Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carol Williams on Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers

You're all probably getting tired of hearing me rave about the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. So I went and found someone else to rave about it. Today we are very fortunate to have with us Carol Lynch Williams, who is one of the people who puts on this incredible workshop. And let me just say right here and now, the PINK was HER IDEA.

Hi Carol!

Hey Rebecca!

Thank you for taking some time to tell us about Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

Of course. Thank you for letting me talk about this conference. Lisa Hale, Cheri Earl and I are pretty excited about it.

Would you like to start out by introducing yourself?

I'm a mom and have five beautiful daughters. (And they are gorgy, I promise). Though most people think I am barely 25 myself, my oldest daughter Elise is 23, Laura is 21, Kyra is 19, Caitlynne is 16 and Carolina is 12. I have a nephew who is like my own child. Craig is 25. He is smart as heck. They are the very best parts of who I am. I've been a writer myself for many years (my first book came out WAY back when). My most recent title is The Chosen One about a modern-day polygamist girl and her family and what happens when she bucks the system. I have two novels coming out this year. Glimpse will be released in June. This is about a girl who walks in on her sister trying to kill herself. The next book, Miles from Ordinary, will be released in the fall. It's about a girl who lives with her mentally ill mother and her dead grandfather's ghost. Yup, I always believe in writing about the happy things of life!

Tell us about the history of the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. How did it get started?

We are going to be in Sandy, Utah, this year at the Waterford School; it's a spacious venue that will allow our conference to grow.
So this is the first year for this particular conference--you know--The 2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. BUT--I do have history with the conference at BYU. In fact, Chris Crowe, who is a terrific writer and a professor at BYU, called me up more than a decade ago and said, "If you could attend any conference you wanted, what would it be like?" He and I brainstormed, got together with John Bennion (another BYU professor) and WIFYR was born.

What are you most excited about for this year’s workshop?

What I am MOST excited about this year is that we are in this new venue. Morning workshops are going to be in classrooms that are filled with light. There will be space to move around. And when you all see the auditorium where the plenaries and keynote addresses will be held, you're going to be thrilled. The room is massive. We'll have more room for more people who want to attend the afternoon sessions (attendees can come to this conference for whole-day sessions, or just in the afternoons. It means not working through your novel with a faculty member--but the afternoons are going to be amazing, too). That's another change. The afternoon session is a little bigger--we have a few more breakout sessions.

What is the underlying theme or philosophy that drives this workshop?

We believe that writers and illustrators should work to hone their craft and better understand genre. Our morning workshops are dedicated to helping writers and illustrators create stronger stories and illustrations. We also bring in publishing experts--editors and agents like Kate Angelella from Simon and Schuster, Jennifer Hunt from Little, Brown and Company, and Mary Kole from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.--to help conference participants learn the ropes of publishing. We love it when writers or illustrators from the conference get picked up by agents or sell their work to publishers, but our first goal is focusing on creating strong manuscripts and illustrations.

Who is this workshop most geared towards? Beginners? Writers ready to break in but not yet published? Experienced published authors?

This is a terrific question, Rebecca. Thank you for asking it. This conference is for all writers. We have a beginning class for people who aren't sure what they want to write--picture book, middle grade, young adult or non-fiction. That will be taught by Rick Walton and Cheri Earl who have years of writing and teaching experience between them. We have a new class this year, The Beginning Novel for people who aren't quite sure what to do with an idea or are at work on their first novel. Emily Wing Smith (who has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College is teaching that class for us).

This year is an excellent opportunity for those who have finished a novel or two and want to polish them up a bit, learn about the craft of writing more, listen to editors and agents and see what they might be looking for. By the way, we'll have editors from the local Utah market speaking in a breakout session, so writers and illustrators are going to be able to see nationally and locally what is going on in the publishing world. It's important to note that the editors and agents that come to this conference are coming to find new talent. These conferences that we have been a part of have had HUGE success. In New York, they're asking what is in the Utah water!

We can't forget about our Advanced Classes. Both Sara Zarr and Alane Ferguson have won multiple awards. They know the business of writing inside and out. In fact, all our faculty are crazy good at what they do. Ann Dee Ellis is leading the Contemporary Novel class. Ann Dee has a unique way of writing. Her books are beautiful. And she's an excellent critiquer. (Ann Dee actually got her start at the conference. She was with author Virginia Euwer Wolff of The Make Lemonade Series). Brandon Mull (Fantasy Class) is a New York Times best seller and draws standing room only at some of the events he speaks at. When I wrote Dave Wolverton (Fantasy Class) and asked him if he could participate, he said yes, but that we would have to hurry and get the paperwork to him as he was off to China write a Jackie Chan movie! No, I'm not kidding!

Then we have Bonny Becker who has written several very cute picture books and just won the
E.B. White Read Aloud Award. If you write picture books you need to be with someone who understands this tight market and knows the structure of the picture book. Picture books are selling, just slowly. Our other picture book writer, Kristyn Crow is proof that the market takes on good work. She was discovered a few years back at this conference. Her incredible rhythm got Kristyn published. And she learned from the best--Rick Walton was her teacher. Cool, huh?

Mike Knudson will be teaching the Early Chapter Book class and we are excited to have him with us. School Library Journal says 'rollicking, laugh-out-loud' about Mike's work--an important need when you are writing for the younger audience.

And for all our illustrators--this year we have the award-winning Kevin Hawkes working with us. He is terrific! Kevin illustrated Paul Fleishman's picture book Weslandia, among many, many other picture books.

How's that for an all star lineup?

You have an amazing faculty—some of the most talented people in the business. How do you attract such a stellar cast?

Word of mouth, first of all. Between Lisa, Cheri and I, we have about 40 years experience putting conferences together. People know about the work we have done in the past. They know the success that has come from the many different conferences. Authors and editors go back home and tell their friends what a good time they had in Utah. Editors know that this particular conference brings the best of writers together. The faculty wants to be a part of that success. It's cool to know you might have been a bit of help in directing someone toward publication.

What are some things you hope writers will gain by attending the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop?

An awareness of the market, that editors and agents are nice (mostly human!) and want to publish good work. That great books are written by ordinary people (not including Rick Walton, of course--he is extraordinary). That if you work hard, if you decide this is for you, if you learn the ropes and find out that publishing is possible, you can do it!

What is your favorite thing about the workshop? Is it when you get to sing for everyone at the closing extravaganza?

How did you know? I love that part! Hahahaha! (I hope this year we have backup dancers. Wanna be one, Rebecca? Got some go-go boots??? Actually, we may do a rap this year). Okay, so I love the singing. But the most exciting part is when I hear about someone else getting a book contract, finding and agent, and finally get a book published. That is worth the very long year of hard, hard work. Year before last, our agent Steve Fraser picked up a few clients at the conference. Steve dropped me a line a day or two ago to tell me that he had just sold books three and four for one of these clients. And this past year one of our conference-goers worked on her book with her faculty. She just sold her novel and its being talked about everywhere. After close work with both an editor and agent that she met at this conference, another attendee just sold her novel.

Will there be any grants or scholarships available for those who want to attend?

We'll have a few scholarships available next year.

What can attendees do to prepare in order to get the most out of this event?

I think there are several things a person can do to prepare for the conference. Read the faculties' books, get your manuscripts the absolute best (cleanest, strongest) you can get them before you come to the conference. Read like crazy before hand, write like crazy, too. When you get to the conference, really listen to what is said to you (and others) about the manuscripts that are critiqued. Don't argue with comments on your piece--listen! Decide that you will learn something new every session, every breakout. Look for the learning moments--this week-long conference will be full of them.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the workshop?

First I want people to know that other conferences like this can cost four times as much as ours. We try to keep costs low so this can be an exciting, affordable experience. Next, I want people to know that they should have fun. Lots of fun. You're going to be exhausted by the end of the week. But the experience will leave you jazzed to get writing again. This is a great time to renew your writing batteries. I also want people to know that I am available before the conference this year, if they have any questions. I can help them decide who would be the perfect faculty member for them.

Thanks again for the interview, Carol, and thank you so much for all the hard work you put in to organize the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop!

Thank you, Rebecca. This was a nice interview! And fun, too!

You can learn more about the Writing and Illustrating for Young Reader's Workshop by visiting the website, foryoungreaders.com. You can also hang out with Carol and friends on her blog.


  1. Thanks for that. I was trying to decide if I should go or not and now I know I will. Sounds wonderful!
    Michelle Teacress

  2. I can't wait. I don't know yet how I'm going to make it happen, but somehow I'll get myself there.

  3. I'm going! Hooray! This will be my 2nd year there and I believe there's not a better one you can attend. Really!

  4. Wow! This sounds amazing Rebecca! Thanks for posting it!




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