Tami Charles' debut middle grade novel launches this month and the buzz is already high for LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge). The novel is a Junior Library Guild selection and has earned a Kirkus starred review that praises the work as "a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances".
24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to have author Tami Charles join us for a candid interview exploring her path to publication, networking and marketing advice, and some thoughts on how she approaches working in different genres and with different editors.
A big 24 Carrot Writing welcome to Tami. Thank you so much for joining us.
Congratulations on the publication of your debut middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge, Spring 2018)! Can you tell us a bit about your journey from teacher, to freelance writer, to author of a Kirkus starred review middle grade novel? (With ahem…more happy buzz and more books on the way!)
First of all, thanks so much for including LIKE VANESSA on your blog! I was a teacher for 14 years, beginning as a substitute teacher and then an elementary teacher of third and fifth grades. I’d always loved to read and write as a child. As I grew older, I sort of forgot about my dream of becoming an author. Once I became a teacher and started reading wonderful books with my students, my passion was reignited and my students encouraged me to write again. I’m so thankful for them! So, I started writing stories, picked up a few freelance article gigs along the way, which taught me discipline, and once I finished writing LIKE VANESSA, I knew I had to take the plunge.
In an online article, you credited your husband with the quote “If you want to be great at something, you have to surround yourself with people who are doing it and doing it better than you.” How did you act on that advice and how has it made a difference both for your pre-published self and for you now as a debut author?
My husband is one of the smartest (and funniest) people I know. When he told me this, I did the research and found the SCBWI and Women Who Write. Who knew there were organizations out there that supported aspiring writers? I had no clue! Joining these groups put me in touch with critique groups where I had the opportunity to have my work read by other writers. This level of feedback was crucial to improving my craft. I’m certain that being in a critique group played a role in my publishing journey. To this day, I still have online critique partners. The give-and-take is invaluable.
You once wrote “Having the talent is a HUGE part of making it in this industry, but don’t rule out the power of networking.” What is your networking advice? Can you give the 24 Carrot Writing crew a do’s and don’ts list?
To me, networking is everything! My grandmother used to say, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” And she was right! You’ll get what you need to progress if you have the courage to ask for it. My two cents on networking: A thank you note goes a long way (this can be hard copy snail mailed or a quick email). Study the bios of who will appear at writer’s conferences. Get to know the editors’ and agents’ work to see if they’re the right fit for your work. Last but not least, don’t be pushy. Your work should be able to speak for you. If you get a rejection, take it with a grain of sugar. More craft, more work, and your time will come!
What do you wish to accomplish with LIKE VANESSA?
I’d love for readers to take away that no matter what hardship they may face in life, there’s always something beautiful waiting for them if they stay focused on the journey. This, I feel, is what Vanessa learns in the story.
For a bit more on LIKE VANESSA, check out this Author Discussion video.
How about all three? Ha! I do make it a habit to wake up, Monday through Friday, at 4:30 a.m. This is my best time to write when the whole house is sleeping and no one is bothering me for a snack. If I’m on a deadline, I do set (and try to stick to) my goals. But if not, I absolutely just go with the flow.
How have you approached marketing your debut book? What lessons have you already learned? What are you going to do again and what might you avoid next time? Has your experience as a teacher helped you construct school relevant material and visits?
Being a teacher for 14 years really guided my marketing decisions. Ultimately, I write for children, so I knew I wanted to incorporate a strategy that involved young readers and their responses regarding what they got out of the book. I learned a lot in creating this campaign—how to write a script, secure participants, budget, and edit. I don’t regret a second of it. Moving forward, I’m sure I will come up with new ideas.
In the meantime, I’d love to share a reader’s response video below:
You write both fiction and non-fiction, both PB and MG, and I hear that a YA is in the works. Can you talk about the different skill sets you employ to write in those different genres and for those different age groups?
Let me just say that I haven’t written a new picture book since last summer and I MISS THEM SO BADLY!!!! I’ve been busy writing MG and YA these days. And you’re right, I need a different mindset for those. For my current YA, it’s set in 1984, so I had to research slang, clothes, fads and watch way too many old school movies to capture the essence of the story.
Voice is important no matter what you write. To fully immerse myself, I can only work with one category at a time. I find the voice to be snarkier with middle grade than YA. With YA, I can cross certain lines that I can’t with middle grade. There are times I’ll write a swear word and I’ll cringe just a bit, but then I remind myself it’s totally allowed in YA.
With picture books, I have to become a student to capture the inner child as best as I can. This involves reading lots of mentor texts and Disney watching!
How did you find your agent? What have you found most surprising, most rewarding, and/or most daunting about working with an agent?
I found my agent the old fashioned way. I queried her. I can’t say enough about Lara Perkins. I have no clue how she manages to carry her client load and still make me feel like I’m her ONLY client, which I know isn’t true. She has quite the roster of successful authors! Lara is a cheerleader and she gives me a good kick in the literary butt when I need it. Her advocacy for my work has been the greatest reward!
So many writers spend years writing without the input from an editor. How did you find working with an editor? Did the experience differ between editors? And has the experience with your MG been different from working on your PB, FREEDOM SOUP (Candlewick, Fall 2019)?
Picture books are a different animal from middle grade. A lot of the work is in the hands of the illustrator and that takes time. I find the editing to be heavier with middle grade because there are no pictures to rely on. I’ve done some edits on FREEDOM SOUP and there will likely be further small edits once the art is in place. On the other hand, the edits for Vanessa were pretty ongoing and extensive. May I also add that I adore both Karen Boss and Carter Hasegawa? It’s been a great experience!
What is up next for you? And where can readers find you and your books?
Right now, I am revising the follow up to LIKE VANESSA. This will be a companion YA novel featuring Beatriz Mendez, who is a secondary character in LIKE VANESSA. She comes across as a bully in the first book, but in the follow up, we learn her backstory and see her passion for dance reignited. I also have a middle grade novel, DEFINITELY DAPHNE, publishing with Capstone in October.
Thank you Tami. We wish you continued success with LIKE VANESSA and in all your writing endeavors.
If 24 Carrot Writers would like to purchase a copy of Tami's debut novel LIKE VANESSA, please click on the links below. To learn more about Tami, please visit her website at https://tamiwrites.com/ .