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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Visiting with Folk Tales Author, Miranda Paul and Learning about Her Newest Book, Tales from China: World Favorite Fables

I am a lot of things, but first and foremost, I am a mother of two young children.  I am also a wife.  Before becoming an author and freelance writer, I worked as an English teacher for a few years and even got the opportunity to teach in the smallest country on the continent of Africa - that is where the name “Sibo” originated.  Some of my books are published under Miranda Sibo Paul instead of just Miranda Paul.  I am a certified scuba diver and I love the outdoors.  I almost became a marine biologist, but switched my major in college as many people do!

Tell us about the genre of your work. Why did you choose this genre? What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

I write for children–mostly picture books right now that are geared toward young children (0-3 or 4-8).  My favorite genre is folk tales, especially wild and wacky retellings or multicultural fables, and I have two out on submission to larger publishers.  When I first taught in The Gambia, and every time I return to West Africa or travel to another place, I am always amazed at cultural stories I hear, some of which only exist in oral history.  I often think, “Someone should be writing this down,” and even adapting them to audiences today so that the wisdom and history in them will not be lost forever.  After thinking that enough times, I began writing folk tales and stories inspired by cultural proverbs, and even trying to make some of them funny.  To do it well, it takes a lot of time, patience, and research!
Tell us more about your books.

I have had more than 20 “I Like” stories published by GrasshopperApps.com, a company that makes iPad digital books for young learners.  What I love about them is that their company hasa global focus, and children/families pictured in my stories are diverse - celebrating differences and bringing to light what makes people anywhere one in the same.  The books can be downloaded in the iTunes App store or through http://www.grasshopperapps.com/apps/i-like/.

I also rewrite old folk tales and have a few educational storybooks published digitally through iStorybooks.   iStorybooks is an App for Android or iPhones and iPads that publishes my stories and those authored by many other writers.  Select stories can also be read individually for those without a reader device at http://istorybooks.getacustomsite.com/free-books.html.

NEWEST BOOK - My first print stories were just released in June.  They are within a book called Tales from China: World Favorite Fables.  I co-adapted and edited fourteen of the fifteen tales in the bilingual book.  It was a real team effort, with international translators and an awesome illustrator William Guo, who made the folk tale characters come to life with modern, cartoon-like drawings.  Tales From China was published by Mankind Mind, LLC and is the first title in their World Favorite Fables series.  It is a hardcover book available at BarnesandNoble.com and other major online booksellers. (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Tales-from-China/Hui-Cui/e/9780615447537)

My favorite book is probably “I Like My Brother” published by GrasshopperApps.com.  I have yet to watch a kid read it who did not laugh - and I have even seen a few parents with teary eyes.  That is what I was going for!

Do your books have a teaching objective? If so, what is it?

Yes and no.  I usually have a theme or idea, but more than anything, I want to tell a good story.  Great stories often teach, although they do it on their own, in a magical way, I think. 

Some of the publishers I write for make sure that a “moral of the story” is actually inserted at the end of my tales.  When I write on my own, however, I try to include any lesson in the actual story, so it is not as if children feel “hit over the head” with preachy morals.

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?  

Well, for folk tale retellings, sometimes history takes precedence and characters are named what they have been named for centuries.  However, in Tales from China, I worked closely with co-editor Steve Jackson to pick cultural Chinese (Mandarin) names that signified what that character stood for in the story.

What is your favorite thing about your book/s?

I love the fact that some of them link kids to history and culture in a creative way.  Social studies was always my least favorite class as a kid.  I did not like learning about other countries and history through studying wars, memorizing dates, etc.  I feel as though kids these days are getting a much more “global” education, and some my books are a part of that.  I love it!

Is your book illustrated? If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator, can you discuss that experience?

William Guo illustrated Tales from China, and the ‘I Like’ Books are set to beautiful photography from around the world.  I have actually never met a single one of the illustrators or photographers for my books (though I would love to)!

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre? Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published?

For Tales from China, and most of my other released publications so far, I can only say I was very lucky.  I had put my writing portfolio out there, and contacted the publishers/clients with a “packet” and writing samples - or was contacted directly and hired by them!  In each case, the publisher assigned me the books based on falling in love with my samples. 

Right now, however, I have just begun the process of shopping some of my works around to bigger, traditional publishing houses.  I do not really want to self-publish books, as I feel the editorial process is top-notch through traditional publishers.  I have nothing to complain about so far...but I am prepared for the ‘rocky roads’ other children’s authors have forewarned me about.  I think the biggest challenge with getting children’s books published is being patient.

Why and when did you begin writing?

I began writing picture books in elementary school, nearly 25 years ago.  Farmer Freddy and The Robbery at Denmark State Bank were my first two attempts at age 8.  Later on, I won a few awards in college, but stopped writing almost completely for several years.  On a whim, I entered a national writing contest in 2010 and when I took 3rd place, decided to pursue writing again full-time.  I actually fleshed out a lot of the story on my blog page recently:  http://mirandapaulbooks.blogspot.com/p/critique-service.html.

What is your writing schedule?

I am a morning person (I road crew every day at 5:30 a.m. in college), so I like to do most of my work before noon.  I cannot say there is a very set schedule, as life with a toddler and a preschooler can be chaotic.  Nevertheless, I write 15-20 hours each week, at least.  Assignments from my editors and clients come first.  The motivation comes from knowing once I finish that work, I get the rest of my free time to write whatever I want!

What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published? Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

If you are a complete newbie, read Harold Underdown’s, Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books.  I hold a degree in English and I have taken courses specifically on writing for children, and I still learned a LOT from the book.

My only piece of advice is to be confident and humble at the same time.  Learn to take criticism and revise your work.  Write a lot, join a critique group, and be patient.  Like any other dream, becoming a children’s author takes both passion and hard work.  Do not be in a rush.  Yes, even a 10-sentence picture book will go through many rounds of revision...its tedious work!

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I am working on a collection of West African and Gambian folk tales, and some Creole / Caribbean folk tales (my husband translates so our manuscripts are bilingual). 

I have a very close connection with many people, writers, and residents of Africa’s smallest mainland country, The Gambia.  I am afraid some of the stories will be lost if not written down, or translated/adapted for audiences outside the country.  I am working on ways to bring more fun, humorous African stories to children’s markets.  I am a whimsical storyteller in many ways, and while there are many beautiful cultural tales, I feel like a lot of them are very serious.  Some of the best folk tales I have heard are hilarious!  The difficulty is that what is funny in one culture does not always translate well...I have got my work cut out for me.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I am a wife and a mother of two children, so home life keeps me busy all the time!  I also volunteer for several causes, my favorite being a women’s empowerment project in a small Gambian village.

Anything else you would like to add?

I am a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers.  I was dying to get that in somewhere, even though it has nothing to do with my children’s books.  Let us hope the NFL gets their act together so I can enjoy some football this year!

I also hold the mashed-potato record in my family, for eating 12 helpings of mashed potatoes one Easter Sunday (or was it 13, Grandma?)

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

When I had a baby named for me, I consider that my favorite “Made it” moment - Mariama Sibo was born in 2003 and she is named after my given Gambian name.  Her mother was my neighbor at the time I was teaching and living in Brikama.  A few other “Made it” moments were seeing my name at BarnesAndNoble.com, winning my college’s Creative Writing Award, and being inducted into my high school’s Alumni Hall of Fame a couple of years ago.

Other books by Miranda:

Learn more about Miranda Paul and her work at the following websites:

Grasshopper Apps “I Like Books” series:  http://www.grasshopperapps.com/apps/i-like/

11 comments:

Thoughtful Reflections said...

The most important gift you can give to a child is to read to them at a very early age. Some of my fondest memories of childhood is of those who read fantastic stories to me.

Miranda "Sibo" Paul said...

Thank you Sylvia for the wonderful interview! I'm happy to update you that the first of my Gambian folk tales was JUST released from iStorybooks...and the Packers are still undefeated this season! Definitely a great year!

Terry Howell Stanley said...

What a great interview! I was glad to read more of Miranda's stories from the links - thanks for including them! Can't wait to see more from Miranda soon!

Anne E. Johnson said...

I really enjoyed reading this interview. Folk stories (and folk songs) were tremendously important to me growing up, and I'm always fascinated to learn stories from other cultures.

Best of luck woth all your books, Miranda.

khashway said...

An author who is a packer fan is my kind of author! It sounds like Miranda is getting some great responses to her work. Making kids laugh and parents teary eyed is quite a compliment to a writer. :)

Claudine G. said...

The multicultural genre is close to me, and such picture books will always remain very dear. What a wonderful feeling to know you've empowered and touched readers and their parents!

Melissa Gorzelanczyk formerly Jones said...

Great to see you here, Miranda! I've always used outward emotion as the best compliment for my writing. If a reader is affected that much - you know you're on to something.

Take care, pretty.
Melissa of
www.peaceandprojects.com

Susan Manzke said...

Miranda shared some very good advice: "Learn to take criticism and revise your work. Write a lot, join a critique group, and be patient."

Thanks for sharing all about Miranda with us.

inluvwithwords said...

Great interview! I enjoyed getting to know Miranda a little better through it. She has so many interesting projects going.

Let's call me Apple. said...

Well, I learned a lot about you! Impressive. It's great to see the passion you have for the places you've been and the people you've met.

I look forward to reading more of your stories.

Miranda "Sibo" Paul said...

Thanks again everyone who commented! And thank you, Sylvia, for the opportunity to do an interview. It was fun!"

Since this interview, I've had several new stories released - including a couple of Gambian folk tales. People can view them at my blog (Miranda Paul / Miranda Sibo Paul) on Blogspot.

Keep up the good work!