Interview with Colorado Book Award Author, Jeannie Mobley

katerina's.wish.frontcvrIt’s my pleasure to share with you an interview with our keynote speaker for the upcoming CRAFTING COMPELLING CHARACTERS workshop. Last fall, I met Colorado Book Award winner, author Jeannie Mobley during the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI,  Letters and Lines conference in Denver. The meeting presented the opportunity to offer her a chance to give our keynote address at the West Slope workshop on April 18, 2015. Jeannie’s debut novel, KATERINA’S WISH won the 2013 Colorado Book Award in Juvenile Fiction. Her book was placed on the William Allen White Award Master List, and was selected by the Library of Congress to represent Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.

Welcome Jeannie. How long have you been writing children’s literature and why were you drawn into writing for children?

The “how long” question is always a hard one for me to answer, because nothing in this business follows a straight progression. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but got away from it as I pursued a professional career as an archaeologist. That also required writing, but a very different (and much less satisfying) sort. When I came back to creative writing, about fifteen years ago, my kids were little, and I think I moved into writing kids’ fiction because they were my first audience, and because most of my pleasure reading at that time was the books I read with them. As I got serious about pursuing a career in fiction, about ten years ago, I stayed with kids’ books because it just felt like a comfortable fit.

I really enjoyed reading your book KATERINA’S WISH. Please tell me more about your books.

I have two books out, KATERINA’S WISH (2012) and SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS (2014), both with Margaret K McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Both are historical fiction for upper middle grade readers (though I have a number of adults tell me they enjoy them as well), and both are set in Colorado. Having grown up in Colorado in a very out-doorsy sort of family, my childhood was filled with exploring old mines, ghost towns, railroad routes, and wagon roads in the mountains. For me, those explorations always sent me into daydreams and imagined lives from those eras, so those worlds easily come alive on the page for me. As for what’s next, I have various manuscripts in various stages of readiness, and even out on submission, but I can’t say right now what exactly will be next. It never ceases to amaze me how little correlation there is between the order in which I write things, and the order in which they move to publication.

SilverheelsCoverSCBWI-1Jeannie, how do you find your characters?

There are a lot of tricks you can apply to ensure you have compelling characters, but I don’ think about those things when I write the first draft. In fact, I try not to think about what kind of characters they are at all. I try to let the characters guide me through the story and reveal themselves. I typically do a lot of thinking before I start writing. The first draft I am working on right now, I got the idea in September, and didn’t start writing until mid January. In between, I did some general research, reading up on this historical setting (17th century France), and the social setting (Louis XIV’s court and craft guilds). I looked at a lot of pictures of French houses, the countryside, the clothing and hairstyles of the era (Louis XIV has very shapely legs).

But all the time that I’m doing that, the characters are milling around and growing in my head—their personalities, their voices, their way of thinking. I start seeing all those places and people in my research through their eyes, so that by the time I start writing, I’ve given over a part of myself to that other person. Then she (in my current case a sixteen year old girl) guides my pen as I put her experiences on the page. On my current project, I wrote a first chapter, decided the voice wasn’t right, threw it away, waited another month, and started again. And the story took off and overwhelmed me with joy and excitement, so I knew I had found Juliette’s true voice and personality. She’s a little feistier than I had thought the first time around, and much more poetic.

What happens next?

After the first draft, I take over and do apply some of the tricks—making sure I’ve raised sympathy, making sure her actions fit her motivations, making sure she feels real. And of course, I get others to read the manuscript and I listen to their critiques. But revision is really about fine tuning–sharpening and polishing the character that came out when I gave her free-reign to start with.

What’s easiest for you when it comes to writing?

The first draft. I love drafting. I lose myself drafting. It is pure euphoria.

Is there a part that is more difficult?

Making revisions I don’t necessarily agree with. This becomes part of the process in publishing, and there comes a time when you have to trust your editor or agent and know that what they are suggesting is the right thing, even when you can’t see it yourself. But oh, it can hurt!

Do you have advice for someone who is starting their journey into writing children’s literature?

Take your time enjoying the process. So many writers start out saying “I want to publish a book.” That is the wrong goal to start with. Start with the goal of “I want to write a great story.” Because that’s where it has to start, and honing your craft into something that will get published needs to be the first focus. Think about what’s really motivating you—is it the desire to write really well, or to be famous? Try to focus your ambition on the first of those, because it’s something you can control and work on and develop. The second one, not so much.

How does winning an award for your work, impact you as a writer?

I think all writers are highly sensitive people trapped in a cruel industry. Pretty much every writer I know has deep insecurities, and we’re in a field full of rejections, and critics, and readers on Goodreads who are going to be brutally blunt (most of them probably unaware that the author is actually going to see what they say). So, awards and starred reviews offer some much-needed validation in this business. To have someone say “this book has merit” can really make you feel like it’s all worth it. For me, when the first review of my first book came in, it was a starred review from Kirkus, the scariest reviewers in the business. And I remember feeling a huge shock of disbelief when the email came to me, followed by a wave of relief so powerful that my knees went weak. I remember thinking, “I’m going to be all right. This book is going to be all right.”

My final question is f you could spend the day with one author, who would that be and why?

I have so many dear, dear author friends that I love to spend time with, I wouldn’t want to limit it to one. In fact, there’s a whole crowd of us who get together for writing days from time to time, and its best when they can all come!

But as for famous writers, I think I would have liked to know Jane Austen. She was so amazingly astute and witty and sarcastic, and that strikes me as my kind of gal. Of course, I’d end up being totally intimidated and tongue tied around her, and terribly afraid she would see me as the sort of buffoons that litter her novels, so it’s probably best that I don’t have a time machine for that meeting.

Jeannie thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. I appreciate your honesty and directness. It was a significant piece of who you are that prompted me to asking you to come join us.  The RMC, SCBWI attendees are sure in for a treat, and I am excited you chose to come.

small seatedJeannie Mobley writes both historical and contemporary middle grade fiction. Her debut novel, /Katerina’s Wish /(Aug 2012, Margaret K. McElderry Books (S&S)), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award in Juvenile Fiction. It is on the William Allen White Award Master List, and was selected by the Library of Congress to represent the state of Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.  Her second novel, /Searchingfor Silverheels/released September 2, 2014, and has been nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project for feminist literature. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and an anthropology professor at Front Range Community College, where she teaches a variety of classes on cultures past and present.

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Interview with Award Winning Author, Wendi Silvano

I’m honored to share an interview with award-winning author, Wendi Silvano. Wendi is a dear friend and integral member of my local critique group. She also is a generous contributor to the greater children’s writing community and presenter at our past RMC SCBWI events. Wendi will be presenting at our West Slope workshop, CRAFTING COMPELLING CHARACTERS on April 18th in Grand Junction, Colorado. She is also critiquing individual picture book manuscripts for a limited number of author attendees. Often authors in presenter/critique positions are humble about their accomplishments. Potential attendees have limited knowledge about the depth of experience they bring to the larger children’s writing community.

Welcome Wendi. Would you please give us a little background about your writing career?

Just One More     I have been writing for almost 21 years. I taught school until my third child was born. I stopped teaching to be a stay-at-home mom, and discovered I wasn’t much for the usual domestic things (cooking, sewing, gardening, etc.). I have had a passion for children’s literature ever since I can remember, and I realized I would love to create something like those books I loved so much as a child, as a teacher and as a parent. Of course I felt that my first stories were pretty good, and that some would surely be published.

How long was it before you sold your first story?

 It was six years before I sold my first story (to Cricket Magazine) and seven years before my first picture book sold (after dozens of rejections on many stories). The more I learned, the more I realized what I still needed to learn. In fact, I still often think about how much more there is to learn. I kept going because I love picture books so much, and just can’t imagine not writing (even if it’s just for me and my kids).

Wendi, can you tell us a bit about your recent projects and how you stay active as a writer?

I have 6 picture books published and a new one coming out this August. The most recent are TURKEY TROUBLE, TURKEY CLAUS and the upcoming TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT (all from Two Lions Press). I have won the Children’s Choice Award for two of my books (TURKEY TROUBLE and JUST ONE MORE) and TURKEY CLAUS was named one of the “10 Best Picture Books of 2012” by YABC.

Turkey Claus-1

What else have you written and published?

I have written more than a dozen emergent readers (including 7 Duck and Goose tales), numerous stories, poems and articles in children’s magazines such as Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, Cricket, Babybug, OWL, The Friend, Pockets and others. I have also written more than a dozen teacher resource books, hundreds of educational reading passages and numerous other work-for-hire projects.

In thinking about our CRAFTING COMPELLING CHARACTERS in April. How do you find and develop your characters?

I find characters EVERYWHERE! I have several spiral index card pads full of character ideas. Sometimes I will see a person or animal that gives me an idea. (My Duck and Goose emergent readers were inspired by the geese I saw at Corn Lake, my “hopefully-soon-to-be-sold” manuscript THE TALE OF A TAIL was inspired by our pet cat who is afraid of his own tail, and so on). Sometimes just a name will come to me and it becomes a character that starts inhabiting my mind. (One example is an ordinary lad with an extraordinary name- Bartholomew Augustus Montgomery III). Other times I might come up with a book title that I like and then imagine who the characters in that book might be (for example “Two Proper Penguins”). Most of these characters sit in my notebooks for a LONG time before they ever get their stories written. It takes me months or years even to figure out exactly what their personalities are like, what they care about, what they desperately want and how they might go about trying to get it. Some may never get that far, but there’s always one or two that I just keep thinking about. Those are the ones I “grab” and run with.

treat

Yes, like Turkey!  Wendi, your lengthy career and process make it look easy. Is there an aspect in your writing that you find difficult?

For me, the hardest part of writing is getting the right idea. Like I said earlier, I have gazillions of ideas for characters or very basic concepts, but I struggle to figure out what their stories are in detail. Once I have a fairly fleshed out idea of what the story will be, the first draft comes fairly quickly. After that, revision can take forever, but it’s not anywhere near as hard for me as getting the “perfect” story idea.

Do you have advice for someone starting their journey in writing children’s literature?

If you are just starting out I would suggest that, if you truly know this is what you want to do, then determine from the beginning that you are going to stay in it for the long haul and that no matter how long it takes you will keep learning and keep trying. One of the biggest parts of the process is patience and persistence. Realize that you not only have to write an amazing story but you have to find just the right editor or agent in just the right moment in time. That is like waiting for lightning to strike (but it does strike!).

     Also, I suggest not sending out your first stories to publishers. Write them, revise them, have them critiqued. Then file them away. Read craft books, go to workshops, take online classes and read HUNDREDS (or thousands) of books in your genre. Then go back and pull out those early stories and you will see why it’s better to have waited. None of that writing was wasted. It helped you grow as a writer, but it probably wasn’t good enough for publication.

     Oh… and did I mention the most important thing… read HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of books!

Great advice Wendi! I am so envious of your professional library.  I also know when I am trying to put a library book at the MCLD on hold and it’s not available, you’ve probably beat me to it.

I have one last question, if you could spend one day with an author or author-illustrator who would that be?

Ooooh… hard question! There are SO many children’s authors that I absolutely love (Cynthia Rylant, Don and Audrey Wood, Karma Wilson, Margie Palitini, Molly Bang, Barbara Park, Roald Dahl and on, and on, and on). But, if I had to choose just one, it would probably be the late Shel Silverstein (and not just because his last name is so close alphabetically to mine that we are filed next to each other on the shelves), but because I remember laughing so hard at his poetry, and being so “charmed” by the uniqueness and exactness of his picture books. I consider him a “literary magician”!

Thank you Wendi for sharing a little more with our local West Slope members and for just being you! I hope you have enjoyed this post and will consider joining us in April. Thanks for stopping by.

 

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WENDI SILVANO has always loved children’s literature, and is now delighted to take part in creating books like those she loved as a child. She has been writing for children for more than 20 years and is the award-winning author of seven picture books, more than a dozen emergent readers, numerous magazine stories and teacher resource books as well as educational materials. Her picture books Turkey Trouble and Just One More both won the IRA’s Children’s Choice Award, while Turkey Claus was named one of the “Ten Best Picture Books of 2012” by YABC. She currently writes from her home in Grand Junction, Colorado. Her latest picture book, Turkey Trick or Treat will be released in 2015 from Two Lions Press.

 

Website: www.wendisilvano.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/wendisilvanochildrensauthor

Twitter:    @WendiSilvano