Today, the spotlight is focused on Patricia Tilton, who blogs at Children’s Books Heal, is a retired journalist with a keen interest in spirituality and humanitarian outreach, as well as serving children with special needs. She lives in the United States.
Pat is also an active member of Emma Walton Hamilton’s Children’s Book Hub, and we met in person at SCBWI LA ’11 (the annual Summer Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, held in Los Angeles every summer). As I mentioned in my blog post on Monday, four of us, Pat, Joanna Marple, Diane Tulloch, and I have shared this association, and I am grateful for this connection.
Pat, thanks so much for participating in this Spotlight Interview. Could you tell us briefly about the life-path that has led you to where you are today?
Thank you, Beth. Your choice of words “life-path,” is perfect for me. And, it certainly has not been traditional. I may not know what is around the corner, but it has been rich and full of opportunities, unexpected twists and turns, sadness, trauma, beauty, joy and wonder. I may think I know where I’m headed, but my life experiences have taught me differently. My 35 years on newspapers and in public relations was excellent professional training. My humanitarian work has always been a priority. But, my real life training began when I embarked upon my spiritual path. I have spent 25 years studying with wonderful teachers and mentors, most of whom have been “wise women” in my life. That training prepared me for a life-threatening brain injury in 2004, which altered my life considerably. When I came out of a coma, I was a woman trapped in an infant’s body unable to move, speak, walk, eat, or care for myself. I knew that all I could do was live in the moment and do what I needed to at that time. I spent three years in intensive Rehab and had to retire from my career. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets. Each experience has enriched my life carried me to a new place.
What prompted you to consider writing for children?
I often thought about writing for children, but I was busy professionally and raising a family. After my injury I began to read again. I started with familiar children’s books and novels. I felt so much joy as I delved into the enchanting world of children’s literature. That joy rekindled my earlier passion. Two years ago, I felt I was ready to reinvent myself, and I knew I wanted to write for children. I felt I may have something to offer. I knew writing in a new genre required a teacher. That teacher appeared in Emma Walton Hamilton.
What sets your writing apart? What is your focus? Without giving away proprietary details, what sorts of projects do you have in the works?
Right now I’m writing picture books with an emphasis on children with special needs, but my 12×12 PB lists reflect other story ideas too. Both of our children had special needs growing up. They also were adopted. I know how important it is for children to see and read books about themselves. I hope the books I write are more inclusive characterizations of children with special needs. I want children to be seen for who they are, and not for the limitations of their disabilities. I know that as an adult with a disability, I want people to see my abilities. Kids feel the same way.
Tell us a bit about your blog, what you do there, and what you hope to add to the Kidlit blogosphere through your particular focus?
I specifically chose to use “heal” in my blog name, because I felt it more inclusive of what I wanted to communicate — books have the power to heal. It’s a broad category ranging from the autism spectrum, cerebral palsy, OCD, autoimmune disease, hearing and visual impairments to Down Syndrome, anxiety, ADHD, adoption, divorce, pet loss, PTSD, suicide, and grief. I also target books that are multicultural, about peace, conflict resolution, homelessness, virtues, and the power of music and the arts to heal. Each book is hand-picked for the quality of its message.
The one thing my blog has taught me is that there is a huge gap in the number of PB, MG and YA novels for children with special needs. With over 7 million special needs children in the US attending public schools, kids should be able to find books where they can read about someone like themselves. There has been a significant increase in recent years in books on autism, some with very strong protagonists telling their stories. But, try to find a good book for your child/teen on Lupus, or cerebral palsy – there are very few.
You have taken the Just Write For Kids online/home study course in picture book writing, as have I. What, for you, was of the most value in the course? Would you recommend it to other aspiring writers?
Yes, I would recommend JWFK to aspiring authors. I have a number of books about writing for kids, but there is nothing like a hands-on course led by an experienced teacher like Emma Walton Hamilton. Just Write For Kids was comparable to taking a college writing course. Her program is very comprehensive and good! Each lesson builds upon the previous lesson. I learned so much about ideas, character development, narrative, plot sequencing and finding my voice as a writer. Emma was very present as I worked through each lesson and answered my questions. When I finished I had a completed draft. I have all of my JWFK lessons in a notebook on my desk and I still refer to favorite pages when I begin a new draft.
You’re also active in the Children’s Book Hub and the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group. Could you share with us briefly what the Hub means in terms of your writing life?
Joining the Hub over a year ago was my first real contact with other authors and aspiring writers. The community is very important to me as it provided such a secure and supportive place for feedback and discussion. We have the benefit of Emma’s monthly expert interviews (webinars) with the top authors, editors, agents, marketing specialists, and publishers in children’s literature. I was thrilled to have access to so much information and wisdom. My favorite webinars are the Q&A sessions with Emma where we get down to the nuts and bolts of writing, character development, strong narratives, developing plots, writing query letters and creating our platforms. I appreciate her preparation and the research she does on our behalf. By the time I attended the SCBWI conference in LA last summer, I felt very prepared for the conference. I already had a great deal of insight into the publishing world and could keep up. Joining the Hub was the best decision I made.
You’re a member of SCBWI – what does that provide in your life as a writer?
I had so much fun attending the national SCBWI LA conference last summer, and meeting you, Joanna and Diane. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from seasoned authors, agents, and publishers. I had fun networking with so many people and making new friendships. And, it was exciting having the chance to have my manuscript and query letters reviewed by top agents and my peers. It is important to be a member, because of the many services SCBWI make available to aspiring writers. Joining SCBWI is the first thing an aspiring author should do.
Everyone is busy these days. I’ve discovered that “Busy” has become a standard answer to the question “How are you?” How do you carve out writing time in the daily demands of your own life?
It’s a balancing act. Two years ago, it was so much easier. I wrote daily with little distraction. Now that we have to focus on building our platforms through social media and self-promotion, I’m finding it more challenging to find my creative writing time. I can write any time of the day. But, I do find that I am most creative late at night. Sometimes, I wish I could turn the clock back a year, when my manuscripts were the center of my universe. I’m finding it important to set boundaries. I know I’m not alone.
Any words of advice or encouragement for other writers?
Only the author advice that has meant the most to me – write what you want to read, write and rewrite, and find your own unique voice as a writer.
Quick and Quirky:
Of all the places in the world, where would you most like to visit and why? I’d like to visit Pondicherry, India, because we adopted our son from an orphanage there.
Favorite food? Salmon with fresh asparagus.
What is your favorite non-book-related way to relax? Meditating, listening to classical music and walking.
If you could spend a day with any fictional character, who would it be? Anne Shirley, “Anne of Green Gables.”
Favorite real-life hero, if any? Mother Teresa