I love to interview local authors, particularly ones I’ve had the opportunity to meet in person! Recently I spoke with Canaan York, author of four children’s books, including the soon to be released The Cement Sky.
Teish Knits: Tell us a little about yourself.
Cannan York: I am a 31-year-old native of Medway, ME, who still lives in the same house I grew up in. I love sports and the color orange, reading and writing, owls, chai tea, am an avid dreamer and possibilitarian. I am kind and outgoing, yet balanced and reclusive at times. My family, friends and faith are my world—and shape my happiness and future.
TK: How did you get into writing?
CY: In many ways, I fell into writing. It pursued me when I ran from it. The art of writing was a talent I always had, but ignored the implorations of my educators at every level to pursue some avenue in professional writing as a career. Instead, I dreamt of being everything from an Electrolux salesperson to a sportscaster to an interior designer. As a testament to the hilarity and irony of life, I write children’s books and flex my entrepreneurial muscles in the summer by running a hot dog cart.
My professional foray into writing began in 2009 when a manuscript I submitted “To see how bad it is” was offered a contract! Of course, it underwent editing and revising, but ultimately became my first children’s book The Difference is Jesus. Following that fortuitous release have been Denny Dares to Dream (March 2013), In Heaven (September 2014) and The Cement Sky (January 2015).
TK: What made you decide to write children’s books?
CY: I try to live an inspiring life centered around things that aren’t always practical. I do not have children of my own and, frankly, know little about children in general . . . so in my mind it made sense to write stories for them; to write books I hoped they would love. My philosophy is to write stories that are unique and different, like each child who will read and cherish them; but that are all held together by a thread of inspiration. I believe the essence of writing for children encompasses penning tales that are designed to inspire and awaken the senses of wonderment and creativity that, like children themselves, are undeterred by convention and defy the limits of what seems possible; and are simultaneously unafraid to reveal that life does present difficulty and adversity, but that there is power within us that makes us strong enough to not just overcome, but to thrive.
CY: I do! And this book epitomizes the concept of finding purpose and thriving in the face if disappointment and adversity. It is called The Cement Sky and, amid being by far my most original work to date, it is essentially an exercise in perspective. The title, of course, is a metaphor and the subject matter (both that which is obviously written in text and that which is implied) is both heavy and lighthearted, left of center and yet universal.
To summarize without my rambling, the following is the blurb that appears on the back cover of the book:
In the hilltop town of Elevation, the sky isn’t made of cement. It just feels that way for Aster Starlight. The privileged Prince should be training to ignite the Sun, but the tradition is grounded when he is born wearing cement shoes and unable to fly! This unusual circumstance has offset the order of things in Elevation. Will Aster ever fly? What will happen if he doesn’t? What good is having beautiful wings that cannot be used? When a terrible storm threatens certain disaster, none of these questions even seem to matter.
The Cement Sky is a soaring tale of self-definition and the courage to defy the odds. Resonating with whimsy and inspiration, it favors the belief that everything happens for a reason and, where destiny is concerned, the sky truly is the limit.
TK: What was the writing process like for The Cement Sky?
CY: Loooooong and labor intensive. The concept had been swirling in my head for the better part of four years, but it was all wrong. Instead of putting in the work to balance my objectives with the less-is-more industry approach, I kept writing. The manuscript ballooned to over 4,000 words (picture books need to check in under 1,000 words) and I grew frustrated and bewildered. Although I was overwhelmed with positive thoughts, I still felt overwhelmed.
With gracious feedback and encouragement from personal and professional friends, I spent the majority of last winter reducing and reworking, trimming and tightening until, at long last, the manuscript that remained was drastically shorter, but no less poignant.
TK: What new projects do you have on the horizon?
CY: I have nothing in the production line at the moment, as I am currently focused on the process of querying literary agents for career representation. I am working with a critique group of professional peers to get some of my current manuscripts—including picture books dealing with bedtime, Christmas, and my beloved owls—polished before attending the SCBWI National Summer Conference in Los Angeles in late July. While there, I am also slated to meet with some film executives regarding the potential for an exciting adaptation of Cement Sky! And I plan to spend most of my free time on the promotional trail for my current release.
TK: Do you prefer music playing or quiet while you are writing?
CY: I typically prefer quiet while writing or reading. My brain is enough of a circus, so generally added noise only distracts from my creative process. However, with The Cement Sky, the opposite was true. I was so immersed in the world of Elevation that I came up with a soundtrack of songs with lyrics about the sky or that were just very fitting to the uniqueness and quirks of the tale. I still listen to the playlist on my iPod frequently.
TK: What books top your personal must-read list?
CY: Great question! There are far too many to name here, but I will give you my list of 5 all-time favorite children’s books, and then a list of the most recent novels I have read.
5 Favorite Children’s Books (All-Time & In Order)
- The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
- The Boy And The Ocean by Max Lucado
- The Cement Sky by Canaan A. York (sorry, it’s the truth)
As for novels I have read recently: Conversion by Katherine Howe; Finding Alaska by John Greene; The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury; A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; I am currently immersed in Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (and it is completely fantastic).
TK: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to write children’s books?
CY: Do not disrespect the process. I think a common misconception with people who do not know much about the industry is how difficult it is to get published, and how difficult it is to write viable literature for children. In today’s world of technology and pay-for-publishing services, it is technically NOT difficult for anyone to publish any book . . . but it is incredibly hard and requires longsuffering patience to publish traditional (or even high quality self-published) books for children. But, if you believe in yourself, your talent and your story . . . seeing it through to fruition is also something that is beyond rewarding! I would also tell prospective or aspiring authors to always keep in mind why they set out to write in the first place. If your goal is to become a millionaire or a celebrity, put your pen down now. Writers are not celebrities (even the ones whose books sell in the millions, are made into films or appear on Oprah’s Book Club or the Bestseller List in the New York Times). And, runaway bestsellers can make authors good money . . . but if that is your preemptive goal, you are writing less for passion and more for a financial angle and it will never work. I write with admitted big dreams, but do so with the understanding that if one of my stories can touch a child forever . . . I have been a success and the labor of love has been worth it!
TK: What’s your favorite thing about writing?
CY: My favorite thing about writing is that it is therapeutic for me. It is peaceful and allows me to find balance in my life that is often compromised. And I love that writing allows me to breathe life to the wildest, craziest and most surreal things I can imagine!
TK: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat Canaan!