From March 1 to March 31, 2018, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) will be accepting submissions for its annual work-in-progress grants. One of these grants is the Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award, which is for authors over the age of fifty who have not been traditionally published in the children’s literature field. The grant was established by author Karen Cushman and her husband, Philip Cushman, in conjunction with the SCBWI. One winner will be chosen from the pool of those who have submitted material for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grants, and will receive $500 and free tuition to any SCBWI conference.
I am in my fifties, and my first book, the middle grade novel Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, is scheduled for publication by Lee & Low Books this coming fall. As an older writer, I was intrigued by this grant, and by Karen Cushman’s story. She started writing at age 49, has published nine books so far, including a Newbery Award winner and a Newbery Honor Book, and she says she has no plans to stop writing until she’s at least a hundred. She is an inspiration to those of us who started our writing journey a little later in life, and to those who are still waiting to be published, and she generously took the time to answer my questions about the grant and about writing in general.
No matter your age, and whether or not you decide to apply for one of SCBWI’s grants, I hope Karen Cushman’s words inspire you to keep writing. After all, it’s never too late to realize your dreams.
Why did you establish this grant?
Karen: I want to encourage older potential writers to “write it down,” to put their thoughts and stories and ideas into words, Over 50 is not too late to begin a writing journey--I was over 50 when my first book was published.
What do you look for in a manuscript when judging applications for the award?
Karen: Selfishly, I look for a manuscript that makes me want more, a manuscript with writing and characters and a story that leave me yearning to read the rest of the book.
Are there any common mistakes that you see often in the manuscripts that are submitted?
Karen: The manuscripts that reach me have already been selected by SCBWI so they are quite polished and good. Sometimes, though, writers tell us interesting things without building them into a story. Or offer us characters that are unbelievable or unrelatable. Or talk down to young readers.
In addition to the money and the opportunity to attend an SCBWI conference, what other benefits are there from receiving this award?
Karen: I hope that the the recognition the award brings leaves the writer more confident and committed to her writing. Appreciation, respect, and encouragement are good motivators and soothing to the spirit.
Would you share a little about your own writing journey?
Karen: I wrote a lot as a child but as I grew up and married and had a child, I wrote nothing. I still had stories in my head that I shared with my husband but nothing on paper until he challenged me to write it down So I did, and so I encourage others to do so.
What advice would you give to older writers who are beginning to get discouraged because they haven’t been published yet?
Karen: A lot of writers haven’t been published yet. The act of writing, of being immersed in a world you are creating on a page, can bring great joy and pride.
If publishing is your goal, keep trying. Learn how to write a query letter. Make your manuscript as near perfect as you can. Get feedback from others. Submit only to publishers who specify that they’re interested in the type of writing you do. Pay close attention to what agents or editors say in their rejection letters. Be kind to yourself and find pleasure in the writing itself.
What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons to being an older writer?
Karen: Con: I’d say the largest con is the decline in energy that we older folks often feel. I can no longer write all day but eventually what I accomplish in chunks of time adds up.
Pro: Well, in my case, being older has made me wiser, more tolerant, more self aware, and more accepting of imitations. I hope these are reflected in my writing.