How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Surprising Mistakes That Make Writers Look Like Amateurs... and How to Avoid Them

Friday, March 25, 2016

High Five #33: Awww, yeah, Baby!

Please welcome Keila Dawson for the latest High Five interview! Take it away, Keila!

TitleThe King Cake Baby
Author: Keila V. Dawson
Illustrator: Vernon Smith
Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company
Release date: January 2015
Word count: 666

Short summary:

In this lively adaptation of The Gingerbread Man set in the New Orleans, the runaway king cake baby escapes an old Creole couple, a praline lady, and a waiter at Cafe du Monde, but he can't outsmart the clever baker! Filled with Louisiana phrases and comic-book-style illustrations, this story brings the Crescent City to life from Jackson Square to the Creole Queen riverboat. It even comes with a recipe for homemade king cake. This new adaption of an old folktale brings a tasty Mardi Gras tradition to life for readers.

Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you.

Only three?!
1. Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena for the authentic voice and diverse content.
2. Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds for the humor and point of view.
3. Ish by Peter Reynolds for the inspiration and positive message.

Question TWO: How often did you read to your children when they were younger; do you feel like you have an extra special bond with your children because of books? 

We read to our children daily through elementary school. By middle and high school we switched to reading with them. In the younger elementary years we read books to them they were unable to independently read themselves. I believe language and critical thinking are both refined through reading to and with kids. By middle school, my husband and I would often read the novels they were assigned in classes. The discussion and feedback definitely helped create a special bond. During this special time together, especially during their tween and early teen years, we would discuss sensitive or confusing topics presented in the books they read. That allowed them to form their own opinions outside of peer pressure and become more confident individuals.

Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom?

Gingerbread Man stories are quite popular and studied in many pre-school and elementary classrooms. Because The King Cake Baby ties in the old world tradition of Mardi Gras still practiced in an American city, it's cultural setting can be used to compare and contrast with the traditional folktale or other adaptations. There are printable lessons, activities, and crafts available on my website at www.keiladawson.com.

Specifically, second grade teachers are use it to teach English common core standards. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy RL 2.1- 2.9). Two standards, RL.2.2 and RL.2.9 address using folktales from diverse cultures.

RL.2.2 Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.

RL.2.9 Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures. I have many fun. 

Question FOUR: What was your road to publication like? 

Writing for children is something I'd always want to do but didn't make the time or commitment to actually do it. Then one day some friends inspired me to just do it. That was my first step, making that commitment. But for months after, I didn't have an idea of what to write about. Then one day while making a king cake during the Mardi Gras season, a story idea popped into my head. Just as I described in The King Cake Baby, I couldn't find a little plastic baby we put inside the cake. The idea ofĂ‚ retelling the Gingerbread Man story but set in New Orleans seemed like a unique idea. That same night I wrote my first draft.

With a rough draft in hand I started where all beginners do, with research. I didn't have any knowledge about the industry from the author or publisher perspective so knew there was a lot to learn. Children's Book Insiders (CBI) was the first online resource I found, became a member and read through their self- paced lessons and newsletters. CBI recommended finding a group of other writers to critique your work. More research led me to a local group of children's writers. The stars aligned and the first meeting I attended was critique night. I read my story to a group of published authors and listened carefully to their great advice. The manuscript was way too long, well over 1000 words. It also had too many characters and scenes. I was told to cut, cut, cut. I read some Gingerbread Man stories. I joined the national Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and independently researched and read everything I could about the craft and the industry. I returned to the next meeting with an edited copy and got the thumbs up! This wonderful group of mentors also helped me understand the business part of the industry. When I subbed my story and didn't hear anything for several months, it was my writer's group who taught me how to research publishing houses to determine if my story fit with what they publish. That's when I decided to sub my manuscript one more time, to a company that published children's stories about Louisiana, Pelican Publishing.

I don't have an agent at this time. I do have a manuscript in acquisitions at Pelican. It's another fractured fairy tale based in New Orleans. Fingers crossed they are interested in adding another to their list!

Question FIVE: What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?
  1. Be authentic. I love hearing others describe my story that way. I do believe the only difference between stories that use the same topic or theme is the unique way in which the story is told by the writer.
  2. Immerse yourself in the kidlit community. Participate in free reading and writing challenges like Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo in November, Carrie Charley Brown's ReFoReMo in March, Susanna's Hill's pitch practice, Would You Read It on Wednesdays, her Perfect Picture Book Fridays, and the Debut PB Study Group on Facebook. Take classes, sign up for webinars, join SCBWI and attend conferences.
  3. Learn the business end of the industry. As small business proprietors, writers need to know how to negotiate publishing contracts, agent agreements, create marketing plans and file taxes.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Christie. Write on!

Thank YOU, Keila. You can find Keila around the web on her following social sites:

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