Interview With Alessandra Balzer, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray!

alessandra balzer

When Alessandra Balzer was fresh out of Colgate University, where she majored in French Literature and minored in English, she took her first job at HarperCollins as an editorial assistant. Years later she would become co-publisher of her own imprint at the same company. Balzer and Donna Bray, a fellow HarperCollins colleague, were both experienced and eager to become entrepreneurs. In 2008, they launched Balzer + Bray. 

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, Beyond the Pond, authored and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler, I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah Ariel and Leah on The OffBeat by Becky Albertalli are among just the few of the New York Times bestselling, critically-acclaimed and award-winning titles that Balzer + Bray have published.  Many of these titles have also become feature films, including The Hate U Give, which is slated to hit the big screens in October. “We like to do books that are risk-taking, when it’s appropriate, and when it offers a new voice and perspective,” Balzer told So Booking Cool.

Balzer is excited for the forthcoming titles at her company, including Kheryn Callender‘s second book and first YA novel, This Is Kind of An Epic Love Story (due in the fall) and writer and screenwriter Ben Philippe‘s Field Guide to the North American Teenager. “Thank goodness we’re finally seeing more different voices represented in children’s books and we have a long way to go still,” Balzer said. “[Field Guide] is an important book because it’s about a black boy having love stories, friendships, and drama, like anyone else. And I feel like we need a lot more of those.”

Balzer, whose publishing career spans 24 years (including a tenure at Disney Hyperion), worked under the tutelage of Katherine Tegen (Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins) and Nancy Siscoe (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House). She went on to edit titles that became National Book Award Finalists (Sold by Patricia McCormick, The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee)  Caldecott Honors (Mo Willems),and Newbery Medal-winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi, to name a few.

Listen to the full interview to learn more about publishing, Balzer’s advice for aspiring book editors, such as the pros and cons of specializing in one genre and being involved in multiple genres, the inspiration behind of I Am Not Enough, her favorite projects, and more! For more information, follow the co-publisher on Twitter.

Interview With Deborah Gregory, Author of The Cheetah Girls!

DeborahGregoryHeadshotAs a child, Deborah Gregory‘s life circumstances required her to utilize her reading and writing skills for the benefit of her illiterate foster mother. It is the reason she says she became a writer and author. “If she had told me ‘make me laugh,’ I’d be a comedian. There’s no question about it. She controlled my every thought and movement,” she told So Booking Cool. This is just one of the compelling realities of The Cheetah Girls creator’s life. She revealed that she discovered the details about her paternal side, which included learning that she has a half-sister who resides in New York like herself. What’s more is she searched for her mother for 20 years.

The Cheetah Girls, a story that follows the lives of a young, ambitious girl group who also happen to be close friends, is close to Gregory’s heart. “I’ve never had a circle of friends, and that’s what these girls were to me,” she said. As a child she fantasized about being in a singing group, though she says she wouldn’t have pursued it because she can’t sing. She may not have boasted a talent in music, but even prior to having a bestselling series, she found success as a runway model, fashion designer, entrepreneur (she owned two boutiques in New York City) and award-winning journalist. Each of these areas of business proved instrumental in the development The Cheetah Girls.

Gregory knew Andrea Davis Pinkney from their days of working at Essence magazine, who would acquire and edit The Cheetah Girls, which would expand into a beloved franchise (three high-rated films, soundtracks, sold-out tours, dolls, etc.) Gregory’s success naturally resulted in her writing another book, Catwalk.

Listen to the complete interview to learn more about Gregory, foster care, therapy, how Destiny’s Child helped influence The Cheetah Girls, the girls who covered the original books, including former girl group, Before Dark, her thoughts on the film adaptation’s Hollywood casting, advice for authors, her upcoming projects and a lot more! For more information visit her website or Twitter .

Interview With James Mtume About His Unsung Story!

JAMES MTUME PHOTO

Society is the thermostat. It sets the temperature. Artists are thermometers. We reflect what the temperature is.” This is among the many potent quotes that emerged from So Booking Cool‘s interview with Grammy award-winning musician, songwriter, activist, and radio personality, James Mtume. His timeless hit song, “Juicy Fruit” (the heavily sampled cut for numerous artists including the late Notorious B.I.G.’s smash hit “Juicy“) is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Not bad at all for a song that almost did not get released. The Philadelphia-bred icon has not yet penned his autobiography, but a starting point for telling his story will be covered in his upcoming episode of the docuseries, Unsung  to air this coming Sunday.

The Philadelphia-bred composer had early exposure to jazz music with his father performing the genre. Mtume created a list of the three musicians he desired to work with and ultimately was recruited by one of them, Miles Davis, who would become a cherished mentor. It was Davis who encouraged Mtume, who became the first black Middle Atlantic AAU champion in the backstroke before taking the music world by storm, to explore different sounds. “When you finish a musical genre, put it away,” the 71-year-old advises younger and aspiring artists. “Once you cross a musical bridge, burn it, so that you don’t have to go backwards.”

Listen to the full interview to learn more about Mtume’s thoughts on the music industry, the artists that impress him today, how seeing Elijah Mohammed and Malcolm X speak when he was 14-years-old changed his life, the parallels between the social movements during the 60’s and present time, the proudest moment of his illustrious career, and more!

For more information, visit Mtume on Twitter or his official website 

Interview With Emma Dryden, Founder and Principal of drydenbks!

drydenbks - logo - JPEG

When Emma Dryden was among the many publishing professionals who got laid off in 2009, she allowed herself time to regroup and ultimately took matters into her own hands. Just a year later, the praised drydenbks was launched. Dryden utilized her expertise and connections as a longtime publisher at Simon and Schuster and founded her own consultancy service for children’s books, in which she supports authors, illustrators, publishers, and agents. Her clients also include those thinking of joining the consultancy field. In other words, she still gets to live her passion every day, and has now worked in the industry for more than 30 years.

P1050536Emma posing with her book What Does it Mean to be an Entrepreneur? that she co-wrote with by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Ken Min

“I urge people not to undervalue themselves,” Dryden told So Booking Cool.

The English graduate’s books have been awarded by many including a John Newbery Medal and Honor, Caldecott, three Coretta Scott King awards (author, author honor and illustration), New York Times Best Illustrated Award and Edgar Allan Poe, just to name a few. She credits the authors she’s worked with for these honors. In addition to running her company, Dryden is also an author and speaker, and hopes to expand into the podcast world.

Listen to the full interview to learn more about drydenbks and how you can become a client or start your own consultant business, perseverance, her thoughts on children’s television, the mistakes she made earlier on in her career as an editor, her favorite adult series, and more! For more information visit her website.

Interview With Teri Coaxum, Author of Peaceful Pondering: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Inner Peace!

TERITeri Coaxum, professor, business coach, and founder and CEO of Coaxum Connects wrote her debut book Peaceful Pondering: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Inner Peace in hopes that people will allow themselves to become a priority in their lives. “The book is about finding that off button,” the motivational speaker told So Booking Cool. The self-help guide, published by Xlibris, discusses the important distinction between integration and balance when it comes to leading a peaceful life–something Coaxum has learned from her  own amazing and loaded career.

In 2004, Coaxum became the first African American woman Deputy State Director for Senator Chuck Schumer. Prior to this role, she was the Project Manager of Community Relations for the former Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes. She would eventually become the Regional Advocate for the Office of Advocacy’s Region II during Barack Obama‘s presidency, in which she served in the Small Business Community. Coaxum reveals she manifested working for the Obama Administration and put it into her vision book (not board!)

Image result for peaceful pondering   The New York-based educator (John Jay, Metropolitan, and Medgar Evers) also discusses mentors and sponsors, and networking vs. social climbing and opportunists, all of which she says can be distinguished by nurtured relationships. She also mentions some of her favorite self-transformation books, including those she has recommended to her students. Check out the full heartfelt interview above!