Not Only a Children’s Writer

How my daughter’s Mo Willems biography report made me realize I don’t value my own work enough

My second grader was assigned a Great Americans biography project. To help her decide on a subject, we checked out biographies of Elizabeth Blackwell, Mae Jemison, Mary Cassatt, Victoria Woodhull, Sonia Sotomayor, and Maria Tallchief — great American women who made achievements in medicine, science, politics, and the arts.

Despite reading those fascinating stories, the Great American my daughter chose to write about was Mo Willems.

My first thought was that he is “only a children’s writer.” I wanted to tell her to choose someone more important. And that says a lot more about me that about him.

Willems has won six Emmys for his work with Sesame Street. He has three Caldecott honors. He won two Geisel Medals and Geisel honors five times. He has written and illustrated more New York Times bestsellers than I have manuscripts in my trunk.

He is far more accomplished in his career than I even hope to be in mine, so what does that say about how I value my own career as a children’s writer, with one novel published and one picture book to come? It shows that I don’t value my own career enough — I have internalized that I am “only a children’s writer.”

Read the rest of the post at Project Middle Grade Mayhem >>

New Website Look

MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE (Sterling, June 2016) has gorgeous vintage-inspired beach illustrations from Lissy Marlin, so I thought my website should complement that look. I freshened it up with new header graphics adapting vintage images. Let me know what you think.

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cropped-header-kell-boardwalk-1.jpgKell Andrews, writer for childrenThe inspiration for the lettering comes from a poster featuring Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfing legend and Olympic gold medalist who makes an unnamed cameo in the surf tournament in MIRA.

Mira Gets a Cover

For a picture book writer, seeing the illustrations for the first time is like attending a surprise party for the words you wrote. You are surprised by your own story.

When I saw Lissy Marlin‘s illustrations for MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, I was surprised, amazed, awed, delighted. She had transformed and expanded my story in ways I hadn’t imagined. My simple beach setting had been transported to Boardwalk Empire (the G-rated version).

One aspect that did not surprise me was Mira, the clever, sunny girl who learns to predict the future — or at least one aspect of it — by using science instead of clairvoyance. Lissy drew her exactly as I pictured her. Seeing her on the page as I had seen her in my head was an even better kind of surprise.

Now I can finally share the cover of MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE (Sterling Children’s Books, June 14, 2016) and the first glimpse of the Mira and her world.

First the front:Mira Cover

 

 

 

Then the back:

Cover_Mira Forecasts the Future-back back

Now the whole beautiful thing:

Cover_Mira Forecasts the Future-front and back

I can’t wait to surprise you with the middle when it is released on June 14, 2016!

 

The Creative Value of a Binge

My winter vacation comes to an end, and with it the end of a binge — not the usual holiday eating indulgence (although plenty of Christmas cookies were involved) but of a lengthy reading binge spent immersed in Regency romance. I started with Austen, went deep into the Georgette Heyer catalog, then branched out into modern writers, then back to Austen.

The holiday binge is over.

As after most binges, I’ve ended feeling slightly overindulged — I’ve had enough younger brothers with gambling problems, dukes with rakish reputations, and haute ton society gatekeepers to last me another six months. I also have completed a crash course in rule-bound historical romantic tension, which is just what I need for the YA historical fantasy I’m writing.

Prolonged reading binges are how I became literate in the fantasy genre and in the middle-grade category. Until those self-directed educations, I read primarily adult literary fiction, and I haven’t gone back yet. Deep and wide immersive reading is form of research for fiction writers, and for me a purely pleasurable one. I had to know the voice and rhythms before I could find my own. I needed to learn the tropes and conventions so that I could avoid or deploy them purposefully, rather than falling into them inadvertently.

Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>

In Praise of Prickles

Nobody wrote prickles like Diana Wynne Jones.

I’m reading her Dalemark Quartet for the first time, and it strikes me again how prickly her characters are. From The Spellcoats (Book Three):

Robin wrung her hands. … It annoys me when she does.

“We can go away down the River and find somewhere better to live,” I said. It was the most exciting thing I had ever said. I had always wanted to see the River. …

“But the Heathens!” Robin said, wringing away. I could have hit her.

The narrator Tanaqui is not nice. She isn’t patient or kind. She sulks when she doesn’t get her way, she teases her brother and snaps at her sister, and she turns out to be a hero in the end. Even then, she’s still not nice.

In Jones’s most popular novel, Howl’s Moving Castle, Howl is vain, lazy, and not very brave, but it’s Sophie who we root for as she becomes less nice.  Disguised as an old woman, she discovers her inner curmudgeon — commandeering and no-nonsense, where once she was timid and compliant. She gains an edge. This is character growth in the world of Diana Wynne Jones, and that’s why I love it.

Middle-grade characters are often so nice. They do the right thing. They even feel the right thing. They have flaws, but their flaws are the kind of answers they could give to a potential employer who asked them their biggest weakness in a job interview.

Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>

Surprise! MIRA is on Goodreads, where I learn many things

I adore Goodreads — I visit every day, both to update my own reading (just exceeded my 2015 Reading Goal yesterday!) and to stalk my author profile. So today I noticed that my book doesn’t have any ratings. My first reaction was to wonder where the reviews went — until I noticed that it’s Mira Tells the Future, my upcoming debut picture book! Surprise!

Then I see that my incredibly talented illustrator Lissy Marlin is listed, so I don’t have to wonder how to announce her involvement. Surprise! (I can’t wait to be able to share the cover and Lissy’s art for Mira, but not yet!)

Then I see a release date — May 3, 2016. Surprise!

And I look the title up on Amazon and you can already pre-order it. Whoa.

Maybe Goodreads can tell the future. Or perhaps a catalog update got loaded. Either way, I predict that May 3 will be a very good day.

So now you can add Mira Tells the Future to your Goodreads to-read list and pre-order it at Amazon. And why not add me as a friend, leave a book review, and judge my bookshelves while you’re there?

Stories found and made: The difference between fact and fiction

shark-coverorientationWhere do stories come from? One of my favorite topics when speaking to readers is where writers get their ideas and how to turn ideas into stories.

Before I wrote The Mermaid Game: A summer short story, I wrote Shark and Minnow: A summer memoir, a nonfiction essay about sisters at the beach, a boy next door, and a shark found in the shallows. This telling is as true as my faulty memory can make it.

Read it with The Mermaid Game to see where the story and essay converge and diverge to create the different kind of truth that can be found in fiction.

Nonfiction: Shark and Minnow: A summer memoir

Fiction: The Mermaid Game: A summer short story

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