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Author Spotlight: Lyn Miller-Lachmann, RYS Judge

This month, we are excited to Interview long-time RYS Judge Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Ways to Play, illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo. While originally carving a space for herself in the YA Category with Gringolandia, Torch, Rogue and Moonwalking (with Zetta Elliott) and more, as well as multiple reference books, this is her first picture book, published by Levine Querido on August 8, 2023!

Lynne Marie: We don’t always see Young Adult Authors migrate into the picture book space. What inspired you to try writing a picture book?

Lyn Miller-Lachmann: I’ve been trying to write picture books since 1990, without much success. I have several dozen manuscripts on my hard drive, some of which I’ve revised multiple times in hopes that a publisher would take them. I’ve always appreciated picture books for the collaboration between writer and illustrator and the multiple ways they present a story, even using words and pictures at odds with each other.

LM: What do you consider some of the biggest differences between writing Young Adult Novels and Picture Books?

LML: While there are a lot of differences, the most challenging one for me is making sure the subject matter and treatment are appropriate for the youngest readers.

My YA novels tend to be on the mature side; in fact, both Gringolandia and Torch are crossover novels that have been chosen for adult book clubs. An editor once told me I don’t have the sensibility to write picture books, but I’ve learned a lot from reading recently published picture books and spending time with my grandchildren. One can communicate a lot of complexity and nuance in simple language, using humor and the people and things that are important to the life of a young child. In Ways to Play, those include the cousins who are Riley’s age, the toys they play with, and the family dog.

LM: What do you consider to be some of the biggest similarities in writing Picture Books and Young Adult Novels?

LML: One that comes to mind is the importance of concrete visual imagery, of showing my characters making decisions and taking action. My YA novels have been described as cinematic. I’ve always been a huge film buff, and a couple of years ago co-authored Film Makers with Tanisia “Tee” Moore, a biography of contemporary women directors in the Women of Power series. I want my older readers to read my books as if seeing a film, and when writing picture books, I’m conscious of how an illustrator might choose to portray the scenes I evoke with my words.

LM: Ways to Play is a wonderful book that promotes both being accepting and self-acceptance. What inspired you to write this book?

LML: The dog. I had a dog named Charlie who had his own way of playing fetch, as in he would never return the stick or the stuffie but run around the yard daring anyone to chase him for this coveted object. There are a lot of things dogs can teach us about acceptance, because they’ll accept anyone who feeds, shelters, and cuddles them. One can make all kinds of excuses and justifications, but being kind and accepting others no matter who they are is simple and straightforward and the right thing to do.

LM: WTP features a neurodivergent main character. Who/what did you draw from for the basis of this character?

LML: Riley is based on me, as I was autistic but undiagnosed at a time when there was much less understanding of the autism spectrum. When I was a child, I would line up my toys by size or other patterns that I saw in them, and I liked my crayons to have perfect points so I’d sharpen them and then play with the spirals that the sharpener created.

LM: What goals did you have for your story in that you were writing about a social emotional learning (SEL) topic?

LML: As someone who had atypical ways of playing with toys, I wanted to show that all ways of playing are good. By classifying my toys by size or other characteristics, I unconsciously picked up mathematical concepts and the ability to see patterns. When children play with toys, they’re learning about their world and developing the skills to interact with it.

LM: What was the hardest part of the journey for this manuscript (either in the writing or publishing)? Why?

LML: My publisher was looking for a collaboration between a neurodivergent author and a neurodivergent illustrator and put out a call for writers. I recommended a few, but my wonderful editor Arthur Levine then emailed saying, “We were really thinking about you.” The hardest part for me then was believing that I could write a picture book, especially after that editor (whose name I’ve thankfully forgotten) told me years ago that I didn’t have the sensibility to do so. I had a lot of help to get to the point of producing a publishable book, and I’m grateful to my agent Jacqui Lipton, my critique group, and my writing partner Susan Korchak.

LM: Gabriel Alborozo is also a neurodiverse author and his illustrations are wonderful. What was your favorite of the spreads he created and why?

LML: Above is the spread where Riley sharpens the crayons and uses the spirals to make art. I was really excited to see what Gabe, who’s an artist, did with that concept. There are so many spreads I’d like to attach, because I love how he interpreted the story and all the characters. For instance, my Charlie was a bichon fries, a small white floof (floof being a nickname for a fluffy dog) and Gabe made Charlie a big gray floof, but he gave Book Charlie the same exuberant personality.

LM: As a Rate Your Story Judge, please share a repeated issue you see in manuscripts you give feedback on, as well as provide an RX for curing that issue.

LML: I generally rate middle grade and YA manuscripts, and the biggest problem I see is the information dump, particularly in the opening pages. Backstory should be doled out in small increments in a “need-to-know” basis. That “need-to-know” may not occur until a later chapter, or the reader may not need to know it at all. I can tell you all kinds of trivia about my characters’ backstory in Torch, most of which I cut or never added in the first place. My quick cure for the info dump is to look critically at any piece of exposition that runs longer than about three lines. You may need it the longer text block, but most of the time you don’t. And pay special attention to any long bits in dialogue, because I sometimes see exposition masquerading as (stilted) dialogue.

LM: What is the biggest thing you learned when you started writing picture books?

LML: Trust the illustrator! Picture books are a collaboration between writer and artist, and you don’t need so many visual cues in the text or even illustration notes. I was surprised at some of the ways Gabe interpreted my words, but those were good surprises that complemented and deepened the story.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the YA historical novel Torch (Carolrhoda Lab, 2022) and co-author (with Zetta Elliott) of the middle grade verse novel Moonwalking (FSG, 2022), both of which are Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections, recipients of multiple starred reviews and on the 2023 Notable Books for a Global Society list. Torch is also a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for YA Literature. Her recent nonfiction includes a biography of Temple Grandin in the She Persisted chapter book series from Philomel and Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors (co-authored with Tanisia “Tee” Moore) from Chicago Review Press. She also translates children’s and YA books from Portuguese to English, with YA graphic novel Pardalita by Joana Estrela, due out in April 2023 from Levine Querido. Her debut picture book, Ways to Play, illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo will be published by Levine Querido in fall 2023, and her YA historical verse novel Eyes Open will be published by Carolrhoda Lab in 2024.

NOTE: Feel free to click on the covers or underlined titles to buy Lyn's books! To see all of her books, click here. You can connect with her on social media here:

Facebook: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Instagram: @lynmillerlachmann

Twitter: @LMillerLachmann


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