Author Spotlight: Barbara Carroll Roberts
June 14, 2019
Today we are pleased to feature Barbara Carroll Roberts and her debut MG novel, NIKKI ON THE LINE (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, March 2019). Enter to win a copy!
|Cover design by Marcie Lawrence. Illustrator: Sammy Moore|
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
I spent fifteen years as a marketing/public relations writer and video producer before I had children. I wrote articles, speeches, annual reports, and brochures, and produced an employee news program for a huge multi-national corporation. This might sound like it has nothing to do with writing for children, but it was actually great experience. It taught me that I had to understand the specific audience I was writing for in order to create something they’d find compelling.
Then, when I started reading to and with my children, I fell in love with children’s books and decided that writing for children – especially middle-grade kids – was what I really wanted to do. I joined SCBWI and started going to conferences and taking classes.
Congrats on your MG debut, NIKKI ON THE LINE. Tell us about it and what inspired you.
NIKKI ON THE LINE is about thirteen-year-old Nikki Doyle who loves playing basketball. She’s always been a star on her county-league teams, but when she’s chosen for an elite-level club team, with bigger, stronger, faster girls, suddenly Nikki is no longer a star – in fact, she’s struggling just to keep up. The book is also about family and friends and impossible-to-complete school projects, but at its heart, it’s about a girl trying to figure out which goals are worth working toward and how hard she’s willing to work. It’s about a girl deciding who she will be.
I started thinking about NIKKI ON THE LINE quite a few years ago, when my sports-loving daughter couldn’t find any books about girls like her. My son had grown up binge-reading chapter books and novels about boys who played every conceivable sport. Why couldn’t we find books about sporty girls?
Forty-seven years after Title IX, with so many millions of girls playing sports, there are still very few books about young female athletes. And there are even fewer in which a girl’s dedication to her sport and “on-the-court” action is the focus of the story. I wanted to write a book for and about all the girls like my daughter, and frankly, all the girls I’d played sports with in the days before Title IX – girls who are passionate about sports. I decided to write about basketball because my daughter played basketball from second grade through college, and all those years I spent driving her around and sitting in gyms watching her practice and play with her teammates seemed like ideal research.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between? What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I worked on NIKKI ON THE LINE on and off for several years. When my daughter started college, I began working on it in earnest, but at the point where I had about 175 pages (and at least twice that number thrown away), I felt like some parts of the story were working well, but other things weren’t, and I couldn’t figure out how to pull the whole thing together. I needed help. So, I applied to the low-residency MFA program in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and got in. And honestly, being in that program was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much about the craft elements of writing – and about how hard a writer needs to work – and through the work I did there, I figured out how to finish this novel.
But beyond all the learning I did at Hamline, when I began querying agents, I was able to mention the award-winning children’s authors I worked with there and the things they’d said about my writing. I know that information didn’t “sell” an agent on me, but I’m pretty sure it at least got some of them to read my query and ask for the full manuscript.
It still took me a full year of very targeted querying before I found an agent (a “sports book” about girls was not an easy sell). But then it was only a few months before we had an offer from Little, Brown.
So, my advice to aspiring authors is to learn as much as you can about the craft of writing. I know many people aren’t in a position to jump into an MFA program, but I’d highly recommend joining SCBWI to anyone who’s seriously interested in writing for children. Attend conferences and take advantage of all the resources on the website. And, of course, READ. But don’t just read – analyze the books you read. Write a couple of paragraphs about how the author utilizes craft elements. Voice, plot, setting, theme, character development, point of view, word choice, metaphor, rhythm. What works well? What doesn’t? We had 120 books on our required reading list at Hamline, and we had to write this kind of analysis of each one. I learned so much about writing by “reading like a writer.”
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on another middle-grade novel. It’s not about a girl who plays sports this time, though some sports may come into it. I’m not really ready to talk about it much, but it’s about a girl making changes in her life during the summer between elementary school and middle school.
I also have a nonfiction picture book in the works that will be published in 2021 by Candlewick. It’s about an incident that took place during World War II.
Some favorite class MG novels?
There are so many middle-grade books that I love, but among my favorite “classics” are RASCAL, by Sterling North, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, by Scott O’Dell, and ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, by Mildred D. Taylor. Newer books that I love include OKAY FOR NOW and PAY ATTENTION, CARTER JONES, by Gary D. Schmidt, THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, by Lisa Yee, THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE, by Leslie Connor, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, by Rita Williams Garcia, A SINGLE SHARD, by Linda Sue Park, SIDE TRACKED, by Diana Harmon Asher, SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES, by Stephanie S. Tolan, and THE REAL BOY, by Anne Ursu.
What is something most people don't know about you?
I can recite a couple of killer tongue-twisters.
Where can people find you online?
My website is BarbaraCarrollRoberts.com
Twitter is @BarbaraCRoberts
Barbara Carroll Roberts grew up in northern California. She holds a B.A. in English from Occidental College in Los Angeles and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She’s held many jobs: farm worker, movie theater attendant, bookstore clerk, corporate communications writer, video producer, substitute teacher, children’s book reviewer, mom. And now, as a children’s writer, she has a job that allows her to draw on aspects of all her previous experience to create books for kids. She has two grown children and lives in northern Virginia with her husband, two cats, and one ridiculously energetic Springer spaniel.