Shana Burg is an Austin-based writer and author of two novels for young readers, Laugh with the Moon and A Thousand Never Evers. You can find out more about Shana and her work by visiting her website.
Shana will be teaching a class for WLT called “How to Write Compelling Stories for Young Readers” on October 18 at ACC’s Highland Campus. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Shana Burg: Most of my story ideas come from experiences I’ve had with children in my adulthood. For example, my most recent book Laugh with the Moon was inspired by meeting hundreds of young people during a research trip I took to Malawi, Africa when I was a graduate student. I’m currently working on a humorous chapter book that’s inspired by my very funny son. All that said, the feelings that I infuse into my young characters always come from my emotional experiences as a child or teen.
Scribe: What is the greatest challenge of writing content for younger audiences?
SB: I try to delve into important topics in a way that’s appropriate for my audience. This requires the ability to create captivating characters who will lead readers through a compelling adventure. As a writer, I also need to have a sense of how much exploration of a topic like malaria or civil rights is enough to stimulate critical thinking on the part of my readers, and when I’m going over the line and providing too much information for a particular age group.
Scribe: What are some of your favorite childhood stories?
SB: I loved all books by Judy Blume most especially Are You There God? It’s Me, Margeret. I loved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and books by Paul Zindel, such as Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball!
Scribe: When navigating your career in writing, when and how did you ultimately decide upon writing for young readers?
SB: I was teaching sixth grade, and I got hooked on the literature for that age. In addition to teaching reading, I taught creative writing. I assigned my students to plot out a story they would write, and I did the homework along with them. Many years later, that assignment turned into my first book, A Thousand Never Evers (Random House, 2008).
Scribe: What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring children’s fiction writers?
SB: You can learn a lot by field testing your work on kids (just not your own kids because they are probably biased). When I was working on A Thousand Never Evers, I had an incredible opportunity. Eight of my former students agreed to read the manuscript for me. We would meet at a coffee shop every two weeks during the summer, and I simply listened as they discussed a section of my manuscript. By listening to their conversation, it was immediately apparent to me which characters resonated, which scenes captivated their attention, and what dialogue I needed to cut. I highly recommend getting reader feedback from your target age group.
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