Charlotte Duncan-Wagner ~ The Interview

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 3.51.04 PM.png

Charlotte Duncan-Wagner

Charlotte Duncan-Wagner has contributed to the canon of children’s literature with her self-published book Backpacks with Feet. Her desire for her son Jason to have a diversity of stories and images when he was a child inspired her to write her first children’s story.

Want to know more about Charlotte Duncan-Wagner? Read The Interview.

TDR:   What inspired you to draw on the motif of backpacks and feet?

CDW:  I volunteered as a greeter at Elliott Elementary School for about 8 weeks. All of these beautiful children of every shade were moving through the doors and speaking a host of languages carrying their backpacks. The first few weeks, they would not talk to me because I hadn’t been scheduled to introduce myself at their assembly. When I would greet them, they would put their heads down and keep moving. They looked like backpacks with feet.

TDR:   Why a children’s book and not a romance or a mystery?

CDW:  When my son Jason Wagner II was 7 years old, I wanted to write books for Black sons that were about people, not just about fables and talking animals.  So, I had the desire but I couldn’t find that ‘thing’ that would get me going until my father pulled my coattail.

TDR:   Talk about your parents and their influence.

CDW:  I am an only child. My parents always believed in me. I was forever affirmed. When I was little, I was a thick girl. People would ask my daddy, “George, what are you feeding her?” He’d say, “whatever she wants!” or “Oooo, she’s big!” My daddy would say, “No she’s not fat, she’s strong.” So, when I told him I wanted to write a children’s book–I was 38 years old—daddy says to me, “You’ve always wanted to write. How come you’re not writing?” I remembered that no matter what the challenge or the negative, the words my parents poured over me made all the difference in the world. So, when I had my doubts about writing my first book, I knew I had to keep writing until it was done.

2nd grader Alex Brown waved to everyone in the sidewalk parade that passed his house going to your school on that street. Mama tells Alex not to talk to strangers. How will Alex do his job as a greeter with Grandpa J. and the other volunteers at … your school on that street?

Backpacks with Feet

TDR:    By what means did you remain focused on your project?

CDW:  Interacting with the children—that made me happy. Hearing all of the different languages spoken every week for eight weeks inspired me and fully charged my creativity. After my volunteer shift ended I’d write notes on a scratch piece of paper in my car. I’d look them over when I got home and edited them.

TDR:   How did you maintain your enthusiasm for the story after the 8 weeks at Elliott?

CDW:  Every year near my birthday, I’d give myself a gift to motivate me to work on my dream.

TDR:   What tools did you use to familiarize yourself with your art given you had not written a book and published?

CDW:  In 2010, I attended a gospel music workshop in Cincinnati, Ohio with my son Jason. I signed up for a 7 a.m. writing course Monday through Thursday. The teacher was self-published author Moses T. Alexander Greene. I learned all that I could from him about writing and publishing, how to find an illustrator, and the pro and con of self-publishing.

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 3.56.51 PM

TDR:   What specifically did you learn from Greene?

CDW:  To never give away your ideas without protecting them. When I spoke to him about my project, he responded, “You don’t have your idea copy written. I cannot talk to you”. That afternoon, I went to the Business Center and paid my $45 to copyright my work on the Library of Congress’s website. He talked to me then. I learned that with a children’s book, the author sends it to the publisher and they assign their own illustrator to match the illustrations with your words. I was unfamiliar with that process.

TDR:   You found your illustrator Jerry Washington. Talk about your collaboration with him.

CDW:  Jerry had an up close and personal relationship with my family, and that made for a smooth collaboration with him. He helped the family with the caretaking of my father when he lived with us. While we were attending Jason’s football games or attending his music concerts, Jerry was one in the village to help with my dad.

TDR:   What inspiration did you draw from to create some of your characters?

CDW:  The grandfather in the book is a tribute to my father George Duncan. Jerry drew from real life to create him. My dad did wear an orange t-shirt and khaki pants; he wore big glasses. Some of my characters borrow from historical figures. I wanted a black female explorer. I am so inspired by Barbara Hillary, the first African American woman to reach the North Pole in 2007; she was born in 1931. I named one of the backpacks in the book Hilary Hilltop, and I hope it will bring up a discussion of this phenomenal woman. To capture the personality and individuality of children I used various footwear, hairstyles, and head coverings. One of my favorite passages in the book reads Those Backpacks with Feet had curly and straight hair, beads and braids, buzz cuts and fades, scarves and hijabs on their heads.

TDR:   After you wrote the story, did you solicit feedback? If so, from whom?

CDW:  Yes. I needed to know how I could improve the story but I shared the rough draft of the story with people I trusted. A former UNL professor at Tennessee State gave me feedback and talked to professionals who dealt with children. Charlene Maxey-Harris, Diversity Librarian at UNL, made it possible for her peers and youth librarians to read the story. My good friend Lynette Collin, who used to work with me at State Farm in Iowa and for her son-in-law, New York Times bestselling author mystery writer David Baldacci, read the story and gave me her comments as well. Carrie Banks, who works for LPS, wrote a glowing review on my Spotlight that Backpacks with Feet is a good read aloud book for families and in the classroom. But the review closest to my heart is from a 9-year-old boy from Atlanta, Georgia who was given the book as a Christmas present; he gave the story five stars.

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 4.03.23 PM

Charlotte Duncan-Wagner reading to children during Winterfest Lux Center for the Arts     (photo: Mark Schwaninger)

TDR:   Was the feedback helpful to you?

CDW:  Well, yes but I found that I had to stay positive no matter the comments. I would read the feedback quickly, afraid of finding any criticism. When my friend read my book, she responded “Charlotte this is really good; you need to …” but I read it in the negative. I had to really caution myself to stay away from conclusions such as “they don’t understand” or “they just don’t get it”. Months later I reviewed the responses and discovered constructive criticism as well as letters of encouragement that read, “this is good you need to keep going” and “Yeah, get that book published.” Finally, in 2016, I got up the courage to pay the money to self-publish.

TDR:   How did you feel when you held your printed book in your hands?

CDW:  Oh Wow! is how I felt. This is a real book, I thought. Backpacks with Feet is more than I could have expected—ever!

TDR:   Any closing thoughts for the readers?

CDW:  I encourage people to go LuluPublishing.com or Amazon.com to purchase The Backpacks with Feet. $1.00 from the sale of each book will be donated to a Child Hunger program to eradicate food insecurities in local communities. When you open the book to experience the story, you will be greeted with a variety of languages that reflect the diversity of families around the globe. Then, write a review on either website.

Spotlight on: Jerry Washington, Illustrator

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 3.59.36 PM.png

Illustrating Backpacks with Feet was an awesome experience. I prepared myself by listening to Charlotte talk about her vision. Once I had a grasp on that, I began to draft the characters for the book. Charlotte’s enthusiastic reaction to each sketch I drew enabled me to put my best foot forward. I was glad to be a part of a book project that I knew would be a positive force in the lives of parents and children. When I saw the finished product, I felt proud.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Tracie Loveless Hill

     /  June 26, 2018

    I have made several mistakes trusting people that did not have my best interest in heart. You must protect your work. Congratulations Char, you go girl. God’s Blessing on your future projects. Love and Peace Tracie.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: