3 Question Interview - CHRISTY MIHALY - Part 2
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
Thank you for inviting me back onto This Writing Life, Melissa. I love your "stories, creativity, connection" theme.
Story ideas are everywhere. The problem is that most of them aren't very good—hah! I often come up with a shiny new concept, play around with it for a bit, and then decide it's not worth pursuing. But every now and then, an idea finds me and won't let go.
The inspiration for my March 2020 picture book, Free for You and Me (What Our First Amendment Means) was like that. I couldn't stop thinking about it. About four years ago, I started hearing people make statements that reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution. People who should have known better called for flag-burners to lose their American citizenship. Sheesh. I wanted kids to appreciate the basic principles of our governmental system, which some adults seemed to have forgotten (or never learned).
I talked with my wonderful agent, Erzsi Deak, and we joked that I should create a board book about the Constitution. Then I thought, maybe a picture book introducing the First Amendment! Not an obvious picture book topic, right? But the idea wouldn't leave me alone.
I experimented with poems about the First Amendment. Poetry, uses only a few words to express complex concepts, so I thought poems might help me highlight the First Amendment's basic essence. There are five freedoms named in this amendment—maybe a poem about each? Slowly the poems evolved. I liked them! (The five are: freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the rights to assembly and to petition the government for redress of grievances.) But five poems didn't make a book. I wanted to explain the historical background of the First Amendment, and how kids could use these rights. So I added historical vignettes and a contemporary story.
The manuscript received some editor interest, but it wasn't quite hanging together. I revised. My story eventually found its way to just the right editor for this work, Wendy McClure at Albert Whitman. Wendy and I worked together to add some poems, tweak the text, refine the speech bubbles in the vignettes and story, and complete the back matter. Our creative process continued during Manu Montoya's development of her lively and fun illustrations. We wanted this book to be engaging and to reflect America's diversity, and I'm so pleased with how it all turned out.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I love playing around with poetry. Writing a poem first thing in the morning really gets the creative juices flowing for the day. I'm a member of a supportive and creative online poetry critique group, Poets' Garage. We post poems and receive feedback, which is always so helpful. And, every once in a while, I write a poem that turns into a book!
In the non-writing arena, I love music. I learned to play the cello recently. I'm no expert, but I've played in several community ensembles (with other mediocre music-loving adults). Although I often complain about having insufficient time to practice, I get major joy from sitting together with other musicians and making music happen. And … it's possible that the cello has given me an idea or two for books, too.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
Oh my goodness, can I tell you a story? I received an email last week from an eighth-grade reader through my author website contact form. This student read my book, Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought (co-written with Sue Heavenrich) for a school research project. She said she appreciated the information in the book and wanted to interview me to find out more. I was so gratified, of course I agreed! And when we talked, I was really, really impressed with the excellent research she had done, and the perceptive questions she asked. It's a thrill to know that my words can reach such thoughtful young people, and that those words have caused them to think and ask more questions.
Visiting schools also keeps me connected with readers. For many years, I've participated in a reading mentorship program at a local elementary school, which supports kids with reading. And these days I make formal school visits/author presentations. Before I'd published any books, I couldn't imagine standing in front of a classroom of wiggly kids and keeping their attention. But I discovered that author visits are fun and inspiring—for them and for me.
As to the larger kidlit community, at the start of my writing path I attended conferences and workshops. Then I joined other writers' organizations, including FaceBook groups and the amazing 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. And critique groups! I'm lucky to be a member of an online group of five children's writers that has critiqued together for six years. These crit partners are true friends—when you share your manuscripts, flaws and all, and give one another your honest reactions, you build a deep mutual trust.
I also read and review books. I post reviews of books I love on Goodreads and Instagram and elsewhere. That can lead to connecting with those books' authors and illustrators. And, I often recommend favorite new books to my local bookseller. This is a big one: If you're looking to connect with the kidlit community, go to your local indie! Meet your booksellers, attend signings and other bookstore events, support your local book community.
Finally, I enjoy participating on conference panels and presentations. I'm glad to share what I've learned on my writing journey. And I'm happy I can give back in this way to the kidlit community that has offered me so much support.
Christy Mihaly writes for young readers because she believes that our best hope for the future is raising kids who love to read. Her book, Free for You and Me: What Our First Amendment Means (Albert Whitman Co., 2020), will be highlighted this year at a special exhibit at the rescheduled Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Other books include Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, co-written with Sue Heavenrich (Lerner/TFCB, 2018); and Hey, Hey, Hay! (Holiday House, 2018), a Bank Street Best Book of the Year. A former lawyer, Christy has written more than 20 children's nonfiction titles on topics from free speech to food to fashion. She lives in Vermont, where she enjoys walking her dog in the woods and playing the cello (though not simultaneously).
CONNECT WITH CHRISTY:
blogging at GROG: http://groggorg.blogspot.com
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/christymihaly/