Author Kelly Starling Lyons – Writers Dream and Do

Gleaning Gold: Writers Dream and Do

An Interview with Author Kelly Starling Lyons

by Sally Matheny

“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

-Carl Sandburg

2012—another year to file in history. Reflecting back, how did we grow as writers? What did we learn? Was it a new literary technique or a social media tool? Perhaps we learned how to dream. Not only that, we made discoveries about our dreams—what drives them and what hinders them. Surely, if we learned anything at all, we learned that nothing evolves from our dreams if we don’t do something with them.

Clicking ruby red slippers won’t make them come true. Blowing out cake candles, crossing your fingers, wishing on a star—sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Only God is capable of the miraculous. Some things he offers freely, other times he deems it best if we work for it.

As we enter 2013, we have to make a choice each day. Do we dream of being a writer? Or do we work at the writer’s dream?

Multi-award winning author, Kelly Starling Lyons is working on her dreams. Blessed with a family who encouraged her creativity, Kelly first began writing her aspirations in diaries. She says she “was a child who dreamed large.” As she matured, she realized her ambitions to be an author would require a lot of work.

Kelly’s determined efforts have paid off. She has published two children’s books with G.P. Putnam’s Sons: Tea Cakes for Toshand Ellen’s Broom. Just Us Books also published: One Million Men and Me and NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal.

Kelly will be teaching two workshops at the Write2Ignite! Writers’ Conference: “Celebrating Diversity” and “Marketing Your Book on a Budget.”  Today, she shares nuggets with us about her experiences as a writer.

Kelly, tell us about your writing journey. How long did you write before your first book was published?

I started seriously working toward my goal of writing for children around 2002. Before then, I had written a picture book manuscript called Butterfly Wings that I sent to just one publisher. I received a rejection letter and tucked the story away. But I kept feeling called to write for kids. So I tried writing other stories, ones that were inspired by my childhood memories. I began receiving rejection notes with an encouraging line or two scribbled at the bottom. One time, an editor called me to say she liked my story, but it was too similar to a book that was already on her list. That let me know I was on the right path and pushed me to keep going.

As I worked on my writing, I started learning more about the children’s book field. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, found local mentors who gave me advice and feedback on my work. I sent out stories and kept believing they would find homes.

My break came when Just Us Books turned down a picture book manuscript I sent, but offered me the chance to try out for the chapter book series, NEATE. I won the assignment to write book #4 about character Eddie Delaney. NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal debuted in 2004. Three years later, Just Us Books published my first picture book, One Million Men and Me.


As a teen, you bought teen magazines but you also bought “Writer’s Digest” and “The Writer.” That says a lot about your determination and drive to become a writer! What other resources do you recommend to writers? (Books, websites, etc.)

One of my favorite guides to clear and graceful writing in any genre is one that an editor at an academic press recommended to me years ago, Style by Joseph Williams. Another great book that a sister author recommended to me was How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. Sites I love include SCBWI (, The Institute for Children’s Literature’s RX for Writers section (, Verla Kay Blue Board ( and The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (

You have a wonderful website with many helpful tips for writers. One of those states to “reward yourself.” What are some ways you reward yourself?

Thank you. If I’m just doing a reward for me, I love curling up with a novel or watching a movie. But my favorite reward is one for the whole family, because they make it possible for me to write. Sometimes I buy everyone cupcakes. Everyone has a favorite flavor. Mine is chocolate. Sometimes I’ll bake teacakes as a special treat.

Another tip you offer writers is to “surround yourself with doers.” Will you elaborate on this?

It’s important when you’re working toward your dream to have people in your circle who are working toward theirs too. Building a dream-and-do community of writing friends helps you stay motivated and on task. You can encourage each other when you receive rejections or have tough writing days. You can cheer each other on and find inspiration in each person’s success. What you don’t need around you are naysayers. Those are the folks who question your dream, say it will never happen. Shut those voices out and focus on the folks who believe in you.

How do you use social networking to promote your books? How much marketing does your publisher require of you?

My main social networking outlet is FaceBook. I have an author page there – – where I share publishing news and multicultural children’s book recommendations. I also passively post to Twitter through a direct feed of my FaceBook posts to my Twitter page. With One Million Men and Me and Ellen’s Broom, I did blog tours to raise awareness of them. They worked well. Nowadays, authors are expected to be full partners is marketing. Therefore, I’m always thinking of ways to promote my book whether that’s by attending conferences of media specialists, sending out books for reviews or offering a contest.

You do multi-media presentations when you visit a school. What advice do you offer to new authors concerning school visits?

I recommend that new authors work on creating an engaging presentation they can offer to schools and organizations even before their book debuts. Talks can include sharing the process of writing your story, how you turned a dream into a book. Find fun visuals to complement what you’re discussing. By doing author visits, you’re giving back and building interest in your books. Here’s a great site with tips:

It sounds like you had a wonderful launch party for your book, Ellen’s Broom, this past January. So many friends pitched in to help make it a success. How important is it to be part of writers’ groups and develop friendships with other writers?

Thank you so much. I felt so blessed that people came out to celebrate my book. Friends pitching in were key to its success. Some of my buddies helped kids at the craft table. Another friend recommended the wonderful baker who made the wedding cake. Authors Tameka Fryer Brown and Eleanora E. Tate were there to support me.

Having friendships with other writers is so important. You need a community with whom you can share the ups and downs of the writing life. I ask for advice and give it, cheer accomplishments. It feels great to have people who understand your mission and passion.

Along with dear writing friends I’ve met through conferences and retreats, I feel blessed to be part of amazing writing organizations like Writers & Illustrators of North Carolina (WINC) and SCBWI-Carolinas. I value those relationships.

How has your Christian faith affected your writing journey?

Whenever I write a story, I ask God to help me do it justice. I give all praise to God for making my dream of writing for kids come true.

Thank you, Kelly. Your words encourage us to be writers who dream and do! We look forward to hearing more from you at the conference.


You can read more about Kelly at

  1. Vijaya says:

    Kelly, that was a wonderful interview, chock-full of inspiration and good advice. Looking forward to seeing you … and soon! Before we know it, March will be upon us. Happy New Year!

  2. Rosemary Moore says:

    Excellent interview. The introduction and thoughtful questions prepared me to glean much helpful information. Kelly’s attitude and persistence are exemplary.

  3. Kelly, your marketing prowess amazes me. I want to be like you when I grow up.

    Thanks for being here today and I look forward to being at the conference with you.

  4. Thanks for sharing your journey, Kelly. It certainly encourages me, and probably many others. to keep writing.

  5. Jean Hall says:

    Thanks, Kelly. I’m excited to meet you face-to-face next March. I’m praying the Lord will give you the golden touch to inspire and encourage our Write2Ignite! participants.

    See you soon.

  6. Kristi says:

    Great interview, Sally & Kelly! We look so forward to having Kelly with us at W2I! It’s going to be great!

  7. So great that Kelly is joining the faculty at W2I!

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