Monday, November 23, 2015

Meet New Visions Award Winner
Andrea J Loney

Andrea J Loney is a lot of things. Teacher, Activist, Screen writer, Picture book writer, Ex circus girl? Circus?!!!!!
Yup, I ran away from academia to join the circus. 

How did you end up in a circus?

After I earned my Masters Degree in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, I realized that I’d spent my entire life as a student with no time off to explore the world I was writing about. When the chance to join a traveling show came along, I leapt at the opportunity. I originally joined The Big Apple Circus to work as a roustabout crew girl, but I barely lasted three hours in that job — once I broke my pinky nail on a floor board, I was out of there!

So I ran back to the office trailer where I worked for a year as the assistant to the General Manager, the House Manager, and the Concessions Manager. I also served as a Tour Guide, an Usher, and an unofficial liaison between the crew people and the executives in the show’s New York Office. I got to know people (and animals) of all ages, from all around the world, and from all walks of life.  And I got to watch the entire lifecycle of a show from rehearsals, to previews, to opening night, to multiple performances almost every day. It was a great hands-on education in entertainment. 

That's awesome!

The most exciting three things about Andrea right now are:
She won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award for her biographical picture book, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee
And the amazing illustrator Keith Mallett ( )will be illustrating the book, which is due to come out in late 2016.
      She got an agent!
The ever-awesome Jill Corcoran of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. 
     Her next picture book just sold.
Hooray! Jill sold another picture book of mine in September of 2015. Details are on the way!

I am so happy for you. I met Andrea when we were fellow volunteers at Reading To Kids. And then we were in a couple of critique sessions together. I love her work.
When did you first see yourself as a writer?

My grandmother was an English teacher and a literacy specialist so she taught me how to read when I was three years old. As soon as I could read stories, I wanted to write them too. I won my first award for writing at the age of eight — it was a story about a swan in the park. From then I was hooked! I wrote poems, short stories, comic strips, plays and more.

You have a Master degree in writing, what made you decide on picture books?

I distinctly remember reading a book in the second grade and thinking, “Someday I will make a book like this and some little girl just like me will find it and fall in love with words forever and ever.” I’ve always dreamed of telling stories so compelling, they could stay in a child’s heart for the rest of their lives, just as the work of Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, and A.A. Milne still live in my heart to this day.

Also, as a young black girl growing up in the suburbs, I did not find many books that reflected the reality of my life. Now as a supporter of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, I am committed to do what I can to expand the range of heroes and heroines in children’s books to reflect the range of diversity our society. Lifelong impressions and biases — positive and negative — can form quite early in a child’s life so the earlier a child sees broader representations of race, gender, class, ableism, and more, the better it is for our society as a whole, in my opinion.

 Finally, I love the unique challenge of crafting a character’s story in as few words as possible, while invoking an entire universe without the use of actual images or the overt description of those images. When it works it’s magical! Even though I have written professionally for film, television, and theater, picture books have always been the most beloved form of storytelling for me.
I love firsts, so tell me about the moment when a publisher told you they wanted to publish your book.
When I first got the call from Lee & Low, I was on my way into an appointment so the unfamiliar New York number went straight to voicemail. Back in my car I listened to the voicemail, which said that the publisher wanted to discuss my New Voices submission, my first thought was, “Oh man, they hated it. They hated it so much they had to tell me on the phone.” Crazy right? So I wrote the number down in my notebook and just waited it out because they were three hours ahead of Los Angeles and their office was already closed.  

That night I didn’t sleep a wink. Was it possible that I won the Honor Award? I couldn’t have won the big award. Anyway I sprung out of bed at 5:30 am, ready to call them at 6 am which would be 9 am New York time. And just as I started to call them, my kitten jumped at the phone and erased the number. It was just gone.

After a moment of panic, I realized that I had written the number in my notebook, which was in my car. So I ran outside to my car in my nightgown and tried not to hyperventilate as I dialed the number. I was completely shocked when when the editor, Jessica Echeverria, told me that I had won the New Visions Award. She told me how much everyone loved the manuscript and the story about my subject. I could hear in her voice how my passion for James Van Derzee and his work had somehow traveled to a publishing house across the country and how she was excited to share that passion with others too.

My impulse was to blurt out something ridiculous, so I just kept saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you so much!” Then when the call was over I screamed and cheered and bounced around in my car. In my nightgown. And it was December 22nd — what an amazing Christmas gift!
Yes! Love this story!

Other than your own, who are your favorite (heroes/heroines/writers) in your genre?
Wow, there are so many writers whose work I adore. At the moment though it would be Jacqueline Woodson, Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, Jonah Winter, Mac Barnett, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Joyce Sidman. And so many more!

 What is the most exciting moment, so far, in your writing career?
Honestly, it was the moment I met Jacqueline Woodson at the Los Angeles Festival of Books. I told her that I won the Lee and Low Award as she signed my well-loved copy of her masterpiece BROWN GIRL DREAMING, and then she said, “Yes, I know of James Van DerZee. Which illustrators are you considering?” I don’t even know how I replied because all I was thinking was, “Holy moly, I am actually talking shop with National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson! Just like a professional author! How is this happening?”  

What is your favorite pastime, other than writing?
If I am awake and not writing or driving, I’m probably reading. Other than that, I like to play video games with my family, make jewelry, knit, hula hoop, and nap. Wow, do I love naps!

How do you motivate yourself when inspiration takes a vacation?
Deadlines! I belong to a few different critique groups and I submit manuscripts regularly to my agent and editor. I usually have about five writing projects going at any given time, so if I get stuck on one story I just hop into another one. If I am on a deadline or tackling a particularly stubborn problem, I journal about the story instead of trying to write the text. Sometimes I write a series of questions about the plot or characters before I go to bed, then see if the answers bubble up the next morning.
Other inspiration jumpstarts include drawing or coloring, talking to a friend, listening to new music, going for a walk, making lists, reading something fascinating , and, of course, napping. Most importantly, I try to see inspiration more as a bonus than a requirement.

Any advice for new writers just starting out?
The best advice I ever got was to read stories that work and then figure out how and why they work. After that, my suggestion would be to write regularly — it doesn’t need to be daily but it does need to be often enough to build writing chops and to give inspiration a space to show up. Oh, and always keep a pencil and paper handy to capture ideas.  

The best choice I ever made for my children’s writing career was joining SCBWI, reading their articles, attending their events, meeting other writers, and sharing my work with a critique group (and finding a critique group that suited my needs).  

The next best choice was joining Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo in November to find great tips on how to come up with ideas, and then come up with at least 30 new picture book ideas of my own and then…

…Signing up for Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book challenge to join a community of other picture book writers as I refined those ideas and submitted them to agents. Also Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction WOW website and Facebook group introduced me to the wide world of Nonfiction writing.

 Oh and the best advice that I stubbornly refused to follow for years? While waiting to hear back on one manuscript, write another one. And another one after that. And another one after that. Keep writing NEW pieces while revising the old ones and once they are ready, keep sending them out. By the time my first picture book sold, I had already recieved over 25 manuscript rejections. But I was determined to keep going until someone said “yes”. And eventually they did!

Tell us about James Van De Zee. How did you find your subject.
James Van DerZee was a studio photographer in Harlem, NY, who took photographs for nine decades. He was prolific and creative, but most of all he took elegant and glamorous photos of the black residents of his neighborhood — whether they were rich, poor, or middle class. He just loved people and that compassion came through in every shot. From childhood I was always fascinated by this charming old-time black photographer who was “Photoshopping” pictures long before computers were invented. The more I learned about his astounding life story, the more I wanted to share it with others.

 What’s your current WIP?  
At the moment, I am working on three picture book revisions, four new picture books,  a middle grade historical fantasy, and a cozy winter scarf.

And finally, where can we find you?

andreajloney on Twitter 

andreajloney on Pinterest

Or in the children’s section of a local library, squished in a tiny chair behind a stack of picture books.

Thank you for being here, Andrea. I can't wait till your first book comes out. I want to read about James Vanderzee.


  1. Congratulations, Andrea!! Looking forward to all your work!

  2. Andrea, you never cease to amaze me!!! I feel fortunate to be in a critique group with you and we'll start back up in 2016!

  3. Congratulations! Love your personal stories here - and very much looking forward to reading your version of James Van DerZee's story as well.

  4. I am so proud of you cuz. Much more success and looking forward to reading your treasures.

  5. Wow, Your book sounds amazing! Congratulations!


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