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For September’s issue of Ink Splat, we had a great conversation with Jolene Gutierrez, author of the nonfiction middle grade book, Bionic Beasts. Jolene recounts for us how she gets in the mood to start writing: “First, I need to get physically organized: I usually need a place to spread out my notes, notebook, and computer. Then I need to get mentally organized: I need to be able to focus my brain, so I usually turn on nature sounds or classical music so I won’t be distracted by other sounds. And then I need to feel like I’m motivated to work on something. Sometimes that motivation is a deadline from my editor, and sometimes that motivation is from me just really wanting to get into that specific project.”


Writing Challenge

Your writing challenge for September encourages you to “mine your memories”—explore your memories and find things that you can use in your writing!

Here are some topics that might spark memories. Select one and dive into your memories in whatever style and level of writing you choose. Remember to use lots of sensory details from your memory! 

  • Food: Do you have a favorite food? Are there any traditions around when you might make or eat this food? Are there people who make this food for you or people you make this food with? How does it taste, smell, and look (and maybe even sound and feel, depending on the food)?
  • Joy: Think about a time when you were happy. What made you feel this way? How did you react to show your happiness? How did you feel in your body? Was anyone with you?
  • Hobbies: What is something that you love to do? How did you learn about this hobby/learn how to do this thing? Was it always something you were good at/interested in? Does anyone else practice this hobby with you?
  • Friends: Choose a specific friend or group of friends and explore one of your strongest or most special memories with them. Is it a funny memory? Sad? Happy? Bittersweet? Is there anything you would change about that memory?

 An Interview with Jolene Gutierrez

How has your experience as a librarian influenced your writing?

I’ve been surrounded by books and get to see how students respond to books. As I research lessons I want to teach, I sometimes find information and think, “I wish a book about this existed.” I am also able to use my librarian researching skills to help write manuscripts.

How did you get the idea to write Bionic Beasts?

Well… this is a sad answer, but it’s the truth. I grew up on a farm, and if any of you have read Charlotte’s Web, you might have a feel for how weak or injured animals were treated. When I was your age, I saw these animals die, and I was always convinced that there had to be ways to help them. I explored that idea in Bionic Beasts—how are animals that are injured or born with limb differences helped through technology? Bionic Beasts started out as a picture book, but my editor at Lerner, Carol Hinz, asked if I’d expand it (from about 1,000 words to 10,000 words) and write it as a middle grade nonfiction book. My hope is that it’ll inspire readers to explore ways they can help animals.

What are some interesting ways to frame nonfiction? Do you have favorites or ways that you’ve seen other authors frame their nonfiction that you especially liked?

I love verse novels, so I love that format for fiction or nonfiction. Because I work with kids who are often reluctant readers, I love graphic novels, or books written in varying styles like letters. Choose Your Own Adventure nonfiction books are great, too. I love sidebars in nonfiction books, and I love adding hands-on activities in nonfiction books, too—my editor challenged me to do that in Bionic Beasts, and I’m so glad she did!

 How do you get in the mood to start writing?

First, I need to get physically organized: I usually need a place to spread out my notes, notebook, and computer. Then I need to get mentally organized: I need to be able to focus my brain, so I usually turn on nature sounds or classical music so I won’t be distracted by other sounds. And then I need to feel like I’m motivated to work on something. Sometimes that motivation is a deadline from my editor, and sometimes that motivation is from me just really wanting to get into that specific project.

What’s a highlight in your life as a writer?

My parents being able to hold a book published by me in their hands! Another highlight is being able to write books with my own kids (my daughter and I have a Día de Muertos picture book, The Ofrenda That We Built, coming out in 2024, and my son and I have a still unannounced picture book coming out in 2025).

A special thank you to Jolene Gutierrez for sharing with us! You can read more about Jolene’s work at her website.

Jolene grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She is an award-winning teacher-librarian and has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy for the past 27 years. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science. She’s a wife of 24 years and mama to two young adults, three dogs, a cat who plays fetch, and an ever-rotating variety of other animals including crested geckos, frogs, a ferret, and a rescue squirrel. She’s an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist, a Writing with the Stars mentee, a Highlights Foundation scholarship winner, and the winner of the Cynthia Levinson nonfiction picture book biography scholarship to the Writing Barn. She’s an active member of the Perfect 2020 PBs group, a member of the critique group 6 Ladies and a MANuscript, and a co-creator of #KidlitZombieWeek. 

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