Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Author Appreciation Week - Karen English

I wouldn't even have a writing career if it weren't for the kindness of one of my favorite authors - Karen English.

If you're not familiar with her work, you should be. She has written some of my kid's favorite books including NADIA'S HANDS, HOT DAY ON ABBOT AVENUE the MG novel FRANCIE.

Back in 2004, I decided that I wanted to write a children's book. I typed up a couple of stories and joined SCBWI. One of their publications listed local authors, and not having a clue about critique groups, I emailed some of the authors on the list. Karen was the only one who wrote me back.

Despite being very well published and a busy teacher, she agreed to meet little old me at a coffee shop in Oakland. I brought her my typed-up stories and she was extremely kind and gracious to a new writer who frankly did everything wrong. As she looked at my work, she pointed out what was good and gently pointed me toward what could be better. After (and the highlight of my day) we went to a nearby bookstore and spent an hour looking at kid's books.

Karen did this several times over the next couple of years. Every time I thought I had something viable, we would meet and she would go over it with me. Then we would go to a bookstore. She showed me what was popular and how the business worked. When I finally had a story that wasn't completely cringe-worthy, she suggested I send it to her editor at Clarion. That editor ended up buying that story, which became my first picture book WHEN IT'S SIX O'CLOCK in SAN FRANCISCO.

All along the way, she kept telling me that I was going to succeed. In my copy of her heartbreakingly wonderful book SPEAK TO ME, she wrote to my kids: Thank you for liking my books and thanks for having an extremely talented mother who will one day be a famous writer. Well, I don't know about famous, but I can call myself a writer. And it's all due to Karen. She was embarrassed when I included her in the acknowledgments page of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, and I don't think to this day she realizes the impact a little time and kindness had on this writer.

I'd like to think that I'd act the same way. That in my busy life, if a new writer approached me I'd take time out of my day to meet and encourage them. If Karen taught me anything, it is that our obligation as human beings is to pay it forward.

On this date: In 1958, Tequila was the number one song.


Crystal said...

Wow, Cynthia! How blessed you were/are to have a mentor such as Karen English! I am just in awe because she is one of the main authors whose work I read as research for my own MG historical WIP (work-in-progress). I've read FRANCIE and also a few of her Nikki & Deja titles. She sounds like a truly lovely person. I can see why you chose to spotlight her for Author Appreciation Week. Thanks so much for sharing this, Cynthia. What a wonderful post! :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

What a beautiful tribute!

cynjay said...

Thanks Crystal. Without her encouragement I probably would have written a few stories, gotten discouraged and moved on to something else and missed doing what is really important to me.

Julie_c said...

Wow - that is very generous of Ms. English. I contacted a few people when I joined SCBWI and I didn't hear from anybody - not that I blame them. I can see why you think she's so amazing. I will definitely check out her books!

Swati said...

Hi! I have an unusual request, which I feel embarrassed about, but I hope you will indulge me just a little. I have just read 'Neeny coming, Neeny going' with my 7 year old, and I have been trawling the net unsuccessfully to find a way to contact the author, to thank her for this powerful book. Is it possible at all for you to spare a little time and tell me how to reach her?

It is audacious and frankly, a bit presumptuous that I, who hasn't read any of your books yet, should ask you for another author's email. Please do forgive me. I wouldn't have troubled you if I had been able to find a way to get in touch with Ms. English otherwise.