In Search of Superpowers by Briana Lawrence

Briana Lawrence

Authors

Briana Lawrence has wanted to be a “WRITTER” since she was nine years old. Her fourth grade class laughed and wondered how one hoped to become a “writer” if they couldn’t even spell the word. 

Years later (okay, like a decade and some change), Briana graduated from Iowa State University and moved to Minneapolis with her partner. Today, she is the Senior Features Editor at Crunchyroll where she works with an amazing team of writers to find ways to talk about how sports anime is good for your mental health (among other topics). 

Briana has quite a few self-published works such as her Black, queer magical girl series magnifiqueNOIR. In 2024 she will be releasing two new books from two different publishers. In Search of Superpowers: A Fantasy Pin World Adventure (Andrew McMeel Publishing) is her very first middle grade series. The Essential Manga Guide (Running Press, 2024) is a collection of essays that talk about the importance of manga and how you can find any kind of story you want within manga. 

Briana lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her wife and three butthead cats. Here she enjoys exploring Hyrule, waiting for more information on Hades 2, and rewatching SK8 the Infinity for the hundredth time.

Briana Lawrence

What was your favorite book as a child?

I don’t remember the name of it, but I do remember that it was a choose your own adventure style Super Mario Bros. book where you’d get to a certain point in the story, have to make a decision, and turn to the page that correlated with the decision you made. Besides that book, I remember reading a LOT of Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitter’s Club.

What is your favorite food?

Baked macaroni and cheese

What do you love to do for fun?

Yell at my TV when a video game gets too hard, lol!

What cool travel spots would you most highly recommend?

Las Vegas for the food and for the random discoveries you can find, like the quirky Omega Mart or the botanical gardens at The Bellagio.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

My older brother died when I was 13. Ever since then I find myself wondering what he’d think of me now, so I try and live in a way that he’d be proud of — or at the very least call me a dork about, lol.

Mediums:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT BRIANA

You also love anime and video games. Do you have any specific memories from those two mediums that have helped you as a writer?

I’ll pick a game one and an anime one for this. I remember watching someone play the very first Legend of Zelda game and being in awe because it really did feel like you were going on an epic quest. I remember watching them travel around, have to find clues and things like that, and it was really cool seeing what kind of stories video games could tell. With anime, I remember watching Sailor Moon and how much it impacted me, because it was the first time I remember seeing an entire group of girls be the heroes of the story. I’d seen teams with girls/women involved, like Power Rangers and X-Men, but Sailor Moon was the first time it was ALL girls. Like… I didn’t know that was an option!

Art Process:

Without fail, there is always at least one cat in the area when I’m writing. Whether I’m in my office or in the living room with my laptop I’m guaranteed to see at least one of our three cats in the area. 

I generally write to music, but something about the early mornings makes it easier to write in silence. When I’m writing a story I outline the whole thing first, from beginning to end, along with character descriptions and key scenes so I have some kind of guide to look back at. Car rides with my wife are very necessary so I can talk about what I’m planning while eating either ice cream or chicken nuggets.

Specialties:

Forthcoming books:

The Essential Manga Guide: 50 Series Every Manga Fan Should Know (Running Press, June 2024)

Gamer Girls: Retro Rhythms (Andrews McMeel, November 2024)

Published books:

In Search of Superpowers: A Fantasy Pin World Adventure (Andrews McMeel Publishing, January 2024)

Location:

St Paul, MN

Visit Briana at:

Awards and honors:

Nothing yet!

Available for School Visits:

Occasionally I’ve done panels/presentations at schools about diversity in writing, but these were at colleges. I’ve also done conventions and events that let me have a table to sell my work. 

I would definitely be up for more school/library visits and events where I could talk about diversity in writing, or in the case of the manga book, the kinds of stories that are available in that medium.


Jenny Mannis

Authors

I am a costume designer turned author-illustrator. With over a decade of experience in professional theater, I have designed at theaters all over the country including The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2nd Stage, and Steppenwolf. I hold an MFA from the Yale School of Drama and am a member of Kids Comics Unite, SCBWI, and the Authors’ Guild.

As a costume designer, I practice visual storytelling, transforming the written words of a play into images. My writing and illustration are heavily influenced by character design, color story, historical research, and imaginative world building. My time in theater has also led me to value compelling dialogue, twisty plots and brisk pacing.

When I’m not planning and researching the next two books in the Escape Artist series, I can be found trying to keep up with my two teens and two rescue dogs and dodging the monsters that live in the basement.

Jenny Mannis

What was your favorite book as a child?

All of them? I read to escape, so I was going for quantity over quality. But anything where a fantasy or alternate world existed in tandem with ours was my jam: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, Grimm’s fairy tales, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl (deep cut: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), Edward Gorey, Charles Addams comics, The X-Men. I read Stephen King’s It on the eighth-grade ski trip and that book changed me.

Mediums:

Pencil and paper for roughs and doodles. Dip pen and ink wash if I’m feeling fancy. Nothing beats the hand feel of graphite and real ink but I’m in love with Photoshop for the infinite possibilities and speed. I like messiness and rough edges, so I use a chunky, jittery ink brush for inking and loose watercolor, pastel and marker brushes for texture. I draw my own panel borders and speech balloons. Overall, I’m trying for a quick, scribbly, hands-on feeling.

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT JENNY

Art Process:

I always start from research. A mysterious building, 1950s horror comics, a news clipping – anything that sparks my fancy. I’ll be a magpie for a while and gather ideas and images from books, movies or the internet. I let the new stuff knock around for a while until I’ve got a premise or a question, a group of characters, a visual vibe, a color scheme, an idea that spooks me.

My creativity comes from the process of collection and whatever gets cooked up in the basement of my subconscious – the rest is iteration. I use scene cards to track plot points, character development, and my favorite research images. I’ll make a detailed outline and, once I know the major beats and the characters’ journey, I fill in the dialogue and paneling. I pull images and color story from my research and lay in the art stepwise. This orderly process comes from my practice as a theater designer: a highly structured system of organization and routine that sets the conditions for creativity. Stephen King calls his muse a “basement guy.” The muse does his thing down below while you put the time in at your desk: just like in theater where the designers and crew work behind the scenes so the magic can happen on stage.

What is your favorite food?

Popcorn jellybeans, black licorice, Necco Wafers, candy corn, Smarties: I love an underdog!

Specialties:

Forthcoming books:

Published books:

Location:

Chicago, IL

Visit Jenny at:

Awards and honors:

Available for School Visits:


Marissa Walsh

Authors

Marissa Walsh is the author of the sort-of memoir GIRL WITH GLASSES (Simon and Schuster) and the sort-of YA novel A FIELD GUIDE TO HIGH SCHOOL (Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books); the co-author of the possible cult classic TIPSY IN MADRAS: (Perigee/Penguin); and the editor of the YA anthologies NOT LIKE I’M JEALOUS OR ANYTHING (Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books) and DOES THIS BOOK MAKE ME LOOK FAT? (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Her shorter work has been published in a random assortment of places: The Awl (RIP!); English Journal; Identity Theory; SMITH Magazine (not affiliated with the college!); INVISION Magazine, where she was a writer and the (eyeglass) frames reviewer for two years; and in her self-published print zine, Indignant Gingham.

She was an editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books for many years, and also worked on the other side as a literary agent, and on the other, other side as a bookseller (at the amazing, but sadly defunct, Mobile Libris). She has also taught writing classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and North Shore Community College (MA), and organized book fairs, writers’ conferences and special events at the (former) Small Press Center/New York Center for Independent Publishing.

Marissa has read and hosted readings at various venues in New York City. She’s also worked in politics, and as a terrible (terrible!) waitress.

She currently serves on the board of My Brother’s Table, a soup kitchen in Lynn, Massachusetts.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I loved Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables; all of Judy Blume and M. E. Kerr; Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries; Richard Scarry; and Pippi Longstocking!

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is chocolate, but ice cream comes in a close second, and I ate a lot of ice cream (as research, of course) for One Scoop or Two!

Mediums:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT MARISSA

Art Process:

Forthcoming books:

One Scoop or Two? (And Other Ice Cream Questions), Union Square & Co./Sterling, 2023

Published books:

-Does This Book Make Me Look Fat? (editor), Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin, 2008
-A Field Guide to High School, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books, 2007
· A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age 2008
-Girl with Glasses: My Optic History, Simon Spotlight Entertainment/Simon and Schuster, 2006
· A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age 2007
-Not Like I’m Jealous or Anything: The Jealousy Book (editor), Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books, 2006
· A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age 2007
-Tipsy in Madras: A Complete Guide to 80s Preppy Drinking (co-authored), Perigee/Penguin, 2004
· Boston Globe bestseller

Location:

Visit Marissa at:

Awards and honors:

NYPL Best Teens Book List, 2007
Selected as one of 5 Japanese artists to meet Japanese Prime Minister Abe, 2015

Available for School Visits:

I love speaking to classes and student groups. I am currently developing a Make-Your-Own-Zine Workshop for ages 12 and up!


Desi St. Amant

Authors

Desi is a Latinx writer based in Southern California. As a child, she spent her free time climbing trees, chasing chickens, and exploring the lush foliage of her grandparents’ backyard while replaying scenes from her favorite movies. Today, she teaches high school English. As a member of SCBWI, she does monthly critiques with other experienced writers and shares exciting member news on their quarterly newsletter. She has had poems featured on Aaduna and Virgogrey Press. Currently, she writes middle-grade stories (fantasy and contemporary–sometimes a little of both). ​

When she isn’t writing or teaching, she is spending quality time with her family, playing board games, going on long runs, listening to podcasts, maintaining a residential beehive, and dancing traditional hula. ​Sometimes–if she’s lucky–she even gets sleep.

What do you love to do for fun?

I love hula dancing and making memes (it’s therapeutic).

What was your favorite book as a child?

I LOVED The Baby-sitter’s Club series and the Goosebumps series as a kid. Those books completely sucked me in and made me fall in love with reading.

Available for School Visits:

I love to visit schools and strive to make it as engaging as possible. Regardless of the book, I incorporate interactive components, such as honeycomb and beekeeping equipment for Three Bee Honey or a hula-dancing lesson for In the Middle of the Sea. I use multimedia (images and videos) of elements that inspired the story, have students play trivia games, and even lead writing exercises to help them find and develop their own stories.

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT DESI

Art Process:

I do a TON of brainstorming (and sometimes drafting) in a dedicated notebook for that story. Once I have an idea or concept, I create mind maps, lists, and freewrite to see what ideas come out in a short burst of time. As a parent and teacher, life is extremely busy, so every minute is precious. I have to steal time from the margins of my days (#momlife). For instance, when I garden or go on runs, I work through scenes in my head. While my kids are engaged in karate or baseball practice, I brainstorm chapters and draft dialogue. Finding a balance is a challenge, but if I am patient and steadfast, I can see some meaningful progress and growth.

One thing that is a must-have for getting into the “zone” is playing music while I write. I have to tune out all of the other background noise and let the music help me focus on the story. The selection depends on my mood or the mood of that scene in the story. If it is a happy/upbeat scene, instrumental Disney music is great. Other music I love to play in the background: LoFi HipHop Beats, any instrumental jazz (like John Coltrane), and Hawaiian music. 


Steve Metzger

Authors

Steve Metzger is the award-winning author of many children’s books, including Detective Blue (SLJ starred review) and Pluto Visits Earth (Children’s Choice Book Awards Nominee). The first book in his forthcoming graphic-novel series, The Bumble Brothers (illustrated by Brian Schatell), will be published in Fall 2022. While growing up, he enjoyed being silly, which sometimes got him in trouble at school. Now that he’s a grown-up, he (mostly) keeps out of trouble by writing silly books. Steve lives with his family in New York City.

What was your favorite book as a child?

When I was a young child, I loved “The Red Carpet” by Rex Parkin. It’s a wild, rhyming read-aloud about a carpet that keeps rolling…and rolling…and rolling all through the town..

What cool travel spots would you most highly recommend?

Nothing too exotic here: Jamaica, Venice, Paris, Florence, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon.

Awards and honors:

The Way I Act: (Parenting Press) Winner of the Gold Award in the illustrated children’s book category of Book Design of the Publishers Association of the West; Approved for classroom use by the California Reading Association.

Detective Blue: (Scholastic) Starred Review (SLJ); Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Nominee; IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Nominee: Kansas Bill Martin Jr. Children’s Book Award Nominee; Colorado Children’s Book Nominee.

Pluto Visits Earth!: (Scholastic) ABC Best Books for Children catalog.

Yes, I Can Listen: (Chicago Review Press) Eureka! Honor Award from the California Reading Association.

Bank Street Alumni Association Award

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT STEVE

Published Books:

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt (Scholastic) 2005

The Great Turkey Race (Scholastic) 2006

The Mixed-Up Alphabet (Scholastic) 2007

Skeleton Meets the Mummy (Scholastic) 2010

The Way I Act (Parenting Press) 2011

The Dancing Clock (Tiger Tales) 2011

Detective Blue (Scholastic) 2011

The Ice Cream King (Tiger Tales) 2011

Pluto Visits Earth! (Scholastic) 2012

The Turkey Train (Scholastic) 2012

Lincoln and Grace: Why Abraham Lincoln Grew a Beard (Scholastic) 2013

This Is the House that Monsters Built (Scholastic) 2016

Toto’s Story (self-published chapter book) 2016

Princess Kitty (HarperCollins) 2017

Yes, I Can Listen! (Chicago Review Press) 2019

Turn Off Your Silly Phone! (Koehler Books) 2020

A Hawk Is Thankful Board Book (Familius) 2022

The Bumble Brothers Graphic Novel Series (Reycraft) 2022

Location:

Visit Steve at:

Available for School Visits:

My program (PreK – 5th Grade) features:

Award-winning picture books, including The Way I Act, Detective Blue, and Yes, I Can Listen!

Science connections are made with Pluto Visits Earth!

The power of writing is emphasized through Lincoln and Grace: Why Abraham Lincoln Grew a Beard.

The six traits of writing, especially “point of view,” is communicated through Toto’s Story: My Amazing Adventures with Dorothy in Oz.

An engaging PowerPoint presentation: the process of how a picture book is created– from idea to publication.


Ed Masessa

Authors

Born in nineteen something, I am the second oldest of 10 children. I was raised in the small town of Middlesex, NJ and attended Rutgers University. As anyone who has met me can attest to, I live by the mantra “Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.” Formerly employed as a grease monkey, office cleaner, fast food manager, forklift operator, warehouse supervisor, sales rep, and automotive purchasing manager, I retired from Scholastic Book Fairs in 2016 where I was responsible for selecting many of the books that appeared on the fairs. While on the surface, it appears that I was unqualified for such a critical role, I earned my stripes through hard work and LOTS of reading – and I mean LOTS!

Twenty or so years ago, I turned to the wonderful memories of my childhood and began to write. My second book, The Wandmaker’s Guidebook, had a nine-week run on the NY Times Bestseller list, two weeks at #1!  Now a full-time writer, I remain active in the Kidlit community by participating in library, reading, and writing conferences throughout the year, and by visiting schools to share my writing techniques with students. And I am an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard

Who are your favorite children’s authors?

Jack Gantos, Neal Shusterman, and Jennifer Holm

Available for School Visits:

I love doing school visits! I can do up to three presentations in the same day that include grades 1-2 for picture books and early readers and grades 3-6 for my writing process and novels. Presentations can be customized from 20-45 minutes and only a laptop with a projector is needed (plus a microphone for large audiences). Fees are highly flexible.

Location:

Visit Ed at:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT ED

Specialties:

Creative Process:

I need to write outdoors. There’s something about sitting in a park, or near a lake, or by the gently rolling waves of the Florida surf that allows my mind to wander and opens it to unconstrained thoughts. This is especially helpful since I am an extreme pantser – that is, I write by the seat of my pants. I find it impossible to create an outline other than a general synopsis of the beginning, middle, and end of a book. I am constantly amazed at what has taken shape on the page at the end of my writing block of time. I love when I can look at my words and say, ‘Wow! I never saw THAT coming!’

I also hand-write everything and every project has its own notebook. My first pass at revision is when I sit down to type what I’ve written into a word doc.

Awards and honors:

The Wandmaker’s Guidebook:
#1 NY Times bestseller for four weeks
ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults

Wandmaker:
Parent’s Choice Award for “Fun Stuff”

Wandmaker’s Apprentice:
Florida Book Awards gold medal in the middle grade category

Scarecrow Magic:
starred review from PW

Published books:

Backpack Kitty Goes to Camp (early reader)
Travel-size Pups Around the World (early reader)
Mixed-up Pups (early reader)
Real Life Monsters (non-fiction)
Wandmaker’s Guidebook (novelty)
Wandmaker (novel)
Wandmaker’s Apprentice (novel)
Time Traveler’s Journal (novelty)
Scarecrow Magic (picture book)
Pumpkin Magic (picture book)
There Was an Old Dog Who Needed a Nap (forthcoming picture book)
Snowman’s Big Adventure (forthcoming picture book)


Kathlyn Kirkwood

Authors

Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Kathlyn J Kirkwood is the author of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: the Story of an Everyday Activist and the Making of the Martin Luther King Holiday.

A retired college professor, Kathlyn focuses on writing for children and volunteering with under-priveleged 3rd and 4th grade students in the Nashville area. She has developed several innovative workshops that use trade books to help young people learn about the world beyond their immediate surroundings, and to inspire them with a love of reading.

What is your favorite food?

Memphis barbecue!

What is your favorite thing to do for fun?

Inspiring and mentoring third and fourth graders! I have teamed up with my beloved husband, Alan, to bring books to life for elementary students. We affectionately call ourselves Mama and Papa K, and we feed their young hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. Yes, we eat together metaphorically and literally!

My goal is to use my life experiences and love of books to birth young activists—to help them see that they are 100% capable of changing the world for the better, starting with themselves.

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT KATHLYN

Location:

Visit Kathlyn at:

Forthcoming books:

Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: The Story of an Everyday Activist and the Making of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, Versify/HMHCo., Fall 2021

Available for School Visits:

Kathlyn and her husband Alan form “The Team Kirkwood Literacy Lab”, which brings books to life for elementary-age children through holistic engagement with text. Each story is a starting point for exploring the world, learning life skills, and developing the unique interests of each child.

Working with a wide variety of sponsors, they design activities that expand students’ horizons in multiple ways: finding a new city on a map, eating new foods, learning the lost art of the handwritten thank you note, hearing new music, and more. Their commitment to underprivileged children is simple: loving guidance to see a world beyond their immediate circumstances.