Hello, friends! I hope you all had enjoyable summers, despite the heat wave that has gripped most of the country (except San Francisco, as one of my friends who lives there so kindly pointed out!). The last two months have been full of swimming, friends, and summer fun in our area of the South, but as schools resume, I wanted to pick up this amazingly fun series of interviews with fellow writers – First Stories!
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jyn Hall to First Stories! Jyn and I met through our local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) – Southern Breeze. We both began our professional writing journeys at similar times and I have been thrilled to cheer her on (and sometimes critique her lovely stories) in her many successes this year. Check out her bio, y’all, she’s also an agented actress!
Jyn Hall has been a professional storyteller for most of her life across various mediums (writer, agented actress, director, producer). Before she dove into the world of kidlit, she authored an award-winning screenplay, commercial scripts, comedy sketches, and a podcast episode for an Emmy-winning producer. Jyn is an active member of SCBWI and 12×12. She has won a few kidlit contests, including the honor of Finalist in the 2022 PBParty Contest and a finalist in SCBWI Southern Breeze 2021 Writing Contest. Jyn was recently chosen as author Kate Allen Fox’s mentee. Originally from San Diego, Jyn lives in Atlanta with her husband, Steve, and their diva Boston Terrier rescue, Kendall. Writing picture books gives Jyn an excuse to tap into childlike wonder. Also, she is still patiently waiting for her mermaid tail to grow in.
Me: Hello, Jyn, and welcome to First Stories! It sure is fun to have you here today!
Jyn: Thanks, Heather! I’m delighted to “drop by”.
Me: So, 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?
Jyn: I have a heart for social justice, equality, and racial reconciliation. I attended a huge reconciliation event a few years back and was deeply moved by one speaker, relaying his family’s history of slavery. The very first picture book I wrote (as an adult) came to me one night not long after, inspired by that event. I wrote the first draft the next morning. I did tons of research for the next draft before reaching out to the speaker to see if I could tell his story. It eventually morphed into a very different story.
Me: It sounds like a forceful, fantastic story! Where is it now?
Jyn: Both versions are permanently shelved. I’ve come to understand that even the new, very different story is not my story to tell. I’m thrilled that the speaker and his organization, in further communications, told me they have plans for a children’s book and maybe a movie. I hope it happens because it’s an exquisite story that needs to be in the world.
Me: I hope so too! It’s been amazing to watch the shifts and changes in the publishing industry, even as someone VERY new to the publishing world and who’s still dipping her toe in. The number of new books by underrepresented authors is fabulous. The new stories being told, opening up corners of the world that have been too long overlooked – it’s wonderful. I love sharing those stories with my own kids!
But, as you say, it’s also important to recognize the stories that are not really our own to tell and to step aside for others. That takes so much courage and kindness, Jyn. Thanks for modeling those character traits!
Are there any themes in your First Story that you can see in your writing today?
Jyn: I love this question! I have, at times, looked over current polished stories and found similar themes, but I’ve never thought to reach so far back to this first one. And yes, it does have themes that run through many of my stories (at least the stories of my heart): Family, Freedom, Pursuing & Achieving Dreams.
Me: I recently took the time to list some of my favorite books as a kid and their major themes (at least what resonated in my little girl heart). It was a great exercise and revealed most of the same themes that I’m diving into in my own writing.
Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Jyn: I got feedback on the idea, but not a critique on the actual story. Around that time I joined SCBWI and dove into the kidlit community. Everyone loved the idea, but gently told me it wasn’t my story to tell.
Me: The kidlit writing community has been welcoming to so many, myself included! And I have had only kind critiques and advice so far – and it’s been good advice, and they have been necessary manuscript changes! I’ve learned that we cannot write in a vacuum – we need the support of other writers. Glad I have you!
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Jyn: It’s special to me because it started my kidlit journey! It moved me from writing scripts to writing kidlit and discovering the beautiful, positive kidlit community. After this first story, I gained enough confidence to tell a non-industry friend I could co-write her family heritage picture book with her. From there I joined SCBWI, then 12×12 and critique groups. And now have about 20 PB manuscripts written.
Me: Twenty! Whoa, friend! That’s fabulous! What a journey you’ve been on, and what a delight to get to cheer you on from a neighboring state! Ha!
Anything else you would like to share about your writing journey?
Jyn: Even though everyone says it’s a long journey to being agented/published, it’s still so much longer than I expected! That “first story” was about 3.5 years ago. I’ve been querying (second round) for several months now and had some lovely champagne passes, requests for more, and even one agent call! This year I was a PBParty Contest Finalist with a good deal of agent and editor interest and I was just chosen as author Kate Allen Fox’s mentee! I’m excited for this next part of the journey, as I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
For those also in the querying trenches — hang in there; it’s tough! I have these quotes on my wall for encouragement:
“Writers, don’t take for granted that you are already putting your dreams into action by just getting something down on the page. Do you delight in the writing process? Good. Then you are already, in my book, living a successful life.”
— Wendi Gu, literary agent
“In the end, the difference between a published writer and an unpublished one comes down to one thing: The unpublished writer gave up, and the published writer didn’t.”
— Judy Delton, author
“The difference between pre-published author and published author is one day.” — Lisa Wheeler, author
Me: I LOVE those quotes and I can’t wait to see what you and Kate Allen Fox cook up together! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat. Hope we get to meet in person at a local SCBWI conference soon.
Jyn: Me too! And thanks for having me, Heather!
Jyn is graciously offering a query letter critique! To enter, comment below OR retweet on Twitter. Giveaway closes August 15, winner announced on Twitter on August 16.