Today, I’m thrilled to share with my interview with Randi Lynn Mrvos whose debut picture book release is right around the corner. I hope you enjoy getting to know Randi & Maggie’s story as much as I have the past few months!
Randi, thanks so much for joining me here today. This must be such an exciting time; your debut picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell is only days away from its release. Congratulations my friend!
I’ll start from the beginning, about six months ago, I found my way to your blog The Maggie Project. I was just starting my own and was immediately drawn to you because of your medical background. (I found a kindred spirit!) Can you tell us all a little about yourself and how you changed course and started writing for children? I loved creative writing in high school, but my parents wanted me to get a degree in the medical field. After I graduated college, I got a job as a Medical Technologist at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and worked in the clinical laboratory for over twenty years. I didn’t think about writing until our daughter was born. Every night before bedtime, my husband and I read picture books to her. These books awoke a long-buried desire to be creative and to write again.
Was Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell the first picture book manuscript you wrote? Actually, I had written five picture book manuscripts before Maggie. And, there have been several more manuscripts written after Maggie. Many of my stories won prizes, and I thought that would make a good selling point. But it takes more than winning contests to get published. Publishers want to fall head-over-heels in love with the character, the voice, and the plot of a story.
When you were starting out, what resources did you use to learn about the writing process and improve your craft? What are the best tools you have in your tool box now? When I got serious about writing, I took a class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in my hometown Lexington, Kentucky. For one of our projects, we had to write a children’s book. My first book was called “Are We There Yet?” I actually believed that after one writing class that my first story would get published. So naïve. But those rejections were a wake-up call. I needed to learn more about writing picture books and the publishing industry. So, I became a member of SCBWI, read writer’s magazines, attended writer’s conferences and workshops and studied picture books as well as books on the craft of writing for children.
Two of my favorite writing books are Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.
Oh, I love Ann Whitford Paul’s book! One of my critique partners refers to it as the ‘Picture Book Bible’. I need to get my hands on the Children’s Writer’s Word Book now.
Since the day our paths crossed you’ve been an incredible mentor to me. Were there specific people who helped you at the beginning of your journey? Who do you look up to now, as a kid lit writer? I know from firsthand experience how hurtful it can be when published writers refuse to lend a helping hand. I am flattered that writers seek me out, so I’m eager to reach out and encourage others.
My husband Jim is the biggest influence in my life. In fact, he is my editor. Jim often tells me I am off to a good start (which is a nice way to say the story needs more work).
There are four people to whom I look up to and admire. My creative director and editor Melissa Carrigee has guided me throughout the publishing process. Editor Chuck Sambuchino advocated the importance of getting an agent. Award-winning author Evelyn Christensen has been a generous, graceful and kind-hearted friend and Mary Kole gave me spot-on editorial advice.
Now, let’s focus on Maggie!! When I started following you, you had just reopened the site. After deciding to shelve The Maggie Project, you took a five-year hiatus. It appears Maggie took the scenic route to publication. Can you tell us a little about your journey with this book? What was it that made you pull her off the shelf and try again? I shelved Maggie because it was rejected by 50 publishers. I began other writing projects and focused on a story about Parisian carousel pony called Rosie. But it was déjà vu all over again. Rosie was repeatedly rejected. I was frustrated and wanted to understand how to get out of this rut, so I hired editorial consultant Mary Kole. She offered to take a look at Rosie and three query letters. I pulled out the query for Maggie. That prompted me to re-read the story. I was surprised to find that I still liked it. But the publishing industry had changed since Maggie was written. Long picture books were a thing of the past, and because Maggie was close to 1000 words long, 500 words needed to be cut if I ever entertained the thought of submitting the story again. I decided it would be a good writing exercise to see if I could edit the piece. Afterward, I liked the story even better. I sent Mary the query letter for Maggie, two additional queries, and the story about Rosie. Mary’s remarks encouraged me to submit Maggie again (and now, Rosie sits on a shelf!)
Can you tell us about the day you got ‘The Call?’ Those are my favorite kind of stories! The “call” was actually an email. Last November, my husband and I decided to celebrate our birthdays in New Orleans. Two weeks before leaving, Maggie was submitted to five publishers. Before we left I received a rejection, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin our celebration. While in NOLA, I was dying to get my fortune read by a psychic in Jackson Square. She invited me to sit at her table. She asked me to choose a crystal gem and three cards and then make three wishes (One of the wishes was to get a book published.) After studying the gem and the cards, she told me to expect good things. The very next evening before dinner, I checked my messages. There was a curious email. Surprisingly, it was from an agent. She had written: I like your book! Sometimes, wishes really do come true.
Ohhh, that’s a fabulous New Orleans story and a wonderful birthday surprise! I bet the Crescent City has a special place for you now. If you ever visit again you must let me know!
We’ve talked some about your experience working with an illustrator. You were able to help with the final selection, which I think is incredible! What was it like seeing Maggie and the other characters come to life? Working with a small press like Cactus Moon Publications has many benefits. One of the benefits was having the incredible opportunity to “audition” illustrators. I chose the amazingly talented Emiliano Billai. When I first saw Maggie, my heart melted. It was like seeing a newborn child for the first time. It was incredible! Emiliano was able to interpret the text and capture Maggie’s personality.
Randi is also the editor or an online magazine for kids called Kids Imagination Train. I’m curious, do you think your experience as editor of the e-zine helped you along your publishing journey? Can you elaborate a little about KIT and your work there? Being an editor has helped me grow as a writer because I read a lot of submissions and have learned to recognize the strengths and weakness in manuscripts.
Kid’s Imagination Train was conceived to encourage kids to read and learn as well as to offer writers a market for their work. We have book reviews, fiction, poetry, puzzles, and nonfiction for kids ages 5 – 12. KIT is unique in that it engages children by providing them the opportunity to draw for the magazine and to have their pictures published online. We even have an audio page where children may listen to their favorite features! How cool is that? Our little magazine is remarkable. Everyone on the staff donates their time and talents so we can keep the magazine free for kids.
The cover of the latest issue makes me want to jump headfirst into a swimming pool! My daughter is hard at work on the Body Parts crossword puzzle too.
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during the publishing process? When writers work with a small press, they must do a lot of promotion. I knew this was required, but I was surprised how much time and hard work was involved. In the beginning, I was clueless and scared—I had never marketed a book before. But with the guidance of the creative director and by researching how others promote their books, I began to understand what was needed to develop an exciting and unique marketing plan.
I’ve had a blast as a member of your book launch team for the past few weeks! What are your plans moving forward? After the book is released in August, it will be time to contact the local news media, schedule book signings and reading engagements, apply to book festivals, and coordinate with animal advocacy groups. Meeting and greeting fans is what I look forward to the most.
And I thought it best to end with a fun one, there’s a dog in your story… so if you could be any dog (or breed of dog) for a day, which one and why? You know, I’m actually a cat person…but if I could be a dog it would be a basenji. Never heard of the basenji? It’s a barkless dog (though it growls, whimpers and whines). The basenji is intelligent and stubborn.
So when is Maggie’s official book birthday (release date)? And where can readers find you on social media? There is no official date yet, but we’re expecting the book to be released in August.
Thanks again for joining us today!! On Tuesday, August 1, I’ll have a guest blog on Randi’s OTHER website, Children’s Writers World where I’ll talk a little about my own manuscript, and the best writing advice I’ve ever received. (Guess who it came from?)
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!