Nikki Shannon Smith has written a lot of children’s nonfiction, and THE AMAZING LIFE OF AZALEAH LANE is her first chapter book. It’s the kind of own-voices story I was craving back when I was a children’s book selector, and I look forward to more books in this series. Have a look:
Azaleah can’t wait for her class field trip to the National Zoo in Washington D.C., especially when her teacher announces the chance to earn extra credit. But when Azaleah gets home, she quickly realizes extra credit isn’t as easy as she thought. Azaleah’s younger sister Tiana can’t find Greenie, her stuffed animal, and she’s sure he’s been stolen. With Mama at the restaurant and Daddy at work on a big case, it seems Azaleah is the only one available to track down the stolen stuffie. Can Azaleah get to the bottom of the mystery in time to finish her extra credit?
What do you love most about the coast?
The simple answer is that I love everything about the coast! I feel different as soon as I get into the car to leave home. Just knowing I’m going to the beach lifts a weight somehow.
There are certain things I cherish every time I head to the coast. I love feeling how the air changes as I near the coast. The air is fresher and my breathing pattern actually changes—it deepens and opens, and I’m grateful just for breathing that air. I love the anticipation of catching that magical first glimpse of the ocean. There is a feeling of homecoming for me. I belong there. I’m able to become still and the smells, sounds and pulse of the ocean seep into my soul. That feeling is what I love most about the coast.
It’s indeed a wonderful feeling. And I love that Azaleah solves mysteries! How did you know that Azaleah wanted to challenge herself in this way?
One of the things I really enjoyed about writing this book was the collaboration with the team at Capstone Publishing. Through that process, certain facts about Azaleah were “born.” The things that made Azaleah come to life the most made their way into the book—her family life, Washington, D.C. as the backdrop… and her love of a good mystery. Once I knew she was a detective, it became important for me to know why she liked to solve mysteries and how she approached them. Azaleah is the type of person who wants to be good at what she does. She might even be a bit of a perfectionist. A mystery indicates that something is amiss, so Azaleah is compelled to fix it. Solving the mystery sets things back on course and she feels successful. She enjoys helping people and the recognition that comes with it. Even though she’s only eight years old, she takes a very logical approach, making lists, developing and testing hypotheses, observing, and using the process of elimination. As Azaleah’s character developed, it only made sense that this is how she would move through the world. Life is full of mysteries!
Isn’t that the truth? What has been the best thing you’ve done for yourself in your author career?
Some people don’t believe me when I say that I’m shy and introverted, but I am. In the beginning of my career I was perfectly happy to shut myself in my room and write. Even my critique group was online rather than in person. I managed to get my first book deal functioning this way. After that first contract in 2010, however, my career became stagnant. At first I didn’t know why. I was writing. I was going to conferences and reading children’s books nonstop. Finally, I got frustrated enough to make a change.
I had to step outside of my comfort zone. It wasn’t enough anymore to sit at home alone, or to sit alone at conferences and hide in my hotel room between sessions. In 2015, I made a New Year’s Resolution to “put myself out there.” I started doing things that terrified me. Public things. I joined online courses where I had to interact with strangers. Instead of “lurking” on Twitter, I interacted and participated in pitch contests. I tapped into my writing community more. Although I had been a member and a volunteer for SCBWI since 2007, I was always happy to work behind the scenes. In 2015, I took on leadership roles that allowed me to help others while gaining confidence, learn more about the industry, and improve my craft.
Taking these “risks” was really difficult at the time, and even now I sometimes have to push myself to do uncomfortable things. But growth isn’t born from comfort, is it? I now have seven published books, with four more releasing in 2020 and 2021. Every last one of those books involved me stepping outside of my comfort zone in some way and growing as a writer (and person) because of it.
And you’ve demonstrated why stepping out of your comfort zone is necessary, even when it seems difficult. What are some of your current projects?
Azaleah Lane is a series, so I’m currently working on the third book. (Book 2 is called The Dramatic Life of Azaleah Lane and it’s available for pre-order!) Right now I’m going through my editor’s notes and revising to make sure the scenes are fleshed out.
I always have something on the back burner as well. I’m looking for a home for a contemporary middle grade novel; I’m getting ready to revise a young adult ghost story, and I’m “pondering” a young adult idea that I can’t even categorize yet, because it’s… strange.
Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day so I could juggle my fourth grade teaching job and my writing career and my family life more effectively. Then I remind myself that more hours in a day would just create more of everything else!
To find out more about Nikki and her other books, you can go to her website: nikkishannonsmith.com