As well as being an award-winning author of five children's books, Marla Stewart Konrad is the Director of Strategy and Internal Communications at World Vision Canada. She's travelled extensively in Africa and Asia where she's seen extreme poverty and worked towards alleviating the suffering of others. Marla “has a heart for hurting children around the world” and has used this compassion to write several children’s books.
Marla will be presenting a workshop at Write! Canada 2012 called “Writing for Young Children.”
Marla, you attended Write! Canada many years ago? What was your experience there?
I attended the very first “God Uses Ink” conference over 25 years ago when I was a university student who was pondering whether the writing life might be for me. “God Uses Ink” was the precursor to Write! Canada. Since that first year, Write! Canada has grown and developed incredibly. Attending back then was an amazing, eye-opening experience for me when I realized that maybe, just maybe, I could some day be a writer!
When and how did you break into the publishing world?
I had a friend who knew the editorial director at Tundra, and I asked my friend if he would write an email of introduction, which he did. I then invited the editorial director out for lunch, and pitched my book ideas to her. She didn’t say no, and in fact, told me she’d like to hear more. Since 2009, they have published two more books—a total of four.
My other book, Just Like You, was published by Zonderkidz in 2010. I pitched that book to Zonderkidz at a writer’s conference where I had a great meeting with one of Zonderkidz’ marketing staff. She loved the book and the marketing plan I had put together, and told me she wanted to take the manuscript back to the editorial team.
Can you give us a one-paragraph synopsis of your award-winning children’s book, Just Like You?
It also takes readers on a journey around the globe to meet new babies and their families. In the midst of discovering special celebrations to welcome each baby, they see that even though our cultures may be miles apart, the one thing we all have in common is the love of family, especially the special bond between a mother and her newborn baby.
All the proceeds from your children's books go to World Vision. Tell us a bit about World Vision.
As an organization, World Vision is very much motivated by faith in Christ to create lasting change for the world’s most vulnerable children. Many people know World Vision for our child sponsorship work. Others know us because of our humanitarian work or our advocacy work with the Canadian government and other governments. We have the privilege of working with more than 700,000 Canadians who partner with us in one way or another, and together to be a really powerful force for good.
How did you develop this compassion for children?
I think that just about everyone who is a follower of Jesus has a heart of compassion. My compassionate heart has grown through my work with World Vision Canada for about 20 years, so I’ve had many years of exposure to some of the difficult realities that many children in our world face. And, of course, as a mom of three children, I’m more and more aware of how important it is that all children have champions and protectors.
You lived in Hong Kong for two years, and you've travelled extensively in Asia and Africa. You have seen a lot of poverty. How have you seen God’s faithfulness in your travels?
I have seen God’s faithfulness in the faith and courage of people I have met. I think of a pastor in China I know who spent 20 years doing hard labour in a prison camp because of his faith, but who emerged from prison with his faith intact and a determination to share God’s love even more.
I think of women in Zimbabwe whom I met who had been trained by World Vision to go out on foot and on bikes to minister to the AIDS orphans in their communities. They travelled miles every week to bring food and encouragement and motherly care to these children who were so incredibly vulnerable. The women were absolutely radiant with joy. They were the hands and feet of Jesus caring for the people whom Jesus called “the least of these.”
You've also worked as a speechwriter. What are some do’s and don’ts of speechwriting? Has it helped with your writing for children?
As a speechwriter, I had to understand the unique voice of the person who was giving the speech. It was a challenge, because the tendency was to default to my own voice and the way I might like to express something.
Another critical piece of speechwriting which transfers well to writing for children is that you have to write in a conversational voice. Just like children’s books which are read aloud, speeches are delivered aloud and the style you use is very, very different from the style you might use to write an editorial or another piece of written work.
Your workshop is called “Writing for Young Children.” What are the top three tips you could give to a writer who wants to pen his or her first children’s book?
- Write from your heart—not just what you think the market might like to buy.
- Be a vigilant editor of your own material so you produce the finest possible work, but don’t pay attention to that inner critic who keeps telling you what you’re writing doesn’t matter.
- Be persistent. Dr. Seuss had over 27 rejections before his first book was accepted by a publisher!
Marla was interviewed by Linda Jonasson of the Write! Canada PR team.