SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Interview with Mentor Skila Brown

Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.

 
In this series of articles, you will get a closer look at the 2019 mentors; who they are, their writing journey and what potential mentees should know about them. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit the website.
We sat down with Skila Brown who is mentoring picture book authors. Welcome, Skila! 

I always like to know about how people became writers so could you share with us your path to writing. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?

 

I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was a child, I would make up stories and write them down in a notebook. My first love was and is reading. I think when you read as much as I do, you eventually want to try telling stories yourself. Writing, journaling, and making up stories have always been in my life, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I began to try to earn money from it. It was a hobby only, prior to that.

 

And since writing and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us how you first became published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?

 

I started out doing some freelance writing for parenting magazines and educational websites. That morphed into publishing a few poems and stories in children’s magazines, which led me to realize that what I really wanted to do was write books for kids. I found a conference to attend, joined SCBWI, then submitted a few picture books to various agents and editors, thinking this was all going to be so easy. I was wrong.

 

One of the things I was most wrong about was that those early manuscripts I was submitting simply weren’t ready to be submitted. I had some talent as a writer; I could see that. But I hadn’t honed my craft. I hadn’t properly studied writing. I knew I didn’t just want to get published, I wanted to write the best version of the stories that lived in my head I could possibly write. So I decided to apply for an MFA program. The great thing about being in an MFA program is that it completely shifts your focus away from “getting published” and instead helps you focus on improving your writing.

 

Candlewick Press generously sponsored a scholarship at my graduate school, that I won, for the manuscript that became Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks. I was querying agents around that time with my creative thesis, the novel in verse that became Caminar. Candlewick ended up publishing both books.

 

What I’ve learned about publishing is that having some aspects of the book be outside my control is actually a relief. I like being able to focus on what I do best—writing—and leaving the rest up to the experts.

 

 

What role did mentors/critique groups/MFA play in your creative career?

 

I had the good fortune to work closely with Sarah Ellis, Sharon Darrow, Shelley Tanaka, and Julie Larios while I was completing my MFA program. All pushed me to dig deep, write what matters most to me, be brave and vulnerable with my writing, and think outside the box. They are all talented writers and masterful teachers. I hear each of their voices in my head, even as I continue to write new pieces.

 

I’ve been in a few different critique groups over the years, but the best one is the one I’ve been in for the past seven years. We call ourselves the BrainTrust, which is an apt name, since I think a writer is best served by a critique group filled with people whom she trusts. I don’t always agree with their suggestions for improving my stories, but I have enough trust in their talents and vision to try what they suggest. I’m always glad I did.

 

What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program?

 

I’ve been a teacher all my life. It’s energizing to help others find their best stories within themselves. I’ve learned so much about writing over the past fifteen years, and I’m a big believer in sharing knowledge. I look forward to passing along what I’ve learned to others.

 

 

What else should potential mentees know about you?

 

My favorite novels are ones sent in fantasy worlds, or historical fiction, or romance stories, or adventure tales. I love fairy tale retellings with a twist! When it comes to picture books, I’m a stickler for flawless rhyme, humor, and concise text. I love subversive stories for all ages. I’m genuinely an eclectic reader. Potential mentees should be prepared to broaden their reading selection, try new things, and dig deep into revision. 

 Thank you, Skila! For even more information about Skila, visit her website: http://skilabrown.com