Author Spotlight: Lisa Stringfellow
|© Carter Hasegawa|
Jan. 28, 2022
We are excited to feature author Lisa Stringfellow and her middle grade debut, A COMB OF WISHES (HarperCollins/ Quill Tree Books), coming out on Feb. 8. Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I am a veteran middle school English teacher and have taught 5th and 6th grade for almost 28 years. About 15 years ago, I returned to graduate school to work on my masters degree and took several classes on adolescent literature and writing. They got me thinking about writing for children, rather than only teaching children’s literature. At the same time, I was granted a teaching award that gave me funds to use however I chose. I joined professional writing organizations and a critique group, attended conferences, bought craft books, took classes and worked hard to learn about the publishing industry and how to write a book. It was all necessary work to help me gain the knowledge and skills to get where I am now.
Congrats on your middle grade debut, A Comb of Wishes! Tell us about the book and what inspired you?
My inspiration for this story came from thinking about two middle grade books I loved, The Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler and Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I thought it would be interesting to write a somewhat scary mermaid story, and because of my West Indian heritage, I imagined a brown-skinned mermaid and a story set in the Caribbean. As I delved into the characters, I knew the story would also touch on the topics of family, regret, love, and forgiveness.
The novel is about twelve-year old Kela who is grieving her mother’s recent death when she stumbles on an ancient box in a coral cave. Inside is a beautiful hair comb and when she touches it, she opens a magical connection to a dangerous mermaid named Ophidia. The mermaid offers Kela a wish in exchange for her comb’s return, so Kela wishes for the thing she wants more than anything else...for her mother to come back.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
In 2013, I started a novel about a girl who found a mysterious box that belonged to a mermaid. It was my second attempt at NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, the challenge which encourages writers to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This is a challenge I attempt each year along with my students, although their word count goal is much less than mine.
Even though I “won” NaNoWriMo that year, I didn't finish the story until the following spring of 2014. I continued to work on revisions for two more years with the help of critique groups and wonderful mentors I gained through Author Mentor Match and Writing in the Margins. I wisely waited to query until I felt the novel was the best I could make it. That paid off because when I began to query in January 2018, I only sent out thirteen letters. I received agent interest right away and received an offer of representation from my agent Lindsay Auld of Writers House in March 2018. We continued to revise the novel together for another year and a half until we felt it was ready to go on submission. Once on sub, the novel quickly moved to a five-house auction and was acquired by Rosemary Brosnan at HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books in December of 2019. It will be published on February 8, 2022.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my second book which will be another stand-alone fantasy novel. I like to call it my “princess in a tower” story, but it won’t be like other fairy tales readers might imagine.
My hope is that it will be an exciting book and one that empowers young readers to be brave and stand up for what is right.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? New ones?
I especially loved fantasies like A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other stories that involve magic and mystery. I also loved Judy Blume and books like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.
Some of my favorite more recent MG books are The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson, Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne, and The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson.
The Parker Inheritance is such a fun mystery filled with puzzles and clues, but it also touches on the dark history of racism. Josephine Against the Sea is a mermaid fantasy set in the Caribbean, like my own, and the main character is smart and funny. The Barren Grounds is an Indigenous fantasy a la The Chronicles of Narnia, and draws heavily on Cree star stories.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I would advise aspiring writers to take the time to learn their craft. The best thing you can do is to read widely within the age category and genres that interest you. It’s important to read recent books and not rely on our nostalgia for books published when we were young. The needs and interests of children have changed and reading current books will help you understand the nuances of craft, such as style and voice.
Patience is also key. Publishing is a slow industry and you will give yourself your best shot by preparing a polished manuscript that reflects your study and care, and incorporates the feedback gained from critique. It’s important not to rush the process and submit your work for consideration before it may be ready.
What is something most people don't know about you?
Most people don’t know that I am a beginning piano student. I always wanted to learn to play but never had the opportunity to take lessons until recently. Right before the pandemic, I enrolled in my school’s after school music program as an adult student. Some of my fifth grade students also take lessons with the same instructor that I have, and I often run into them on my way to class. It’s fun for them to see me as a student!
Where can people find you online?
I’m active on Twitter and Instagram at @EngageReaders. Readers can also visit my website: http://lisastringfellow.com
Lisa Stringfellow writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. Her debut fantasy A Comb of Wishes will be published on February 8, 2022 by HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books. It was selected as an ABA Indies Introduce title for Winter/Spring 2022 and Lisa received the inaugural Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award in 2019 for the novel manuscript. Her work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage. Lisa is a middle school teacher and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her children and two bossy cats.
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