Autumn is in full swing – leaves are falling by the bagful in my backyard, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has kicked off, the kidlit community is stuffed with fun contests, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I have to give thanks for the children’s writing community. It is special – generous, kind, and encouraging!
And one especially kind and encouraging presence on the kidlit Twitter threads is Ebony Mudd! I have loved following her writing career, and I am so excited to talk to her about her first story today. First, a little bit about Ebony:
Ebony Lynn Mudd writes picture books and novels for underrepresented kids who don’t see themselves in the media. Ebony spends her time fighting fiercely against inequalities, toxic masculinity, and gender stereotypes, in her personal life and with her art. As a former professional dancer and current owner of a tuition-free dance company, she is a bridge for underprivileged kids that hope to work in the arts. She appreciates the creative freedom that choreographing to a song gives her and often compares it to creating a story from a blank page. Ebony is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a member of the admin team for Black Creators HQ.
Me: Welcome to First Stories, Ebony!
Ebony: Thanks for having me!
Me: So in this series, I’m talking with writers – published and unpublished, with agents and without agents – about the first story that inspired them to pursue writing. 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?
Ebony: My first story was affectionately titled My Big Brother’s Pants Don’t Fit.
On December 29, 2018 my older sister, and only sibling, passed away suddenly from meningitis. I was 27 years old. Married. And my son had recently turned three. As I navigated the first year of grief with my mom and family by my side, my brain couldn’t process what was going on so I turned to books. I needed books to help my son understand, “Where is TT?”, “Why can’t I see TT?” And quite frankly, I needed books to understand the same.
I started researching grief books, books explaining death to kids, and adult sibling bereavement books. It was important for me to have books to supplement the hard talks I had to have with my son, especially as I was navigating my own grief. That’s when I realized that books were saving me, and I have so many things I’m passionate about. I wish I could talk to kids all over the world about grief, representation, equality, etc. Writing books is a direct door to those kids.
Me: Wow, Ebony, there is so much here! How very difficult to lose your sister when you were both so young…and to have to help a child process their grief as well? So difficult. But I understand what you mean about books. There is nothing like picking up a book and seeing yourself reflected in a character. Powerful for both adults and children.
Where is that story now?
Ebony: It has a different title. It has gone through many revisions. It has transformed into something that has the same feelings, the same purpose, but it’s shaped in a way that is unrecognizable to the first draft. I mean not even the characters have the same names!
I pitched this book at #PitMad and #PBPitch in 2020 and got over 20 likes from editors and agents. It was a book that definitely helped me get my body in the publishing door. I have since moved on to focus on other manuscripts, but I do hope to publish this picture book someday 🙂 And if I ever do, you’ll be the first to know!
Me: YAY!! You’re the first writer I’ve interviewed who pitched their first story and got likes from agents and editors! I hope I can see it on shelves one day!
Are there any themes in that story that you can see in your writing today?
Ebony: Maybe not directly. But indirectly, my gosh, yes. I seem to gravitate towards themes that in some way say, “Hey beautiful Black kids, find something in YOU that you love no matter what the world says. You are the main character.”
In my first story, the young boy who lost his sibling is a Black boy who is going through this big life thing. Although the themes in this book are related to grief and not all my books are, it has a bigger purpose. Black kids are main characters! They live, love, grieve, dance, and all the same things that other kids do. Their lives don’t just revolve around oppression. All of my books show that in some way. I’m proud of that.
Me: And I am delighted to know a writer who is crafting stories with those themes and that purpose! Hooray!
Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Ebony: Besides the fact that my first draft of that story was over 1,500 words you mean? Haha!
I think if we are talking “market” then this book would be considered niche which doesn’t always have widespread appeal. It was written for a very specific audience: children who lost a sibling or someone close to them. I received lots of beautiful feedback about that story. The story was very well received among critique partners and beta readers. However, some agents did think it was too quiet. And others thought it could sell. Definitely a mixed bag of reactions!
Me: It sounds like you did the very best thing with your first story – you joined a critique group and writing organizations and actually got feedback! Ummm….when I finished my first story, I immediately started querying agents. I just KNEW they would want to represent and publish my story! Ha! Why wouldn’t they, right?! *face palm*
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Ebony: My first story saved me during a time when I couldn’t get out of bed, because my grief was swallowing me whole. There were many things I used to love that I couldn’t do during my grief. The one thing I could do from my bed, or the couch, was WRITE. So I did. I wrote when I couldn’t sleep at night. I wrote when I had to be alone. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. It’s how I discovered my love for the blank page. It’s the story that led me to realize I have a lot to say to kids. I will always say that writing this story saved me.
Me: Your passion for writing and for kids, especially underrepresented kids, is evident and palpable. It’s inspiring! And from your latest news, I can tell that big things are coming for you!
Can you share about your latest project? How did you come up with the idea for this story? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Ebony: I’m going to have a very annoying publishing answer. It’s a secret! Haha!
But I will say this….I want all kids to feel seen. The Black kids who are made to feel that their natural hair is not the standard of beauty. The little boy who wants to dance ballet. The kid who lost their sibling. And I can promise you, the projects I have coming up will make good on that!
But since I dodged that answer, I’ll share something that I CAN tell you! In October, I signed with Erin Murphy at Erin Murphy Literary Agency! I mean WHAT?! I’m still happy dancing about this news, because I know we are going to make such a great team. My querying journey was a little different than ones you may normally hear about. From querying to signing, it was about a four week process. You always hear about the waiting in publishing, but please know…whatever is for you is for you. It can happen quickly, too! And it’s still a story worth telling!
I wrote my story. Revised, revised, revised. But then….I only queried THREE agents that I knew would be a dream to work with. I did a lot of research beforehand and decided to go for it! Look, some people disagree with this method of querying. “Risky,” they will say. And sure, putting all of your “dream” agents on one round may not be your strategy, and that’s okay! But I need to say this. If you do the work…if you believe in your story…if you have trusted critique partners…if you do your research…why can’t your story be the “I only queried three agents and signed within a month!” story? As a Black woman, I tend to lean on the side of protecting myself which translates into doubting myself. But not this time. Someone has to have that quick, fantastical publishing journey story. This time it was me. And next time, WHY NOT YOU?!
Me: Ebony!! AHHH!!! I saw your announcement about signing with Erin Murphy on Twitter and was happy dancing with you! But I had no idea of the timeline or the details – thank you for sharing! Yes, four weeks is light speed/time warp speed in the publishing industry, but you’re right, it CAN happen. And I am genuinely glad that you have signed up with such a stellar agent. Most importantly, that you know that she will be a great teammate.
I really can’t thank you enough for taking the time to talk with me about My Big Brother’s Pants Don’t Fit and your latest big news!
Ebony: Thanks for having me!
You can find out more about Ebony and her books at her website:
And on Instagram and Twitter: @ebonylynnmudd
This week, Ebony is offering not ONE but TWO giveaways!!
(1) One fiction, non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique from a non-agented Author + overall assessment of a picture book submission package via zoom: includes a query letter and 3 picture books.
(2) One separate person will win a copy of SOUL FOOD SUNDAY by Winsome Bingham and C.G. Esperanza.
To enter: Follow Heather and Ebony on Twitter and RT this post. For extra entries, subscribe to Ebony’s newsletter on her website and post proof in the comments, tag a friend in the comments, follow Ebony on Instagram. (Extra entry for each of these).
The giveaways will close on Thursday morning, November 11, and the winners will be announced on Twitter on Friday, November 12.