Monday, November 14, 2011

On Writing for Young People ~ Guest post by Catherine Austen

Today Catherine Austen is stopping by to share about her experience for writing for young people.  Finding good books for children to read is one of the challenges that I am trying to take on here at Bookworm Lisa.   So without further commentary from me, let's here from Catherine!

On Writing For Young People
By Catherine Austen

“I can’t survive without knowing what happens next!” That’s what my youngest son cried one night when I closed the book we were reading. (The chapter was a cliff-hanger, one of many in the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda.) 

There is something special about the way young people react to books. “Read it again!” preschoolers shout on rainy afternoons with a pile of picture books. “You have to read this—it changed my life,” teens whisper in the fiction section of libraries. 

Books really do open doors for young people. Some open tent flaps by bringing a silly character to life for a toddler. Some open stuck lockers by making history fun for a middle-grader. Some open windowless towers by shining hope into a lonely teen’s life. (And some books open doors that parents would rather keep closed for a few more years.) 

Like most writers, I wrote for many years before publishing my first book. As a university student, I wrote about a dozen short stories for small literary journals. I expected that I would always write for adults as a sort of sideline career. 

But mainline careers and families have a way of exhausting a person, and for years I didn’t write much at all. (Fiction, that is. I wrote a lot of papers and proposals. I am always amazed by people with full-time jobs and toddlers who find the time and the psychological space to write books. I couldn’t.) 

When I quit office life to raise kids and write freelance, I expected that I would return to stories for adults. But as a parent I was immersed in children’s books:  reading to my own children, volunteering in a school library, getting acquainted with great children’s stories, seeing the joy books bring into young lives. So I tried writing stories for kids. 

I wrote my first children’s story in 2003. It was not good enough to publish but it was not completely horrible, so I wrote more. And more. For years I persevered, surviving off brief editorial encouragements scrawled on rejection letters. I came close to giving up. (It’s really hard to see the point in writing for children if your work never reaches children.) But I didn’t give up.

In 2008, I signed my first contract with Kids Can Press for a picture book, My Cat Isis (published early this year with gorgeous illustrations by Virginie Egger). My first children’s novel, Walking Backward, was published in 2009 by Orca Book Publishers and was nominated for several Canadian literary awards. This fall, I published two more books: 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6, a middle-grade novel with Lorimer, and All Good Children, a teen novel with Orca. 

I’m awfully glad I didn’t give up.  

I hope to publish stories for adults again someday, but I won’t stop writing for children and teens. I am thrilled to think that my books have opened doors for young people. And I just can’t get enough of their reactions. 

“This author seems to know what it’s like to be a kid,” a teen reviewer wrote about All Good Children.

“This is so funny I laughed out loud,” a tween girl emailed about 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6. 

“I’m going to be a writer, too,” a third-grade boy said after I read My Cat Isis at his school. His full reaction was, “She’s a writer and she’s just someone’s mom? Wow. I’m going to be a writer, too.”

That’s a door I’d like to see all young readers pass through. 

Catherine was kind enough to send me copies of her books to review.  I will be reading and reviewing them in January.  I am really looking forward to sharing them with you.  They sound wonderful.  If you would like more information on the blog tour, you can go here.

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