The Kid Lit Community is a tight knit group of talented writers, illustrators, publishers, and industry gurus, alike. When one person is successful it isn’t difficult to celebrate that success as if it were our own. Many times, we here at The Writing Barn aren’t just friends with the writers we meet and teach, but fans of them as well. That’s why we’ve created this new blog series entitled ” Success Story Spotlight,” to showcase the achievements of authors who, having studied at The Writing Barn, were able to make their dreams into a reality. by Jessica Hincapie
Success Story Spotlight:
The Right Words
by Christina Soontornvat
This year I sold my first picture book, THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN, to Nancy Paulsen (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin). Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo has just signed on to illustrate! Needless to say, I am over the moon about it all! And none of it would have come about without the Writing Barn.
I took Bethany’s first Picture Book 1 class in the fall of 2013. Even though I had written a middle grade fantasy novel and was already agented when I signed up, I was so nervous about taking the class! Picture books have been a huge part of my life and I have always had enormous respect for the art form. I felt like there was no way I had what it takes to write high caliber picture books. But Bethany was so warm and encouraging. She had us share our goals and our fears, and revealed that she was even more nervous about teaching the class than I was about taking it! That helped to break the ice. In the following weeks, she had us dive right into the craft. We dissected dozens of books to understand structure, pacing, and page turns. Picture books slowly started to seem less mysterious and I gradually started to get more confident.
I wrote the RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN as an assignment for the course. Bethany and my other classmates critiqued it, helping me to make it better and better each time. But by the time the class ended Bethany and I agreed that the story was missing something. It just wasn’t quite there yet. She could have told me it was ready (because it very nearly was), but instead she advised me to set it aside for a little while until I could find “the heart” of my story. So I did. I put it in a drawer and worked on other things. And then one day, eight months later, I realized what the heart of my story was. I rewrote the ending, sent it to my agent, and within weeks we had the offer from Nancy Paulsen.
I have gone back to the version I wrote for Bethany’s class and the final one that got the offer. They are almost identical except for the just a few sentences! But I truly believe that taking the time to find the heart of my story is what took it to the next level. If there is one big takeaway that I have learned from that first class, it is to be patient. Not just with the glacially slow process of getting published, but with the craft itself. The right words don’t always come to the surface immediately, but they are there. And they are worth the wait.
Every chance I get I go back to the Barn. This spring I took the Picture Book Intensive, “Past, Present, and Future”. It would take me an entirely separate article to rave about the faculty (Neal Porter! Alexandra Penfold! Betsy Bird!), my fellow students, and the rejuvenating experience of just being at the Barn. And every time I’m there I see an author that I think of as having totally “made it”, but who has come as a student to listen and learn just like I have. That’s the sort of atmosphere of lifelong learning the Writing Barn cultivates. Most of the time writing is a pretty solitary, sluggish pursuit. So it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to be with other writers, learn something new, and open myself up to receive those words I’ve been waiting for.
Christina Soontornvat spent most of her formative years either manning the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant or loitering around local science museums. After earning degrees in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.) and Science Education (M.S.), she spent the next ten years in the informal science education field as an educator, exhibit developer, and consultant. She still hangs out in museums whenever she can. She began writing fiction soon after her eldest daughter was born. Her and her family travel often to the woods of rural Tennessee, the inspiration for my first novel’s setting. It’s a magical place where, in the right light, you can spot a gaggle of faerie children running barefoot through the trees. Or that might just be her daughters and their cousins, up to their usual mischief. She is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is represented by Elena Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties.