for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations
I recently returned to live in the Washington D.C. area after a three-year stint living in Durban, South Africa.
Why Durban, you ask? Most people do. That is definitely a story I will be writing one day – so you'll have to stay tuned for that one.
My first picture book, Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, illustrated by Kimberly McKay (Pemmican Publications, 2013), was published three months after I moved to Durban.
Don't get me wrong - I was thrilled to have this be my first published book, since it is based on my Metis culture.
But traditional promotion proved difficult.
I talked to editors, agents and many authors prior to our move, to get their thoughts on living abroad while publishing in the United States. The majority of them said it was not a big deal because of the internet. While I do believe the internet and emails have certainly made it easier, that didn't help when it came to meeting and greeting readers.
I wasn't able to share Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle with children in South Africa as it was very difficult for them to obtain the book there. So the usual routine of contacting local schools and libraries wouldn’t work.
I had to be creative and I had to reach out. As most of you know, the writing community is an amazing group of people who are only too glad to help. And they didn't disappoint. They took the time to Skype with me to offer their guidance and wisdom. That's how great they are!
Nancy Viau and Kathy Erskine gave me great insight about Skype school visits. I would have really felt lost without them.
They were helpful in terms of how the Skype visit should go, how long it should last and what I should discuss.
They also suggested I offer a free 30-minute Skype visit and if they wanted longer, then I would charge a fee.
Before long, I was talking to fifth graders in Mexico about dancing and fiddling.
|Illustration by Kimberly McKay|
I made a point of staying connected to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators while living in South Africa. Luckily, they have a Cape Town chapter.
New Jersey SCBWI conference, which is one of my favorites. I met so many friends there prior to my move and I wanted to keep that connection, so I made a point to come back every year. I think I even got a prize for traveling the farthest! The prize is really why I did it, shhhhh – don't tell.
But the thing that really sustained me was social media. Seeing my writer and illustrator friends every day on Facebook helped me stay connected and feel a part of the writing community even though I was 10,000 miles away.
I also had a critique partner that I met through SCBWI, Kenda Henthorn, who really was a lifeline for me while living there. She read a lot of my manuscripts and just helped lift me up on days when writing felt overwhelming and I didn't feel worthy of my craft. I would have really felt lonely without her. I can't say enough about the SCBWI and what it has done for me.
In addition, I taught writing classes at bookstores and coffee shops in Durban. Teaching informed my own writing and also helped me learn more about the local culture first hand from my students.
Again, here are quick tips for writing and marketing internationally:
- Seek advice from established authors in target countries.
- Offer online author events to schools, libraries, writing groups.
- Maintain local ties through SCBWI international and its local chapters.
- Stay connected in craft through online critique exchanges.
- Teach writing classes in local venues.
I'm happy to be living back in the D.C. area again – and doing school visits across town, instead of across the ocean.
Although, I do miss South Africa and the monkeys that frolicked in my yard, I have so many stories and kernels of stories yet to take root that South Africa will always be with me and I get the fun part of bringing it to my readers.
Carole Lindstrom is Metis/Ojibwe and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Inspiration for Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle came from her grandfather, a fiddler who could play a mean jig.
Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature highly recommended Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, praising its contemporary setting and inclusion of Metis culture. “I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig.”
Alison Schroeder of University of Manitoba's CM magazine also recommended the book. “This book teaches kids that they don’t need to follow what they are told they should be interested in or good at based on gender, but that they should pursue what they are passionate about.”