Welcome to the Winners’ Circle where we celebrate the success of our ICL students. Today we are celebrating published author Ashley Bartley!
What’s the name of your book and/or article? Who is the publisher?
Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle
(Boys Town Press, July 14, 2020)
“From A to Z: 26 Device-Free Summer Activities for Kids”
(“Surrender” issue, The Joyful Life Magazine, Summer 2019)
Give us a short summary of your book and/or article.
Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle helps children discern between tattling and reporting, helping them learn to identify the size of their problem in order to determine whether to tell an adult or try to handle the problem on their own. Diamond the rattlesnake is a rule-follower who reports all minor incidents, often interrupting her teacher and inhibiting her ability to make friends. Her teacher encourages her to only report potential for harm, bullying, and danger and suggests strategies for handling small problems. When Diamond’s classmate causes a major problem, Diamond is able to save the day with her unique abilities and initiative-taking. Her teacher channels Diamond’s keen eye into a new leadership role.
Tell us a bit about your path to publishing, from idea to submission to published.
I wish I could say I wrote my first children’s book holed up in my favorite local coffee shop, amped up on a caramel latte after Instagramming a picture of the beautiful latte art. Instead, I had the idea, did the research, and wrote out my story all while in the car on a family road trip to Busch Gardens. Ideas can strike in the most mundane of situations when we allow ourselves to be bored! The idea for Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle struck when my three small boys were napping in their carseats behind me and I was looking out the window (my husband was driving). Luckily I always keep a notebook on hand, and I worked out the whole story right then. I had already researched publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts in my field of interest, and once I prepared my query letter and manuscript, I sent it to a handful of publishers I thought would fit. Boys Town Press chose me, and it has been such a fun experience ever since! I’ve learned about book contracts, editing, selecting an illustrator, field testing my story, testimonials, and so much more just by going through the publishing process. From idea to publication took two years.
Now, I am in the middle of publishing my second children’s book with Boys Town Press, the next book in the series.
How long have you been writing?
I remember telling my second grade teacher, Mrs. Turner, I was going to be an author one day, and she didn’t bat an eye. Instead, she gave me paper to fuel my ideas and read everything I ever wrote. I wrote and illustrated stories with some friends in my neighborhood, usually sequels to Frog & Toad and Power Rangers. I won several writing contests in grade school, including a “Best in Show” for my modern myth at the VJCL Latin Convention in high school. AP Journalism piqued my interest in the nonfiction genre. Despite all of this, I didn’t pursue writing in college, and although I wrote for fun, I didn’t begin taking my writing seriously until I began calling myself a writer—and then it just took off! After completing the course with The Institute of Children’s Literature, I joined an online writers’ group and began writing essays for several online and print magazines, which gave me the courage and confidence to write my first manuscript and query letter.
What’s your favorite genre to write and why?
Children’s literature, specifically fiction and picture books. As an elementary school counselor, I frequently use stories to help model appropriate social skills to students, as it’s easy for them to relate to the characters in the stories. I love writing stories to help fill a need and teach a life skill, which is what I have done with Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle. I write and create resources and lesson plans for school counselors for my shop, Counselor Station, on Teachers Pay Teachers, an ecommerce platform for educators, and so I’ve enjoyed writing my first children’s book and creating five companion lesson plans and activities for my publisher, drawing on the same skill set to develop these materials.
Which ICL courses have you’ve taken?
Writing for Children and Teenagers
How has taking our course helped your writing and/or career?
Through my coursework, I was surprised to learn how much I love writing for magazines, and I learned about magazine markets and the ins and outs of publishing. The market guides and other texts provided by the course were worth their weight in gold! Once a few magazines and blogs published my essays, I was able to use those credentials when writing a query letter to book publishers, which I had learned how to do in the course. “Writing for Children and Teenagers” removed the intimidation factor of the publishing world and made my dream of writing attainable.
Have any of your class assignments been published? If so, where and when?
Not yet! I took the course right as I began my family, but I still have all of my edited assignments and am beginning to consider how and where each of them might be featured now that my boys are a little older (ages 3, 5, and 7). I’ve submitted one of the essays I wrote to a magazine and used another as a writing sample for a scholarship.
Do you have a favorite writing tip you’d like to share?
Read! Read, read, read. Read all sorts of genres. I read novels to escape, I read memoir to learn, and I read self-help to develop myself personally and professionally. I am a reviewer on NetGalley, so I get to preview many new titles before they are released, which is exciting! I’m constantly looking for new children’s books to read to my students, and reading helps me know which topics are most current and where the gaps are in the education market.
If you could travel back in time and give yourself one piece of writing advice, how far back would you go, and what would you tell yourself?
I would go back to my first year of college. With all my newfound free time, I was quick to fill it up with all sorts of clubs, volunteer work, activities, and extra classes. Looking back, I would tell myself to slow down and savor the time, and pick up a creative writing course or two, using that time to hone my craft. Now that I have three young children and a full-time job, finding quiet time to write is so difficult because it seems as if someone is always awake and needing my attention!
Please tell us the best or most valuable thing you learned from your experience with ICL.
I have always loved writing, but the course opened up the world of publishing for me. All of the sudden, my stories had somewhere to go. I gave myself permission to identify myself as a writer, even if it wasn’t my full-time career. My writing was no longer something I kept to myself, but I learned how to find an audience and seek out which publisher would be the best fit for my essays and stories. I still refer to the market guides and other textbooks provided by the course.
What is the most challenging thing about writing?
I am extremely motivated and self-driven to write, but finding the quiet time is challenging for me, as I work full-time and have three small children. This Mother’s Day, my husband took my kids camping for the weekend to give me the quiet space I needed to write! During quarantine, he built custom doors for my home library, which helps block out noise while I write. To really get into the “flow,” I wake up early on the weekends and create a writing atmosphere for myself. I use YouTube to find coffee shop music (usually jazz), light a candle, make a delicious coffee in my favorite mug, and get right to work! The night before, I set goals for what I want to accomplish so that I’m not distracted. I usually write until one of my kids wanders in, and then I focus my attention on family. I’m free to enjoy my weekend knowing I was able to get in my much-needed writing time.
Ashley Bartley, M.Ed., NCC is a school counselor whose writing has been published in The Joyful Life Magazine and on the Kindred Mom Blog. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from The University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in School Counseling from The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, where she grew up. She also has a diploma from The Institute of Children’s Literature and is a National Board Certified Counselor. She lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and three young boys.