#RisingStarsinKidLit: Trenise Ferreira

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.  

Meet Rising Star
Author Trenise Ferreira 

Photo Credit: © UCLA Photography

Photo Credit: © UCLA Photography

Trenise Ferreira uses her Black Girl Magic to tell all kinds of stories. She’s told them to second graders as a teacher, sports fans as a football writer, and Disney fans as a publicist at Walt Disney World Resort. When not telling stories about the black excellence (and animals, history or general silliness), she works in diversity, equity & inclusion corporate communications.

AD: Hi Trenise 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. 

TF: I cannot rave about PB Rising Stars enough, and I’m so grateful for Kailei and Ebony for getting this program up and running! Being a part of the inaugural class is very special to me, and the other mentees I’m learning with are so incredibly talented. 

My mentor is Tonya Abari and she is the perfect mentor for me! Our journeys to picture book writing have a lot of similarities, and there is just something so…empowering about having a mentor who looks like me. Her journey to publishing gives me hope that I, too, will get that exciting call about a book deal one day.

As an agented but pre-published writer, I have been interested in mentorship for a long time, but the programs are all for unagented writers. I tweeted about this predicament, and how, as a pre-published writer, I have a lot of questions and could use guidance myself on navigating things like managing the agent relationship, how to revise with more intentionality, what to do with your manuscripts aren’t getting any pickup, etc. Being agented but pre-published is kind of like No Mans’ Lands – my fellow writers and critique partners who are unagented are on one side of me, and then writers I admire who have sold multiple books are on the other. It can feel like there’s no place for you to go for guidance when you’re midway up the hill. So I was VERY excited to learn that there would be a mentor in PB Rising Stars taking on agented mentees! I knew having a mentor would make me a better writer, and that working with someone published would help me tighten up my manuscripts and approach them with new perspectives. So far, PB Rising Stars has been everything I could have hoped for and more.

In addition to having a super fun Slack channel to chat with my fellow mentees, I meet with my mentor bimonthly to talk manuscripts, receive feedback and ask questions/get answers about the publishing industry. If that wasn’t valuable enough, we’ve so far been through two webinars led by Ebony, that have been PHENOMENAL. The first helped us think more critically about how successful picture books are structured and why they work, and the second – honestly one of my favorite craft courses I have ever taken – was about taking inspiration from hip-hop music, using literary devices to revise with intentionality. That course was incredibly beneficial to me – it made me want to toss all my old drafts out the window and revise my heart out, haha! And in seriousness, taking the lessons I learned from that course did guide a revision of a current project that, I think, is my best work yet.  When Ebony’s courses go live on Thursday (08/18), I HIGHLY recommend that aspiring picture book writers sign up!

PB Rising Stars has brought me a crew of incredible women who will one day take the PB world by storm, as well as got me connected with published writers that I can learn from. At this juncture in my PB journey, this is exactly what I needed.

AD: This is AMAZING!! You’re spot on about the ‘No Mans’ Land’ of agented but pre-published. I’m so glad you and Tonya were matched and that you’ve taken away many valuable insights from the process. These connections and communities that we immerse ourself in on our journey’s can do so much for our growth, confidence, and motivation. I look forward to checking out Ebony’s classes! Sounds awesome!

Alright let’s do a speed round…

  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time? 
  1. The Rainbow Fish: I can’t remember what it was about now, but it had that beautiful shiny cover! I have always loved shiny things, hahaha! 
  2. The Junie B. Jones series: I loved this series as a young girl, and I remember getting excited each and every time I got to buy new ones at what was then Crown bookstores.
  3. Captain Underpants: There was no joy in life greater than when the Book Fair would come to school, and my parents had given me money for the latest Captain Underpants books! I loved these so much, that I went and saw the movie when it came in 2017 (at the ripe old age of 27), and I had a BLAST reliving childhood.
  • Coffee, tea (or neither) Definitely tea for me! As the child of a Jamaican immigrant, I am inclined to agree that the Brits are right on this one. Tea is everything!
  • Where is your safe place? I feel the most at ease and at peace when I am at the beach, which is why I love living on the west side of LA. I’m about 15 minutes from the beach, and just being able to take a walk on the beach every day is so soothing and centering for me.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs, all day every day! I don’t have one yet, but my fiancé and I plan to get a French Bulldog one day named Napoleon, nickname “Poe.” Whenever we see Frenchies around town, we call them Poes!
  • Early bird or night owl? In general, when it comes to my life away from writing, I am an early bird. But if I get on good writing or reading roll, you will absolutely catch me up after midnight, just finishing “one more” page or writing “one
    more” sentence.
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…Confidence, Wonder, Tenacity
Trenise and her fiancé after they climbed Koko head in Hawaii. An experience that she says will be a picture book one day! Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

Trenise and her fiancé after they climbed Koko head in Hawaii. An experience that she says will be a picture book one day! Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

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.

TF: When I was in third grade, my teacher told my mom that I could write children’s books one day. I wish I  could tell you what I wrote that made her think this, but since I started my kidlit journey in 2020 I think about it all the time! It only took 22 years, but my teacher was onto something.

Like it did for basically everyone on Earth right now, the COVID-19 pandemic had a drastic impact on my life, more specifically my day job. The shift to work from home really freed me up to pursue personal hobbies, and instead of learning how to make sourdough bread, I started writing books! I actually started writing chapter books first – I had read an article in the Hollywood Reporter about the creator of Magic School Bus (at the time, the remake of the show was coming soon on Netflix), and she mentioned that she was inspired to create a series about science for kids simply because one didn’t exist. And that got me thinking about how there are not really any book series that center women of color in history. When I was a kid, there was the American Girl book series which was FANTASTIC but beyond that… crickets. So I decided to write one!

That project has evolved from a chapter book to a middle-grade project, but it was the first story that popped so clearly into my head and I had to sit down and write it. I started it in May 2020 and finished it in early August of that year. It’s my passion project, and I just know that one day it will see the light of day.

But even if it doesn’t that project holds a special place in my heart for two reasons. One, my dad was the first person I told when I finished writing it, and a few weeks later he died. I think about him every day, and though he will never see me publish a book, he got to know that I finished one and that I was starting my journey as a writer. And two, because in December 2020, my fiancé gifted me a writing course through UCLA Extension so that I could revise and strengthen the manuscript, and that course would change the course of my writing journey.

It was an Intro to Writing for Children course, and the first assignment was to write a picture book. I wrote a pretty strong one, and my professor encouraged me to query it. I did, and I secured my agent with it! And now here we are two years and a handful of writing courses later, and I am firmly cemented in the kidlit community, waiting for my turn to post “vague publishing tweets” about good news!

AD: As a former educator, I love that your first author seed was planted by a teacher 🙂 and good for you for seeing a gap in the picture book market and working to fill it! I can’t wait to read your stories about women of color in history! So now we know being a children’s book author was a path that was mentioned to you when you were young but did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?

TF: In high school, I self-published a YA novel, loosely based on my high school experience. What a time that was, haha! But beyond that, I did not seriously consider being an author as a career until two years ago. After high school, I pursued Broadcast & Digital Journalism at USC and then got my masters in Multimedia Journalism from UC Berkeley. I was a sports journalist for the first three years of my career, and it was the absolute best! College football is my first love, and covering sports was my first stint at being a professional writer, if you will. I currently work in corporate communications, and before that as a publicist at Walt Disney World. So even though I am new to authoring, I have been a storyteller for as long as I can remember.

AD: Oh my goodness, I love this and can relate. As an English Communications major and Art minor in my undergraduate, Journalism was a big focus of mine. I love that when we write for children, we still  get to interview sources and conduct research in our writing. It’s one of my favorite parts. I love connecting with primary sources for my nonfiction kids books and getting to hear their stories and backgrounds. We are certainly lucky ducks to get to do this work!!  

Trenise pictured on University of Southern California Game Day. She LOVES her alma mater and is a very proud Trojan! Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

Trenise pictured on University of Southern California Game Day. She LOVES her alma mater and is a very proud Trojan! Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing? Favorite genres you like to write in?

TF: I love writing about black American joy and culture, and especially black heroes, whether contemporary or from the past, that are not often taught in schools. I feel like a lot of the Black history narrative is: here are three people from the slavery era, here’s Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, and here’s the Obamas. The end! And while all of those leaders and world-changers are incredibly important, there are even more figures from science, from culinary arts, from sports and from literature whose names we don’t say enough. I intend to say them, and with resounding joy and triumph while I do it. When not writing about the culture, I am a HUGE animal science nerd, so you will absolutely see lots of facts in my fiction.

AD: Love me some informational fiction!! 🙂

Trenise at the Colosseum in Rome. Trenise's curiosity about the world around her and history specifically inform a lot of her narrative non-fiction or informational fiction work. Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

Trenise at the Colosseum in Rome. Trenise’s curiosity about the world around her and history specifically inform a lot of her narrative non-fiction or informational fiction work. Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

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?

TF: The biggest challenge so far has been getting a book deal, haha! Kidlit Twitter is always talking about the waiting when you’re querying, but the waiting while on submission is so much worse! It can be months of just…silence. Just waiting and waiting and waiting, ultimately to get a no. I’ve gone to acquisitions twice now, but no dice so far. The most recent rejection really hurt, and it took me the better part
of a weekend to get over it. But, as a former journalist, rejection is something I’m used to. I don’t know if it gets easier to stomach rejection, as much as you get stronger and more confident in your writing to brush them off. On my hardest days, I remember that all my faves in publishing have faced rejection, and yet here they are, with multiple published books and in some cases, TV and movie adaptations.

My dad always used to say, “Whatever is for you is for you,” and it’s 100 percent true. When it’s for you, nothing can stop it from happening, and you look back and all the rejections were worth it to get to that perfect (for you) yes.

AD: Yes! I love your positive outlook and the mantra from your father. Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive in this industry and 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?

TF: Getting my agent and being chosen as a PB Rising Stars mentee. I think I’m a very strong writer, and getting this far just validates what I believe about myself!

AD: Yay! Congrats to both! In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?

TF: I think I’m a great ideator and because I write for a living in my day job, I write pretty good “crappy” first drafts. I have goals of being a prolific writer, and my knack for turning anything into a story helps me make progress towards that goal.

AD: What inspires your work?

TF: Sports and my heritage (my dad immigrated from Jamaica and my mom is Black American) inform my writing style. I try to write the way I/Black Americans talk, which adds a rich texture to my storytelling.  Beyond that, literally, everything inspires me –  whether it’s scrolling Twitter, seeing something interesting on a walk or hearing a conversation in passing – I use everything around me as fodder for new story ideas.

Trenise at Ernest Hemingway's House in Havana, Cuba, and as you'll see, she's reading A Farewell to Arms. You will always find her with a book in her hand -- or on her phone as an audiobook for when she's driving or traveling -- and that includes taking books on vacation! Photo Credit © Trenise Ferreira

Trenise at Ernest Hemingway’s House in Havana, Cuba, and as you’ll see, she’s reading A Farewell to Arms. You will always find her with a book in her hand — or on her phone as an audiobook for when she’s driving or traveling — and that includes taking books on vacation! Photo Credit © Trenise Ferreira

AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?

TF: Since January, I’ve committed to writing 12 minutes a day. It’s a super casual number, way less intimidating than 15 or 30 minutes, or even hour. But you know what? more often than not, I write for more than 12 minutes anyway. Sometimes, those 12 minutes are used on sketching out a plot, actually writing a draft, or revising. But other times it’s brainstorming character names for a new project, or even writing about how I have nothing to write about! By any means necessary, I get those 12 minutes done. Making it a habit has helped me become a stronger writer.

As far as keeping ideas flowing, I go on a lot of walks. Also, scrolling Twitter, haha! I am not kidding when I say that three projects I am working on write now were inspired by funny tweets. I also commit to writing down five ideas a week in my Hot Ideas File, so I always have a folder of little story seeds that, when the time is right, I will pull out and water and watch them grow.

Also, I read a TON. I read 10 picture books a week (or try to anyway lol) and I have a 55-book (MG-adult) reading goal for the year. I am currently on my 48th read, and with each book I read, I glean new insights into how to write interesting characters, how to use voice, how to add tension, the importance of good pacing, etc. If you’re not reading while writing, start!

AD: This is so helpful! I love choosing a random number of minutes to write (12 has always been a favorite number of mine) and I need to retitle my boring ‘Idea’ folder to ‘Hot Ideas’, ha!! That sounds much more appealing.  I’m a big walker-thinker, too! 

Trenise at Rose Hall, one of the most famous Great Houses in all of Jamaica. Trenise's Jamaican heritage is very important to her and also informs a lot of her writing. Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

Trenise at Rose Hall, one of the most famous Great Houses in all of Jamaica. Trenise’s Jamaican heritage is very important to her and also informs a lot of her writing. Photo Credit: © Trenise Ferreira

AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?

TF: Courses. I cannot recommend enough that new writers invest in themselves by taking classes to really learn the tangible and intangible skills necessary to succeed as a writer. I’ve taken courses through the writing program at UCLA Extension and Children’s Book Academy and absolutely recommend both. But there are so many out there that are worth the cost. Not only because you’ll learn from published writers and editors about how to improve your craft, but these classes are always great places to meet critique partners! I met some of mine through the CBA, and working with them is the best.

AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

TF: I have three pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t measure your life by agent likes, requests and rejections. Doing so takes the joy out of writing, and really it doesn’t matter how many rejections you get; all you need is one “yes” to change your life.
  2. Know when to log off/take a break. If you’re like me, you spend A LOT of time on kidlit Twitter. While the community can be amazing and supportive, it can be hard to watch people succeed and announce book deals when you’re still just trying to get agented. When you feel your eyes creeping off your own paper and onto someone else’s, log off. Take a break and refocus on what YOU do best and tell the stories only YOU can tell.
  3. Find the joy. Life can feel really heavy and honestly, awful these days. But you know who doesn’t should these burdens of adults? Children. They find joy and wonder in everything. Channel that when writing and you’ll be amazed at what you can create.

AD: Such wise nuggets of wisdom , Trenise. Thank you! And lastly, where can readers find out more about you and your work? 

TF: If you couldn’t tell, I love Twitter! I’m most active there, @TreniseFerreira.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights, more about the PB Rising Stars mentorship, and your creative journey, Trenise! Congrats again on finding an agen
t and wishing you all the best on this next chapter of your journey. We can’t wait to see your books in the hands of young readers!
 Feel free to drop a comment below to support Trenise 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!

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