Writing is a solitary pursuit. I am always on looking for ways to connect with other writers and experts in the field. So when my editor, Jane Schneider, mentioned she was hosting the Memphis Parent Writers Panel at the Central Library’s Bookstock Festival, I jumped right in.
Bookstock celebrates the writing and sharing of ideas. Each year, the festival features three guest authors, along with 40 local authors and a host of activities for children, teens, and adults alike. The day-long event took place Saturday, April 18, at the Benjamin L Hooks Central Library.
Schneider starts the discussion with a brief introduction of the authors, all of whom are at different points in their career. First is veteran children’s writer and Tennessee native, Patricia McKissack, who is also the recipient of 2014 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association. McKissack has written more than 120 books along with her husband, Fredrick McKissack, filling a gap in African-American children’s literature.
Next is Memphian author Barry Wolverton, known for Neversink, a funny story about a puffin living along the Arctic Circle (Walden Pond Press, 2012). His next book, the first of the The Vanishing Island trilogy, will be released in September. Finally, Schneider introduces Memphian Moriah McStay with her debut Young Adult novel, Everything That Makes You; it launched in March (Katherine Tegen Books, 2015).
Schneider begins the discussion with the question – what prompts them to write for children and young adults? Pat McKissack grew up listening to her mother share Paul Lawrence Dunbar poems. When she couldn’t find a book on her favorite poet at the library, she decided to write one.
Barry Wolverton enjoyed reading animal fantasies as a child, including Jungle Book. His curiosity to learn about arctic waterfowl led him into children’s fiction.
Moriah McStay shared that her book was born out of asking the ‘What If?’ question, exploring how a single event shapes a person.
So how do these writers come up with their ideas? McKissack starts mostly with her characters and ends with the idea of 'What do you take with you'? She points out that it is a technique she has used since her very first picture book, Flossie and the Fox.
Wolverton, on the other hand, expresses his love of research, “I love reading about things I know nothing.” McStay presents a totally opposite view, saying “I write what I know.”
Schneider concludes by asking the authors to share their best writing tips. While McStay talks about writing everyday, McKissack takes a break from words and images to help ideas percolate. Wolverton says outlining greatly helped him with his upcoming trilogy.
McStay always starts out with a messy first draft (30,000-40,000 words) and then moves on to plot and character development. McKissack finds it takes her longer to write a short picture book, because with fewer words, ‘each word matters.’
The final message of the day was simple, though: If you are a writer, or if you want to become one — write, write, write.
Local Writers Meet-up
Meet other emerging children’s book authors and illustrators, participate in readings and critiques, as well as regional and national workshops. The Memphis chapter meets monthly.
Contact Michael Gravois at email@example.com to learn dates and times.