Hello friends and welcome back to the First Stories series, where I talk to writers (published, unpublished, agented, unagented) about their first story – the one that really compelled them to pursue writing and publishing. The previous four interviews with Norene Paulson, Brian Gehrlein, Amanda Davis, and Tina Cho were gems – I learned so much from each of these writers, and I hope you did too!
Today, I am particularly excited to feature a writer from my “neck of the woods.” Allen R. Wells! He’s one of the coordinators for my Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) region – Southern Breeze! He recently signed a big ole book deal (this summer), but I don’t want any spoilers, so without further ado,
Allen R. Wells is native of Jackson, Mississippi. Ever since second grade he has always had a passion to write and, over the years, he has continued to nurture his craft. He currently resides in the DMV where he works primarily as mechanical engineer and children’s book author.
Me: Welcome, Allen!
Allen: Hello, Heather, and thanks for having me!
Me: As you know, this series is dedicated to exploring those first stories that really got you thinking about writing in some professional capacity. “Maybe I should find an agent?” or “Maybe I could get this published?”
So, tell me about that “first story.” What inspired you to write it? What was it about?
Allen: The first story that pushed me to really consider publishing was a story that I wrote back in 7th grade! Yep! In a Computer Technology class. During that class we were learning to use PowerPoint and other Microsoft Office Products. But while learning PowerPoint, we were tasked with creating a PowerPoint Presentation on anything that we wanted. I wrote a story and turned it into a PowerPoint Movie of sorts, with all the animations, sounds, and graphics. The presentation was a success and it made me realize that I wanted to become a writer.
Looking back from where I am now, although it had a beginning, middle, and end, I don’t think that story is one that I would even try to have published now! LOL! It was a story about an unhappy squirrel and overcoming sadness.
Me: Seventh grade?! Amazing! I have also been writing for as long as I can remember – I couldn’t even spell all the words correctly in one of my earliest stories! – but what impresses me is your identifying “I want to be a writer” and pursuing that from such a young age. So neat!
So where is that story now?
Allen: In a bin under my bed. Ha! Where it shall stay until I feel like reminiscing again.
Me: I am SO relieved that you still have that story and (I hope!) the movie that goes with it. I have kept every story I ever wrote – through moves across the country, through marriage and children. And, like you, it’s fun to pull those out and reminisce.
Do you see any themes in that first story that echo in your stories today?
Allen: Hmmm…actually, it’s pretty remarkable to see, but…yes! I think that some of stories that I have written have those same themes of coping with emotion or loss that I was already exploring back in seventh grade. In fact, my debut picture book, expected in Summer of 2024, DANTÉ PLAYS HIS BLUES…
Me: Wait! Wait! Not yet! Sorry to interrupt, but I am saving your AWESOME picture book debut news until the very end!
Allen: Ha! Sounds good!
Me: Back to your very first story… Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
I didn’t receive professional feedback on that story. However, when I read it now, I can see one particular element that made unmarketable – its “hard moral”. It was very preachy.
Me: It’s very easy to fall into that trap. Maybe it’s all the Aesop’s Fables or fairy tales or folk tales we were told as children? Those are pretty preachy! But I catch myself telling and not showing ALL. THE. TIME.
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Allen: Although it wasn’t the first story that I had ever written, it was the first story that my mom and I had written together, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Me: WOW! You didn’t say that your mom helped a little. That is incredibly special! And as a mom of an eighth grader, it makes my heart full to think that my son might remember me helping him with a project that helped him figure out what he wanted to be.
OK! Let’s come back to your awesome news! I would love to hear about your deal announcement for DANTÉ PLAYS HIS BLUES! This “sounds” like a jazzy, musical book! How did you come up with the idea for this book? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Allen: Yes!! DANTÉ!!! I am so excited about this story!!
Danté’s story came about back in 2010-2011. It started off as a journal entry after reading in newspapers, listening to teacher-friends talk about how their several kids who were facing housing insecurity, and reflecting on my own childhood and how I witnessed kids in my own community struggling with displacement.
Feeling that this kind of story was needed in the children’s picture book realm, I submitted it as a manuscript to Lee and Low Books’ New Voices contest. Although it wasn’t selected as winner, Cheryl Klein, Kandice Coston, and the rest of the team at Lee and Low Book saw potential in my story and provided very helpful feedback. I am so thankful for having worked with them.
Me: I cannot wait to see this book in print and in the hands of kids all over! I am so glad that you took the time to write, revise, craft, and submit this story. And thanks for chatting with me today about your First Story!
Allen: Thanks for having me!
And now…another special GIVEAWAY! Allen is giving away one picture book manuscript critique to a lucky winner! Please comment below in order to enter the drawing. You can earn an additional entry by retweeting this post.
UPDATE!!! Due to #PBPitch and Halloweensie, Giveaway will end on Wednesday morning, November 3, and the winner will be announced here and on Twitter on Thursday, November 4.