Lisa L. Owens, Author of the Month: On Sharing My Writing Life with Young Readers

Love my office!

Kids always ask what it’s like to be a writer, so I focus one of my favorite talks on exploring that. The presentation works well for both in-person and Skype visits, and I can easily adjust the length and content for different ages and/or any curricular objectives a host school might request.

I start by giving students a peek at my office so they can picture where I work — then I briefly walk them through what they’re seeing to help reinforce the message that the writing I do to produce the books they read is my job. A fun job, for sure, but it does require dedication, hard work, and the mastery of certain skills and tools.

Yes, that’s me. Age 4.

Next, I take them back in time (way back!) to what I consider the beginning of my writing life. Some of the milestone activities I discuss as I track that life to the present include:

  • being read to, which ignited a deep emotional attachment to books 
  • learning to read, which expanded my world; helped me understand myself and cultivate empathy for others; exposed me to storytelling techniques; and developed my sense of language patterns
  • frequenting the library, where the possibilities for what to read next were endless 
  • learning to write, which freed me to experiment with words and all the ways one might try to arrange them
  • beginning a personal writing practice (I kept diaries for more than 30 years, starting as a pre-tweener; these days I write daily Morning Pages instead, as that practice better supports the writing I do “on the job”) 
  • studying the craft of writing in school and, to be frank, doing so forevermore
  • scoring my first publication credit, which led me to different jobs in the publishing industry before I wrote my first children’s book . . . which in turn led to my now having written upwards of 90 titles (and counting)

Only in hindsight did I recognize just how early those stepping stones on my path to becoming a writer started appearing in front of me. Is that destiny in action? I can’t answer that, but at this stage of my life, I can confidently say that writing is one of my body’s basic needs. I’d still do it even if I knew I’d never publish another thing. I’d have to.

Because writing is so much a part of me, I truly enjoy showing young people how I was able to turn something I love into a career. And I especially like helping them see the variety of ways writing, whether they do it seriously or just for fun, can enhance their lives now and in the future, no matter what paths they choose to follow.

For the privilege of doing all that, I am thankful indeed.

A few of my books, clockwise from the upper left: an early chapter book set during the Chicago World’s Fair; a graphic novelization of Anna Sewell’s classic tale; an in-depth study of the Great Chicago Fire for MG/YA; and one of the titles from my nonfiction picture book series on the solar system



Good News from the Online Author Visits Team!

Here’s a peek at what our members have been up to this month:

OAV authors Erik Brooks, Dori Hillestad Butler, Dana Sullivan, Laurie Thompson, Trudi Trueit and Suzanne Williams recently joined their Northwest colleagues in Seattle for the Inside Story. Educators, booksellers and book lovers of all ages packed the auditorium above Mockingbird Books to hear our authors talk about what inspired their new books. The event is sponsored by the Western Washington Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award to OAV’s own Laurie Thompson for her inspiring book, Be A Changemaker. The Crystal Kite is an award voted on by peers, recognizing outstanding books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world. Congratulations, Laurie!

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OAV authors Martha Brockenbrough and Janet Lee Carey joined YA authors and hundreds of YA librarians at the YALSA Symposium in Portland, Oregon. Highlights included the Book Blitz–a terrific confluence of energized YA librarians and YA authors coming together at a single Saturday evening book signing. Martha and Janet signed stacks of The Game of Love and Death and In the Time of Dragon Moon for library shelves and lucky teen winners in libraries across the U.S. Generous publishers (Scholastic for Martha B. and Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin Random House for Janet C.) donated books for the YALSA Blitz. Here’s Martha with Mindy Mathis, a Napa library. A good time was had by all!

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Martha Brockenbrough‘s Game of Love and Death continues to collect awards. It was one of Amazon’s YA Books of the Year and also made Publisher’s Week’s Best of the Year list for YA.
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The sixth book in Dori Hillestad Butler‘s Haunted Library series, The Ghost at the Fire Station, launched on November 3 and to celebrate her publisher sent her on tour! She visited schools and bookstores in Fort Collins, Chicago and Miami. The highlight of the tour was reconnecting in person with her 6th and 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Hartshorn. When Dori was in 6th grade, she wrote a novel for
Mr. Hartshorn for extra credit. She believes she is an author today in part because of his response to that novel.

Dori’s first Haunted Library book also won the Silver Falchion award for “Best Children’s Chapter Book” at Killer Nashville, a place for thriller, suspense and mystery writers and literature lovers.

If you’re in the Seattle area, visit Dori and the 26 other local authors who are participating in the Seattle 7 Writers Holiday Fest at the Phinney Neighborhood Center on Saturday, November 21 from 3:00 until 5:00.

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November is Picture Book Idea Month and Joan Holub helped kick off PiBoIdMo 2015 with three ways she comes up with ideas. And she’s giving away a wooden castle to celebrate idea #2, which inspired her new picture book, The Knights Before Christmas. Read to the end of her post on ideas for a chance to enter!

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In addition to the Crystal Kite award, Laurie Ann Thompson has a couple of other new awards to smile about. Emmanuel’s Dream won a Eureka Nonfiction Honor Award from the California Reading Association and Be a Changemaker received a Gold Medal from the Moonbeam Award.

She also recently returned from the AASL annual conference in Columbus, Ohio, where she met many inspiring teacher librarians, signed books, and moderated a panel on “Changemakers in Society: Books that Motivate Kids to Solve Problems and Make the World a Better Place,” featuring fellow nonfiction authors Shana Corey, Loree Griffin Burns, Melissa Steward and Don Tate.

And she released this new book trailer for My Dog Is the Best.

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Trudi Trueit is excited to again be in the author line-up for Sno-Isle Regional Library’s AUTHOR NEXT DOOR series. Come meet her, along with seven other Northwest authors, at this relaxed panel format on Saturday, December 5 at the Mountlake Terrace Library from 2:00 to 3:30pm. Don’t miss this fun event! Probing questions will be answered at deep secrets reveals (writing secrets, that is!). Books will be available for purchase following the event.

Trudi had a great time recently skyping with 3rd to 5th grade students at Old Town Elementary School in Maine all the way from her home in Seattle! The students asked some insightful questions, including one she’d never had before: how does writing affect your social life? The answer? Writing is a solitary career, but she gets out as much as she can!
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Cover Reveal!!! Suzanne Williams reports that she and Joan Holub are thrilled that two more books will be added to their Grimmtastic Girls series in 2016. Book 7: Snowflake Freezes Up releases on April 26. “Snowflake isn’t sure which fairy tale character she is. But with her magical powers causing lots of trouble, she’s definitely on thin ice! So just in case she might be a villain, Snowflake is chilly to her classmates. Can she keep her cool until she knows her whole story or will her social life at Grimm Academy be permanently frozen?