Award winning author Gwendolyn Hooks is sharing her writing journey and some great advice for aspiring authors. Her latest non-fiction project has been an amazing one. The life of medical pioneer Viven Thomas is an inspiring story of a man who overcame obstacles and achieved his dream of working in the medical field. “Tiny Stitches” is a must read for all.
Gwendolyn Hooks is the author of the picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Lee & Low Books, 2016). It is her 20th book for young readers. Gwendolyn grew up in a military family, living in Texas, Washington, Italy, and Georgia where she was born. She was always an avid reader, but didn’t consider a writing career until after stints as a US Census Taker, a secretary who barely passed the typing test, an accounting clerk, then a middle school math teacher (a career she loved). Now she writes full time from her home she shares with her husband in Oklahoma City.
Here is what some top reviewers had to say:
Booklist STAR review
“It is the work Thomas achieved, however, in spite of these enormous challenges, that will pique reader interest as they learn about his design of tiny operating tools and his role guiding surgeons through neonatal operations. Bootman’s lifelike watercolor illustrations beautifully and vividly evoke the carpentry shop, research labs, and the auditorium where, years later, Thomas was finally honored for his work and appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins.”
Kirkus: “. . . a rousing tribute to a man unjustly forgotten.”
Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, Lee & Low Books, Spring 2016. Illustrated by Colin Bootman (http://www.colinbootman.net/), a Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award Winner.
Neophyte Writer Author Exposed Interview:
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since the mid-1990s. But never sold anything. I took an online class from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Right in the middle of that class, my neighborhood was destroyed by an F-4 tornado. I did complete the class and began to take my writing seriously. One of the first manuscripts I sold was a short story based on the tornado.
Have you always written nonfiction for children?
I love nonfiction and I’ve always wanted to write it, but I could never find the right project. Or perhaps it was my writing. My first published work was fiction. I love both, but the scale tips slightly toward nonfiction.
Where do you find your ideas for the nonfiction stories you create?
Ideas come from everywhere, you just need an open mind. I have a fiction early reader, The Cat Food Mystery about missing cat food. That idea came from a writer friend who told our critique group about a family of raccoons sneaking through the cat door and dining on her cat’s food.
An editor contacted me about writing three nonfiction books about food webs. I’m not sure I would have thought of that on my own. But I learned a lot about food webs. One of the interesting things I learned while researching is how passionate scientist are about their chosen field.
One scientist’s specialty was kelp. He takes a class of students on a summer trip to the Galapagos Islands to dive and study kelp first hand.
Another lives for months on a research ship in the Arctic and studies the animals and the plants they feed on in the Arctic Ocean. Their passion inspires me to share work with young readers. I want them to know all the world has to offer.
How do you start research for a nonfiction project?
I begin research by reading everything I can find about the person or subject. It involves many library trips. Thank goodness I live close to two great public library systems and several community colleges and universities. I try to read everything twice, taking notes the second time.
Do you feel it’s important for writers to use social media? How?
My children have forced me to use social media. My youngest daughter has a marketing and communications degree and works in the field. She’s my go-to person. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts. I like Twitter better, because I can write a few words and click POST. It allows me to reach lots of writers and readers that I would not have otherwise.
I use social media to support other writers and promote their new books. It’s important to give back and share. Actually, it’s easier for me to talk about someone else’s good news than it is for me to talk about my work.
I used Facebook and Twitter a lot for my Tiny Stitches-The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas book launch party. It reached people I don’t see or talk to on a regular basis, but our lives have crossed in the past. The party was a success. If everyone you invite does not show up, they at least know about your book. I also asked my guests to share my news with their social contacts. Some people came because they read an article about it on print and online local magazine. And I also used our NPR online event listings. Several people told me they hear it announced.
Now I use it to report on Tiny Stitches good news like reviews. When the New York Public Library listed Tiny Stitches as one of their favorite new nonfiction books, I pinned it to my Twitter account.
What books for writers would you recommend?
I have collected enough books to have a lending library. And I have loaned many of them.
Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown
Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career by Nancy I. Sanders
And when my writer’s soul is lagging, I reread The Artist Way-A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. I read it about every two year.
What advice do you have for new writers?
Read everything. Read all the time. I read constantly when I was growing up. I loved going to the library. Even now, I’m a reader. I read fiction and nonfiction, adult books and children’s books. Recently, I was on a panel with a Christian Adult book author. She gave me one of her books about a serial killer. Whaaat? A serial killer? It was a page turner and I learned about adding suspense.
Another tip is to find out when an author is visiting your city and go hear them speak. I met Sharon Draper and Jewel Parker Rhodes when they spoke in Oklahoma City. I learned by listening to their stories. I attended a lecture hosted by Oklahoma City University for the Pulitzer Prize poet, Tracie K. Smith. I’m not a poet, but she inspired me to finish a manuscript. That same university hosts free writing classes. I attend when my schedule permits.
Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). We have wonderful conferences and writing workshops in Oklahoma. We’re very supportive of each other.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on another picture book biography. I want to show how growing up in the midst of Oklahoma City’s early jazz scene influenced my subject’s adult literary contributions. More on that at a later date.
Thanks so much Gwen for sharing your story. You can learn more about her at these sites:
You can also stop by Kristi’s Book Nook to see my review of Tiny Stitches and an Author Highlight I did with Gwen in 2011.