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INtroducing . . .
By Penelope Jensen and Steve Neubauer
November, 2006, 16:00

Every issue, IN presents INside Authors, a look at authors from around the world who have significantly caught our attention and deserve a little space and recognition. The following two authors are this month's choices, based on the heat arising from their corners. Our hope is to provide a glimpse, a snapshot, an overview of some of the finest writers of our time making waves both tidal and ripple.

J.A. LeVitt, Children's Author

Background INfo: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like to write. As a child, I filled spiral notebooks with dramatic epics that I shared with friends. While growing up near Birmingham, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida, I often visited my grandparents in a company town similar to the one in Ghosts of Whitner – a children’s novel, published by in 2004. I never saw ghosts in the old company town, but my imagination created several for the book.

After receiving my master’s degree from the University of North Texas, I taught reading and writing to sixth graders in Dallas for many years. In the meantime, I took a writing course from the Children's Institute of Writing. The course not only helped me to become a better teacher, but also a writer of children’s novels. I have read voraciously all my life and I still do.

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INfluences: The inspiration for my ghost stories came from many adult mystery authors as well as children’s authors like Mary Downing Hahn and Betty Ren Wright. These authors inspired my writing, but the support of my husband, and cover illustrator, caused me to spend the time and effort to write effectively. If you wish to write children’s novels be aware that you will not become rich and famous. There’s only one J. K. Rowling. The reward of hearing the admiring discussions of your book by students at school visits, and the possibility that you might inspire future writers surpasses all.

Advice: To write successfully for children, first join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for support and for the important information about publishing the organization supplies; read many children’s books on the level you want to write; and write every day.
Internet Presence: Get that website up even before you get published. Publishers like to see a web presence. Mine is At the moment, I am polishing two children’s novels to send out soon, ghost stories, of course. While I still haven’t seen any real ghosts, they seem to create themselves in my mind. I sincerely hope they always will.

Donna G. Munch, Young Adult Novelist

Background INfo: I always loved to write but never found the time, working in the corporate world with a business degree from Philadelphia University. When I became treasurer for a family business, it lent me greater time and flexibility to pursue my passion.

I received the calling to be a writer about five years ago while tutoring elementary school students in reading. As an avid reader, who always had my head buried in books, it bothered me that some of these children didn’t like to read. I thought to myself, “If only I could write books that kids would enjoy reading—I’d make a difference.”

So I took a two-year correspondence course with the Institute of Children’s Literature, learning to write for children and teens. I joined a writers’ group and became president for two years, which opened doors for me through networking. Soon, I was writing for anthologies, newsletters, local magazines and newspapers. A family article was published nationally. Then came an opportunity to serve as a local historian, chronicling the 90-year history of El Paso’s county hospital, Thomason General.

I began writing a novel as my last assignment with the Institute. The idea of a novel both thrilled and intimidated me. What would I write about? My twelve-year-old son, Nick, came up with the idea of writing about the Tower of London. I spent two years researching and writing a novel set in contemporary time about an American girl with an anger problem who visits her uncle, a Beefeater at the Tower of London. Through the tales of the Tower and its ghosts, my protagonist learns anger management. When Publishers conducted a workshop for my writing group, the publisher agreed to read my novel and soon offered me a contract to publish it. Dark Tales of the Tower made its debut in October 2005.

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INfluences: At one of my first writers’ league meetings, I heard mystery novelist, L.C. Hayden speak. I felt spellbound, meeting a real, live author for the first time. She had published four books with a fifth on its way. A determination bubbled from within and I thought, “If she could do it, so can I!” From that moment on, I forged ahead toward my goal, mowing down obstacles thrown in my path—nothing would stop me from achieving my purpose: I would publish children’s books and promote literacy. I also met mentors along the way: members from my writers’ group who helped critique my work.

Advice: I can’t stress enough how important it is to read in your genre. Reading became my research, although I try not to model anyone else’s style. Don’t follow fads; follow your heart’s passion. I love blending history with fiction, so that children may learn while being entertained. In children’s fiction the challenge to impart a lesson is met with not sounding preachy. Let them learn subliminally, while enjoying what they read.

Join a writers’ group and get constructive feedback from your peers. Keep an open mind and don’t get defensive; that’s how we develop and hone our craft. Continue your education with writing conferences and workshops. The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators offers two invaluable conferences each year, featuring authors, editors and publishers from New York publishing houses. Each time I attend a conference, I walk away enlightened.

Internet Presence: Prior to my book being published, I found a web master to create a website. It’s a powerful marketing tool to showcase your book reviews, your bio, the presentation and workshops you offer, a sample chapter of your book, book signings and appearances, and a page where they may order your book. When I contact a school about my presentation, I direct them to my website and almost always receive an immediate response.
The Future: I’m currently busy promoting my book. I visit schools and believe I’m reaching some of these children, getting them excited about reading. I also visit libraries and conduct writing workshops for children and adults. I’m working on my second young adult novel, and co-authoring a historical nonfiction book for the El Paso Center for Children.
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Penelope Jensen considers herself a citizen of the world, aligning herself at this moment with the purposes of IN, where you'll find her writing articles and interviewing authors, among other things. You can reach Penny at:

Steve Neubauer is a co-founder of the publishing firm, Inc. The company serves as an incubator for new authors and works with professional speakers and consultants to create books about their specialty areas. Steve focuses on helping new writers establish themselves and fulfill their publication dreams.

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