Status: Agented & Published
Valarie Bolling is the author of LET’S DANCE! (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2020). She lives just 40 minutes from New York City in Stamford, Connecticut. Here, you can find her writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in picture books and early reader chapter books (more to come on this soon). Valerie, a double-jointed community theatre enthusiast, is also represented by James McGowan at BookEnds Literary Agency. You can find out more about Valerie through her official website and connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.
On the heels of Valerie’s most recent book news, BlackCreatorsHQ caught up with the author to discuss all-things writing and to celebrate even more good news – Valerie is a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite winner and one of 24 storytellers selected for the 2021 Amplify Black Stories cohort!
BlackCreatorsHeadQuarters: In your opinion, what are some common traps for emerging authors?
Valerie Bolling: I believe the most common trap is fear. That is, fear or self-doubt in terms of achieving a goal. For instance, there are people who don’t want to share information about their WIP online (think Twitter pitch), but what if that’s one of the ways to get published? If getting published is your end goal, you have to get beyond that fear. Comparison is also another common trap. We cannot and should not compare ourselves to other writers because everyone’s journey is different. Instead of comparing, rejoice in and amplify others’ success and see what we can learn from others. Finally, another trap that can become crippling for emerging authors is rejection. The best way to avoid this trap is viewing rejection as a positive instead of a negative. If you get rejected, that person wasn’t right for you or it’s an opportunity to learn. Perhaps your work isn't quite ready and you have to go back and do more revising. If you’re fortunate enough to get feedback, that’s really wonderful.
BCHQ: How important are critiques for writers early in their careers?
VB: One mistake early career authors make is how they view critiques. And sometimes, you really don’t realize how important it is. You need reliable partners – and you need to keep working. Authoring books is a journey that certainly is not easy. Willing to be critiqued and willing to do the work will help you achieve your ultimate goal of getting published if that’s what you truly desire. Critique is a critical part of studying because you learn from others’ critiques. You should study by reading in the genre.
BCHQ: What is your writing Kryptonite?
VB: Nothing really deprives me of writing. Only myself. I’ll give you an example of getting in my own way: the nonfiction genre has been a real struggle for me. Even though I’ve read nonfiction books and critique partners have read my work – I’ve even taken a great class Kirsten W. Larson with Julie Hedlund’s #12x12PB entitled “Noodling with Nonfiction Structures.” Even though I’ve done all of that, it’s still been so difficult. It’s getting over whatever the hump is and getting yourself back into the swing of things. I’m very focused and I love revision.
BCHQ: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
VB: It has to be original to my truth and to children’s truth. When I’m writing, I think about what the child wants and not what the market wants. Whether it’s from my own experience and a fun idea that popped into my mind, I’m always thinking about the reader – not what the reader would want but what they would need. For instance, in LET’S DANCE!, the message is about joy, community, and coming together regardless of background. The book has universal themes of connection and truth. I know what I don’t write (sorry, no anthropomorphic or humorous stories), but with every manuscript, I am hoping for a discussion and some education that can come from it.
BCHQ: What did you edit out of one of your books?
VB: Based on the editor’s decision, there were two lines removed from LET’S DANCE! “Bippity bop, Hippity hop”, which would have been paired with hip hop dance, was removed because the editor felt like it was very similar to breakdancing. In addition, “Step by step, Move with pep.” The editor didn’t feel that line could clearly be matched to a particular dance. Also, I did not originally have any backmatter in the book. The editor asked me to submit illustrator notes because I only had notes for the last stanza. The request was to go through and place a dance next to each line and that’s when she made the decision of which lines to get rid of. A few months later, she came back to match my lines with cultural dances – and this made room for the backmatter, which fueled discussion about different cultures and dances around the world.
BCHQ: How long on average does it take you to write a picture book?
VB: I try to write fiction PBs in one or two sessions. It’s the revisions that take the most time. I might have 20-30 copies in prose, but for fiction books like LET’S DANCE!, I maybe had three versions. TOGETHER WE RIDE was also three versions. I drafted five versions of an early reader book, in which the editor requested a revise and resubmit. My nonfiction picture book is a different story. I am on version 21 right now. In terms of getting the first draft down, it’s usually in one or two sessions. Get the story out and then spend the time working it. That’s where the real work occurs.
BCHQ: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
VB: Writing energizes me! I feel so blessed and grateful to be a part of a writing community. The people that I have met along this journey have been so generous and so kind. BCiKL has been a community that I found in the heart of the pandemic last spring. The fact that I’ve connected with individuals like Anita C. Clark who is one of my critique partners. Sherri T. Mercer who is now taking a picture book writing class with me. I also want to thank my agent, James McGowan, and mentor Kelly Starling Lyons - they have been integral in my writing. Co-marketing groups like Kidlit in Color, Soaring20sPBs, and PBCrew22 have all energized my writing. People who have come to share knowledge. Just all of those connections have been so wonderful. It’s a lot to be involved in a writing community that’s flourishing, but offering critique to partners, co-chairing the E&I team, and being a part of the 12x12 E&I team – one might think that all of this could be exhausting, but I find it energizing. I’m usually inspired to go off and do things. I’m inspired by speaking to students or when I’m on a panel, for me it’s energizing because it feeds my soul. I don’t know of a way not to do all of these writing things!
The#BlackCreatorsHQ community is very proud of Valerie Bolling. We look forward to seeing more work and spotlights from the many awesome Black authors and illustrators in this space!