Rising Stars in KidLit began as a way to highlight my fellow KidLit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews cast a light on the wonderful work of pre-published or pre-agented authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars! For the next several features, we’re collaborating with the hardworking creators of the PB Rising Stars Mentorship Program, Kailei Pew and Ebony Lynn Mudd, to highlight the wonderful and talented creators who were selected for the 2022 Mentorship Program. Learn more about the PB Rising Stars Mentorship program HERE.
Layla Fallah is a Kurdish-Canadian writer and recent graduate of Simon Fraser University, where she studied psychology and specialized in learning and developmental disabilities. Her written work is largely inspired by her experience as a daughter of immigrants and explores themes of found family, mental illness, and belonging. Layla hopes her stories will feel like a hug to anyone who has ever felt like they were “too much” or “not enough”. Apart from being published, her dream is to be in a position where she can uplift and amplify voices from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. Wherever she ends up, Layla hopes to combine her passion for mental health awareness, accessibility, and inclusivity, into the publishing industry.
Layla is currently seeking agent representation.
AD: Hi Layla and welcome to the blog! Thank you so much for being here! Can you start us off by telling us a bit more about your experience in the PB Rising Stars Mentorship Program.
LF: Let’s start with the outlandish. I just finished listening to a tarot reading claim that a shiny new opportunity would present itself to me (in the next three days, to be exact) when I came across a tweet from Kailei Pew about the PB Rising Stars Mentorship. Fate? Probably not. But I really love the word happenstance and I think it is quite fitting in this case.
So, I applied. And I waited. I was filled with butterflies up until the very last mentee name was announced on July 1st. It was my name. The lovely Ebony Lynn Mudd picked me! I thought, surely, this is a sign that I am meant to switch gears and focus on my picture book projects after years of writing middle grade and young adult novels.
Like Ebony, I am wholeheartedly determined to establish a career in children’s literature and am fueled by the desire to amplify voices from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. But I had a lot to learn about picture books. As you might have noticed, I am a person of many, many words... and we all know that every word counts when it comes to picture books. As my mentor, Ebony definitely had her work cut out for her. Literally. We had to cut a lot of words.
Moreover, as someone who has never queried, I was thrilled with Ebony’s expertise and willingness to help me prepare and polish my query package—from pitches to revisions to query letters. So far, we have already conquered the battlefield that is #DVPit, and I am thrilled to say that all three of my pitched projects received interest from agents and editors. I have yet to query anyone, but I know that when the time comes, I will feel more than ready to face possible rejection. I am so lucky to have Ebony by my side throughout this entire process!
AD: Wow! What an amazing experience. I love tarot as well and totally agree that this may have been 'written in the cards' for you :). It sounds like the mentorship has given you the knowledge and preparation you need to move forward in your journey and congrats on the agent and editor love during #DVpit. It truly helps to have someone in our corner who can guide us through this crazy process! Fingers crossed that'll you'll have good news to share soon!
Alright let’s do a speed round…
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
LF: I have been “making” books ever since I was given access to the steady supply of construction paper and glue sticks left unattended in my kindergarten classroom. Did they always have words in them? No, but they were book-shaped, and that is all that mattered to my tiny, feverish fingers.
I started writing more seriously when I was twelve years old, and had completed my first novel at age fifteen. There were a LOT of abandoned manuscripts along the way. Basically, I have been reading and writing for as long as I can remember. When I started my book blog in late 2015, that further fueled my desire to see more representation in children’s literature. I remember thinking: How is it that I have reviewed over 500 books, but have yet to see a single character who is Kurdish like me?
Since then, I have finally completed my academic studies (much to the approval of my immigrant parents), gained experience in several customer service and administrative roles (as is expected of someone my age, I suppose) and was still left yearning for more.
In late 2021, I took a chance and applied for the 2022 Publishing Fellowship at BookEnds Literary Agency. In my heart, I decided that applying for this fellowship would be my way of asking the universe if I was meant to follow my publishing dreams. And reader, it happened. When I found out I was selected, it gave me a little peak behind the mysterious curtain of publishing. It is now my goal to learn as much about the industry as I can, while contributing (behind the scenes or frontline) to a more diverse catalogue for young readers.
AD: It's always so interesting to me that the things we loved as a child are often the things we still love as adults but sometimes we wander astray and life gets in the way of following our dreams. I'm glad you've stuck with your childhood passions for reading and writing and for bringing inclusive stories into the world for other Kurdish kids to see and love. You mentioned you've been creating since you were young but did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
LF: Yes. As a teen I worked at McDonald’s and Starbucks, then spent a very fun two years at Vancouver International Airport before I transitioned into administrative work at a non-profit organization. But I have always dreamed about seeing my books on the shelves at my local public library. I did not have the privilege or opportunity to study creative writing or pursue it as a full-time job, but I am dedicated to seeing my stories through to the end (from a word document to a concrete thing I can hold in my hands).
AD: Yay! You're doing it!! One word, one story, at a time! :)
What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
LF: I write for children (and adults) who are yearning to be seen or to learn about somewhere new. For the dreamers, outsiders, and those who long for home. My books include whimsical contemporary tales, cozy fantasy novels, and cultural notes across all genres. Themes of belonging, self-acceptance, and generational trauma are also prevalent in most of my work.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
LF: The biggest challenge has been being able to financially support myself while trying to accomplish all of the publishing and publishing-adjacent dreams. Student loans, my supportive partner, and life savings have helped sustain my livelihood (just barely) while I prepare to query my manuscripts and look for internships in the agenting/editorial sphere. Aside from that, the toughest part is just having to deal with rejection. Constantly. It will be inevitable at every stage of the publishing process, but will only make that one “yes” sweeter when it finally happens.
AD: Yes to all of this! I think this is so relatable to many creators. My first book took me almost ten years to get traditionally published as I worked full-time as a high school art educator. I'd sneak in time on the weekends and of course during summer break. Now, with an infant at home, those windows are even more narrow. But never giving up is the key. Even if it's a slow road we continue to learn along the way! Speaking of learning, as creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
LF: I rarely leave my comfort zone, so I would say my biggest accomplishment thus far is just putting myself out there: applying for fellowships/mentorships, finding a community of writers, pitching in a Twitter event, and so on.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?
LF: All of my writing is informed by my experience as a queer Kurdish-Canadian with invisible disabilities, so I suppose my perspective as an individual could be seen as a strength. In the grand scheme of things, I just feel passionate about contributing my voice to the current representation out there, as well as one day (hopefully) finding myself in a situation where I can uplift others.
AD: I love that sentiment-your perspective is your super power :) I can't wait to read your stories one day soon so I can learn more about your unique voice and experiences. What inspires your work?
LF: Family, friends, and lived experience. Feelings. All of them. Finding someone, real or fictional, who makes you feel seen. The moment when you open a book and feel at home. Learning about people from various backgrounds with entirely different experiences from myself. Finding a whimsical escape from the mundane. Looking for the magic in everything, everywhere. Life.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
LF: My creative process involves a lot of thinking before I do anything. And then, out of the blue, I will sit and write for hours upon hours. So, I guess you could say I do not have a process at all. I do however love to sit at my desk and surround myself with things like artwork, music, and other books that make me feel excited about writing.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?
LF: Always reading. Everything. I find that it not only improves my craft, but it refills my “creative well” when I am burnt out from my manuscript revisions. Oh, and to accept that first drafts will always be changed! Just write! It does not have to be perfect the first time around.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
LF: If you can, find a group of writers at your local library, or perhaps on online (Twitter, Discord, etc.), where you can read and provide feedback, as well as support and uplift each other. This journey is already so difficult—it helps no one to go it alone.
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
LF: You can find me on the internet wherever bookworms tend to gather! My site: www.laylafallah.com
Thank you so much for sharing your insights and creative journey, Layla! I'm sensing some more good news in the cards for you in the near future. Sending our positive vibes your way. Can't wait to see your books in the hands of young readers! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Layla and her work. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss out on the next Rising Stars in Kidlit feature and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.