Spring Greetings from Francesca and Q,
It’s often said that good things come in threes. In the last two Kite Tales we’ve introduced you to two wonderful authors—Marcie Wessels and Elana Azose—who each found a home for their first published picture book through our SoCal Editor’s Day. The third author in this talented trio is Michael Mahin. Michael earned his Ph.D. in American Literature at Claremont Graduate School. He went on to become a professor at San Diego State, a budding screenwriter, and the lead guitarist in an ‘80s cover band called Neon Nation. Michael is a bundle of talent, and we were fortunate to have him speak at several of our events. It was at Editor’s Day that Michael added published picture book author to his long list of credits. Michael agreed to give us an update, and it seems that there is a new book on the way! Here’s what he had to say.
Tell us a little about your book. Don’t forget the pub date!
I just sold my second picture book, titled Muddy, to Reka Simonsen at Atheneum. It’s due out 2017 and will be illustrated by the amazing Evan Turk, who did Grandfather Gandhi.
It follows the story of Muddy Waters, who grew up in the poorest area of the poorest state in the United States and went on to become an American music icon. In case you don’t know who he is, here’s a great anecdote: When the Beatles came to the US for the first time, they were asked which famous Americans did they want to meet? They answered, “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.” When the reports asked them who Muddy Waters was, they famously quipped, “Americans are so funny. They don’t even know who their own famous people are.”
Muddy’s is an amazing story of perseverance and courage. It’s a very American, rags-to-riches type of story. Like the first book I sold, Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band (Clarion 2017), it is a story about a person who uses their creativity to change themselves and the world around them.
How did you connect with your editor?
This was the first book I sold through my new agent, Minju Chang of Bookstop Literary. I couldn’t have done it without her. She made her list, and Reka came back with an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Tell us about your most important experiences during the editorial process.
Even though this is the second book I’ve sold, this was really my first experience negotiating the editorial process. And it was a great one!
Reka didn’t have a ton of suggestions, but the ones she did have were smart. She was specific, and that, in my opinion, is key. As a screenwriter, I’ve taken a lot of “notes” from producers and other professionals who have vague and impressionistic ideas about what is wrong. So it becomes the writer’s job to figure out what this people are really saying. It’s a bit like chasing smoke. So specificity is key. I like the people in charge to know what they want!
One very smart idea Reka had was to cut any thought or idea that came from outside Muddy’s point of view. The book was originally written in third person omniscient, but making it more third person limited really helped focus the text on Muddy and his journey.
I also have to credit Minju. I think one of the reasons Reka didn’t have a ton of editorial notes was because Minju really pushed me to refine the story before we started submitting. Her big suggestion was to focus on the one thing that makes Muddy, Muddy. I was like, “It’s all Muddy!” But her suggestion was on point. I’m not a fan of rules, but I do like guiding principles, and this seems like a useful principle for crafting nonfiction picture books, which have to be distilled to such essential elements. Once I found the thing that made Muddy “Muddy,” the story became more focused and powerful.
What part has SCBWI played in your journey as a writer?
A big one! The way I connected with the editor of my first book is one of those SCBWI success stories you dream about. I know it sounds like an exaggeration but I could not have done this without SCBWI and the generous mentorship of people like Q.L. Pearce and Francesca Rusackas. I love these women!
I was actually at an SCBWI event when I “broke in.” It happened at the OC-SCBWI Editor’s Day in 2011. I’m one of three people who sold a book that day. I’d been listening to editors all day long and making notes about the ones that I had things in common with. I was doing this so that if I found myself around one of them, I would be able to talk to them like a real person about something other than publishing.
One of the speakers that day was Daniel Nayeri, who at the time was an assistant editor at Clarion. I knew my picture book had a title that sold itself, so my goal was to start a conversation and slide it in somehow. I did, and it hooked him like I hoped it would. What was serendipitous was that he didn’t want it himself, but he thought he knew someone who might. I sent it to him after the conference, he read it, and then he passed it on to Editor Lynne Polvino. Three months after the conference, I’d sold my first picture book, Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band (Clarion 2017).
So for me, I could not have done this without SCBWI, both in a figurative and literal sense!
Any other comments?
I love SCBWI! Did I say that?!
I’m also blogging and tweeting about the craft of writing. What makes my blog unique is that I’m exploring and sharing the best lessons out of the best books on writing. You can find me at www.MichaelMahin.com, and on Twitter at @MahinWriter.
Congratulations on your success, Michael. All of us at SCBWI are so happy for you. We are so thrilled when members report that they made a publishing contact at one of our events.
Here’s the heads up for 2015: We are making a few changes to the schedule. Priscilla Burris, the SCBWI National Illustrator Coordinator, and our new Volunteer Coordinator author/illustrator, Gina Capaldi, are joining us behind the scenes, shaking up our regional events. This year we will be skipping the Spring Retreat (not to worry, we will place it back into rotation in 2016). Instead we will host a few smaller events and will keep you posted when we are ready to shake, rattle, and roll.
We are delighted to join the dA Center for the ARTS in announcing its 1st Annual Children’s Book Illustrator Exhibition, to be held June 13-July 25, 2015. The dA Center for the ARTS is a wonderful space, and there will be a variety of inviting, themed vignettes—such as kitchens, laboratories, fairy gardens, and more—set up throughout the gallery for children and adults to read corresponding books. This will be the first year of this exhibition, and it is designed to appeal to adults and students. This will be a free event, co-hosted by SCBWI and the dA. Additional information will be forthcoming from Gina.
We are also pleased that Priscilla Burris will be conducting an illustrator’s portfolio workshop.
Date and Place:
Saturday, July 11th
dA Center for the Arts
252 D South Main Street
Pomona, CA 91766
Time: 9am – 12noon
The focus will be Portfolios and Promotional Cards.
Attendees, please bring:
your promo card/business card, and
sketching paper and tools.
Additional details will be emailed, or you may contact Priscilla Burris by email.
One last note: Please pencil us in and save the date for Editor’s Day at Cal State University Fullerton on October 3rd, 2015. It’s going to be a great event.