Podcast: Erin Entrada Kelly and Laurel Snyder

Dec 20, 2023 | Podcasts, The Highlights Foundation Experience

What You’ll Find In this Podcast

Erin Entrada Kelly and Laurel Snyder joined George Brown to discuss their writing process, how to write for the middle grade audience, their current works in progress, and their recent middle grade retreat experience.

Podcast Highlights

Erin and Laurel’s writing process tips:

Erin: “Don’t compare what you’re doing to what other people are doing because everyone is at a different point in their lives, and all you can do is the best you can with what you have.”

Laurel: “Every life has seasons; like my last few years have been very busy and my next few years will be different and you just sort of don’t know. So you kind of sharpen your pencils and write when you can, but not to give yourself a hard time if you’re having a slow moment.”

Laurel and Erin answer how to write for the middle grade audience as an adult writer:

Laurel: “Whave to remember that the world is different, and that all of these things that we are writing; that also we are writing out of our own experiences, or our own challenges or struggles from childhood; that we have to sort of translate them into the moment that we’re in.”

Erin: “The goal is to remember that a lot of things haven’t changed about being a kid. There’s things that are totally universal; feeling left out, not knowing where you fit in the world, being self-conscious, feeling lonely. The friend drama, you know that kind of–crushes. All that stuff has not changed from 100 years ago to now.”

Laurel, describing the Middle Grade retreat experience:

“To step away from work, to step away from the idea of productivity, and just really let yourself be a kid…We weren’t sure how people, whether people [would be] willing to play, really. And it was it was beautiful to watch everybody do that and I just feeling like I could see this getting more and more that way.  That like maybe next time we bring finger paints, maybe next time we take an hour just for cloud watching or stargazing, or you know that sort of [thing].  If people are willing to kind of go with us on that journey of play.”

Erin on the teaching experience:

“Being in conversation, and answering questions and letting it be–letting the teaching experience be organic and less about us standing up there and lecturing, and more about “What do you need to know?” Let’s talk about it. Let’s have a dialogue; much more community minded.”

Full Transcript

George: Hi listeners, this is George Brown at the Highlights Foundation. Just had a wonderful conversation with Erin Entrada Kelly and Laurel Snyder. They were here for the middle grade workshop in late September. No, I’m sorry early October 2023. I hope you’ll take a chance to listen to this, enjoy. Welcome to the Highlights Foundation gather podcast, where our mission is to positively impact children by amplifying the voices of storytellers and inform, educate and inspire children to become their best selves. Today’s guests are Laurel Snyder and Erin Entrada Kelly. Welcome. 

Erin: Thanks for having us. 

Laurel: Yeah. Thank you very much. 

George: So you’re both here for a middle grade retreat workshop, and we’re just kind of coming off of the three days of workshopping. I’d love to hear a little bit of your impressions on how it went. 

Erin: I think you know the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. This is the second year we’ve done it and I feel like every year as we continue doing it and it will evolve and become even better, but it it’s very much what based on the feedback, it was very much what Laurel and I intended it to be, which was to be a generative workshop less focused on critique and more focused on inspiration and creativity and having fun and remembering why we’re all doing this, you know, and less on the more cerebral side and more embracing the creative side, what would you say? 

Laurel: Yeah, I, I agree completely and I think it was interesting how over the course of the days that we were here, it felt like people kind of unfolded a little. Which is what I like to use. That that sort of we all came with the intention of feeling like we were 10 years old and but it took a couple days to feel like we were 10 years old. And there’s something about this place and the nature of it and art supplies and music and just. 

Erin: Friendship bracelets. 

Laurel: Know shared meals? Yeah. Bracelets and shared meals that it just made it feel very like, it’s like we all remembered how to play and it that was really, I think ultimately the goal was like to go home remembering how to play so that we could put that into the work. 

George: So it took me a minute to connect with this, I came on that first night. I came out to the patio and the music was blasting and there was a group around the table playing some sort of a card game and there was another group doing the friendship bracelets and another group that was doing some art on their own. And it wasn’t until the next morning when you were both talking about like how to get inside of a middle graders head or remembering what the that emotional feeling is. You talked Laurel about the 5th graders walking across the graduation stage. 

Laurel: Right. 

George: And how they’re at that age kind of just starting to learn to grow into themselves or thinking about themselves differently. And I realized like that whole piece was part of getting the crowd into thinking about what it is to be a middle grader. 

Erin: Yes, I think because Laurel and I both believe, which is why I think we make such a great team, that if you’re writing for a middle grade audience, it’s important to tap into that piece of yourself that is far away. You know, for some of us further away than others, but to tap into, you know, really the emotional space of what it feels like. So our goal was to kind of get as close to that space as we could. And when we were doing, for example, the friendship bracelets, it felt like summer camp and then we even did, like, pretend to gossip. And there’s nothing. Gossip about any particular person we just kind of invented like these other characters that were at camp and gossiped about them. Just to remember what it’s like and how silly it is and things that you think about when you’re that age and just being able to reconnect so that when you sit down to write, you can access that emotional space. 

Laurel: Yeah, and it’s funny. Right. Last year we did this and we knew that that was the sort of energy we wanted it to have. But I think we were afraid to lean more fully into the play of, like, it feels scary as an adult to be like, no, I’m going to roller skater or I’m going to, you know, I don’t, I don’t know what, but to step away from work to step away from the idea of productivity and just really let yourself be a kid. And so it was interesting to watch. We weren’t sure how people, whether people, would be, you know, it’s like whether people be willing to play, really. And it was it was beautiful to watch everybody do that and I just feeling like I could see this getting more and more that way, that like maybe next time we bring finger paints, maybe next time we take an hour just for cloud watching or stargazing or you know that sort of if people are willing to kind of go with us on that journey of play that maybe we get to lean even more into the play, which is just really it was it was, that was one of the things that was hard to know in planning was how much do people want content takeaways, you know, handouts, whatever, and how much people really want to come and just be here and enjoy this experience I sometimes say like I feel like you we write in a language we don’t speak anymore and so it’s like we need to be always brushing up on that language and getting that fluency of childhood, you know? And so, it was just, it was really invigorating to me to feel like we could come back next year and do this even more because it went so well, right?  

Erin: There was a lot of laughter. So much lively, you know, with the music and the storytelling card game, and yes, and those stories and 

Laurel: Smores, ghost stories 

Erin: It was just very not even just getting into the mindset of being a middle grader, but just the community that’s built around, shared laughter, a shared language, shared goals, all of that. So it went really well. 

George: And I think one of the things we’re seeing is that balance between craft lesson and retreat time and so hearing you talk about that you’re also felt that almost that sense of let’s put a little more retreat time in for the not specifics. 

Laurel: Last night we ended up talking a bunch about what Erin was just saying about sort of being present and the importance of both for crafts both for writers, and also just for humans like to step away, we these last few years with the pandemic and everything have been so stressful and we’re all carrying a certain weight and anxiety and nervousness about what’s happened, what we’ve been through, but also the future. Like, there’s just so much of that in our heads right now. The news is always there and it feels like Highlights is in a really unusual and special position to like everyone talks about self-care, but it almost becomes an oppressive thing that like, I’m not doing self-care. Like, I’m not taking care of myself, you know? And so it’s like you’ve got the weight of your work. And the weight of like, I’m not doing this thing of taking care of myself, coming to a place like this, kind of, it’s like an automatic reset button. Like you get here and you can’t do those other things you like and you are away from the worry and you are away from the sense of doom or whatever it is, the fear of professional failure, whatever it is here, feels different. So it feels like this was a really nice fit of like learning to be present again in this place where you kind of have to be present. 

Erin: And and when we started it last year, I remember talking to Laurel and I said OK, this is what we’re going to do. We’re not going to have any lectures, we’re not going to plan any lectures, we’re just going to up there and talk because Laurel and I can talk endlessly. 

Laurel: And it was scary when she said I was like we do that. 

Erin: And yet, she said, can we? Do that, can we not have an official lecture I was like Sure we can. So it was very like one of the attendees, just a few minutes ago said it was so nice to not have to know PowerPoints, no official lectures. Obviously, there’s a place for those things and we do those things in our professional life. But for this particular workshop it was, you know, no PowerPoints. It’s me and Laurel talking and then also being in conversation and answering questions and letting it be, letting the teaching experience be organic and less about us standing up there and lecturing and more about what do you need to know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s have a dialogue, much more community minded, yeah. 

Laurel: Yeah, it felt less. Like we were teaching and more like we were facilitating the conversation. Yes, activity. 

George: And if you reflect on that, did all of the talking points come out? That would have come out if you had prepared the formal lecture? 

Erin: I think so, yes, yeah. So it’s still teaching because it’s still the questions of, you know, how do I, how do I find the voice of my character or I’m struggling with this or that it comes out organically and I think I think that one of the reasons that we make a good team. Both Laurel and I have talked in the past about how we really prefer when we do school visits or when we talk at conferences, we really prefer the ability to be adaptable and organic and some people really like to have it prepared. This is my this is what I’m going to talk about. But if I prepare too much it almost gives me more anxiety. So it was a good fit. 

Laurel: It also depletes the energy like if somebody asks you a question and you’re sort of in the moment of thinking about it and answering it and kind of there’s a I don’t want to call it nervous energy, but there’s, like an energy to sort of the discovery of the conversation and when you have prepared notes and slides and you’ve given this talk a million times before, no matter how brilliant it is, it it’s not a discovery, it’s, it’s not an inquiry, yes. 

George: It’s a different approach, so the two of you did a really great job interacting as a team. So you’ve talked together before. I know you did last year here, but have you done other stuff. 

Laurel: We teach together at the MCAC program at Hamline University in the Creative writing program there. And so we’ve seen each other teach a lot. We, but we’ve also done and we’ve just sort of been circling each other at you know, conferences. Yeah, like that for years. 

George: Yeah, that was great just to watch the interaction and tell that the two of you have worked together before. OK, so you talked about the retreat space and like the ability to be present, but what do you do at home? How do you, do you have any tips or tricks on like how do you get your mind around what needs to happen when you’re at home? 

Erin: I think one of the things that we repeated a lot these past few days is that it really depends on what kind of writer you are and right the process of writing looks very different and there’s no one way to do it. So for me it’s, you know we’re both analog people. It’s another thing we have in common. So I have a notebook and I’ll write when I feel I don’t have like a special writing time and I don’t write every day, I just kind of write in like little sprints with my notebook and I can’t because, you know, you can carry it anywhere. I can take it to the library. I can take it to my couch wherever. So my process is very much. Actually, it hasn’t changed that much since I was 8 years old, which was writing with pen and paper and thinking about my characters and not really thinking about the end product as far as what the market is doing or what the market is thinking. So, and I think the process changes depending on the book. And depending on where you’re at in life as well. 

Laurel: Yeah, I think Erin and I had come at it in a very similar mindset, but our lives are very different. And so that was something that came up a lot this week that was interesting. And I’ve had a really hard time writing like the last. Years with kids distance learning while I was, you know, in my office while I’m trying to make work and I was working on a book that was particularly difficult to finish in the pandemic and finally finished that, but sort of it’s that thing of like when something goes very slow and it’s very hard it’s then sort of almost like a PTSD response. But like to start the next thing feels insurmountable. So I actually shared a lot of that this week. My so my process is very similar. It’s also very analog. I tend to do a lot of work in odd moments. You know, sort of little notebooks in my purse and waking up in the middle of the night to scribble things down. Down and I I wait until I get sort of the world and the character and the premise in my head before I ever put anything on the page. And so I’ve been sort of for the last year or so in that process of like gathering to make the nest. But I haven’t really started constructing the nest yet. So. So my process right now. Is not as functional as Erin’s. 

Erin: But I think.. 

Laurel: Maybe that’s the wrong? Word, but no. 

Erin: I think that brings up a good point that hopefully anyone listening to this will be able to take away which is. I’ve been pretty prolific, right? And a lot of people ask, you know, how do you, how do you get everything done? How do you teach and how do you write and how do you do all this? And I always remind them that. So in my life I, I am able to write full time and I’m not sick. I don’t have parents, I have to care for my daughters often on her own, so I don’t have kids at home to worry about. So my life is very quiet and open, so I have the privilege to be able to produce, you know, craft my life the way I want to. It wasn’t always that way because I used to be a single mom working full time, and I guarantee I would not be producing the same way I am now. So when I it it, it hurts me. Whenever I hear people ask that and it it’s almost as if they’re feeling bad about their own level of productivity. But I mean, meanwhile at home they have kids, they have three kids and they have a parent. They’re taking care of and they have stressors in their lives and those are things that I don’t have. So anyone listening, you know, I just, I want to say, you know, get show yourself some grace. Don’t. Don’t compare what you’re doing to what other people are doing because everyone is at a different point. In their lives and all you can do is the best you can with what you have.  

Laurel: So it feels, yeah and it feels like one of the blessings of something like this, where we all come together and we have the time for these slower, more open conversations, which I think sometimes they’re easier to have people you don’t know, right, that like, if you’re in your world at home, at the coffee shop with your six friends or in your critique group it. It can be actually be harder to be vulnerable with those people because you’re gonna see them tomorrow coming to a place like this and being with a group of 20 people that you may or you may interact with them online or you may form, you know, bonds afterward. But in that moment, it feels like I can leave this space. Anything I say here I can leave behind. Like I can go back to my life. And I think there’s a real a real gift to that. So it was a place where people could share about the struggles and the challenges that they are having. Yeah, and it does it just I want to reiterate like every life has seasons like my last few years have been very busy and my next few years will be different and you just sort of don’t know. So you kind of sharpen your pencils and write when you can but not to give yourself a hard time if you’re having a slow moment. 

George: How do you have enough motivation to write when you can, but not pressure yourself in a way that the writing can’t come. 

Erin: Exactly. Exactly. 

Laurel: And it’s a really hard, I think you wake up every day and navigate that always. 

Erin: Yes, absolutely. 

George: Alright. So Laurel, you mentioned a little bit about a project you’re working on. Can you give us any little like from worth of what it is or? 

Laurel: Oh, sure. No, I mean, I’m always working. I I’m also not like if you were to look at my catalog. It’s not like I haven’t been making work. It’s just that sometimes the gears grind slowly. You know I’m working, I’m, Erin was asking about the book that year. So it was a funny anniversary. A year ago we were here and I was telling her about this book that I was about to get started on and then it’s been a difficult year. So we were on our way here driving and she was like so what’s going on with the dollhouse book? And I was like, whoa, about to get started. I also have, I’m working on, I had a book that came out last year, called Endlessly ever after. That’s a choose your own adventure picture book that I did with Dan Santat, and we’re about to do a second book in in that vein. So I’m in the process of finishing that this month. And I have, I have a novel that I have a graphic novel that’s coming out in two years with Chung, when called Fairy Hunter, that’s a memoir and then I’m starting, I am starting when I when I see you. 

Erin: One year from now. 

Laurel: I’m going to have a draft of a book that I started in the pandemic because my because I believe in play. My pandemic copy was that I went back to my dollhouse from childhood and started using it as like a way of generating creative activity for myself and I started working on this book about a girl who a big gigantic box arrives at her house that says it’s from Aunt Kate, but she doesn’t have an aunt Kate and when she opens the box there’s this gigantic dollhouse inside it, and she hates dolls. And one thing leads to another and she ends up sort of dismantling the dollhouse a bit. And in the night that night, she hears somebody crying and there’s somebody inside the dollhouse. And so it’s a, it’s sort of, it was my pandemic. It was like it’s a, it’s a sort of version of what I did in the pandemic where I went into a dollhouse and sort of began living in this imaginary world and I’ve just taken my character and sort of walked her into a similar a similar situation and I wrote a draft of it during the pandemic and because I was not in a good brain to be writing a light, fun middle grade at that moment in time, it got very, very dark. And so I have a draft of the book, but it became very clear to me that. I needed to just throw it away and start over, so I’m never gonna look back at that draft. I’m gonna, I’ve made a commitment to myself. Now that I have all of my like bits gathered together and I’m ready to start again, that I’m just going to sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pencil and start again.  

George: Will you pull those bits out or those bits are just helping to process in your brain when you go to write this. Next track?  

Laurel: No, I have piles and piles of like post it notes and old receipts with things scribbled on them. Because I was at the grocery store or whatever. I have scraps like that. I have texts and emails that I have sent myself. I have a notebook that sits beside my bed that I sometimes write in. I will take all of those bits and I will literally put them in a pile and I will go through them with a yellow legal pad and I will make a list of all the bits. And it’s and then I will type that into a computer like. Once I have to go through an analog like a pencil part of the process. And at some point it will end up as an outline, like those bits will become the outline for the book, and it’s just a question of like. I to the earlier conversation about time and space. So my life is such that even though my kids are older now. And I don’t have like small children under foot. My house is just full of other people’s thoughts and feelings, and I find that it’s very hard. Like, it’s like I’m swimming through other people’s anxieties and joys and stresses and phone calls and so probably what I will do is rent a cabin somewhere for, you know, a cheap cabin near my house or a cheap hotel room in Atlanta and lock myself in for a few days and just like, you know, turn all of that into the outline that then I can take with me into. 

George: Get it done? Yeah. 

Laurel: The book, yes. So sometimes for me it sometimes takes like 48 hours. Just like. 

Erin: And so a change of venue is very helpful when you’re revising or drafting. I found too. 

George: But even the hotel or Airbnb down the road is a, is great. 

Laurel: No, right. I have a Thailand in which is actually currently under renovation, but I’ve been renting the same hotel room for the last 48 hours of every book for like the last five books or something. It’s like 80 bucks a night. It is not a fancy hotel. It’s like 80 bucks a night because it like when I set this habit, it was like, what’s the cheapest thing I can afford that and like walk and get a sandwich from. So I found like the best deal on a sandwich adjacent hotel. And now it’s become a tradition to me. So I’m waiting to see when they reopen, like, what the Island looks like. 

George: Perfect. 

Erin: Umm, you know, that’s what Paul Sheldon does in Stephen King’s book Misery. He reads, he rents his processes. When he’s finishing a book, he rents the same secluded well, it’s a secluded cabin in the mountains. Yes.  

Laurel: Now hopefully this is. I mean, I remember misery. 

Erin: Story goes a different direction. 

Laurel: The problem is the story is not sandwiched, adjacent. If you just had sandwiches that never would. 

Erin: Now hope now if you see Kathy Bates when you leave this $80.00 a night hotel run the other direction. That’s all I’m saying. 

Laurel: I fear when it reopens it won’t be $80. A night anymore. But yes, something like that. 

George: All right. And so, Erin. Do you have a project you’re in process? 

Erin: Yes, I’m actually in copy edits for my next middle grade, which comes out March 5th, 5th. Yes, March 5th, 2024. It’s called The First State of Being, it’s a middle grade. It’s time travel kind of time travel light, you know, it’s like a coming of age. It’s time travel elements. Kind of like in the same vibe as when you reach me. And I actually, it’s a very different book from when you reach me, but when you reach me by Rebecca Stead is one of my absolute favorite books. So I kind of think of it as a love letter to that book. And then her book is a love letter to wrinkle in time. So I kind of think of it as like a little a chain of love letter books. So that’s coming out on March 5th. And then in August, I have a lower middle grade illustrated book coming out called Felix Powell Boy Dog and it’s about a little boy named Felix who I love so much, who shape shifts into everyday animals. So in this book, he shape shifts into a dog and he and his dog have little adventures in the backyard. And so that’s one that I’ve written and illustrated. It’s pretty heavily illustrated, so it’s for lower or middle grade. So that’s what’s going on. 

George: So Erin Entrada , Kelly, the middle grade novelist is doing artwork. I there was a you left us a piece in the art coupe a year. Or so ago so. 

Erin: Yeah, I have several pieces in there. It’s become like I’m here so much that I leave so many pieces. Of art and that aren’t cute. 

George: So have you always been an illustrator? 

Erin: I’ve always drawn for fun since I was a kid, but it didn’t occur to me until my editor suggested it that I could actually illustrate something so I’m not trained and I didn’t go to school and all that stuff. It just dropped for fun and when I was a kid, I illustrated. I’m curious, Laurel, when? With your books, when you were like, 8-9 and ten, did you illustrate yours? 

Laurel: Yes, yes. But I yes, they’re not good, but. 

Erin: Because I illustrated mine. Well, of course you’re 8 years old.   

Laurel: Yeah for sure. No, I think I. Think the thing that’s funny to me is my art like I would I spin in my head to take an art class like I would like. That’s on my list of things I would like to do, not because I expect to use the illustration, but just as part of the again like play as process, but it is funny whenever like yesterday when I sat down with the art supplies and started trying to draw. I just they’re exactly like they were when I was 10. Like huge eyes, no hands. Everybody’s feet like ankle to ankle standing in first position. My brain just, it’s like a thing where I’m stunted, like. 

Erin: But actually that you reminded me of something because that’s what I was, I was drawing for you know, when my first books were coming out. I was drawing for a play just for fun. Just to have like to sit and watch. It’s hard for me to sit and do one thing. So if I’m sitting watching TV, I’m usually also drawing or something and it never occurred to me to turn those into something. But that’s a great example of feeding a creative spirit. And at the time it had nothing to do with my writing. It was just for fun. And then it evolved and now I’m able to do it also for my books. But before that it was just it was just play. It was just, you know, I’m just drawing little doodles and cartoons and animals and it’s just to just to have fun. 

Laurel: It is interesting to think about I had a project I needed to work on two weeks ago for something for deadline where it’s hard to explain. But where I ended up doing this collage project, which is something I used to do before I had a cell phone all the time like I had a stack of stuff in my living room. If I was going to watch TV because for the same reason I need to keep my hands busy and I’m not a knitter, and I’m crocheter, so I always had this stack of old. I was living in Iowa and I had all these old magazines that I would get at this farm auction. And I would just cut them up and I would like decoupage, like, little pieces of furniture or, you know, greeting cards or calendars. I would make every year like a holiday calendar to give out to all my friends, things like that. And it was so funny. So somebody asked me to do this thing, and I took a day and I had like 8 hours or something where I just sat at the dining table and listened to podcasts and played cut and paste. 

Erin: Oh that’s fun 

Laurel: And it was so fun. And I got so like I got lost in it in a way that honestly, I don’t get lost in my writing right now. Like, I just was lost in the cut and paste and it, like, more and more perfect. Like, I wanted this blind exactly this. And I’m peeling rubber cement and I’m peeling things off and recasting them. And I just found myself thinking, Oh my gosh my phone has replaced all my creative projects. Like because when I sit and watch TV now I scroll on. I mean, I just I if you hate that this is true, but it’s true. Like I sit there and I scroll on my phone while I watch TV, which means I’m not really watching TV and I’m not really doing anything with my phone if they’re just. 

Erin: Oh, I do that too. 

Laurel: Like these two competing activities, but it’s totally different than the way it used to feel to put a movie on and like spend 2 hours getting lost in cutting up little pieces of paper, and so I did. I was interesting. I just recently had this moment of like, I don’t know. That I’ll ever draw the way that you draw. But we all have creative things that we have loved that we’ve like lost track of because the technology is built. 

Erin: Which brings us back to this retreat, right that that we’re the goal of the of our, this retreat was to bring people back to that thing that they’ve lost touch with. Yeah. 

Laurel: In the space, yeah. Exactly. Maybe if we come back next year, I will. Bring stacks of magazines, yes. From my decoupage, yeah. 

George: Yeah, I could totally get your bunch of Highlights magazines. 

Laurel: Yeah, exactly, you know. 

Erin: You’ve got the hook up. 

Laurel: Holy ****. No, no, we totally should if you don’t have this. 

Erin: That would be fun. 

Laurel: You can use old Highlights to create something. Make a big group collage or something that. 

Erin: Yeah, that would be fun. 

George: I really, just the play part was so much fun to be able to see that and so there were two pieces. You talked about, you really, you talked about kids are different today than they were like. That’s an interesting concept for writers to remember, like you’re 20 plus years on from when you were that age, how do you make sure getting into the head of a child or? 

Laurel: And you and and that is something where like so my most recent book really challenged this for me because, so it’s a book my book, it’s called The Witch of Woodland. It came out last spring and it’s about a girl who’s supposed to be preparing for her bat mitzvah, but she believes herself to be a witch and she has these two competing sort of theological systems and she doesn’t. She’s not sure how to navigate that. It’s like one way of describing the book and one of the things that happened in that book that I only realized, like halfway through the process, which so often is how this works. Like, you don’t really know what you’re navigating until you’re in it. Was that my parents are religiously intermarried. My mom’s Catholic, my dad’s Jewish, and I grew up for me, that bought mitzvah process was a process that involved a lot of pain because of that, right? That the Jewish community at that moment, my sense of self within the Jewish community was that I was never quite really Jewish. It was always a complicated fractured thing. And I had been watching my kids go through bar mitzvah. As I was writing this book and I had this huge realization in the original draft of the book, she’s from an intermarried family, and I realized I can’t write her this way because I’m going to import my pain. But the world today is different than the world was back then, and my kids are also from an intermarried religious family, and they never nobody ever made fun of them at Hebrew school, nobody ever made. Like made them feel like they didn’t belong, and it was this realization that it wasn’t that I had forgotten what it felt like. To be a kid, it was that I was importing my childhood pain in a way that was not appropriate to the moment that like I don’t think most kids from families like mine growing up in the world, that my character is growing up in, would feel that kind of trauma and that I was going to bring that trauma with her. And so I had to take away the intermarriage piece of the story. And just let her be a Jewish kid because it was more similar to what my children were experiencing. But it’s that kind of thing of like of like, it’s not like we have to remember that children are different in some ways. In some ways, they’re the same. But we have to remember that the world is different and that all of these things that we are writing that also we are writing out of our own experiences or our own challenges or struggles from childhood that we have to sort of translate them into the moment that we’re in. 


Now I think that’s the struggle too. Is like on a practical page level. You know, you read a lot of student manuscripts where the kids are gathering around their lockers or they’re carrying textbooks, or they’re teachers writing on a blackboard. And then I always have to go back and say, OK, does this school actually use lockers because a lot of schools don’t use lockers anymore. Do the kids actually have textbooks? Because a lot of kids and today schools don’t use textbooks anymore? Why is there a blackboard? You don’t see blackboards anymore, and it’s just an example, like on a on a practical level of how we bring the things that we remember, but the world is different, but then it’s also like the concept of or if they don’t, if nobody’s using cell phones and they’re in a 8th grade. I’ll always ask the author of the writer why is no one using cell phones cause kids notice that stuff because it’s part of their daily lives. If there’s no one using a phone, it needs to be somehow explained, or there needs to be a reason, right? So I think that there’s a lot of things that have changed in the world, but the goal is to remember that a lot of things haven’t changed about being a kid. There’s things that are totally universal, feeling left out, not knowing where you fit in the world, being self-conscious, feeling lonely. The friend drama, you know that kind of, crushes. All that stuff has not changed from 100 years ago to now. 

Laurel: I recently had a student working on a YA who there was there was a kid who was covering their textbook with a lunch, a grocery bag. Oh, yes. Yes. And I had this moment of realizing I was like. Oh honey, they don’t have textbooks, and they also don’t have brown paper grocery like neither of those things exist in the life of a 16 year old right now, right? Yes, they might have a Trader Joe’s plastic bag. You know, like it. But it was just that it. And we all do it like you input your nostalgia, you import your, your details, all of it. 

Erin: And what’s funny is there’s a, the middle grade really quickly. Another example is I had a student who was working on a middle grade and about a girl who wants to dance ballet because her grandmother wasn’t able to. Her grandmother is was, a World War 2 and she was in the ballet. But then she had to flee and she wasn’t able to anyway. So I was reading this and I thought so this girl is 12 today. Her grandmother, and then I thought, no, yours. I was so I had to tell the writer. I was like. No, your grandmother is from World War 2 era. But this girl is 12 and 2023.  

Laurel: Her grandmothers in World War. That’s an old grandma. 

Erin: So there’s, I don’t think there’s any possible way that her grandmother could be it. So it’s like how we do this thing without thinking about it, right. 

Laurel: Right. Yeah. Her grandma went to a Whitney Houston concert, actually. 

Erin: Yes, I’m your grandmother. No, no, I’m not. I’m not quite there yet but. You know, we import these things and we don’t realize it. So it’s about finding that balance between accessing the universal things, but also being aware that the world is very different from right when all of us were 12. 

Laurel: Or we’re all going to write historical novels set n the 80s? Yeah, exactly. Yes, that’s true. 

George: Seems to be the 80s around a comeback. Right, so fascinating. Well, thank you so much. I told you I’d only take 30 minutes. We’ve gone just a hair over, so that was perfect. So Laurel, Snyder, Erin Entrada Kelly, thank you so much for being with us at the Highlights Foundation. Thank you for what you do for creating stories for children. And thank you for being a part of the Highlight Foundation experience.  

Laurel: Well, thank you so much for having us.  

Erin: Yes. 

George: Great afternoon. 

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

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