Windshield Musings

Am I the only one who finds endless inspiration behind the wheel of my car? I swear this is where most of my productive thinking takes place, when I’m driving, alone and the radio is off. (Alone is the key component, meaning the back seat is empty and I can actually hear myself think) It happened again this week.  I was driving and chewing over my latest idea and I realized the connecting theme in all the stories I’ve ever written.  It’s a subtle thread that connects stories about dragons, rain drops, watermelon and kitchen appliances.  It continues through stories about days of the week, road trips, farmers, and bears.  Clear as day, I recognized my ‘style’; or at least my current style, because I’m not so naive to think that it’ll never change. It was quite an ‘aha moment’ and it surely taught me a little about myself.

Through all my manuscripts (which is currently around the 20 mark), I continue to be inspired to elevate the status of everyday objects (ideas/people/places/things) and allow them to become something powerful.  Through explanation, imagination and sometimes personification, I try to transform these ‘ordinary’ objects and show my readers what happens when something reaches its full potential.  When the characters rise to their own occasion, my hope is that it will empower the children who read their stories to do the same. I can tell you that the total number of readers I currently have is three, and they’re a bit biased, but we’re off to a good start.

Everything, everyone and everywhere you turn you are stories waiting to be shared.  What’s even better, is that picture books also hold a component of magic you won’t find anywhere else.  The beautiful blend of words and illustrations, the magic combination of 32 pages, engaging covers, and adorable end pages bring readers of all ages to a place where life pauses and stories are shared.  Almost without fail, picture books have a lesson to teach, and these lessons are universal truths.  When the cover to a picture book is opened, and a story begins, children are immediately drawn in and adults can’t seem to resist the pull of the story either. Believe it or not, I’ve even seen the elusive teenager stop in their tracks, put down an electronic and listen as a story is read aloud. Picture books transcend and extend their magic to anyone within earshot.

Amidst the chaos and conflict that seems to engulf our world at times, I hold fast to the belief that if we empower our children we will change the world. As a mother, a woman and a writer, I seek to empower and inspire daily.  I want to tell stories that children can relate to, whether they find themselves on a farm in the country, an east coast apartment, a west coast walk-up or a houseboat in a swamp. I hope that one day, when (thinking positively) my stories become books, kids will think “that’s exactly how I feel”, “that makes perfect sense”, or even “I never thought of it that way”.  I know I’m not alone in these aspirations, which is what makes the Kid Lit community such a great one.  An enormous, encouraging group of people who believe in the power of children.  There are countless ways to tell a story and teach a lesson, thankfully there will be plenty of books to go around.  I hope you’re reading, writing, drawing or playing something fabulous today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Emma Bland Smith

Finally, we have arrived at my very first Paper People interview.  In the spirit of learning and building community, I’ve reached out to debut picture book authors about one year after their books release. I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of us who are writers consider ourselves a ‘paper person’.  More than a common personality trait, however, the name of the series is celebratory in nature. Paper is the traditional gift for a first anniversary.  It’s my hope that I can repay these authors for the advice they’ve shared, by starting another conversation about these incredible books. (Disclaimer: this is a longer post than normal, but that’s only because it’s packed to the brim with greatness!)

This month I had the pleasure of visiting with Emma Bland Smith, author of the award-winning Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf in the West.   The book is simply captivating.  Thanks so much, Emma, for taking the time to visit with us!

Emma zoo reading

I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots: Can I get you something to drink? I’ve decided that in this imaginary meet-up, it’s about 7 pm on a Friday, so I’ll take a nice glass of red wine, please!

Ah, a woman after my own heart.  The only slight change is that I’ll take a glass of white, chilled of course… it’s the only way to survive summer in the south. For starters, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?

I’ve always gravitated toward writing, but after my kids were born, I fell in love with kids’ books and decided I wanted to be part of that world. I had already written a book for adults (a nonfiction photographic history of San Francisco), but breaking into children’s book writing turned out to be way, way harder than I had expected. (Surprise!) I continued taking classes, going to conferences, and meeting with my critique group. It took me nine years (nine!) from the time I wrote my first manuscript to the day I signed with my agent.

Nine years! Talk about tenacity! What’s even more impressive is that you continue to wear many hats.  I often daydream about being a librarian and spending my day surrounded by books.  You ARE a librarian, so I’m a little envious.  How is it that you keep yourself balanced, juggling work at the library, writing and raising a family?  Where do you find time for it all?

I tend to thrive on pressure and get depressed when I have nothing to do, so somehow, on pure adrenaline, I managed to get that my master’s degree, write, and take care of my very young kids, all at the same time. (It’s crazy how much you can accomplish during nap time or two episodes of Caillou if you move at superhero speed!)

Today, I’m a substitute librarian and tend to work only about twice a week. The rest of the time, I do all the other things that it takes to keep a household running—shopping, cooking, cleaning, schlepping, home improvement, taking care of the neighbors’ cats, despairing over my son’s middle school math homework, etc. Writing isn’t always a priority, but I love it so much that I manage to fit it in. I fully admit to being a multitasker (for better or for worse) so I frequently read emails while I wash dishes and critique friends’ manuscripts or check kidlit411 in between conversations with my kids.

Oh man, so much of what you said is so true in my life too! My kids are still young, so naptime is my favorite.  But you aren’t here to talk about toddlers, are you? Let’s get to the good stuff… Was Journey the first picture book manuscript you wrote? 

Journey was not my first manuscript. When I signed with my agent, I probably had about eight polished manuscripts. In fact, I didn’t send my agent Journey until I had been with her for several months because it was different from my other work and I wasn’t confident about it. Luckily, she immediately saw the potential, sent it off to a few publishers, and to my surprise, it was acquired very quickly.

How wonderful that your agent could see the life-changing potential in it!  In a Will Write for Cookies Interview from 2016, you encouraged authors to start with an agent, as opposed to submitting directly to publishing houses.  How did you to land this agent with an eye for success? 

I submitted for years, to both agents and editors! Then one day in early 2015 I heard about the Twitter hashtag #MSWL (“manuscript wish list”) and was perusing it. I saw a post from an agency looking for picture books and sent a bunch of my manuscripts. She contacted me shortly after that and we clicked! My agent was fairly new, so she was building her client list and actively seeking new clients. I encourage writers to read the SCBWI magazine to find out about new agencies and agents.

I’m also curious about your experience working with an illustrator.  The illustrations in Journey are stunning.  I wanted to reach out and pet the wolf as I was reading!  What was it like watching your story come to life in color?

Thank you! Or rather, thank you on behalf of Robin James, the illustrator! I didn’t have any input on choosing the illustrator, but I’m thrilled with her work. I was curious more than nervous waiting to see the sketches because I knew my editor and illustrator were pros and would do a great job. And then the sketches came in and I was utterly charmed and delighted, the cover just blew me away; I never get tired of gazing at it.

Journey cover

Do you remember the first time you saw Journey on a bookstore shelf?

To be honest, the whole launch period is a bit of a blur now! (Sasquatch has a fabulous publicist!) I do remember when my husband found my two advance copies of Journey in the mail and brought them to me. And I remember the surreal feeling right before I read Journey and showed a slideshow, the night of my launch party. I’ll also never forget the moments when I learned that Journey had won two national awards! (And to go back in time a bit, I’ll really never forget learning that Sasquatch wanted to publish Journey. I cried.) I do surreptitiously visit my local bookstore about once a week to see if they’re still stocking the book. I always give the stack a little affectionate pat

If nothing else that sure sounds like good book karma.  It must be incredible to see the fruits of your labor so close to home.

You included a few pages of back matter which was a nice surprise.  I enjoyed learning more about OR7’s real journey and seeing the actual photos.  This book strikes a great balance of factual and fiction, did it ever feel like you were writing two stories?

Not exactly. I tried to maintain a similar tone, and it always felt like two parts of the same book to me. But yes, there are absolutely two distinct voices. The story alternates between the point of view of OR7, and a girl named Abby. (Abby, although fictional, is based on two real kids who really did, like her, submit the name Journey to a contest and win.) I wove a lot of informational material into the Abby parts. And when I wrote from the wolf’s POV, I worked hard to avoid anthropomorphism. Almost everything in the wolf’s sections is documented, including him playing with coyotes, meeting a female, and having pups.

I think you wove the wolf’s story in with Abby’s seamlessly, helping to highlight the power that kids have to make a big impact on their little world.  It made it very tangible for my kids.  As a mom, I think that’s what I appreciate most from your book.

Yay, and thank you! I do think having a child main character, as well as the wolf main character, makes the book more relatable for kids.

The children’s publishing industry is unique in that authors and illustrators have to create something that will sell to both parents and children.  To top it off, authors are often responsible for a majority of their own marketing.  How did you approach the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you?

Leading up to the release, there were a few blog posts and events. A new wolf exhibit opened at the SF Zoo one month before my book release. The zoo was able to order books early, and I did two story times there before the book even came out. I decided to have a launch party on the day my book released at my local indie bookstore. We had the party at night, and I provided wine and cookies. We sold out that night, so it was a good thing for the bookstore, too. Right after the release, I had a number of events and interviews, all arranged by my publisher’s publicist. After a little while, I started to do things on my own. I’ve arranged other bookstore and school visits, contacted a local newspaper, called a national park, etc. I’ve been on a few SCBWI panels, and of course, I try to stay active on social media. I’m not the greatest publicist or marketer, and I certainly prefer writing to pushing my book, but I’m trying to make an effort.

emma authors day

Continuing the spirit of celebration, Journey’s release date was October 11, 2016.  Your one year anniversary as a published author is quickly approaching! If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting to celebrate a book-iversary! How do you plan to celebrate in a couple of months?

I hadn’t thought of a book-iversary! What a fantastic idea! I’m going to think up something wonderful. Maybe I’ll donate some money to the Sierra Club (for their work protecting habitat), buy something at my local bookstore, then treat my husband, kids, and myself to a dinner out. Oh, and I’ll be sure to send something to my editor and agent! They are so much a part of this.

What’s been the most surprising thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry?

I thought that after I signed that first contract, more contracts would come rolling in immediately. As it happened, it took about 18 months. In the Kid Lit world, each manuscript is considered individually and must stand on its own merits, regardless of the author’s credentials. You can have ten published books out, and still, experience rejection.

Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance?

This is always such a tricky question! I think all the mistakes I made were part of my process. My biggest recommendation to pre-published authors is to immerse yourself in the Kid Lit world, even if just for a while. Take some online classes, check out kidlit411, go to conferences, pay for the critiques. It will give you context and perspective, and make you feel like this is something real you’re diving into, not just a cute hobby.

That’s wonderful advice.   I appreciate your honesty and persistence.  Journey was a story that needed to be told.  You have some upcoming books, including What Is It Like to Live on an Island (Little Big Foot April 2019).  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media?

Besides What Is It Like to Live on an Island? I have a nonfiction picture book called The Pig War, from Boyds Mill Press, hopefully for 2019, and a series of chapter books called Zadie Jacobs, CEO, from the educational publisher ABDO, coming in fall 2018. You can learn more at my website, http://www.emmabsmith.com, and follow me on Twitter (@emmablandsmith).

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me and becoming the first of the Paper People! 

This was so fun! Answering interview questions actually teaches me so much about myself! And I can’t wait to read about your future books, Jennifer!

Well, that’s a sweet way to end a wonderful conversation.  If you haven’t read Journey: Based on the True Story of Or7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, you should absolutely treat yourself.  It would make a wonderful addition to any public, home or classroom library. 

Join me next week as I continue down my own (hopeful) path to publication, and next month when I’ll share my conversation with Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of the adorably funny Mr. Particular.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Big Finale!

Today is a great day.  Not your run of the mill great day either; I’m talking about a ‘stars have aligned, my hair isn’t frizzy and I’m having the best cup of coffee ever’ kind of great day.  On top of all that goodness, it’s the last day before school starts in our house, the official end to our #100PictureBookSummer, marks 6th months to the day that Magnolias & Manuscripts has been in existence… and it’s my birthday. See, what I mean!

Before I talk more about our day, I want to rewind a few months.  On a not so hot, not as humid, late springtime afternoon I received an unexpected package.  Feeling confused and excited, I opened it to find one of the more thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  A dear family member surprised me with the most wonderful vote of confidence and whole hearted support, in the form of an adorable monogrammed book bag you see at the top of the post and my very own stationery.  Being the sentimental type, I cried and knew that I was holding in my hand something very significant.  The book bag lit such an enthusiastic fire under me, from a writing perspective.  I’m convinced that it’ll always stand out as a turning point in my journey.  It validated that there are people who believe in me, and on those days where I’m feeling so far from the top of this picture book mountain, I look at the bag and remember that I need to believe in myself. The bag quickly became one of my most treasured possessions and has lovingly carried each and every library haul on our 100 book journey.  Here are numbers 91-100, and I’ve included the link to the full list if you’re interested… But like I said last week, this week was all kids choice.  We went ‘off-list’ and picked ones that called to us from the library shelves. Here they are, in no particular order…

  1. Super Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
  2. Hide and Sheep by Andrea Beaty & Bill Mayer
  3. Maxwell’s Mountain by Shari Becker & Nicole Wong
  4. Jack by Tomie dePaola
  5. No Dogs Allowed by Linda Ashman & Kristin Sorra
  6. Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman
  7. Doodleday by Ross Collins
  8. My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell
  9. Llama llama, Time to Share by Anna Dewdney
  10. How this Book was Made by Mac Barnett & Adam Rex

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

In order to mark all of the goodness of today, but especially to celebrate the fact that my kids and I have eagerly devoured every part of 100 books this summer, we spend the morning at Barnes & Noble.  Being a family that is frugal and faithful library patrons the actual BUYING of books are saved for extra special occasions, and today was exactly that.  Each of our kids and their momma chose a book to add to our home library, and then we had lunch! We took our time, read a few, talked about a few more and made very careful decisions.  YC picked a favorite from week one, MC chose one that features a familiar feline, OC decided on the first of a fancy new series, and I decided to surround myself with extraordinary women. Regardless of whether you’ve been following along from number 1 or just caught the last 10, I appreciate you being here. This summer has been one for the record books, and I loved sharing our journey.  The start of school marks the end of my mid-week posts, but also the start of exciting new opportunities. h Join Emma Bland Smith and I on Sunday for a conversation about her debut picture book, Journey: Based on the story of Or7, The Most Famous Wolf in the West. As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Making Connections

I’m sure we all get it from somewhere.  After all, things like hair color, eye color, and shoe size can be easily traced to someone in our lineage, so why not creative genes too.  I’m sure painters had parents who painted, and most musicians come from musically inclined folks.  As for writers, well like I said, we get it from somewhere.  I have my mother’s eyes and nose, her smile and many of her mannerisms.  But the writing, that comes from my dad.

Everyone should be lucky enough to know the man I get to call Dad.  He has a heart of gold, with a giving spirit and all the good emotions living right below the surface.  Poor guy was out numbered from the day he became a father, surrounded by strong, opinionated women.  There were a few years in there that the scales were balanced, but then baby number three was a girl (Holla!) and it happened again.  He never complained, at least not to us. Although he did have a big burly dog that kept him company in the backyard each evening.

He’s seen to the highest of high’s and met the lowest of lows.  He works tirelessly in an unforgiving and unstable industry, having built a business and a reputation throughout his community that brings with it admiration and respect.  He laughs at his own jokes, he loves to ‘piddle’ and his boyish Cajun accent still comes out when his parents call.  My dad taught me how to make pancakes, my sister how to perfect her toe-touch and could teach men across the globe a thing or two about being a devoted family man.  Many people who know him, know all of these things… most people don’t know, he’s a writer.

I see it in his eyes when I talk about writing.  There’s an understanding that comes when I share my lessons and experiences.  He loves words, whether he’s reading or writing them like I do.  He ‘gets’ the publishing dream.  He even rhymes well!  That’s where it all starts for me, with my dad.  I feel blessed to have been given a share in those genes.

Something I’ve heard him say, regardless of where I am in life is “It’s about making connections.” Those words, coupled with a deep-seated desire to play an active role in the Kid Lit community spawned the birth of Paper People.   Starting next week, and following on the second Sunday of each month, I invite you to follow along and learn from newly published authors alongside me.  For those of us still on the pre-published side of the fence, those who are published seem like they have it all.  There are some wildly successful picture book authors who serve as mentors to many.  I’m lucky enough to have learned from a few of them.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that newly published authors have a lot to teach as well… if someone would just ask.  So, that’s what I started doing, making connections and asking questions.  I honed in on debut picture book authors one year after their books release, assuming the honeymoon phase is over and the real work has long since begun.  It bodes well for me that I am inquisitive in nature and am a newly discovered extrovert.  I’m excited to share with our conversations. I’m also excited to bring back to the surface these incredible books, that have moved over to make room for the new releases.

I’m grateful to my dad for countless lessons that he’s taught me over the years but the example he set when he found the courage to blaze his own trail is one of the biggest.  I am always in search of the paths that I’m supposed to take, and on the lookout for places where a new one can be created.  Happy Birthday to the man who is my favorite writer and (one of) my biggest fan(s). Thanks, BG, for blazing your own trails.

(I did have a bit of a schedule change) Please join me next week when I share my interview with Emma Bland Smith.  Her debut picture book is the award winning, Journey: Based on the True Story of Or7, The Most Famous Wolf in the West.  Emma blends facts and fiction seamlessly as she allows her main character, Abby, to have a profound impact on her environment.  Journey is one of those rare picture books that easily transcends her target audience and is loved by children of all ages.  I’m eager to share our conversation, she had fascinating things to say.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week Nine!

We’ve started cashing in! Well it turns out we should have been doing that all summer long, but we started cashing in on Summer Reading prizes nonetheless. The theme is Building Better Readers, so my kids have made lego characters and filled tool boxes that are displayed on the wall.  We even had a silly and sweet pizza lunch yesterday thanks to the ‘Free Kids Buffet’ coupons they earned.  (Don’t worry, we started at the salad bar… which is good because we ended with chocolate pizza!)  My kids are proud of their accomplishments, and I’m just proud that I could see this challenge through.  Ten more books and we’ll hit our 100-book mark, and just in time because school starts next week.  We’ve strayed from the list a bit more, with OC asking for chapter books and my boys asking to ‘pick their own’.  I guess taking a stack from the hold shelf doesn’t hold the same appeal.  So, most of the list below are from Book Nerd Mommy’s 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading list, but the next ten are all ‘kids pick’.  Also, I have a fun celebration planned for next Wednesday, which happens to also be my birthday AND the last official day of summer. It’s going to be great.

  1. 1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman & Colin Jack
  2. Flora the Flamingo by Molly Idle
  3. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell & David Catrow
  4. Ninja by Aree Chung
  5. I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black & Debbie Ridpath Ohi
  6. More Pies by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko
  7. Where Are The Words? By Jodi McKay & Denise Holmes
  8. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson
  9. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  10. The Best Pirate by Sue Mongredien & Dan Taylor

Here’s the full list: http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

As I wind down my Wednesday posts with the challenge next week, I have one more ‘guest reviewer’ to introduce to you.  YC, as he’s known here, is a man of many aliases and can often be found wearing dingy white tube socks and someone else’s shoes.  He’s the entertainer of the bunch. Sitting on the brink of the magical age of four, he’s part toddler, part ‘big boy’ and all heart. YC provides countless laughs every day.  He quotes movies… appropriately in conversation, he’s the first to give hugs, smothers me with adorable kisses and is the proud owner of countless imaginary friends. (Toby is a dragon, Zack is a bear, and there’s a whole herd of ‘his kids’ that tag along too).

If I really get down to the bottom of who he is, inside that precious little body is a boy appropriately and adorably sure of himself, as only a ‘threenager’ can be.  He’s the one who likes to swing higher and driver faster, he possesses an on-point comedic timing and he doesn’t hesitate to stand up for himself (even to kids more than twice his age/size).  Something about his personality exudes a confidence and a calmness that is contagious.  When I find myself in the midst of a motherly-spiral, he gives me a hug, and I immediately start to calm down.  (If you read between the lines here, I just pointed out that like any good third born, he knows exactly how to work the system and when he needs to turn up the charm to stay on my good side. Did I mention that he’s funny?)  I asked YC what it was he likes most about reading.  He ‘loves when someone says the words to (him).’   I’m guessing that means while he’s sitting on their lap because he still fits perfectly there.  As the last line of the last book says, YC is “…the smallest, the bravest, (one of) the best.”

So that wraps up their time in the Magnolias spotlight and nearly wraps up our summer.  I hope you join me next week for numbers 91-100, and to hear how the four of us celebrate our success.  I also hope you’ll join me here Sunday, for the first of my Paper People interviews!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP