Hooray for Halloweensie!

One of the most enjoyable parts of this writing community comes in the form of contests & challenges. This is my first year participating in Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie contest, but surely not my last. I’ve included a snippet from her blog, explaining the rules below. (Oh, I also borrowed the jack-o-lantern from her blog! I wanted to keep with the theme, you know?)

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.)  Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)  Get it?  Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people 🙂  (And yes, I know 100 words is short, but that’s part of the fun and the challenge!  We got nearly 150 fantastic entries last year, so I know you can do it!)  Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. monsters, monstrous, shadowy, shadowed, whathaveyou 🙂  NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! (And yes, you may submit more than one entry if you’re so inclined 🙂 ) https://susannahill.com/2017/10/16/bic-folks-announcing-the-7th-annual-halloweensie-writing-contest-guidelines/  

And without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to…. (drumroll)

Candie’s Monster Shadows

Candie Corn was excited; it was her favorite night of the year!

She loved everything from costumes to yummy treats.

Her problem was the scary shadows.

This year will be different, she thought, putting on her costume. I’ll pretend they’re something else.

Later, when trick-or-treating was over, she headed home.

One shadow looked like a spider. “You’re just a hand,” she said, giving a wave.

The next resembled a bat, “but I’ll make you a butterfly!”

“And you’re not a monster you’re a monkey!” she giggled.

She tricked away every shadow until she was Home Treat Home.

 

I hope you’re all having fabulous fall weather! Best of luck to all the other Halloweensie participants. I can’t wait to read your fabulous posts!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

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The hat.

I spent all of Monday with a baseball cap on my head.  This is strange for two reasons: First, I don’t wear hats more than a handful of times in any given year; but Monday was unusually blustery and my hair was ten kinds of dirty.  Second, the logo on the hat was for a company that had long been one of my husband’s biggest competitors but they recently purchased the company he worked for.  Now they aren’t the competition, instead, they pay the bills. If you’ve been a part of something similar, then you can imagine the stress we’ve been living with.  Thankfully, the unknown and instability of the past few months have smoothed out and the future looks promising. (No pink slips here!) Monday was a turning point for me, and I wore the hat as a concrete symbol of embracing this new chapter.  I’m going to pause here for a second, and tell you about last weekend.

Last weekend I attended my first writers’ conference. It’s a little ridiculous that I’m so far into this journey and hadn’t made my way to a conference, but that’s the truth. So, my first conference was the Bayou Writer’s Group Conference.  It was a perfect first time. I learned so many lessons that I could fill my next six weeks of blog posts. In addition to my first conference, it was my first in-person pitch session. My performance was less than stellar. You and I don’t know each other well enough yet for me to be completely candid, but truly, I did not do well.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to. I hoped to, of course, but I realize that it was uncharted waters and what I needed more than anything was just to jump in and get the first one over with. (I consider myself an optimistic realist.) I’ve affectionately named those fifteen minutes as “the first pancake”.  You get the analogy, I’ll spare you the details.

As I was unpacking and digesting the experience over lunch, a couple hours following my pitch. I had an interesting revelation, which continued through the week.  I did not pitch well, that’s a fact. More importantly, what I did not do well, was ‘talk the talk.’  I think that somewhere along the way I decided that I’ll only feel validated and confident as a writer once I have an agent/sell a book, aka once I ‘have something to show for it.’.  I’ve talked to enough authors, both debut and veteran to know that is far from the truth, but that’s still what I was trying to believe. It was during that lunch, talking to a YA author, whose debut book is due out next summer that I realized what I was so desperately lacking. She held herself with such confidence. She delivered her pitch to me perfectly, without stuttering, while holding perfect eye contact and using the right inflection and emotion. It was an inspiring performance.  As I commented to her on her confidence, she gave me the most wonderful, real-life advice, “It takes practice.”  Light bulb moment, folks. Of course, it does! Not only the pitch itself but talking the talk of a writer.  I have a ‘writers’ hat, but unlike the cap I wore Monday, I’ve been reluctant to wear it well.  My pitch did not go well because there was no confidence behind it.

I can’t sit around waiting for someone else to validate my journey. I can’t search for confidence anywhere else aside from inside of me. I’ll never land an agent, or a publishing deal if I can’t be ‘the whole package’, and that includes doing the hard work, both on paper and in person.  In all fairness, I consider my pitch an ‘ugly win.’ I accomplished what I hoped, I left with her business card and a trunk full of lessons of what to do differently.  I did it, I dove in.  Until my next conference, I can (and will) practice my pitches so that I’m ready. More importantly, I’ll walk with more confidence, at conferences and otherwise, even if it’s the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind.   I’ll find a way to wear that writer’s hat and wear it well.

I’m so excited to be participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest, so stay tuned for my itty-bitty Halloween story to be posted here on Friday.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Liz Wong

Believe it or not, this month I had the chance to interview another talented author/illustrator!  Quackers by Liz Wong is a charming story about a cat named Quackers and how he finds his place in the world.  There are so many good things happening for both Liz and this precious book right now that I’m just going to dive right in! 

Thanks so much for being here, Liz!  I have to tell you that my kids and I enjoyed Quackers immensely! I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots… “Can I get you something to drink?” I’m from the Seattle area, so I’ll go with coffee. I drink A LOT of coffee.

I’ll never turn down a cup of coffee! Make it two, please. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children?  I started out as an artist, and went to college intending to be a ceramic artist. I ended up making other crafts instead (bags and greeting cards) and eventually, other crafters started asking me to make illustrations for them. I had never given much thought to illustration but, hey, people wanted to give me money to draw things! Cool! At that point, I stumbled upon a program for children’s illustration and realized that was the perfect fit for me.

Many years later, I began to realize that if I wanted to get published, I was much more likely to get published if I wrote and illustrated my own story, instead of hoping that an art director would see my work at the right time and match it up with a story. It took about a year of my book being out before I would identify myself as a writer.

You just answered my next question! Is there one hat that’s easier to wear, Author or Illustrator? So, for you it’s illustrator.  What is your biggest struggle as a writer? Writing does not come easily for me. Although I am a person who loves words, stringing them into a coherent and meaningful story is a serious struggle. There is some advantage to being an author and an illustrator, however, since there are many parts of the story that can be told through the images. I tend to go back and forth between manuscript and images as I am working on the story, and having that control over the story and flexibility to switch back and forth makes forming the story easier for me.

In an earlier interview of yours, from Kidlit 411, you included a glance into your illustration process.  I saw a few pages of a dummy there.  How crucial is the making of a dummy to your process? I absolutely have to make a dummy. I am very visual and tactile and need to be able to flip the pages in order to see if it works as a story and the pacing feels right. Since the illustration part of the process is the easier part for me, once I start sketching, I can more quickly identify what I need to fix. I’ll stare at a manuscript forever and think, “Is this bad? Is this good? I can’t tell!” Once I start on thumbnail sketches and once it makes it into dummy form I can see its potential as a book.

Was Quackers your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’?  Quackers was a few manuscripts in – I had probably written four or five before I got to Quackers, though to be honest, I’m not sure how many terrible stories I have hidden in various drawers around the house.

I had the idea for Quackers about nine years ago! I put it away for years because I also had a baby about nine years ago, and I was also in the midst of changing my illustration style. I had gone through a couple of truly awful drafts before it was put away. When I was finally ready to work on it, I was a much better writer and illustrator, so it came together relatively quickly. It just took about six years for it to simmer before I was ready for it.

So, your formula for Quackers was: allow inspiration to come to a rolling boil, produce a few drafts, reduce heat, simmer for 6 years, and BAM, a book is born. Which reminds me, your release date was March 22, 2016… I’m late! Happy Book-iversary!  Did you celebrate the first anniversary of your book’s debut? You know, I don’t think I did anything special, but I had a few pieces of good news that had come in around that time so I had plenty to celebrate, such as being a finalist for the Irma Black Award and being selected as the 2017 Jumpstart Read for the Record book. I was also furiously finishing up illustrations for Seattle Children’s Theater so I didn’t really have time to plan anything

There’s more info about Read for the Record below! But first… I read a review on Kirkus which compared Quackers to Ferdinand. What a high compliment! Your book teaches such a beautiful lesson in such a delightfully adorable way!  Is that what you set out to do?  The message came along by accident. I started writing the story because I thought it would be funny to have a picture of a cat and have the text state it was a duck. That was really all I had. As I was fleshing out the story I was trying to come up with an ending – would Quackers end up living with the cats and visiting the ducks occasionally? That didn’t seem satisfying. I started to think about my own background (I’m half Asian, half white) and my own experience of feeling out of place and struggling with my identity, and eventually realized that Quackers didn’t have to choose. He could be a cat and a duck, just as I can be Japanese and Chinese and Finnish. It’s just who he is, it’s just who I am, and we don’t have to be the same as everyone around us.

Do you remember the first time you saw Quackers on a bookstore shelf?  Yes! It was a University Bookstore in Seattle and they had put it on display at the register in the children’s section. It was mind-blowing to see it as a real book, in a real bookstore, and to know that people who didn’t know me would pick it up and read it.

I’m sure it was surreal!  This brings me to my next question; how did you get it on those shelves? What worked well for you, from a marketing perspective, when Quackers was released? Honestly, I can’t really say that I had a strategy, or really, much of a clue of what I was doing! I had a launch party at one of our local indie bookstores and posted about the book on social media. I emailed some of my local bookstores shortly before the book came out to see if they wanted me to come sign books – and they were all very receptive and some of them invited me to come for a story time or other events. I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a few events by a couple of my already-published friends, and to come for story time at Seattle Public Library. The most effective thing I did was getting in contact with my local bookstores. I was terrified to contact them at first, but I’ve found that local bookstores are staffed by book-loving people who are excited to have a connection with local authors and illustrators. My local indies have been so instrumental in connecting readers with the book. It’s really worth it to foster those relationships with your local booksellers.

 Another unique chapter in your story is the SCBWI Mentorship you won at the 2016 Summer Conference. Can you talk a little about your experience?  It was my first time entering the portfolio show and also my first time attending the Summer SCBWI conference. I was so honored to receive one of the mentorship awards! Each year they choose 6 mentees. We each got to sit down with each of the mentors for a 15 minute portfolio critique. Later in the day, all the mentees and mentors met for lunch to go over our feedback and ask questions. It was a truly valuable experience to have that amount of focused attention from the mentors and the advice they gave helped me clarify my direction. It was an incredible opportunity!

Since conference attendance played a big part in your journey to becoming published, what would you tell an aspiring author about the benefit of conferences? I don’t think it’s crucial to attend conferences, and not everyone ends up making a connection that leads to their big break, but I love the SCBWI conferences for a few reasons.

  1. You get to hang out with a bunch of other authors and illustrators! How cool is that? I’ve made so many friends at conferences. I also met some of critique group members at a conference, and our crit group has been going strong for 5 years now!
  2. They help you to push your craft farther. I’ve always come away from conferences with something valuable.
  3. Sometimes you make a connection that leads to something. I met an art director at one of our local SCBWI conferences who introduced me to my agent. Those relationships don’t always pay off immediately, and not everyone you meet at a conference is going to lead to the next step in your career, but every once in a while, they do. I have several friends who met their agents or editors at conferences.
  4. The other benefit of attending conferences? All those faculty members who are normally closed to submissions? They’ll accept submissions from conference attendees after the conference!

And now you get to attend with a book under your belt.  What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I was surprised by how many things started to happen nearly a year after the book was published. There was this big flurry of activity right when the book released. Nothing much happened for several months in the middle, and then it started to gain momentum again as the award nominations from the previous year start to come out. I’m very fortunate that Quackers happens to be up for two different awards for my state (the Washington State Book Awards and the Washington State Children’s Choice Picture Book Award,) which I’m hoping with earn me some serious local librarian and bookseller cred. (Sidebar- the awards are TOMORROW! Best of luck, Liz and Quackers!)

But the number one most surprising thing that happened is that actor Josh Duhamel had to hide in a giant present with my book and pop out and terrify a bunch of school children with it. To clarify, it’s for the Jumpstart Read for the Record announcement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNc1g5XTaTs

If you click away from the interview to watch the clip I promise, I’ll wait for you.  IIt’sadorable and what an honor for Quackers to be chosen!  Here’s the link for Read for the Record which will be Thursday, Oct 19.  Are you registered? My kids and I are! So, to wrap up… Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance?

  1. Always have your signing pens at the ready and practice signing in your F&G (I do this already, on random scraps of paper. Is that weird? I tell myself its good karma)
  2. Order more bookmarks than you think you need. I’ve gone through thousands at this point. It’s nice to have something you can give to kids at school visits, so that the kids who didn’t order a book can still have something to take home, and they’ll ask for your autograph, too, so bookmarks are a handy thing to sign for them.
  3. Don’t get so caught up in the promotion that you don’t work on your second book.
  4. Don’t be afraid of school visits. Kids are earnest, eager to participate, and think you are a rock star. (I have to imagine that’s the best energy in the world!

Do you have anything in the queue right now, awaiting publication?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? Yes, I’m working on my second book, titled The Goose Egg, which is another unlikely animal adoption story involving waterfowl, and which I’ve also been describing as “how parenting ruins your life then ultimately enriches it.” It will theoretically be out in Spring of 2019, provided that I get the final art done on schedule!

I’m on social media in the following places:

https://twitter.com/lizwongart

https://www.instagram.com/lizwongart/

http://lizwongart.tumblr.com/

You have so many exciting things happening, I appreciate you taking the time to visit with us.  Best of luck with the awards, and I hope Read for the Record is a truly special day for you. 

Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure. Keep on quackin’!

Liz Wong Headshot

Well, these past two weeks have held some really fantastic interviews. The best part? There are more great ones coming! Next month, join me as I visit with Sue Gallion about Pug meets Pig and all things SCBWI.  After that? Jodi McKay and I will talk about Where Are the Words?  Not to mention a few extra scattered in, just for fun. Are you as excited as I am?!?

 

Thanks for reading, comeback anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to last May for a moment… It all started with NaPiBoWriWee, and a serendipitous blog connection.  I was clicking and scrolling through comments that other participants were leaving on the daily blog posts.  I clicked on a name and felt compelled to comment on her blog… she returned the favor… and for a while, that’s how it went.  Then one day she told me about The Writers Match and how well it fit into her (relatively) social media free life.  She talked highly about the critique partnerships she’s made and I found my own way there.  Every connection I’ve made, thanks to The Writer’s Match, has been fruitful and founder Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz has been a kind and gracious host.  She agreed to join me here for a conversation about her ‘brainchild’, her projects and her place in the Kid Lit community. I’m always inspired by innovators; people who see a problem and take steps to make a change.  That’s exactly what Megan did in the creation of this website designed to create critique partnerships.  If you aren’t familiar with the website, check it out here…. but first…

Megan! Thanks for playing along, I’m so happy to have you here! I’m going to start with a question I’ve been dying to ask you… HOW in the world do you pronounce your last name? Thanks, Jennifer! As you can imagine, I get that question a LOT. We pronounce it TUH-RAS-KA-WITZ. The Polish pronunciation is more like TARA-SKEHV-ITCH. I always know the people with a Polish background because they’ll pronounce it that way and I mentally give them extra credit. Technically my last name combines my maiden and married name so my full name is Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz. Yes, my maiden name was only two letters long (It’s Hungarian) and I repeatedly asked my husband if he’d rather take my name to no avail. So now I’m Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing for children?  It took me a LONG time to realize that I wanted to write for children. Looking back, though, the signs were always there but I ignored them. I never spent my days writing or reading but I always made up stories in my mind. After college and a brief stint as a daycare teacher, I got my graduate degree to become a media specialist. I got married, became pregnant, lost my job while we were in the midst of buying a house and my brother was dying of cancer. Life was a rollercoaster. Losing my brother in 2009 was difficult but losing my son in 2013 was devastating. My son, Owen, died after a virus triggered a rare disease called HLH that we didn’t know he had and the doctors missed. It was after Owen died that I committed myself to pursuing the joys and passions in my life. I began writing more and more and attended my first SCBWI event a few months after he passed. I felt like I finally had a purpose and direction for my life.

Such a profound lesson, and beautifully poignant journey.  With it being such a deep-seated awareness, I have no doubt you’re writing from a rich and fertile place.  How would you describe your writing style? What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? I write humorous stories with lots of wordplay. I love clever and funny stories that are also short and sweet. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is one of those books that I feel like is as close to perfect as possible. I was equally enthralled by it and mad that I wasn’t the one who wrote it when I first read it. I feel similar about Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry. Just so simple and yet complex at the same time. I use Bob Shea’s books as mentor texts all the time, too. Love his humor! I have a goal to write a nonfiction picture book one of these days. I have a draft done that I’d love to get out there one of these days.

Oh, I do love Bob Shea! I’ll need to put those others on my list.  I’m a new member of SCBWI, but you’re very involved with NJSCBWI.  (Which seems like a force to be reckoned with.)  When did you get involved?  How have you found your place? Well, I’m involved with NJSCBWI as a participant only. I do not organize anything with them. They are an amazing group of hardworking individuals who create awesome opportunities for the kid lit community. Their Fall Craft weekend was my first official writing event that I went to in November of 2013. Boy, have I come a LONG way since then. If anyone ever gets the chance to go to a NJSCBWI Spring Conference, it’s a must! As far as finding my place, I feel like I’m still doing that. I do have a reputation for wearing quirky dresses to events and people remember me from that. I think it helps me stand out and is also part of my “brand” as far as being an author who writes humorous stories.

Brilliant!! I mean I do love dresses, but I’m talking about your ability to set yourself apart from the crowd, in a way that’s perfectly authentic.  Bravo!  Now I’m rethinking my outfit for my conference this weekend. Okay, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of why you’re here… The Writers Match.  Tell me all about it!  The idea for The Writers Match had been swimming my head for a while. When I went to the NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in 2016, I was lamenting about how hard it was to find good critique partners to another writer and I explained my idea for a “match.com for critique partners”.  I decided to just make it happen. I can’t remember the exact date the website went live because it was “live” for a bit while I worked on it with my web developer. I had my trusted critique partner, Nicole, sign up first and be our guinea pig in all things TWM. We have 116 members today which is great considering I have not been able to advertise the site as widely as I want yet. I am hoping to get some ads in Writers Digest soon.

I love the profiles, the message system and the ability to filter members both by genre and by experience.  (Picture Books and Unpublished for me!) What do you think the best way to use the website is? Me, too! I really wanted it to be easy for people to search for suitable critique partners based on whatever criteria they wanted. For example, if you are writing a book that takes place in Florida but you live in Alaska, you should be able to search for a critique partner in Florida to help you with your setting. Or if you are a male writer writing a female character, you can search for women to give you feedback.

I think the way to get the most out of the site is to spend some time really writing out what you want in your profile. Write down if you love romance but hate historical fiction or if you are a sci-fi expert but would like to read a contemporary middle grade. It helps other writers get a sense of who you are and if you might “click” as critique partners.

Ah, I saw what you did there! Bonus points awarded for play-on-words! What is your vision for the future of TWM? I firmly believe that having good critique partners is the key to success as a writer. I would love to have a site where thousands of writers are swapping stories daily and making connections. Ultimately, I’d love to offer in-person critique partner meet-ups or critique conferences.

That’s a wonderful, big picture idea.  Then we can all support each other in the big (conference) and little (critique) ways.  Speaking of support, I know that in addition to TWM and SCBWI, you wear a lot of hats and seem to have many irons in the fire in your community.  How do you juggle writing and the rest of your life, raising an adorable young family and all that good stuff?   Thank you. My most important hat is “MOM”. I have two young daughters that take up a lot of my time. My older daughter just entered kindergarten, which has freed up the time that my younger daughter naps so I can do some work. I also try to get up at 6am so I can work for about an hour before they get up.  Last year when my older daughter took a dance class, I went to the library and worked while she danced. I squeeze it in wherever I find the time. I love my community so I try to be as involved as possible. I work with my son’s former school and PTO to organize a race every year to raise money for his school in memory of him. It takes months to organize and plan the race. We just had the race last Saturday so in the weeks leading up to it, I got no work done and that’s okay! I try to be gentle with myself and not put too much pressure on my writing self.

Sounds like great, healthy boundaries.  Slowly but surely, I think I’m getting there. What phase of your writing journey are you in now?  I feel like I am just on the threshold of being published which has made me a bit more impatient. It’s sort of like the third trimester of pregnancy; so close but it feels like a really long time and it’s hard to get sleep-ha! When I meet with agents and editors at conferences and events and they have positive things to say about my writing and stories, it’s a great feeling. When I submit those stories and get nothing but the sound of crickets in my inbox, it becomes frustrating. I recently had a great agent say, “I love this story! It’s perfect…but I’m not representing picture book authors at this time.” In those moments, I just shake my fist at the sky and yell, “NOOOOOO!” But, like life, publishing is a rollercoaster and I’m in it for the long haul. I currently have 10 queries out to agents and I’m trying to write as much as possible while I wait

Oh, I love that analogy! I feel your pain… but only in the actual pregnancy sense, not in the publishing way. Maybe I’m close to the end of my first trimester? Hmm… Interesting.  Since you’re so close, can you share what you consider the most valuable writing tools in your toolbox?  I recently won a scholarship for the 12×12 Challenge (12x12challenge.com) and it has helped me have the most prolific year of writing possible. I’ve written at least one draft each month and a few of those have been good enough to start querying with. I want to make sure I have a deep well of drafts from which to draw from when an agent comes knocking.

The program offers webinars, online support, critique partners, and unique querying opportunities each month. Other than that, I participate in Read for Research Month or ReFoReMo and StoryStorm. I will do anything that’s offered for free and I am always reading new books. I get huge stacks from the library every week or so. My kids love all the new books and they don’t realize it’s mom’s “work” to read them.

12×12 and ReForReMo are both on top of my to-do list.  I missed both in 2017, but don’t plan to let that happen again.  Do you have anything on your Kid Lit wish list that you hope to accomplish in the next year? Well, the ultimately goal is to have an agent, right? Fingers crossed that I get one soon! I plan to do at least one conference next year. As I said before, I love the NJSCBWI one and I really enjoyed going to the NESCBWI this past year so I may try to get there again. I’d LOVE to do a retreat but it may not be in the financial cards. I’d love to organize a retreat through The Writers Match with lots of critiquing and a professional to help. I think that would be awesome! As always, though, the goal is to just keep writing and to keep growing as a writer.

That sounds like a great plan, keeping sights set on both the ‘big goals’ and day-to-day writing at the same time.  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! I wish you all the best and look forward to crossing paths with you.  One day soon we’ll be celebrating your debut picture book, I can feel it! Thank YOU! I can feel it, too. I know the hard work will get me there!

And that’s not the only interview I have on-tap for this week! Come back Friday for the next installment of Paper People with Liz Wong.  Her debut picture book is the adorable Quackers and it’s a hot-ticket item right now.  Have you heard about Read for the Record? Are you signed up? Check out this video clip! You won’t want to miss our conversation! See you soon!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Search for Mentor Texts

“Read more books about this topic,” she said, “Some of the best writers read 50 comp titles.”   I’ve heard this before, probably too many times.  “But I read picture books all the time!” I thought with frustration and also, “How the heck  am I going to get my hands on that many books?”   But in the spirit of critique group etiquette, I slept on it.  I thought it over.  I did my best to detach from my manuscript and read it with the same critical eye that she did. Guess what? She was right.  (That seems to be her pattern.) I am reading LOTS of picture books, but rather than reading with intention, I’ve fallen back into the habit of quickly casting a wide net that includes some new titles, a few old favorites and a couple that my kids grab on face value alone.

The challenge that my kids and I undertook this summer was to read 100 Picture Books.  But knowing myself and my tendencies to grab-&-go, I followed a list, as closely as possible, to guide us to stellar books we hadn’t yet read.  It was a smashing success, but since the summer has ended (early August around here), we’ve slacked off on our library runs and I’ve been a lot less intentional with my selections. Now that I’m writing more and polishing up a handful of manuscripts to begin the querying process, I need to hone in on the topics that I’m writing about now.  I need mentor texts. I need comp titles.  I need help.  Just a quick Google search usually reveals a good starting point.  If I’m lucky, there will be a Goodreads list on the topic.  Just for the sake of experiment, I searched for the following lists on Goodreads and was blown away by the results: Picture Books about… Seasons, Food, Family, Friendship, School, Geography, Emotions, Holidays, I could go on and on.  (Addendum, I just listened to a podcast that talked about utilizing Amazon searches/filters to find comps, another great idea.)

I also set off to the library as soon as it opened. Low and behold, there it was, the very book that my critique group facilitator suggested, waiting for me on display.  I read it and it was brilliant.  Having comparable titles has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I understand their importance, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I could give you the laundry list of reasons why,  but  I’ll spare you the details.  They’re just excuses anyway.  Just because something doesn’t come easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.  In fact, that’s the very reason I need to submerge myself in mentor texts.  Thankfully there are a number of social media outlets and though I had only heard of it, I knew it was time dive into the world of ReForReMo.  Reading for Research Month Challenge, held in March, “was developed to help picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching picture books.” (http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo).   I’m a few months early to sign up for the challenge, but there’s a Facebook group… request to join, sent and accepted.

The most wonderful thing happened, I found exactly what I was looking for!  Taking it further than this manuscript, I posted a question looking for mentor texts for another project.  For this second one, my searches weren’t producing much fruit but the members of the ReForReMo group sure did in a hurry.  Here’s just another great example of the Kid Lit community looking out for each other.  I know this world is filled with fantastic writers, many of them who still carry the pre– in front of published.  The fact is, I I feel blessed to be writing in this day & age (cue Full House theme song). So as I sit and soak up the goodness of this latest library haul, guided by suggestions, I’m sending up grateful vibes to the kid lit universe; grateful for the chance to just sit and read picture books on a Saturday morning, grateful for this new tool in my toolbox and especially grateful for my new ReForReMo friends, and the brains behind its wonderful operation.  Happy reading and happy writing!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, Writing Picture Books (and so much more)!

It was one of those surreal moments that will forever be embedded in my brain.  Right in my inbox, an email from the Contact Me page here on my blog. She read my recent post and thanked me for mentioning her book.  This line was the kicker, “If you ever want to interview me for your blog, I’m available… “ANN WHITFORD PAUL, Y’ALL!  I started this blog to make connections, but this was more than I dreamed of.  You see there was a time at the end of last year when I decided that it was time to invest in myself and my writing journey.  Being a one (and a half) income family with three small kids, a mortgage and a life, I had to spend wisely.  At that time, I wasn’t fully aware of the expansive Kid Lit online community, but I did come across a deeply discounted webinar package that came with a copy of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  I had been eyeing this book for months, and the price of the whole bundle was exactly what I was looking for.  As soon as the book came in, I devoured it and it has since found a permanent spot on my nightstand.  For me, this book was the beginning of my education as a writer; it’s my kid lit foundation.  In addition to her impressively informative book, my kids and I are also huge fans of her picture books and she has another coming out soon! So, I invite you to come along for my conversation with Ann as we talk about her writing career, including books for both children and adults.

Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me, Ann! This is such a wonderful treat.  Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing for Children?  I was born and lived mostly in the Midwest, Chicago and Madison Wisconsin, with interludes in Philadelphia.  Graduated from the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University School of Social Work.  I worked for several years in a hospital where I met my husband.  Our honeymoon was a drive across country to California where he had taken a job.  I stopped doing social work when the first of my four children were born and would have loved working part-time but Ronald Reagan was governor and cutting back on social programs.  I had to find something else and it was that lovely quiet time of reading with my children that inspired me to try writing books that other grown-ups and children could share together.

Your first picture book was published in 1985, and you have upcoming books scheduled for the next two years, how tremendous! How do you keep up with the changing industry?  How do you keep your writing skills sharp? I think I keep up with the changing industry badly.  It’s been a special challenge when editors are looking for “edgy”.  That’s not me, but I do try to add a little more humor to my writing and to think outside the box.  Still, I’m me and it’s hard for me not to write who I am.  I keep my writing skills sharp by writing every single day and I belong to a monthly kid’s lit group where we discuss a new middle-grade or YA and a picture book.  That keeps me up with the latest publishing trends.

What is the most interesting shift in the children’s book market that you notice happening now? When I started out in the business, most sales went to the school and library market.  Now on-line and independent stores are where the sales are going.  That means the books have to appeal to parents who are not necessarily savvy about what makes a good story.  Art is becoming much more important and especially what appears on the cover to attract buyers. 

In 2009, 24 years after your debut picture book was released you published Writing Picture Books.  What prompted you to put this book together?  Was there anything new about the publishing process in writing for adults? I had been teaching for over ten years at UCLA Extension and at numerous conferences.  One of my students suggested, no pushed and prodded, me to write a book.  It was certainly a challenge, but once I told myself to look at each chapter as a long picture book, I was able to fool myself into thinking I could do it.  One of the super-nice things about writing for adults is that I didn’t have to split my earnings with an illustrator.  And I hear back from so many writers about how the book has helped them.  I love getting those notes and e-mails.

I have to tell you, my critique partners and I call your book ‘The Picture Book Bible’. Writing Picture Books is filled with such invaluable information and advice.  How did you organize and compile all your thoughts for the book?  See what I mean about hearing back from writers.  Thanks so much!  The organization was actually fairly easy, because I tried to organize my classes around those chapter subjects.  Also, because I’d given many talks, I was able to adapt some of those into the book.

 It sure seems to have a life of its own. Has the book accomplished everything you hoped since its publication?   What does the future hold for Writing Picture Books?I’m so glad you asked this question, because right now I am deep into doing an updated and revised edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which will be published fall 2018.  There will be some new chapters, all new examples and all new books cited.  Also, Writer’s Digest Books (the publisher) and I are partnering to fund the SCBWI Most-Promising Picture Book Award to recognize and encourage the work of aspiring picture book writers.

Ohh, that’s very exciting!  I can only imagine the wisdom those pages will hold.  Since you’ve taught so many of us HOW to write, I’m curious, what is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?  “Write what you know.”  I’m aware that’s mundane and everyone has heard it over and over again, but I’m an insecure writer and have lived a fine and thankfully uneventful life.  I’ve never saved a child from drowning, never stopped a bank robbery and never swam the English Channel, (but my son did) so I worried, and still sometimes do, wondering what on earth I have to write about.  But years ago at an SCBWI conference, hearing those words made me think about the patchwork I loved sewing and about how the names of the patterns spoke of long ago life.  I was so inspired, I finished the manuscript for EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET IN six months.  That my hobby, my love of history and how people lived, could resonate with others (the book is still in print after twenty-five years) has made me less likely to push aside my ideas that might seem pedestrian.  I accept that my ideas might be boring to me, but exciting and fascinating to others.  Write what you know and are passionate about and your stories will touch others.

 Such great advice!  I try to remind myself often to be authentic in my writing, I can only tell my stories, not someone else’s right?  Speaking of my stories, I’ve learned from more than just your book, in your webinar for Kid Lit College, you talk about the importance of making a dummy.  That webinar is still one of my favorites. It completely reinforced what you wrote about in Writing Picture Books and totally transformed my creative process.  Why is making a dummy such a crucial step for writers? I’m glad you found making a dummy so helpful and transformative.  It was, and continues to be, the same for me.  There’s something about seeing your words cut out and pasted onto pages that you have to turn that shows you where your story weaknesses are.  Invariably when I make a dummy, I find words that can be cut.  Recently I’ve noticed in my writing that I tend to go on a bit too long after the problem has been solved.  That usually means I don’t have enough in the middle of my story or that I can delete or tighten the wrap-up at the end.  The act of reading my dummy aloud and turning the pages helps me to create stronger page turns also.  I would never submit a manuscript without making a dummy first.

Next month (October 2017) you’re scheduled to release If Animals Said I Love You.  This makes your Animals an adorable series. Congratulations!  Can you tell us a little about how the second book came about, eight years later? (If Animals Kissed Goodnight, 2009 was the first) On a trip to New York, I decided it would be a good time to meet the editor, Janine O’Malley, who had taken over for my original editor on IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT and had a lot to do with making it into a board book.  I arrived at an auspicious time for that very day, FS&G had ordered a huge reprinting of the book.  The board book, much to my joy and delight, had taken off in this new format.  In that meeting, Janine had suggested writing a follow-up, which I did.  I wrote TWO!  One about animals bathing in tubs and another about animals wearing clothes.  She rejected them both and suggested I write IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU.  I was doubtful.  Wasn’t that very close to IF ANIMALS KISSED?  However, my son Alan and his family live in South Africa and we were headed there for a visit and I determined to at least try and write that story while there.  We went on several safaris where I made notes and wrote couplets about them.  Also we went trekking to see Gorillas.  Something I would never do again—three hours straight up to find them.  I ached for days afterwards.  To make this story a bit different, I decided not just to have parents and children express love, but grandparents and cousins and siblings.  The manuscript was completed during our three week trip.

That sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and it was productive to boot! Fabulous! I actually have a safari themed manuscript and going on safari is on top of my vacation wish list, now my wheels are turning… Hmmm… Okay, before I get carried away let’s get back to the good stuff… The rhythm and rhyme scheme of If Animals Kissed Goodnight is one of my all-time favorites.  Was writing the second book more, or less challenging than you anticipated?  It was both.  When there’s a first book, the format is already determined, so you’re kind of locked into it.  The challenge for me was to work to differentiate the two since they were both about ways of expressing love.

While I was preparing for this interview, I read a 2013 interview you did with Henry Herz and I realized we share a love of Jane Austen! Just to make sure my daughter started her little life off right, I read Pride & Prejudice to her as a newborn.  Are you reading anything now?  Who’s your favorite author? Jane Austen is definitely my favorite author.  I’m also hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series.  I belong to three different book clubs so am always in the middle of a book—one is a couples reading club, another women only (and you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that co-ed book clubs are drawn to different books than the single-sex ones.)  In addition, I belong to a book club of teachers, librarians and writers and illustrators that read one novel (middle-grade or YA) and one picture book each month.  We post our discussions here:http://bookchatthursday.blogspot.com/

Is there anything else you have coming out soon?  Where can my readers find you if they want to follow along?

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

IF ANIMALS SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS will be published in the fall of 2018

IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL will be published in the fall of 2019

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS—New and Revised edition will be published in the fall of 2018.

I publish a monthly (sometimes less frequently) newsletter that you can sign up for here:

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Check out my web-site www.annwhitfordpaul.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your time, energy and wisdom with me! I had such a hard time narrowing my questions down to these 12.  Congratulations on your upcoming releases! Happy Writing! 

 Guess what? I have ANOTHER exciting interview coming next week… actually, make that TWO.  First up, is my chat with Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz, founder of The Writer’s Match.  Do you have enough critique partners? Do you have a go-to place to find and connect with more?  If you answered ‘No’ to either of those questions, stop what you’re doing and check out The Writer’s Match.  It’s a free website that creates critique partnerships and allows you to search based on genre, experience level, and more.  I’ve had great success, and I know you will too! And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

 

See you Friday!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP