Today’s author-on-the-hot-seat is Stephanie Greene, who has been a published author of literature for children since before many of us ever sat down to try to write our first story outlines. Go Stephanie! She’s the author of 20 award-winning books for children and middle graders including the Princess Posey series, the Sophie Hartley Series, the Owen Foote Series, The Lucky Ones, a MG novel, and Christmas at Stoney Creek,a truly fabulous holiday story for the whole family. Stephanie is active in the SCBWI where she previously served as the RA (Regional Advisor) for SCBWI Carolinas, covering the North and South Carolina Regions. Stephanie will be presenting about "Revision" and "POV: Who's telling this story anyway?" at the upcoming SCBWI Carolina’s Fall Conference in Sept, 2012. Her next four books will be published in 2012 and 2013! They are: Princess Posey and the Monster Stew, August 2012, Princess Posey and the Tiny Treasure, Spring 2013, Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life, Fall 2013, and Princess Posey and the New Girl, Fall 2013
Wow. Stephanie, you’re on a roll! Thanks for taking time out to be with us today.
So, tell us: You’re a very experienced and well-published author at this point in your career. But who was the more experienced author, illustrator, or other publishing professional who taught you something that helped your career when you were first starting out?
I hadn’t attended any conferences before I sold my first book, nor did I belong to a critique group, so I don’t have an example of someone who I wasn’t working with reaching out to me. But early in my career, my first editor taught me an important lesson about false sentimentality when she wrote in the margin of an early manuscript, “You can’t make something funny by having your character laugh.” That simple statement stayed with me. As writers, we have to earn our character’s emotions if we hope to evoke the same emotion or create empathy in our readers. What she meant was that if the words out of your character’s mouth, or the action itself, aren’t funny, your readers won’t think it’s funny because you wrote, “So-and-So laughed.” In the same way, you can’t make them feel sad by writing, “So-and-So cried.” Action and dialogue are the tools to use to evoke genuine emotion. It takes work. The editor’s comment was a shorthand lesson in the dangers of sentimentality: trying to elicit an emotion in the minds/hearts of your readers without earning it. That’s a lesson I never forgot. The editor who taught me that was Dinah Stevenson at Clarion, who edited all of my Owen Foote and Sophie Hartley books. The wisdom I learned is that there’s no shortcut to good writing. It takes hard work and much effort.
Oh dear, Stephanie. That sentimentality trap is one that I think many of us often fall into! What a great reminder Dinah Stevenson gave to you – and now to us. I’m sure many of us are pulling up our manuscripts right now, knowing we need to go back and revise to make sure the action and dialogue, and not just the lame dialogue tags we threw in there, are what cause emotional reactions in our readers and make them love our books!
So, can you name a specific project where that bit of guidance from Dinah Stevenson has particularly helped you?
I guess I’d have to say I’ve used it in all of my books. I really work to portray genuine emotions from fear to humor to love.
As your writing career has progressed, Stephanie, how have you reached back and reached
out to help other new writers – in addition to being RA of the Carolina’s SCBWI before. That one’s a given! J
I’ve tried to encourage other writers in any way I can. Sometimes, it’s in a one-on-one
conversation; other times, it’s at conferences and workshops. I work with writers who I met more than a decade ago. I’m part of an online group with whom I take annual retreats. We cajole and encourage one another when we face rejection, and care about one another’s writing and lives. Passing on what you know as a writer or illustrator is tremendously satisfying; giving back is good karma. Not only that, but by talking about what we think we know, we often discover what we, ourselves, still need to learn. I have a flower pot on my desk that a group of children gave me several years ago after I’d read with them every week for a year. It says, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Sharing what we know about writing is planting seeds. As the former RA of SCBWI-Carolinas, I tried to share what I knew about craft and am thrilled by the continued and widespread success the members of our group are having.
That’s great, Stephanie! I know that you have done a great job of, “raising up other writers” in the Carolina’s region for years. And I LOVE the saying on your flower pot. What a beautiful gift those children gave you. And what a beautiful gift you gave to them –mentoring them, by reading with them weekly for a year! That’s great!
And now for a few more FUN questions! Firstly, when you initially started writing, what would you say was your greatest writing challenge? Is that challenge still the same today?
I’d say, finishing a manuscript. It’s easy to talk about what you’re going to write, but actually starting it and finishing it can be difficult. It’s not particularly a problem anymore.
Whew. I’m still looking forward to the time when finishing the manuscript is as easy as starting it! It’s good to hear it’ll happen someday. J Perhaps at the conference you can share the secret of “HOW?”
Meanwhile, here’s another fun question. You obviously love children and children’s books. Who was your favorite author when you were a child, and who are 2-3 children’s or MG/YA authors/illustrators whose books you love now, and why?,
As a child, my favorite book was The Secret Garden. Now, I love anything by Hilary McKay (English author) because she’s a very funny writer who writes about children with both humor and emotion; I admire the books of Judy Blume because she talks about topics that young girls are dying to know more about in a natural, straight-forward way while showing real understanding of that age group; I like Gary Paulsen because he writes about boys and the things that matter to them with great empathy, rather than trying to be funny. The problems boys face aren’t always funny but writers often tend to create awkward or embarrassing or humorous boy characters.
I loved the Secret Garden, too, Stephanie! And you’re so right about Gary Paulsen’s books and how important that is to let boys sometimes take their life issues seriously, as well as learning to laugh.
Ok, here’s your final question --- at least it’s your final question until we all corner you at the conference and ask for tips on how to come to the point in our careers where finishing a book is as easy as starting one! J Hee Hee . But for today’s question: What do you love about being a writer?
I love getting it right: setting out to express or convey a particular emotion, or create a character real enough so that children will identify with him or her, and succeeding at doing that.
Yes, that’s a wonderful feeling! I love when people say “I cried (or laughed) all through that page,” and we authors just want to run up and hug them and say “did you? Oh, I’m so glad you cried! I cried (laughed) all the way through it too!” J
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for being with us today, and for sharing these great answers and tips!
Everyone can learn more from and about Stephanie at www.readerkidz.com, and www.stephaniegreenebooks.com.
Next week our interview victim will be Illustrator/Author (she’s our first Illustrator interviewee – hooray!), and current ARA (Assistant Regional Advisor) for SCBWI Carolinas, Bonnie Adamson!
See you then.