Bracha K. Sharp is an award-winning author who has an expansive portfolio of articles, poetry, plays and children’s picture books. She’s a member of the SCBWI and the SSCBWI group (Shomer Shabbat Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators group) and has written numerous human-interest articles for the Jewish Link of Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut newspaper. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review and The Birmingham Arts Journal and she placed first, on the national level, for her poem, Tender, in the 2016 Hackney Literary Awards.
When not writing, Bracha loves to muse over her memories of ballet, and spend time with her guinea pigs, Norah and Kitty Lou, named after literary characters. She also loves to read almost anything that comes her way and to spend time in the garden with a mug of green tea and a square of chocolate.
Did you always want to be an author? YES! I joke that I was born with a pen or a pencil and a piece of paper in my hand, but I have definitely always wanted to write and to get my work published and out there! Now that I have, I still can’t fully believe it, but it’s certainly been a dream come true. From the time that I was a little girl, I was always creating “books” and illustrating them–really just pieces of paper folded over and stapled together to look like a book—and I began to take my writing craft very seriously as time went on.
However, it wasn’t really until high school that I began to focus on the craft of writing from a professional point of view. From around that time, onward, I began to hone my craft and to really, seriously consider becoming a published author. Those handmade books were my family’s idea and so they wrote down the stories that I dictated to them when I was young, and we also read continuously together. Books and reading were therefore always a joyful way to connect, and I hope that that joy and sincerity can and does carry over into my writing.
While I’m not a full-time author, I am a full-time devourer of books and a lover of words and the English language. I enjoy reading just as much, and when I’m not writing, then I’m often reading or discussing literature!
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? My recent book is an original Jewish fairy tale called The Challah Girl. While I had many other already-written picture books on the backburner, the inspiration behind The Challah Girl was pretty much about being in the right place at the right time. Quite a few things came together for me and those events really helped to plant the seeds for what would eventually become my picture book.
When I was working at a small Judaica shop, where one of the most popular items that we sold were challahs, my supervisor came by and said, “Oh, you’re such a challah girl!” As soon as she said that divine inspiration hit–and I basically then-and-there decided to combine both of these inspirations into the basis for my own, original Jewish fairy tale.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? Because it was based on the premise of a fairy tale, but I had decided to transform the threads of that genre into an original Jewish fairy tale, I knew that at its core, I wanted it to deviate a bit from the original canon of fairy tales which most people would be familiar with. I also wanted to incorporate Jewish values and traditions into the story and, in essence, I began to deconstruct the fairy tales that I thought I had known and understood in childhood. Then I also began to apply a more psychological bent to them, which wasn’t very hard to do, and it was usually even quite fun, being that, as an English Major and a Psychology Minor, I was basically doing those mental acrobatics, anyway.
I recognized that while all of my picture book characters were going on a journey, and that while all of literature contains journeys, of a sort, I had to make it a bit clearer that Zlatah Leah was going to be going on a heroine’s journey. At its heart, however, while I wanted her journey to have a universality and a physicality, I also very much wanted her journey to be an inner one, where a lot of growth and development could take place and where Jewish values could come to the fore. It was therefore important for me to have both that universality and the specificity of Jewish values together, because I knew that the genre of the fairy tale could hold up to that—and it did.
I was very much hoping to inspire and to uplift my readers throughout the progression of this story, via these avenues, and I certainly hope that that shines through!
What are you most excited about with this book? I am excited that this idea was even turned into a book and then published! But I am also excited that I was able to use fairy tales as a basis for my story—and then infuse it with a Jewish theme!
There are a lot of inner references to fairy tales, both Jewish and not, and Jewish values that I definitely have little literary or other references to in the book, mainly for myself, because it is fun to look back on them and to pick up on that. However, I am always really happy when someone understands them and adds to them in new ways to create a greater resonance of depth within the book’s storyline, or simply enjoys hearing some of my motivations for certain details. I’m also excited that the story can be read on many levels and will hopefully appeal to both Jewish and general audiences. At its core, I hope that its universal themes and values can touch each reader—no matter who they are!
I am also VERY excited by the illustrations. The collaboration between publisher, author, and illustrator was great—and is a big testament to how wonderfully everyone cooperated to get this project out there, into the world. I am so pleased with how lovely the illustrations are and with their ability to highlight the inner workings of my characters’ minds. Also, the color palette is very fairy tale-like and soothing to look at, which makes me very happy!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? This sounds very cliche, certainly, but I would still say that it holds true—and that is to never give up. If you have a story or a poem or a piece of writing inside of you that wants to come out, keep on sending it out and getting it out to various places, until you get it published. I still have to remind myself of this all of the time, because it can be extremely hard to do so. It took me very, very many submissions to get my first poem published and many years to get my first picture book published. I’m not sure if that says something, and I had many, many writing projects on the back burner, so I was always sending out one thing or another, all the while still trying to take writing classes and to perfect my craft—but when it was the right time, things began to pick up. It then became like a windfall of good news and acceptances; I just had to let it be and eventually it happened! This was never an easy thing for me, and it still isn’t. It is both the most frustrating and yet the most rewarding thing about writing, I think. It’s such a dichotomy.
I would also say to attend lectures, join a writing/critique group or two, and read websites dealing with the craft of writing. And find mentors and other writers to talk to! The writing community is very broad and there are so many different types of writers out there, that one is bound to find their own niche within the “tribe.” Talking to other writers and mentors keeps me accountable, helps me to diffuse, and gives me a sense of belonging. It doesn’t feel like you are floating out there, alone, and it reminds you that your efforts are worth it!
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? It’s certainly easier to get upset and to sulk about rejections than to get right back up again and resubmit your work! But then again, if your manuscript or work isn’t a match for the place that you’ve submitted to, it’s probably better to know, upfront. When it’s not a match, I try to think that my work wasn’t meant for that journal, or that magazine, or that publishing house and that it’s being saved for the right place.
I also try to find various writing mentors whom I can talk to about these disappointments, and I am glad to be a part of so many amazing writing groups, which have helped me tremendously. They have certainly helped me to gain more knowledge, but they also offer a place to commiserate and to diffuse any tension regarding any setbacks and/or criticism. At the end of the day, it’s probably always going to be at least a little bit hard to go through various writing setbacks and to deal with criticism, and it can really sting—because we are human, after all! So, after a while of laying low, and doing other things to distract myself, it does help to get back into the swing of things, if I can. It doesn’t always happen right away, but I do try. And I look at what I have achieved, because for all of the setbacks, there are so many people and publications who did believe in me, took a chance on me, and published my work—and that is extremely gratifying in its own right!
How do you hold yourself accountable and achieve the goals that you set forth? I used to be a lot more structured, actually, but I found that as long as I have an idea of what a “writing day” is going to look like, then I can be a little bit looser and still achieve a lot of what I’ve set out to do. On the days when I haven’t planned on setting aside a certain timeframe to write, I’m almost always writing down my ideas and various notes related to writing, anyway. So, usually, in one form-or-another, writing and getting things down or coming up with new ideas is almost always on my mind.
One of the best things that I’ve found has been to use a notebook that I’ve labeled as “Writing Tallies.” This helps me to keep track of where I’ve sent my submissions out to and what their individual statuses may be. It also gives me a space to write out possible query and submission letters, story ideas, scraps of words or sentences that I’ve come up with, snatches of inspiration, and the like. If I have an idea for a story or another piece of writing, I don’t necessarily need to get it done within a certain timeframe, but I at least try to set myself the goal of getting the gist of the idea down.
That way, when I go back to the notebook(s) and look back on the entries, I have an idea about where I want each individual piece of writing to go. This is a great springboard for any current and/or future projects that I am occupied with or plan to get to. I also find that because I am a member of so many writing groups and because I am so lucky to have the ability to be in contact with other writers, that their individual successes and published writing projects continue to spur me on to complete my own ideas—and then to send them out!
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? The fact that an idea from my own head has been put down on paper and has then been published is still just mind-boggling to me! And, essentially, a lot of what I’m doing when I’m writing almost seems too good to be true—it’s like playing! And I get to hopefully share those ideas with young readers, which is the best of both worlds. Regarding my articles, poems, and other writing ventures, it’s also a deeply fulfilling feeling—here I am, doing what I love to do, and being able to express that through the written word. Not only do I get to read it, but so does everyone else. Amazing.
What book uplifts you? There are too many to count, but I would say that I’m always drawn back to the classics, as a source of inspiration and uplift! Not necessarily the first thing that people might think of, in terms of uplifting books, but Anna Karenina (or Tolstoy, in general!), My Antonia, Jane Eyre, Mrs. Mike and others along those lines, are some of those novels which I return to, again and again.
I am also wholeheartedly inspired by various Judaic texts and books on Jewish culture and thought, as well as superb poets like Mary Oliver, Basho, Billy Collins, Emily Dickinson, and others.
Finally, any book on writing, like How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, and any number of good children’s and young adult books are ones that I continue to read faithfully, for their engaging content and their uplifting and comforting messages!
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? I am so glad that so many of you have read my picture book and I hope that it brings you joy and happiness when you read it! Thank you!
Also, one of the most helpful pieces of writing advice that I received was from a GWW (Gotham Writers Workshop) instructor. Learn to comment on other students’ work, via what she called a “Critique Sandwich.” The first sentence is a compliment about what you like about the writing, the second comment is about what you think could be improved—so your constructive criticism would go here—and then the bottom piece of “bread” is another helpful comment, compliment, or another nice thing that you’d like to say to them. What a way to encourage and seriously uplift other writers, while also being able to give astute and practical feedback—it’s the best of both worlds. This makes for better writers, of course, but also much happier ones, along the way!
You can connect with Bracha via her website.
Images Courtesy Bracha Sharp