Writing for Children

Introducing Sandy Carlson, Children’s Author

Today I want to introduce you to my friend and amazing children’s author, Sandy Carlson. Sandy’s most recent book, War Unicorn (MuseItYoung, an imprint of MuseItUp) was released on September 2, 2014. So let me start by saying “Congratulations Sandy!” I’m so happy you took the time to stop by my blog to talk about your writing journey. Welcome!

Author Sandy Carlson shows us where she’s from using the famous Michigan “hand map!”

First of all, tell us a little about yourself- where you’re from, we’re you’ve been and where you’re going- you know, that kind of stuff:

I was born in Michigan, but lived in six other states before coming back here ten years ago. Woodlands-wetlands Michigan is so home to me. I was teaching and raising two boys and moving around the country with my hubby and going on many adventure. But I credit the Internet and SCBWI’s connectivity in keeping me writing through the years.

I know how difficult the writing journey can be, so can you tell us how it feels to have this newest book out? 

My latest book is a tween fantasy called WAR UNICORN about a 14-year-old apple farmer magician on a mission with an ancient war unicorn while war threatens the nation. It is published through MuseItUp, but is now available on just about every eBook format. I had some wonderful editors who knocked my socks off as far as pointing out things I had given no thought to – like using specific coin measurements v.s. “three coins.” Details like that are very important in a story, you know. Their eyes and working with me made my words shine. I am grateful to them. I also love the story myself and the characters.

Talk a little bit about what got you interested in writing in general and in particular, writing children’s books?

I have been a storyteller my entire life. It was only when I realized I could reach a larger audience that I started seriously writing for others. And as far as writing for kids…I’m a kid myself in heart and soul, no matter what my physical age may seem to indicate.

The writer world seems to be broken into two categories these days: traditional publishing and non-traditional publishing. Can you tell us why you chose the non-traditional route for your books and what the experience has been like?

I decided to go the non-traditional route after thirty years of being published in small publications, but without a book contract. And then came a health issue and I knew I just had to get my stories out there for others to read. I self-published three middle grade books in 2013 and three in 2014, plus my eBook with Muse. There are many other “finished” novels in various places, but I don’t think I’m in as much of a hurry to get them out in any sort of publication. I’m more willing now to take my time – along with the thousands of things I could and should be doing with marketing and promotion.

If we writers are paying attention, story ideas can jump out at us from some crazy places. Where did the idea for War Unicorn come from? 

I have always been interested in fantasy, whether it was popular or not. Most unicorns I’ve read about are cutey critters which are fine for the preschool crowd. But I wondered what it would be like to meet an ancient unicorn with an attitude, one who was seasoned in battles. My war unicorn is rude and demanding, but still an ancient and magical creature who develops a friendship with the boy.

So Sandy, along with being a children’s book author, you’re also a busy speaker and blogger in the world of kidlit. Talk to us a little bit about the kinds of presentations you do and about your blog!

Without an agent or editor to gently guide me, last year was a crazy year. I really didn’t know what I was doing, so tried to do it all—school visits, booksignings, festivals, author fests, presentations to retirement homes, etc. For my Michigan historical fictions angle, I do a presentation about Victorian Michigan, about the fires of the late 1800’s, and of logging and sea travel on the Great Lakes. You can’t take the teacher out of me. I love history. As a former literacy coach, I also want kids to learn how to become better writers. I love encouraging writing in general, but if I can help others write well, I feel I’ve accomplished something good. (I also have a Writing Well Workshop for school visits.)

I always like to leave my readers with two take-aways from each blog post…a little sensibility and sense for the journey. What sensibility and sense would like to leave our guests with today?

Sensibility Develop your writing. Learning how to better your craft is a thousand times more important than getting your name on a book cover. Go to conferences, read books on craft, become part of critique groups, read-read-read all sorts of things, and send out your manuscripts to editors and agents. Keep reading and writing, and never, ever give up.

Sense- I’d honestly encourage people not to rush into non-traditional publication. It’s a hard-hard route and you end up spending far more time with non-writing elements than writing.


You can learn more about Sandy at her blog, www.sandycarlson.com. WAR UNICORN is now available for Kindle on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/War-Unicorn-S-L-Carlson-ebook/dp/B00MV8VDYG






The Chicken or the Egg? Character Building vs. World Building in Middle Grade Fantasy

Let’s face it…we’ve all asked the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” And when it comes to character building vs. world building, the perspectives are as individual and numerous as there are breeds of chickens. If you’ve ever been to a state fair and visited the poultry barn, you know what I mean. So does it really matter where you begin- with the world or with the character- when writing middle grade fantasy? I think it does.

The more I read in this genre, the more I believe writing a character-driven manuscript that happens to play itself out in another place and time is the way to go. I think about Meg in Madeleine L’Engle’s, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Meg wants what all young girls want: to be understood, loved and accepted for who she is,  in spite of or because of her quirky family. She is fiercely loyal, unfailingly frank and incredibly brave in the face of a crazy-scary adventure. And she comes out of it smarter and stronger, but at her very core, she is still  Meg.

When I took on writing my first middle grade fantasy, I knew I wanted it to be sometime far in the future. I also knew the girl at the center of it all needed to want what all 12-year-old girls want: love, acceptance and security, with a little adventure and romance thrown in. Ada (my MC) could just as easily be in the Old West, the Dark Ages, or flying around in the Enterprise as long as she knows her mother will live, her brother is safe and she can bring something precious back to the people she loves. Does it really matter that society has taken to living in dense forests away from the sun because it’s against the law to cut the trees? Or that an evening of fun for Ada means shadow games with her mother as she rests in the glow of her light therapy bed, instead of going to the movies with friends? Not really. At the end of the day, what matters most is that Ada loves her home, that her mother is sick, and that she has to find a way to save them all.

I know what you’re thinking, “Fantasy that works must have a world that works.” And that’s true. But when I think about Ada and her family, they’re not very unlike my great grandmother, who rode onto her land in a covered wagon, or my Cherokee ancestors for whom staying alive was a daily battle.

I don’t claim to know the perfect answer here. Remember, this is a blog for imperfect writers! But I know that for me it just feels right to create a memorable character- human and real to her very core- and build a world around her.

All those chickens at the state fair want the same thing: a little food, a little water, a place to scratch, and a cozy roost to sleep in and lay their eggs; no matter how fancy their feathers or how loud their cluck. And whether it’s yesterday, now, or in the future, most of your characters need, want and search for the same things.

Sensibility- Creating a fantasy world can be fun, but take care not to get lost in the fantasy at the expense of the characters who live in the world you create.

Sense- Always start with the chicken. If you start with the egg, you never know what you’ll get.

What is your favorite way to start writing a novel?