Being a good aunt often brings sweet rewards. For Courtney Sheinmel, it unexpectedly brought a publishing contract from Sleeping Bear Press for her books starring eight-year-old Stella Batts, whose parents own a candy store in their California suburb. “I had a young niece who complained that I never wrote anything she could read,” Sheinmel explains. “The first Stella Batts book is dedicated to her. It was initially written for a very private reason, and I never thought it would become a book. But then I thought, ‘I may as well get paid for it!’ ”
Stella is the first character Sheinmel has created for younger readers, having first come on the publishing scene in the middle-grade fiction arena. Her debut novel, My So-Called Family, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008 and was the culmination of a long-held dream. “Writing was the only thing I wanted to do my whole life,” she says. “When I had writing classes in school, it felt like a vacation.”
Sheinmel finished her studies at Barnard College in 1999 with a degree in English and a writing concentration, but rather than pursue her passion professionally, she took a safety net detour and enrolled in law school, noting, “writing is not very lucrative.” During the subsequent six years that she practiced law, Sheinmel admitted that she was not very happy. “So, one morning in 2005, I woke up and decided that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to start writing,” she recalls. “I got an agent, got a publisher, then quit my job and never looked back.”
Sheinmel now writes full-time in addition to making school visits and teaching writing workshops for kids through Writopia Lab, a nonprofit organization in New York City. Since Sheinmel is a New Yorker, the trek to BEA is a familiar and convenient trip for her, and she has attended the convention for the past several years. She especially enjoys going to her friends’ signings. “I love watching them in their professional element,” she notes. “I’m so proud of them.” And there’s another reason Sheinmel takes pleasure in visiting the Javits Center in support of books and writing: “It’s the same place I took the bar exam,” she says. “Now I really like being there for a joyful occasion.”
Sheinmel will joyfully be signing copies of book two in her series, Stella Batts: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow at Table 12 in the autographing area. Then she will be at the Cengage Learning/Sleeping Bear Press booth to introduce booksellers to the third title in her series, Stella Batts: Pardon Me.