Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nancy Kelly Allen, FIRST FIRE—A CHEROKEE LEGEND and AMAZING GRACE, plus #giveaway, #writing workshop

Ms. Allen is offering a special prize to readers today. She will  give a 20-minute SKYPE session or phone call to discuss writing. Since she conducts many writing workshops and has 30-plus children’s books published by traditional publishers, some might be interested. Topics can be about a particular manuscript the person is writing, marketing ideas, potential publishers—anything dealing with writing. The manuscript does not have to be a children’s book. Please be sure to leave contact information in your comment!

AUTHOR: Nancy Kelly Allen
GENRE: Picture book and middle grade novel
 PUBLISHERS: Sylvan Dell[First Fire] and The History Press [Amazing Grace]

Please tell us about yourself.

My route to writing children’s books has more twists and turns than a winding mountain road. I worked as a social worker and traveled many a winding road, uphill and down, around Hazard, Kentucky. Later, I became an elementary school teacher, and then a school librarian. After spending days introducing books to children, I spent nights writing books for them. At this point I have written over 30 picture books, one chapter book, and one middle grade novel. I have a master’s degree in Education from Morehead State University and a master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Kentucky. Home is still in Kentucky in the log cabin in which I grew up. My husband, Larry, and I share our cabin with two canine writer assistants, Jazi and Roxi.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The idea of my first published book plinked and clinked its way into my brain. I  was downstairs in my kitchen. Upstairs, my husband removed some coins from his pocket and dropped them. The coins pinged and tinged on the hardwood floor. I looked at my two canine muses and said, “Listen, girls, the money tree is ripe and dropping its fruit. The words just popped out of my mouth. After dinner, I began playing with the idea of a story about a money tree. ONCE UPON A DIME became a book about two years later, in 1999. The book is still in publication and even has a Korean version.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
I don’t anything as exciting as participating in extreme sports. A skydiver, I’m not. But I love to read about such activities if they are all wrapped up in a cozy tale. Reading for pleasure is a daily must. I also enjoy music, and, of course, playing with my two canine muses. In warm weather, I piddle outdoors growing flowers.

What are your thoughts about promotion?
Promotion is part of our jobs as authors. It’s how we build a platform, a fan base, and introduce our work to others. There are many ways to promote. I enjoy face-to-face meetings with kids who enjoy my books so I participate in several book signing events throughout the year. I also use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

What are your current projects?
I recently received a contract for a picture book, FORTY WINKS, that will be published in 2015. I’m in the process of outlining the skeleton of a middle grade novel and gathering research for another picture book. I’m also conducting a few writing workshops for beginning writers. And I enjoy school visits.

What do you plan for the future?
I’ll concentrate on researching, writing, and revising a middle grade novel. Writing a manuscript to the point it spit-shines is labor intensive so that’s how I see 2014 unfolding: writing-revising-revising-revising-revising-writing-revising-revising-revising-revising…and so on. My long-range plans are to continue writing for children, both picture books and middle grade fiction. Kids are filled with wonder. Curiosity practically oozes out of them, and that’s appealing to me.  I love research and learning new and exciting facts. I package the discoveries, the cool and exciting ones, in the form of a manuscript and look for potential publishers.

I especially enjoy science and history and tying these subjects into the lives of children. If a subject resonates with me, I figure it will probably be interesting to others, as well. My goal with every manuscript is to write a book that’s fun to read and to bring science and history or a fictional character into the reader’s world.

How can we find you?

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
I’m fortunate to have two books released this spring. One is a picture book, FIRST FIRE—A CHEROKEE FOLKTALE and my first middle grade novel, AMAZING GRACE.

What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final.
AMAZING GRACE has had a long and meandering journey to publication. The story began as a picture book and was accepted for publication. Then, the publisher decided to stop publishing picture books. I submitted the manuscript to other publishers. Editors suggested the story was better suited for a longer book. I filed the story away. A few years later I reread the story and the letters from editors and thought I should give the story another try, so I rewrote it as chapter book. I received positive feedback, but again several editors suggested the story would work better as a middle grade novel. Back to the file, out of sight and out of mind. Same story, third verse. I decided to give the story yet another chance so it was back to the keyboard for this gal. About a year later, I finished the manuscript. A few months later, I had a publisher. The long and meandering journey was a mere 15 YEARS.

What is your experience working or being around children or teens?
I’m a retired teacher and school librarian, so I’ve been fortunate to spend my entire career with young people. I say fortunate because I enjoy spending time with kids. The time has been well spent because the kids teach me what they like to read. I encourage all writers who want to writer children’s books to read, read, read lots of children’s book…and to spend time with children.

Why do you feel qualified to write a children’s or teen novel?
I’ve had over 30 children’s books published so I guess one answer would be experience. I also have a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education, a second Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, and a career teaching elementary students. I’ve introduced thousands of books by a wide range of authors to young readers. I have a vast knowledge of books in the marketplace and of children’s reactions to many of those books. Again, my job as a teacher and librarian was like a laboratory in which I learned how and what to write.

Did your book require a lot of research? If so, what kind?
AMAZING GRACE required a massive amount of research. The story takes place during WWII. I wasn’t born at that time. My father and his brother served in WWII so this book is dedicated to them. Much of my research was centered on D-Day and facts relating to the troops. Another even larger research effort was based on the Kentucky home front: what people ate, what they grew in Victory Gardens, common WWII phrases, newscasts, school activities, automobiles, and everyday life for families who were helping with the war effort. 

Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children’s literature?
Read a wide variety of books in the genre in which you want to write. If writing historical fiction is your goal, read that type of book. When you enjoy a book, try to figure out what the author did to draw you into the story. Read books that you don’t enjoy. Try to determine what the author did that made the reading boring or uninteresting so you can avoid that with your own writing. You can learn as much, maybe more, by reading books that you don’t like. Sometimes, I reread a book just to analyze how the author developed the characters and plot. 

Tell me a little about your latest nonfiction book.
FIRST FIRE—A CHEROKKEE FOLKTALE is a picture book that is a retelling of a Cherokee folktale. I spent twenty years as a children’s librarian and have long been smitten with folklore. I love creation stories. They unravel the mysteries of the origins of the world and/or that of animals and people. Many cultures have their own stories that are similar to the stories of other cultures half-way around the world where the tales developed independently of the other. The stories are sacred and reflect how the people and animals of the culture cope with everyday life. Young readers enjoy the tales and identify with the characters since the young readers are learning to cope with a world that is new to them.

What gave you the idea for this particular book?
I wanted to write a story to pay tribute to my Cherokee great-grandmother. As I began reading Cherokee and Native American folktales, I found FIRST FIRE and knew immediately that I wanted to retell it as a picture book. The story had all the elements I was looking for: a variety of animals, a conflict, a crisis, and an unlikely hero, all tied up with a happy ending. I wanted to stay true to the original story, but add my own storytelling imprint.

What types of writing do you prefer, and why?
I enjoy writing fiction for children. I love the freedom fiction allows. I can be in charge of the fictional world and completely control the plot and characters. I’m Top Dog. The characters say what I tell them to say and do what I want them to do. In the real world, I’m not Top Dog, and I don’t control anyone around me.

I also enjoy writing creative nonfiction. I’ve never outgrown the inquisitive child living inside me. I say “creative” nonfiction because presenting facts and only the facts can be dull and boring. I like to wrap the facts in a narrative that uses literary styles and techniques to make the reader want to keep on turning the pages.

What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun?
I want a book to draw me into the story from the beginning; then I want the book to hold my attention through the ending.

What books have most influenced your life?
Bill Martin, Jr’s books have influenced my picture book career. His work has such rhythm, in addition to wonderful characterization and plot. The words practically zing in a cadence. Reading CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM aloud is almost like singing. The same is true for BROWN BEAR BROWN BEAR WHAT DO YOU SEE. The words of his powerful writing linger long after the books are closed.

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