Along with a big congratulations from On the Scene in ’19, we also want to say thank you to Tina M. Shepardson for having the courage to tackle such a difficult topic our children face today. WALKOUT is based on true events following the aftermath of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Hearing about Tina’s inspiration for writing this book reminds us how precious our little ones are and how we have the opportunity, no duty, to shape their lives at a young age. With this book, we’ll have a tool to start a very scary conversation with our kids that will end with hope and bravery. Thank you!
Did I always want to be a writer?
Yes! When I was in elementary school, I would write the story, draw the pictures, poke holes with scissors, and tie them together with string or ribbon. Presto! I had a book! I have taken writing classes throughout the years following college, and have binders filled with ideas, rough drafts, articles, and a closet full of children’s books. However, the timing was never there to really sink my teeth into the process. Picture books have always been my favorite. Whether giving them as a gift, using them in a lesson with students, or just sitting in Barnes and Noble reading in their carpeted children’s section, I always wanted to write my own.
Where do I find my ideas?
Ideas are everywhere. Every minute of every day generates ideas. I might be listening to an event in the news, watching the snow fall while walking our dogs, having a conversation with my daughter, students, or friends, or reflect on an event from my days teaching. Each of these can become its own story.
When you begin a picture book, do you know what the ending will be?
I always have a general idea. I use that as my initial guide as I begin to write. However, as the main character takes the steps to solve his/her problem, I find I often have to tweak the ending. When that happens, I am as surprised as the reader because I do not always see it coming. This makes the process so much fun!
Describe your process of taking an idea and developing it into a story.
I follow the same steps I have taught my students to use. First, flesh out the idea using a graphic organizer or simply a sheet of plain white paper. I list all the words that come to mind as I brainstorm the characters, character traits and possible plot. I spend time researching the particular topic and adding topic specific words and phrases to the planner. Next, I use another planner to organize those thoughts into a loose outline. Pixar’s Story Structure Planner provides the necessary confines to define setting, conflict, series of obstacles the character encounters, and a possible resolution. Next, I sit down to write a first draft. Once the draft is completed, I let it sit for a few weeks before revisiting. During that time, I research mentor texts, comp titles, and then begin sharing it with my critique groups for feedback. I create a table to organize suggestions and comments, notes from the mentor texts where applicable and begin the revising process. This phase is the most difficult I think yet is also the most rewarding. Your story goes through a series of workouts and starts to take on tremendous shape.
What do you hope your writing will do for those who read your work?
I hope my writing will educate and inspire children and family members to read together, communicate with one another, foster a love of books, and to take the subtle messages as inspiration to be the best person they can be. We live in such a fast paced society. 90% of our adult brains are developed before the age of 5 and what a child experiences in those early years directly affects how their brain develops. What better way to invest in our youth and relationships with them than to read good books that help foster this growth.
Where was I when inspiration struck for my story?
The inspiration to write WALKOUT came to me the morning after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, February 2018. Like most Americans, I didn’t sleep much that night reflecting on the tragic events. I searched for the right words knowing I would face my 6th grade students that morning. With 30 years teaching experience, this was not my first time facing young kids after a horrific school shooting. It never becomes easier. Following our principal’s heartfelt words on morning announcements, one of my students shared his cousin was in the high school when the shooting occurred and he left the building shaken but unharmed. The following morning, my daughter, a high school student in a neighboring district, texted she was in a lockdown because of a written threat located inside the school. I did not grow up like our children are today, and I started to create a planner. I wanted to help in some way. That weekend, I read an article about several walkouts in the state of Florida with students of various ages taking a stand against school violence and I knew I had found my story. I just had to fit the pieces together.
What would you like your readers to know about you?
Let’s see… First of all, winter is my favorite season! Living in Upstate New York you don’t have a choice but it helps to have activities you like to do outside. That would be walking our akitas, Hank and Madeleine. You could have a really rough day, but take these fluffy bears out in the snow and you’ll forget all about it. We are a sweets household. My daughter, husband and I all LOVE desserts, chocolate and coffee are our flavors of choice! I am a strong advocate for promoting the positive and balanced use of technology in today’s rapidly changing world. In an attempt to model this concept to my daughter and students, I created an Instagram account for my dogs, @hank_madeleine and within 6 months had 3,000 followers. Today they have 9,000 and I continue to meet the most interesting dogs and their family members.