I first met Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen at the NESCBWI conference where she taught a picture book workshop with energy and humor. I was hooked. I took a couple of her on-line courses and when I won a phone critique, her approachable, down to earth helpfulness didn’t surprise me. I’m thrilled to welcome her back to Writers’ Rumpus!
Kirsti Call: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen: Wow, we’re starting off with a toughie! It is really hard to identify just one favorite thing about being an author, as there are many very satisfying and wonderful things – and so I feel like, every time I’m asked this question, I highlight a different “favorite” part!
So, if it is ok with you and your readers, let me cover a few things I love about being an author.
I love that I have a job that allows me to be creative, and that my creativity is entirely guided by me.
I love that I get to create something out of nothing. In a world where there is so much negativity, it’s nice to feel like I can put something good into the universe using only my heart and mind (and, eventually, an editor, a publisher, an illustrator, an art director, a designer, a copyeditor….you get the idea!).
I love the connections that my work allows me to form – with kids, parents and teachers. Hearing someone’s personal experience with my books really puts into perspective how significant each life touched truly is.
I love that I can talk to imaginary friends and not have other people think I’m crazy.
And, lastly, I love that I can do most of my job barefoot in my bed in my pajamas.
KC: What is your least favorite thing about being an author?
SBQ: Well, that’s another hard one. After everything I told you there is to love, how could there even be a least favorite part? 🙂 But I will give it a try…I think my least favorite part is how subjective a reader’s approval or appreciate of my work can be. Having come from a science background, I would love it if I could figure out the “right” way to write and then follow those same steps every time to get the same results. Instead, I have to do my best and hope that the right amount of fairy dust gets sprinkled on my words to ensure that the reader will love the story as much as I do.
KC: How long did it take you to publish your first book?
SBQ: My first children’s book to be published was not a picture book. It was actually a science book called CHAMPIONSHIP SCIENCE FAIR PROJECTS. I started writing in the fall of 2002; I signed the contract for that book in April 2003.
I know that sounds super-quick – and it was! – but it wasn’t the result of me doing something awesome. A lot of it was just dumb luck. I mentioned my science background in a cover letter for a picture book submission to Sterling. They rejected the picture book, but in her response, the editor asked if I’d consider writing a science experiment book for them. That became CHAMPIONSHIP SCIENCE FAIR PROJECTS.
Of course, that sale led to my first picture book (TIGHTROPE POPPY) which was published by the same editor. If I hadn’t gotten my foot in the door with the science book, I don’t know that TIGHTROPE POPPY would have worked out for me.
KC: What is your favorite book that you’ve written, and why?
SBQ: Man, it’s just one hard question after the other! I can’t pick a favorite book! It’s like picking a favorite child! How about I tell you what I like the most about my latest release, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS? Deal?
In this book, the main character is an unintentional destroyer. All his destruction is the result of his excitement about school and the boisterousness that results. He is lively and energetic, but oblivious to why that would cause him problems. As the story unfolds, the reader is aware of the change in his own attitude toward his mistakes. At first, Tyrannosaurus is unaware there is a problem. He becomes embarrassed and then self-conscious. When his friends reject him, he is crushed.
When I was a kid in school, I was a complete klutz, had zero athletic skill, and was as prone to saying the wrong thing as I was to doing the wrong thing.
I am Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.
But the truth is that we’ve all had our Tyrannosaurus Wrecks moments. Being able to tap into that kind of universal experience is a special thing for an author. That’s when we feel really good about being able to reach as many readers on a personal level as possible.
And that’s my favorite thing about that book!
KC: What is your writing routine?
SBQ: In my house, I designed a beautiful office with a desk facing a window with a lovely view of my yard. I decorated it with photos of my children and copies of my books, painted the room a soothing color, and added nice touches like a pink settee and soft cashmere throws. And so when I want to write, I go…straight upstairs to my bed, turn on the television and prop my laptop in lap.
As for routine in terms of writing on a schedule, I really don’t have that luxury. I write when I can or when I have to – I think that is pretty common for working mothers!
KC: You had four books come out within four months in 2014. How has that affected your writing time?
SBQ: Oh, was I supposed to still have time to write?
Four book releases in a year is a lot of books. Like, a LOT of books. Since each release involves promotion and marketing, a big portion of my work time was devoted to non-writing work. Overall, I’ve had less time for writing – but that just means I’ve had to get much more efficient at it.
KC: I’ve taken a workshop from you, and a couple of on-line classes from you with The Children’s Book Academy. Your insights and knowledge were incredibly helpful. What is your favorite part of teaching?
SBQ: What I love the most about teaching is that the process of teaching has made me a better writer. Teaching forces me to think about all the specific steps, big and small, I have to take to put a story together. That lets me really refine what it is I do – and I don’t know that I would take the time to think about my process in the same way had I not been teaching.
Another benefit of teaching is that I get to connect with my audience in a more intimate way. Every book is a partnership – and I’m not talking about the partnership between author and publisher. The book itself is a partnership between author and reader. The experience is not complete until the reader’s reaction is added to the author’s words. Most of the time, the reading is done in my absence, but when I’m teaching (especially at schools), I get to see my reader’s reaction and I get to learn from it.
On that note, I’m very excited to announce that I am launching a new online writing school at www.KidlitWritingSchool.com. We are going to be offering courses to writers of all levels who are looking to improve their craft. I hope you’ll visit our school website for more information!
KC: You co-ran a free writer’s workshop this summer. Can you tell me how you decided to start this program and what you learned from it?
SBQ: The co-founder (and my very dear friend) of Kidlit Summer School, Kami Kinard, has been my blog partner for a long time on our primary blog, NerdyChicksRule.com. After we got that blog off the ground, we started to think about how great it would be to create a blog-centric event that focused on craft. We both enjoy writing and teaching writing, and so we wanted to create a program that offers in-depth writing advice on a particular topic each summer. The 2014 focus has been on character development.
KidLit Summer School is a summer blog event that we intend to run annually. This year – our very first year – we had over 700 writers and illustrators of children’s books participating and we’ve had over 50,000 views of the blog. In addition to the focus on craft, one of the major goals of Kidlit Summer School has been to create a mentoring community where published authors share their methods, techniques, and secrets with any student who wants to learn. The entire project wouldn’t be possible without the many wonderful children’s writers and publishing professionals who volunteered to share their knowledge.
I personally have learned a lot about my craft from reading the blog posts contributed by my fellow faculty members. But I think that the best thing that I’ve learned is that we all need a tribe, especially writers. What we do is so inherently solitary – but human beings aren’t programmed to be alone. We need interaction and support to achieve our goals. The people who joined KidLit Summer School have helped me find the support system.
KC: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
SBQ: OK, yet again, there’s no way I can come up with just one answer. So here are a few pieces of advice:
Start your writing process with character. In my opinion, a strong main character is the single most important thing for any book, whether it be a picture book, a chapter book, or a novel.
Reality is a fiction writer’s best friend. That means create characters that are real – not unnaturally good or bad, but based in real experiences and real people. Reality helps your reader empathize with your characters. To that end, make sure your main characters are interesting but well and truly flawed.
Learn the industry. Being a writer is an art, but being an author is a business. It is hard to have the freedom to pursue your art if the business side isn’t working.
Lastly, enjoy the ride. As I said at the beginning, in what I do, I get to start with what is in my mind and my heart and I turn it into something real that hopefully will touch the lives of my readers. If that is not something worth cherishing, I don’t know what is.
KC: Sudipta has generously donated a signed copy of Tyrannosaurus Wrecks or a 20 minute phone critique, winner’s choice. Please enter this Rafflecopter Giveaway to win!
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the co-founder of Kidlit Summer School and an award-winning author whose books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books. Her books have been named to the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year lists and the Amelia Bloomer list. Find out more about her by visiting www.sudipta.com or her blogs www.NerdyChicksRule.com and NerdyChicksWrite.wordpress.com.