Making Magic, Picture Book Style

Let’s say you have a bit of extra cash to spend on yourself and your writing aspirations: Where do you go? Which way do you turn?  Who can help? Arghhhh, the struggle! There are so many choices! It’s a great problem to have, really, because so many of the leaders in the kid-litosphere generously give of their time, talents and expertise.  Truly, there is no shortage of options or opportunities. For me, and I’m sure so many others, the trouble lies in deciding which course to invest in.  There’s a unique twist to each one and the author/instructors are incredibly talented, so you really can’t go wrong. The fact of the matter is, you do have to choose, though. So, if you’re sitting at the crossroads of one versus the other, all I can do is wish you luck and tell you about my latest experience with making magic… Making Picture Book Magic, that is.

If you aren’t familiar, Making Picture Book Magic is a month-long course offered by Susanna Hill, with small class sizes, daily assignments and feedback from Susanna, herself.  I’m always wary of buyer’s remorse and know the feeling of investing in a class/webinar that turns out to be disappointing so I eyed it for months and was exhaustive in my research.  I asked everyone I knew about their experience. Many had taken it ‘back when they were starting out’ and a few warned me that I probably knew everything she would review.  Some said I might find it too basic, others never made it thought all the lessons.  One of my nearest and dearest friends, however declared it “one of the best things” she’d ever done for herself.  She had yet to steer me wrong before, (I’m looking at you Judy Cooper) so, I bit the bullet and enrolled.  The tuition for the course was a belated birthday gift from two of my biggest fans (aka mom & dad).  As luck would have it, I was blessed with an incredible group to journey though the month of January with and it only got better from there.

Yes, some of the lessons brought me back to the basics, but I knew that’s exactly what I needed. (The day that I decide that I’ve learned enough about writing picture books should be my last day writing… am I right?) Going back to the basics, now that I have a foundation helped IMMENSLY.  You might call it cheating, but I used an existing manuscript through the course and basically stripped it down to the studs.  It was the most exhaustive revision I’ve ever done. I rethought and reworked every aspect of the story, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this project and got helpful feedback along the way, both from my groupmates and our fearless leader! (I want to pause and talk for a minute about the other writers in my group… they ROCKED! We all engaged with each other via the private Facebook group and I know that’s what pushed our course over the edge from good to GREAT! If you ever do decide to participate, do yourself a favor and go all in… participate, share, offer feedback, engage. You’ll get out everything you put in and then some!)

I’ve suggested this course every chance I get because I know it was a game-changer for me.  It changed the way I revise, it changed the way I approach my stories, and hopefully, it’ll change the trajectory of my pre-published journey. If you’re looking for a way to sharpen your skills, someone to hold you accountable or a handful of new revision techniques, look no farther and let Susanna Hill show you all about Making Picture Book Magic! (<- that’s the link right there, don’t miss it… click on it)

Oh! Before you go, I want to introduce you to my classmates! There were a couple poets (Rebecca & Liz) and an illustrator (Hannah) in the mix.  Liz has a collection of soccer poems called Soccerverse, set to release on June 4th! The other three writers will undoubtedly be names on your bookshelf one day, each with their own style but obviously and equally talented. Find them & follow them so you’ll be one the first to know when their clever and charming stories make it into the world.

          Rebecca Gardyn Levington on Twitter: @WriterRebeccaGL 

          Stephanie Williams aka @StephanieBoyer (also Twitter)

          Liz Steinglass, Twitter: @ESteinglass IG: @elizabethsteinglass & Facebook @ElizabethSteinglass

          Hannah Spiegleman, IG @HannahSpiegleman

 

As always,

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Questions & Answers

I didn’t understand… I had been eagerly anticipating this two-hour window all week. For the first time in longer than I’d care to admit, I was headed to the library and straight into the children’s section. I couldn’t wait to wander around, pulling new finds and old favorites off the shelf to soak up and read quietly. But I found myself speeding though the books, unsatisfied.  In fact, some of my favorites, I didn’t even finish! There was a restlessness and unsettled spirit I couldn’t put my finger on.  Fewer buildings brought me as much joy as a library, and never more so then surrounded by picture books. This was completely unprecedented in my happy place!

To be fair, I made this trip on a week that was rough.  I’ve written about conference hangovers before, and this year I’ve been struggling to shake it.  I mean really struggling. I haven’t been reading like I should, so I intentionally scheduled this library run for myself. It was supposed to brighten my mood and lift my spirits, instead I “wasted time” (I even started scrolling Facebook instead of turning pages, GASP.) I managed to eek out a few minutes of revisions on a manuscript that I was carrying, to save face (from myself) and limped out the door. I didn’t check out any books, I didn’t want to bring anything home tainted with the mood of the day. I felt lost.

The next few hours were a blur of homework, dance costumes and baseball practice. I had nearly forgotten about my dreadful afternoon. Then I turned off the lights, laid down in bed and started to cry.  The tears came with such intensity, I was completely stunned. I didn’t understand where they came from, or why they were happening… until I did. When I started this journey, my oldest was prime picture book age and most probably went over my youngest’s head. But here we are, 2 out of 3 of my kids read MG novels to themselves before bed at night. I’ve effectively instilled a love of reading in them, and now, they don’t need me. My youngest will be in Kindergarten next year and still loves to crawl on my lap and listen to a story, but I see how my time is running out. Soon, the picture books that I bring home from the library will be just for me.  It made me sad and if I’m honest, enormously disappointed.

I recognize how I felt at the library now, in my line of work, we call it anticipatory grief; the mourning of an expected loss, before it actually happens. I secretly hoped to be closer to being published by now.  I knew to anticipate the journey to be long, but that didn’t stop me from hoping for something different.  It was an unofficial, off the record, self-inflicted (grossly unrealistic) deadline that was about to pass me by. The tears also finally brought to the surface all the questions and self-doubt that I had been trying to silence. We all know that avoiding a question doesn’t make it go away, and so the longer I tried, the louder they got and the farther away I pushed my stories and social media; facing my characters and the kidlit world I love meant facing the questions.   Questions of my dedication to the dream, my abilities to write and the intention behind it all anyway.  No one ever told me that this journey would be easy. Nothing I’ve ever read said that publishing is for the faint of heart, quite the opposite actually.  A few years ago, I could easily answer the why’s and how’s… but lately, it’s been murky to say the least.  

Thankfully, tears are often the prequel to clarity.  I decided to continue showing up, writing a little each day, even if it didn’t feel earth-shattering, and re-engaging with my community. I even wrote myself a post-it note that says, SHOW UP TO WORK.  If I had to guess, that’s one of the greatest struggles as a pre-published, un-agented author.  No one is waiting on us to show up. No one, except for the main characters of our stories and the deep-seated desires of our own heart begging to be set free.  Since that day there have been enjoyable library trips, conversations with my kids about my WIPs with new stories (& blog posts) surging to the surface. I think I feel relief too, free from the burden of an approaching deadline that I was never supposed to meet. I’m excited to see what’s next. I’m eager to write each day, and I’ll keep showing up as long as you do too.

#favoritelinefriday

I had this idea and it all started with a dog.  Not just any dog, either, but … “the biggest and reddest dog on the street.”  To be fair, my first grader was the one reading, but as I was soaking the moment and the words spilling out of his precious, new-reader mouth I quietly marveled as this one particular line. It was perfect. Succinct enough for the picture books of today (even though it wasn’t) and clever enough to capture a kid’s imagination. Oh, how I yearn to write lines like that! (Ps- Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Birdwell)

 So, I decided that I’m designating Fridays as #favoritelinefridays, and continue to relish in the beauty of the best lines around. You know the ones that cause you to stop and think for a second or smile as it tugs at your heartstring. Maybe it’s the perfect punchline you didn’t see coming or the clever wording that speaks fluent 4-year-old but while allowing a 44-year-old to understand as well. I figure the best way to elevate the status of the lines that I write is to surround myself with better lines than I could’ve dreamed of writing. So, I’ll read them, relish them and share them too… on twitter, of course, every Friday. I’d love for you to share yours too, regardless of the genre because good lines are gifts that keep giving. 

Here are a few that I’ve shared so far:

          February 15th “I may have been swallowed but I have no intention of being eaten.” THE WOLF, THE DUCK & THE MOUSE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klaussen (Candlewick)

          February 22nd “So Mr. Tiger decided to return and he found that things were beginning to change.” MR TIGER GOES WILD by Peter Brown (Little, Brown & Co.)

          March 1st “Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening  too.” OH THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! By Dr. Seuss (Random House Kids)

          March 15th“Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, a little girl named Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests.” JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR by Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala (Alfred A Knopf)

          March 22nd“The moose came to him a while ago and he knew, just KNEW that it was meant to be his.” THIS MOOSE BELONGS TO ME by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books)

         April 5th“Everything on land was strange and beautiful-but also kind of scary.” NOT QUITE NARWHAL by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster)

I’d love for you to share your favorite lines from picture books, too! Feel free to use the hashtag, and then we can all bathe in the brilliancy of picture books.

 

Happy Friday Y’all!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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!

-JP

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!
-JP

#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.

PULL.

Success!

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!
-JP

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!
JP

Valentiny 2019!

Hello and a Happy Valentines Day to you!

For so many people, Valentine’s Day means flowers, chocolate, and showering those you love with… well, love! I do love flowers, and chocolate and I promise to shower 😉 but for me, Valentine’s day means one (other) thing, Susanna Hill’s

4th ANNUAL PRETTY MUCH WORLD FAMOUS VALENTINY WRITING CONTEST!

Without further ado, here’s my entry. Good luck to all the participants! We’re all winners already because we showed up, wrote something and shared it with the world… long distance high five!

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Scooter’s Swap.

Scooter couldn’t sleep.

He had never broken a window before. He hadn’t ever hit a baseball that far before, either.

And he didn’t mean for Freddie to get in trouble, but, when his mom started yelling at Freddie, Scooter didn’t stop her.

The next morning, Scooter thought he might be sick. He dreaded the thought of Freddie being mad at him. But it was Valentine’s Day, which meant the neighborhood Sweet Swap.  If he told his mom the truth, she’d never let him go. If he didn’t go, he would miss out on Ms. Susie’s Strawberry Schmoozies. Those were his favorite cookies, ever.  

At recess, Freddie wouldn’t even look at him.

In the lunchroom, Scooter sat alone. “Is a cookie even worth it?” he asked himself.

During class, Scooter wanted to cry. Valentine’s Day was one of his favorites, but today had been the worst.

After school, he climbed into his mom’s car and crumbled, his truth and tears came pouring out.  

Once they were home, Scooter walked next door. As soon as he saw Freddie, it all came rushing out again. “I’m sorry,” Scooter said, while Freddie just stared. After a minute, Freddie ran inside leaving Scooter to worry and wait.  

Soon, Freddie was back with a Strawberry Schmoozie and a smile.

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That’s all folks!  Please visit the other amazing list of entries on Susanna Hill’s blog!

 

Thanks for stopping by, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Let’s Talk, Vivian and PIPPA!

Maybe you know her from her Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews or her delicious ‘Will Write for Cookies’ author interviews. Maybe you’ve noticed what an active member she is in the Facebook groups that we all call home, or you’ve tried your hand at the deceivingly difficulty #50PreciousWords contest. Even better, maybe after you helped your 7-year-old submit a #50PreciousWordsForKids entry, the two of you bonded over the fact that your daughters are named Caroline. 😊 Regardless of how you’ve come to know her, I have no doubt you’re glad that you do. I’m thrilled to be here today, asking questions to the ever generous and energetic Vivian Kirkfield. She has not one, not two but three upcoming picture books to talk about! So, grab something warm, pull up a chair and snuggle in while we talk about the first of her debut triplets, PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE, scheduled for release on February 5!!

Vivian, I’m so excited that you’re finally here, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? For sure, Jennifer! I’ll have to decide whether to be good and have tea or be bad and have hot chocolate. I do love tea, but if you’ve got any hot chocolate, I guess I’ll have to be bad and ask for that. 😊 I always laugh whenever I’m out and order hot chocolate and the server asks me if I would like whipped cream. Whipped cream? Is there hot chocolate without it? I don’t think so. 😉 Thank you so much for the hot chocolate…and a million thanks for inviting me to visit.

I’m of the opinion that anything warm and served in a mug can NEVER be bad, hot chocolate included! Though I’m a coffee girl myself… you know, I think I’ll have a mocha… part coffee, part chocolate, all goodness! There are so many places we could start, but, I think we should go back to the beginning. What started the story of PIPPA in motion for you? In 2013, I participated in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo story idea challenge (it’s now called Storystorm). One of the guest posters, Kar Ben editor Joni Sussman, put out a call for Jewish holiday books. Even though I was fairly new to the kidlit world and writing picture books, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to submit a story to an editor. A picture of a little mouse came into my mind and I sat down and wrote Pippa’s story of how she couldn’t find her special Seder dish and had to pluck up her courage and ask Cat, Snake, and Owl if they had seen it.

pippa spread

Storystorm is almost finished! (See the latest posts here.)  How delightful to think of all the future picture books that are just ideas on someone’s list right now. So, you are releasing three books in the next few months and they’re three very different stories.  Was your approach different with each manuscript? Do you have a writing routine that you stick to (when you aren’t traveling the world, of course) or do you use a more laid-back approach? They are very different stories, you are right, Jennifer. But I guess the rules of picture book writing apply. Lyrical language, alliteration, simile/metaphor, and the element of three; all the techniques that are in the picture book writing toolbox. And, whether I’m writing a fiction rhyme about a mouse looking for her Passover dish or an African American woman who is an inventor or a bunch of animals at a pristine mountain stream, I’m researching first and writing after.

When I start writing, I look for the way into the story…what is the theme, the heartbeat that will be the thread that is woven into every spread. I often write my pitch first and then I try to get my opening lines. For me, the opening lines are the key that unlocks the story. I know that a lot of people recommend we write the entire rough draft and not worry about the opening lines. But, the wonderful thing about writing, is that everyone has their own process…the steps that work for them. Since opening lines set the tone for the entire story, I like to refine them first. Which doesn’t mean that I never change them. I do, but many of my stories are being published with the opening lines pretty much the way I originally penned them.

And speaking about pen…I almost always use pen and paper for the first part of the story, sometimes the entire story. But sometimes, I just start in longhand and then go to the computer. I do a lot of note-taking in longhand when I am researching…which is not a good idea because then I can’t read what I’ve written and this is especially troublesome when I am working on nonfiction. Maybe I will find a better process in the future. 😊 If anyone out there has something that works for them, I am always open to suggestion and I’ve been told I’m a pretty good listener. 😉

pippa spread
I’ve never considered starting with the pitch! I think it’s fascinating to figure out how other people do things. Can you tell us about PIPPA’S journey to publication… you know, from 2013-2019 in a nutshell? PIPPA was a joy from start to finish! With the wonderful collaboration between illustrator Jill Weber (one of my local critique buddies), it was a fabulous publishing experience. The palate sings with joy! I love every page and the message of coming together in friendship, no matter what our differences may be.

The most different (writing) thing was, it is a rhyming story. I had to be careful that I wasn’t using frivolous rhyme…you know, ‘I wore a hat and that is that’…just making verses that rhyme without making sense. But my critique buddies were such a help and Rhymezone.com was my constant companion.

Another question, as a “new” picture book author, you’ve been working with three different publishing houses (thankfully with the help and guidance of your agent, I’m sure.) What has that experience been like? At this point, I’ve actually been working with five because the two books that are launching in 2020 are 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. So far, these have been amazingly wonderful experiences. Even though I don’t know those illustrators personally, the editors have been wonderful about making sure that I was happy with the illustrator they chose and sending me early sketches for my comments.

The experience overall has been amazingly wonderful, although definitely a challenge, especially because the book with HMH called for nine full-length picture book manuscripts. But fortunately, I am pretty good at multitasking and I’m able to stay up late and keep on going. My husband used to call me the Energizer Bunny. 😉 Maybe it’s because I’m doing exactly what I feel I was meant to do. I know that the support and encouragement I get from my agent, my critique partners, and the kid lit community makes all the difference.

Five books in two years? How tremendous! Two more questions to wrap things up and I’ll keep them short and sweet… I heard your podcast with Katie Davis where you talked about taking leaps of faith (quite literally… out of airplanes) and starting your writing career late in life. What’s the next thing you want to check off your bucket list? I’ll try to keep my answers short and sweet. The next thing to check off on my bucket list is this round the world trip. It’s always been my dream to see these places I’ve only read about and the best part is that I will get to hug kid-lit friends I’ve never met.

Finally, I’ll bring it back to the book we’re talking about today… and your other two upcoming releases if you could describe each of these books in one word, what would it be?
– PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE- Joyful
– FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK – Playful
– SWEET DREAMS SARAH – Powerful
Oh, my goodness, I know I took more time with you than I should have but I just couldn’t help myself!

No apologies! Thanks for being here and sharing that enthusiasm with us today. What else do you have coming down the pipe? Where can my readers find/follow you on social media?  As I mentioned earlier, I have two other books coming out in 2020. And several manuscripts in the hands of editors, so fingers crossed for them to fall in love with those stories. Your readers can find me almost anyplace on social media where picture books are found. 😊 Here are my links: My website, Facebook, TwitterInstagram, also Pinterest and Linkedin.  And if anyone is going to be at the SCBWI conference in Sydney, Australia, the Bologna Book Fair in Italy, the NESCBWI conference in Springfield MA or the annual ALA in Washington DC, please reach out and maybe we can connect in person!

vivian photo

Au revior my dear friend! Enjoy your travels and your book birthdays!
Join Vivian and I here again on March 28 (FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN) & April 28 (SWEET DREAMS SARAH) to learn more about the other ‘triplets’ along with a guest post about #50PreciousWords on March 1!
SO MUCH VIVIAN GOODNESS… and this is just the beginning!

As always…
Thanks for being here, come back anytime!
-JP

The Alchemist.

When it comes to books that have been read and re-read, it’s the only one that can give PRIDE & PREJUDICE a run for her money. In fact, as I’m starting it again, I realize it might soon pull out into the lead.  These two books whet different parts of my literary appetite; one sweeps me off my feet and transports me to a different time and place, the other takes me on a deep dive in the here & now. What Jane Austen does for my fairy tale fantasies, Paul Coelho does for my soul.

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.”

So, I’ve started it again, and ‘ve never been more excited. Have you read it? Do you remember the stones given to Santiago, from the King, at the start of his journey? This book is my own Urim and Thurmmim. I’ve loved, lived and underlined different parts of the book and like any true classic, every time I pick it up, I learn something new. But, if you asked me to narrow it down and tell  you exactly why I love this story, cover to cover, I would say that the journey Santiago takes, continues to teach me so much about myself. Of course, at different times, certain aspects of his journey speak louder than others. When I was working at the bedside, caring for patients and their families all day then coming home to care for my own at night, I could see myself, working tirelessly in the crystal shop right alongside him. There are times when I’ve been in a personal dessert, an oasis and wandering aimlessly through fields herding a pack of animals (or children, you pick.) But it’s the simple wisdom and truths that speak the loudest, especially as I continue this journey and write for children.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

I’m no different than everyone else on the planet (or so it seems), I took stock of myself at the end of 2018 and my writing journey. To sum it up, 2018 had its ups and downs, including form rejections and the sweetest of champagne ones. I asked questions, wrote stories, participated in contests and took leaps of faith. Luckily, there were more triumphs than slumps and more stories written in 2018 than years prior, so I’m calling it a win.  I completely believe that every pass, every rejection and every ridiculous moment of inspiration are all steps along my path to publication. In his story, Santiago pays attention to the omens, signs pointing him in the direction of his journey.  In my story, I’ll do the same, and over the past year, those omens have come in the form of dear friendships, encouraging words and honorable mentions.  And the rejections? There’s another quote I keep handy for those…

“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only one thing, and nothing else.”

I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store, especially as I find myself reading Santiago’s story again. I think I know where I am in my journey, but I also know better than to assume. I do know I’m starting off strong, and I hope you are too. I also hope that you’ve found your rhythm again (or maybe a brand-new routine) and you’re able to ride the energy and inspiration that January brings far into 2019.

Here is my plan for 2019: (not because you asked, just so I can hold myself accountable.)

          12 interviews

          12 book reviews

          12 blog posts

  Of course I’m going to continue to write new manuscripts, send out queries, participate in contests and challenges across the Kid Lit landscape (I can’t wait to share more about my experience with Storystorm and Making Picture Book Magic, both are happening as we speak.) I also still have my other writing gig at Lafayette’s Moms Blog (new post coming Thursday!) It feels great to be here, rambling about writing. I hope that whatever it is you’re doing, as this new year picks up steam, it brings you joy.

“The Soul of the World is nourished by people’s happiness.”

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP