“Interview with Picture Book and Chapter Book Author, Becky Shillington” by Joan Y. Edwards
Hello, Becky. Thank you for being a guest on my blog.
I am glad to be here. I have lots to tell you.
Let’s begin. Everyone’s curious to find out all about you.
1. How did you do in English as a kid?
Growing up, language arts was always my favorite subject. In my eighth grade language arts class, I was the only kid who got excited about diagramming sentences, and in high school I actually looked forward to writing really long papers. I went on to major in English in college, and I always saved the homework from those classes as a “reward” for finishing everything else. Words, books, and writing have always fascinated me.
2. When did you decide to become an author?
My first publication was a poem in the local newspaper in second grade. But I started making up and writing stories much earlier, probably around kindergarten. I knew very young that I wanted to write books one day.
3. What’s your favorite book? Why?
I don’t think I can answer that fairly…there are so many books that I love! As a child, I enjoyed reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary, among others. As I grew older I fell in love with the classics, and this continued into college. As an adult, I read children’s and adult fiction constantly. That being said, my all-time favorite book is probably PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
4. Are your characters based on real people or events from your life?
None of my characters are specifically modeled after people I know, but I do sometimes use bits and pieces of real people in my writing. The main character in one of my picture book manuscripts was inspired by a little girl at Barnes & Noble who was wearing red cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. I overheard a little boy teasing her, saying, “Girls can’t be cowboys!” in a scoffing, dismissive manner. She immediately answered him with, “Yes they can!” and then turned around and picked a book off the display wall. At that moment, a character was born; I knew her name was Josie, that she wanted to be a cowgirl more than anything in the world, and that I needed to write a book about her!
5. Do you outline and plan your books before you write them or do your stories flow on their own?
For my picture books I always have a rough plan, but I try to let each story grow organically to see where it goes. With my chapter books, I write up a short outline of what I think is going to happen chapter by chapter, but this often changes with the growth of the characters.
6. What is your favorite genre?
To write: humor. To read: it’s a tie between humor and historical fiction. I have a historical fiction middle grade novel on the back burner, but I still have a lot of research to do and other projects are taking up my time right now. One day I hope to finish it!
7. What is the most essential component of a good book? How can we improve this component in our writing?
To me, a distinctive voice is the most essential component of a good book. If the voice is weak, a book won’t hold my attention (while reading or writing), no matter how great the story line is. The three main purposes of a distinctive voice are:
- To draw readers into the story.
- To enable readers to get to know the main character(s).
- To give the story’s plot a vehicle through which to come alive.
To improve in this area:
- READ books in the genre in which you are writing. Pick apart those books to see what works and what doesn’t work where voice is concerned. (I have re-read the same page over and over and over again doing this.)
- Keep an “idea file” with profiles and personalities of possible characters in it. Write down interesting bits and pieces of conversations you overhear, or situations you observe. Each person has a unique way of dealing with life, and your characters should reflect this.
- Get to know your main character and pay special attention to the authenticity of his or her voice. For example, would an eight-year-old little boy be more likely to say “Bob and I went to the movies,” or would “me and Bob went to the movies” be more likely to come out of his mouth? If the answer is “Bob and I,” by all means have your MC use the correct grammar. But if you know that your MC would be much more likely to say “me and Bob,” then give him permission to use incorrect grammar. I remember the controversy over Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books several years ago, and hearing parents and teachers say they wouldn’t let their children read those books because of Junie B.’s poor grammar. But, if Junie B. spoke correctly all the time, her voice would be completely different—and she wouldn’t BE Junie B.! Yes, I think there is a time and a place for correct grammar (if there were really “Grammar Police,” I would be the first to sign up!), but in the realm of fiction, there is wiggle room for digressions from the accepted norm.
8. Becky, you are awesome at creating characters that are believable, unforgettable, and witty. How do you create your characters?
I always have a strong mental image of my main character before I start writing, of both her physical appearance and her personality. By the time I start writing a story, the character is almost real and has a LOT to say. Sometimes I even “interview” my main characters, and I always know random facts about them that will never appear in the books!
9. How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission?
I get it into the best shape that I can, and then I let it sit a loooong time. Then I edit it again and send it to my online critique group, and/or take it to my in-person critique group. Most of the time, I will also give it to a writer friend to look over. After I’ve received feedback, I read the manuscript again with a critical eye and make any necessary changes. I usually let it sit awhile again before I submit it. No matter how long I wait, I can always find something to improve upon after a manuscript has “percolated” awhile.
10. Becky, you are great at poetry. Which kind of poetry do you like best?
I love all kinds of poetry, but my current favorite is the haiku format. I love how so much can be said in so few words; it’s like looking through the zoom lens on a camera. Here is a haiku I wrote earlier this winter, and a picture of the tree that inspired it:
Bare branches reach up,
Fingers brushing a blue sky
So bright that I squint.
11. Who or what has been the most helpful to you as a writer?
Without a doubt, my writer friends. I have several close friends who have been with me on every step of my journey, and who continue to cheer me on. Writing is such a personal business, and at some point you have to grow thick skin. But while you’re growing it, it is essential to have writer friends who understand the ups and downs of what you are trying to accomplish, and who can pick you up after setbacks and disappointments.
12. What are you working on now?
I am substantially revising one chapter book, writing another, and doing a detailed re-write of a picture book.
13. What online writing resources have you found helpful?
If you are not a member of SCBWI, you can view Verla Kay’s Blueboards Verla Kay’s Blueboards for nonmembers
Becky Shillington on the web:
Thank you, Becky for being a guest on my blog and sharing your Haiku poem and teaching us how we can improve the voice of each character in our stories. Good luck with getting your work published. I hope you find the right publisher this year for your stories.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Becky. She would love to hear from you.
Celebrate you every day.
You are a gift to our world
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
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