Life as an Absorbent Writer

Blessy Mathew toddler
Age 3

As a child growing up in Houston, Texas, I never thought about being a writer. My parents took me to the library every week, where I checked out a countless number of books. I always wondered how stories sprang to life. How could someone create a new world and take me there? It was magical. I'm sure a writing career wasn't at the top of my parents' list of ambitions for me. As immigrants from Kerala, India, we've always been taught to place practicality over passion.

When I became a teacher, I bought stacks of children's books. My elementary students' eyes would light up when I read to them. While taking some time off to raise my three young children, I saw the same spark in their eyes as I read to them. It was then that I started wondering how I could combine my love of children's books and pursue my more creative side. Five years ago, I decided to do more than just read the work of others – I wanted to tell my own stories – even if I had to do it between diaper changes and meal times.

After moving to the Seattle area in 2006, I enrolled in the Writing for Children Certification program at the University of Washington taught by three accomplished authors, Kathryn O. Galbraith, Margaret H. Lippert, and Brenda Z. Guiberson. Their guidance gave me the opportunity to experiment and explore children's fiction and nonfiction in various genres. We were encouraged to share our stories with others in class.

Blessy Mathew teenager
Age 17

While in school, I joined SCBWI, which offered endless opportunities to immerse myself in writing for children. At local professional events, I sat like a sponge, absorbing the unique perspectives of guest authors on the writing process. The SCBWI Western Washington Children's Writing and Illustrating Conference was a day of learning, honing my craft, and networking. Within a year of these enlightening classes, I completed three picture books. Determined to keep going, I participated in National Novel Writing Month a couple of years ago, which taught me the importance of free-writing and taking chances. I've written seven picture books as well as a young adult fantasy.

Inspiration for writing came from travel, people, research, and my imagination. A journal became an essential writing tool for collecting my thoughts. I learned that lists, pictures, quotes, newspaper clippings, memories, experiences, emotions, and parts of stories could be placed in a journal. Everything I capture in a journal is a piece to a puzzle, with the hope that they'll all fit together and awaken a wonderful story. Every so often, that critic in me starts chattering, but I'm learning to keep her at bay.

My stories take place in different parts of the world—some new and some familiar—as well as in my imagination. Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program allowed me to fine-tune my writing skills with confidence. Working with professional authors—Cynthia Leitich Smith, Uma Krishnaswami, Julie Larios, and Ellen Howard—offered me invaluable advice and contacts in the field of children's literature. Their teaching strategies and mentoring skills deepened my writing experience and greatly supported my goals.

I am committed to developing more picture books and stories for young adults. The chance to collaborate with others and share stories in critique groups, workshops and conferences helped me understand the importance of audience and purpose. When I take a journey into writing, my goal is to write from the heart and capture the true essence of my characters.

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