Monday Interview: Poet, Children’s Book Writer & Social Media Mogul GREG PINCUS!

Hi everyone, April is School Library Month and National Poetry Month! How are you celebrating? 🙂

Today I’m hyper-supra excited to have gotten an interview out of Greg Pincus busy schedule. I first met Greg at a SCBWI conference, where he reviewed and critiqued my blog for a good, solid 30 minutes. In addition, I had the opportunity to ask him any questions I had regarding social media and children writing–like what was the most efficient way to use twitter, Facebook, etc… I went home with pages of notes Greg had compiled ahead of our meeting, that included advices about blogging and about Multiculturalism Rocks. I wrote about it here. As you will discover during this interview, Greg is one multi-talented and multi-faceted children’s book writer. Let’s dive in!

MULTICULTURALISM ROCKS: Hi Greg, a big thank you for joining us on Multiculturalism Rocks! You’re a screenwriter, a children’s book writer, a poet, a volunteer librarian and, as I’ve nicknamed you (though I found out that others call you that, too), a social media mogul. 😀

I regularly read your posts on GottaBook and The Happy Accident. The first one is all about children’s literature. The second one is focused on social media. What is a “happy accident”? I know from a good source that you’ve had quite a few of your own (hint to April 1st, 2006 and your Fib poems)….

GREG PINCUS: A “happy accident” is a little bit like a lucky break or serendipity… though I like to think we can set ourselves up for these things. In fact, if you look at the happy accident you allude to, I think it’s a good example.

On April 1, 2006, I blogged about Fibs – 20 syllable poems based on the Fibonacci sequence – and how it would be fun to spread them virally around the web for National Poetry Month. I asked everyone I could to help and did everything I could to spread the word. In the end, it happened – thousands of poems appeared on hundreds and hundreds of websites.

That end result was not in my control, though I did everything to set myself up for it. What’s interesting to me, too, is that happy accidents continued to come from the spread of Fibs, including a two book deal… for children’s novels!… with Arthur A. Levine Books. Again, this was not entirely in my control, but I worked to set myself up for it rather than relying simply on “luck.”

Social media is a great engine for happy accidents, small and large both. Connecting with others, and asking and answering questions, is a great way to get yourself set up for good things to happen. Of course, we need to recognize situations as they come, too, and be proactive in making things turn out well.

Back in 2006, I could have been content with having one huge day of traffic… but to me, it seemed like there was more possible, even if I didn’t know what. So I kept asking my network and brainstorming to come up with other possible things to do with the excitement. That’s what lead me into the New York Times and the book deal.

MR: Congratulations on the two-book deal with Arthur Levine Books! What prompted you to write for kids? What is your genre, what type of stories most appeal to you as a writer?

GP: I think I never grew up, so writing for kids was a natural! I think, too, that the type of stories that appeal to me… the ones I feel compelled to write… are the type of stories that appealed to me as a kid, so I see no reason to fight it. I tend to write funny stories (well, I think they’re funny) no matter what age I write for. I’ve written everything from thrillers to farce to dramas, though, so I don’t think about genre when I write – I focus instead on telling whatever story it is that I want to tell.

As a reader, I love funny, enjoy thrillers, seek out non-fiction, and read a lot of poetry (mostly, though not exclusively, poetry for children).

MR: Let me get this straight: You write. You blog. You Tweet. You volunteer at a school library. You attend various conferences on technology and media, as well as children’s literature. Not to mention the time devoted to your family. How do you do it all? I’m one of those who could use one or two time management tips. 😀

GP: I gave up sleep in 2003 and have found everything much more manageable since then.

Actually, what I do is prioritize and re-evaluate constantly. As an example, I initially planned to post five times a week at The Happy Accident. I realized soon that I couldn’t sustain that, so something was going to have to change somewhere. Eventually, after a few different attempts at rejiggering, I came to the conclusion that the right balance for me was two times a week at the Happy Accident. This was reached based on really thinking about my goals, the likely results, and my priorities.

I am also pretty brutal with myself in terms of time allowed on certain tasks (well, brutal when I’m having time issues. Discipline can slip when everything’s going fine!). I do my blog reading via my Google Reader, and I allot a certain amount of time each morning to read what’s waiting for me. If I don’t finish… oh well! Sure, sometimes later in the day I have 10 free minutes – not enough time to write, but enough time to accomplish something if I want – and I might pick up the reading then. Or I might update Facebook or read posts there or visit Twitter or or or. I guess again here it’s about prioritizing, too – write my book or read blogs? Easy call. So in writing time, I don’t read blogs. If necessary, I turn off my wifi connection (or one could install Freedom or other management tools!). It isn’t easy – I could spend all day reading and chatting – but knowing the end goals helps.

MR: I LOVE 30 Poets in 30 Days, the event you host every April at GottaBook. I particularly enjoy how it celebrates cultural diversity in rhyme and verse. How did that come about?

GP: We’re lucky in that the field of children’s poetry has a wonderfully rich collection of voices, and one of the goals I had when I started 30 Poets/30 Days was to make sure that the project reflected that. Luckily for me, the poets I’ve asked to join in have said yes.

I also noticed when I asked poets for recommendations, they also suggested a wonderfully diverse collection of poets, including exposing me to people I hadn’t known. This was another more selfish goal of 30/30 – broadening my own reading and finding amazing new-to-me poets and poetry to enjoy.

I think exposing everyone to diverse voices is important, too, but at the end of the day, the diversity came about because I love seeing and learn from seeing other perspectives and hearing other voices, and I wanted to share what I love with everyone who stops by.

MR: I’m talking to Greg, the social media expert. Multicultural books often suffer from a lack of publicity and exposure. Do you have any advice for authors promoting their work? From your experience, what can we do that would make a big difference?

GP: Making a big difference starts from making a “little” difference. Actions become cumulative, in a sense. Promotion in a social media world comes from building relationships with people who can be your champions, supporters, and, if we’re lucky, our readers. It takes time and consistency and is much easier to do when you start early and focus on small steps rather than making a big difference.

There’s no magic bullet, unfortunately, but a few good rules of thumb are to be part of the community, not just talk about yourself. Support others when you can, particularly if you’re going to want them to support you. And think “out of the box” rather than just the “easy” areas to focus on. We folks in children’s lit are a wonderfully supportive group, but if you write a book about, oh, baseball card collecting, then become part of that community, too. When you share common interests with people, it’s easier to find champions and buyers.

MR: *hypothetical situation* You’re one of the concerned parents invited to Washington to meet president Obama and to defend the cause of school libraries, schools being a major victim of state and nationwide budget cuts. What do you tell him? How can we (readers) help librarians keep their job and save our school libraries?

GP: I think telling specific, personal stories that illustrate the impact of libraries, just as the President or other politicians do when they are on the national stage, can be quite effective. I also think continuing to make our voices heard not just once but consistently when the situations arise can also be helpful. And, frankly, that coming up with comparisons… of what is funded vs. what is NOT funding and what research shows as the impact of those programs is another way to go. Tough choices have to be made… but there are many different possible choices, and I think it helps to point that out.

That said, my deeper sense is that we need to think more broadly than abolut talking to politicians. We need to work on a community level first to make sure everyone understands the important role school libraries and librarians fulfill. I’m not likely going to get to talk to President Obama… but I can start locally with everyone in my orbit to make sure that we create a culture that values the library in the same way we value safe streets. Then, I’d like to believe, that idea can work its way upward.

MR: Talking of which, you’re donating three of your favorite poetry books. There are…

GP: Yikes!!!! Three?!?!?!?!?! You’re cruel! I can’t answer, cuz it depends on who I’m donating to. Yeah. That’s it. I mean…

OK, fine. I’ll cheat a tad: I’d donate an anthology put together by Lee Bennett Hopkins since it will show a great range of poets all focused on the many aspects of a particular theme (maybe America at War or Sharing the Seasons or or or!). Then I’d add an anthology of funny poems for kids since they are often my favorites and are what got me into loving poetry more broadly (perhaps the Jack Prelutsky anthology For Laughing Out Loud or the Kingfisher Book of Funny Poems or Kids Pick the Funniest Poems or or or). And then, since I just re-read it, I’d add in Joyce Sidman’s This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness because it’s fantasic.

Ask me another day, I’d probably say three different books!

MR: Last but not least, what is the procedure to follow for people eager to contact you help or questions regarding social media (blog, twitter, etc…)

GP: I answer a lot of questions on my blog at the Happy Accident, and I’m always available for hire. Folks can email me or find me on Twitter and start off by saying “hi!”

Greg, thank you again for your time and for sharing your experience. I look forward to this year’s 30 Poets in 30 Days, and can’t wait to read you books!

For more information on Greg Pincus, visit
o The Happy Accident – using social media to help create happy accidents
o While you’re at it, make sure to read his post “Going for the Win-Win-Win
o GottaBook – Children’s literature & poetry
o 30 Poets 30 Days April 2011
o Twitter

MultiCultural Round-Up: SCBWI Conference and more…

I’m so excited about the following announcements!

SCBWI once again gives us something to celebrate. The Summer Conference will be open for registration on April 21 at 10 AM PDT. As always, the program is fabulous. Mouthwatering. Where do I start?

Even if the organizers do not always state so in the program, cultural diversity is never ignored in SCBWI international events. In previous conferences, I had the opportunity to listen to and sometimes interact with outstanding, award-winning authors and illustrators such as Jacqueline Woodson, Nikki Grimes, Sherman Alexie (I nearly passed out when he said “hi.” I’m ridiculous, I know. Some can’t handle their liquor. I’m like a kid when I meet my literary heroes.), Kadir Nelson, etc… The international conferences, New York and Los Angeles, could be considered pricey depending on your budget; however, trust me, they are totally worth it. If you are a writer or illustrator, it is an investment in your career. It could be a defining moment. For everyone, publishers, publicists and who-did-I-miss?, it is an extraordinary opportunity to network.

Back to the 2010 Summer conference in L.A. Among the fabulous keynote speakers are Jon Scieszka, Gennifer Choldenko, Illustrators E.B. Lewis, Ashley Bryan… The premium workshops, available for an extra fee, fill up pretty quickly. Within the hour in some cases. This year there is an opportunity to work on your YA manuscript with DelaCorte (Random House) Senior Editor Krista Marino (the link is an interview she gave on Shelli Johannes’ Market My Words in 2009), on picture book craft with Golden Books Editorial Director Diane Muldrow, to learn about graphic novels, digital illustration and more…

The conference fee includes sessions such as Writing for Magazines, Solving Plot Problems, Media 101: How to Make the Most of Twitter, Blogging etc… Read the complete program. You won’t regret it.

I saved the best for all. SCBWI did it!!! *You can’t see, but I’m actually doing the happy dance in my living room*
They’ve included the following break-out session: WRITING MULTI-CULTURAL IDENTITY. I’m dying to know who the presenter is. Will keep you update, and feel free to check SCBWI website on April 21 for the answer!

Of course, most if not all the sessions in the program are useful in regard to writing multicultural stories for kids and teens; however, it is really helpful to have at least one specifically dedicated to that topic.

Shameless advertisement: SCBWI rocks your socks, and I hope you’ll consider joining if not already. 😀 It’s $85 for the first membership fee, then $70 when you renew each year. Upon registering you will receive a package that, if you are a novice, will provide you with invaluable information regarding the publishing field: from the first steps to take as a writer, advices on query letters etc… plus list of children’s book publishers and magazines, and much more.

There is likely to be a SCBWI presence in your region. To find out about it, visit SCBWI website and click on regions, then regional chapters. The chapters often have monthly meetings open to members and non-members for a very small fee, as well as affordable local conferences that will enable you to meet agents and editors, while networking with fellow artists.

Okay, moving on. Didn’t expect to write so much about it. 😀

April is quite a busy month. I knew about National Poetry and School Library Month, but Edi at Crazy Quilts also mentioned Alcohol Awareness, Stress Awareness, Mathematics, Donate Life, National Jazz and National Garden. Are you still there?

Let’s start with National Poetry Month. I want to know: How do you celebrate? Share you deeds, leave the URL of your blog if you have one. I and I’m sure others will gladly visit and let ourselves be taken on the lyrical journey. Thought of using the s**k word but will refrain. Don’t laugh at me and my language barrier, I still haven’t figured out if “suck” is a bad word or not; so I’ll rephrase: I’m *terrible* when it comes to writing poetry, but so enjoy reading it over and over again.

I hope that you will visit PaperTigers’ Blog and read about their wonderful multicultural poetry round-up! You won’t regret it.

In addition PaperTigers had a shout-out to the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBYP) regarding the 1st National Children’s Book Award. Deadline is April 15. Head over for more info!

I also warmly recommend Donna’s blog, Word Wrangler NC, a place where you can get your poetry fix any time of the week. 😉

Bear with me, I have a few more announcements to make. Author Zetta Elliot’s blog, Fledgling, is on fire. Seriously. You gotta head over and read. You’ll be enlightened. I haven’t really been online for the past four weeks, so catching up, but still hung up on her posts. Thanks to her I learned about a tradition of oral storytelling picking up in Crown Heights, NY, as part of a project. A group of young women interview people who live or have lived in Crown Heights. The interviews will be donated to Brooklyn Historical Society. It made my heart feel warm when I read some of the interviews. That initiative tells me about the identity of Crown Heights. It’s like a glimpse at the soul of the neighborhood, something so rare nowadays, especially in era where neighbors hardly know each other and people hardly interact in person (Facebook and Twitter do not count). Oral tradition is important. Giving and knowing the identity of our neighborhood matters, as opposed to letting a label be put on it…

Niway, please, when you have a minute, visit Crown Heights Oral History Project.

Back to Zetta, she breaks down books written by or about Blacks in Canada. I shook my head in disbelief: Why such low numbers? Not enough Black writers? I doubt this. Even if you take the ratio of Black people forming the Canadian population, the number shouldn’t be so low. In addition, many of the books about Black people published there ship to Africa. Lots of them deal with slavery… I’ll keep reading Zetta’s blog. Want to know what her take and analysis of this phenomenon is.

Still reading? Good, because it just gets better: Edi Campbele is your highschool librarian, and she has much to say about School Library Month and the budget cut affecting school libraries. Most importantly, she needs your votes! Tell her what you think and show your support by voicing up and expressing your stand in a poll. Destination: Crazy Quilts.

Last but not least, author Medeia Sharif posted about winning MR’s March giveaway: APALA 2010 winner, Cora Cooks Pancit (Publisher: Shen’s Books). Thank you for participating, Medeia! 🙂 She also shares about her latest reads and much more.

Over a thousand words. Wow! Let’s wrap it, shall we? I wish you a delightful weekend, filled with happy reading moments.

Cheers,

Nathalie