Interview with Chelsea Crutchley

You guys!! I’m beyond excited to welcome a special guest to the blog today – freelance writer, illustrator and web comic creator Chelsea Crutchley! A big huge thank you to Chelsea for sharing her thoughts with us today – be sure to check out Chelsea’s fantasy web comic Stray Sod if you haven’t already – it’s awesome. Let’s get started!
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Please introduce yourself to our readers!

Hello, I’m Chelsea, a freelance illustrator in my early thirties living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  I’m the writer and artist of the fantasy webcomic “Stray Sod,” and hopefully many more things in the future.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the projects you’ve worked on so far? It looks like you’ve had quite a varied career!

Honestly, it feels like I’m still at the beginning!  I got my first illustration job while attending art school: collaborating on a sci-fi comic about people coping with mysterious animal mutations.  It sadly never got past the contract stage but I learned so much about working with others and working in the comics medium.  After college, word of mouth brought me a few great assignments: logos, technical drawings for manuals, and even a children’s book which was also never published.  But these projects were spread out over years, and I was distracted by my day job (a travel agent at the time), so eventually I felt I had to make a decision.  I was still living at home, so I resigned and gave myself a year to work on a personal project and give my illustration career a real chance.

In 2013 I launched “Stray Sod,” planning to build a readership online and end up with a body of work to either send to a traditional publisher or print and sell myself.  I still do graphic design on the side, and to get out from behind the computer, I also provide lunchtime supervision at an elementary school.  It keeps me connected to that time in my life when my love of stories took root.

Can you tell us about Stray Sod, your web comic? What are some of the challenges and benefits of working in an online format? Can you tell us a bit about your online community?

crutch_stray1cover“Stray Sod” follows a self-indulgent teenager who has to step beyond her comfort zone to find her sister who has disappeared on a family vacation in Ireland.  Chafing against rules derived from folk tales and a flirtatious elfin guide of questionable intent, she must try to find the empathy to navigate the shadow world and bring her sister safely home.

My favorite thing about the online format is that you can instantly publish something, there’s little waiting for your readers, and you can receive feedback from them on each update.  When you sell a book to someone, you don’t usually get to watch them read it.  But publishing online, page by page, allows you to witness someone’s interest build as you lead them through the adventure.  Sometimes that can be the big challenge, too, because the responses aren’t always what you expect!  When that happens, you have to be willing to rethink the way you’re telling the story (while deep in the process of telling it) or learn how to set aside some feedback.

The online community interacts at the bottom of every update I post, and even though I can’t always answer them, they are a supportive group.  They don’t complain over delays in updates that have happened due to personal matters (especially our sickly puppy!), and I love sharing what I learn about Irish folklore with them.  And though a comic with a teenage female protagonist expects a certain audience, I hear from readers of different ages and genders who add their own perspectives to what my character is going through.

Can you share some of your experiences visiting and participating in cons? 

I have rented tables at big pop culture conventions all the way across the spectrum to community craft shows.  The most motivating experience so far was at a comparatively intimate show featuring local comic creators, put on by a group called Panel One  (www.panelone.ca).  Everyone who participated and who visited was interested in storytelling and what people were working on in our area–it was exhilarating!  I had also never come close to selling out of books before.  So if you can only do one show a year, I’d recommend finding one with a narrower focus, like comics or publishing rather than all of geekdom in general.However, I never would have known about Panel One if I hadn’t met some of them at a big convention.  It can be easy to feel lost among the recognizable names and beloved franchises, but aside from the fun of being in the thick of it, there is a huge value in meeting people.  As an introvert, the word “networking” gives me anxious palpitations.  But when surrounded by people with similar interests, I started to notice I was networking by accident.  I would just be shopping on the show floor, asking questions about what people were selling, and sometimes someone would see my exhibitor badge and want to know what *I* did.  Business cards would be exchanged, and little did I know a new opportunity would open in my future.

Where do you find inspiration for your works?

All the typical things, of course: music, movies, children’s books, novels, other comics.  Traveling has also influenced me, not only because it exposed me to different cultures and surroundings, but also because it made me feel completely out of my element–the key to a good adventure.  To really get my drawing juices flowing, I might look at colour palettes, patterns and textures in fashion or interior design (Pinterest is my best friend).   I am moved by lighting, too; light shining through leaves or windows is my favorite thing and I will put that in a drawing whenever I can.

But the most enduring inspiration for me comes from nostalgia.  In the end nothing gets me going like opening one of the illustrated fairy tales my mom used to read to me, or coming across a toy that I used to imagine was alive.  And luckily, I get to watch children play every day at work, which may be as close to time travel as I’ll ever get.

What techniques do you use to make your illustrations?

crutch_mtpageI have moved over to digital almost completely in the last few years, a stylus replacing my pencil and pen.  But my process is the same–gathering inspiration, deciding on the narrative, then planning in thumbnail drawings, trying out different layouts until I find one I like.  As I refine the drawing, I’ll use references from life, usually myself.  The Photo Booth on my Mac is full of weird angles and absurd expressions.

For me, productivity techniques are just as important as artistic ones.  For instance, I have a severe fear of the blank page, so to jump-start productivity, I try to stop working at a point that will be easy to jump back into tomorrow.

What’s the best part about being a creator? What parts aren’t perhaps quite as nice?

The best thing, to me, is when someone reacts emotionally to something I’ve done, telling me in perhaps not so many words, “Yes!  I get what you’re saying!  This means something to me, too!”  By contrast, the negative feedback, particularly when not constructive, is not easy to face.

I also find the discipline needed to work from home a challenge.  When there is laundry, people texting you because they know you’re home, or puppies pooping on the floor, its not easy to put in a full day’s work at the desk.  And even when I do sit down to relax with family, there’s always a feeling of guilt in the back of my mind, as if I should be working on something else.

Can you tell us a bit about your career path so far? Did you always know you wanted to be a creator?

crutch_piratephotoNo, I wanted to be a pirate.  But I guess after realizing that those romanticized days were long gone, I sought to live out adventures in other ways.  Using a typewriter and some pencil crayons, I wrote and illustrated many “novels” that recorded the imaginary adventures my friends and I lived out.  The desire to tell stories grew from there.

Being of the Little Mermaid generation, I first believed I wanted to be an animator and work for Disney, but it only took one summer animation camp to cure me of that ambition.  (Incredible work, but I am not well suited.)  So after that, I thought would become an author, and I learned as much as I could about writing fiction, even getting involved in rigorous peer reviewing.  But I was still drawing when I should have been taking notes in school, and my writing and art merged even though I had read very few comics in my life.  After I was accepted into art college, my road still did not feel clear.  But by never ignoring what I loved, I was able to choose a major that would allow me to tell stories the way I wanted: illustration.

Can you tell us about some of the projects you’re working on now?

I wish I could!  My collaborative projects are in their beginning stages, and I’ve learned it is just as easy for things to go one way as the other when an assignment is new.  I do have more *personal* projects on the back burner for both children and adults, many within the realm of fairy tales and/or exploring self-confidence in girls and women.  My hope is that when “Stray Sod” is complete, I can take what I have learned from the experience and make the next story even better.

What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in pursuing an artistic career?

crutch_straych4previewI would tell them to begin *now.*  Don’t put off starting and completing your project.  The advice I received on taking courses and reading books and practicing and developing my craft was all beneficial, but none of it was quite so meaningful to me as learning how I was holding myself back.

Finishing a project is not only the best way to learn about the craft and about yourself, but also a powerful way to attract attention and inspire others to want to work with you.  Rather than waiting until you feel you are good enough (guilty!), choose one of those ideas you’ve been playing with, develop it, and execute it.  Then you can get feedback on it and polish it to submit somewhere, or you can start something new with heightened assurance of yourself and your abilities.  At the very least, you will be able to say you have finished something, and you never know where that could lead.

Thank you for inviting me into your corner of the web to interview me!

Chelsea Crutchley

Special Guest: Denise Jaden

Today I’m beyond thrilled to feature an interview with local YA author Denise Jaden. Thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Denise!

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Tell us a little about yourself!

Let’s see…I have been writing for a little over thirteen years, and before that, through most of my life, I was a reluctant reader and writer. Aside from dancing, I homeschool my son, act in TV and movies filmed around the Vancouver area, and dance with a Polynesian dance troupe. It’s a varied and fun life!

Can you walk us through your writing career? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I did not have any inclination that I wanted to be a writer until about thirteen years ago, and I can only blame it on pregnant brain. All of a sudden I couldn’t get enough of writing down characters and stories. It really did come out of nowhere for me. I spent a few years diligently learning the craft of writing, then about three years looking for an agent. Once I had an agent, we sold my first book to Simon & Schuster (Losing Faith, 2010) quite quickly. Now I have seven books out altogether, with various publishers—five young adult novels, and two nonfiction guides for writers.

What are you working on at the minute?

For the last couple of years, I’ve sunk myself into a YA series. I haven’t written a series before, so the learning curve is large, but I’m really enjoying getting to spend so much time with the same characters. I hope to release the first book in the series next year.

The first draft of your debut novel was written during NaNoWriMo! Can you tell us about your NaNoWriMo strategy, and any tips you might have to writers who are thinking about tackling a novel in a month?

I have found that fast drafting a first draft works really well for me. It’s easier to keep the writing momentum up, and I find I can take the pressure off myself about everything having to be polished and good when I’m trying hard to rack up words each day. This, in turn, has led me to some really wonderful plots that I don’t think I would’ve found if I wasn’t in that headspace of letting myself make mistakes along the way. I believe in the process so heartily, in fact, that I wrote a book on the subject. It’s called Fast Fiction, and is available wherever books are sold.

What draws you to young adult fiction?

The choice to write young adult was about as accidental as my choice to become a writer in the first place. My first novel  (still unpublished) was in the head of a thirty-year-old man. When I sent if off to critique partners, they came back and said, “are you sure this shouldn’t be young adult?” At the time, I argued them. But when I wrote my second book (Never Enough) I started it in a teen’s point of view and it felt right immediately. Eventually I went back and turned that first book into a teen novel as well.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

For my novels, I generally plan them out for a couple of months before writing them. I have an app on my phone where I make ongoing notes, because I always have it with me, and brainstorms seem to come at the oddest times! Then I fast draft a first draft, usually during one month, and put it aside for a while. The revision process is always different, but I always get lots of feedback and I always like to take long breaks in order to get renewed perspective on each project.

How long on average does it take you to write a book? What is a typically timeline between putting pen to paper and seeing a book in print?

While I tend to stick to the one month for a first draft timeline, there’s really no rhyme or reason to how long it takes from first word to published book. One book took about nine months, another took about twelve years.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot and write a lot. Take note of what, specifically, you love in other books and movies. Is it the characters? If so, what makes these characters special? Is it the hero’s goal? If so, what makes that goal feel important to you? Once you realize what works for you as a reader, and why, you’ll start to be able to deliver those things better to your readers.

Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

Only that I have a new YA novel out on November 21st. It’s called Avalanche and is about two teens who head up to a winter resort as enemies, but need to learn to rely on each other to survive when their resort world comes crashing—literally—down around them.

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How can readers discover more about you and you work?

The best way is through my website at www.denisejaden.com, but I’m also regularly on Twitter @denisejaden or on Facebook at denisejadenauthor. I am very approachable online and love to hear from readers and writers alike!

Guest Post: Indie Children’s Book Author Mike Sundy

Today I’ve got a guest post from indie children’s author Mike Sundy. 

Hi, I’m Mike Sundy and I’m an indie children’s book author. Jane asked me to blog about how I got started and what made me take the leap to pursuing writing full-time. I’ll also chat about how I started my own kids’ book company, make my own books, and handle the management/publicity work.

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Growing up, I lived all over the U.S. My Dad was an Air Force pilot so we moved a lot. That meant that my only constant friends were my siblings and books. I was just a reader until eighth grade, when I developed a huge crush on Mindy Jordan. We were studying poetry so I decided to write a cringe-worthy poem where I compared Mindy to a chrysanthemum. I enjoyed putting my feelings on paper so I wrote more bad poetry. I sent these love poems to Mindy, as only a naive junior high boy could. To my surprise and delight, she agreed to “go out” with me because of my poems. Of course, I had no idea how to actually talk to the most popular girl in school (or any girl), so our relationship lasted all of three days. But I had learned that writing could open doors.

I wrote more poetry throughout high school and college, but came from a practical family. So, I double-majored in Great Books and Computer Applications. I worked in various I.T. jobs in Silicon Valley for several years and tried to ignore the gnawing feeling in my soul that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. My wonderful wife Tara became pregnant with our first child right before I was laid off. Those two things together caused me to take a step back and look at my career. I took an aptitude test and one of the jobs it said I was suited for was “playwright.” It was like getting permission to consider an impractical job. I decided to try screenwriting, thinking it was similar to playwriting but paid better so I could support my growing family. That was a long road and I’m still trying to break into screenwriting fourteen years later. But that was really the moment I set down the path of becoming a professional writer.

2

I wrote script after script at night after the kids went to bed. My last I.T. job was at Pixar. Pixar was a wonderful place for me since they encouraged creativity and even had writing classes for their employees. Being burnt out on screenwriting, I decided to try a children’s book writing class with the effervescent Lissa Rovetch. I quickly learned that children’s books have their own craft. It turns out my background in screenwriting and poetry helped because children’s books are often brief, emotional, and visual. At last I had found a type of writing that really suited me.

3

I wrote several children’s book manuscripts and talked to a few publishers. Everyone I spoke with was complimentary but said the books didn’t fit their slate. I had a publisher tell me my Part of My Heart manuscript was too simple and slight because it was shorter than a normal picture book. It was an understandable conventional reaction, but that’s all the story needed. I also worked with an editor on another story and did nine drafts of it, but each draft seemed to get the story further away from what I intended. When I workshopped it multiple times, everyone liked my original version better. I also found out that children’s book creators are typically paid very little and that it’s more of a passion project than a full-time career. And I talked to another friend who had run a traditional children’s publishing label – one of their books only sold a few hundred copies. I figured I could do that on my own, so why was I chasing the approval of a publisher?

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I decided to self-publish Part of My Heart and give it away for free. I partnered with Sansu, a Korean illustrator classmate, to illustrate the book since I felt her child-like and lyrical style would be a good fit. We made the book between the two of us with free tools and put it out on iBooks. It had a few hundred downloads at first, then trickled down to a couple of downloads per month. But then it made a Denmark iBooks store best free books list and downloads jumped up 10x overnight. Over the next few months it climbed higher and had another day where it hit the Top Ten Free books on the U.S. iBooks store. Downloads jumped another 10x overnight! The book that a publisher called “too simple and slight” now has over 37,000 downloads and 900 five-star reviews. It felt great to have readers respond to our work and some even confessed to crying.

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Emboldened by our experiment, I collaborated on a new picture book series with my brother Jonathan Sundy. He’s a talented character designer and we had been looking to do a book together. We retooled my abandoned concept called Disaster Cowboy and turned it into a tall tale picture book. Pancho Bandito and the Amarillo Armadillo hit #1 on the iBooks Kids store and #1 Hot New Release in its Amazon categories. Now I had proven to myself I could put out high-quality indie books and that people would even pay for them. The next step was a big gut check: I quit my cushy Pixar job.

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I left Pixar in February 2016 and have been writing full-time ever since. I started an indie kids’ book company called Legbug. Since leaving, we’ve published the next book in our series, Pancho Bandito and the Avocado Desperadoes. It was selected by Apple Editorial to be on their front page banner near huge authors like Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey. We’re now working on the third Pancho Bandito book and I’m collaborating with another Pixar artist on a standalone book called Runaway House. Writing full-time has been very spiritually rewarding so far, if not that financially rewarding. I also still write screenplays and am working on my first middle-grade novel series.

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Running a company has been a learning experience. Once we “finish” the book, the publishing and marketing side takes a few months. The publishing side includes things like proofing the colors of our paperback, tuning Amazon metadata keywords, preparing iBooks pre-orders, creating new backmatter pages, generating affiliate links, and dozens of other details. But the marketing takes even longer. It includes writing social media messages, communicating with our mailing list, running Facebook ads, doing podcast interviews, setting up giveaways, participating in book fairs, and contacting blogs. It’s fun but a flurry of activity that takes time away from more creative pursuits. But that’s the price of being an indie publishing company. It has been a long journey from writing lovesick adolescent poems to writing and publishing best-selling indie children’s books. But I get to write every day and spend more time with my kids. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

To check out our books or follow along with our indie kids’ book company blog, visit http://legbug.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Mike!

Guest Post: The Freelance Life with Alex Hallatt

Hello Rainy City Librarian readers.

Jane kindly invited me to write a little about my experiences as a freelance cartoonist/writer, so here goes….

I’m writing this in the rainy country in which I grew up – England. My parents still live here, in a thatched cottage in Briantspuddle, in the Piddle Valley (where the River Piddle runs), in real Thomas Hardy country – Dorset. I love to visit in September, when the sea is still warm, the leaves are still hanging onto the trees in the forest and the garden is full of treasures like tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini to you), raspberries and apples. It’s also the perfect place to go for walks and come up with ideas.
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Before we moved to Dorset, I lived in other parts of the West Country. I loved my home life, but hated school, where I didn’t make great friends. Coming home from school and drawing, reading, or writing was what I loved the best. All kids love drawing, but I was inspired by the comics and comic books I read to continue drawing and writing beyond the point most kids give up. I was given a Peanuts collection at the age of six and it was fantastic to see how a few words and simple drawings could create a whole world you could escape into.

We moved to Briantspuddle when I was 13 and I found my friends: other geeky kids who loved to write comics, or talk about books (Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy was my favourite book then). I continued drawing comics at University, where I studied Biochemistry. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the nerve to forge a career as a cartoonist back then, and I ended up spending 7 years working in the pharmaceutical industry. In the end, the stress of being a round peg in a square hole got to me and I quit my job, moved out of London to the South Coast and got a job as a cartoonist for a local paper in Brighton (Tomboy was the first panel I drew). That was 1999 and I’ve been a full-time freelance cartoonist ever since.

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In 2003, I downshifted even further to New Zealand. The internet meant I could live anywhere and after 5 years in NZ, my partner, dog and I moved to Melbourne, Australia for a few years, then back to the UK for a couple and then to Spain (where we are living for two years to learn Spanish). In the midst of that, my daily comic strip, Arctic Circle was syndicated by King Features and I’ve been drawing that for newspapers worldwide for 9 years.
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I draw a webcomic that wouldn’t be able to run in most newspapers, as comics that run in most newspapers have to adhere to “family-friendly” standards that seem to be stuck in the 1950s (you can’t even say “that sucks!” in a syndicated cartoon.). Human Cull appears on GoComics. It’s a tongue-in-cheek cartoon about making the world a better place by removing the really annoying people.

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GoComics is part of Andrews McMeel Universal, which also owns Andrews McMeel Publishing (AMP). When AMP contacted GoComics cartoonists to solicit middle grade book proposals, I was keen to send them something. I’ve written a lot for that age group (including my comic, Jack & Joni’s Time-Travelling Shed, which appears in a science magazine for children in Australia.) and I had an idea that had been knocking around in my subconscious for a while (my subconscious does all the heavy lifting in my work).

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I wrote a proposal for FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club, the book I would have liked to escape into as a kid. The editors at AMP loved the writing, art and central character, but they wanted significant changes to other parts of the book. I made some changes, but I knew that if I made others (e.g.. taking out the involvement of the police at the end of the book, because of recent police killings of kids in the US), it would change the book in ways I wouldn’t like. FAB Club was too important to me to be diluted via conventional publishing, so I went the self-publishing route. I tested the first draft of the book on some 8 and 9 year olds and made a lot of changes to make it more readable. Then I had the book professionally edited and sent the final draft to advance readers for my “crowd edit”. The book evolved to become the best thing I’ve ever done. With a lot of help.

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If you want to find out more about FAB Club, or my other work, you can go to alexhallatt.com.

Thanks for reading and have fun!

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Alex
PS. I’ve attached a picture of me and Billie at work!

Guest Post: Bibliotherapy with Carolyn Dibb, M.Ed.

Please welcome today’s very special guest, children’s book writer and lover (and fellow Canadian) Carolyn Dibb, M.Ed.

Biblio-­‐what?? A conversation about kids, books and healing

As I walk onto the grounds of my daughter’s elementary school this September, I see kids in such different and varying states. Some are ecstatically greeting friends they haven’t seen all summer. In one corner of the field, a game of soccer starts up with a mostly deflated ball. Some children stand quietly beside a parent, uncertain. Others are crying, not sure they can cope with the day that lies ahead. It’s easy to think kids are all alike, but truthfully they are individuals each equipped with their own personalities, temperaments, strengths and challenges. I often wish I had a stash of books on me that I could give to the kids who are feeling a little out of sorts. Something to bolster their spirits, let them know how they are feeling is normal and that they are going to be okay.

I guess I have been a bibliotherapist in the making for quite a while. Probably, since my grade school librarian recommended a book with a character that I could relate to. A whole bunch of reading and a master’s degree later, I still think the right book at the right time can be a very powerful experience. I see the potential for it almost everywhere.

Bibliotherapy

What the heck is bibliotherapy? A question I get asked a lot! Basically it is helping through books. There are two main types:

  • Clinical Bibliotherapy: You will often see this when a therapist or doctor gives a client “homework” or books to read. Here they are usually tackling a significant emotional or behavioral issue. Frequently, these are non-fiction books.
  • Developmental Bibliotherapy: This one you are probably more familiar with! Teachers, librarians or parents read books to facilitate normal development and self-actualization with an essentially healthy population. Often these books are works of fiction.
    • http://bibliotherapy.ehs.cmich.edu

Why does it work?

Kids have a knack for clamming up about their troubles. They don’t want to feel different, or be seen as struggling. They just want to fit in, do well, and have fun. Books can be that indirect way to start conversations that feel less threatening to a child.

In my opinion, books can help us feel normal and understood, which is super important to kids. They can give us inspiration, humour, a different perspective, and sometimes bolster courage. I often encourage kids to borrow bravery from one of their favorite characters if they feel uncertain in a new situation.

How do I do it?

In all honesty, you probably already naturally know how to do developmental bibliotherapy. You are feeling blue, or having a bad day, and you reach for a book with a story you know will lift your spirits.

When working with kids, bibliotherapy is really a springboard for discussion. After reading the book, let the child tell you what they think the story is about. Ask a few questions about it, but generally let the child lead the conversation. It is powerful to know you are not alone in your struggles. Sometimes, it is enough to know that there are others on a path similar to the one you are on now and many who have walked it before you. Reading books to children about other people’s challenges is also an excellent way to facilitate empathy.

Resources

If you notice your child is struggling with a particular issue, go talk to your local librarian. They can offer excellent suggestions on reading material for someone of any age!

Book club for kids:

Girls Leadership is a company focused on empowering girls. They have all the resources you will need to start a book club with parents and their girls. They even have the discussion questions prepared. It’s free and you can check them out at: http://girlsleadership.org/resources/book-­‐club-­‐sign-­‐up-­‐form/

The publisher Penguin Books has some a whole section dedicated to books for boys. They have some good suggestions on starting up a book club for boys. http://www.penguin.com/static/packages/us/yreaders/books4boys/index.php

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is an excellent resource. They have created book lists for kids dealing with specific areas like death, school, separation etc. http://www.carnegielibrary.org/kids-­‐teens/parents-­‐and-­‐educators/

Lastly, thank you to Jane the Raincity Librarian for letting me take up space on her page! It’s time for me to go crack open a book. Happy Fall reading!

Carolyn Dibb, M.Ed. (www.carolyndibb.com)

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Interview with Robin Stevenson

This interview was originally posted on the BC Library Association’s LGBTQ Interest Group website – be sure to check out their blog for great LGBTQ resources, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post.  

Robin Stevenson is a B.C.-based author who has published fiction and nonfiction for kids and teens. Her works have been nominated for a number of awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Silver Birch Award. She recently sat down with us to talk about her career, her experiences as an LGBTQ writer and parent, and her suggestions to libraries looking to better serve LGBTQ patrons.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career as a writer?

I worked as a social worker for ten years, mostly providing counselling for sexual assault survivors. I moved to BC from Ontario in 2001, and I began writing four years later, while on maternity leave. I wrote a handful of short stories, one of which unexpectedly turned into a YA novel. It was published in 2007. The following year, I published four books for middle grade kids and teens, one of which- A Thousand Shades of Blue- was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards and the BC Book Prizes. So I kept on writing and never did go back to social work. I’ve written twenty books for kids and teens, including the 2014 Silver Birch winner Record Breaker. My 2015 middle grade novel, The Summer We Saved the Bees, is currently shortlisted for both the Red Cedar and the Chocolate Lily awards. I live in Victoria with my partner and our 12 year old son.

Pride

You’ve got a new nonfiction book out, “Pride”, which introduces children to the history of the Pride movement. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences researching and writing the book? What are some take-aways that you hope children will leave the book with?

I loved writing Pride. My novels tend to be rather solitary projects, but Pride was all about connecting with people and hearing about what Pride meant to them: trans kids, queer teens, lesbian moms, intersex activists, drag queens, LGBT historians, local people and people from around the world. I was so moved by how generous everyone was, and how willing to be a part of this book—so many people shared stories and thoughts and photographs. Others read various drafts and gave me important critical feedback. They made the book much better and I made some wonderful new friends.

I had three different audiences in mind when I was writing. First, kids and teens who are themselves LGBTQ or questioning, and kids, like my son, from queer families. These kids rarely see their own lives and experiences and families reflected in the books they read. Many of them face bullying at school and rejection by their families, and others lack the safety and support to come out. I wanted to tell them that even if their current reality is a hard one, they are the newest generation of a courageous, resilient and diverse community—a community that they will find their own place in. They have a history that they can be proud of and a future that, despite everything, looks better all the time.

I also wrote Pride for the rest of the kids- the ones who aren’t part of our community and may not know much about it. Because it isn’t just up to the LGBTQ community to dismantle heterosexism and queerphobia- it’s up to everyone. I think awareness and learning are an important part of building empathy and creating allies in the fight for equality.

And finally, I hope that teachers and parents will find Pride useful as a clear, welcoming introduction to LGBTQ history, community and identities. I have met many people who say that they’d like to discuss these issues with their students or their children but aren’t sure where to begin, or don’t know what language to use, or worry about how to handle questions that might come up. I’m so glad they see the importance of having these conversations, and I hope Pride will be an accessible and positive resource for them.

What advice would you give to libraries looking to create a meaningful, inclusive LGBTQ library collection? Are there any titles that you would consider must-haves for any collection?

I think it is important to include the full-spectrum of LGBTQ identities. LGBTQ book lists often focus heavily on books about gay male teens, and while these are awesome and important, so are the books about queer girls, bi teens, trans teens, non-binary teens, queer teens of colour etc. I also think it’s important to emphasize LGBTQ books written by LGBTQ authors who are able to draw on their own lived experience. With both of those points in mind, here are a few recent titles that stand out for me:

George, by Alex Gino. This is a middle-grade novel about a trans girl. It is sweet, realistic and very well-written—a great book for ages 9+. It just won both the Lambda and Stonewall Awards.

If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo. A coming of age YA novel about a trans girl. Beautifully written, with an afterword by the author that made me love the book even more. Here is a really great, thoughtful review from Casey Plett: http://plenitudemagazine.ca/casey-plett-reviews-meredith-russos-if-i-was-your-girl/

Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz. Dystopian young adult sci-fi, with a non-binary narrator and gorgeous, lyrical writing. Full disclosure: the author is a good friend of mine… but it’s not just me that loves it. Kirkus and School Library Journal both gave this novel starred reviews and it just won the Tiptree Award, for fiction that expands our understanding of gender.

Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis. This debut novel got multiple starred reviews and won the Bisexual Book Award. The main characters include a bisexual girl and a teen boy with a physical disability– and it’s a very original, twisty, hard-to-put down fantasy novel that will appeal to lots of teens. It also deals thoughtfully with issues of power and privilege.

More HMore Happy Than Notappy Than Not, by Adam Silvera. A funny-but-dark, geeky, clever novel set in the near-future, about a gay Latino teen boy living in the Bronx. Emotionally gut-wrenching. This one’s also piling up the starred reviews.

( I also have links to some great online lists on my website: http://robinstevenson.com/lgbtq-novels-teens/)

What advice would you give to libraries that are looking for ways to better serve LGBTQ families in their communities?

I think visibility is key: I’ve loved seeing photographs of Pride Month displays at various libraries this month. Queer-positive posters, rainbow flags, anything that sends a message of support and inclusion…I think these seemingly small gestures of welcome are actually quite powerful. Inclusive programming matters too: invite LGBTQ authors to give readings or workshops, host an LGBTQ book club for teens and let the local high schools’ GSAs know about it, check in with local LGBTQ organizations to find what they’d like to see offered.

And of course, having a good selection of LGBTQ books readily available on the shelves that kids and teens browse. I visited a queer youth group recently (not in BC) and the kids told me that their local library had no LGBTQ YA books at all. I asked if they had requested them, because perhaps another branch might have them, or perhaps the library could order some—but none of them had. So the fact that people aren’t asking for the books doesn’t mean they don’t want them. Many young people may not be comfortable asking for an LGBTQ book.

As an LGBTQ writer, have you noticed changes in the publishing industry with regard to LGBTQ authors, stories and subjects? Are there any gaps that stand out to you?

There are an ever-increasing number of YA novels with LGBTQ characters, which is wonderful. In terms of gaps… hmm. I’d like to see more diversity with respect to the LGBTQ identities represented (eg. non-binary, gender queer, pansexual, asexual etc) and I’d like to see more intersectional identities shown. I’ve heard some writers say that they’ve been told that their stories are “too diverse” because they feature characters who are, for example, queer and disabled. Which is absurd: obviously a queer character is just as likely to have a disability as a straight character. It shows that despite the progress, we are still treating straight, white, able etc as default categories and everything else as “other.”

I’d love to see more queer families represented in picture books, including books where it’s not the focus. Just books about kids having adventures and then going home to their two moms. I was desperate for those when my son was younger and there are still so few of them. And I think we need to see way more LGBTQ representation in stories for middle-grade kids. There is still so very little out there for kids aged 8-12. It doesn’t always have to be the focus: I try to include queer characters in all my books, even if they are peripheral. In The Summer We Saved the Bees, for example, Wolf’s family stays with his mom’s friends who are a lesbian couple with two kids. I’d like to see more of that: just more books populated with a diverse cast of characters that actually reflects the world we live in. It doesn’t seem too much to ask.

A major thank-you to Robin for enthusiastically and generously sharing her time and her thoughts with us. Robin has a number of fantastic resources on her website, so do check it out for more LGBTQ information and ideas.