CAROL GORDON EKSTER: When I first started my own writing career, it seemed every #kidlit event I went to I’d bump into Anne Broyles. And then we unknowingly ended up going to Jane Yolen’s picture book boot camp together. She’s a talented writer and an amazing human. It’s an honor to highlight her here at Writers’ Rumpus
Anne, can you tell us how you came to writing and about your path to publication?
ANNE BROYLES: In 1989, my first book, JOURNALING: A SPIRIT JOURNEY, was published. I published numerous other books in the Christian spiritual/family life field as well as hundreds of magazine articles and numerous curricula books for children, youth and adults.
As often happens with people in the kid lit field, when my own children were born, I began to write stories, some of which I now know were missing crucial elements of a publishable book. I joined SCBWI and began attending workshops and conferences, but unfortunately, I resisted being in a critique group. Nevertheless, my first children’s picture book, SHY MAMA’S HALLOWEEN, was published in 2000 after being accepted on the first submission. (That sure set up unrealistic expectations!)
In 2005, we moved cross-country from southern California to Massachusetts, and I lucked into two wonderful critique groups with writers who helped me work on craft and improve manuscripts. PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS, which I had sold before we moved, came out in 2008 with Charlesbridge. Living near the publisher made book launches and other events even more fun.
I love Karen Lewis’ art for these books and how, when I present at schools, kids disagree on where Abue Rosa is from. Depending on their own background, eager participants shout out, “She’s Dominican!” “No, from Costa Rica!,” “She’s just like my Mexican grandmother.” I wrote the book with some Spanish words, but it was the editor’s idea to have the book be totally bilingual. The fact that Spanish- or English-speaking readers can enjoy the book in their own language, and monolingual kids can learn another language’s words in context is one of my favorite things about these books.
CGE: Your picture books certainly fit the #weneeddiversebooks theme. What inspired you to write diverse picture books?
AB: Soon after my birth, my mother applied for my Certificate of Degree of IndianBlood from the Western Cherokee tribe. She shared with me her pride at the heritage of her paternal ancestors. I can trace my Cherokee roots back to Elizabeth Coody (Eughioote), a full-blood of the Long Hair Clan born in 1706. Because of the high degree of intermarriage in the Cherokee tribe, I am far more white than Indian, but I have always felt connected to this branch of my family. I read the tribal newspaper, THE CHEROKEE PHOENIX, and vote in tribal elections.
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, a city blessed with an ancient and rich Mexican history before 1853’s Gadsen Purchase made it “American.” As a child, my mother taught me to appreciate the Pima and Papago tribes (now called Tohono O’odham) and our Yaqui neighbors as well as those of Mexican descent. I visited Mesa Verde, Walnut Canyon, the Hopi and Navajo reservations. So I was given an awareness and appreciation of many languages and cultures.
My picture books are about a Russian immigrant family in New York’s Lower East Side in the 1940s, an enslaved child forced to march on the Trail of Tears with her Cherokee “owner,” and a young Hispanic boy and his abuelita. My works-in-progress deal with people whose stories are less-often told. I love to find and expand on nuggets of real-life history. My more generic picture books could be about children of any color or ethnicity, and I would love to see them illustrated in whatever setting/culture the illustrator imagines.
I am committed to writing books in which a variety of children can see themselves, either because of universal themes or multicultural settings and experiences. I hope that today’s readers can, like me, grow up to appreciate the many ways people are alike…and not alike, realizing that our world is stronger when we celebrate diversity and all work together. I appreciate the efforts of the #weneeddiversebooks organizers.
CGE: You’ve had quite the travel adventures. Can you tell us a little about that and how that has influenced your writing?
AB: Since 1975, I’ve been a member of SERVAS, an international peacemaking travel group that has given me the opportunity to host travelers from other countries and stay in people’s homes around the world. In my travels to 49 countries, I have been privileged to know people of numerous nations, languages and cultures. These experiences also influence the worlds I create in my writing because I carry so many people in my heart and have a large worldview. I don’t expect particular people or places I have visited to show up in my future books, but my global friendships certainly subtly influence the stories I tell.
CGE: What is your writing schedule like?
AB: I work on some aspect of writing 5-6 days/week. I do my best creative work (research, character development, plotting, writing and revision) in the mornings and evenings. I take a mid-day break on writing days to go to the gym for Zumba or Yoga or TRX. Afternoons are best for the business of writing—submissions, planning school visits, preparing presentations, web site updates, correspondence.
I have a critique group that meets every other week, and a separate writing group where we share regular writing days—working independently in silence all morning, eating lunch together, then working in silence for the afternoon. I schedule several writing retreats each year, as well. Extended time helps me really burrow into a project, and I also need/appreciate time to talk craft and business with other writers.
I also count my hours as a volunteer with SMART (Start Making A Reader Today) as writing enrichment. I’m paired with a child for weekly one-on-one reading sessions. “Volunteers model the joy of reading, while supporting the child’s efforts to read independently. The intention of SMART is to provide early reading support, access to books and community engagement to positively impact literacy outcomes and provide equitable opportunity for all kids.” I wish all schools had this supportive program.
CGE: Tell us some of the highs and lows in your life as a children’s author.
AB: Although my first two books received honors like Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, Teacher’s Choice Award, Bank Street College’s The Best Children’s Books of the Year, and the Massachusetts Book Awards short list, those awards were on paper only. So when ARTURO AND THE NAVIDAD BIRDS received an International Latino Book Award (ILBA), it was great fun to go to ALA in Las Vegas and receive my award in person. What a privilege to be among authors and illustrators from 21 countries who wrote in Spanish, Portuguese and English. ARTURO AND THE BIENVENIDO FEAST has won a second ILBA and Pelican is sending me to Los Angeles to accept the award—I am excited to again be in the company of so many talented creators!
Lows? Rejections, of course, which means many of the manuscripts I would like to sell haven’t found the right publisher yet. One book required extensive research and twice went to acquisitions (unsuccessfully) before another writer published an excellent picture book biography on the same person. I recently retooled MUM BETT’S FREEDOM TALE into an article for TEACHING TOLERANCE so all my time and creative energy was not lost.
CGE: What does the future hold for Anne Broyles?
AB: I have numerous projects in various stages of revision. I am particularly hopeful about two middle grade historical novels and a young adult contemporary novel. Ironically, some of my favorite books I have written have not been published yet, but I am grateful for the works that have found a publishing home.
PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS is coming out in 2019, revised and in paperback. And hopefully, some of my other books will get into readers’ hands in the next few years.
Thanks, Carol, for the opportunity to visit Writers’ Rumpus.
CGE: Thank you, Anne! You are an inspiration!
You can connect with Anne here: