Tie your rafts.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I’d be lost without my critique group” or “my critique partners got me to where I am today”.  What’s a critique partner you ask?  It’s how we say ‘friend’ in kid lit-anese.  Trust me when I say, a writer in this world is nothing without them.  Tying your raft to a good and trusted partner, or an active and engaged group is the difference between floating alone in the Kid Lit ocean or floating with others, who bring drinks, chips, and dip and maybe even a karaoke machine.  You’re all still floating, but tied together will be much more fun!  It’s the strangest thing, sitting patiently while a good friend takes a red ball point pen to your latest creation, and magically, in the end, everyone wins.

Let me back up a little bit.  Only a couple of months back, I felt like the most eager, but isolated writer on the planet.  I shared here, many times, about my struggle to find my place in the community.  Then as the weeks passed, connections were made.   Some happened thanks to blogs, this one or others.  Different forms of social media have played a role, and as always seems to happen, the world grew smaller and connections bloomed from right under my own nose.  If you’re reading this and feeling like you’re bobbing alone, missing out on the party, I’d love to share some of the places I’ve met friends.

  • Facebook, seems obvious but there are so many groups it can be daunting. Some are active, others are not.  Some allow for good news to be shared, others only allow for questions to be asked and craft to be discussed.  I’ve found a critique group through Facebook, and there’s also a steady stream of blog posts and interviews that appear, always filled with new and exciting authors, or advice from the more seasoned ones.  This is really the best place to build a community.
  • Instagram is filled with book reviews and ‘beyond the book’ activities. It seems like each day there are one hundred book reviews, new and old.  Publishing houses post here too.
  • Twitter… sigh, I have an account now, but I still don’t really get it. I have heard that this is THE place to get info from agents and editors, and all around general kid lit news.   Using things like #MSWL (manuscript wish list) you can find out firsthand what they are all searching for and get a feel for whether you would be a good fit.
  • The Writers Match. This is a fantastic website that offers all the benefits of social media without the drama/excess.  The Writers Match is a place to help writers find critique partners, which hopefully turn into long and fruitful friendships.  You’re able to create a small bio, select what genre you’re interested in critiquing (anything you want is there, way more than just kid lit) and send private messages back and forth. I’ve had a wonderful experience since joining. thewritersmatch.com
  • Blogs! This is what’s always exciting for me because it’s the reason Magnolias was created.  I was in search of a community and convinced that others were out there too.  I’m fortunate enough to have crossed paths and connected with a few of them, and I’d like to introduce you to their sites as a way of saying thank you.  We have a lot of similarities between us, but we are all in different stages of this journey.

https://meganhaslemjones.wordpress.com/ Megan and I are kindred spirits, who met through NaPiBoWriWee.  We live on opposite ends of the country, but I’m convinced we were next door neighbors in a previous life, living in a cute little cul de sac with a certain other someone (*cough*Jody *cough*) living in between and balancing us out.

https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com/ I am lucky enough to be in the same critique group as Julie.  We quickly discovered that our writing styles are similar and personally we have a lot in common.  She even has a Cajun connection!  Our journeys started around the same time and continue to mirror each others I hope this doesn’t change.

http://www.patriciasaunders.com/ About ten years ago, I spent part of two summers living with my aunt and helping at a camp for gifted kids that Patricia was teaching at.  Fast forward to current day, and unbeknownst to be, she’s chasing a similar dream.  That same aunt helped me reconnect with her and she’s taken me under her wing and nudged me in the right direction on more than one occasion.  Her debut picture book, and a second, will hit bookstore shelves soon!

And finally, http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/  Randi was probably one of the first connections I made and has been a gracious mentor and friend.  Her debut picture book is due out this summer!! You can learn more about Maggie, and her journey to publication at the link posted.  Randi has a couple of other websites, including an e-magazine that she publishes. They’ve all been filled with great information. I’m honored to be a part of her book launch team next month! Stay tuned for more!

This is surely not a list of everyone’s path I’ve been fortunate enough to cross, but they are all wonderful writers who I’m lucky to call friends.  If you have a moment, check out their websites and read their take on this wonderful journey.  As always, I appreciate you spending time here.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week Three of Our #100PictureBookSummer.

This week, the local chapter of SCBWI held a panel on ‘Creating Books for Children’ and the different avenues of publishing (traditional vs self).  I’ve not been able to make it to any SCBWI meetings prior to this one, but for a first timer, it surely did not disappoint.  It was energizing and inspiring to be in a room full of like-minded people from right here in my own community.  Because of this meeting, our library haul came in a little later than usual, but my kids have not wasted any time diving in. (To clarify, SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)

Here’s our list for the week, and again, I’ve included the link to the Book Nerd Mommy post containing the entire list of 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading.

  1. Puddle Pug by Kim Norman
  2. Through the Forest by Stephanie Broccoli and Catherin Bidet
  3. Corduroy by Don Freeman
  4. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert
  5. ..Jane by Patrick McDonell
  6. What A Wonderful World by Bob Thiele and George Scieszka
  7. Rain by Linda Ashman and Christian Robinson
  8. The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso
  9. Float by David Miyares
  10. Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal

 http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

(Jamberry continues to elude me! I’ve read the adorable story; I want my kids to read it too but I can’t seem to get my hands on a copy.  Each year we make strawberry jam, except we call it jelly… and I think it’s technically strawberry preserves but you get the point.  Jamberryyyyyy, where are youuuuuu?)

I don’t plan to make a habit out of this, but I went out of order on the list.  Float and Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt are two that wouldn’t have come home this week had I not, but I’m sure glad they did.  What’s great about this group of books is that theme, which is summed up in the title of one of its own, What A Wonderful World.  From learning about Dr. Jane Goodall to the magic world of earthworms that exists below the surface.  The stories in these books embraced the wonders of the world in which we all live, even if sometimes those wonders includes the perfect puddle for jumping.  I’m making a prediction here, all three of my guest reviewers will choose the same book from the stack.  Never mind what mom thinks, what does she know anyway?

 

And I was right, today’s favorite was…

The Snurtch–  (spoiler alert!) OC says, “In the beginning, the Snurtch is always bothering her but then everyone realizes they have their own Snurtches”.  MC and YC agreed, calling the book “hilarious” and “silly” respectively.  That’s high praise for boys their age.

(YC wanted to make sure that Puddle Pug was listed as an Honorable Mention, “because, Mom, you see, there’s dogs and puddles and I like that too.”)

Ironically, or not, all our ‘snurtches’ were out in full force this morning, so I thought it a perfect opportunity for us each to describe them, hoping they would run and hide.  Mine is orange, with yellow hair and horns.  OC decided hers was “teal, and turquoise, and purple, and black, and blue with some brown.”  MC is fully immersed in the ‘imitation is the greatest form of flattery’ phase, otherwise known as ‘I’m going to say exactly what my mom says’ so his was also orange, but with some nudging, has black hair and bull horns.  YC’s is green (as is everything in his life) with green eyes and green hair.

We still have a couple of days to love on this stack of books.  I hope you have something good to read on this warm Wednesday afternoon as well!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Happy Birthday-ish!

This week I’ll celebrate a birthday of sorts.  Not my actual birthday, though today is my sisters …Happy Birthday, AC! But this coming Thursday, June 15 will mark one year, to the day, that my first picture book manuscript was written.  I had been struggling with the desire to write for years, although at times I couldn’t identify the urge.  I started with a novel.  Eesh… then for a while most of my reading was Lifestyle/Parenting Blogs… I tried my hand at that too.  It took me entirely too long to realize that I was completely avoiding the genre that called out the loudest to me.  If I’m honest, I probably ignored the internal call to write picture books for six months before acquiescing myself to the idea. Even then I waited for the inspiration but to bite. Then one day, while traveling home from a business trip, enjoying the summer sunshine and the quiet car… BAM… it happened and Nathan’s story was born.  In fact, I remember being so overwhelmed with excitement and inspiration that I started talking out loud to myself and did so for the rest of the drive home.  For the next few days, I was completely preoccupied with the story, until I finally sat down and on June 15 put in on paper.  The preoccupation hasn’t lessened, and my desire to write has only grown.  It’s been a wonderful year. It’s been a stressful year.  I’ve been fortunate to make some exciting connections and have bigger, more exciting adventures on the horizon.

I love the original draft of Nathan’s story, and I can still recite it in its entirety.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it could be a poster child for’ Everything You Shouldn’t Do When You Write a Picture Book’.  I literally made every mistake in the book.  The ones I didn’t make, I can promise you I made in the second draft.  The Original, as I’ve affectionately named it, rhymed with no reason or method to it, opened with a terrible cliché, had almost no conflict, and his mother was the protagonist.  It held no character development, no story arc, a preachy-theme and too many words.  It was a hot mess.  Thankfully I’ve learned a lot, though I still do love the mess.  What I love more, however, is where the story stands now.

My birthday present to myself, and to Nathan is a contest.  Rate Your Story, a website that allows its members to submit stories to editors and authors for feedback, hosts an annual contest open to members and non-members alike.  (I’m not a member, but I’ve love to hear from you if you are!) The 2017 RYS contest opens for entries from July 15th-July 31st and I do believe he’s grown up enough to enter.  I’ve enjoyed the experience of sending my kids off to school for the first time, and I hope this contest is no different.  I have a month to make sure his uniform fits, his hair is trimmed and there’s no food on his face.   My opener is cute, there are no rhymes, he is his own hero and I finished in just under 500 words.  His mom only makes a cameo and no longer has any speaking lines, though his younger sister shines in a lovable supporting role. He’s met two freelance editors, and been through eight different critique partners! It’s not always easy to read feedback on my work, but I’m so grateful for every bit that I’ve received.  I think my boy is as ready as he’ll ever be.

Another thing I’m treating myself to this summer is learning more about the world of Non-Fiction Picture Book writing.  As a science and history buff, it seems obvious that I would enjoy this style of writing but I’ve not yet exposed myself to this side of the industry.  Thanks to some guidance and encouragement, I’m signed up for a weeklong on-line seminar called WOW-NonFicPic, hosted by Kristen Fulton.  This will almost certainly be something I expound upon here as I learn more… that’s the point of all this blogging, after all.  I’ve included the link to both the contest and the seminar below in case you want more information.

https://rateyourstory.blogspot.com/p/writing-contest.html

http://www.kristenfulton.org/wow-nonficpic.html

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

JP

Week Two of Our #100PictureBookSummer

What a fun week of books this has been!  There was something for everyone in this stack. As we made our way through numbers 11-20, each day my kiddos had a new favorite.  In fact, it was hard to get them to commit to one, but I finally managed, thanks to a little wheeling & dealing.  (Toddlers are the world’s best negotiators.) Here’s our list:

  1. When Sophie Gets Angry… Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
  2. If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano & Erin E Stead
  3. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen & John Schoenherr
  4. Frederick by Leo Lionni
  5. Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
  6. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  7. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson & Beth Krommes
  8. Tin Lizzie by Allan Drummond (this one was a substitution, I couldn’t find Pedal Power by Allan Drummond)
  9. Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
  10. Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds.

If you’re just joining us on our #100PictureBookSummer, here’s the link to Book Nerd Mommy’s 100 Picture Books for your Summer Reading that we’re following.

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

I couldn’t put my finger on an underlying theme through all ten books this week, but there were lessons there for sure.  In Owl Moon, Tin Lizzie and If You Want to See a Whale, it was one of patience and persistence.  Going Places and Frederick celebrated those who think outside the box, and Hooray for Hat and When Sophie Gets Angry… helped to illustrate emotions and simple, silly ways to overcome those which are not so fun.  Tin Lizzie also did a beautiful job starting a conversation of conservation (tongue twister) and change.

I can’t pick a favorite, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment I do want to share a sweet story.  We live in such a rural area that it takes two libraries (and two library cards) to get all 10 books each week.  I try to get as many as I can from our local, small town library, and Owl Moon was one of those.  As the rest of my family was running around, burning off the last of their summer evening energy, I picked up Owl Moon and snuck to my room to enjoy it in quiet.  As I opened the cover, I stumbled upon a touching and tender surprise.  Twenty-nine years ago, I lost my older brother.  My parents channeled their grief and honored his memory in many ways over the years.   I’m not sure if they even remember all that they did to help my sisters and I to remember him. I am fairly certain that when they bought and donated a book to the library in his honor, they never thought about the effects it would have almost thirty years later.  As I looked on the inside cover of Owl Moon, I saw his name, my parent’s name, and my own.  It was like I had been given a heavenly hug and a playful nudge of affirmation.  I was quick to share the moment with my own family, and I savored every word of the book (amidst the running, jumping and squealing in the background).  I guess I do have a favorite, after all.

*Sniffing & clearing my throat*… And now, on to my guest reviewers…

They were asked, “Which book was your favorite? Why?” and then I elaborated a bit.

OC- When Sophie Gets Angry… Really, Really Angry.  Her opinion, “I like that book because it teaches a great lesson about how you can’t be rude” … In my opinion, OC identified with Sophie because she roars when she’s angry too.  It always takes her a while, but she usually figures out how to channel her emotions and work through her ‘volcanic explosions.’

MC- Owl Moon.  His opinion, “I think it was super cool how they went looking for owls in the night time!” … In my opinion, MC is fascinated with the tree line, aka ‘woods’ behind our house and the animals that live there.  We do hear owls from time to time, we’ll just have to try and spot one now. (Thankfully minus the snow.)

YC- Hooray for Hat.  In his words, “I love the grumpy elephant and all the hats!” … My opinion, YC is three… he loves hats and all things silly. End of story.

Time to place holds on our next week stash… so glad you’re following along!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

PS- these opinions are just that, opinions… and kid’s opinions at that.  Our ‘reviews’ are only my attempt to keep my children engaged in their summer reading and taking the stories deeper than face value.  We are (obviously) not compensated for these reviews… of library books… by toddlers.

Game Plan.

I’m going to give away a little of myself as a sports fan and tell you, today I called an audible.  For those of you who are football fans, you get the analogy.  If you aren’t, an audible is when the quarterback changes the play on the line of scrimmage in the seconds before the ball is snapped.  I had a post ready for today, and it was uncharacteristically somber for me.  In a nutshell, I’ve found myself struggling lately, having lost sight of all that I have in the shimmery fog of all that I want.  To quote my previously written, then scratched blog post ‘I could share the internal conversations I’ve been having, but I’ll spare you the gritty, melodramatic details.  Let’s just say there’s a healthy mixture of envy, irritation, frustration and impatience.’

Thankfully, one well-timed blog post and two nuggets of information saved my spiral. For starters, Bookends, Literacy Agency posted a short and sweet kick-you-in-the-pants-and-keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize blog post about believing in yourself and your story.  It struck a nerve with me, in the best possible way, and helped me to remember what’s most important.  I believe in all my stories, but Nathan, my first-born protagonist, has taught me so much. I believe in Nathan, and I believe in his story.  That should be all the motivation I need to keep pushing on.  Sure, I’ll keep wrestling with doubt.  It’s only natural to think that I’ll feel incredibly self-conscious as this journey continues, this is all uncharted waters.   But I owe it to Nathan, and the others, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Secondly, I found out about two conferences that are, believe it or not, in my neck of the woods, and both in October.  The best news, both are both being visited by agents I was hoping to query.  Coincidence? I don’t believe in such things.  I need to sit with this a while, but I’m sure we’ll talk more about it one day.

Then earlier this evening, I had a small revelation.  My natural instinct is to move fast.  I’m decisive and quick to act. I value efficiency in others consider that, at times, one of my strongest traits.  You don’t need to know much about the publishing industry to know that it operates at a very different speed.  I can be patient, but this persistent patience is a beast of a different color.  So, I have a choice; I can continue to resist the slower and more deliberate pace of this industry, making headache and heartache for myself, or I can reset and realign, embracing the time that I’ve been given to sharpen my skills.  No doubt this lesson will be a work in progress, but let’s get started.

So. I have two conferences on my horizon, with an entire summer ahead of me to hone my skills, read more picture books, and fill my tool box.  The other manuscripts waiting in my wonderful blue binder can now get the attention they deserve, and I can continue to document my journey and expand my network.  I think this sounds like a mighty fine game plan indeed.

Down, Set, Hut…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP