Q&A with Writer Cynthia Harmony about her WNDB Mentorship

.

Cynthia Harmony is one of ten creators awarded a year-long mentorship through We Need Diverse Books. Here’s some information about the program from their website:

“The We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program has now awarded over 50 mentorships, producing a total of 88 industry professionals and upcoming voices who have participated in one-on-one relationships since the first round of applications were received in 2015. Some of the program’s former mentees have gone on to sign with prominent industry agents, publish multiple works, or secure a debut book contract.”

Here, Cynthia is interviewed by Romy Natalia Goldberg about her experience so far:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is YWmqvkfs_400x400.jpg

Q: First of all, congratulations on having been selected for the 2020 We Need Diverse Books mentorship program. Do you mind sharing where you were in your publishing journey when you applied for the WNDB mentorship?

A: Thank you Romy! I signed with my agent the summer of 2019 and I was on sub with my first story that Fall. I had applied the year before and didn’t get it. A bit before the deadline, I reread their reply. It said I had been chosen as a finalist, and they encouraged me to try again. So, I asked Natascha, my agent, and she was encouraging as well. Teresa Robeson, who is also represented by my agent, was a mentee a few years before and sold her MS. It made perfect sense.

Q: What drew you to the WNDB mentorship? 

A: I had been following WNDB since Miranda Paul shared their goals on a webinar a few years ago. A mentorship that considered my perspective as #ownvoices was crucial to me. It was my ultimate goal because it’s a unique, tailored opportunity to grow as a writer. And this is one of the few year-long opportunities out there.

Q: Your mentorship is with picture book author Rob Sanders, who is known for being an excellent writing instructor. What is it like to learn from him? 

A: Yes! I’m very lucky because he is not only a great writer, but also a great teacher. He’s said he’s not interested in editing people’s work, but in teaching them how to be better writers. He has kindly and respectfully considered my strengths and style. Then offered guidance from broad research to specific suggestions, to reimagine my stories and take them to the next level. 

Q: Any big a-ha moments or was it more of a slow and steady learning process?

A: A bit of both. Exploring different POV-narrators with specific mentor texts that I may have not considered on my own, was an a-ha moment that opened up that possibility. Tackling a parallel structure was more of a slow process. I also tend to be vague and poetic, so he has helped me tighten structure and language for younger readers.

Q: Any tips you’d like to share with fellow writers on how to make the most of mentorship opportunities?

A: At the beginning, Rob asked me many questions about my expectations and preferences for communication. I think that helped both of us picture how we would work together. I would suggest having that conversation and asking questions early on. I know he’s extremely busy with multiple book releases, writing classes and being a teacher, but I reach out, sending him revisions for whenever there’s a window. He has been great at getting back to me, and I think we’ve have covered a lot so far.  

Q: How has your mentorship changed the way you view yourself as a writer and your place in the industry?

A: It has given me the confidence to try new things and I know I’m bringing these experiences with me when I revise new stories, a sharper eye or ear (rhythm) for what works. I don’t think it has changed my place in the industry; I just know I’m extremely fortunate for this experience and hope to pay it forward one day.

Q: Please tell us more about your writing! What themes do you like to explore and what types of books are you working on?

A: My books are mostly lyrical with lots of heart. I love stories that pull your heartstrings, but also offer hope. I always bring in my culture with themes I deeply care about. But I also want to explore my range and work on a character driven story before this year ends. Humor is a bit of challenge, so I know I’ll need some help.

Q: And of course, when will we be able to see your books on the shelves? Anything you’re allowed to share with us yet?

A: My early readers and chapter books for the educational market come out next year. For picture books, I’m not allowed to say yet, but I’ll be able to share good news soon!

.

Cynthia Harmony is an educational psychologist originally from Mexico City. She has lived in Playa del Carmen, Madrid, Salamanca Spain, and now calls the desert of Arizona home. She’s created exhibits and bilingual learning materials for children and science museums. She has published textbooks and writes picture books, chapter books, and early readers. She’s a translator member of The American Literary Translators Association and was awarded the 2020 We Need Diverse Books PB Mentorship. When not writing, Cynthia can be found in a museum with her kids, dancing to a Latin beat, daydreaming of tacos, or planning her next family trip.

.

.

.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators. Learn more at romynatalia.com

Going For It: Q&A with Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara was featured in a previous round-up of Latina illustrators here on Latinxs in Kid Lit. When I found out she was also the inaugural recipient of a mentorship from the We Need Diverse Books organization, I wanted to find out more about her experience in the program and how it affected her work. Alcántara worked with the illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores (who has also participated in a Latina Illustrators post) as her mentor and recently announced her second book deal. She will illustrate the book Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, which will be released by Candlewick Books in 2019. She will also illustrate The Field by Baptiste Paul, which is scheduled to release with NorthSouth Books in Spring 2018.

How did you hear about the WNDB mentorship and what made you decide to apply?

A friend/illustrator in my critique group forwarded me the email announcing the mentorship. He knew my work included a lot of diverse characters and knew that my interests were in pursuing projects that featured diverse main characters, so thankfully, he assumed I would be a good fit! At that time, I knew that I needed someone to help guide me, give me feedback on my work, grow my network, and help me build confidence. I wasn’t sure if that would be a friend, agent, editor, or mentor but was doing everything I could to find relationships like that. I decided to apply because it was honestly exactly what I was looking for!

What has been the best part about working with your WNDB mentor?

I think the best part of a mentor/mentee relationship is that there’s no other reason you are working together, other than to improve your work and career. Relationships with other people in the industry, i.e. agents, editors, fellow illustrators, etc are wonderful and critical as well, but there are quickly a lot of other factors those people can be thinking about in addition to your work when giving you advice or suggestions. Conversations with my mentor helped not only to allow me to see a path for myself within the industry, but also to see my strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Carolyn is brutally honest, which I love. She has really wonderful instincts and fantastic advice. I believe a lot in instincts and trusting my gut, but working alone and pursing this dream can become really difficult. Carolyn is always reminding me to trust my instincts and to have fun! So I built up a lot of confidence in myself relatively quickly once we started working together. Not only confidence in my actual illustrations, but in goals, ideas, and direction of my career. I also felt a pressure to succeed, now that I had not only Carolyn, but WNDB holding me accountable! When you work for yourself, there is no one to push you or hold you accountable, so it requires a lot of self confidence and motivation. The boost I got from WNDB was great for that, but I also knew I finally had the resources to make it happen!

The next best part of working with my mentor was that fact that Carolyn introduced me to Adriana Domínguez at last winter’s SCBWI conference. Adriana and I continued talking for months after that and I ultimately signed with her and Full Circle Literary over the summer. That was the best possible outcome from the mentorship, and it actually happened! Relatively soon after working with Adriana, I got my first picture book offer. I’m very happy to share that I’m now working on 2 books, one with North South and the second with Candlewick. The first will be released in 2018, and the second in 2019.  I cannot wait for them to come out!

What other artists and writers do you consider your greatest influences (kidlit or not)?

In the kid lit world, my greatest influences are Chris Raschka, Patricia Pollacco, Chris Van Allsburg, and Kadir Nelson. As for traditional artists I’m a bit cliche; Picasso, Matisse, and Redon are some top favorites. Picasso’s sketchbooks are a constant source of inspiration for me. Redon and Matisse, I love their use of color and the imagination they brought into their work. I’ve also been in love with Japanese Ukiyo-e art since I was young. I think a lot of my energy and inspiration also comes from music. I have music on constantly in my studio, different genres depending on what I’m doing, but there’s a lot of electronic, disco/soul, hip hop. My favorite writer (currently) is Neil Gaiman.

You were a high school art teacher at one point. Do you think your students influenced your work, and if so, how?

I taught high school art for a short time before school funding was cut significantly in Illinois. Our department (along with many art departments state-wide) saw massive cuts, so I took the opportunity to push my own artistic career. I will always be influenced by my time teaching (I hope to still have teaching opportunities in the future) and the students I had! Remembering a personality, hairstyle, attitude, or name for character can be inspiration—or remembering a conversation or story a student shared about their life. I left teaching wanting to be a successful working artist, but I also wanted to do work that would directly influence, inspire, and speak to children.

What advice would you give other Latinx artists who might want to apply for the WNDB program?

Be open to everything. Participating in this program has led to so many other relationships and opportunities, and has launched my career. WNDB has really opened the door for a lot of people, beyond those who have received mentorships or grants. They are bringing the issue to the forefront of the industry, and editors and agents are definitely listening and searching for new diverse talented writers and illustrators. It’s been so encouraging. It’s an industry that can seem daunting and a job that seems too good to be true. It takes a lot of patience and time, but it’s really important work, so if you are thinking of pursuing it,  get involved ASAP! It’s much more fun to do with a network of people around you, and SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), WNDB and others are all fantastic ways to do so.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.