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Author Kelly Mangan Interview

How did you become a writer?

I come from a family of storytellers. As a kid, I spent many hours around my grandparents’ kitchen table, listening to my family’s stories. So maybe that’s why I started writing when I was very young. Whether telling or listening, I’ve never been able to resist a good yarn! When my oldest was born (almost six years ago now!), I rediscovered my love of writing through KidLit.

What inspires you to write?

With everything that’s wrong in the world, it’s easy to feel hopeless or like nothing we do matters. I write KidLit to reflect the values which are important to me, to inspire kids to build a better world, and to empower the ones who already are.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

My stories are often inspired by people or situations close to me, and draw heavily from my own personal experiences. Typically my characters come first, then a general theme, then more specific plot points.

Could you share some of your challenges as a writer?

I’m the queen of seeing what I mean rather than seeing what is actually written. This is why I live and die by my critique partners, and their honest feedback on what doesn’t work in my story and why. More generally, I often struggle with impostor syndrome, which I think happens to many writers. It’s a lonely profession in many ways, which is why I think writers *need* that support network of people who are in your corner, cheering you on.

Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness?

In my book PRIMA GINA, BALLERINA, people doubt the protagonist because of her size. Gina enters a dance competition to prove her mettle, but must overcome both the unkindness of others, and her own doubts. Through courage and determination, she wins the competition, and creates an inclusive space where dance is for everyone, regardless of their size, shape, gender, background, or ability.

I love my main character because I think we need more plus-size heroes in the world of KidLit. Too often, plus size characters in KidLit are portrayed as lazy, cruel, unintelligent, buffoonish, or simply a joke. Calls for more positive representation of fat people are often met with extreme resistance and hostility. We need to do better.

I wrote Gina to be different from most plus-size characters in media in that she’s upbeat, determined, and driven. She is not a victim, a bully, or a joke. She doesn’t need a thinner person to validate her. Perhaps the most radical thing about Gina (and what I love most about her) is that she’s a plus-size person with confidence and an abundance of self-worth.

How does your antagonist create conflict?

In PRIMA GINA, the antagonist is the snooty ballet studio that turns Gina away for lessons, as well as the kids from the studio who laugh at her because of her weight. The trickiest part of writing this book was creating the conflict and obstacles for Gina in a way that felt true, but which would feel empowering to plus-size kids rather than instilling insecurity.

What are your current/future projects?

I have probably a half-dozen picture books at present that I’m working on polishing, including:

· LENA IS A LEADER (Lena is tired of being called “bossy” for being smart, capable, and organized).

· MOM AND THE SNOW DRAGON (construction vehicle book w/ LGBTQ rep and a whimsical twist).

· LOUDEST YELLER: STETSON KENNEDY, KLAN-BUSTER (non-fic biography of an anti-racist activist who infiltrated the KKK in the 1940s).

· GRANDPA’S SUNSET (folksy-lyrical story about end-of-life changes, told from the POV of a child watching his grandfather’s health deteriorate).

· FIREFIGHTER KITTY TO THE RESCUE (character driven story about an imperious kitty who doesn’t want to play firefighter, even though he’d be fabulous at it... obviously).

· DUCK BUTTS (rhyming board book ode to springtime, and of course, to cute butts).

I’m also working on editing my first middle grade novel (BRAVE MAEVE, SUPER GEEK) about a comic-book-loving girl who creates a feminist superhero club to fight back against bullying at her new school. Lastly, I’ve started a second middle grade novel (THE ONE YOU FEED), which is creepy magical realism about a boy who talks to plants.

Do you have a routine you follow when writing?

Unfortunately, I have to steal writing time where I can find it. But I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, so I’m able to dedicate at least some time to writing almost every day—either during naptime or after the kids go to bed.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Write, write, write! Honestly, you can’t replace the experience that comes from simply putting one’s butt in a chair and doing THE THING!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Join the 12x12 Picture Book forum and Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm! Get connected with other people in the KidLit community. Listen to Jennifer Laughran’s Literaticast podcast. And READ, READ, READ as many picture books as you can—particularly those written in the last 5 years.

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch

with you?

Contact form on my website:

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