Hi Dionna! It’s so great to be here. Thank you for all you do to support kidlit authors and illustrators!
Your turn to tell. How did you find your way into becoming a kidlit author and why do you love it?
I grew up reading and loving kidlit and never stopped! For a few decades now, I believe some of the best, most ground-breaking writing has come from picture books, middle grade and YA novels and non-fiction.
After working 14 years as a newspaper reporter, I quit to become a full-time, self-employed freelancer. My first year went surprisingly well, and my boss (me!) rewarded her only employee (me!) with a trip to Los Angeles for SCBWI’s annual conference. That was in 2000, and I’ve been a member ever since. Both the Iowa and Rocky Mountain chapters have been so important in helping me learn about the industry and connect with a creative community, which I think is critical. At the national conference, I heard a woman speak about her experience as a student in Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. It sounded amazing, and I wanted to do it. But with a job, a spouse, and our young son, I didn’t have much time and even less money.
Four years later, I took out student loans and entered the program! I graduated in 2006 and have been writing fiction for young people seriously since then.
SCBWI and MFA programs like VCFA are true-blue learning opportunities for anyone in this industry, to be sure! Do tell more!
I signed with Kelly in May 2020 (my birthday week and during a pandemic!). Fourteen years is a loooooong time to write seriously, dream of being published, and not be! One issue: I was a reluctant querier. After writing six novels, the one I sent Kelly was only the second I’d queried. I also experienced a serious illness during that time. Anyway, Kelly sold my middle grade novel about a year after I signed with her.
It was awesome!
The answer to your second question—why do you love it?—is why I kept writing. I love how writing allows me to constantly learn, experiment, and improve. The “kidlit years” offer such rich material, and I very much still feel like a kid inside! When I was young, books were a lifeline, and it is my biggest dream to pay it forward and create work that inspires young readers, makes them think, and gives them hope.
Hope is so important in these uncertain times. I heard one of your projects of the heart was acquired recently. Do tell, what's it about?
I just turned in a revision for Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties, a contemporary middle grade novel and my debut, which is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2022 by Albert Whitman and Co. The story was inspired by my move to Denver in early 2015. After living in Iowa for about 100 years, the only thing I knew about Denver was that my spouse had a job there. (That “young son” of ours had just graduated from high school!) I was in a bit of a funk about my writing, and my dear friend, Sarah Aronson, suggested I take a playful approach. I took her words to heart! Colorado was so different, and I knew I’d never again see it with new eyes. Everyone loves Colorado, including me, and it was fun to write my protagonist’s contrarian view.
Here’s the book's blurb that ran in Publisher’s Weekly: "When her father takes her to Colorado to meet his girlfriend for the first time, 12-year-old Ava must come to grips with both her newly diagnosed anxiety disorder and her rapidly changing family. But she learns from the mountains that it's okay to want two opposite things at once, and that the bravest people are the ones who are scared but do what's right anyway."
My move to Colorado was the shakeup I didn’t know I needed, and it also triggered a lot of anxiety. I was diagnosed with anxiety in the late ’90s, as an adult, but I believe it’s something I probably was born with and always have had. I finished the first draft of this story in late 2016 and, even then, anxiety in young people was a growing concern. Obviously, the pandemic has made it so much worse, creating serious mental health challenges for many young people. I’m glad that mental health is being discussed more openly now, and I hope my story can serve as a mirror or window and sliding glass door—to use literary scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s iconic metaphors—for middle grade readers.
Dad's Girlfriend and Other Anxieties sounds like a great MG read! What do you love about working with Kelly Dyksterhouse of Raven Quill Literary?
I love everything about working with Kelly! She’s scary-smart! She’s also kind, funny, responsive, and grounded. She’s very insightful and an excellent editor. She has solid industry experience and, at the same time, as a relatively new agent, she’s highly motivated to build and deepen relationships with editors. I also appreciate how genuinely positive she is. It’s about keeping the focus on what’s important—the joy of creating and making a difference in young people’s lives. I love how Kelly is helping her clients create our mini-flock community, too!
I also feel incredibly grateful to be part of the bigger flock! Shout out to founder and agent Jacqui Lipton, the other agents Kortney Price and Lori Steel, and assistant Lindsay Flanagan, who are really working hard to create something special at Raven Quill Literary Agency.
I agree! Raven Quill is an amazing kidlit place to be planted! Thanks for stopping by Kellye, and do let us know when your book releases so we can throw it a launch party!
Thanks for having me, Dionna, and will do!