Ask a Librarian with Julie Chavez
Shelli R. Johannes is Dark, Twisty, and Super Fun
Shelli R. Johannes may wear lots of hats, but she’s always the best dressed in the room (even on Zoom). Julie talks to Shelli about her co-authoring experience, the importance of having excellent communication and pre-set boundaries when disagreements arise, her two new books coming this year, and how she was excellent at Fortnite mobile but her skills aren’t as strong on the PC. Shelli also shares about her journey from a degree in Marketing to writing dark YA, to now penning and co-writing bright, happy STEM picture books. She’s learned a lot over the years of wearing all those hats, and she shares some recent good advice that will apply to all writers.
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19. Fiona Davis, THE SPECTACULAR34:06New York Times bestselling author Fiona Davis has found her sweet spot writing historical fiction set in and around iconic New York City buildings. In a moment where she found herself without an idea for her next book, she received a perfectly timed email from a woman who offered to tell her all about Radio City Music Hall. Fiona joins Julie in this episode to share about The Spectacular, her research on the Rockettes, her decision to discuss Parkinson’s Disease within the novel, and the real-life inspiration for Marion, the main character of the book. Julie and Fiona also discuss one of the novel’s core questions that remains relevant for women today: What is the cost of suppressing your own individuality and creativity?
18. Anissa Gray, LIFE AND OTHER LOVE SONGS32:26Anissa Gray’s second novel, Life and Other Love Songs, is a braided novel, and Julie thinks it reads like three-part harmony. The journalist and writer joins Julie in this episode to discuss the process of writing a second book on a deadline, the personal challenges Anissa faced in the season of writing this novel, and the reason that this book presented more growing opportunities for her as a writer. Julie and Anissa also discuss the joys of menopause, including insomnia!
17. Juana Medina, ELENA RIDES40:38When she was a child in Colombia, Juana Medina’s mom gave her a boom box to record her stories. Combined with a family that prioritized and nurtured art, Juana grew up seeing drawing as another language. Juana joins Julie in this episode to talk about her winding journey to becoming a professional author and illustrator, the reason we need to deemphasize the importance of pedigree in art, and why we should be encouraging children to continue drawing even as they learn to read and write. Juana’s latest title, Elena Rides, is light, but it had its origins in a serious injury that Juana sustained that changed her perspective, slowed her down, and became a meditation on purpose.
16. Alan Barillaro, WHERE THE WATER TAKES US40:54Alan Barillaro has always been drawing, beginning with making flipbooks out of any textbook that found its way into his creative hands. His years as an animator and actor informed the creation of his first book, Where the Water Takes Us, a beautifully illustrated middle-grade novel for readers of any age who find themselves in an unexpected situation. He joins Julie on this episode to talk about the path from film director to author, the ways that his experience in animation and film support his writing, and the most important question a creator can ask after a mistake: Why didn’t it work?
15. Caseen Gaines, WHEN BROADWAY WAS BLACK41:44When Caseen Gaines sat in a darkened theater to watch the final performance of Shuffle Along, he had no idea that experience would lead to a book. But as soon as he heard “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” he knew he’d be doing research to figure out why he knew the song, but not the show. When Broadway was Black: The Triumphant Story of the All-Black Musical that Changed the World is the exploration of the importance of Shuffle Along and how a show so popular it changed the traffic patterns in New York could be excised from America’s social and cultural memory. Caseen joins Julie to talk about the show’s lasting impact, the person who surprised and delighted him most in his research, and his love of fan culture. He designs his dream dinner party, and Julie confirms that the guests’ imaginary attendance is mandatory.
14. Sarah Mlynowski, BEST WISHES35:24If you’d like advice on how to sustain a writing career, then ask Sarah Mlynowski. A writer is all she ever wanted to be (she has a rejection letter from the fourth grade to prove it), and she’s now been publishing books for over twenty years. Sarah is an engaging storyteller on the page and in person, and she joins Julie in this episode to talk about Best Wishes 2: The Sister Switch, the process she uses to write with co-authors, and riding the waves of publishing trends as a way of continuing to stay open and flexible in her career.
13. Leticia Ordaz, Cielito Lindo Books37:54Author Leticia Ordaz may have a day job as an Emmy-nominated anchor/reporter at KCRA 3 in Sacramento, California, but that didn’t stop her from starting her own publishing company to get her award-winning bilingual children’s books into the world. Leticia joins Julie in this episode to talk about her career as a journalist, her experiences as a daughter of Mexican immigrants, and the origins of her first picture book, The Adventures of Mr. Macaw. Leticia also shares her vision for the future of Cielito Lindo Books, which is committed to representing all children and teaching them the importance of learning and preserving the beautiful Spanish language.
12. John Schu, THIS IS A STORY41:28John Schu has made a career out of advocating for the people and things he cares about most: kids, books, and the people that connect them. The librarian and author joins Julie to talk about his latest title, This is a Story, which is a beautiful tribute to the community of readers and the connection we find in books. In this episode, John shares about his early experiences as an elementary school teacher, the magic of relationships in a school, and the words from Amy Krouse Rosenthal that convinced him to share the stories inside him.
11. Meg Fleming, I LIVE IN A TREE TRUNK43:06Meg Fleming is the author of ten children’s books, and she joins Julie to celebrate the launch of her most recent title, I Live in a Tree Trunk. As a singer and former music teacher, Meg has an ear for rhythm over rhyme: even when she has a story, she waits to find the beat that goes with it. Meg talks with Julie about her path to publication, the important writing advice she received in seventh grade, and the honor and joy of working with illustrators and other book professionals who believe her words are worthy of their time and deep consideration.