My #EPIC18 friend Christy Mihaly is chatting on the blog today! Epic18 is a wonderful group of 2018 debut picture book authors and illustrators. Christy's debut, HEY, HEY, HAY! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines that Make Them), releasing in August, is fabulous. I love this story and the clever title too! Here are some insights into Christy's process.
STORIES -- Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
Thank you for inviting me onto This Writing Life, Melissa. I love your "stories, creativity, connection" theme.
I'm always seeing little things and saying "Oh, that could be a book!" I get ideas from animals or plants I see in nature, and snippets of conversation, stories in the paper or on the radio, and funny things that kids do. The hard part is deciding which ideas are worth writing about - which ones can be turned into a piece that kids want to read.
I write mostly nonfiction, and I often write articles or books on assignment. For children's magazines, here's how it works: the magazine announces a theme, I pitch an article based on the theme, and if the editor likes my idea, she'll assign me to write an article on the topic, telling me how many words and when it's due. Similarly, if an educational publisher is doing a series on North American animals, I might propose to write the title on moose. To some people, this sounds too constraining, but I really enjoy this kind of work because I know I'm writing exactly what the publisher is looking for, and I know it will be published on a certain date. And to me, a deadline is a great inspiration.
But really, inspiration can strike anywhere. The inspiration for my forthcoming picture book, Hey, Hey, Hay!, came from my own hayfield. I thought about how storing all that grass over the winter was, in essence, storing summer. The rhythm of the haying machines (mower, rake, tedder, baler) got into my head, and these words began to run around my mind: "Listen and I'll tell the tale how we store summer in a bale." And now a few years later, that tale is becoming a picture book.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I like to switch up the kinds of writing I do. While I love picture books, I also love longer books, and poetry. I recently took a course (Lyrical Language Lab) online with Renee LaTulippe, and learned a ton, both about specific poetic forms and conventions and terminology, and also about writing metaphorically, about great word choices, and paying attention to the rhythm and sound of all your writing. These techniques can strengthen and enhance any writing.
Since then I've paid more attention to writing poetry. Some days I'll write a quick haiku and post it on Instagram. Other times, I'll spend days and weeks polishing a short poem to submit to a magazine or anthology. Most of the time, I know I won't be selling my poems, but writing them is a great, fun way to stretch those writing muscles.
And now, with my first picture book coming into the world, I'm facing a new challenge: children's story times. Keeping a group of small ones engaged in a story takes a more extroverted kind of creativity than putting words on a page. I'm developing crafts and activities related to my book to use at readings, school visits, and other events. This endeavor is taking me outside my comfort zone. I mean – singing silly songs? But I'm looking forward to sharing my book with its intended audience, in person.
As far as expressing creativity goes, I'm pretty impressed with Cate Berry's pink hair. I am considering dying mine green …
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
I love writing as a solitary activity. But the real joy of writing for kids is telling stories that are important in a way that kids can appreciate and enjoy.
I no longer have wee ones at home, so to stay connected with kids, I'm a reading mentor at my elementary school. This gives me a chance to develop a relationship with a student through weekly reading dates. I've also volunteered to teach environmental science in the elementary schools. It's also a real delight to read with my grandchildren (who are already book lovers though they're too young to read). And I've had fantastic visits to the classroom of one of the world's great first grade teachers, Susan Koch. The kids in her class appreciate books, and she helps them develop critical reading skills. When I shared an advance copy of my picture book with her class, a hand went up after I read the first page. "Yes?" I asked. "It's a rhyming book!" the young learner called. Yes! Though not all kids will be so well-versed, I'm really looking forward to sharing my book (and more) with young audiences.
And the amazing and wonderful kidlit community – where do I begin? Attending a workshop at the Highlights Foundation in 2013 was what made me feel like a "real writer" for the first time. Not only did I learn a great deal from the instructors there, but I made fast friends with other writers. Those connections led to my joining a critique group for the first time, and joining SCBWI, and starting to go to conferences. It's always an effort for me to get away from my writing desk and into the world of conferences and workshops, but it's always worth it to get out and connect.
One such connection, with writer Sue Heavenrich, resulted in a book. Sue and I were discussing ideas and ended up (years later) co-writing a book, Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought. It's a nonfiction YA book about how what we eat can make a difference for the health of the planet, to be published this fall by Twenty-first Century Books. In it, we explore the whys and hows of eating weeds, invasive plants and animals, and insects—I can't wait to connect with young readers about those topics!
Then there's the online kidlit world. My critique group convenes online, and I spend time on several helpful Facebook groups. I've particularly enjoyed Julie Hedlund's 12x12 and Laura Purdie Salas's "Writing for Children" community. And of course the Epic 18 group of 2018 debut picture book writers has been an invaluable support in this year's publishing adventure. It's particularly wonderful to meet writers and illustrators in person after you've gotten to know them online. It makes going to conferences so much more fun!
Christy Mihaly lives and writes in Vermont, overlooking the hayfield that inspired her first picture book, Hey, Hey, Hay! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines that Make Them). Her YA nonfiction work, Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, co-written with Sue Heavenrich, will be released this fall. Christy has published a half-dozen books in the educational market, on topics from California's redwood forest to cosplay to elephants, and writes for children's magazines. Her poetry has appeared in publications including Imperfect: Poems about Mistakes, an Anthology for Middle Schoolers; Highlights; and the SCBWI Bulletin. She loves walking in the woods and playing the cello (though not simultaneously). Christy is represented by Erzsi Deak, of Hen&ink Literary Studio.
CONNECT WITH CHRISTY:
blogging at GROG: http://groggorg.blogspot.com
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/christymihaly/