Let’s Talk, Otters & Sweet Dreams

Here we are for another dose of Vivian! Today, Vivian and I talk about her next TWO books FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGANING and SWEET DREAMS SARAH, both of which will be released in the next few days! You can read the first part of our conversation, here.

Vivian, welcome back! How about I freshen up your hot chocolate for you? Now let’s jump right back in… Each of these books have very different paths to publication… I read that Pippa’s story made it into the hands of an editor thanks to a talented and dedicated critique partner. How did the OTTERS & SARAH make it there? I wrote Sweet Dreams, Sarah in July of 2014. By the end of 2014, I felt it was ready and I began to submit it to agents. It got a lot of positive responses – four agents were interested and wanted to see more of my work. By the fall of 2015, I had decided to sign with Essie White and in October, she sent it out on a round of submissions and within a month, we had an offer from Creston Books. That was super-fast…rough draft in July and a book deal a year later. But this is a business of waiting and delays…and I think things even out in the end because even though SARAH was the first book deal, she will be the last of my debut triplets to launch in 2019.

Four Otters Toboggan, was written back in 2013. I also submitted it and got amazing feedback…one agent told me it was pure poetry. But no one grabbed it…or me. Some said it was too quiet. Shhhh…the animals are napping, I guess. 😊  When I signed with Essie, and SARAH was out on submission, she asked to see a bunch of my other stories. She loved OTTERS right away, but we were submitting other manuscripts. At the end of 2017, she sent it to Pomegranate, along with a couple of art samples from one of her illustrator clients, Mirka Hokkanen. Essie has an amazing eye and it was a perfect pairing and the editor at Pomegranate agreed and signed it immediately…my lyrical text and Mirka’s amazing talent.

With SARAH, I did not know the illustrator and unfortunately, did not get to see early sketches until the color layouts were done. And although this is how many editors work, I’m not a fan because I feel each book is a team effort. Many errors could be avoided if author and illustrator and editor work together. However, I do understand that some editors are hesitant because they fear the author will be unreasonable and not allow the illustrator to express his or her creativity. I can only speak from my own experience and I vote for collaboration!

four otters coverWhat started each of these the story in motion for you? Where did you find the thread of inspiration? Four Otters Toboggan was another manuscript that got its start during Tara’s challenge. The inspiration came from the fishing trips I took with my husband years ago in Colorado, hiking into the backcountry where wildlife abounds. And I’ve always been a strong supporter of animal conservation and habitat protection. The original title was Visitors to Deep Pool, but the editor felt that sounded a bit like a science fiction story.

The inspiration for Sweet Dreams, Sarah came from a list of female firsts. I’d just taken a class in nonfiction picture book writing and the mentor suggested we look at lists online of the best or the first of this or that. And when Sarah E. Goode’s name popped up and I read what she had done – become one of the first African American women to secure a U.S. patent, in a time when most women didn’t even own anything, I was intrigued and dug deeper. But, no matter how deep I dug, I kept reading the same 2 or 3 paltry lines about her. And that’s when I decided that this courageous trailblazer deserved a book.

Yes, indeed! We talked a little, last time, about your journey with three very different books making their way into the published world. What were the biggest challenges when hammering out and polishing up these manuscripts? Otters required me to put on my lyrical hat, with the help of Thesaurus.com. And again, my critique buddies helped point out where I needed to make changes and they made suggestions that helped the rhythm and pace of the story. It wasn’t a counting book originally. That suggestion actually came from Mira Reisberg, the Children’s Book Academy founder. I’d won a free critique with her many years ago and she suggested I add another layer to the story…perhaps make it a counting book, she said. And I did. 😉

Sweet Dreams Cover One of the biggest challenges with Sweet Dreams, Sarah was the research because there was so little information out there about her. No books. Just a few paragraphs in online websites. And one book with a mini-chapter. I reached out to my reference librarian and she reached out to librarians in Chicago and at Yale. And, although they didn’t have much, I was able to find enough to write an authentic story about this courageous trailblazing woman. I also contacted the cemetery in Chicago where Sarah Goode is buried and got information from the historical records person there.  But once the story was written and sold, there were more challenges because of illustration delays. Which is why I vote for collaboration with author and illustrator. From my experience, with five books now, things go more smoothly when everyone works as a team. Kind of like we wish our government could function. 😊 When people are divided and don’t work together, the project can suffer. But we now have a beautiful book to honor Sarah E. Goode and I am thrilled.

With three picture books published in as many months, I can imagine you have much to be proud of.  Is there something within each story that you’re MOST proud of with these next two, though? Mirka’s woodcut illustrations glow and my words come to life in FOUR OTTERS. I see this as a book that will encourage children to embrace the beauty of nature and appreciate the need for animal conservation and wildlife habitat preservation.

And, Sarah E. Goode forged a new path, but she did not get the recognition or reward she deserved in life. Now there is a book to honor her. And a book that will hopefully inspire children to embrace failure as just one more step towards realizing their goals.

Turtles with Text

My youngest calls himself ‘Nature boy’ and my daughter is the perfect age for soaking up non-fiction. I can’t wait to get both on my shelves.  Just a few more questions before we wrap up…What is your favorite animal fact that you learned during your research for OTTERS?  I learned that the fastest animal is the Peregrine falcon who can dive to catch prey at 242 miles per hour! The STEM-rich back matter has information and fun facts about all of the animals mentioned in the book. And it has a section on conservation and what factors contribute to the destruction of animal habitats. Also, Mirka has created a fabulous activity booklet with puzzles, games, and coloring pages which will be available on our websites soon and she is having print copies made that we can use as giveaways or sell alongside the book.

Sweet Dreams Sarah TextWhat is the most inspirational part of Sweet Sarah’s life that you did not (or could not) include in her story?  Sarah Goode led a very hard life. At age 24, she was a wife, mother, and working woman. In her day, most women, even white women, didn’t own anything. This was 1880 – women couldn’t vote and men called the shots. But the furniture store was in Sarah’s name and so was the patent. That is amazing! The sad part, which I don’t go into in the story, is that two years after Sarah secured the patent, her mother died and also one of her own children. And within another year, according to an advertisement in the newspaper that I found, her cabinet beds were on sale from a different vendor who claimed he had bought out the supply from a bankrupted owner. And all trace of Sarah is lost until she dies in 1905 at the age of 49.

Back in 2015, Kidlit 411 interviewed you and asked a question about inspiration. Your answer is one of my all-time favorites, “The universe is generous, don’t you think?” Is the universe still generous or do you have to work harder now to keep the fresh ideas flowing with all the balls you find yourself juggling (marketing, book promotion, reviews, conferences, etc.) I definitely don’t have a problem with inspiration, my only problem is that I have more fresh ideas than the time I have to write the stories! Someone once mentioned that pre-published authors need to appreciate the freedom that they have. I know this may sound silly, because who doesn’t want a book deal, right? But the thing of it is, once you have that book deal, you are on a deadline for revisions and you need to start thinking about how you will promote your book. These days, publishing houses don’t do very much for most of the picture books that are coming out and it is up to the author and illustrator to blog, use social media, arrange for book events, come up with marketing ideas that will engage book buyers. With picture books, it is difficult because you are not engaging with the young children who might love your book…you are engaging with the parents, teachers, and librarians who will buy your book. And once you get on that merry-go-round, as enjoyable as the ride might be, it gets more and more difficult (especially if you have multiple book deals, which you will, once things get rolling) to find the time to write new stories. And after all, we are writers…and we want to write stories…not sell books.

I loved what Barb Rosenstock said during a Q&A chat on the Missing Voices Picture Book Discussion Group on Facebook when someone asked about bookstore events. “I don’t worry about those, she said. I don’t ever do them. I worry about the writing.” Of course, she does do many wonderful school visits and lots of amazing conference presentations. Because if you have books out there, you need to get them out of boxes and into hands and the only way to do that is to spread the word somehow.

Can you remind us what else you have coming down the pipe? At this point, I have two books that are launching in 2020, with two other publishers. Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring, 2020), illustrated by Alleanna Harris and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020), illustrated by the award-winning Gilbert Ford.

And if you need a reminder… you can find Vivian on/around social media SOMEWHWERE Website, Facebook, TwitterInstagram!

Thanks again, Vivian for sticking around for such a wonderfully long three part chat!

Thank YOU, too for stopping by and reading, come back anytime!



Paper People: Patricia Valdez

Can you believe it? This is my first Paper People interview of 2019! I am so excited to share my conversation with debut author Patricia Valdez about her adorable and inspiring picture book, JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR. Along with it being my first Paper People of the year, it’s also my first interview with a non-fiction author and I’m fairly certain the first time I talk about reptiles! I hope you’ll read on… I might have inside scoop on a certain Twitter giveaway for those that do! 😉

Patricia, thanks for being here! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Thanks so much for having me! I’ll take a black tea, my caffeine source of choice. It’s always time for tea. Maybe that’s why I started and ended JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR with a tea party!

Well if we’re having a tea party then I’ll have some too! I’ve been meaning to drink more, there’s no better time than the present (with pretend tea) am I right? Right off the bat I have to say, there probably aren’t many picture book writers with a resume quite as impressive (and unrelated) as yours. When and where did you first feel the pull to write picture books? Was JOAN PROCTER the first manuscript you wrote? I’ve spent most of my life as a scientist and I currently work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I’m also a mother of a teen and pre-teen, and when my kids were young, I loved reading picture books with them. I quickly figured out elements that clicked for me and my children and those that didn’t. It’s so important to have text that is fun to read because as parents, we read some books over and over. I also noticed that there weren’t many books about science while my kids were fascinated with little stories I wrote about my research – the tiny armies in our bodies that fight off harmful invaders. I also realized there were simply not enough picture books about women scientists, and that’s is how I set myself on the road to JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR.

JP illustr 1

I think you’re the first nonfiction author that I’ve had on Paper People, and I am THRILLED about it. I know that nonfiction picture books are experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now, what a great time for a nonfiction debut! In the spirit of honesty though, I’ve often struggled to find nonfiction picture books that I can engage in and connect with… but that’s not true of JOAN PROCTER! In a way that reminds me of Jess Keating’s SHARK LADY, I was completely entranced with Dr. Procter from the very first line. As of right now, are your works in progress strictly nonfiction or a mix? Woo hoo! Thanks for giving nonfiction some love! Right now, all of my work is nonfiction, though I’ve dipped my toes into fiction and we’ll see where that leads. I often find that true life is stranger than fiction and I think Joan Procter’s story is just that. I think as authors we try to tell a story in a way that connects with both the child and the reader (often teachers or parents in the case of picture books). Sure, there are some kids that connect with straight expository nonfiction, but I feel that even more readers can connect with narrative nonfiction. Plus, these books often have expository material in the backmatter for those kids that crave it.
The research required to write nonfiction books is an added layer that not all fiction stories require. This means adding to the amount of time you need to hammer out and polish up a manuscript. How do you find time for writing amidst your work at the National Institute of Health and family life? Research is the most exciting part of the process for me. You never know what kinds of juicy tidbits you might find. Even if you don’t end up using all of the research in the main story, those details help give shape to a person’s life and personality (plus, you can always include it in the backmatter). With work and kids, I end up doing my writing at night and on the weekend. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband, who is also a scientist.

JP BookshelfNeedless to say, those long nights and weekends paid off! Do you remember the first time you saw JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR on a bookstore shelf? I held my book launch at our local independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. It was such a wonderful experience to see my book out and about. A friend of my daughter visited the Natural History Museum in London this last summer and told me that my book was in the gift shop. That was certainly thrilling since Joan Procter got her start right there! I’ve seen pics of my book for sale in New Zealand, France, and South Korea, so that’s been exciting, too!

Oh, she’s a world traveler! That makes you an international author! Let’s go back to the beginning for you, what were some of the most helpful resources you used when you were first starting out on your KidLit writing journey? I read as many picture book biographies as I could. I also joined SCBWI and read everything I could find about writing query letters once my manuscript was ready. I should also credit my kids for being both sounding boards and critics. 🙂

I mentioned above that you had me captivated by the first line of your story. (I’m JP illust 2even going to use it as a part of my #favoritelinefriday tweets!) First lines are some of the hardest to write, for me, because there is so much riding on them. What’s the most challenging part of writing picture books for you? Thanks so much! First lines are so important. In picture book biographies, I want the first line or two to evoke time, place, and theme. Plus, they have to really draw the reader into the story. I figured lizards at a tea party might do the trick. I also love tying the ending to the beginning (I’m a fan of the circular structure). Of course, you need a strong beginning for this to work. So, I have to agree with you that the first lines are indeed the most challenging.

We’ve all heard that a majority of the marketing of picture books falls to the author once a book is published. Was this your experience? How did you get JOAN PROCTER onto the shelves and into the hands of kids? The publisher gets books to trade publishers and reviewers, so that’s incredibly helpful. Beyond that, us picture book authors have to hustle for marketing. My agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, suggested that as a debut author, I focus on blog appearances (like this!) instead of holding book events. This advice was perfect for me since I have a full-time job and a family. I did a few book events here and there, but not a lot. I also did a few book giveaways on Twitter and with my debut picture book group, Epic 18.

You’ve been a published author for exactly one year today! Congrats on your Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? I plan to give away a signed copy of JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR on Twitter and have an adult beverage. It’s been quite a year!

Is there anything you learned in the past twelve months that surprised you? For some reason I had this idea that once the book was out there, it would be smooth sailing, but that’s not the case at all. There are many interviews and book events, though as I mentioned, I tried to limit those. I didn’t think about the amount of time I’d spend at the post office mailing off F&Gs and books. All the while, I was working on the second book. No pressure there, right? Ha!


Okay, so you have a busy day ahead of you… what with the Twitter giveaway and all. But I have one more question, before we wrap up, how do you feel about reptiles, honestly? Do you have a favorite or do they make you squirm? We have a pet turtle named Theo at home and I love turtles, but my favorite reptile has to be the Komodo dragon. I would never have found Joan Procter if it wasn’t for my need to know more about these amazing creatures. One sentence near the end of an article about Komodo dragons mentioned that Joan Procter was the first person to describe them in captivity. My cPatricia Valdez headshoturiosity led me to her amazing story which I’m so honored to share!

Scaly, slimy creatures have a special place in my life, too… I happen to live in the Frog Capital of the World! (Just don’t ask me how I really feel about them.) Thanks so much for joining me, Patricia! Where can my readers find and follow you on social media? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe? You can find me most often on Twitter @Patricia_Writer, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaValdezAuthor, and less often on Instagram @pvaldez11. Folks can also find and contact me via my website: www.patriciavaldezbooks.com. My next book hasn’t been announced yet, but I can tell you that it’s a picture book biography about a Latina scientist. I can’t wait to share it!

Oh goodness, I can’t wait! Congrats, again! Okay, now head over to Twitter before its too late to enter her drawing… go ahead, we’re finished here! Just promise me you’ll come back soon, there are always more good things to come!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

#50PreciousWords : Tooth Trouble

Tooth Trouble
Everyone had an idea for his wiggly tooth,
but Pat only did things when he was ready.
“Eat an apple!”
“No thanks.”
“String and a doorknob!”
“Not yet!”
“Let me give it a tug!”
“No way!”
One day, at lunch, he knew it was time.

Deep breath.



tooth trouble

This isn’t my first contest entry, nor my first #50PreciousWords entry. This IS, however, my first NON-FICTION entry. In fact, it’s the first non-fiction story I’ve ever written. Sending a shout out to my middle child, Patrick and his obnoxiously wiggly tooth for inspiration. Here’s something I bet you didn’t know… nurses can handle a lot, but our training never involves wiggly teeth. (Enter grossed out emoji). In fact, this tooth was SO LOOSE that I had a hard time looking at my handsome boy because of the way it … dangled. (Sorry for the graphic description.) Anyway, this was the second of his front two teeth to fall out, fourth overall but the first he pulled himself and my boy was PROUD. The story goes, he was sitting in the cafeteria at school and ‘knew it was time’, grabbed a napkin from his stack and ‘just pulled, Mom.’

Yeah, that’s about it. It wasn’t a super involved story, which is why I could sum it up in #50PreciousWords. We do call him Toothless P now and that’s fun.

Best of luck to all who entered (and those who planning on it)! I’ve read so many fantastic entries so far… and there are still three days to go!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

Be My Guest, Vivian Kirkfield!

You might remember that I’m in the middle of a three-part conversation with Vivian Kirkfield about her picture book debut triplets. Well, I couldn’t have a conversation with her this close to #50PreciousWords and not ask about it! I posed the following questions to her while we were ‘talking’:

‘When you started the contest, did you ever dream it would take off the way that it has? And then you started #50PreciousWordsForKids! What are your favorite parts about running the contest?’
I hope you’ll read on as she answers my questions and brings us back to where it all began.  This year’s contest will run from March 2-March 6. I hope to see you there!

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I guess you could say I started #50PreciousWords on a whim. It was March 1st of 2016. Scrolling through some news articles online I found an interesting tidbit about Dr. Seuss and how his long-time editor, Bennett Cerf (founder of Random House), challenged him to write a story for kids using only 50 unique words. And Green Eggs with Ham was born. Of course, that story has over 700 words, but only 50 unique words. And I began to think about how the publishing industry was looking for shorter more concise word count picture books. Could I write a story in only 50 words? But not 50 unique words. 50 words ONLY. So, I tried it. And it was so much fun that I decided to challenge my friends. I quickly cobbled together a blog post for the next day, which was the birthday of Theodore Geisel. I reached out to a few of my friends and I mentioned it to my agent. And they were all onboard to donate a prize. I announced that the contest would run for five days and the winners would be posted the day after. The day after? Sure, because I assumed that maybe five or ten of my good writing buddies would take pity on me and submit a story. Boy, was I wrong! Within five days, there were 120 amazing entries. I was up all night long. I read them to my husband. I read them to myself. I read them aloud. They were so good, and the top prize winner wound up signing with her dream agent and that story, along with two others, are debuting this year! Dreams can come true!
The next year, I was even more energized. One of my dear critique buddies, Maria Marshall, volunteered to help read and comment. And she did. We had 230 entries and over 1800 comments on that blog post. And last year, both Maria and another kid lit friend, Julie Abery, helped by reading and commenting on 298 entries. And the top winner? She signed with her dream agent. That’s why I encourage people to get their work out there because a story that sings can’t be heard if you keep it locked in a drawer. So, this year, even though my plate is full and I won’t even be in the country, I am hosting #50PreciousWords—from New Zealand. And I’ll have Maria, and Julie, and also, my amazing NZ critique buddy, Diane Tulloch, to help read and comment on all the stories. I know I am making trouble for myself by saying this, but I hope EVERYONE enters!
My favorite part of the contest? Hmmm. I can tell you what my least favorite part is—having to cut from the finalists and winnow it down to the top 10 and then choose which story is first, second, and so on. What’s so difficult is that each story is unique…and so each has great merit and strengths.
My favorite part is seeing how many brave souls there are in this kid-lit community. Because when you put your story out there, you are exposing your heart, and I am touched and honored that so many writers trust that their stories will be treated with loving respect on my blog. Oh, and the other favorite part of the contest is to read the comment thread—100% positive and encouraging and supportive from EVERYONE. This is how the world is supposed to be. I may not be able to influence the leaders of the government or change the world situation, but I can create a haven of safety and support for writers in #50PreciousWords.
The offshoot, #50PreciousWordsforKids came about because one of the writers who participated in the contest messaged me that her young daughter had sat down at the table and wrote a 50-word story of her own. She was thrilled to have this unbelievable bonding moment. Then I asked my 8-year old grandson if he wanted to write a 50-word story. ‘Sure, he said…only 50-words? That’s easy.’ Of course, it wasn’t so easy, but he did it and had fun. I decided to do a kid’s writing challenge to coincide with Children’s Book Week in May and the first year we had children from 13 states and 5 different countries – it was amazing! This year is going to be more of a challenge for me because of all of the traveling, conferences, and book launch events, but I am determined to host it again because I think it encourages children to exercise their creativity and it builds their self-confidence to see their story ‘published’ on a blog. And each child receives a certificate of participation which the parent or teacher can download and print out.

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There you have it! The contest starts tomorrow, so if you haven’t pounded out a 50-word story you still have time. Good luck to all those who are participating, I’ll see you in the comments!
Stay tuned, I have a few posts coming down the pipe… a contest entry, a few of my own musings and, of course, interviews (more Vivian coming your way on 3/28!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!