January #okscbwichat – Special Guest Sonia Gensler

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I co-hosted this month’s #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our Special Guest, author Sonia Gensler.

 

Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

 

Sonia opened our 2016 Twitter Chat season to an enthusiastic group. She shared her loathing of first drafts and her love of all things Gothic, including some of those Gothic influences that shaped her own writing. Sonia also discussed how setting shapes her writing, and how it actually comes before character or conflict.

Sonia discussed some of the differences in publishing and marketing she’s experienced between her YA and MG novels, and gave her younger writer self some sage advice. She also talked about her latest work in progress.

If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

**Join us next month when our guest will be Picture Book author Gwendolyn Hooks. See you February 23rd!

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**Stay tuned next month when our guest will be picture book author Gwendolyn Hooks. See you February 23rd!

To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

Upcoming SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chats for 2016

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As the newly appointed Social Media Coordinator for the Oklahoma SCBWI region, I am very excited to announce the first half of this year’s Twitter Chat lineup. Most chats are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, however, we do have a few special dates running up to our Spring Conference in April, when some of our speakers will be joining us. How amazing, right?

TweetNo matter the date, each Twitter chat session will last one hour, from 7-8pm CST, and we’ll be using the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

Here is our Twitter Chat Line-Up:

JANUARY- Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia Gensler is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Sonia will be our guest on January 26th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @soniagensler. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

February – Gwendolyn Hooks

G._Hooks_PhotoGwendolyn Hooks is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic.

Her latest book, Leona Mitchell: Opera Star, was released this past fall as part of the I AM OKLAHOMA series. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

Gwendolyn will be our guest on February 23rd, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @GwenTheGweat. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

March – Victoria Selvaggio

Victoria SelvaggioVictoria Selvaggio is an Associate Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has a strong background in business ownership, and she worked for over seven years as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency in 2013.

Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

Victoria will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Her current wishlist:

“I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m particularly drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me. On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.” (From agent’s website.)

Victoria will be our guest on March 29th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @vselvaggio1To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

April – Karl Jones

KarlJonesKarl Jones is an Associate Editor with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers. Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.

He also develops, acquires and writes unique original activity books like Day of the Dead Activity Book and Build A Boyfriend, as well as hiring work-for-hire authors for several licensed book programs for entertainment and gaming properties including Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls, Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and Shovel Knight.

He is particularly interested in realistic middle grade and YA fiction and format-bending storytelling projects. In his free time, he enjoys comedy and storytelling events, outdoor adventures, and live music. He is a native Oklahoman.

Karl will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Karl will be our guest on April 5th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @karljones. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

May – Timothy Lange

Tim LangeTimothy Lange has been a graphic designer, illustrator and fine art painter for over 30 years. He graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art in 1982 and studied at the Art Students League of Denver (off and on) from 1989 to 2003.

He is an active member of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). He was was transplanted to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2003. Aside from the bugs and humidity, he says its not a bad place to call home.

Tim will be our guest on May 24th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @TJ_Lange. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

June – TBA

 

July – Brenda Drake

Brenda-Drake-Author-Photo2Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

Brenda is the host of the ever-popular Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, and the Twitter pitch of all pitches, #pitmad. Brenda will be discussing what it’s like to host these mind-boggling contests, and how in the world she still makes time to write! Her debut novel, THIEF OF LIES: A Library Jumpers Novel, experienced a very successful release this month.

Brenda will be our guest on June 28th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @brendadrake. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

What an outstanding lineup!

The chats really are a lot of fun. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to every event; I’ll post a link to the Storify version of each chat after every event has concluded.

We have a few more surprises we’re working on. Once we can announce them, I’ll update this page.

I hope you’ll join us!

 

 

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part I

 

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Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!

 

Tammi Sauer ROARS into Fall – Author Interview and Book Giveaway!

Tammi Sauer Author Pic

I have come to know Tammi Sauer over the years through many OK SCBWI events, and I have been delighted to watch her publishing career grow. We’ve been plotting and planning for her to stop by for an interview for awhile now, but busy lives and crazy schedules – mostly hers – have prevented this. I mean, what’s gal to do when the mayor names a day after you? This year she has three books being published, with the latest one, ROAR!, releasing in no time at all on October 6th!

Busy, busy busy!

Somehow, we finally managed to align the planets so this bright and shiny Oklahoma star could come by for a visit to the blog.

We’ll get to see the fantastical, star-studded trailer for ROAR! a little later in this post.

And one lucky reader will win a signed copy! So stay tuned!

About Tammi

Tammi Sauer grew up on a farm in the vast metropolis of Victoria, Kansas, where she liked to play tag with the pigs in her cheerleading uniform when not embezzeling money from her siblings.

She worked as a teacher and library media specialist before turning to a life of crime beginning her career as a full-time picture book author, and going on tour with some funky dancing chickens. (I may be mixing up some of my facts a bit, but I like this version.)

She really is a picture book author and has actually sold 24 books to major publishing houses. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. MOSTLY MONSTERLY was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. ME WANT PET! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And NUGGET AND FANG, along with Tammi herself, appears on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which is seen by millions kids across the nation.

Before we dive into the interview, let’s learn a little bit about Tammi’s latest book:

Roar coverROAR! by Tammi Sauer

Release Date: October 6, 2015

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Genres: Picture Book
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Plot Summary:
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With scissors and tape a boy transforms himself into…a dragon! “ROAR!” he says. He is BIG. He is SCARY. Well, not really. When two dragons come over for a play date, what on earth will these three find to do together? The boy doesn’t have big teeth and he can’t breathe fire. He is just a boy. And the dragons can’t eat ice cream or do cartwheels. They are just dragons. Luckily, the dragons care more about what they all can do together, like make silly faces and do the funky monkey dance. What they really care about is being friends.
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That looks so awesome, I just want to dust off the old dragon costume (doesn’t everyone have one?) and stomp around the office.

The Interview

Tammi Sauer Author PicValerie Lawson: ROAR is your first picture book written completely in dialogue, why did you make this creative choice?

Tammi Sauer: I have always enjoyed using the classic picture book structure: character has a problem/want, character faces obstacles of escalating difficulty, character encounters a black moment in which all seems lost, character manages to solve the problem by the story’s end.

A few years ago, though, I challenged myself to try a variety of different approaches for telling a story, and writing a book entirely in dialogue was one of them. I wanted to stretch as a writer.

It was fun. And hard.

VL: Even though you were successful with those classic structure books, I love that you took the chance on trying something new. It’s really paid off!

The only character in the book with a name, Stanley the cat, was the creation of the illustrator, Liz Starin. What other surprises did you find when you saw the drawings for the first time?

TS: I discovered that the story was set in the boy’s world. When I was writing the manuscript, I envisioned it set in the dragons’ world. Also, I pictured Standard Issue Dragons. Liz’s dragons were a fresh, wonderful, and welcome surprise.

Roar Full Spread

VL: You do a lot of school visits each year, what’s your favorite part about interacting with the kids? Any standout memories/stories from the last year or two?

TS: As a former teacher and library media specialist, I love visiting schools and getting kids fired up about reading and writing. These visits have resulted in marriage proposals, invitations to play dates, and lots of great fan mail.

There are beautiful, quiet moments as well. Following a recent presentation for a large group of fourth and fifth graders, a girl waited for the room to clear. Then she came up to me, gave a shy smile, and said, “I’m a writer, too.”

VL: Oh, that last one just gives you tingles! Inspiring another generation of writers.

And when can we expect to see another dance video like the Librarian?

TS: Ha! I think I am a one-hit wonder in that department. I do, however, make a cameo in the ROAR! trailer.

VL: Nice segue! We will get to view that wonderful trailer right here after this interview.

In many posts talking about revising a manuscript, you’ve mentioned being happy after taking an entire day to change or cut a single word. What can you tell us about your revision process?

TS: Oh, I am a revision nerd!

Getting a manuscript juuuuust riiiiiiight is my favorite part of the process. It feels like a game to me. I strive to use only the best words. I remind myself to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.

Reading my manuscript aloud is another must—it helps to ensure that the rhythm is there. I also step away from my manuscript and grab lunch or run an errand. Getting away from it for an hour or so helps me to return refreshed. OH. The revision process ALWAYS involves ice tea. I am currently hooked on OnCue’s unsweetened tangerine green tea. It sounds gross. But is it good. I promise.

VL: Great ideas! I always find taking a break works wonders, too. 

This is your thirteenth published picture book, what’s the best piece of advice you can pass on to fellow authors?

TS: My best advice came from a quote I once read in a Cynsations blog post (blog by author Cynthia Leitich Smith).

“My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”—Lynn E. Hazen.

VL: No easy task, indeed. Fantastic quote.

What can you tell us about what you are currently working on/soon to have released?

TS: I’m usually pretty hush-hush about my current projects. They feel like eggs in the incubator to me. Not all of them will hatch, but I always hope for good.

I can, however, tell you what’s in store for 2016. I have four upcoming titles:

Mary Had a Little Glam, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Sterling), is my first rhymer. It was an incredible challenge. I recently saw Vanessa’s sketches, and I am in love with sweet and sassy Mary.

I Love Cake! Starring Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose, illustrated by Angela Rozelaar (HarperCollins), is about some of life’s finer things—good friends and cake. It also involves some spectacular sweaters.

Ginny Louise and the School Field Day, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Disney*Hyperion), is a sequel to Ginny Louise and the School Showdown. In book two, the irrepressibly cheerful Ginny Louise takes on the Truman Elementary Troublemakers in a whole new way.

Your Alien Returns, illustrated by Goro Fujita (Sterling), is a companion to Your Alien. This time around, the boy goes on a play date that is out of this world.

VL: Whew! Another busy year for you! Two sequels, how wonderful! And cake! I can’t wait to see them all.

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Tammi. Always a pleasure.

And now for your viewing pleasure…

The Trailer

The trailer for ROAR! includes cameo appearances from some of today’s fiercest authors and illustrators. You’ve been warned. Please view responsibly.

 

 

To learn more about the making of the trailer and behind-the-scenes scoop, check out this blog post by Tammi on Picture Book Builders.

The Giveaway

Tammi is giving away a SIGNED COPY of her new book ROAR! to one lucky reader of this blog!

To enter, all you have to do is name every author and illustrator who appears in the ROAR! trailer, along with their complete body of work listed in chronological order from bestselling to – JUST KIDDING!

simply…

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Tammi Sauer Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you really, really want to enter, but don’t want to use the Rafflecopter feature, feel free to post a comment below as your entry, and I’ll manually add you to the giveaway.)

Winner will be selected on October 19th.

CONGRATULATIONS TO LYNNE MARIE!

SHE’S THE WINNER OF THE SIGNED COPY OF ROAR!

Learn more about Tammi Sauer here.

Follow Tammi on Twitter here.

Follow Tammi’s group blog Picture Book Builders here.

I AM OKLAHOMA – Gwendolyn Hooks – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

gwen July 2
I am honored to be hosting five delightful and talented fellow OK SCBWI writers this week in anticipation of their fantastic new series for children, which debuts October 6th. It’s called I AM OKLAHOMA Children’s Series, and each book is a biography about an important Oklahoman who helped make this state great.
 I Am Oklahoma
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Today, I am interviewing the final author in the series, the lovely and talented Gwendolyn Hooks. She is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

 

The Interview

 

gwen July 2

Valerie Lawson: How did you become involved in this project? 

Gwendolyn Hooks: It pays to have wonderful friends like Darleen Bailey Beard. We’re in a critique group with Jane McKellips and Pati Hailey. Darleen talked about the need for younger Oklahoma biographies and we agreed.

 

VL: The right critique group is so essential! And what an amazing group you have!

 

How did you choose your book’s subject? 

Leona Cover 2

GH: A few years ago, I went to a Christmas concert sponsored by Langston University’s music department. Leona Mitchell was the featured singer.

She was amazing. Her voice was so strong and beautiful; I sat mesmerized. She gracefully twirled around the room, sometimes a little flirty. The audience loved her.

How did this lady from Enid, Oklahoma, end up in opera houses all over the world? It was a question I wanted to answer.

 

VL: Excellent question! As a native from Enid, I grew up passing a street every day named after her. I never knew much about her life, except that she was an opera singer. I can’t wait to read this story!

What did you discover most surprising about researching Leona Mitchell’s life? 

GH: The number of brothers and sisters.

14!

I listened to an interview when she was asked to name her siblings. She did it so effortlessly. I think I would have stumbled and forgotten a few of those names. Maybe more than a few.

VL: Astounding! I can barely keep my siblings straight, and there are only 4 of them.

What made her a great Oklahoman?

GH: Throughout her career, Leona has always said Oklahoma was her home. She credits her family, her high school music teacher, and the music department at Oklahoma City University for her success.

And I felt her state pride when I heard her sing our state song, Oklahoma. Sometimes it was hard for her to get back to Enid, but it’s forever in her heart.

VL: If you continue with this project, whom would you like to write about next?

GH: Oklahoma has a lot of fascinating people who have made this an extraordinary state. There are libraries and schools named after people, but I bet a lot of children have no idea who they are or what they contributed to Oklahoma. A few years ago, I taught at Kerr Middle School. I bet 95% of the students had no idea why Kerr was chosen for that honor. I think that’s also true about the Ralph Ellison library.

I moved to Oklahoma when I was in high school and attended Northeast High School. One year, I went to Dunjee High School in Spencer for a Student Council conference. At that time, Dunjee was just the school’s name. It was much later that I found out he was the publisher and editor of the Black Dispatch newspaper. He published it from 1915-1955. It continued to be published until the early 1980s.

The Black Dispatch was the paper the African American community read to find out when Count Basie was coming to play on Deep Second, what social club was hosting a gala, and the latest church news. Dunjee was also known for his commitment to civil rights and wrote editorials blasting unfair laws. He questioned why African Americans were required to pay for bonds that only supported white schools. He worked with Thurgood Marshal who became a Supreme Court Justice. The more I research Dunjee, the more I’m captivated by him.

 

VL: That is so fascinating. And a part of our history that isn’t really taught in schools. I’d love to read that story!

What are you currently working on?

GH: I am working on another picture book biography. I really enjoy reading and writing them. I love history and I would love to bring new life to these fascinating personalities and show young readers why they are important to all of us.

My next biography is scheduled to be published in April 2016 by Lee and Low Books. Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is the story of an African American who only had a high school education, and yet designed the operation that allowed doctors to save the lives of babies born with tetralogy of Fallot or blue babies.

VL: I am so beyond excited about this book. I know it’s going to be amazing. You’ve worked really hard to tell this beautiful and important story about Vivien Thomas. 

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and your wonderful stories. 

 

Learn more about Gwendolyn Hooks here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.

 

 

 

I AM OKLAHOMA – Cheryl Schuermann – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

SchuermC-113
I am honored to be hosting five delightful and talented fellow OK SCBWI writers this week in anticipation of their fantastic new series for children, which debuts October 6th. It’s called I AM OKLAHOMA Children’s Series, and each book is a biography about an important Oklahoman who helped make this state great.

 

I Am Oklahoma

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Today, I am interviewing the fourth author, Cheryl Schuermann. She is the author of JORDAN TANG: Think…Create…Discover, a biography about Oklahoma scientist, Dr. Jordan Tang. This is her second published book, and her first one for children.

 

The Interview

 

SchuermC-113Valerie Lawson: How did you become involved with this project?

Cheryl Schuermann: Through conversations with media specialists in our state. Darleen Bailey Beard heard of a nonfiction gap on our elementary school bookshelves. Teachers were telling her they needed biographies of notable Oklahomans who have made significant contributions to our state.


Since 2000, I have been in dozens of schools in Oklahoma and across the country as a literacy consultant and staff development trainer. Teachers have often asked for recommendations of quality nonfiction text at the mid-elementary reading levels. So, when Darleen asked me to consider being a part of this writing team, the answer was an enthusiastic YES! All of us were thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Gini Campbell (Vice President of Publications & Education) and Oklahoma Heritage Association Publishing.


VL: What drew you to Dr. Tang for your book’s subject? 

CS: The significance of Dr. Tang’s work at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has far reaching implications around the world. Over the past fifty plus years, his discoveries in the lab have changed the landscape of medical research. Drugs have been developed to treat several diseases such as diabetes and AIDS and to increase the potential for cures. Many lives have been saved as a result of Dr. Tang’s dedication to medical research science.


I was also drawn to Dr. Tang for personal reasons. My mother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating disease that is stealing her most treasured memories. In 1999, Dr. Tang discovered an enzyme which he named memapsin 2. This enzyme is believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s. Since his discovery, researchers around the world, including Dr. Tang, have worked tirelessly to find a cure.


So often, the greatest contributors to mankind are behind the scenes. Although Jordan Tang is known and respected in the medical research community around the globe, many in Oklahoma are not aware of his significant work. My hope is that everyone who reads about this scientist will be inspired by his commitment and children will be excited to learn more about science.

VL: That is incredible. He’s definitely an Oklahoman worth getting to know.

What will readers be surprised to learn about when reading this book? 

 

TANG Cover 2

CS: Possibly how many times scientists may go through the six steps of the scientific process before reaching the desired results. Most often it takes years of dedication in the laboratory, learning as much from those experiments that do not work as from those that do work.


When scientists reach Step Six in the scientific process, they take what they learned, and start all over again with Step One–a new question, hypothesis, and experiment. A good scientist will say, “Okay, now that I know this, what else can I learn?” Those brilliant minds do not stop after a discovery. They are only motivated to learn more.


VL: That sounds a bit like the never-ending revision process for writers!

What made Dr. Tang a great Oklahoman?

CS: Jordan Tang came to Oklahoma in 1955 as a graduate student in biochemistry. His commitment to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and his many scientific discoveries helped to make the foundation the well-known and well-respected facility it is today. Dr. Tang’s breakthroughs in the laboratory have forever changed medical research and the health of millions.


VL: This isn’t your first experience in publication. What can you tell us about your first book?


CS: No, this is my second published book. When the Water Runs: Growing Up with Alaska was released in 2008. A work of creative nonfiction, this book details my mother’s extraordinary childhood north of the Arctic Circle in the Territory of Alaska. She spent the first thirteen years of her life in an Eskimo village and gold mining camps. Her parents, my grandparents, were teachers in Selawik, a remote village of about 300 Eskimos. In addition, they wore the hats of physician, midwife, postmaster, and reindeer superintendent. After writing this book, I was hooked! I love writing about people who inspire us.   Jordan Tang: Think … Create … Discover is my first book for children.


VL: Sounds like a fascinating life, indeed. I can see why it would inspire you.


What did you learn about the process of writing from this project?

 

CS: Well, I learned how hard it is to stay within a designated word count when there’s so much to know about Jordan Tang! I could have gone on and on about the man and his work. He is amazing.


Another challenge was to write about laboratory research science and make it interesting for children. When I told Dr. Tang that I wanted to include a chapter about “life in a laboratory” he said, “Oh no, that is very boring!” Hopefully, children will find those chapters appealing and will wonder what they themselves might discover one day. I said this earlier, but I definitely learned how much I love writing about people, those who encourage us to be better, learn more, and accept a challenge with commitment, enthusiasm and energy.


VL: Ha ha! I love that he recognized what children would find boring. Clever man.


What’s next for you? Are you working on another book? 

CS: Hopefully, I will continue to write for the I Am Oklahoma series as the experience has been most rewarding. These books hold a significant place in our elementary school curriculum. We anticipate great success with this series and I have already begun researching and writing about other Oklahomans who have contributed much to our state and beyond.

 

Your question made me laugh! As most writers, I have an assortment of other works in progress on my desktop to include ones that are near completion, halfway there, and several “just an idea” that popped into my head at 2:30 in the morning. My main focus is on children’s books, though my husband and I are working on a new blog site and book to help and encourage parents as they raise their children.

 

VL: I can relate to that “assortment of works in progress” for sure! I wish you luck on them all, and congratulations on this new book!

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Cheryl.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up this wonderful series with author Gwendolyn Hooks.

Learn more about Cheryl Schuermann here.

I AM OKLAHOMA – Pati Hailey – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

Pati Hailey Pic
I am honored to be hosting five delightful and talented fellow OK SCBWI writers this week in anticipation of their fantastic new series for children, which debuts October 6th. It’s called I AM OKLAHOMA Children’s Series, and each book is a biography about an important Oklahoman who helped make this state great.
 I Am Oklahoma
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Today, I am interviewing the next author in the series, the dynamic and divine Pati Hailey. Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

 

The Interview

 

Pati Hailey PicValerie Lawson: What excited you about this project? 

Pati Hailey: People have fascinated me since my earliest memories – picture a preschooler, so shy she can’t tell you her name, sent to stand in the corner for asking a grownup personal questions. Although I never found those corners interesting, what I heard while standing in them was.

How people live and dress, what they believe and value, what they think about, what they find entertaining, who they love and hate, what motivates and demotivates them, and so much more intrigues me.

The idea that I could share that fascination with kids by writing biographies about important Oklahomans was my first surge of excitement. When I began the project, Te Ata was unknown to me. Getting to know her through my research sustained that initial excitement. Talk about a fascinating person!

 

VL: Curious from the beginning – perfect for a writer’s temperament. 

How did you get involved in the project? TE ATA Cover 2

PH: Darleen Bailey Beard brought the idea to our critique group after a school librarian told her of the desperate need for biographies about Oklahomans written at 3rd and 4th grade level.

When Darleen asked if the group was interested in pursuing filling the need, I immediately wanted to be involved even though it would pull me away from other projects of great importance to me.

VL: Good thing you took advantage of this opportunity when it presented itself.

You’ve had many writing occupations, how did that prepare you for the world of children’s writing? 

PH:  My B.A. is in Human Resources with an emphasis in juvenile delinquency. My first profession was as a caseworker and counselor. Soon after I started, my boss assigned the projects requiring writing skills to me. I didn’t know then that many professions require strong basic writing skills, and it was years before I understood that many, many people find writing difficult, even the basics. I never had.

What I’ve learned along the way is that those basic writing skills transfer regardless of whether I am writing case notes, legislation, technical or people-management training, online communication or marketing, processes and procedures, articles for newspapers and magazines or even emails. All require concise wording, carefully structured so that the meaning is not misinterpreted. (Okay, legislation might be an exception!) Writing for children requires the same basic skills.

VL: So true! Wish more of an emphasis were placed on strong writing skills for all, but I digress.

How did you choose the subject for your project in this series?

PH: We wanted the series to be reflective of Oklahoma’s diversity in ethnicity, sex, and vocation so our design had specific criteria for the first set. One was that each of the five subjects represent a different part of the state. When we first came to the drawing board, two of us had chosen someone from central Oklahoma and we had no representation from southeastern Oklahoma. We also needed another female. So, I started researching and when I came across Te Ata’s story, I was immediately hooked.

VL: How was she a great Oklahoman?

PH: Te Ata faced incredible challenges as a Native American and as a woman throughout her life. She was a talented performing artist from the Chickasaw tribe and even performed on Broadway. What made her a great Oklahoman was that for more than seventy years, she used her acting talent to show people around the world the beauty and wisdom of Native American cultures through her one-person performance of Indian folklore Her determination, passion, and conviction helped change opinions about Native Americans held by both powerful and ordinary people. Oklahoma honored her work by inducting her into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and by designating her as the first Oklahoma Cultural Treasure. The following quote says so much about her.

“I wanted to be of some service to my people and I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything in the program that would harm my people. I wanted to do something different from all the scalpings and wars that people were seeing in movies, and show the creative and spiritual side. I selected with care the things I did.”

Te Ata died in 1995 shortly before she turned one hundred. Today, people from all over the world come to the Chickasaw Cultural Center to learn and experience the Chickasaw culture. If Te Ata were born today, practicing Chickasaw traditions would not be taboo. What a great Oklahoma role model for living a thoughtful, purposeful life.

VL: Wow! She was indeed a fascinating person. 

What have you learned from this publishing experience?

PH: This was a challenging project for me. I’ve always admired writers who work in early chapter books because not only are you restricted to a low word count, you are restricted to a specific readability level. I often found that the word that best conveyed what I was trying to say was too advanced for this age group.

As I came to know Te Ata through my research, it became ever more important that I write about her life with the same thoughtfulness, care and honesty that she exhibited. My biggest challenge was writing about Te Ata’s work and its impact in contextual terms third and fourth graders could grasp.

I could not simply say she was born in Indian Territory and move on, I had to discuss the impact Oklahoma becoming a state had on her life as a Chickasaw. I could not say she grew up to be a talented actress without discussing how she used her talent as the means to achieving her life-purpose of preserving the culture of Native Americans. Which meant discussing why the culture was being lost. In 1900 words.

VL: That seems quite the daunting task, and yet you did accomplish this. Wonderful!

What advice can you pass on to other writers?

PH: Hone the basic skills until they are automatic. Don’t be lazy or afraid to stretch and pick up advanced skills and knowledge. If you aspire to writing as a profession, be open to varied publishing opportunities. I had dreamed of writing biographies but I never imagined writing biographies for children as part of a series for the publishing arm of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Dare not only to dream, but to say yes to opportunities that stretch you.

VL: What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

PH: A good night’s sleep! Then back to finishing my final semester of classes in pursuit of a MFA in Creative Writing at UCO with the goal of being an artist-in-residence.

I’ve turned my focus back to the two young adult novels I was working on before this project came along. One is in final revision (hopefully) and I’m about two-thirds through the rough draft of the second. Last week, characters from a third began talking to me, so I’m jotting down notes about it.

VL: What a wonderfully busy time for you! I can’t wait to read all about Te Ata and I wish you the best of luck with this book!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and your wonderful stories. 

Tomorrow, we’ll talk with author Cheryl Schuermann about her book from this series.