WNDMG Wednesday – Debut Author Tamika Burgess

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

A New Year of We Need Diverse MG

Happy 2023, everyone! Welcome back to a new year of We Need Diverse MG, (WNDMG) where we get the chance to amplify the voices of marginalized creators and center publishing issues in the voice of underrepresented communities.

A New Year of Authors

Our first post of the year features a debut author, Tamika Burgess, who is part of my own debut cohort: MG in 23. Tamika holds the distinction of being the first of our group to publish in 2023 – Congratulations, Tamika!

I got a chance to interview her about her debut experience, and also to read her wonderful debut: SINCERELY, SICILY.

Book Jacket features young Black Panamanian-American girl in a pink dress, her hair in braids, sitting on a park bench.


About Sincerely, Sicily

Sicily Jordan’s worst nightmare has come true! She’s been enrolled in a new school, with zero of her friends and stuck wearing a fashion catastrophe of a uniform. But however bad Sicily thought sixth grade was going to be, it only gets worse when she does her class presentation.

While all her classmates breezed through theirs, Sicily is bombarded with questions on how she can be both Black and Panamanian. She wants people to understand, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is ready to listen—first at school and then at home. Because when her abuela starts talking mess about her braids, Sicily’s the only one whose heart is being crumpled for a second time.

Staying quiet may no longer be an option, but that doesn’t mean Sicily has the words to show the world just what it means to be a proud Black Panamanian either. Even though she hasn’t written in her journal since her abuelo passed, it’s time to pick up her pen again—but will it be enough to prove to herself and everyone else exactly who she is?

Interview with Tamika Burgess

HMC: Sincerely Sicily began as a picture book—how did you decide that its real identity was middle grade?

TB: When I started writing what is now my debut novel, Sincerely Sicily, I started out writing a picture book. But while writing, I realized I had a lot more to say, which would not work well for the concise way picture books have to be written. But I knew I wanted to write for an age group who is young and at the age where they are starting to learn about themselves and discover the world around them.

HMC: Before turning to writing fiction, you were an advertiser and newsletter publisher. Clearly, one common theme for you is connecting creators within the Latinx-African community. What else has this career path revealed to you about yourself?

TB: A recent revelation is my ability to prioritize my time. While writing Sincerely Sicily I had all the time in the world, without any deadlines. But now that I am under contract for Book #2, I have learned the importance of planning and prioritizing my writing time. With working full-time, it’s been hard. But I have figured it out and am progressing nicely.

HMC:  One strong theme in Sincerely Sicily is the importance of unpacking the difference between race and culture. Can you talk a little about why you wanted to write a book about that particular question?

TB: Sincerely Sicily is loosely based on my experiences growing up and came out of a need for representation and understanding. As a child, I didn’t fully comprehend how to explain my Black Panamanian background when people asked, “What are you?” Being asked that question, coupled with the fact that I was growing up in a predominantly white community as a Black Latina, I often felt out of place. My peers were all the same, and not only was I of a different race, but my culture was entirely out of their understanding.

I always wished for a point of reference, someone I could point to and say, “I’m just like them.” But characters in books, movies, and TV shows didn’t look like me, nor did their experiences resemble mine. So I wrote the book I needed and would have loved to read as a child.

HMC: One of the key moments in Sicily’s story is when her abuela criticizes her braids. It’s heartwrenching, and speaking as a person of color who has definitely struggled to navigate the world of “straight hair is beautiful hair and everything else isn’t,” I can tell you this part RESONATED. What did writing this part of Sicily’s arc mean to you personally?

TB: Although I have never experienced hair discrimination (at least not to my face), I know the issue of hair texture is big in Latinx culture and Panamá. I’ve read plenty of articles about women telling their hair stories and heard about the struggle Black women faced as children and adults. It was important to add this element to Sicily’s story because it brings awareness to discrimination that is still prevalent today. Also, how Sicily handles the situation with her Abuela can be an example to readers of how to handle conflict in general.

HMC: Your dialogue is spot-on for the middle-grade reader. Any craft advice for the authors reading this interview about how you channeled that vibe? 

TB: Fortunately, I work at a school, so I’m around my targeted age group all day. I pay attention to the things they’re talking about/what they are interested in and ask them about things when I have specific questions regarding my book.

HMC: This is your debut year, and you’re one of the first in the 2023 cohort. Any lessons learned you want to pay forward for authors whose books come out later?

TB: I have been working on promoting Sincerely Sicily for about six months. Looking back, I wish I had not let myself get overwhelmed. I was saying yes to everything and would end up feeling like I was drowning in book promotion.

With that being said, I have learned that saying “no” is okay. My mental health is most important, and I can’t let myself get lost in this publishing world.

HMC: What’s your creative process like? Do you create a playlist, light a candle, take a walk, anything in particular that helps set you up to write?

TB: The main thing I need is space. I can’t have clutter on my desk, or I’ll feel cramped, and then I won’t focus. I do listen to music, but not all the time. Sometimes I need the room to be completely silent. Other times I’ll let a random playlist play in the background. I might listen to a podcast if I’m doing some revisions or entering something I’ve already written into my manuscript. It all depends on my mood and what I’m working on.

HMC: Almost every author writes “Easter Eggs” into their novel—references that only special people in their lives will recognize. Are there any Easter Eggs from Sincerely Sicily you feel comfortable sharing with the rest of us?

TB: I have many of these, from characters being based on people in my life to using friends and family members’ names and specific qualities and likenesses of people. The book cover image is also an “Easter Egg,” as the clouds at the top are in the shape of the country of Panamá.

HMC: You’re working on your sophomore novel—can you tell us anything about it?

TB: My next middle-grade novel features a Panamanian boy. I am still in the early stages of outlining and figuring out the book’s themes. But just as with Sincerely Sicily, readers can expect Panamanian culture and historical elements.

HMC: BONUS question: Anything you want to tell us about that I didn’t mention?

TB: I want to share my favorite line from Sincerely Sicily. It’s when Sicily asks her mother how she should self-identify. Her mother tells Sicily that decision is hers but also reminds her of the following:

“Afro (short for African) comes before Panamanian to let people know I am of African ancestry… Panamanian or Latina, either way, I am Afro/Black first.”

HMC: Wonderful closing words, Again, Congratulations, Tamika!

((Want to read another interview with a debut author? Check out this archived post with contributor Meira Drazin))

Author headshot - a smiling Black Panamanian author with long dark braids, wearing glasses.

About Tamika Burgess:

Tamika Burgess (Ta-mee-Ka Bur-jess) is a storyteller with over a decade of novel, TV/film, and personal essay writing experience. Born to parents who migrated from Panamá, Tamika has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity. Because of her passion for spreading the knowledge of Black Panamanian culture, Tamika has been featured on various websites, podcasts, and panels. When she is not writing, Tamika is somewhere cozy online shopping and listening to a podcast. Tamika resides in sunny Southern California, where she is writing her second novel. Learn more about Tamika at



Black Panamanian debut author Tamika Burgess holds her debut novel. She is smiling, has a blue shirt on, has curly dark hair, and wears glasses.

Sidhanth Srinivasan writes a book report on The Rickshaw Girl

Rickshaw Girl, written by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007) was one of the first children’s books by a desi author that I picked up to read at my local library back in 2007-2008. I loved it so much that when Mitali Bose Perkins came to participate as faculty at my local SCBWI conference, I couldn’t wait to meet her in-person. She was brilliant! Fast forward many years later, it’s beautiful to see this book as a movie streaming on Prime! Congratulations to Mitali, and thank you to her for writing Naima’s big, beautiful heart! I gifted a copy of the book to Sidhanth Srinivasan (age 9). He read the book overnight and wrote a book report the next morning.

Here it is for you:

Title: Rickshaw Girl

*This book is about a girl named Naima who tries to find a job so she can fix her father’s rickshaw. Naima is a girl who lives with her younger sister Rashida and their two parents.

It all starts when Naima is doing chores for her parents. Her mother makes sure that she did the chores well and clean. After Naima has finished her chores, she goes outside to work on her alpana ( rice art) . Naima is very good at alpanas and hopes to win the alpana contest this year. While making alpanas, her father comes back from work as a rickshaw driver and talks to Naima’s mom. Naima hears them talking about how they need to earn more money to pay off the debt for the rickshaw. Naima is worried that they may lose their rickshaw by not paying off the debt for it. She also hears them talking about how they wished Naima was a boy so she could work and help her father not work all the time. They also say that Naima’s alpanas are not going to help bring money so they can pay off the debt for the rickshaw. Hearing this, Naima is devastated and erases her alpana drawing for the contest.

She then sees her friend Saleem come by and asks him how to earn money for paying off her father’s debt. He says that girls just work for their mother and boys work for their father. As much as Naima knows this, she is determined to help her father, and she comes up with an idea. If she disguises herself as a boy, she could earn money by driving her father’s rickshaw. She decides to drive her father’s rickshaw. But when she starts riding downhill, she crashes the rickshaw. Evidently her parents aren’t happy to see their rickshaw crashed. Naima’s parents decide to take the broken rickshaw to a rickshaw repair shop.  Naima is unhappy and doesn’t talk to her friend Saleem. On the day of the alpana contest, Naima doesn’t even make an alpana. The prize goes to someone else.

Later that day her father tells Naima’s mom that he did not make enough money to fix the rickshaw. So Naima’s mother gives one of her bangles to her father so they could trade it and get the rickshaw fixed. Naima visits the repair shop and asks the owner if she could help with making the panels for her dad’s rickshaw. The lady says yes and they get to work. When Naima’s dad visits the repair shop, he sees Naima and is mad at her until the owner says, “Look at your daughter’s work!  She did a very good job”. The owner also says, “ I will let you use my rickshaw but Naima will have to work for me and if she is a good worker, I may even pay her.”  Hearing this  Naima’s dad agrees to the deal. In the end Naima realizes that being a girl doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.

I think the theme of this book is you can do anything if you try your best. One big trait Naima shows is grit. Even when her ideas don’t work, she keeps trying because she wants to help her father.  You should read this book because it shows how when things push you back you have to try and step forward. You should also read this book because it tells how things were back in the days when women did not have rights and how Naima realizes that it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl you can still do anything. Thank you for reading my book report about the Rickshaw Girl.


Hitting a novel home run in 2023 by making a difference

By Faran Fagen

Like you, I’ve got a full lineup of goals for 2023. The new year offers a time to look at what’s most important.

My most pressing concrete goals are a home run revision that grabs the reader (my writing world), and to meet my financial goals (personal world).

But my general goal is to make a difference on all fronts. If I tackle each goal with the idea of making a difference, thinking of others, good things tend to happen.

In that spirit, here’s my top 10 list of writing goals for 2023:

  1. Keep the reader turning the page. Keep the reader turning the page. Keep the reader turning the page.
  2. Give the reader just enough detail so they’re dying to know what comes next.
  3. Choose a setting that adds to suspense and advances the story.
  4. Immerse myself in the main character so the reader feels like they’re experiencing the story through their five senses (think “Avatar”)
  5. Keep the reader turning the page. Keep the reader turning the page. Keep the reader turning the page.
  6. Each scene has urgency for the characters to reach their goals (or not).
  7. Conflict. Every scene filled with conflict. Conflict between characters. Inner conflict. Think all the “Rocky” movies.
  8. Transformation. How do the characters change? What do they learn? How do we journey through their transformation?
  9. In revision, know what to take out and what to leave in. I know this one’s easier said than done. A mentor once told me to defend each word like a lawyer defends each client.
  10. Keep the reader turning the page. Keep the reader turning the page. Keep the reader turning the page.

In the end, it’s about writing a book that makes a difference. Didn’t I say that somewhere?

Here’s some goals from some of the children’s book writers/agents who’ve had a huge influence on me:

Author/illustrator Fred Koehler:

  1. WORD COUNT:I’m keeping it simple without any sort of overall word count resolution–just a single manuscript to revise, however many words it takes. For 2023 it’s a middle grade treasure mystery where editors LOVED the first half but thought the ending was too over-the-top. Keep what they loved. Slash and burn the rest.
  2. REJECTION:Rejection is a great measurement of how close you are to success. (Here’s my thesis on Rejection.) My resolution for 2023 is 50 rejections. Between a graphic novel already out on sub and several picture manuscripts at various stages, I should be able to achieve that no problem.
  3. COMMUNITY:Through my work with fellow writers at Ready Chapter 1, various critique groups, and other awesome communities like this one, my resolution is to help create the ‘aha’ moment or make the connection for ONE writer to land their first book deal. This will be more meaningful to me than anything I achieve for myself.

Aurora Dominguez, award-winning teacher and aspiring YA novelist:

  1. Finish the draft of my first YA novel
  2. Write for fun more, not just for freelance journalism purposes! *more for fun
  3. Take the time to write meaningful and purposeful, as well as uplifting messages, to loved ones and colleagues.

Jonathan Rosen, agent, The Seymour Agency:

  1. Make time to write. Period.
  2. Stretch outside my comfort zone to write in new genres
  3. Write what I like and let it find an audience

Author Marjetta Geerling:

  1. Finish writing book 1 of a new series.
  2. Remember writing is fun!
  3. Stop stressing about social media.

Joyce Sweeney, agent, The Seymour Agency:

  1. Do not keep scheduling meetings on writing day!
    2. Remember that every client is an individual and needs individual strategy, attention and care
    3. Always be kind, especially to beginning authors who query.

Hope you reach your goals for 2023!!