Student Success Stories: Amanda Malek-Ahmadi
Today, I'd like to introduce you to Amanda Malek-Ahmadi. If you've been a Storyteller Academy student, you might already know Amanda. She attended our dinner in Los Angeles last summer, so I got to meet her in person.
I'm giving away a copy of Amanda's debut picture book at the end of this interview. Isn't it lovely?
Myrna: What is your background?
Amanda: I have been a bit of a jack of all trades: a dance teacher (at studios, the public school system, and community college), third grade teacher, corporate events dancer for PowerNow LLC, AZ and Busch Gardens-Tampa, a wife, a mother and a few more dabbles here and there. With each position I’ve held, they’ve all incorporated one or multiple threads: dance, children, education, entertainment, and writing.
Dance was my first passion. When people ask “When did you start dancing?” I respond, “the womb,” giggle, and then admit that I officially started dancing when I was five. As for writing I started when everyone else does…elementary school! Just like dance, the passion for writing stuck.
Myrna: What made you want to start writing children’s books?
Amanda: When I was in elementary school, we had Mister Tom share his book MESSY CAT during library time. I remember being so enthralled during the visit. And I still own my autographed copy. I imagine many children were interested in writing books after that day.
Throughout school, I wrote. During my senior year of high school, I took a mail-in aptitude for writing test with the Institute of Children’s Literature. I was accepted but then became distracted by the opportunity to work with a talent agency. That led to me being an extra in a Lifetime movie, JANE’S COMING OUT PARTY, in 2000, and doing promotional events dressed as Barbie for her 40th Anniversary celebration in 1999 (one of those aforementioned dabbles).
Myrna: What a cool thing to dabble in!
Amanda: The next time I seriously pursued writing was in 2002 when I sent one of my manuscripts off. Then life just took over, and I focused on teaching, became a mom in 2009, and life just kept chugging along. I would occasionally write journal entries, and occasionally the urge to write would spring up. I’d get a notebook and begin, only to set it down once more.
Then in January of 2017, I chose to pursue writing again; after experiencing a miscarriage (October 2016) and my husband having a heart attack (December 2016), I was seeking something that would bring joy back into my life. In November of 2016, I found Michelle Nelson-Schmidt’s “Story Time Live” on Facebook. Hearing her each week was just what I needed. She is so encouraging and real about life. Michelle inspired me to start writing again.
Myrna: What can you tell us about the book you have coming out?
Amanda: How much time do you have?
10 BALLET DANCERS combines my two biggest passions dance and writing. This story had been dormant for so long. I’d written other dance stories, and one of them was critiqued by Arree during the second workshop I attended! That was a thrilling, nerve wracking, yet beneficial experience.
The story of 10 BALLET DANCERS finally surfaced during Tara Lazar’s, “Storystorm” in 2019. I started her 30-Day Challenge in 2018, but had wandered off the path of keeping up with the daily posts. In 2019 I was determined to finish all 30 days of reading the blog posts and getting my 30 ideas written down. I’m happy to announce I achieved that goal! On the first day I wrote down seven ideas, and 10 BALLERINAS was idea number five.
Myrna: I love Tara and Storystorm!
Amanda: Then 10 BALLERINAS poured out. I was grateful to finally see it on paper. When I look back at my initial copy, whew am I glad I have an amazing critique group, who helped finesse word choice, and a drummer for a husband, who confirmed the rhythm of the book.
Perhaps I should address that title change! When I was planning to approach The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group, I thought it would be a great idea to have pictures of dancers in the dummy. I knew my story had a lot of technical jargon and movement that a non-dancer may not be able to envision. I wanted the publisher to be able to see the possibility of my manuscript and fall in love with it just as I had.
At the time, the company I perform with, Wight Noise Dance Company, was getting ready for our March show, so I asked the director, Rachel Wight, if I could have the dancers pose for a few pictures before the show. She and the dancers agreed. About a week or so before we took the pics I thought: The title can’t be ballerinas! It needs to be ballet dancers. There are guys in our company, and if we did a traveling school show, the guys need to be represented. And boys dance! Luckily switching the title did not affect the story, since both ballerinas and ballet dancers have four syllables.
Fast forward: 10 BALLET DANCERS launches on October 13, 2020.
The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group and I will be having a Facebook event at: https://www.facebook.com/events/2759186864400318/ Join us for read alouds, interviews, prizes, Q&A, and even a drum session over three days.
In the meantime, I have a fun project going on with #flatballetdancers. The two dancers on the cover of the book are traveling across the United States. I’ve secured 25 states and would love to have all 50 States participate. The plan is to have the dancers travel until 10 BALLET DANCERS has its One-Year Book Birthday! If anyone would like to participate, they can contact me via social media or my website: www.authormamanda.com.
Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Amanda: There is so much I want to say, but instead, I will give someone else’s advice that I thought was beautiful. During a recent interview with Lin Oliver via SCBWI, this is what I remember of Henry Winkler’s advice. Imagine a sponge. Let that sponge soak up all the critiques, good and bad. Then picture yourself wringing out that sponge and keeping only what sticks inside the sponge. Focus on that. Michelle Nelson-Schmidt said something similar to me when I met her. She talked about how when something someone said keeps poking at her she definitely reviews her work with that perspective and lets the other comments go. I’ll paraphrase, and then that’s the advice from me: Believe in your work. Listen to others’ ideas, but ultimately do what feels right to you.
Myrna: I know that you have a fun, supportive critique group. Do you want to talk about them and how they’ve helped you?
Amanda: I have an AMAZING critique group. We are called the Story Stitchers, thanks to Julianne Winter. She and I have been together since the beginning of our time with Storyteller Academy. Both of our stories were critiqued on the same night. I called her to check in with her after our critiques. It was wonderful to have that moment with a fellow writer reflecting on the experience of Arree critiquing our stories.
As a critique group, we have had some awesome adventures at the LA SCBWI Summer Conference (2018, 2019), and in April of 2019 we had a writer’s retreat at my family cabin in Ruidoso, NM. It was an incredible experience. We found an indie bookstore where Kristy found a writer’s retreat book. She just had to buy it! We spent our days focused on our writing, leaving time to have critique sessions, while also enjoying jam sessions (belly dance and Zumba), delicious feasts, hiking, and bonding.
Myrna: When and why did you take Arree Chung’s Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies?
Amanda: I joined on January 26, 2018. I’d already been focused on my writing for a year. I queried some agents and received some encouraging responses, but wanted that offer of representation email! I’m very grateful for my encouraging husband, Mike. When I approached him about the fantastic Facebook ad I had seen by Arree and told him about the introduction to the program workshop I participated in, he supported my choice to take the class.
Myrna: How did taking Arree’s class change the way you approach picture books?
Amanda: I was a total pantser (still am for the most part), but after taking Arree’s class, I learned the art of putting a story together. I’d made a dummy in the past (way back in high school) but didn’t really know the finesse of pacing. Arree not only gave great ideas for cultivating ideas, creating dummies and turning your ideas into stories that were ready for publication, he was so generous with his knowledge about many aspects of the business aspects of the publishing industry.
Myrna: How has the larger writing community helped you? Are there any organizations you’d recommend? Why?
Amanda: As a member of SCBWI I have learned an incredible amount of information and made life-long friendships. SCBWI has really met the current virtual challenge by having informative webinars each month. That’s how I heard the wonderful words of Henry Winkler. I am also fortunate that in Arizona I have the opportunity to meet monthly with fellow writers and illustrators to share our newest works and receive lessons in our craft.
Participating in Storystorm with Tara Lazar is a definite brainstorm boost. She provides this opportunity every January. The daily blog posts are very informative and fun with some great prizes for participating.
Myrna: What’s next for you?
Amanda: I wish I could say book signings galore, but due to COVID-19, I’ll have to wait awhile for that wonderful part of being an author.
For 10 BALLET DANCERS I do hope to eventually go on school visits with the book. The ultimate goal is to have a performance with WNDC, the contemporary dance company I am a member of perform the book at assemblies.
The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group is interested in creating other genre versions of 10 BALLET DANCERS. The tap and jazz manuscripts are being tweaked at the moment. I will also be sharing some other dance stories and non-dance stories, including one-chapter book I’ve written with the publisher in January. One of my favorite manuscripts is KING ANTONIO.
In the meantime, I will keep promoting 10 BALLET DANCERS, writing, attending classes/conferences, and meeting with the Story Stitchers.
Myrna: That sounds like a great plan. Where can we find you on the Internet?
- Twitter: @authormamand
- Instagram: authormamanda
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authormamanda
- Website: www.authormamanda.com
Myrna: Where can we order your book?
Book Giveaway Details
I'm giving away a copy of Amanda's picture book. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Amanda in the comments by midnight on October 10. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student to enter.
Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.
Thank you for reading!
Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.
Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award.
Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.