Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.
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Earlier this month, I reviewed One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck with illustrations by Yasmeen Ismail. Today I'm thrilled to share an interview with Jim Averbeck where he shares some great words and ideas about writing. Welcome, Jim!TMT: Sophia is a character who loves her words! What are your top five favorite words and why?
Jim Averbeck: If you mean individual words then:
- Serifobia - When I saw the new Google logo, this word popped into my mind. I’m sure I’m not the first to utter it. I love portmanteau words.
- Dipsomaniac - because “alcoholic” sounds so clinical and this word has a great retro vibe to it.
- Curmudgeon - because it just sounds like what it is and I am well on my way to being one.
- Idyllic - because I want more of this feeling in my life.
- Diligent - because it sounds like intelligent, but let’s you know right up front that intelligence is not enough. In fact diligence sounds twice as important.
I loved reading your book.
TMT: Throughout the book, Sophia has to try, try, and try again. I love her story of perseverance. When it comes to writing and the revision process, can you share any strategies that work to help you persevere?
Jim Averbeck: The best way I’ve found to persevere is to split all the tasks of writing and revision into little pieces, so I don’t get overwhelmed. I feel a sense of accomplishment even when I am a long way from finished.
Brownies can also be broken into little pieces (and eaten) to help you persevere.
TMT: In a Kirkus interview you shared how your critique group writes a story to a theme every year. This sounds like a lot of fun and a way to challenge each other. Can you tell us more about this?
Jim Averbeck: The Assignment, as we call writing to a theme each Christmas, came about because we have a holiday party every year, and we didn’t want to critique while eating, drinking and making merry. I’m pretty sure it was Yuyi Morales’ idea. Her book VIVA FRIDA that won a Caldecott Honor this year was from the theme “baby book” — the same as my own book EXCEPT IF. In fact, four of the six members sold books on that theme. ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA was also an Assignment book —the theme being “one word.”
We haven’t picked a theme yet this year. Last year’s theme was “bad uncle.” I have a book by that name that seems close to being picked up by a publisher. Cross your fingers.
At a meeting two week before our Christmas meeting, we each call out a few ideas for the theme. The theme is not a story idea or plot, but just a few words to prompt writing. We like themes that can be interpreted in several ways. We usually end up with several to choose from, so no one feels stymied. Then you have two weeks to bring a completed story. It’s my belief that the tight time constraint and lack of expectation that the story will be good somehow result in excellent stories. Probably eight to ten published or under-contract books have been a result of The Assignment.
TMT: Can you share any other ways your critique group challenges/supports you?
Jim Averbeck: My critique group is an integral part of my creative process. From high level things like concepts and ideas right down to punctuation. Oh - and one of them had a snoring dog, which gave me the inspiration for the sequel to ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA.
TMT: What is the best writing advice you have received and what advice would you give student writers?
Jim Averbeck: My concrete, practical advice is to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It is a great organization that costs very little to join. The dues will easily be paid off with the amount of time you save by not having to research editors and agents. They’ve done that for you. And you can attend conferences and learn a lot about the craft of writing, as well as network with people in the industry. They’ve launched a number of hugely successful careers.
Also: Creators spend a lot of time, when we are recharging through interaction and observation of the world, creating nothing, or when we are experimenting, creating garbage. These are both essential to the creative process. Don’t feel guilty about the former or discouraged by the latter.
TMT: At Teach Mentor Texts, I'm all about promoting literacy and spreading the love of books. How would you finish these statements: Reading is... and Writing is...
Jim Averbeck: Is it okay if I use stronger action verbs here? Like:
Writing enables you to soar through time, space, and other dimensions.
Reading enables you to bring others along - even when it’s raining.
Thank you so much to Jim for sharing these great insights into his writing life! I know I would love to hear what his writing group comes up with for a theme this year. It sounds like a great activity for student writers!