During the summer lull in the publishing world, it’s a great time to read writing blogs. I’m pleased to feature caring and engaging author Sharon Giltrow. Her early middle grade book, SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT was illustrated by Thu Kim Vu, published by Clear Fork Publishing and releases on August 18th.
Kidlit Creatives Members: You have an opportunity to win a copy of SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT. Enter for this special prize by following the directions below this post.
First, I want to share illustrator Thu Kim Vu’s engaging cover art!
About the Book: Samara knows wishes don’t come true. But if they did, her wish would be to have the courage to stand up to Toby King, the meanest boy at school. On her eleventh birthday Samara is given a mysterious utility belt. A belt with magical tools. But the belt comes with a catch, there are rules and a deadline. All tools must be used within seven days.
Manju: Hi Sharon! Congratulations on your new early middle grade book, SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT. Please share what inspired you to combine bullying and magical tools into a story.
Sharon: In 2019 I took part in Lori Snyder’s Writer’s Happiness Challenge. One of the daily exercises was to design your own writer’s utility belt. My belt contained the following tools, creativity, wonder, imagination, determination, family, friends, generosity, humor, and ideas.
Creating my own belt led me to ask, what would a child’s utility belt hold? And what would be one of the greatest challenges that an eleven-year-old child could face. Bullying! Which unfortunately is something that many children experience sometime in their life. Then I brainstormed what a child would need to stand up to a bully. Tools and a friend or even better a sidekick who knows exactly what tool to use and when. My character Samara Rubin is a fictional character but she is also every child in every school.
Manju: Would you share your path to publication for this MG series?
Sharon: Long and still going!! Believe it or not SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT started out as a picture book manuscript. But when a member of my online critique group suggested the idea was more suited to an older reader it became an early middle grade.
Having only ever written picture books before, I knew I needed to learn how to write for older readers. I enrolled in a Middle Grade Mastery course and by the end of 2019 I had finished writing my first middle grade book.
Then begun the submitting process. I submitted SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT to publishers and agents all around the world. In October 2020 I signed a publishing deal with CLEAR FORK PUBLISHING. Hooray!!
I thought my book would be out the following year. I was so naïve and didn’t realise that it would take a year to edit the manuscript. Then my editor and owner of CLEAR FORK PUBLISHING, Callie Fred Lovvorn and I started talking about the possibility of a series. Now I was not only writing middle grade but a series as well.
So, although SAMARA was finished, I needed to write TOBY’S story before we could publish SAMARA. I completed TOBY KING AND THE UTILITY BELT in December 2021.
Then in 2022 we started working with the amazing Thu Vu on illustrations for SAMARA. It was fantastic to see our characters come to life through Thu’s illustrations.
Also, during 2022 we begun editing Toby and thought hey why don’t we add a third book. So, then I started writing KAYA BELL AND THE UTILITY BELT which I finished at the end of 2022.
As you can see my book started as one thing and over the years has evolved into something even better. Until finally in 2023, SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT is now published.
Manju: Living in Western Australia (WA) appears to be an amazing mix of city, beaches and parks. Have you experienced a difference between writing and publishing in Australia versus the U.S.? Are you in a critique group with Australian and/or American writers?
Sharon: Yes Perth, WA is an amazing place to live. It is also the most isolated city in the world. So, for an author to have a book published in the U.S. is a really big thing. This achievement is largely due to the amazing online writing community that I am a part of. If it wasn’t for groups like yours Manju and other amazing writing groups then I would never have had that opportunity.
The biggest difference between writing and publishing in Australia and the US is the time difference. It is huge. This can be tricky when having zoom meetings. Another difference is the difference between American English and Australian English. The spelling is different e.g., ‘colour’ versus ‘color.’ So are some of the words e.g., ‘doona’ versus ‘quilt,’ ‘bathers’ versus ‘swimsuits.’
Also, the collaboration process with my American editor has been a lot more hands on. I have had a lot more input into illustrations, formatting etc. which is great.
When I first started writing SAMARA, I was in a picture book critique group with American writers. I also have an in-person critique group here in Perth. I could not do without the support of this group and they have become some of my closest friends.
Thank you, Sharon!
Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, and two children. Sharon is a children’s author who writes humorous and heartfelt picture books. As well as speculative, adventure filled middle grade books. Since 2020 Sharon has built a collection of literary work including Bedtime, Daddy! Get Ready, Mama! with EK Books and her early middle grade series, The Utility Belt.
Visit Sharon's website:
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Deadline to enter is Friday, August 25th.
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