Crystalee Calderwood's first love was reading. She could read before she entered kindergarten. Writing was naturally the next step. For many years Crystalee focused on poetry. It helped her get through her rocky teen years, and she honed her skills as an English major at Penn State, Altoona. In 2006, Crystalee got accepted into the MFA program of her dreams at Chatham University if Pittsburgh, PA. At Chatham, Crystalee began to think maybe poetry was no longer for her. "It felt like they were putting me into a box," she says. "Everything was about 'Is this going to sell?' I was expected to write like everyone else, and I felt like I couldn't please anyone."
During her very first semester, Crystalee took a class called the Craft of Writing for Children and Adolescents. Writing for kids wasn's an instant passion for her. In fact, it took a picture book writing class a year later to seal the deal. Crystalee picked up writing for children as one of her emphases, but also continued in the poetry program. Crystalee is now a graduate of Chatham University and the author of her first picture book, Angelina Jellybean. She is a full time literacy*AmericaCorps member who teaches computer skills to job seeking adults. She is currently working on two YA novels and a handful of picture books.
I asked Crystalee some questions about her writing.
When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I used to write short stories way back in first grade. I’ve been reading even longer, since before I started school, so I only felt it was natural for me to write. I wrote poetry for many years. It wasn’t until I went to grad school to get my MFA in Creative Writing that I discovered writing for children. That was in 2006. I ended up with a dual emphasis in poetry and writing for children and adolescents. I am amazed at how far I have come along with my writing since then.
How do you get the ideas for your picture books?
Well, I live and experience life, first of all. I get most of my ideas from things I’ve seen, experienced or heard. I also try to interact with children. I spent a year as a volunteer reading to children in daycares across Pittsburgh. In that year, I learned more about what children like than I had learned in my entire life. I also love to read children’s books. I’m always asking myself if I can write something better than or different than the kinds of books that are out there. I’m not interested in writing books that copy a current trend, unless I can put my own spin on that trend.
Do you experiment with other genres as well?
Yes, I do. I started out writing poetry. I have also experimented with flash fiction. But nothing makes me happier than writing for children. I’m really a big kid at heart, and I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read when I was younger. I have also recently completed a young adult novel in verse, and I’m very excited to break into the YA market was well.