Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Marla Stewart Konrad

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World Vision is a development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. Marla Stewart Konrad is a speechwriter and communications professional at World Vision Canada. All royalties from the sale of these books go to support World Vision’s work with children.

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Getting There.

MSK:

Getting There is one of two early readers I wrote through my work with World Vision Canada. (The other is Mom and Me.)

I think many North American children have the impression that the rest of the world drives around in minivans and SUVs, just like we do. Getting There is a collection of about 30 photos that shows how children in developing countries get around: riding a reindeer, a yak or a homemade bicycle, being pulled in an oxcart, strapped to their mother’s back while she carries a jug of water, or taking a canoe to get to school. The text that goes along with the photos is very simple.

When my kids were younger, I scoured the library and bookstores to find books that presented life in other cultures in a positive and affirming way. There are some, but not many. I tried very intentionally in these books to communicate through the photos and text the joy and dignity of children and families from every culture.

OBT:

How did you research your book?

MSK:

I pored over thousands of photos from World Vision’s photo library, looking for images that not only showed children using unique methods of transportation, but were also stunning photographs in their own right. None of the photos is mine. They were taken by some of my very talented colleagues from around the world.

OBT:

What's the most unusual method of transportation that you discovered while working on Getting There?

MSK:

The most unusual (and my favorite photo in the book) is of a boy riding a reindeer. The reindeer looks like he’s travelling the speed of light, and his antlers are almost as big as the boy himself.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

MSK:

I wrote the books for children between kindergarten and grade two, but I think babies will also love them (Tundra is talking about turning them into board books for babies). I researched the curriculum needs of the early grades and realized the books would be a good fit as children studied different kinds of communities and different ways of life.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MSK:

My house is empty and quiet, and I’m sitting at my desk (or on the back deck) with a hot cup of tea. The phone isn’t ringing, and I’m not checking emails.

That ideal writing environment happens about once every decade when the planets are all aligned, so what I’ve learned is that I can’t wait until the moment is perfect before I launch into creative work. I’ve used “imperfect writing environment” as an excuse not to write far too often. I’m beginning to learn: I recently got down a whole first draft of a new story idea when my kids were playing Lego in the next room and when I was in the midst of preparing dinner. I took 10 minutes to pour all my ideas out when they were fresh and then came back later to finesse. It wasn’t ideal, but life just isn’t.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

MSK:

Getting There and Mom and Me are my first children’s books. In the next year, I have three more children’s books coming out.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

MSK:

Anne of Green Gables is still one of my favorites. It’s such a wonderful Canadian classic. Every few years I pick it up and read it through again, and I never tire of it.

In Peg and the Yeti, Kenneth Oppel has created the most spunky, feisty, clever red-headed girl since Anne or Pippi Longstocking. It’s illustrated by Barbara Reid whose plasticine artwork is spectacular, as always.

Alphabeasts was a favorite in our house when my kids were small. It’s a very quirky book, which is part of the appeal. Author/illustrator Wallace Edwards won a Governor General’s award for the illustrations.

OBT:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

MSK:

Trust your creativity. Don’t question your ideas or second-guess yourself. Just get them down when the inspiration comes.

Persist. Sometimes the best ideas only come after you’ve written for a while. That’s OK. I often find I have to “write through” a lot of junk before anything worthwhile comes.

Everyone needs an editor. Writers have a tendency to fall in love with their own turns of phrase. The phrases you love the most are probably the ones you need to cut.

Take courses and seminars and get connected with others who like the same genre of writing.

Research like crazy. If you submit your stories to a publisher make sure you know the kinds of things they publish.

OBT:

What is your next project?

MSK:

I’m working on two more books in the World Vision Early Reader series – Grand and I Like to Play – which will be published by Tundra Books in 2010. I also have a children’s picture book, Just Like You, coming out with Zonderkidz in 2010.

Still in the draft stage is a whimsical series of early readers, and a couple of other stories for children which I’ll be pitching to publishers in the next few months.

OBT:

How do you get to where you're going?

MSK:

At the risk of sounding very boring and suburban, I’ll confess: I drive a minivan. When I get a chance, I walk, jog or ride my bike.

For more information about Marla Stewart Konrad’s World Vision Early Readers series, please visit the Tundra Books website at tundrabooks.com.

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