Let’s Talk, A Nest for the Savior!

I fully believe that so much of this publishing journey is about hard work, determination, patience and tenacity…. I also think that some things happen thanks to a stroke of luck. For example, I don’t even remember the entire chain of events that led me to my first critique group, but it was two years ago and Didi was there! I remember reading early drafts of this heartwarming story and loving it from the very beginning. In lieu of celebrating the one-year anniversary of a picture book this month, I’m thrilled to celebrate the launch of A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR.  Welcome, Didi! Take us back to the beginning, when did the idea to write picture books find you? Well, I’ve always been a writer. I used to cut covers and spines out of cardboard and glue my stories together as a kid. I studied journalism at the University of Florida and worked for a faith-based magazine after college, so picture books didn’t really come into view until my daughter was a year old. I remember I was getting them ready for bed, and an idea popped into my head that I couldn’t shake. That night, I stayed up until four in the morning writing my very first picture book, which has been put on the shelf for the time being. During that all-nighter, I also learned that the SCBWI was having a conference in just three weeks, so I signed up. And I’ve been writing picture books ever since.

Didi and I have a lot in common, we’re both moms, we both write and we are both 80-year-old women in 30something bodies! (She calls herself Antique at Heart… don’t you love that!) Tell us the MOST Antique thing about you! Want to know mine? I love big band/swing music (think Frank Sinatra), early mornings, sewing and wearing aprons while I cook. I love oldies music too! My favorite oldies crooner is a younger version of the old classics – Harry Connick Jr. (Side-note: I met him once and even got to go on his tour bus thanks to my crazy husband!) One antique thing I’m obsessed with is genealogy and finding out where we came from. One of my ancestors was Mary Barrett Dyer, the first woman martyr in the United States. I love piecing together information for the past so I can share our history with my kids.

Didi and Harry

HARRY CONNICK JR!!! He’s one of my favorites, too! (Bonus points since he’s from Louisiana!) Focus Jenny, back to the book. Do you remember where the seed of inspiration came from for A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR? Like most great ideas, it came in the middle of the night. Everyone else was asleep and I was sitting downstairs with the fake fireplace show playing on Netflix. (I live in South Florida, so that’s the only cozy fireplace I get.)

A song about the first Christmas was playing, and I thought, “What if a little animal overheard the angels tell the shepherds about Jesus and he or she tried to race them to find Him?”

A Nest for the Savior is not really about that at all, but that’s where the story started. It evolved (and was made into a better story I hope) in our critique group and through countless hours of editing.

The main character is a precious and determined sparrow, but a whole host of other animals play important roles in the story. I know (because we talked about it) that you did a lot of research on these animals, making sure they were appropriate to the day & age that the story takes place. (The Birth of Jesus!) Do you have a favorite animal? Tell us about your research process. My favorite animal other than Sadie, the sparrow, is the donkey. He brings his frayed rope as a gift for Jesus, and you find out in the activity guide that he broke free from that rope to catch a glimpse of Jesus. While writing the story, this soundbite from “O Holy Night” was playing on a loop in my mind: “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name, all oppression shall cease.” We all need the Lord to break the chains of sin in our lives, but, even more, the world needs to see a glimpse of the oppression-ending power of Jesus right now.

While writing the story, I researched which animals were considered clean and unclean to the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and which animals would be nearby. Donkeys, for instance, are actually considered unclean animals, but that’s probably why most people don’t eat donkey burgers. They are mentioned numerous times in the Bible and are very symbolic of the coming of the Messiah, so I included them in the story.

One of my favorite parts is the interactive activity for families that accompanies the book.  How did you come up with that idea? As before, it was a too-late-to-be-up idea that I wrestled with for a long time. The activity guide gives kids instructions to build their own nest for the Savior using symbolic items around the house. Each item can teach them a little bit more about Jesus, the first Christmas and the Cross. Plus, it can be used as an Advent calendar. BUT … I wondered for a long time if I’d have to sell a kit with the book or if I’d need to sell a baby Jesus doll to go in the nest. At the end of the day, I decided to sell a limited number of kits and to create a paper doll for the activity. The activity guide was the main reason I decided to start my own publishing company to bring A Nest for the Savior to life. I wanted kids to have the opportunity to learn about the real reason we celebrate Christmas, and I knew the process of finding an agent and publisher could push back publication a few years.

It’s always been so inspiring to me that Instead of getting discouraged, you blazed your own path and decided to self-publish. Can you speak a little to what that discernment and decision was like? I gave myself a deadline. I decided if the story didn’t get picked up by traditional agents or publishers by January 2018, I would publish the book myself. I had been looking for an agent for my stories for years, but I ramped up my game and sent the story to contests, participated in PB Pitch (where I got a few likes) and researched agents who represented faith-based picture book authors (there weren’t many). In the end, it didn’t work out, and, although I was disappointed at first, I’m so glad things worked out the way they did. I also met an indie publisher who makes six figures selling e-books every year and that changed my whole perception of indie authors. Many of today’s self-published authors are choosing to take the road less traveled not because they’re second rate, but because they’re innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in their dreams. I was also inspired by the Indie Kidlit Podcast, Marti Dumas, Elena Paige, Darcy Pattison, Kobi Yamada, Nancy Tillman and the original indie author, Beatrix Potter.

When authors go the traditional route, they are hoping an agent and publisher will connect with their work so much that they will say “yes,” and invest their time and money to make their dreams a reality. I decided to tell myself “yes,” and I embarked on a thrilling, bumpy, sometimes sleepless roller coaster that was better than I could ever imagine.

I love that publishing, and in this case, children’s publishing offers different paths to success. You and I have talked about that before. In your case, you didn’t stop at self-publishing, you also started your own publishing company. What brought that idea on? Looking forward, what are your plans for Antique at Heart? If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. So, I started a little indie publishing company, where I also sell educational games (with more to come). In the future, I’d like to publish more of my picture books, add Middle-Grade books to the list and publish my friend’s stories (hint hint).

Nest, sketch

I haven’t actually held the book in my hands (yet!) but the illustrations look GORGEOUS! Where did you find your illustrator? My illustrator and I actually went to youth group together when we were teenagers. This was her first time illustrating a children’s book, so we knew we would both be learning along the way. But she made things so easy for me! Working with Deja was a dream come true! She was so attentive and produced images I could never have imagined. I literally sent her one picture I sketched, (see above) and she blew me away with her skill, craftsmanship and integrity every step of the way.

Have you been able to keep writing while ironing out the logistics of starting your own business and coming up with a marketing plan for your debut picture book? Not really. I have a few ideas that I’m wrestling with right now for future books, but this experience has really transformed how I see the books I’ve already written. Some of the books I shelved are actually more marketable than my tried-and-true favorites, so I’ll be focusing on the ones I know how to market first. I have to think like a publisher now, which is a good idea for any writer. That’s how you sell books to readers … and agents and publishers.

What a great perspective; ‘think like a publisher’. How are you approaching your book launch? What are you most excited about? What feels most daunting? I’ve never launched a book so I am learning A LOT. I am learning things about social media that really make me feel like an antique. I am working on Pinterest as well to make my book available to more readers. And I’ve found that Amazon reviews are very important whether you are traditionally or indie published. (So, if you read the book, I would LOVE a quick one-sentence review … even if it’s not your cup of tea!)

I am a mix of excited and terrified about the whole process. But I keep going … and I owe a lot of my momentum to our Kickstarter campaign. Once the campaign was fully funded, I felt like I had an entire team behind me, and I couldn’t let them down. That is incredibly humbling and weighty at the same time.

I’ve seen you posting about the prep work you and your family are doing for your book launch.  How involved are your kiddos in your writing? Do they understand what’s coming? (Isn’t this what its ALL ABOUT! Those pictures are my favorite!) My kids aren’t super involved in the writing process, because I need quiet to be creative. But they are always giving me ideas—and their feedback is so valuable. They help me in all sorts of ways though. My daughter (who is now 6) wants to illustrate my books one day, and I can totally see it happening. She colors and creates her own picture books just like I did as a kid. My almost-8-year-old helps me assemble the kits and my 3-year-old just loves to run into my office and tear things apart. Haha! But I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book if I hadn’t been nursing my new little guy (who was born in March). That gave me a little time away each day to focus on him and the book. I don’t think even I know what’s coming (LOL), but the kids are SO excited to sell the book at local events because they are little entrepreneurs in the making. One big reason I decided to start my own publishing company was to show them you could accomplish anything with a lot of faith and what I call “stick-to-it-tive-ness.”

Yes! One of my mom’s favorite words is ‘tenacity’ and you definitely have oodles of tenacity! Where can we order a copy?!? The book, free coloring pages and a free art class full of ideas for making your Nest for the Savior are available at ANestfortheSavior.com. The book is also available on Amazon, BN.com, and in select Barnes and Noble locations. If you make a nest, be sure to enter the #BestNestContest on Facebook or Instagram from November 7—December 15, 2018, for a chance to win fun prizes!

What’s next? Do you have more manuscripts that are ready for publication? Can we find/follow you on social media? I hope to release another book in May 2019. I will keep you posted on that! But, in the meantime, follow me and the book at Facebook.com/ANestfortheSavior and Instagram.com/ANestfortheSavior.

Thank you so much, Jenny, for all your help and encouragement! I can’t wait to celebrate your first book launch with you!

Didi and book

Awe, shucks! Thanks, Didi. I can’t wait for that day either! Stay tuned… more goodness to come. Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Willa wants a bite!

When Willa walked inside,

Her nose picked up a scent.

Today is Halloween!

She knew what that smell meant.

 

The cauldron, piping hot.

It was her favorite meal!

Just thinking of the stew

Made Willa want squeal.

 

She pleaded for a taste.

Her stomach gave a growl.

Mom said she’d have to wait.

She howled a hungry howl.

 

Then pulled on her costume

And shivered down the road.

She hoped when she returned

She’d have a candy load!

 

And after the last house

Shared all their tricks and treats

She raced home, just in time,

A frightfully good feast!

 

 

In my family, Halloween has become the de facto favorite holiday.  We all gather at my parent’s house and cousins in costumes trick or treat around the neighborhood while Nana & Papa pass out candy. After every house on the block has been hit up for candy, we all rush back and feast on her famous Taco Soup. Its (barely) controlled chaos and we all love it.  My contribution this year will be three Looney Toons characters; Daffy, Bugs and the Roadrunner to be exact. 

I hope that whatever your plans are tomorrow, the weather is wonderful, moods are cheerful and there is plenty of the good candy to go around.  The story above is my entry into Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest.  The rules are simple, 100 words or less, must take place on Halloween and incorporate three words decided on by Her Majesty, Queen of Contests (Susanna, of course) at the start; this year’s words are cauldron, howl, and shiver. (I checked all the boxes and had one word to spare!  Plus, I’ve never entered a rhyme before!) If you have any extra time, head over to her website and check out all of the fantastic entries!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Marcie Colleen

Marcie, thanks for being here! Before we get started, I’ll ask you the same questions I ask all my Paper People guests, can I get you something to drink?  Absolutely! I’ll take a coffee. Black. No sugar. Lucky for my readers, my books are a bit sweeter than my beverage of choice!

And thanks so much for having me. What a thrill to mark the one year anniversary of LOVE, TRIANGLE with you! Time certainly flies.

Coffee for me too! Except, I’ll take just a touch of cream and sugar in mine. Your name and face are well known throughout the industry and I love the story of your journey to publishing. (If you’re curious, check out this Huffpost article. It’s a great read.) So, I want to start this interview off differently: Here’s a little of my background, in keeping with the triangle theme: I was raised as the middle of three girls, my husband is the oldest of three boys and we have three children of our own. You might say that 3 is our lucky number (except it isn’t, 11 is.) Do you have a favorite number? Do you have a favorite shape? Wow! That’s a lot of threes!

I have always thought 4 was my lucky number because it has followed me around quite a bit. I was born in April, the fourth month. My childhood home had two 4s in the phone number and two in the house number. And there were 4 people in my family (my parents, my brother, and me). Oh, and I got married and sold both LOVE, TRIANGLE and PENGUINAUT! (my first books) in 2014 when I was 40! And I live in apartment #4. So, let’s stick with 4.

As for my favorite shape, I have always gravitated to heart-shaped stuff. Hearts on dresses, dishes, artwork, etc. I just love hearts!

Ohh, 4 does seem to be following you around! My critique partners and other kid-lit friends have heard me talk a lot about my love for science, but guess what? I love math just as much! The world definitely needs more math-themed picture books. Where did you find the inspiration for LOVE, TRIANGLE? Did the theme of friendship and inclusion come first, or did it find you after the geometry did?  Many have probably already heard me tell this story, but It’s kind of funny, so worth telling again.

I attended my first ever conference—the Winter 2012 SCBWI conference in New York City. One of the keynotes was given by bestselling author, Cassandra Clare, and titled “Love Triangles and Forbidden Love: Creating and Maintaining Romantic Tension in YA Literature.” Much of what she had to say made me blush. I turned to picture book author, Jodi Moore, who was sitting next to me, and jokingly whispered, “Doubt I will use anything from THIS in a picture book.” Jodi responded, “You never know.” That planted the seed. At that moment, I wondered if there was any way I could possibly write a love triangle picture book. I guess you can say that I was first inspired to write a picture book about a trio dealing with friendship and inclusion.

I kept mulling over the idea and, a little over a year later, the premise finally came to me: a Circle and a Square are best friends until a more interesting Triangle shows up. So, although I didn’t set out to write a geometrical, math-focused picture book, once I had the idea of Circle, Square, and Triangle as the main characters, it became just that.

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I love stories that start with an ‘aha’ moment! I can tell you that your play on words with the title LOVE, TRIANGLE has inspired one of my own manuscripts. (Still in a very, very, early version.) So, fun fact, you’re my first established author that I’ve had on Paper People, but in the realm of picture books, LOVE, TRIANGLE was your first.  I had every intention of asking how you switched from chapter books to picture books here… but then I did my homework. I read that Penguinaut! was the first book you sold (more later) LOVE, TRIANGLE, your second, and after those came SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS, even though the series was published first. Did I say that all correctly? What a roller coaster, it happened backward! Can you tell us a little about LOVE, TRIANGLE’s path to publication?  Yes. That is correct. I sold PENGUINAUT! in September 2014, LOVE, TRIANGLE in November 2014 and was contracted to write The Super Happy Party Bears series in October 2015. So, it was a little backwards.

LOVE, TRIANGLE was just an inkling of an idea for quite a while after being challenged by Cassandra Clare’s keynote. But I finally tackled writing it in early 2014. Once it was ready, my agent sent it out on submission at about 4pm at night (there’s that number again!) By morning we had several publishers interested!

I then spent about a week meeting on the phone with each interested editor, discussing their vision for the book and on November 12, 2014, we went to auction. FIVE HOUSES were interested! It was amazing. I had already sold PENGUINAUT!, but I was essentially a debut and five houses were interested!

Alessandra Balzer from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins won the auction and then we got to work tweaking the text and getting an illustrator on board (BOB SHEA!). Alessandra looped me in every step of the way and it was fascinating and exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better “first time” experience.

Wow! What a whirlwind of a week that must have been. Do you remember the first time you saw LOVE, TRIANGLE on a bookstore shelf?  Of course! I had a little brunch get-together with some kidlit buds on the morning of October 3rd and toasted LOVE, TRIANGLE’s debut. And then that night my husband and I went to the local Barnes & Noble. There it was. Sitting proudly on the shelf with all the other picture books.

I remember thinking, “Wow! I am now in TWO different sections of the Children’s Department! The Chapter Books and the Picture Books.” What a rush!

From a marketing perspective, you already had publishing credentials to your name when LOVE, TRIANGLE was released. Did you do anything differently for LOVE, TRIANGLE than you did SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS? What do you think worked the best? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? HarperCollins sent me on a two-week/six-city book tour right after LOVE, TRIANGLE came out, so that was exciting! And since then, I have done a lot more story-times in bookstores than I did with Super Happy Party Bears. Although I have done more school visits with Super Happy Party Bears, probably because of the age level.

I can’t say I am the best at promotion and marketing. But I do love attending kidlit events like book festivals and conferences and am sure to do what not only might promote my books but also fuels and excites me as a creative. If something in the vein of marketing or promoting doesn’t excite me, I won’t do it because my energy would be better spent writing more books.

What great advice! I know so many authors struggle with the marketing aspect, and I’m sure keeping it authentic is one of the greatest challenges.  But, just like anything else, if something feels awkward and forced, you won’t be nearly as successful as when you’re engaged and authentic.  You are a woman of many, many hats! Not only are you churning out chapter books and picture books, you also teach writing courses, both electronically and the live version, not to mention you throw Friday dance parties, and so much more! Thank you for being such a champion for the entire kid lit industry. Think back to when you were just starting out, how did you find your place? Where did it all start for you? Who were the industry leaders who were most influential as you were learning the tricks of your (new) trade? I owe so much to those who encouraged me when I first started out. The biggest shout out goes to Alvina Ling, Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers who read my very first manuscript (as a favor to my husband) and gave me the advice to 1) join SCBWI, 2) find a critique group, and 3) start reading blogs like Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon.  She very well could have been dismissive, but instead, she was nurturing and took me seriously. Had she not, I might have thought this wasn’t worth pursuing.

I took all Alvina’s advice to heart and started meeting other writers. I also found an online tribe at Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (now called StoryStorm). Many of the people I met in 2011, while first participating in PiBoIdMo are still my very good friends.

Bottom line, Brene Brown said it best when she said, “My creativity requires midwifery. I need to be able to talk, tell stories and get feedback. Creativity. We don’t have to do it alone.” I have had a lot of midwives. I could never repay them, but I do make it my mission to never discourage even the greenest of writers, even if they are the cousin of my dentist’s babysitter who is writing a story. Everyone deserves to be encouraged and have a shot. That’s what Alvina did for me and I am forever grateful.

I keep Brene’s books close to my head and my heart because so much of what she says about creativity & vulnerability resonate with me.  Her words help me to keep the answer to ‘why am I doing this’ in focus, even on the most discouraging of days.  Taking it a step further, in an interview with Kidlit 411 from last summer, you said: “The more I create, the more ideas I generate.” What a simple and undeniable fact! I always remind myself that creativity begets creativity.  (Elizabeth Gilbert would be proud, am I right?) What do you do when your creative well runs dry? How do you replenish your energy? What an excellent question! I just gave the closing keynote at SCBWI Midsouth’s conference in Nashville and it was all about self-care and how it both fuels and replenishes.

Instead of waiting until my well runs dry, I have instituted routines within each day to keep me mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. Every day I journal (inspired by Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way), I meditate for at least 10 minutes, and I read something inspiring. This is all a great way to start the day.

In the afternoon, when I start to feel tired or tapped, I take a jog. Just a two-mile run is usually enough to get the cobwebs out and get back to work again.

And in the evening, my husband and I take a 3 mile walk into Balboa Park. Often, we don’t even talk on these walks. Instead, since we are both creatives, we mull over what to do next in our projects.

I have found that if I am continuously caring for myself, my creativity flourishes. Also like to fill myself with theatre and music and positivity whenever I can, too.

You aren’t my first interviewee to mention The Artist’s Way. I need to educate myself, asap. Your routine sounds so grounded, thanks for giving us a peek into your process. So, on October 3 you celebrated one year of being a picture book author! Congratulations! Did you do anything special for your book-iversary? I did not. I am so bad about these things. That was a Wednesday and I spent the whole day at the library working on another book and teaching a Writing Picture Books class in the evening at the University of California at San Diego. I guess that is a good way to pay tribute to LOVE, TRIANGLE…write more books and inspire others to do the same!  

Penguianut cover low res

And this month PENGUINAUT releases this month as well! Can you tell us a little about this (much anticipated) second (but actually first) picture book of yours?  It comes out October 30th!!! PENGUINAUT! is about a spunky little penguin named Orville who lives at the zoo, surrounded by animal pals who go on exciting adventures. A hang gliding rhino! A deep-sea diving giraffe! Orville struggles to keep up, until one day he concocts an adventure all his own: build a spaceship and fly to the moon all by himself. I am super excited to introduce Orville to any kid with big dreams and a strong sense of determination. And Emma Yarlett out-did herself with the illustrations!

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I can certainly think of three Prevost children who are going to love Orville’s story! We can’t wait to meet him! Anything ELSE coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  My next picture book does not come out until Winter 2020. It is called THE BEAR’S GARDEN and it is going to be illustrated by Alison Oliver (of BabyLit books fame) and published by Macmillan/Imprint. It’s a story inspired by an actual community garden in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. The garden is called the Brooklyn Bears Community Garden because of a stuffed bear that was found in the abandoned lot. I have written a fictitious story about how that bear might have come to be among the weeds. I am really excited about this book and to show a quieter, gentler side of my writing.

I also have one more super-secret picture book project that I sold earlier this year, which will be published in 2021.

20160113_D800_marciecolleen_headshot_9442_3x4

You can learn all about my upcoming projects at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or follow me on Twitter @MarcieColleen1.

Marcie, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your wisdom and experience with us! The Kid Lit world is blessed to have you as one of its leaders. 😊

Coming soon… more musings, a contest entry (it’s Hallowensie time folks!) and an interview with a dear friend who is launching her first picture book! Hope you’ll be around to read it all.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Crossroads.

A few months ago, I came to a seemingly clumsy crossroads. I love blogging, and picture books are still one of my favorite subjects… but I’ve covered a lot of ground in the past couple of years and I don’t really have anything new to report.  (Still writing, revising, submitting and waiting.) I feel like I’ve run out of topics that would be helpful and informative and I loathe the idea of writing without substance. So, I stalled.  I’m incredibly grateful for Paper People, those interviews have kept me connected but once a month isn’t enough. I love writing to adult audiences as much as I love working through picture book revisions and I’ve really been missing it.  I thought long and hard about revising my content here, to make room for other musings, but it never really felt ‘right.’ I want to broaden my topics and write from my personal & parenting experience but couldn’t figure out a way that blends the two naturally.

Well, fast forward to the end of August, after a particularly powerful lunch with a friend, I had a message waiting in my inbox.  If you believe in coincidences, I can see where this might fit into that category, I prefer to think of it as incredibly serendipitous.  Long story, short, at the nudging of a (different) friend, I applied and was accepted as a contributor for Lafayette Mom’s Blog! I’ve been a follower and a fan of theirs for months, and I’m thrilled to have another writing outlet and find myself surrounded by like-minded mommas.  (Not to mention I have something to add to my cover letter’s now!)   

One of the things I’m most excited about it to have a platform to share my love of literacy, supporting local authors and shining the light on the up and comers of the kid lit industry.  I do imagine there will be a lot of crossover content, and I can’t wait! I hope you’ll click over and check out their website, even if you aren’t local (or a mom!)  I’m already overwhelmed with ideas and hope I can bring some of them to fruition.  I also feel energy and inspiration pulsing again, in the way that creativity begets creativity, writing helps me to write more! Now I have deadlines and decisions in front of me, and a whole world of topics waiting to be covered. I hope you’ll stick around; Magnolias & Manuscripts will always be my first love.

Would you believe it? Just sitting down to write this post lit a small but very necessary fire under me! Stay tuned for the October edition of Paper People, it’s going to be epic!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Randi Mrvos

Just over one year ago, I was fortunate to celebrate the release of a friends debut picture book and be a part of her ‘book launch team.’ It was a wonderful experience and it gave me the chance to pay her back for the kindness she had shown me, not to mention watching someone actually cross the line from pre-published to book-in-hand, true, blue published author. You know how they say ‘time flies when you’re having fun’? Well, time flies when you’re writing picture books as well and here we are, celebrating her Book-iversary! I love how this conversation came full circle, with an interview before, a book review during and another interview after! Read on as my friend, Randi and I talk about all that she’s learned with MAGGIE.

 

Randi, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? I’d love a cappuccino, please.

Mmmm, a woman after my own heart.  So as we settle in here, I’ll get everyone else caught up to speed. I first interviewed Randi last July when her debut picture book MAGGIE AND THE SUMMER VACATION SHOW AND TELL was about to release.  If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s a charming story about ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and the struggle to find contentment in our own possessions/experiences.  Randi, I have to ask, because I so often struggle with this and hear of others feeling the same.  Did you live out MAGGIE’S struggle at any point in the process? Did you ever find yourself comparing your writing journey to others? How do you combat this struggle? Being published by a small press, I constantly compared myself to others who had been published traditionally.  They had better opportunities of being featured in the local newspaper, getting book reviews, and having libraries buy their books.  I wasn’t jealous, but I struggled with getting the attention I thought my book deserved.  So, I had to remind myself that this was my journey, this was my book.  I found solace in knowing that Maggie is a powerful and heartfelt book.  It awards readers with a story that shows kids about animal rescue and how to deal with peer pressure.

Oh, it does all that and so much more. I know that MAGGIE had a windy, bumpy road to publication. (You can read about it, and the first interview I did with Randi here.)   I know you’ve spent the better part of the past year with your efforts and energy focused on marketing and book promotion.  Was it difficult to continue writing during this process or did it spark your creativity? As soon as my book was accepted for publication, I dove into researching how to promote a book.  For months, I lived and breathed marketing.  Though I wasn’t able to spend time on developing new stories, I was able to tap into my creativity by designing bookmarks, composing announcements, and creating unique tabletop displays for book signings.

How did you find Cactus Moon Publishing? Did you know they would be a good fit or was that just a stroke of good luck Actually, it was hard work and luck.  I submitted Maggie to 50 agents, but without any success.  I put Maggie on the shelf while I worked on other projects.  Several years later, I decided to hire manuscript editor Mary Kole.  We worked on several stories, including Maggie.  That’s when I realized how much I loved the story.  Maggie was revised and then submitted to five more agents, one of them being Melissa Carrigee.  She loved the story, too.  Fortuitously, she had just become the creative director for Cactus Moon.

I know that there are pros & cons to working with any publishing company, but you can speak to the indie publisher experience. For instance, I remember you had a say in picking the illustrator, which is something authors seldom get to do. What were the perks of working with a small press? Is there anything you would do differently? There are pros and cons to publishing with a small press.  On the positive side, publishing with an indie press is generally much faster than with a traditional press.  We’re talking nine months from acceptance letter to the production of the book.  I also had the good fortune to choose an illustrator, to select the font and page layout, and to design the book cover.  This is unheard of with traditional publishers.

On the downside, small presses usually cannot pay for much marketing or for the Kirkus and School Library Journal reviews.

If I had to do things differently, I wouldn’t have gone whole hog on spending.  My publisher was not able to reimburse me.  Now I know the importance of making a budget and only buying marketing tools that have been proven to work.

I was lucky enough to be a part of your book launch team! How much work went into planning out your ‘book launch’ strategy? How did you decide where to spend your energy? What were some of your biggest marketing lessons? I spent months on developing the launch and putting together the perfect team.  Most of my energy was spent on getting the word out on social media.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was to listen to my heart.  You see, some people told me I should use Pinterest and Instagram to promote my book.  And I did, but those platforms did not bring great results.  My advice would be to market a book in a way that feels comfortable, organic, and naturally right for you.

As of August 23rd, you’ve been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-anniversary! Seems like we should be toasting something other than coffee! I suppose I should have a glass of champagne!

Cheers! Do you remember the first time you saw MAGGIE on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! I was so excited to see Maggie in the children’s section of a prominent bookstore in my hometown, Lexington, Kentucky.  My baby was sharing a shelf with kindred picture books!  Shh…don’t tell anyone. I turned the cover facing outward to take a picture of the amazing cover and left it turned out so people could discover it.

Book on a shelf

What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I was surprised to feel depressed and sad after my book was published.  While there is no greater joy than holding your book, I felt like a failure in terms of marketing.  I had hoped to sell more books.  I also felt let down by some friends.  It was shocking and disappointing.  However, times like these taught me lessons about people and showed me my true friends.

I know that you’re hoping to find an agent in the near future. (Lucky you, you have plenty to put in the ‘publishing credentials’ section of a query.) What’s your research process like? What are you looking for in an agent? My research consists of googling literary agents and going to the Manuscript Wishlist.  Writer’s markets books and guides can’t stay up to date as fast as the internet.  In terms of an agent, I’m looking for someone who is supportive, optimistic, gets my humor, and appreciates my voice.

Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?     Yes!  I’ve written a humorous kid’s book and a lyrical picture book.  And they’re both about cats.

It would be awesome if the fans of Magnolias and Manuscripts would connect with me on LinkedIn  and check out my blogs The Maggie Project and Children’s Writer’s World along with my website. I promise there is something valuable and fun for everyone.

You’re definitely one of the hardest working women I know! Thanks, so much, for taking the time to visit with me! My pleasure!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Waiting Place.

“Waiting for the fish to bite

Or waiting for wind to fly a kite

Or waiting around for Friday night

Or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

Or a pot to boil or a Better Break

Or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

Or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.”

 

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again… the pursuit of publishing is not for the faint of heart! The rejections will knock the wind out of your sails, sure, but by far the most challenging ‘nearly-make-you-lose-your-mind’ part is all… the… waiting. To be fair I don’t even know about the kind of waiting that comes when a book is ACTUALLY being published, which is a whole other breed of monster I’m sure (which I imagine feels a lot like a 24month pregnancy.)  I’m only talking about the waiting that comes after you finally hit ‘send.’

I’ve been doing my research, right? I believe I have ‘enough’ picture book manuscripts that are ‘ready’. (Though who ever really knows how much is ‘enough’ and when something is really ‘ready’?) I also have been paying close attention and have had an opportunity to submit a couple of those manuscripts to editors that are looking for something similar to what I have to offer.  So, I feel better about my chances than I have in a while. (I’m also having a déjà vu.) Taking it one step further, I had an exciting local opportunity that presented itself but was not without its own waiting game. Here I am, twiddling my thumbs, checking my inbox 157 times a day, each time simultaneously bracing for a rejection and hoping for a ‘revise and resubmit’ or maybe even a “Hey, I like this. Let’s talk!”  It’s enough to drive a girl crazy, I tell ya! Thankfully, I remembered the wise words of Dr. Seuss,

“NO!

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape

all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bring places

where Boom Bands are playing.”

The short version of a long story? I didn’t find ‘boom bands’ but I did find a paintbrush. Here’s what I’m working on…

piggy bank, etc

Both the piggy bank and the heart are symbols of some of my favorite works- in-progress. With the help of a few good songs, leftover craft paint and a quiet weekend afternoon, I channeled all of my ‘waiting’ anxieties into these projects. It didn’t completely erase the bouts of impatience, but I’m checking my email a lot less, and I reset my focus. For one I got my BIC and wrote this long overdue, post. (Am I right, Ali?)  I often forget, and eventually remember that creativity, away from my laptop is the best salve for an anxious itch. If you find yourself in a similar restless place, for whatever reason, try channeling those energies in a totally different direction! You might not find an answer, but I can almost promise you’ll have fun.

Want some good news? I have another great Paper People Interview coming your way. Next week, Randi Mrvos will join me again. The last time we talked her debut picture book was releasing and she’ll be joining me to talk about all that she’s learned in the past year.  If you want a refresher, check out my first interview and review of her delightful book MAGGIE AND THE SUMMER VACATION SHOW AND TELL.

 

Ps- I’m 1 for 3 on good news replies.  Eeek!

(Oh, and in case you didn’t know Dr. Seuss quotes are found in OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Katey Howes

Just under a year ago, I started this interview series with the hope of making connections with up and coming authors, picking their brains about the release of their debut picture books and learning the stories behind some of our favorite stories.  I was incredibly fortunate that one kind connection led to another and the interviews quickly picked up steam.  I’m sure that I would’ve found a way otherwise, but the gracious and generous Katey Howes is the one who put me in touch with my first few authors.  I’ve been anxiously awaiting this month to interview Katey and discuss her gorgeously wise debut picture book, GRANDMOTHER THORN.

Katey, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink?Thanks! I’ve had to cut back on coffee lately – since it’s good when a book gives you heart palpitations and bad when caffeine does it. So now my drink of choice is a pomegranate sparkling water. In a coffee cup, if you don’t mind. (I can still pretend.)

Well that sounds deliciously refreshing. I applaud your efforts but I’ll keep coffee in my cup. Cheers to you and GRANDMOTHER THORN!   I’ve said this to you before, but I give you so much of the credit for helping get this interview series off the ground! I’m not even sure why you were so nice to me, but I’d be willing to bet it has something to do with paying it forward.  Who were some of the people who helped you when you were first starting out?  How did you find your way, at least this far, into the kidlit-sphere? Well, I can’t say I deserve any credit, but I am thrilled to know that I helped you recognize how valuable and important your voice is to the kidlit world. We should all surround ourselves with people who remind us that our perspective matters, and who challenge us to do, be, and imagine more for ourselves than we think possible.

Among those people for me – now and I’m hoping forever – are my kidlit family from All the Wonders, my debut group at Picture the Books, and my Critique Pandas. (I mean, partners.) But it took me years to develop those relationships. I started my author journey, as many do, feeling like an outsider.

When I attended my first SCBWI conference in New Jersey in 2014, I was so lost. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I just really wanted to write a book, you know? Despite my utter naivete and painful anxiety, both Ame Dykeman and Tara Lazar made me feel welcome – and nowhere near as clueless as I thought I was. I owe them both a debt of gratitude for the simple acts of being kind and willing to answer questions from a newbie.

At the same time, I made connections through the WordPress community. I’d just started a blog about raising readers, and other bloggers like  Vivian Kirkfield, Patricia Nozell, and Darlene Beck-Jacobsen were lifting me up through their encouragement, interest, and kind feedback. I feel blessed to have them all in my life, and I’m determined to keep passing the encouragement along.

I’m a BIG fan of Matthew Winner’s podcast! I clearly remember your interview with him, back when it was still All the Wonders (now called The Children’s Book Podcast.) It was fantastic! You talked about GRANDMOTHER THORN and how you might not have had the courage to write it, had you known then what you know now about what’s ‘acceptable’ in picture books. (aka- you should have a child protagonist, you must follow the rule of three, the main character has to solve her own problem etc. etc. etc.) Like so many aspiring authors, I struggle with the ‘rules’.  I want to honor what works in this industry while still holding on to my own authentic voice.  Do you have a similar struggle?  How do you combat this? That was such a fun podcast! Aside from me being a nervous wreck, of course. But the best thing about it was hearing someone I really respect delve deeply into my book and share how it resonated with them. You don’t need that reaction, that connection, from everyone. You just need it from someone. The first time you read through a page of reviews of your book (not an activity I’d highly recommend), and you see how many varied opinions one story can evoke, you start to realize that you can’t please everyone, no matter how many rules you follow – or break. What I personally take away from that knowledge is that I need to simultaneously respect the traditions of the genre AND trust those things my instincts and my art bring to it that no one else can. And that doing so will often end in publishers saying “not for me” – but will sometimes, gloriously, end in “this is exactly the book I’ve been looking for.”

In GRANDMOTHER THORN, you teach a powerful lesson that I’ve read was a personal one for you.  Its interesting for me, because out of my three children, who all love the book, the one who loves it MOST is my middle child and he has the hardest time deviating from the norm.  I know on some days it’s ‘exactly the book HE’S been looking for’, so, thank you for sharing.  How did your experience with a stubborn vine morph into this gorgeous story? Did you have an ‘Aha’ moment at any point in your process? Please, tell your kids how much I appreciate hearing that they love the book. That’s the best part of being an author. My middle child is also the rule-follower of my three, and I’m a middle kid, too – so maybe there’s something significant there. I’ve always thought we middles were good at balance – but lately I’ve been wondering if what we’re really good at is pleasing others to keep the peace, and if following the rules is part of that. That’s a kind of balance that often doesn’t weigh our own happiness heavily enough.  But I digress. (I’m super good at digressing. Wonder if that’s a middle-child thing, too.)

I did, indeed, have an “aha” moment when I realized I was battling nature and that, given all the other constraints on my time and energy, I was not likely to win. It was one of those lessons life tries to gently teach you over and over again – that it’s OK to have finite resources – until it finally has to hit you in the face with it. Or with a raspberry bush. And so a story was born.

Wait! I’m a middle child too! Happy belated National Middle Child day. It’s the best place to be.  So, now that I’ve taken us off track too, I want to ask about your school visits. I remember ONE author visit in my entire elementary school career.  I wish I had been exposed to more at a younger age! You seem to have a wonderful plan in place for the schools you visit. How did you develop your process? What’s your main focus once you’re in front of the students? I haven’t done a lot of school visits yet, and each one is a still new experience. I have a list of possible topics and I have a deck of standard slides, but mostly I like to talk to the librarian or teachers who are hosting me and plan a unique program that’s going to support their curriculum and maybe open up some new inquiries and excitement in their students.  We might focus more on the idea of being “imperfectly perfect” for a school that wants to emphasize character development.  For a group with a new Makerspace or thriving garden program, I might focus instead on science concepts that relate to the books. I’m getting more and more comfortable with large group assemblies, but I’m really in my happy place with smaller groups –I like the personal connection to the kids, and the flexibility to cater to their curiosity. Skype visits are great, too! Aside from the inevitable tech hiccups, it has been such a joy to interact with kids I wouldn’t necessarily be able to travel to see.

I can imagine how rewarding it is to make connections with the students, via real life or skype life. What do you struggle with the most? Do you have any advice for authors just starting out on how to tackle this wonderful, unique and no doubt, overwhelming opportunity that comes for authors? I’m sure there are other authors who have this whole school visit thing down way better than I do. I often find myself wishing I could draw – because I’m super jealous of the presentations I see illustrators giving at schools! Or wishing that I didn’t shake quite so much when I’m up on an auditorium stage. And I’d love to have someone else handle the whole booking and contract and payment side of things! I’d say my best moments are the ones that feel natural – when I’m answering honest questions or telling personal stories or listening to kids’ big ideas or just being a total goofball and it feels less like a “school visit” and more like a room full of friends who all love books and get excited to talk about them.

On August 29th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! That’s only five days away!! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? What? Really? I honestly can’t believe that it’s been a year. And a busy one, too! 2 books released, a move to a new house in a new state, and a big learning curve on things like bookstore events, school visits, and book festivals. I hadn’t planned a celebration – but maybe I should! Maybe there will even be coffee. Or maybe I’ll treat myself to another bookcase.

There is ALWAYS room for more coffee and another bookcase.  I dream of living in a house with bookcases lining ALL THE WALLS.  I support both! So, do you remember the first time you saw GRANDMOTHER THORN on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment!  My publisher, Ripple Grove Press, arranged two events at Portland, Oregon bookstores to coincide with the launch. Both the publisher and illustrator live in Portland, and I have family there, so I flew out to join them. I have to tell you, it was an incredible thrill walking into the iconic Powell’s Bookstore and seeing this display in the children’s section:

grandmother thorn, booktalker

We had an amazing turnout, and Powell’s sold out of copies. So, of course, I stole that little booktalker sign.

How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? There’s only so much control an author or illustrator can exert over sales – but I was determined to give it my all. Since Ripple Grove is a smaller press, there was no guarantee the book would find its way to big bookstore shelves – but I knew that indies are more flexible in their ordering and will really hand-sell and support books they love. I visited bookstores that I could drive to, dropping off catalogs and chatting with booksellers even though self-promotion makes me sick to my stomach. Sometimes I sat in my car for 40 minutes, just getting up the nerve to do it – but it was almost always worth the effort.

I emailed museums and botanical gardens with Japanese garden exhibits, and I basically begged everyone I knew across the country to bop into their local bookstore and request a copy and to suggest the store carry a few more. I sent bookmarks everywhere!

I moved just a month before the book’s release, which meant I didn’t know the area especially well. Luckily, an author/illustrator in my new town, Jennifer Hansen Rolli, was incredibly generous with her knowledge and connections. Right away, she introduced me to Kathy at the local independent bookshop – Newtown Bookshop. Kathy is one of those amazing booksellers who knows every teacher and librarian and ravenous reader in a three-town area, and she has been a huge support for me. I highly recommend dropping in her store anytime you are north of Philadelphia.

What crazy timing, not to mention your second picture book was released not long after your first. (MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE) What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry?  Having two books come out in quick succession – and having them be such different books -made me a little nervous. One book was thoughtful and lyrical and more artistic, one funny and science-packed and more commercial.  How was I going to “sell” myself in the industry without a niche, a brand, a recognizable “oh yeah, she’s the one who writes the (fill in the blank) books”? I’d heard that authors should build a track record of similar books…another one of those rules that are, it turns out, pretty flexible.

Thank heavens for my wonderful agent, Essie White, who has been telling me since the day I signed with her that my versatility is a strength, not a detriment. She knew, even if I didn’t, that there is more than one way to build a reputation in publishing.  I guess I was most surprised to find out that I don’t need to be any “one kind” of author – I can just be the kind that adores language and storytelling, and I can let that take me on a series of very different adventures.

Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? I am over-the-moon excited for my next picture book, due out in March of 2019. BE A MAKER is being beautifully illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, who I have described on Twitter as a “magical mind-reading unicorn of an illustrator.”  I cannot believe how well she’s taken a very simple text and built layers of story into it, exactly as I’d imagined, but also way beyond what I could have asked for.  I cannot wait to share it with all of you!

BE A MAKER explores all the things a child can create in a day and plays with the many uses of the verb “to make” – but mostly it celebrates the idea that the world is full of possibilities, and we can choose the ones that make us feel happy, proud, and fulfilled.

I started working on this manuscript in the 12×12 writing forum in 2016, and the support and critiques I received from the community there really kept me going. This is my first rhyming book, and you may be aware that there’s another one of those “rules” that says that rhyme is hard to sell. There were definitely times I was tempted to ditch the couplets, but I’m oh-so-glad that my 12×12 friends wouldn’t let me do it!

There’s another very different, very secret picture book in the pipeline – so if you are curious, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @kateywrites or on Instagram @kidlitlove. As soon as it’s announced, you’ll learn more there.

katey-howes

Done and done! Encouraging children to recognize their own creativity is something I am so passionate about. So, BE A MAKER has a seat saved on my own bookshelf. Thanks so much for visiting with me! Thank you, for having me! It’s been so much fun “chatting” picture books with you.

 

Stay tuned! I have more great interviews to come and many more thoughts to share.

Here’s to hoping that your summer is wrapping up well and the school year starts off well; whatever that means for you, wherever you are!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 8 & 9 but not quite 10.

We came up short, but finished strong.  Truth be told, my kids have no idea… it’s splitting hairs between 91 and 100 picture books, anyway. What we didn’t accomplish in completion, we more than made up for in engaging activities.  We read Ferdinand, then joined so many other kids and parents at the library one afternoon to watch the movie version (and work on revisions from the back row.) We read all of the latest releases by my local SCBWI group mates, Margaret Simon, Paul Schexnayder, Denise Gallagher and Allyson Foti-Bourque. We covered non-fiction in so many wonderful ways which started even more wonderful conversations that carried on throughout the summer. (Thanks to SHARK LADY and then Shark Week, I might just have an aspiring marine biologist on my hands.) There were beyond the book activities, author interviews, new favorites and classics revisited. We even ended the summer at our local Science Museum and retold tidbits, both facts and fiction from the books that visited our house. Some of the greatest parts of our summer were watching YC retell the stories in his own words, or MC finishing an entire ELEPHANT & PIGGIE book all on his own.  Then there was OC who started and finished an entire SERIES this summer (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID didn’t stand a chance) and branch out to embrace different genres.  All in all, I call this second year of summer reading a smashing success.  Here are the rest of the titles we read:

1.       The Story of Ferdinand by Murno Leaf

2.       Meet Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle

3.       No Sleep for the Sheep by Karen Beaumont, art by Jackie Urbanovic

4.       Hiccupotamus by Steve Smallman, art by Ada Grey

5.       The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, art by Maria Frazee

6.       Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman

7.       Pete the Cat and the Lost Tooth by James Dean

8.       Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, art by Dan Yaccarino

9.       The Water Princess by Susan Verde, art by Peter Reynolds

10.   In the Time of Joy & Wonder by Paul Schexnayder

11.   Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, art by Adam Rex

12.   Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, art by Ross Collins

13.   A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

14.   A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters by James Otis Thach, art by David Udovic

15.   Don’t Touch this Book by Bill Cotter

16.   Duck, Duck, Moose by Sudpita Bardhan-Quallen, art by Noah Z Jones

17.   Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

18.   Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

19.   Pete the Cat and his 4 Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean

20.   Lost for Words by Natalie Russell

21.   Shoo, Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

 There was a symbolic, throwing in of the towel, however, and I think it’s an important conversation for another day.  The short version of a long story is that I lost track of the adult reader in me in the midst of all the picture books. My self-imposed summer reading challenge became something to merely ‘get through’ and I found myself reading out of obligation instead of pleasure. Sure, there’s something to be said about ‘when the going gets tough’ but I think, in this case, keeping the focus on my original intention was more important than finishing just for the sake of finishing.  Once I felt myself disengage, I knew it was only a matter of time before my kids caught on and followed suit.  I couldn’t let that happen and thankfully, the answer to my problem was right under my nose. 

Weeks ago, I borrowed a novel from the shelf of my sister. I carried it with me through vacations, afternoons by pool and waiting rooms at the doctor’s office but never once cracked the cover.  So, guess what I did? I read a book! Not just any book either, THE BOOK OF OVE. It was delightful and poignant, silly and sad and just what the doctor ordered. The fact that I took advantage of the slow pace of summer to indulge in moments of reading for myself is my shining achievement.  It may not seem like much, but it put balls in motion that I didn’t anticipate and gave me the chance to be more than mom, wife, writer and nurse… I was a reader again!

My kids are back in school now, summer is officially over for us (too bad the heat will stick around until the pumpkins come out) and this is the end of our second annual #100PictureBookSummer.  Thanks for all the recommendations and encouragement along the way!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Joy Keller

Surprise! It’s Paper People time again!! If summer is hotter than you need and you find yourself dreaming of the cooler days of the fall, undoubtedly your thoughts will turn to Halloween. Am I right? Mmm, just think of those cool, crisp evenings and how pleasant it is to be outside trick-or-treating. Close your eyes, can you feel the breeze? Can you see the leaves changing? Now, open. Sorry, it’s still summer and it’s WAY TOO HOT too many places. If you had a moment of relief, though, then you’ll be thrilled to read on as I talk to 2017 debut picture book author Joy Keller about her adorable (Halloween themed) book MONSTER TRUCKS.

Joy, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, can I get you something to drink? I would love some coffee. Really, that’s the only thing that keeps me going lately!

COFFEE! Yes, always. Cheers! Now that we’ve settled in, with adorable and warm mugs in hand, let’s get started.  In addition to being an author, you’re also a teacher and I saw that you started a blog with ‘beyond the book’ activities for teachers (and parents) along with author interviews.  What was your motivation to start Picture This: A Blog for Teachers? As an elementary teacher, I’m always coming across lists of recommended picture books. Most of these lists are a few years old. Some don’t look like they’ve been updated since I was a kid. While many of those titles are timeless, I want there to be a place where teachers can learn about what’s new in the world of picture books and come away with a really easy, fun way to incorporate them into the classroom. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with my blog.

As a parent I appreciate that so much! I always want to give books as gifts to my kid’s teachers but want to do so wisely.  Your blog makes it so easy! Do you enjoy being on the other side of the interview process? What’s your vision for the future of your blog? I’d much rather be on YOUR side of the interview process! There’s less pressure over there! Really, though, I love hearing about the process other writers and illustrators use when creating.

As my blog following grows, I’d love it to become more interactive. I’ve always believed that good teachers are good thieves; they recognize the great work their colleagues are doing and then use those ideas themselves. I hope my blog becomes a place where educators share the awesome ways they’ve used some of these books in their own classrooms. There’s a lot we can learn from each other!

I read your Two Debut Interview with Allison Goldberg and you two talked about Halloween costumes.  She already asked about your favorite costume. (Queen of Hearts! That’s mine too!) What was your favorite costumes that your own kiddos chose?  My favorite kids’ costumes are actually the ones I chose when they were really little. We had someone knit a Princess Leia hat for my daughter and a Yoda hat for my son. Princess Leia looked adorable but slept through all the trick-or-treating (she was only eight months old). Yoda had a great time, though…even if a few neighbors thought he was a green bunny!

I love coordinating costumes! A couple years back, we had a Buzz Lightyear and Woody.  (Rumor has it that we’ll have a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck this year, fingers crossed!) Let’s talk about MONSTER TRUCKS!  I have two young boys, ages 4 & 6 (aka Daffy & Bugs) and they’re right in your target audience sweet spot! Your book does a wonderful job of telling a ‘Halloween’ story without ever feeling like a holiday book. I mean, who doesn’t love Halloween first of all? But second, you add big tough trucks! Do you have a favorite monster? Or a truck you’d love to drive? (I have 2 Yeti fans over here, their older sister likes Ogre and I’m partial to the Witch!)  Let me start by saying that I’m so glad your family liked the book. That’s all an author could ask for!

My favorite spread in MONSTER TRUCKS is the one featuring the witch driving the street sweeper. Not only is the witch my favorite monster and the sweeper my favorite truck, but the entire spread is full of my favorite animals—CATS! I think Misa Saburi’s interpretation of that scene is absolute genius.

Yes! Great mom’s think alike! Next month, on August 27th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you so much! To be perfectly honest, I haven’t made any plans to celebrate that day. Publishing a book is such a long process, with so many moments to celebrate along the way, that I never thought of the release date as the day the book was “born.” I celebrated seeing the illustrations for the first time, and holding the advanced copy in my hands, and seeing the book online, and finding it in the library. But now that you have me thinking about it, I can’t turn down a chance for a party, can I?? 

Absolutely not! There’s always room for a party. Do you remember the first time you saw MONSTER TRUCKS on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment!  I do remember it! I was at Barnes and Noble by myself, and I went to see if MONSTER TRUCKS was in the children’s section. AND IT WAS! It seemed so unreal that I just stared at the shelf. That’s when an employee came over and asked, “Can I help you with something?” I suddenly felt embarrassed to be staring at my own book so I mumbled, “No, thanks. I’m just browsing.” It was totally awkward!

(Pause for giggling.) That story is amazing and so refreshingly honest. How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? I think the lesson in that last story is that I’m terrible at marketing myself. I’m very uncomfortable doing the promotions thing, and I think other people sense it when I attempt to put on my salesperson hat.

Luckily, I’m good at making friends, and that has gone a long way in helping spread the word about my book. In this industry, you can’t do it alone. I was asked to join the Picture the Books group with fellow debut authors, and we worked together to market our books. I also have to thank the Fairport community where I live and teach for spreading the word and making my release party a huge success.

So, in a nutshell, I guess my marketing trick is to make connections: send out postcards to bookstores and libraries, reach out to the people in your community, and find fellow writers to be your support group.

Thanks for that advice, seems incredibly important regardless of where you are on your writing journey. Now that you have one year under your belt, what’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve discovered how much authors enjoy hearing that other people like their books! Before I was published, I was an avid reader (not surprisingly). Never did I imagine that an author would want to hear that I loved their book. I couldn’t believe that a real-life, published author would even remotely care about what I thought. But authors do care! We want to know when our stories have connected with a reader.

 Last fall, I was at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival and got to meet my childhood hero, James Howe. I seized the opportunity to tell him how much I love his writing. I also told him that when I was in fourth grade, I’d read the entire BUNNICULA series to my cat. He was very gracious and assured me that lots of children have done the same thing!

I know you have another book coming out soon! Can you tell us a little about Miss Turie’s Magic Creatures? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? Certainly! MISS TURIE’S MAGIC CREATURES is really a conversation between the owner of a magical pet store and a young boy looking for the pet of his dreams. Let’s just say he’s a pretty tough customer, and Miss Turie has to show him LOTS of pets before he finds the right one for him! It’s being published by The Innovation Press. They’re also publishing my next book, A FUNGUS IS AMONG US! It’s a humorous nonfiction picture book with the feel of a 1950’s horror film.

To stay updated on these books (and hopefully more in the future!), people can follow me on Twitter @jrkeller80.

I am anxiously awaiting both of those titles; I can’t wait to get my hands on them! Best of luck with your marketing 😉 and thanks so much for visiting with me! It was my pleasure! Thank you for helping me celebrate the book-iversay of MONSTER TRUCKS!

Joy Keller

So, there you go, another wonderful interview filled with real-life tricks (and treats) of the trade three more books to add to your TBR list! I hope you’re learning as much as I am from these generous debut authors. Stay tuned next month for more great interviews and the last thirty titles of our #100PictureBookSummer.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 5, 6 & 7!

This one could also be called ‘Important Books’ or ‘What happens when you bite off more blogging than you can chew!’… three weeks in one post, here goes!

1. How to Track a Truck by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco (YC picked this one!)
2. I Won’t Eat That by Christopher Silas Neal
3. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (Wow. This one left me speechless.)
4. Elephant & Piggie, There is a Bird on Your Head! By Mo Willems (MC cannot get enough of these two.)
5. 101 Reasons Why I’m NOT Taking a Bath by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Joy Ang (#boymom)
6. The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller
7. May I Have a Word? By Caron Lewis, illustrated by Andy Rash
8. Moo! By David LaRouchelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutkla
9. Wolfie the Bunnie by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zacharia OHora
10. Elephant & Piggie Listen to My Trumpet! By Mo Willems (Seriously!)
11. Elephant & Piggie, Biggie! By Mo Willems (He’s inhaling these books like oxygen.)
12. After the Fall by Dan Santat (So incredibly necessary.)
13. It’s Raining by Gail Gibbons
14. Otis by Loren Long
15. The Umbrella by Jan Brett (Great recommendation! Thanks, Dawn)
16. Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
17. It’s Snowing by Gail Gibbons
18. The Story of Snow, The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.
19. I Hatched! By Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Jen Corace (This may be one of my new favorites!)
20. Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
21. Knuffle Bunny Too, a case of mistaken identity by Mo Willems
22. Grandmother Thorn by Katey Howes, illustrated by Rebecca Hahn (Paper People, coming soon!)
23. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
24. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichteneld
25. What Could Be Better Than This? By Linda Ashman, illustrated by Linda Winderter
26. Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (Apparently we have A LOT of Mo Willems books checked out right now!)
27. Feelings by Aliki
28. The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
29. Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker Reeves (One of my ALL-TIME favorites.)
30. Bayou Song by Margaret Simon, illustrated by Anna Cantrell, photography by Hency Cancienne (This one is the Louisiana selection for the children’s book program at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.! I bought my copy straight from the author at our local SCBWI meet-up last week! Congrats, Margaret!)

My list of ‘important books’ will undoubtedly be different than yours, but the fact of the matter is, they’re important for a reason. In my head, there are two different types: the ones that were/are the standout favorites for each of our three kiddos, read and reread hundreds of times and the ones that we may not read often but are there when we need them for in the big moments of our lives. These past three weeks, we’ve read a lot of really important books.

For starters, we dug the old favorites out and gave them another read, paying attention to why they were favorites. Some were an easy, obvious answer. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a charming read aloud, my boys love trucks and thanks to my husband’s work, we have no choice but to know the proper names for those big pieces of construction equipment. Others have tugged at one of those deep heartstrings and cause me to give the book a hug every time I read it. Nothing Is Better Than This was a gift when OC was born, and she and I have both always loved it for its beautiful love story, but especially the incredibly cool and independent female pirate character.

Aside from our trusty favorites, there are a couple of very important books we’ve borrowed from the library recently, most notably AFTER THE FALL and BOATS FOR PAPA (also IDA, ALWAYS from a couple weeks back.) You better believe that each of these books received a big ole’ book hug when we were finished. Everyone needs these books, regardless of age because the topics are so profound and universal (loss, grief and fear.) If you haven’t read them, I hope you do soon. (Disclaimer: you’ll need a box of tissue handy.) Many of our other books are mentor texts for projects I’m working on and topics I’m researching. Also, a healthy diet of ELEPHANT & PIGGIE is being devoured by MC, our emerging reader. As you can see, I’m not having a hard time keeping up with the reading, only the posting!

Stay tuned next week for another Paper People Interview, this one with Joy Keller of MONSTER TRUCKS! That’s all for now!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP