Conducting these interviews with all kinds of #kidlit writers has been a BLAST…and given me so much to ponder! Last week’s interview with Brian Gehrlein was tons of fun, and this week I am delighted to welcome Amanda Davis to First Stories!
Many of you know Amanda from her involvement in the #kidlit community, but what follows is her terrific bio:
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. Amanda is the recipient of the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript Grant and teaches art at a public high school in Massachusetts where she was selected as 2020 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Amanda is the author of 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG and has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.
Me: Amanda! A HUGE welcome to you and thank you for talking to me on First Stories!
Amanda: I’m delighted to be here!
Me: Tell me about your “first story.” The one that really pushed you to consider publishing. What inspired you to write it? What was it about?
Amanda: I’ve been writing and drawing ever since I was young but in 2012 I took a continuing education course called, Writing and Illustrating for Children at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This course inspired me to create my very first picture book dummy that pushed me to consider publishing.
The story was about a sour apple who didn’t want anyone else to join his bowl and kept pointing out all the differences between him and the other fruits. Later, he realizes the beauty in these differences and the importance of taking time to ask questions and listen to other’s stories. The story and illustrations for the book were inspired by my work as an art educator where I encourage students to ask questions and learn about one another through their own art and writing. This is also something I strive to do in my personal life. I’m very curious and love to learn and listen to other people’s stories.
Me: Ohhh, the sour apple really tugs at my heart! How cute! And green/sour apples are a “fan favorite” here in my house. This fall, my kids and I will be off to the orchard to pick apples and I am sure we will come home with more green apples than any other kind. 🙂
But where is that sour apple story now?
Amanda: The story has been shelved for a while. It’s safely stored away in my filing cabinet in case I decide to go back to it one day!
Me: Are there any themes in that story that you can see in your writing today?
Amanda: Totally! I still think at the root of all my work is that idea of the importance of sharing our stories. Also, I would consider that first story informational fiction. I still love weaving fact and fiction together and have many newer and current manuscripts that do the same-along with nonfiction works, of course!
Me: Your manuscripts and books that I have read about – 30,000 STITCHES and THE MEMORY MARCH – are inspiring to me! The tagline for my website (and what I truly want to do as a writer) is “writing at the intersection of science and imagination.” I would love to learn any of your tips and tricks for seamlessly blending the two. You do it so well!
But those are questions for another interview! Ha! Back to your first story…
Looking back, what elements of your sour apple story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Amanda: Oh my! So many things, haa!! Funny story—I took what I thought was a polished dummy to my very first SCBWI Conference in New York. I dove right in and participated in a round table critique from an editor from one of the Big Five (or Four now) publishers. She absolutely tore it apart-both the writing and the art! At 1,000 words, she noted it was too long, that the text was didactic and that the illustration style was not marketable. Somehow, I contained my tears for the duration of the critique but left there crying and questioning my ability to succeed in the industry.
With that said, I don’t regret bringing the story there to get critiqued. I took a risk and learned from that experience. I think taking risks and looking at every opportunity as one to grow is huge in this industry. Especially starting out. You could sit with a project for years continuing to revise or make it better. Perhaps you’re telling yourself it’s not good enough or you’re afraid of failing. Whatever the reason, if our goal is to get a story published, take that first step to get it out in the world! People need to hear your stories!
Me: I resonate with both taking chances but also pulling back and waiting…waiting…and then wondering if I need to wait even longer. Thank you for challenging us to take risks, but remembering to learn from our mistakes. After all, they are really opportunities to grow! So, keep writing! Keep learning! Keep growing – whatever your calling.
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Amanda: Thank you, Heather, for this awesome series! It encouraged me to dig back into my first story along with other old manuscripts, which I haven’t done for a while.
That first story is a great reminder of where I started and how far I’ve come in my growth and learning of the craft! That old saying of “you don’t know what you don’t know” is so true. There was (and still) is so much for me to learn but I’ve definitely improved my craft and found my illustration style, which I hope is more marketable than before.
I love a challenge and always believed I could do it as long as I never gave up. I think that mentality is what we need in order to persevere in any new endeavor. With each project, we reveal a bit of ourselves to the world, and we need to be alright with being vulnerable-tears and all, ha! This aspect of being a creative is scary but also extremely powerful.
Since writing that first story, I’ve also learned the importance of having solid support from a writing/illustrating community. My kidlit community has grown so much since writing that first story and for that, I’m extremely grateful.
Me: I’m so glad that this series allowed you to look back on your writing journey. I’m fairly new to this wide world of publishing, and I am soaking up all that I can! But even with my limited time as a dedicated writer (I’ve been writing since I was tiny but never with regularity and commitment until last year), I can already look back at my “First Story” and see improvement in my writing.
Thanks so much for the encouragement to persevere, to learn all that I can, and to lean into the writing/kidlit community! I said it two weeks ago, and I’ll say it again – my critique group has helped me so much! Those writers have become my dear friends, as we all critique each other’s work and cheer each other on! And now for the final question:
I would love to hear about your latest project! You had a book release this year – 30,000 STITCHES! Spoiler: it is ALL about 9/11! It’s an amazing, unique, timely story in light of the 20th anniversary.
How did you come up with the idea for this book? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Amanda: 30,000 Stitches tells the true story of the American flag that was placed over Ground Zero days after 9/11, becoming torn, tattered and eventually taken down. Later, the flag went on to travel on a historic journey across all 50 states to be restored, back to thirteen stripes and fifty stars, and returned to New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of unity and hope.
The story was inspired by my time as an art educator in the classroom when I was looking for a lesson to do for the tenth remembrance of 9/11. I read an article about the story of the flag and knew I had found my lesson. We learned all about the flag’s journey and the unity, healing, and resilience that are woven into the story. We made our own version of the flag in class that emphasized the strength in our togetherness.
And yes, I think the story of 30,000 Stitches mimics the themes from my “first story” because it is all about taking time to tell our stories and the importance of asking about and listening to other’s stories to better understand one another and create a kinder and more compassionate world.
Me: What a tremendous story! The 20th anniversary was particularly meaningful for my husband and I – our kids were old enough to understand when we told our stories of where we were that day (we definitely took your advice to share our stories! :)). I really cannot wait to pick up a copy of your beautiful book and share this story with them as well.
Amanda, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to look back at the past and share your “First Story” with us! And your encouragement to persevere, to share our stories, and to lean into community is so helpful and inspiring. Thank you!
Amanda: Thank you so much for having me!
And thank you all for joining Amanda and I for this interview! I hope that you enjoyed another peek into a published author’s very first story and how her writing journey has progressed. As a SUPER SPECIAL offer, Amanda is willing to give away a signed book plate! In order to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, you MUST comment on this blog post. An additional entry in the drawing will be given to anyone who QUOTE RETWEETS (only this option) the Twitter link to this interview.
This giveaway will close on Wednesday, October 7, at 8:00 am. A winner will be announced on this website and on Twitter that night.