New Jersey children’s author Tami Charles was the Keynote Speaker at the 2018 NJSCBWI June Conference. Recently, we took a break with Tami to catch up on all her latest happenings in the kidlit world…
Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, and nonfiction. Her middle-grade novel, Like Vanessa, earned Top 10 spots on the Indies Introduce and Spring Kids’ Next lists, three starred reviews and a Junior Library Guild selection. Her recent titles include a picture book biography, Fearless Mary, a humorous middle-grade novel, Definitely Daphne, and forthcoming titles published by Sterling, Charlesbridge, Candlewick Press, and more. When Tami is not writing, she can be found presenting at schools both stateside and abroad. (Or sneaking in a nap…because sleep is LIFE!)
NJSCBWI: Congratulations on your latest book release of Fearless Mary: The True Adventures of Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver. How did this one come about?
TC: Thanks so much! One day during Women’s History Month, I browsed Facebook and an interesting article appeared in my newsfeed: “Mary Fields Put the ‘Wild’ in Wild West.” The picture showed a woman proudly perched on a stagecoach. The look on her face told a story of hardship and triumph. I had to learn more about her! This is how FEARLESS MARY was born.
NJSCBWI: Is this your first non-fiction picture book?
TC: Yes and no. ☺ I landed my first book deal with my nonfiction picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, which hasn’t published yet. (Oh, joy!) FEARLESS MARY was my second nonfiction picture book deal, though it published first.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
TC: Initially, I wrote FEARLESS MARY using a cradle-to-grave method, where I told the story of her life from beginning to end and all the fabulous bits in between. I couldn’t sell the book that way, so it was back to the drawing board. Then, I tried writing it in stanzas with a refrain, in the vein of THIS IS THE ROPE by Jacqueline Woodson. (I LOVE that book!) But nope, that didn’t work either! Finally, I tried a different approach—zooming in on what, both my agent and I agreed, was the most fascinating part of her life. It was this shift in focus that sealed the deal! The quest for Mary to land the job and earn the respect she deserved was what the story needed all along.
Do you have other non-fiction books in the queue?
TC: I do! I’ve written a middle-grade biography of tennis legend, Serena Williams, entitled GOAT: MAKING THE CASE FOR THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME. That publishes with Sterling in 2020. I also have two more that I can’t announce yet!
NJSCBWI: You are a writer who manages to excel in a variety of genres and for a variety of ages. How do you choose your projects?
TC: Truly, it’s, however, the Muse guides me. (Also, thank you for the compliment!) I don’t think I could just write novels as much as I don’t see myself writing only picture books. I write as widely as I read. Literally.
NJSCBWI: Can you tell us something about what inspires you and your ideas for the books you write?
TC: Being a parent and former teacher inspires almost all of my ideas. My students gave me the green light to follow this author dream. My smart, athletic, sometimes pain-in-the-butt son gives me new material daily! I’m thankful for the wonderful children in my life who fill it with funny, heartfelt story ideas!
NJSCBWI: What top pieces of advice would you give to other members based on your personal experiences?
TC: I have two pieces of advice:
- Networking is a living, breathing force. Take advantage of the opportunities that the SCBWI provides to connect with the writing community. By attending conferences, workshops, and socials, I have met valuable critique partners and connected with dream editors who I have gone on to work with. You can’t put a price on that.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t compare your success to others. It comes in all shapes and sizes.
My two cents!
Thanks, Tami, and best wishes for future successes!
For more about Tami, check these out …
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tamiwrites/ and best wishes for future successes!
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