Today, I’m delighted to introduce Clarion editor, Chris Krones, to Mixed-Up Files readers. Chris is a writer who has been a children’s book editor for more than a decade. They hold an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. Chris has edited a wide variety of books–from board books and picture books to middle-grade novels and graphic novels. They are the author of Chill, Chomp, Chill and the upcoming picture book, The Pronoun Book. Chris lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Learn more on Twitter and Instagram.
Dorian: Welcome, Chris! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a children’s book writer and editor?
Chris: I’ve always had a passion for writing and language. When I started at Simmons University as an English and French major, French translation and poetry were my passions. When I landed in one of Cathryn Mercier’s classes, I found a different path to writing: writing for children. In this core course, we looked at children’s literature through philosophical lenses and thought critically about books for younger readers—something I’d never done before. Anytime we’d discussed books critically prior to this, they’d be considered a canonical work written for adults, like Beowulf. I thought this was novel and so subversive—and I wanted more.
When I heard that there was an M.F.A. in writing for children, I had a gut feeling; I knew I needed to apply. In this program, we visited the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Susan Bloom’s picture book class, where we got to see original prints of Randolph Caldecott’s Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting. I had opinions about the artwork and how it was reproduced and decisions that had gone into the publishing of the work. Susan recognized this and said, “You’ve got opinions! You should work in publishing.” I took this to heart—I’d never thought of working on books other than writing them.
At one of the Simmons Summer Institutes, I was about to read a picture book manuscript I’d written aloud. I was asking Cathie Mercier a question right when she was standing next to an alumna who was the Marketing Manager at Houghton Mifflin. Cathie asked her: “Why don’t you ask Chris about the marketing and publicity internship?” After that, I went in for an interview and interned with the Marketing and Publicity department at Houghton while I had a writing mentorship with an editor there. When an Editorial Assistant position opened up, I was encouraged to apply. I loved the people I worked with across departments and felt like I’d found a home at Houghton.
Dorian: What books inspired you as a child?
Chris: When I was very little, I remember having a collection of Beatrix Potter books, sliding them out of a slipcase, and holding them in my hands. I loved the tactility of them and how small they were, though I always worried about Peter Rabbit’s safety! In elementary school, I remember my librarian reading The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, told by A. Wolf by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith. I will never forget the pig butt surrounded by rubble alongside the text “Dead as a doornail.” Though a touch dark, I loved this humor so much and laid the foundation for my taste in picture books. I also loved Charlotte’s Web but was first introduced to the tale via the feature-length animated movie. My grandparents bought me the book and I absolutely adored it. I also loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, of course!
Dorian: Can you tell us about some books you’ve worked on, either as a writer or editor, that have come out recently or are due to come out?
Chris: The Pronoun Book is a cased board book I wrote that is publishing in early April. It’s a celebratory and vibrant introduction to people and their pronouns. Mel Tirado made magic with the illustrations! In terms of books I’ve edited, I am so thrilled for the first book in The Sparkle Dragons series to come out in mid-May. It’s a fun and young graphic novel featuring a core crew of spunky, sparkle-breathing dragons who fight for good in their queendom.
Dorian: Congratulations all around! Are there certain themes or subjects that resonate with you more than others?
Chris: Stories that feature strong protagonists who show up and persevere against all odds. Underdog stories. Hilarious stories. Joyful, character-driven stories told by underrepresented voices for underrepresented audiences.
Dorian: What advice do you have for writers who want to publish traditionally?
Chris: First, find your people! It’s important to have a writing group to keep yourself consistent, accountable, and have a safe space to bounce around ideas. Familiarize yourself with the books in stores, find the ones you love, and see who publishes them. Get to know publishers’ catalogs. Look to Publishers Weekly deal announcements or Publishers Marketplace to read the recent deals that have been made. Research the agents that represented those deals that feel closest to your work. Check out agency websites and follow their instructions on how to submit or query them. A lot of publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts these days, so finding an agent connected to the publishing industry might be a helpful path to traditional publishing.
Thank you so much for such great advice and for joining us here at THE MIXED-UP FILES!