JS: Thank you for having me on your blog. I’m excited to be here!
ES: When did you first know you were going to be a writer?
JS: I’ve always written. I won poetry awards in first grade and never stopped. Writing as a career choice happened about 2 years ago. I gave myself specific goals, dug my heels in and sharpened my pencils.
ES: I love it! First grade poetry award winner! Since you’ve been at this for a while, what are some of the most useful resources you have found over the years?
JS: The SCBWI (I call it Scooby) has been invaluable. The online boards, the local conferences, the people you meet, it’s all amazing. As a PB writer I am having great success this year with the 12 x 12 challenge hosted by Julie Hedlund. I love reading the Query Shark blog and Slush Pile Hell.
ES: I’ve heard a lot of folks love participating in Hedlund’s challenges…it helps to prime the idea pump! Where do you get your new ideas?
JS: From everywhere! Donna is Evil was only a title I liked and I built a story around that. Other stories have been built from a picture that inspired me, a single sentence I heard a child say, or a story that I hunted for and could never find. Filling holes in the market is important.
ES: It’s true that knowing the market is key. What was your path to publication?
JS: First, get used to rejections. I have dozens and dozens. I keep them and feel an odd sort of pride for them. Like battle scars.
My first PB is coming out on a book app. There is more tech today than ever before and traditional methods are not the only methods for publishing.
I am still hunting for the right agent, but I sold the first book directly to the publisher on my own. You can do it without an agent but an agent, in my opinion, will benefit you more with the ability to negotiate, use their connections, and even backing your product with their vote of confidence when pitching to a house or editor.
Lastly: Be Patient. This industry is a turtle, slowly but steadily making its way forward. There will be delays. Agents get overloaded, editors move, it can take time to find just the right illustrator to match with your story, and even natural disasters can cause a delay from when you think your book is coming out to its actual publication date. Patience.
ES: Ah, patience…and what takes more patience than the revision process? What have you learned over time about revising that you think could be useful to our writer-readers out there?
JS: READ IT OUT LOUD! Especially for picture books. Have a child read it out loud to you. You will find pacing issues, odd word choices that people stumble on, and more. Even when I critique my partner’s work, I read out loud.
ES: There is such power in hearing the written word come alive through a storyteller – be it teacher, librarian, or parent. For our readers who are parents, what do you have to share about the challenge of getting your own children excited about reading?
JS: Anything to get my child to read! If she’s into comics, she gets comics. Her tastes vary and I let her venture to new areas, engaging her by giving her the power of choice. Sometimes those choices leave me pleasantly surprised. Right now, she’s in that in between stage of liking both Hunger Games and Dork Diaries. She's also a willing beta reader for all the things I write.
ES: That’s something we as teachers often discuss at school: how to structure our lessons so that we cover the material, but still allow the kids to feel like they choose their own learning experiences. What about writing exercises? Any way to make that fun for kids or other writers?
JS: I love prompts. I like someone asking a question and I get to create an answer. It feels like the story comes from more than just me. Many of my prompts come from the kids in the neighborhood and they don’t even know it.
ES: Oh, I agree! I’ve been taking classes at Bethesda’s Writer's Center, and I love getting a random line and having to run with it. And I could see kids having fun with snatching a random line from a friend and trying to create a zany story using that quote. What about Donna is Evil? Where did that idea come from?
JS: I have a colleague at work who is very blunt. When she tells it like it is, the rest of us tell her she is evil. A title was born and I told her I’d write the story so the whole world would see that Donna is Evil.
ES: Can’t wait to read it! June, thanks so much for stopping by The Corner today! Click here to visit June’s blog, and her twitter address is @June_Smalls. Coming in 2014: Donna is Evil, published by Meegenius.