Vicky Shiefman fell in love with books and learning from her very first days at nursery school. From the start of her time at City and Country, a private school in suburban Detroit, she knew that education would shape her world as a child, as well as an adult. Fast forward years later and now Vicky is a teacher and published author specializing in children’s books and articles for the education market. Still moved by the themes of her early life, Vicky continues to teach, write and learn along with her students. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Vicky about some of her favorite authors and her advice for writers just starting out.
Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Detroit, MI. I now live in New York, NY.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
It varies so much. I rarely sit down at my desk unless I know approximately what I’m going to say. When I’m stuck, I may go to the library or take a nap or go for a walk to go into that zone where I contact my unconscious. Then I sit down and type away.
You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?
I have to picture a young child, if it’s a picture book or middle school kids I know or was if it’s upper middle grade and write or talk to those children or child.
I was a full-time teacher when I sold my first children’s book. My second, M IS FOR MOVE, actually used many of the children in my first/second grade class in the photographs. Did working with children of many more than 50 countries (I stopped counting years ago) change my writing? Not as much in obvious ways as I would have thought. When I wrote about kids from other countries in my class, I only knew them in one way, as students, so the stories weren’t real enough but I do think they inspired me to want to write about immigrants (like my grandmother, my third book) and people going from one culture to another, something I had been interested in since college, where I majored in linguistics as part of anthropology.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
Harriet Beecher Stowe her UNCLE TOM’S CABIN changed history for the better, Jane Austen paints a very vivid and authentic picture of her little world, Naguib Mafouz draws an amazing cast of characters in turn of the 20th century Egypt that draw you into his world and make you want to stay for more, Rachel Kushner’s new book, THE FLAMETHROWERS, is just amazing, Margaret Wise Brown created picture book little stories that will last forever, Sarah Dessen captures teenage angst and desire and oversensitivity perfectly, Ellen Hopkins excels in portraits with few works but deep feelings that right true, Ruth White is the best middle grade writer, such great characters and story telling that touch my heart, Meg Rosoff’s HOW WE LIVE NOW is close to perfect.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
It’s not easy to enter this field but if you really really really want to write for children, don’t let anything stop you. Join SCBWI, go to conferences, workshops, critique groups, network, read, read, read, read, read, read. It is possible.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a picture book about a turning point in a deservedly famous American’s life that hasn’t been told for young children. Another project is about a spiritual awakening of a girl about to have her Bat Mitzvah.
Be sure to check out Vicky’s website at www.vickyshiefman.com. All of Vicky’s books are available at your favorite online bookstore or an indie bookstore near you!