For Writers

Inside the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival with Dawn Greenberg

Dawn Greenberg and Sally Cook

  THE SEVENTH ANNUAL CHAPPAQUA CHILDREN’S BOOK FESTIVAL brings together exciting authors, favorite characters, and heartfelt stories for children and teens. This small, welcoming town is the place to make a lasting connection between young readers and books. How did this wonderful event come to be? I asked founder, Dawn Greenburg that question–and lots of others.


Q.      What was the intent of the original Chappaqua festival?  How, if at all, has it changed?

DG      We remain focused on our original intent with the Chappaqua festival: to connect authors and readers.   I probably didn’t fully grasp what that meant originally, but in truth there is something so special about seeing a kid chatting away unguarded to an author they only met before in the pages of a book. We want kids to love books but we also want them to realize that the act of writing is as simple as putting pen to paper and letting your mind go. In having our authors explain how and why they write what they do, I think it greatly expands our kids view of what they can capture with their own words.

The beauty of our festival is that the excitement is palpable as those connections happen. I hear from so many parents and community members their gratitude and relief that we have shown that books still matter in our digital world — and that we bring so much excitement to our sleepy town one day each year.


Q.      Can you remember a book that made an impression on you in middle grade?

 DG      I was a voracious reader and had read all of the Nancy Drew books by second grade. From there, I think I graduated to Agatha Christie.  I grew up in a small town and much like Miss Marple, I fancied myself able to see the intrigue beyond the picket fence.


Q.      In October, Chappaqua will host its seventh annual book festival. Does any year stand out as memorable to you, and why? Do you have a story to share about a glitch, dilemma, or mini crisis that popped up in any year?

 DG      Every year I say the festival was the best ever and we’ll never top it. I log almost 20 miles on festival day making sure our authors are happy and that everything is glitch-free. We’re on our feet from 5 am to 8 pm when the last box is packed away. We try to present a “what me worry?” face to the world, but we fuss over every detail to make sure the day works. However, there is always, without fail, one book that doesn’t arrive. We work on our order for months and go line by line with our fastidious book handler and yet we still manage to have a shipment that doesn’t come.  The first few years, it would absolutely ruin my day, but I’ve learned to take it a little more in stride.


Q.      What advice would you give adults about attending the fair with their kids?

DG   My best advice on festival day is to have a plan using our website author biographies, but allow for a lot of serendipity. With this many authors, you should try to make a list of the top ten or 15 that are “must sees” for you. We are trying to help that process greatly with more maps and color-coded guides this year, hopefully even an app. But you’ll be amazed at the authors that you’ll find just by wandering.   Our area is so very rich with marvelous and celebrated authors! You should keep your eyes open and your energy high for chance encounters. You should prioritize authors who aren’t from our immediate area — Jarrett Krosoczka, Cece Bell, Cynthia Levinson, Kate Messner — because we can’t guarantee they’ll be back next year.


Q.      Do you have any great tips for authors about how to be a success at a book fair?

DG      For authors, I’d suggest arriving rested and relaxed.   The first 30 minutes can be a bit overwhelming as everyone rushes to find their table, but you’ll settle in soon. In fact, we ask our local orchestra to provide a three-piece ensemble from 9-10 am to keep everyone’s nerves under control. Authors who bring something cute and eye-catching seem to do well with the youngest readers. For example, Diana Murray’s unicorn horn is a huge hit.  But giveaways aren’t necessary. A colorful pile of books and a warm smile is enough.


Q.      I read that you’ll be hosting 145 authors this year. Last year there were 90. What are the challenges of putting together such a huge fair? What innovations can we look forward to?

DG   In addition to adding almost 50 authors, we will have a kick off keynote address by Jarrett Krosoczka and three author panels. We were given the approval to expand our “footprint” on the school fields, so we’ve taken the opportunity to add even more authors we admire — including SIX Project Lit Club authors — and to add panel discussions.   Additionally, we’ll be closing the street in front of the field, which will allow a bit more of a flow for our families as well as easy access to the town gazebo where we’ll hold our author readings. We’re also thrilled that KidLit TV will be on hand and authors will be interviewing each other and streaming live from the festival!  We hope to create a lot of wonderful content from those interviews. We love when our authors have time to catch up and discuss future collaborations.

Mark your calendar for Sat, Oct 5th, 2019 @ Bell Middle School in Chappaqua, NY 10514. Rain or Shine.

#chapbookfest   @chappaquabookfestival

DAWN GREENBERG and a group of friends founded the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival in 2013. Since then it has grown from 65 authors to 145 from all across the northeast.  In her professional life, Dawn managed international rights for United Feature Syndicate and Warner Bros./DC Comics. She is the mom of two boys, 16 and 13. She believes books can change lives.


Author Phyllis Shalant (aka Annabelle Fisher) and reader find an amazing connection at Chap Book Fest

Author Spotlight: Lara Williamson

Lara Williamson and I crossed paths more than two decades ago (eek!), in London, while working at J-17 magazine. Lara, who hails from Northern Ireland, was a fledgling beauty editor while I wrote an advice column and edited articles. After I returned to the U.S., Lara and I stayed in touch. First we exchanged emails; then we exchanged manuscripts. (I had the pleasure of reading an early version of Lara’s breakout novel, A BOY CALLED HOPE, hailed by the Sunday Express as: “Warm, heartbreaking, and hilarious in turn,” and shortlisted for the prestigious Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.)

Lara’s books—available worldwide—have been translated into Russian, Italian, Korean, Turkish, Estonian, Romanian, and Ukrainian. Her latest novel, THE GIRL WITH SPACE IN HER HEART, launches in the U.K. on August 1 from Usborne. Find more about Lara on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

MR: Lara! First and foremost, thank you for joining us on the Mixed-Up Files. I am beyond excited to have you here!!! *blows kiss*

LW: Oh, it’s my pleasure. It’s so lovely to join you on the Mixed-Up Files. And talking about Mixed-Up Files, when I was about ten the first slightly more “grown-up” book I picked for myself, and read by myself, was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg. And, not surprisingly, I loved it. I recently bought myself a new copy and must re-read it, and re-live the magic I felt all those years ago.

MR: For readers not familiar with your books, can you tell us a little about your background and your path to publication?

LW: I grew up in Northern Ireland and studied fashion design. After I left college, I worked on a teen magazine called J-17. It was such a creative time and a solid foundation for everything that came after. At work I had to come up with ideas for photoshoots and write copy to a deadline – all good grounding for writing a book. Fast forward a few years and one child later, I wanted to write the MG book I’d always dreamed of writing and naively I thought, “How hard can it be?” Very, was the answer. In the end, I wrote a number of books and got an awful lot of rejections, probably over one hundred in the end. And I can’t say I didn’t feel dejected; I did. But in this business you’ve got to persevere. You’ve got to actively chase your dreams. So in 2013, I got the urge to write a little book – a quiet little book, a book about families, life, heartbreak, and hope. But mostly hope. I thought, for it to be published it might need adventure and zombies and I could expect more rejection. I was wrong. The quiet little book about hope was the very thing that turned everything around. It got snapped up by an agent and a publisher and the rest is, as they say, history.

MR: Your first three books, A BOY CALLED HOPE,THE BOOK WHO SAILED THE OCEAN IN AN ARMCHAIR and JUST CALL ME SPAGHETTI-HOOP BOY, all feature male protagonists. What is it about boys’ stories that resonate with you? 

LW: Ah, I wish I had the perfect answer for this one. One of the stories I had worked on previously, and had been rejected, was from a girl’s point of view so I had written a girl before. But something in me – call it gut instinct –  just felt that these stories were about a boy and I couldn’t shake that feeling, so I had to go with it.  Sometimes, when you’re writing, you’ve just got to listen to that inner voice that tells you to go a certain way. Trust and believe in yourself. That’s what I did, in the end. I went with my own instinct and it proved to be right. Also, my books are emotional and full of heart and there are lots of books for girls on those subjects, but I think boys like those stories too.

MR: Your forthcoming novel, THE GIRL WITH SPACE IN HER HEART, is the first of your novels to feature a female protagonist—Mabel Mynt. What was it like to write from a girl’s perspective this time? Did it feel different?

LW: To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could achieve it at first. I’d written three books from a boy’s POV. What if I couldn’t be a girl? I know, that sounds daft because I am one. But I did worry about it for a while and I doubted myself in the beginning. In the end though, I decided to go with it and write the way I always do. I figured there was no big difference, because what it came down to was the story and the hope within it – and it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or girl, because everyone needs hope in their life. It’s universal.

MR: The loss of a parent is a major theme in all of your novels. In A BOY CALLED HOPE, Dan Hope searches for his absentee dad; in ARMCHAIR, Becket Rumsey is separated from his mom; In SPAGHETTI-HOOP BOY, Adam Butters searches to learn more about his biological mom; in GIRL WITH SPACE IN HER HEART, Mabel’s dad walked out on the family. What is it about the subject of loss that drives you as an author? What are you trying to say to your readers?

LW: I have slowly realized that all my books are about loss, in one shape or another. Honestly, I’ve tried to write about stuff that resonates with me. I don’t think I could write any other way, particularly when I’m writing about feelings. In our lifetime, we will all experience loss in one way or another. It’s not necessarily the most obvious way, either. There are many ways. I’ve tried to write about it in various forms and then  comfort the character in the book, and make them realize that they can come through that loss and out the other side. It’s important to me that at the end of my books, my character will walk away a stronger person. If I didn’t believe that, I don’t think I could write the stories. I’m not saying that within the story everything goes perfectly; it doesn’t. Some of the losses cannot be changed, no matter how much the character wishes for it. But in all my books, there’s always hope for the future, and that’s what I’m trying to say to my readers (and myself) most of all.

MR: Your breakout novel, A BOY CALLED HOPE, was received to wide acclaim and racked up tons of awards. With that it mind, what was it like to write your subsequent books? Did you feel pressured to live up to the success of HOPE?

LW: The second book syndrome! It’s like having a successful first album and then wondering if you can repeat the magic. And sometimes it does feel a bit like magic. There are times when I’ve written a book and can’t even remember all the steps it took to get there. You write and edit for ages and then–whoosh!–it’s done. So, yes, it can feel like a pressure when you’re writing the second book (and third, and so on). I wanted to repeat the magic…do it all over again. But that’s the thing about magic; it’s hard to pin down no matter how much you wish you could. In the end, I’ve learned to be grateful for any successes I have – big or small, because I’ve never forgotten the hundred-plus rejections. We should celebrate everything. Have you written a sentence today, or 500 words, or a chapter? Have you finished writing a book? Pat yourself on the back. It’s a huge achievement. You’re one step closer to your dreams. The real magic is there – it’s within you.

MR: What’s your writing process like, Lara? Do you have a specific routine? Writing rituals?

LW: I’m so chaotic in my writing, for a reason I’ll explain in a minute. Okay, so I know everyone is different. Some writers meticulously plot and, seriously, I’m envious. There are days I wish I had a writing shed with lots of pieces of paper on the wall spelling out the plot. I wish I knew about rise and fall within chapters. I wish I was organized and knew all there was to know about writing. But no, none of those things actually applies to me. I sit at my dining room table and write for a few hours most days. All I know is the beginning of my book, and the end, and I know what the character wants to achieve. Then I write in the most messy, muddled-up way; a sort of outpouring of emotion and feeling. And it works for me. I’m basically writing myself a comforting story: a story of hope. I’m writing about things that matter to me, and if it’s a bit chaotic – fine. Emotions sometimes are. They come slowly… they come in a rush…maybe some don’t make sense to start with; maybe some do. I’ve had to accept that I am the writer I am, and there will probably never be notes or plans on the wall–but I’ve got it all going on in my heart. And because of that, I let my heart take the lead and plan the route; I’m just joining it on the journey. And that’s okay.

MR: Would you care to share what you’re working on now?

LW:  I’ve just written a small 10,000 word story for seven-to-nine-year-olds. It’s completely random and was a lot of fun to write. I’d also like to write an adventure too. Again, I wonder if I can. It’s like the writing a girl situation all over again. I’ve never written an adventure before, but I’d like to give it a whirl. I’ve also written a younger book that’s coming out in 2020, but I can’t tell you anything about it yet (sorry!). Oh, and I’ve started another MG but am only 10,000 words in. So, I’m doing a few things at once and will see which one sings to me most–and then go with it.

MR: And finally, no Mixed-Up Files interview is complete without a lightning round. So…

Preferred writing snack? Crisps (salt-and-vinegar flavor).

Coffee or tea? Tea (chamomile).

Cat or dog? Dog.

Favorite authors (you don’t have to say me; that’s a given 🙂)? Ha! You know I love you! But other than you, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay.

Superpower? Seeing into people’s hearts.

Favorite place on Planet Earth? Home – always.

Hidden talent? Wiggling my ears and raising one eyebrow. And tap dancing too. Maybe all at the same time!

MR: Thank you for chatting, Lara. Big hugs!!

Big hugs back! And thank you!

Diversity in MG Lit #10 Growing the next Generation of Writers

Many writers felt the spark of story in them when they were very young. But many never found the support they needed to develop and hone their skills at a young age.
When I visit schools for my books I often encounter one or two children out of hundreds who are hungry for more interaction than a school visit is designed to offer. Nine years ago I formed the League of Exceptional Writers a free mentoring workshop for young readers ages 8-18.
Because I’m a member of the SCBWI in Oregon, I approached them about providing a small honorarium for the authors and illustrators who were mentors to the League each month. I approached Powells Bookstore about hosting the events and providing promotional materials. Here’s an example of what they made for the last. year. Every month from October to May eager young writers pull up chairs at the bookshop and dig into the nitty gritty of making books with published authors, professional illustrators and other folks who work in the book industry, designers, editors, agents, audio book producers, etc. The League has seen its members grow from shy beginners in 3rd or 4th grade to active writers at their high school newspaper to editors of college literary journals. One has even gone on to work as a designer at a publishing house in Boston.
I mention this not to self-congratulate but rather to offer a model that could be easily replicated elsewhere. The SCBWI is a gently aging organization. Their survival depends on drawing in new young members year after year. What better way to promote the organization than to start mentoring young writers now. Most independent bookstores would be receptive to the idea of hosting a writing club for kids. So please consider starting a League of your own in your home town.
Many cities and states have writing enrichment programs in place such as the Writers in the Schools program sponsored by Oregon Literary Arts. Consider volunteering or donating money to these programs.
And finally if you have a young writer in your life, here’s a book they might enjoy. BRAVE THE PAGE: a young writer’s guide to telling epic stories by Rebecca Stern and Grant Faulkner is a kid friendly guide to writing a boo,k taking the NANOWRIMO model. The tone is peppy and practical. The text answers most of the questions even an adult writer has about the process of writing and the focus is solidly on the writing process rather than selling a manuscript. I think it will work well for avid writers as young as 9 and as old as 14 or 15. Brave the Page is on sale in August of 2019 and is available in audio.