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Ask an Author: Christine Mapondera-Talley

Christine Mapondera-Talley is the author of Makanaka’s World, a picture book series designed to teach young children about our world culture, geography, and language in a fun and engaging way. Christine was born in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, and now resides in Chicago with her husband and two children. Growing up bilingual and gives Christine a unique perspective to help children learn about our wonderful world. Her latest book is Makanaka's World: Adventure in Morocco.

Connect with her in these ways . . .


Instagram: @makanakasworld @Mapondera.Christine

Twitter: @mapo.talley

1. What is your process for finding and choosing a good story to tell?

My process has evolved over time. At first I only had one story idea and thought I would dedicate the rest of my life to it. Now I pay attention to themes that literally tug at my heart, which are often connected to my childhood in Zimbabwe and my love for the African continent in general. I found that the excitement to write grows day by day if I have that emotional pull right away.

2. Do you use any outside help to find good ideas like music, the world around you, kids you know, a good book or movie, or a weird dream?

Absolutely! Inspiration is all around is. Like a line in a song or a statement from a child during an author visit. My latest idea was inspired by a movie title. I've actually gotten better at keeping a journal near me at all times, this way I can quickly jot down the idea before something else interrupts my train of thought. On occasion, I've stopped in the middle of cooking dinner to write something down.

3. How do you determine the age of your audience?

This is a craft I’m still learning myself as I've been mainly focused on picture books. Although I'd say that if the story requires a lot of build up to reach the climax and maybe even varying detailed settings, then I'll typically put a star next to it because I know I'll need to determine whether it's a chapter book, middle grade, or YA manuscript.

4. How do you know when a story is “done”?

It’s so hard to know when your story is done. I consider the feedback from peers and then of course my editor. From there I let it simmer and this may be weeks at a time. You can't really force this part, you just have to trust that your thoughts will come together. I'm not sure I can trust myself to decide the end, especially because I'm independently publishing. Since I have final say, I'd hate to prematurely finalize the story and it turns out to be mediocre.

5. What is your favorite subject, genre, and/or medium in the kid lit world, and why do you think kids love it?

My favorite genre is non-fiction biographies, although humor is pretty close. I think biographies, especially as chapter books or middle grade novels, can touch younger kids during a time they may be starting to feel very self-conscious and having self-esteem issues. Seeing a successful or resilient person from a similar background with similar struggles can change one's outlook on life.

6. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to yourself as a brand new writer?

I would be more patient with myself. Often times our taste level as creative people far exceeds our skill level, especially in the beginning. But with time we slowly close that gap, and it’s really wonderful to be able to witness yourself mature as a writer or illustrator.

7. What websites, blogs, or books would you recommend to a new writer?

I follow a number of Facebook groups including Kidlit411 (most authors here seek traditional publication), the 10k Children and Middle Grade Authors Group (indie authors serious about their craft, lots of information sharing and growing), and Creating Engaging School Visits (this group is a must for conversations about crowd control, technology, author fees, etc. Kidlit411 also has a very robust website with a multitude of resources.

For independently publishing authors, I highly recommend looking into (IBPA) Independent Book Publishers Association. These are the people that will support you with educational tools and connect you to quality services in your quest to produce a top notch book.

As writers we also need to think about growing our platform, for that I think the book “Platform” is a must read. The author, Michael Hyatt, a former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, offers great tips from both the publisher’s perspective and the author’s perspective. I’ve listened to the audiobook at least twice now.

8. You’re a shapeshifter now! If you could turn into any animal, what would it be and why?

This one is a tie, here I go . . .

Strangely enough I would want to be a chameleon, even though for years I was so scared of these harmless creatures. It’s a long story. I think it’s so awesome that chameleons can literally be any shade of beautiful no matter where they are.

I would also love to be an African Grey parrot. Those birds are so intelligent, they can communicate with their own species and with humans. I want that, too.

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