Welcome back to First Stories! Autumn is beginning to blow in my neck of the woods and I’m so excited! It’s my favorite season. And a season full of kidlit fun! I’ll be sure to link to some of the upcoming fun at the end of the post. Thanks for spending a bit of your day with us. I can’t wait to introduce you to Moni Ritchie and her first story! Read on to see more about her writing journey.
Moni Ritchie Hadley is a half-Japanese, Los Angeles-based writer and former educator. Her debut picture book, THE STAR FESTIVAL (Albert Whitman & Co. 2021), received a starred review from the School Library Journal, among other honorary mentions. Her work can also be found in Highlights and High Five Magazine. Moni is an avid believer in education and created the Write Kidlit NOW! Scholarship fund to help other children’s book writers study and live their dream. Find out more @bookthreader on social media and at moniritchie.com.
Me: Hello, Moni, and welcome to First Stories! Thanks so much for joining me today!
Moni: Thanks for having me!
Me: I can’t wait to talk about your first story and your amazing publishing news! So, let’s jump right in…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?
Moni: My first story was about my cat, Precious. Endearing as she was, Precious loved hanging out in the most inconvenient places!
Me: I LOVE it!! Our family adores our cat, Whiskers, who is incorrigible. We make up all kinds of funny stories about him. Where is your story about Precious now?
Moni: While I believe in continuing to move forward with my writing, I dust this one off from time to time to see if I can add a unique layer or twist to it. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m still hopeful! Could it become the next THEY ALL SAW A CAT? Hmmm, a writer can dream, right?
Me: Yes it could! Don’t give up on Precious yet! Keep up those writer-ly dreams. 🙂 Looking back, what elements of that first story made it unmarketable? Did you receive feedback on that story? What did that feedback teach you?
Moni: I submitted the story to a publisher and received a handwritten note back. Yes! However, she called it a quiet story which sent me on my long journey on how NOT to write a quiet story. I don’t know if I have mastered that yet. It had sparse text, under a hundred words, and definite cute elements but lacked more than one hook or a deeper meaning which probably earned me the pass. Since then, my texts have expanded to roughly seven hundred words. My Japanese-themed books seem to run longer and have more of a story and characters. But I’m still trying to write a minimal-text concept book with wow factor!
Me: Wow! Personalized feedback from a publisher is a gem. But isn’t it interesting how the comments we receive on a manuscript affect our future writing? For instance, you mentioned your “long journey” on how to NOT write quiet stories. I can relate. I gravitate toward stories that would be considered “quiet” – full of lush descriptions, vivid settings, etc. I need to hear more about your “journey” into LOUD! 🙂 Fascinating that your manuscripts have expanded! Usually, we picture book writers must do the opposite (cut down on words).
Why is that “first story” special to you? How was it important for your writing journey?
Moni: I felt like I accomplished something special. That first manuscript might never sit in the hands of a child, but it’s pretty awesome to know that children have held my words in their hands. Those few words opened the door to a second and a third manuscript. I try to remember that any time I am frustrated or stuck. Just get something down on the paper. Every step is a building block. Writing is cumulative.
Me: Such wisdom right there! Celebrate completing a manuscript. Celebrate revising a manuscript. Celebrate joining a critique group. As you say, writing is one foot in front of another. Over and over.
I would love to hear about your upcoming book release – ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP! What can you tell us about this book? How did you come up with the idea for it? Does it relate at all to your “first story”?
Moni: ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP actually doesn’t have anything in common with my first story! I branched out! It’s about a young Japanese girl who tries to make friends at her new school through the art of origami folding. She discovers that friendships take patience and practice, just like the steps to origami. This story came to me in an unexpected way.
After the debut of my book, THE STAR FESTIVAL, an editor at the same publishing house, Albert Whitman, asked me to write an origami story. I drew upon my childhood experiences for the friendship theme. Being from a military family, we moved quite a bit. Making friends at new schools was always a process, especially since I was so shy. It features artwork by illustrator Nathalia Takeyama and launches on April 1, 2023.
Me: I’ve heard that editors often like to work with the same authors if they have a project that fits! How fun to get to maintain that relationship! What a great story! ANZU sounds so delightful. And as you mentioned before, full of layers. Friendship, overcoming shyness, being different, origami and crafts.
Anything else you would like to share about your writing journey? More upcoming release news?
Moni: Thank you for asking! I’m excited to share a scholarship opportunity for unpublished, unagented kidlit writers. It took me thirteen years to get published, and I want to help other writers work toward their dreams of publication. I believe in education, so two writers will receive awards to study at a school of their choice anytime within a year. Submissions open on October 1 and continue for the entire month. Check out my website for more details about the Write Kidlit NOW! Scholarship at https://www.moniritchie.com/wkns.html
Me: WHAT AN AMAZING OPPORTUNITY!!! Wow, Moni, how generous of you! Heads up, fellow kidlit writers, this is fantastic, so make sure you apply in a few weeks! (Told you there was good stuff coming in the fall!) I will re-post a link to Moni’s website in October to remind y’all to apply!
Moni, thank you so much for being willing to talk about your very first story!
Moni: Thanks for having me!
ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP will be available for pre-order soon! Check back for details on ordering! In the meantime, Moni is generously offering a copy of either THE STAR FESTIVAL or ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP (when its available)!!! Yay!! Comment below OR retweet the link to this article for a chance to win!