Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers and the Mountain

I spent last week at the workshop/conference Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, which is put on in part by my teacher and friend, Carol Lynch Williams.

It was fun to spend the week with family and friends and absorb all I could. But by that Thursday, I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and out of place. I considered skipping Friday, but I’m glad I didn’t. I would have missed Jennifer Nielsen’s keynote speech. Listening to her was like being scraped off the floor, set on my feet, dusted off, and handed a bowl of ice cream.


Something like this.

I took no notes, but here’s what I remember:

So what if 81% of Americans want to write a book? You only have to compete with the .01% who actually finish a manuscript.

There’s no one right way to climb the mountain known as writing and publishing. We’re all on the mountain, and we’re all heading for different summits. Writing “The End” on a first draft is one summit, but when you get there you realize it’s not the top of the mountain. Looming above you is another summit called revisions. And so on.

Most importantly, if you are not where you need to be today, climb higher tomorrow.

I thanked her for her speech when I got my copy of The False Prince signed.

I’m on the mountain. If I look down, I can see the switchbacks of rejections for Raven and the Trinketeers. Way behind me are the foothills of all those other unfinished stories. Every time I look up, revisions on Featherfolk appear insurmountable. But I’m going to keep climbing.

Where are you on the mountain? Where are you headed next?

Happy Yarning.


Setting Research: Where Do I Even Start?

I’ve known since early on in the first draft of Featherfolk that the setting wasn’t…well…settled. I covered the mountains with familiar plants and animals because that was the easiest thing, but I knew I wanted to give it a more exotic feel. The only problem with exotic locations and cultures is that I know next to nothing about them. Hence, exotic.

Ever since I hit on the Andes Mountains and the Incas as a possibility for re-flavoring the world, I’ve been checking out stacks of books from the library, searching for documentaries, and scrolling through pages and pages of Google images, just to try and get a taste of the history and culture and climate and flora of such a place.

If I base the Featherfolk on another culture, I want to know more than just the tropes. Shallow knowledge would result in parody, which I feel would be disrespectful to that culture and its living descendants.

It’s quite overwhelming. How do you immerse yourself in a culture long dead, on another continent in another hemisphere, whose languages were not at all related to your own?

How do you start?