at all!

How and why did you choose twin characters? You’ve mentioned that Pollyread was ‘hogging the best lines” — how did you uncover Jackson’s voice and story? How much do the twins’ external and/or internal lives reflect your own at age 11?

As I said, this started as a bedtime story to a child. Unless I’m sitting in front of a keyboard I’m not very imaginative, so after I began the usual way, Once upon a time…I said, there were twins . . . figuring two characters gave me more options than one. Likewise the duppy goat. Pollyread got all the best lines because once I started actually writing the story I had a ready template for her: our daughter, who’s bright and lippy and has been known to be devious. Jackson took more thought and effort. I took some of him – his gift with mathematics and plants – from our eldest son, but otherwise he is, I think, himself, and I kinda like him.

I can’t remember what I was thinking and feeling when I was 11! But I know I wasn’t as smart or as confident as either of the twins.

You’re a very descriptive writer — how does your photography influence your work as an author? What were the stories that transformed your childhood? Are there any contemporary authors or works of children’s literature that are particularly powerful to you?

The photography: Probably a lot. I have to ‘see’ a scene, usually with a line or two of dialogue, before I can start writing. And it was a photograph I took one morning in the mountains that solidified Top Valley for me, the physical aspects of it.

Our house, when I was a child, was full of books and records, of all kinds, so reading was not a remarkable activity for any of us – or music for that matter, most of us learnt an instrument at some time or another. There were fewer books for children at that time, so you read whatever was to hand. I remember some of the stories of Mark Twain, which were fantastic in all meanings of that word, and those of Damon Runyon — my father had lived briefly in New York and loved Runyon, as do I. And from quite young I loved history, historical stories, and still do. It was perhaps fated that I would try to write a historical novel myself.

Among contemporary writers for children, I’ve really only started reading them (a bit) since BMT was accepted for publication. There are some fine ones I’ve found, but what’s enjoyable about them brings pleasure to me as an adult. Which confirms my wife’s conviction that BMT is not really ‘a children’s book’.

You were born in Jamaica, and now live in Canada, where you’ve said that you arrived and “did many different things, as immigrants have to”. What were some of those many things? Can you elaborate on your observations of immigrant lives in North America?

I can’t generalize, each immigrant has a unique experience. I will say, however, that immigrants, especially those from the so-called Third World, bring to their host countries, particularly the U.S. and Canada, a toughness of will and a breadth of vision and experience that those mainstream societies can only benefit from, and ignore at peril to their own future vitality.

For myself, and my wife, Pam, what we did had to do with books in one way or another. My wife’s a well-published author, and without her royalties my own trajectory would probably have been the more archetypal one of the PhD driving a cab — except that I don’t have a PhD; I do however know the streets of Toronto pretty well. But we imported and exported books, published books, edited books, and in the early years did a little consulting.

How did this story come to you? How did your plot evolve? Are you more of a character- or plot-focused writer? Or neither?

I’m not bad with plot ideas for other people’s stories, but hopeless with my own. I follow the words. I make discoveries about the people I’m writing about, and derive plot-points or whatever, from listening to the words in my head or that appear on the screen, and letting the ideas sparked by the words lead me into the light. That’s one reason why I’m a very slow writer. Because the words can lead you into blind alleys, and you have to go back and find the word(s) that point in a new direction.

A review of BMT mentions your use of patois, adding that “Mordecai pays us the compliment of respecting that readers have more than one way of understanding a word and a concept.” How did you make decisions about what to define or not define in the process of telling your story? Why was it important to you to tell your story in the way you did?

I think that review, in a Canadian journal, is the most gratifying of those from North America, and that comment typifies it. I didn’t make any decisions about ‘defining’ or ‘explaining’ words. I’m not a speaker of deep Jamaican Creole, so that language wasn’t available to me, so I just wrote what I heard in my head. Fortunately, Rachel Griffiths, my editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, took the decision against a glossary; I appreciated that.

Tell us a bit about your path to Arthur A. Levine Books, and the factors that made this pairing a success. What was your debut year like? Were there any surprises along the way? What was most gratifying for you? What do you wish you had been told? What would you tell new authors today? Do you have any best/worst moments to share?

I’m embarrassed to say that I’d never heard of Arthur A. Levine Books before my agent, Margaret Hart, told me about Arthur. And Margaret was absolutely convinced that AAL was the ‘right’ place for BMT. She was correct. (She sent it to other publishers, but wasn’t too upset when they turned it down.) What was most gratifying was the respect with which Rachel and Arthur treated the manuscript, and their conviction (far stronger than my own) that it was a worthwhile project to publish.

The best moment for me was when they called one day shortly after publication last year to tell me that BMT had received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. They were so very pleased for me. That was nice.

Another great moment was a ‘review’ from my 9-year-old grandniece, whose mother reported that she had to wrestle the book away from her in the shower! All the words of praise in journals can’t match that.

There have been numerous discussions of the value of ‘multicultural literature’ — what does that term mean to you? How has the Caribbean literary tradition played a role in your reading and writing life?

I’m not sure what the term means at all; I’m not familiar with it in Canada, though we pride ourselves on being ‘the most multicultural country’ in the world. In Canada it’s pretty much all ‘Canadian literature’.

The Caribbean Literary tradition, such as it is, is only, for English-speakers anyway, about 100 years old. For me what it means is that we have stories to tell that people want to hear, and that we are the best people to tell them. People like CLR James, Sam Selvon, John Hearne, VS Naipaul, Sylvia Wynter, Vic Reid – these people gave scribblers of my generation and later ones the confidence to dream about writing books. For myself, the excitement has been more in the use of language, by writers like Reid, Louise Bennett, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Olive Senior, and my wife, Pam. Younger writers are building on this and taking the ‘tradition’ in new directions.

In the area which BMT occupies, literature for children, the ‘tradition’ is less old. There were stories from the forties by Eddie Burke, a social worker who became a clergyman and established the rural setting as the ‘heart place’ of childhood; Vic Reid, who gave our history the clarity and resonance of childhood; then books written and edited by Jean D’Costa and others, meant for schools but with much original writing. And always, giving delight to children and adults, the poetry and stories of Louise Bennett. BMT is a modest addition to that venerable library.

In a post on Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot, you talk about your online critique and support group. Why do you think it worked so well? What were its benefits in comparison to an in-person group? What advice do you have for other authors considering the same?

I think the online writer’s group worked for two reasons. First, all of us knew at least one, maybe two other members of the group. Only Nalo Hopkinson, a marvelous Caribbean-Canadian writer, knew everybody, all six of us (seven eventually). So there was a certain shyness, but also an element of discovery and anticipation about the exchanges. And, like all the best friendships – because we were not just mostly strangers but also writing totally different stuff – it started slowly.

The second reason was that it was non-judgmental. The only thing required of you, so to speak, was a word-count for that day. You didn’t have to ‘show’ anything if you didn’t want to, and when you did there was no obligation for anyone else to comment And if you didn’t write anything for that day you didn’t have to explain why, unless you wanted to. When you’re meeting relative strangers – which is what we were – in the flesh, at a coffee shop or someone’s home, there’s often an unspoken obligation/anticipation dynamic at work: ‘What have you got to show? Why don’t you?’ And you feel you have to make some comment, preferably enthusiastic, about your colleague’s work.

Writing is such a personal thing, so much of your personhood is invested in it, that you are instinctively careful about exposure. Online – ironically, because we hear so much about the nakedness of the online person – provides a filter, a firewall.

But that’s me. Pam is more relaxed about showing her work to other people for their assessment – people whose judgment she trusts, of course. But I don’t. She and my children are the only people who saw any of BMT, until the online writing group started. Different strokes for different folks. But BMT would not have been written without them. And without the grants provided by various arts funding agencies here in Canada. Give thanks for new friends and taxpayers.

What do you do for fun? What do you wish people knew about you? What do you wish an interviewer would just ask already?

Fun? Writers aren’t allowed to have fun – except when they’re writing. The blood, sweat and tears constitute fun, the delete button is our rubber ball!

But I listen to music, talk to my wife, my children and our grandchild, and read a lot, mostly, at the moment, history.

I don’t wish people to know anything about me except what’s in my books or in the author’s profile. That’s why I’m not on Facebook, I don’t Twitter, Buzz, or any of those things. I’m developing a website, but I don’t intend to go further than that. My life is pretty boring anyway — and nobody’s business.

Thank you so much, Mr. Mordecai — this interview has inspired me in many ways.

Nikki Grimes

February 24, 2010

I love drawing the long straw and getting to profile a trailblazer during 28 Days Later. And somehow, Varian let me get away with profiling both of the YA vanguards. Shh…he may not realize.

But these are the authors who have been in the industry long enough to truly say where publishing has been and where it needs to go. How they endure the business-side of writing while still producing great work is among life’s greatest mysteries for me.

Nikki Grimes has been writing children’s books since the 1970’s. She’s a best selling author and several times over Coretta Scott King winner or honoree. Often, during Brown Bookshelf discussions, we talk about our heavy hitters, the names that people instantly recognize when talking about children’s books by authors of color and Nikki’s name is always among them.

What hasn’t a long-time author answered in an interview? What haven’t they already divulged about themselves? I’d venture to guess, not much. Still Nikki was game to indulge me. We talked about the industry and her latest baby, the Dyamonde Daniel series – chapter books about an inquisitive, up and coming, young poet.

BBS: Your bio page lists what life as an author is like. It had me in stitches because it’s so true. Ironically, writing is only a small part of a writer’s life, yet you’ve written so much. How do you hear the voices of your characters with so many other things competing for your attention?

NG: Not to worry! My characers are both loud and demanding. I couldn’t miss hearing their voices if I tried. And when I attempt to ignore them, they simply do me the courtesy of waking me in the middle of the night!

BBS: Selling fiction is tough enough, what special challenges are associated with being a working i.e. selling poet? How do you stay competitive in a field that seems to offer so few opportunities?

NG: I don’t wait for opportunities I make my own. Since I’m driven by character and story—not genre—I concentrate on creating stories narratives that are relevant, narratives that I believe will speak to the young readers of today. Poetry is my first love, though, and so many of my narratives take that form.

BBS: Share, with us, one change you’ve seen in publishing since your first children’s book that you never thought you’d see?

NG: The growing popularity of e-books! Never saw that coming. I was autographing at the National Book Festival this past September, and a young a brought me a Kindle to sign! I nearly fell out of my chair. It’s a brand new day!

BBS: Share one thing you have yet to see but would like to see change about children’s book publishing.

NG: I would love to see more diversity in editorial and management positions. That would, quite literally, change the face of children’s poetry.

BBS: Your latest books are the Dyamonde Daniel series. Dyamonde reminds me of my childhood fave chapter book character, Ramona. What inspired the series? How many books are planned in the series?

NG: Over the years, several publishers have approached me about creating a series, but I simply wasn’t interested. Then, about two years ago, I began to wonder: if I were to create a series, what would that look like? The question bored into my psyche and wouldn’t stop until I answered the question. As for the length of my little experiment, Dyamonde is an open-ended series. I’ve no idea how long, or short, the series will end up being. Stay tuned!

BBS: Any chances we might see Dyamonde on the big or little screen in time for my five year old to enjoy? Although I’m serious, the true question is, what do you believe it will take to draw more film/TVinterest in books featuring characters of color? Surely it’s not for a lack of intriguing characters. Your books alone offer a myriad of possibilities.

NG: I’m not sure how to crack that particular nut. I’ve certainly wondered about it, and I get no end of letters from fans asking the same question. Unfortunately, the people of power in those industries still seem to operate under the false notion that stories featuring characters of color are incapable of appealing to a broader audience. Nothing could be further from the truth. My own readership crosses all boundaries of race, nationality, age, and gender. There most definitely is an audience for these stories. However, it may take a Tyler Perry, or an Oprah Winfrey, or some other industry person of color to bring these stories to the screen. Perhaps BET someone at BET could step into the void. We’ll have to see what happens down the road.

BBS: Choose a side in this debate and give us your closing argument on the point: Should brown books fight to be mainstreamed or should people of color “be happy” with just making sure other people of color know about their books?

NG: Mainstream, definitely. Good stories should be read by all children. Books are one of the chief ways we learn about other cultures, other ways of seeing the world. Stories also teach us that we are all the same beneath the skin. We do reaeders a great disservice by isolating the stories of any one culture from all the rest.

The Buzz on Nikki’s Work

Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book

“Young readers will wish they had a friend like Dyamonde.” —Kirkus Reviews

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

“Meet Dyamonde Daniel. You’ll be happy that you did.” —Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production

“A welcome addition to the steadily growing list of beginning chapter books with African American protagonists, this is a promising start for the Dyamonde Daniel series.” Grades 2-4. —Booklist

Bronx Masquerade

“The book…succeeds because it makes us want the best for these voices so clearly heard.” Horn Book

“As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they’re looking for—real characters who show them they are not alone.” School Library Journal

*2003 Coretta Scott King Author Award
*Best Book for Young Adults
*Children’s Literature Choice
*Quick Pick for Young Adult Reluctant Readers

Road to Paris

“In clear short chapters, Grimes tells a beautiful story of family, friendship, and faith from the viewpoint of a child in search of home in a harsh world.” – Booklist

*Nominated for the 2009-2010 Nebraska Golden Sower Award, Intermediate divison
*Coretta Scott King Honor Book

Cozbi A. Cabrera

February 23, 2010

Cozbi A. Cabrera walked away from a successful career as an art director at Sony Music to “discover, create and share pockets of grace and beauty.” Her creations have taken on many forms. She is the illustrator of several books for children, including Most Loved in All the World (Houghton Mifflin), Thanks A Million (Greenwillow Books), Stitchin’ and Pullin’ (Random House).

In addition Cozbi makes handmade Muñecas — “dolls” in Spanish — and womens’s clothing that sell in her Brooklyn boutique. She’s been featured on Oprah and in Black Enterprise Magazine.

Most recently, she contributed a striking illustration to the book Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change (pictured below).

Jaime Adoff

February 22, 2010

Considering the “source material”–parents Arnold Adoff and Virginia Hamilton–many readers and educators had high expectation when Jaime Adoff hit the literary scene with his first work, The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth: A Celebration of Music (Dutton, 2002). Adoff did not disappoint–the collection of poetry was praised by critics and named a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award-Honor Book. The author followed up this award-winning book with Names Will Never Hurt Me (Dutton, 2004) and Jimi and Me (Hyperion-Jump at the Sun, 2005), with the author receiving the Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe New Talent Award for the latter in 2006. In a starred review, Booklist called his latest novel, The Death of Jayson Porter (Hyperion-Jump at the Sun, 2008), a “forceful story [that] will appeal to the many readers, some in despair, who will find Jayson a character they can cling to.” They went on to call the novel “a hard book to read, and even harder to put down.”

For the 22nd Day of 28 Days Later, we are proud to present Jaime Adoff.

Your latest novel, The Death of Jayson Porter, deals with some very dark subject matter–drinking, drugs, violence and suicide–but you approach the novel in a very realistic and inspiring manner. What was your approach to writing the novel? How did you come to understand Jayson and his world?

From the beginning I knew it was important to be completely in Jayson’s world. Meaning, as I was writing I needed to really see, hear, smell and taste everything he did. I used a lot of my own past inner emotional turmoil to fuel many aspects of Jayson’s character. Once the fire was lit I was able to expand from what I had felt to create a completely authentic and original emotional landscape that was all Jayson Porter’s.  Although I have never lived in Jayson’s world, his environment per se, that is never a pre-requisite for a writer. Sadly, I have met and known many “Jayson’s” that live in various parts of the country, from varying backgrounds. His story is not unique, but in telling it I hoped to shed some light on a disturbing but all too common problem in the lives of many of our young people. Although drug use amongst teens gets much attention, teen suicide and attempted suicide still does not, especially in the African-American community. I hope in some small way this book can start a discussion and dialogue between teens, parents, teachers and community leaders alike.

You use a combination of prose and blank verse in the novel? What drew you to write the novel in this way?

The “Death of Jayson Porter” is the third novel I have written in this style. This poetic-prose style was a perfect fit to tell Jayson’s story. The immediacy and emotional impact that was absolutely necessary in the telling of Jayson’s story could only be told in this style.  As the reader you are catapulted into Jayson’s life. The sparseness and poetic nature of the writing I feel, breaks down the wall between reader and character until the two are one.

In addition to your novels, you’ve also written picture books. Your latest, Small Fry (Dutton, 2008), celebrates the challenges and benefits of being short. What inspired you to write this picture book?

Well, I was a small fry until about my sophomore year in high school and I really wanted to create a book that showed how you could triumph and persevere no matter what your size. And as I say in the book, “there are no small ball players just small bats.”

Your father, Arnold Adoff, is a celebrated poet and anthologist, and your mother, Virginia Hamilton, was one of the most honored and cherished voices in writing for children and young adults. How did their respective careers impact your career?

Besides being incredible parents, just seeing the creative process up close at an early age had a profound effect on me and the person I would become later in life. When I was younger I never wanted to be a writer, my path was music until I was almost thirty years old. So as I was pursuing a music career their writing careers were a shining beacon of what was possible, and what could be in terms of being an artist.  When I turned to writing they were overjoyed and equally as supportive of my writing career as they were of my music career.

Tough Question–Do you consider yourself more of a poet, a novelist or a musician?

I think I am at the heart of it all a poet, but I love to tell a good story too :)

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I would say to aspiring authors to write and write and write and read and read and read. Develop your own voice and way of telling the story that is uniquely your own, that is what will set you apart from the rest.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

I am currently working on two novels. Both are Young-Adult and both God willing will get finished!!