Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Meet Our 2018-2019 Mentors: Middle Grade!

Meet our mentors from our Mentorship Program 2018-2019

Here’s what our Middle-Grade Mentors – Ailynn Collins, Sundee Frazier, and Suzanne Selfors  have to say.


Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now and your current projects.

Ailynn: I do a lot of writing for hire, that is, books that are commissioned by a publisher who creates books for reluctant readers, schools, and libraries. I have published a series of MG science fiction books and am working on a few more in a different series. I have also written a nonfiction (1st grade) series.
In my own writing, I am marketing a graphic novel script, working together with an artist to complete sample pages for submission. I am also revising two middle grade novels, a YA scifi novel, and working with a mentor on a nonfiction picture book biography. I am unagented at present, but always on the lookout for the right agent to query.

Sundee: I’m working on a historical novel inspired by my African-American family’s experience of integrating a white neighborhood in 1950s Spokane. Part of my work’s purpose, I believe, is to show that the Black experience is not monolithic and there are as many different narratives as there are Black people in America! I’m eager to put a novel into the world that explores the types of barriers my people faced in the Northwest and the ways they resiliently overcame.

Suzanne: I’m finishing a third book in a series for Harper Collins and I’m working on a fun MG project with my son, which I hope to announce this summer.

How does being a mentor influence and inform your work and why do you do it?

Ailynn: Mentorship was very much the model used in my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University. I find that I learned best from the one on one interactions. Currently, I also mentor young writers, aged 10 to 16, and I learn from them as much as they do from me.

I have had some amazing mentors in my writing journey, and I’ve appreciated every moment of their time and attention. Through these mentors, I’ve learned so much about my writing strengths and weaknesses. I’ve become more confident about expressing my ideas, and digging deep into the emotions of my stories. I consider it to be a privilege to walk alongside another writer in their journey (no matter their age), and I hope to be of use, as others have been so helpful to me.

Sundee: I enjoy giving editorial feedback to other writers because I received so much mentoring through my Vermont College MFA experience and know how helpful it was to me. I see mentoring as a way to give to others the kind of generous input I received, and being in dialogue about writing (whether my own or others’) always energizes me for writing. Good mentors help us to see what we probably know already in our guts but are too afraid (or lazy, let’s be honest) to acknowledge, confront, and work on.

Suzanne: I well remember feeling confused and alone when I started writing. I didn’t know about SCBWI and all the members of my critique group wrote for adults. The first person who reached out to me as a mentor was a writing teacher, and he helped open the door to my first agent. I’ll never forget how much that meant to me. I’m all about Karma.

What are some challenges you have encountered in your writing/illustration journey? How did you manage to survive through them and achieve success?

Ailynn: The challenge for me currently is finding the right agent for my work. I’ve had some very positive feedback and some ‘close calls’. I also have to balance the time spent querying, and working on polishing my own work, as well as meeting deadlines for my commissioned work. I like to work with a schedule, and I have to be strict with myself to ensure that I protect my writing time. It must be a priority, otherwise it’s so easy to be distracted by other, equally worthy, projects. I’m not quite sure how success is measured, but, for now, if I’ve met my writing/revision goals for the day, month, or year, I feel I have succeeded.

Sundee: For sure the biggest challenge for me has been setting writing goals and sticking to them. I have been helped recently (by Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies) to realize and accept that I am an Obliger, which means I readily meet external expectations, but have a hard time sticking with internal expectations. The fact that I’ve been able to publish five novels in spite of my tendency to put aside writing to meet external demands (and there are many as a mom/volunteer/small business owner) is encouraging. I plan to have more success (and less drama!) as I put outer accountability in place to follow through on my internal desires to continue writing and publishing.

Suzanne: Like most writers, I experienced rejection. Lots of rejection for my first two novels. I almost gave up, but having other writers to talk to, and digging deep to find patience, those tools helped me. Patience, my friends. This can be a slow journey, it’s overcrowded, competitive as hell, and editors and agents can move like sloths.

What advice would you give to your beginner self who is just starting out to make a creative career?

Ailynn: Learn as much as you can about the craft. Read as much as you can and think like a writer while doing so. Ask yourself how these writers achieve what they do. Study them. Attend classes, get into a critique group – find a community. Wow, that’s a lot! Community is important because writing can feel so lonely at times, and having trustworthy, encouraging writer friends is so vital to the journey. Most of all, don’t give up. Don’t stop telling your stories.

Sundee: Read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Also, be patient with the process of developing a story and honor any writing you get done, any progress you make. Refuse to let in self-critical or self-defeating thoughts about your writing or whether you’re capable of finishing this book. Instead be grateful for what God is manifesting through you in all its imperfection. Appreciate the words that come out and treat them with love, respect, and gratitude. Do not burden them with the need to be perfect. They, and you, are a work in progress.

Suzanne: Don’t stay with that bad agent! She ignored you. She acted annoyed when you called. Don’t be afraid to move forward without her and to find someone else because sticking with the wrong agent will only stall your progress.

For more details of the mentorship program check here

Ailynn Knox-Collins started working life as a lawyer, then moved on to be a teacher, and is now a writer of children’s books. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She mentors young writers through the Society of Young Inklings and has been a member of SCBWIWWA since 2008. She has published a series of 6 MG science fiction books called Redworld, and is working on 2 more for another series, coming out next year. She has a graphic novel, and a nonfiction picture book out in the world, seeking a home.

Sundee T. Frazier is the Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in ItThe Other Half of My Heart, and the Cleo Edison Oliver booksHer heartfelt, entertaining stories address subjects close to her heart: biracial/bicultural identity, growing up in interracial families, and multi-generational dynamics. Her books have been nominated for twelve state children’s choice awards, appeared in Seattle Public Library’s Global Reading Challenge, and been nominated for the WA State Book Award. Frazier, a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, lives in Renton, WA. Learn more about her and her work at

Suzanne Selfors is a national best-selling author who writes for kids of all ages. She’s received six Junior Library Guild awards, earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Library Media Connection and Publisher’s Weekly. The Sasquatch Escape won the WA State Book Award, was an Amazon Best Children’s Book. She’s won a Cybils award and been on numerous state lists including the Texas Bluebonnet list. Though her books can be found all over the world, she lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she hopes it is her destiny to write stories forever after.

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