Monday, December 11, 2017

An Interview with Nancy Churnin

By Leslie Colin Tribble

Last year at the 2016 Week of Writing Conference in Georgia, I had the utmost good fortune to be roomies with Nancy Churnin. We didn't know each other, nor was her name even familiar to me, but our chance meeting has given me sort of a front row seat in watching a career develop and forge ahead full steam. Nancy's debut picture book biography, William Hoy, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game was published in 2016 and she has a pipeline of other recently published books and ones still to come. I asked Nancy is she'd be willing to do an interview for the GROG, and with trademark grace and kindness she agreed. I hope you enjoy learning from Nancy - she has wonderful things to say to those of us still waiting our publishing debut.

1. What made you decide to foray into the field of children's literature?
A man named Steve Sandy, who is deaf and a friend of the William Hoy family, told me his dream for William Hoy, the deaf hero who introduced signals to baseball so he could play the game he loved, to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I promised I would write a children’s book so kids would know the story and that the kids who got to know William Hoy would help by writing letters to the Hall of Fame. Kids have written almost 1,000 letters! I fell so in love with writing children’s books about “hidden” heroes — inspiring people that kids didn’t know about yet — I just kept going. My new book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain, came out in September and I will have three more books out in 2018. 

2. Had you done any writing for children before or was participating in Julie Hedlund's 12x12 your first foray into the world of children's literature?
I had written stories on my own that I sent out on my own that never went beyond anyone’s slush pile. Making the promise to Steve Sandy took me to a new level of seriousness and purpose. When I finally realized that I was going to need to know a lot more about writing children’s books in order to keep my promise, I began signing up for online groups and classes. Finding 12X12 was transformative. All of a sudden I found myself surrounded by folks on different stages of their writing journey, all willing and eager to help each other, to critique manuscripts, to explain what an effective query letter was. That’s where I truly began to learn how much I needed to learn!

3. You found your agent as a participant of 12X12. Can you tell us about that?
One of the perks of the gold membership in 2013 was the opportunity to submit to one agent each month. During this time I knew that my story on William Hoy wasn’t ready, so I sent out different stories to the first six agents of January through June. They were all rejected. Then, in July I woke up at  4:00 am with a brainstorm about how to rewrite William Hoy based on what I had learned the previous six months. I sent it to Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, the agent of that month, and she got back to me within the hour saying she wanted to send it out! Now I should tell you that that version of William Hoy also met with rejections, but nice, detailed ones. I studied what the editors were saying and then I got another brainstorm. Karen sent out my freshly revised version again in 2014 and voila! The lovely Wendy McClure of Albert Whitman accepted it right away. I am now working on my third book with Wendy and each journey is a joy. Karen sold my second book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain, to Marissa Moss at Creston Books and that has been an amazing experience as well. I am working on my third book with Marissa now, too. I feel so blessed to work with both of these editors.

4. How many books do you have out now (including ones yet to be published that you can talk about)?
I have two books out now and three more coming out in 2018. There’s one more that will come out in 2019 IF I can get it right. First up in 2018 is Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf in January. It’s the true story of Charlie Sifford who was inspired by what Jackie Robinson did for baseball to become the first African American golfer on the PGA Tour. Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing comes out in June. It’s the story of a boy who came to America as a penniless refugee from Russia and went on to write one of America’s most patriotic songs, “God Bless America.” The Queen and the First Christmas Tree, coming in September, is the story of Queen Charlotte, a kind queen with a heart for children, who introduced the first Christmas tree to Windsor Castle in 1800.  

5. How do you choose your topics/individuals that you write about?
I am always looking for the untold stories of people who inspire me and who helped make the world a better place. There are many worthy subjects, but the stories I know I will tell best are the ones that tug at my heart and won’t let go. If I can’t stop thinking about them, I know I have to write about them.
6. How do you balance your regular career with your children's writing career?
I am very fortunate to have work that I enjoy as a theater critic with the Dallas Morning News. It gives me the opportunity to see and evaluate the creative work of other people, to interview people about their work and to spread word of good work with our readers. I try not to overthink how I do both because I’m afraid if I think about it too much I would be like one of those cartoon characters running off a cliff and continuing to run because she doesn’t realize there’s only air beneath her! I just shoehorn it in wherever I can. It probably helps that I have no hobbies and all I like to do is write and read and see shows!

7.  Tell us about your research and writing methods - how do you do your research, how long you take to research, how long it takes for you to write your first draft, etc.
The time it takes varies. I can write a first draft very quickly. But my first draft is never my last draft! I worked on William How for 10 YEARS. Manjhi, in contrast, took roughly five months. Charlie Takes His Shot took a couple of weeks. I’m working on one now that I don’t know how long it will take. As for how I research, the Internet and the library are my friends. When I was researching Manjhi, I found interviews with him on YouTube. I try to find out everything I can, then I put everything I learned aside and try to focus and feel the heart of the story. Who is this person? What was this person’s dream? What was his or her fear? What were the challenges in the journey? What was it about this person that led up to his or her success in achieving this dream and, for me, how did this make the world better? After I write that draft and revise it enough to be happy with it, I search out experts to fact check me. That’s where I learn how many things from secondary sources can be incorrect! The reading and notes from experts have been essential for me.
8. How many revisions do you go through before your manuscript is finalized?
I lost track of how many revisions I did for William Hoy. It took me 10 years, so I imagine hundreds. For Manjhi, maybe 30 or 40. I actually like to revise. I want the books to be as good as they can be for the kids. The better made they are the longer they will last.

9. What nuggets can you give to those of us who are still waiting for that first publishing contract?
Don’t give up. Remember why you’re doing this. You have a story you need to tell, that only you can tell in the way you do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find critique buddies and support groups you trust. Remember we are not always the best judge of what needs to happen when. Trust the universe. Yes, it took me 10 years to sell William Hoy and I shed my share of tears in those 10 years. But looking back, I shudder at the thought that one of those early versions of the story would have been printed rather than the book that I am so proud of today. I trust my agent and my editors and when they tell me a manuscript isn’t ready, I will work on it again and again until it is. That said, you also need to find the agent and editors that “get” you. Somehow you have to figure out the difference between a manuscript that isn’t ready yet, and one that simply hasn’t found the right editor and home. Don’t give up and you will get there. And don’t stop submitting. I submitted to every contest and took advantage of every submission opportunity. Remember, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. 

Nancy, thanks for the interview! I'm so glad we met at WOW 2016!

Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman), on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids list, the 2017 Texas Library Association's 2X2 and Topaz lists, the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Association's Monarch Award Master List and Connecticut's 2018 Charter Oak Children's Book Awards list. MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books), a 2017 Junior Library Guild selection and Silver Eureka Award-winner from the California Reading Association, on the Mirrors & Windows long list from the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Children's Book Council showcase. Coming out in 2018: CHARLIE MAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF (Albert Whitman in January); IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books in June) and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman in September). A native New Yorker, she's a graduate of Harvard University, with a master's from Columbia University School of Journalism, who is happy to live in North Texas.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Channah's Star

Embed from Getty Images
By Janie Reinart

Lift a mug of hot chocolate for the merry, not naughty but nice, Susanna Leonard Hill.

It's time for the 7th Annual Holiday Contest.

1.Write a 250 word holiday story about A Holiday Surprise, appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under). The title is not included in the 250 words. You can go under, but not over the word count!

2. No illustration notes please! You may submit more than one entry. 

3.Your entry should be posted on your blog between 12:01 AM EST Thursday December 7 and Sunday December 10 at 11:59 PM EST, and your post-specific link should be added to the link list on the official holiday contest post which will go up on Susanna's blog on Thursday December 7 and remain up through Friday December 15, 2017.  

Thank you, Susanna for always inviting us to to be merry and for the gifts for the winners! Here is my 249 word story for the contest. Thank you for stopping by. Many blessings for a Happy Holiday.

 Channah's Star
By Janie Reinart 

I am Channah, the innkeeper’s daughter. Balancing a jar on my head, I hasten to bring water to our many guests.

My feet kick up puffs of dirt. I place clay lamps in every niche around the outer wall. Don’t tell. I’m afraid of the dark.

         Someone is knocking.

         My father says,"Shalom.”

         My eyes meet those of the lady on the donkey.

          My wife is about to give birth. Do you have room? ” 

         I whisper in father’s ear,  “What about out back?”

         He sighs, “We have a place with the animals.” 

         The lady smiles. The goodness in her eyes shines like a lantern. I gather fig cakes into a leather scrip.

         Father surprises me. “Channah will take you.“

My heart skips a beat. Eventide makes me shiver.

         Slinging the strap of the scrip over my shoulder, I grab a lamp.

         At the limestone cave, the animals snort. I place the food for the lady near the lamp.

         “I will bring water.”

         My knees shake. The night is as dark as a bottomless well. Wait... A light, luminous as the sun, brightens my way. A new star! Could this be the night foretold? Joy burns in me like embers in a fire. I’m not afraid.

         I return and hear the soft cries of the lady’s babe wrapped in swaddling.

         “Would you like to hold Him?”

         In the peacefulness of the starry night, I cradle the Child. My heart fills with wonder and I feel the nearness of God.


Naughty or NIce? Gifts for writers

Embed from Getty Images
By Janie Reinart

Have you been naughty or nice during your writing time this year? There's still time to get on the nice list! You might even receive a unique gift just for writers. 

Enjoy the catalogue of ideas I put together just for you.

Clothing gifts just right for a school visits or book chat.






Jewelry gifts for just the right amount of "wordy" bling.

Miscellaneous gifts for writerly fun.

For more ideas, check out this link. 

Let us know in the comments some of your favorite gifts for writers. 

One of my favorite gifts was a journal given to me by a critique partner.  The journal has quotes hand written through out the book.  As you turn a page, you never know when an inspirational quote will show up.

Many blessings to you and yours during this holiday season and a Happy New Year

Monday, December 4, 2017

Critique Groups, Critique Partners: We All Got 'Em, We All Want 'Em... Part 1 by Kathy Halsey

"Now here comes the big ones. Relationships! ( critique groups) We all got 'em, 
We all want 'em.
 What do we do with 'em?
Here we go, I'll tell ya."  Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffet

AKA "Parrothead"

I like to think of Jimmy Buffet as a philosopher of sorts. Writers of all stripes, including Parrotheads, need a well-oiled critique group. Going into my fifth year of serious writing, I know I function best  when my feedback fits what I need and I feel safe and confident about my parnters. I've been in a variety of groups over the years and thought my reflections may help our readers on designing, finding, creating the best group possible. 

With that intent, I posed these questions on Facebook to my wall and at KidLit411. Critique groups: 
  • How does yours work? 
  • How often do you meet? 
  • What is the most valuable aspect of a group to you? 
  • Why is a partner better for you than a group? 
  • How do you leave a group, start a group? 
  • Advice in general. 
Of course, the children's writing community being what it is, I had all sorts of wonderful replies which I'll share in a two part series. Today we'll focus on what I've learned and part two will cull the responses I've seen and on line resources (Stay tuned for part two January 11, 2018.) A series developed because Susan Uhlig Ford replied," I've written a number of posts on this and SCBWI guidelines. I think you're going to have too much info for one post." She was correct. 

Personal Stories and Recommendations
  1. As a newbie, it's important to join forces with folks who write for the same audience/genre that you do. I spent 1.5 years in a general group that met at an indie bookstore. Members wrote YA, fantasy, flash fiction, erotica, and memoir. I was the only picture book writer. At one meeting, the group consensus was for my Corgi story to be written in the shape of a dog. (I left that group soon after.) 
    A book in the shape of a Corgi???
  2. It may take more than a few groups to find one that meets your needs. Keep at it. I've had 3 different groups out of many I tried that worked for me. AND, if you leave a group or one disbands, try forming a partnership with former members. (That happened with my first online children's group that included Andrea J. Loney and Lindsay Bonilla. We still shared manuscripts after that.) 
    Honored ot see early versions of Andrea J Loney's book
  3. As with agent searches, know yourself and what fits your style. I learn the most when my critique groups are at similar point in their publication journey or more advanced than I am. (While in Phoenix, I met Dianne White whose debut BLUE ON BLUE was in the publishing pipeline. She carried an F&G into our meeting. Wow, how instructive was that?) 
    Dianne White shares the creation of BLUE ON BLUE at Changing Hands
  4. If you're in a critique group with more accomplished partners, try to find your own unique way of contributing. (You may have a skill, former career that intersects with writing, as I did.) I was able to introduce Dianne to the indie children's department director since I book talked there. My 15 years as a school librarian gave value to the group even though I was green in terms of craft.
  5. Assess your energy level, too. I've been in groups that met monthly, weekly, an even twice a week. (I really don't recommend that.) How long does it take you to digest feedback and rewrite? You may need a monthly group instead of one with a quicker turn around in order to do justice to your process.
  6.  Adding or losing a member may change your group dynamic more than you realize. In one longstanding critique group,  members who left and those who came on board altered our group process. Feel free to be honest and leave the group if it no longer fits you.
  7. Have at least a few loose rules to maximize time and effectiveness. How many folks get feedback a session? How long do you discuss a manuscript: 20 minutes, a half hour, as long as it takes? Written and verbal feedback or one or the other? Do you tackle big issues, line-by-line, or specific issues the writer asks to be addressed. 

What I Know Now
I've seen fruitcakes...Down in New
Orleans in the French market there are fruitcakes like you cannot
believe. New York, forget it. Fruitcake city. Down island, we've got
Fruitcakes. Spread them crumbs around. That's right, we want
'em around. Keep bakin' baby. Keep bakin'." Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffet 

I'm the fruitcake on the left

This fruitcake has a multiplicity of riches with writing partners. I 'm in an on line group with writers from all over the United States. This brings different sensibilities and attitudes to my work. (A Texan may think differently than a New Jersey girl.) We are all querying so we critique pitches, twitter pitches, proposals and letters. We're serious students of craft and share books, webinar info (ethically, of course) and agent info. We're all experts in some area: Janie knows poetry and lyrical language, Monique has the funny bone, Pam makes us examine deeper issues, Charlotte hones in on plot points that don't work, and Melissa knows structure and creates amazing log lines. Together we feel formidable. (Suggestion  - make sure your partners have different strengths.) Finally, I have individuals I've meet at conferences or are from groups that disbanded that look at my manuscripts. I use them for new eyes on an old piece, for genres different than what our group writes, and to brainstorm new pieces. Good writers are lifelong learners and "I get by with a little help from my friends."(Wait is that another song lyric?) My critique buddies make me grow.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Guest Blogger, Pamela Courtney and Her We Need Diverse Books Mentorship - introduced by Kathy Halsey

For me, one of the joys of being a children's writer is the great community and camaraderie that develops over time. Today my friend, writing partner, critique buddy, and fab educator, Pamela Courtney is on tap to share a post with us. 

Pam's  professional biography:
Pamela Courtney lives in Atlanta, GA, but the Red River of Louisiana permanently flows through her veins. She is a former Curriculum Consultant, but is now proud to claim herself "Teacher of some of the most intellectually stimulating Kindergarteners and 1st Graders." Pamela is a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program; mentored by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Writing with Mentors: Musings, Mishaps, and Magic

Thank you Kathy. I am honored to have the opportunity to share my amazing journey in the We Need Diverse Books Mentorship program.

I’ve always dreamed of being mentored by an amazing children’s author. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the blessings coming my way.  Blessings that challenged my work ethic, that demanded diligent study of craft, and blessings that I would rely on, and cherish. Carole Boston Weatherford offered guidance in a way I had not expected.

I dreamed that my time with Carole would make the writing road smoother. I dreamed Carole would walk me through my own work step by step, line by line. I dreamed my mentor would correct every scene I wrote. It will be so easy. But, I had to leave that dream world, a daunting and necessary step for my growth.

In our Q & A time, Carole Boston Weatherford asked one question that stood out and has remained unanswered. “What do you hope to accomplish in our time together?”  [insert outrageous rambling here]. I thought I’d knock out several successful masterpieces (because yeah, I’m that good, and well, she’s CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD). I reasoned that through magic that some sort of literary osmosis was definite. Carole was cool. “Well, let’s see. We’ll walk through this together.” No, no hand holding at all.
Carole Boston Weatherford Credit: Jeffery Weatherford

Was I ready to receive?

Incoming: “Your language is lovely. Powerful. You have a talent for visually creating a scene. That’s what drew me to your work. But … YOU  HAVE NO PLOT” Ahhh, there’s that “something.”  I straightened my back. I opened my arms. I sat waiting for her to tell me exactly what to do. Silence. This wasn’t easy.

Acquiring Experience: A consummate teacher, Carole maintained this consistent routine of guiding my writer’s eye. “Let’s discuss this scene. How powerful is it playing out? Think about how your students would receive this.” I kept waiting for her to, tell me what to do. This was guidance I hadn’t expected.

Nevertheless,  my work habits changed. Researching even the minutest of detail is part of my writing. Hmm … “sun beats down on backs already low to the ground.” Must research actual weather conditions during this period. Examining each line, determining its rightful place – Carol, showed me how to ask that specific question for each scene. Perhaps Carole’s question has been answered.  I realized that wanting to be a writer and positioning myself as a writer are dream worlds apart. Maintaining a posture of readiness is as crucial as developing work ethic muscles. I’m growing into a writer. Yes, I’ll say it, a good writer.

Here’s the magic. The education of crafting is ongoing. Seeing writing through Carole’s eyes broadened my vision of what writing, good writing for children should and can be. By the way, there was hand holding. Lots of hand holding. Step by step. Line by line. Thank you Carole Boston Weatherford. Thank you We Need Diverse Books. Thank you GROGers.