Pamela 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.