Week 2 of our #100PictureBookSummer

There’s laundry that desperately needs folding, a dishwasher waiting to be unloaded, my floor is filthy, conference calls and chart audits are calling my name and there are sheets in the washer because, well, accidents happen.  But it was the moment the dog ripped the hose faucet right off the wall outside, I decided to call an audible.  I’m not always good off the cuff but I packed sandwiches, grabbed a baseball hat, a handful of juice drinks and loaded the kids in the car before I had a chance to talk myself out of it.  I’m writing this from a picnic table of my city park.  Thankfully it’s an unusually breezy, not-so-humid kind of day over here so we aren’t really breaking a sweat… yet, and this just felt like a good compromise. I try hard to keep up the juggling act, working from home for a local hospice company, writing enough to make a difference, keeping some semblance of cleanliness and cooking something relatively healthy, more often than not and I usually do a decent job. Today is just one of those days where the balls that I’m tossing around just aren’t feeling the vibe I’m putting out.  Or, maybe they are reading my moods correctly and I just desperately wish there was something different I was offering.

I call it the parenting paradox.  The fact that, as a mom, the one thing I don’t have the energy to do, is often the exact remedy for the overwhelming stress of adulting.  Things like playing board games, picnics at the park or bike rides WITH my kids around the neighborhood (as opposed to SENDING them on their own) always end up giving me a huge return on the investment of my time and energy.  Reading picture books with them falls into this category, too. It’s one of the main reasons I started this challenge last year and knew it was important to continue it this summer. It’s too easy to let these lazy summer days slip away in the midst of housework, real work and commitments.  I can quickly get consumed with checking off the things on my to-do list and loose track of the opportunities right in front of me.  I need something to make me sit down, slow down and share my energy with the ones who really need it.  I need much more than 100 picture books, but this is a good place to start.  This week we had an incredible, funny and feel-good stack of books.  We laughed a lot, re-read more than one on a daily basis and finished off the list of ten in record time.  I hope you find a new favorite from this list, I know I found a few!

1.       It’s Not Jack & the Beanstalk written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor (Funniest. Picture. Book. Ever.)

2.       The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (So dang clever.)

3.       Little Red Rolls Away written by Linda Whalen, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris (cross your fingers for me!)

4.       Pup and Bear written by Kate Banks, illustrated by Naoko Stoop

5.       Small by Gina Perry (cross your fingers, again, if you don’t mind!)

6.       Gus, the Dinosaur Bus written by Julie Liu, illustrated by Bei Lynn

7.       The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

8.       Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand (WOW! on repeat) 

9.       Max’s Castle written by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (The whole series are favorites that we keep going back to)

10.   Shark Lady written by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens (This one totally lived up to the hype, in fact it exceeded it!) 

In an article I read this week, 12×12 featured author Michelle Cusolito talked about writing in real life.  She said that at different times, writing was both important to her self-care and important to step away from.  The theme of her post centered around those big things that happen in life that have a tendency to throw you sideways, but the significance of the lesson need not be lost on the little day-to-day decisions either.  I think the real struggle of the juggle, with writing, working, ‘momming’, and life in general, is recognizing when I need to step away, when it’s time to embrace, and when I need to jump on my own bike and pedal as fast as my legs can carry me. I hope you find the energy you most need and the motivation to use it well. I also hope you’re reading something fabulous.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP   

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#100PictureBookSummer Kickoff

Volume 2, Week 1

Late last spring I stumbled upon a stellar list, 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading, put together by blogger and book reviewer Book Nerd Mommy.  (She did it again! Check here.) I challenged my kids, and really myself, to read through its entirety, and we did, with only a few substitutions. This summer, I’ve extended the same challenge with one small but significant change… Aspiring authors need to study the market (aka momma needs mentor texts), so we’re going rogue and doing it without a list! Our summer breaks start early around here, the last day of school was May 24.  Thankfully, it lasts right at 10 weeks, which makes the math part of this challenge an easy pill to swallow. So, the plan is, 10 different picture books each week for 10 weeks. They won’t all be new books, though most will.  We’ll definitely leave room for some from our own shelves and plan to visit a few ‘old favorites’ as well.  In the course of the past year, I’ve also found my way to a few new (or at least new to me) blogs that approach the study of picture books from different angles and I’m hoping to incorporate these into our reading.

If you’re reading this and have similar plans for the summer, I’d love to hear from you! I’d love to hear your favorites. I’d love to hear what you learn.  Make suggestions! Send recommendations! (Feel free to use the hashtag, too!) This time around, I plan to be a little more specific in my reading list, while also letting my kids pick out books that call out to them from the library shelves.  I hope to read more from local authors and I want to read more non-fiction.  I intend on engaging with some of the stories and incorporating ‘beyond the book’ activities.  But the goal in all of this is really just to read, read, read.  Let me (re)introduce you to my counterparts in this daring undertaking:

OC– She’s 8 now and fully submersed in the world of MG (middle grade) chapter books.  She agreed to play along with these picture books but is also hoping to spend more time lost in her own age-appropriate novels.  Her demeanor is as spunky as her hair is curly. She’s inspired, intelligent and inventive and never meets a stranger (or a book she won’t devour).

MC– He’s 6 years old and as enthusiastic, energetic and eager as ever.  He loves funny stories and will laugh about them long after the cover is closed.  He’s really grown a lot this past school year and is always excited to put his newest super power to good use. (Reading!) He gets excited by new books and big words that he can manage on his own.  He also loves telling stories and has a strong affinity for drawing/creating.  I’m eager to see how that guides his choices of picture book favorite.

YC– I don’t have a favorite child but I do have a favorite age (so far.) It happens to be 4, which is the exact age of my youngest child.  At 4, it seems like kids are both experts on everything AND experiencing life for the first time (that they can recall.)  It’s been a magic age for my older two kids and this third time around is no different.  The kid behind the age is different, however!  YC has always been the comedic relief of the family, but as he’s grown so has his knack for making others laugh. He’s silly and he loves it. He loves characters who share this trait, as well.

So, without further ado… our first week of our #100PictureBookSummer starts now.

  1. Whobert Whoover written by Jason Gallaher, illustrated by Jess Pauwels (There might just be a Paper People interview about this book in the near future!)
  2. Monster Trucks written by Joy Keller, illustrated by Misa Saburi (a fast favorite and another future Paper People interview!)
  3. LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
  4. Elephant & Piggie I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems (MC gets great practice reading with this series, I get the feeling these two characters will be constant companions.)
  5. Elephant & Piggie Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems
  6. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors written by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex (I cannot even begin to tell you how many epic Rock, Paper, Scissor battles we’ve had around here lately.)
  7. Not A Box by Antoinette Portis
  8. Apple Pie ABC by Allison Murray
  9. Square Cat ABC by Elizabeth Schoonmaker
  10. What Do You Do with an Idea? written by Kobi Yamanda, illustrated by Mae Besem
  11. Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Hmm…somehow, I managed to slip an extra book in there.  Oh well, I always think ‘an extra, just in case’ is a good idea.  It’s been a great first week of summer and these books really kicked things off well. As an added bonus, check out Joy Keller’s blog Picture This: A Blog for Teachers. In a recent post, she ties in a fun math activity using a ten frame and her debut picture book Monster Trucks.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine love to play school, especially during the summer. Later, when everyone is awake, I’m going to print off the adorable worksheet associated with the post. Their ‘classroom’ is still set up from yesterday so it’ll be a perfect time to do a few fun math exercises and then hand it off to today’s ‘teacher’. I’m off to work on another great author interview that I’ll share in the coming weeks.  I hope your school year wrapped/wraps up well.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

–          JP

A most resilient writer.

I could’ve also titled this post, “Momma messed up and is trying to fix it.” 

Let me back up a few steps and explain, my daughter, I know I’ve talked about her before, is what keeps me writing.  She, and her brothers are the reason that I keep chipping away at this dream, even when it feels like the odds are stacked against me.  I do it because I hope to open creative channels in their young hearts and minds.  I do it so that they realize the endless possibilities that life has to offer and understand that that picking a path doesn’t mean its forever, only for now.  I do it so they see me chasing a dream, and hope that one day they’ll find the courage to chase their own.  She’s the one who keeps me on point, though.  She’s the one who reads all my stories, talks through all of my revisions, understands that I’ve received rejections and the reasons I keep writing. Not to knock her brothers, they’re just too young to fully comprehend.  She watched me take a leap of faith at the tender age of 6 and she’s been with me every step of the way.  The best part is, she loves to write just as much as I do. 

Last year she participated in #50PreciousWordsforKids and had a blast.  She and I were eagerly looking forward to the challenge this year, she worked on a story, edited, revised, trimmed fluff and got to a point where she was pleased with herself and her 50 words.  As her mom, I was overflowing with pride… I couldn’t wait to share it, but I forgot to submit it. Can you believe that? It was all my fault, too. There’s no excuse, I just missed the deadline. 

So, I did what I would’ve wanted her to do, tell the truth and beg for forgiveness.  Luckily for me, she’s about the most gracious and forgiving girl around and didn’t hand down a swift punishment but rather accepted the consolation prize I offered. “I can post your story on my blog,” I suggested and she was quick to agree. She really is one of the coolest girls you’ll ever meet.  For the past week she’s immersed herself into the world of Shel Silverstein and is reciting poetry and writing her own off-the-wall rhymes.  She loves to read, to write and to share whether that’s a joke, the last bit of her lunch, her favorite pencil or something she’s created, story or otherwise.   I wish I had been exposed to more authors, makers and creators as a child.  I wish I knew about all these wonderful avenues of creativity and the thousands of ways to share them with the world.  But she does, and my boys will too and at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. 

I hope you enjoy her story as much as I do.  (I’m only a little biased!) Remember, it had to be a complete story in only 50 words (title not included.) If you are curious to know more, check out Vivian Kirkfield’s website here, where she runs both #50PreciousWords and #50PreciousWordsforKids annually and is a constant cheerleader and champion for all things kid lit. 

THE STUDY GAME.

“UHHHH,” ALEX SAID, “I DON’T LIKE STUDYING.”

“ALEX, IT’S NOT BAD”, SAID HIS BROTHER.

ALEX LOVED VIDEOGAMES.  HE WOULD SNEAK TO HIS ROOM AND PLAY THEM.

“ALEX, I’VE GOT A GAME!”  ALEX RAN DOWNSTAIRS. “IT IS A STUDY GAME!  WAIT…I LOVE STUDYING NOW!”

There it is, written and edited all by herself with four words to spare. I’m not sure why it’s all in caps, but she gave me her seal of approval to post it, so post I did.  In the coming weeks, I have another friend I want to introduce to you (except you probably know her already), not to mention the kickoff of our second #100PictureBookSummer and an exciting line up of Paper People Interviews! Thanks for spending time with she and I today, and helping this absent-minded momma make amends. 

 Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Thank you note.

Dear Hivemind,

I stepped away from my microwaving bowl of oatmeal to say a quick “Thank You.”  I hope you know who you are, but if not, I’m talking to the 900+ 12×12 members who make up one of the most welcoming, active and engaged group of picture book writers on the planet.  All it takes is one glance at our Facebook page to see the constant stream of support that you’ve shown not only me, but anyone who stops by to ask a question.  Thanks to the community that’s been created, we have a safe place to share everything from important, thought provoking conversations to our own individual victories, be they big or small.  I hope that right now each one of you has found your reason for dancing (it IS the dance party after all!) My reason this week is the list of 88 words that you all helped to compile.  I’m dancing because you took the time to help me bust through my own ‘brain block’ by sharing your own creative energy.  I’m dancing because of the exciting new direction my WIP is taking, boosted by so many of my friends here, not to mention our fearless leader.  Taking it back a week, I was feeling insecure about my blog and took a moment to share my suspicious. Within a matter of minutes, a few of you with a better understanding of the internet, spammers and all shed some light on my confusion and put my fears to rest (or at least helped me to see that it’s nothing to be afraid of.) I’m dancing because I’m grateful for all you (and the fact that I still have 10 days to get my April draft on paper.) At the risk of sounding redundant, thanks… again.  I hope to return the favor one day soon!

                                                                                                                        Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                           The girl with a burnt bowl of oatmeal.

(Because that’s what happens when you accidently set the microwave to 10 minutes instead of 1 minute and completely lose yourself in a blog post.  Plus, I’m a writer… when the words need to get out, sometimes it happens at all cost. But since I’m writing to writers, I feel safe that I’m not being judged here.  Truth be told, I’ve done a lot worse than burn breakfast while my fingers are flying across the keys of my laptop.)

PS-I don’t want to leave out the other incredibly helpful groups that I’m a part of.  In fact, they’ve each played a big part of helping me along this journey and definitely deserve their own thank you note… ReForReMo’s came back in October, Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? series and the faithful following she’s gathered inspired a post in November and I summed up my wonderful Storystorm experience here in early February. 

 Up next for me?  I’m excited to share another Be My Guest! post from my dear friend Mona Pease next week.  I’m also gearing up for NaPiBoWriWee in early May. I had a great time with it last year, in fact 4/7 stories that came as a result of that week are projects that I’m still working on. That’s better than 50%! I’d call it an inspired week for sure.  I’m still working on Paper People (see my most recent interview here.)  I fell behind and now I’m out of sync with my library, but I hope to get back on track by late May or June.  There were so many fantastic debut picture book authors to celebrate from 2017, I definitely have no shortage of options.  What a great problem to have!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

What’s the question?

Almost every day of the week, for the past 36 weeks I’ve helped my daughter with her homework. This week, as we started the fourth and final quarter of the school year, something on her study guide caught my eye.  Right smack dab in the middle of the page her teacher had written, just like every week prior two words: essential question?  If I had been in a movie, it would’ve been the scene where my head started spinning and it all came together. The essential question.  Ann Whitford Paul wrote about this very thing. Professional critiques have touched on the same concept and last week a critique partner of mine challenged me to dig deeper into a work in progress and build up this one element of the story… The essential question. IMG_1012

I’m a member of a wonderful group of wise pre-published picture book writers and we’re in the middle of an online book study of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul.  (You remember how much I love this book, right?) Early on, in Chapter two, she challenges her readers, assuming we’re all aspiring picture book writers of course, to find their ‘Story Question’ and soon after, their ‘Story Answer.’  These two concepts, she argues, are fundamental to guiding the course of a picture book from point A to the finish line while keeping a reader actively engaged. (I’m not doing this concept any justice though, you really have to read it for yourself)

For the sake of the book study, I wrote a new story rather than slowly working through one of my many existing manuscripts.  It’s a silly little story about socks and its one of the reasons I’m so in love with my current genre.  (Where else can you write an entire story about SOCKS?) I hammered it out one afternoon and then per the book study guidelines, posted it for the other members to review and discuss.  All of our stories were very different, and Story Questions for each varied greatly.  Some were silly and shallow, others dove deep and broached the subjects of acceptance and authenticity, all of them were eye-opening and stimulated great conversation.  It was a great exercise but, for some reason, I haven’t done it again.

Why did I show this brand, new, baby manuscript enough love and attention to probe with these deep, though provoking questions, and not do the same for my older, more polished manuscripts?  It was a critique partner of mine that I should really give the lion’s share of the credit to.  I talked to her about my love of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS weeks ago, and on my recommendation, she bought and started reading her own copy. We’ve been trading manuscripts for a few months now and are starting to know each other’s style well.  This month, my submission to her was weak, rough and scattered. She honed in immediately and challenged me to ‘find my question’ and give my story more direction. So, imagine my surprise when I found these same words on my daughter’s study guide.  My eight-year-old has a better handle on this then I do! She knows the ‘essential question’ for every story she’s studied. Do I know these questions for each of my works in progress?  More importantly, if I know the question, do I know the answer?  If I don’t know the question and answer, will my reader? My daughter has read my stories more than anyone else, every draft of every story even.  Would she be able to pinpoint the essential questions of each?   Truth be told, I’m nervous to find out because even though it’s essential to the process, it’s a deceptively difficult task.

I had given myself the assignment of creating a(nother) dummy for my nearly-submission-ready manuscript, but first I have to start asking questions for all of my works in progress. 

          What if you don’t love the work you’re expected to do?

          What do you do with a broken heart?

          What will it take to change a stubborn, little, picky-eaters mind?

          What can you do if you aren’t appreciated for being you?

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

Next up, I will be making a dummy because the submission window for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant ends on 3/31! Plus, as of the end of this month, I’m determined to be ‘submission-ready’. My story has been critiqued many (many, many) times, my word count is down, my illo notes are almost non-existent, my query letter was critiqued, my ending is tighter, my opening is stronger and my mind is made up. Look out editors (and contest judges) here I come!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Camille Andros

One of my favorite things in the world is stumbling upon a book that seems to be written just for me, but I get an even bigger rush when I find a book that is PERFECT for someone else.  That’s what happened with CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED.  One busy afternoon, I stopped in at  B&N with this Paper People interview in mind. It took me all of ten minutes to find it, check out and rush from the store, eager to share my newest treasure with my daughter. As the oldest she is spirited, strong and selfless with an insatiable thirst for all things science.  This adorable bunny book belongs on my daughter’s shelf as much as my trusty copy of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS belongs on my own. Since the beginning of Paper People, I’ve been so grateful that the books I’ve read introduce me to their author by way of these interviews. In CHARLOTTE’S case, I feel blessed that reaching out to Camille helped my daughter and I to know Charlotte. Trust me, if you don’t already, you’ll be glad to know Camille and CHARLOTTE, too. They’re powerful women!  So, what are you waiting for? Read on!

Camille, thanks for being here! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink?  You’re such a great hostess, thank you Jennifer J I always love a cup of cocoa on a cold winter day.

Cocoa it is! Although it’s not wintery here, anymore, there’s just enough of a chill in the air that I think I’ll join you.  So, it seems you are a woman of many hats. Your website mentions that you garden, have six kids and are an EMT along with being an author. Plus, you’ve lived all over the country (and Israel!)  You must have countless stories to tell!  How did you start writing for children? I’ve always loved picture books, never out grew them and always wanted to write them. When my youngest was finally sleeping through the night I decided see what it would take to make that dream a reality.

Elizabeth Gilbert (BIG MAGIC) gives full credit for her writing career and deep-seated respect for creativity to the fact that she watched her mom live a creative life.  Do you see your writing having an impact on your children? The impact I hope for it to have on my children is that they have seen firsthand how I had a dream, set goals to achieve that dream and then worked really really hard to make it happen.

I wish the same for my own! I don’t have a publishing contract in hand, nor one in the foreseeable future, but I keep reminding myself that if I’m helping my kids to embrace their creativity and understand what it means to work towards a dream, then I’ll consider myself a success.  I’ve ‘met’ some of your Picture the Book-mates over recent months and read an interview you did with Anna Forrester. In it, you mention that you’re the oldest of 7 kids! Basically, you have first-hand, life-long experience being ‘squished’.  Where was your favorite place to retreat to when you need a minute alone? My bunk bed. I would walk to the grocery story, buy myself a candy bar, snuggle up in my bed, eat my candy and read. My grandparents also had a tree I loved to climb and read up in the tree. It always sounded like a good idea, but in practice it was actually kind of hard to balance a book up in a tree.

Let’s talk about CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED! I love science (my background is in nursing) and so does my eight-year-old daughter.  We read it often!  Was this story your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? This wasn’t my first manuscript. I had several I was working on trying to build up a body of work that I could share with an agent, but it was the first book I sold.  My first picture book manuscript I wrote is THE DRESS AND THE GIRL and will be coming out this August illustrated by Julie Morstad.

Not long after we first ‘met’, I saw your cover reveal for THE DRESS AND THE GIRL! It’s beautiful and simple and rich.  Can you give us a taste of what this one is about? Does it have a similar feel? THE DRESS AND THE GIRL is totally different from Charlotte. It’s a story about a little girl and her favorite dress, the power of memory, and how a life we think may be ordinary is actually quite extraordinary.

Tomorrow, March 14, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you! I hadn’t actually thought of celebrating, but I do love any excuse to celebrate, so now you’ve got me thinking…maybe I’ll have a birthday party with my kids for Charlotte the Scientist! J

 Do you remember the first time you saw CHAROLTTE on a bookstore shelf? Yes! A friend texted that she saw it at Barnes and Noble so after everyone got home from school we loaded all the kids up in the car and went to make it official. It was a pretty fun night!

I can imagine! So, tell us, how did you get it on those shelves? Oh my. I think I had zero to do with the book getting on shelves other than writing it. There is so much out of our control in this business and that is one of them. I think you just do the best with the information you have and don’t look back. You can “should-a, could-a, would-a,” yourself to death, but it’s not productive. Spend your time writing more great books.

I’m a member of an online book study and we’ve just started making our way through Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with her book or not, but in the first chapter she recommends typing out a ‘picture book you love’ as a guide. I can tell you that CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST was one of them… for a couple of us! It is so cleverly written.  Where did you get the idea to use the Scientific Method to guide your story? Thank you! In the early drafts of the book the scientific method was only mentioned in passing. It was only after the book was sold that we decided to add in the specific steps of the scientific method.

 It’s spot on! I don’t think we’ll ever study the scientific method the same way again. Now that you have one year and (nearly) two books under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve learned that most people feel like they are an imposter and are just waiting for everyone to figure it out. I’ve also learned that it’s not productive to compare yourself to anyone else. It’ll only make you feel bad. The world is wide enough (to borrow from a Hamilton reference;) for all of us and all of our books and ideas, so our time is best served writing good books, and helping to cheer others on to do the same.

 Yes! Just write good books; so simple and so powerful. Can you remind us when we can expect THE DRESS AND THE GIRL?  Anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  THE DRESS AND THE GIRL will be out August 7, 2018, another CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST book will be out next year, as will a picture book biography about ELIZA HAMILTON.

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Instagram: @camilleandros

Twitter: @camdros

Facebook: Camille Andros

Thanks so much for visiting with me!

Be My Guest, Julie LaCombe!

Hi there my friends! Today I have the chance to introduce you to a dear friend of mine by way of a new series, Be My Guest! Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to strike up friendships with a few terrific pre-published picture book authors and I want you to know (and remember) their names. Today, my dear friend Julie joins me for a soothing cup of rose tea that she brought all the way from the Lone Star state. (My attempt to enjoy tea is the REAL work in progress here.) Julie and I ended up in the same critique group and bonded over similarities in our first stories (coincidentally or not, they’ve both been shelved.) There have been countless small world connections since we first started swapping manuscripts, she married a boy from my corner of the world and I know one that grew up down the street from her. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat as Julie found her non-fiction voice and I’m so glad she did! She has a wonderful gift of spinning facts into a story and was gracious enough to Be My (first) Guest! Read along as she tells you about her journey to writing non-fiction for kids, and then stroll on over to her site (https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com) and see all the good stuff she has going on!

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

     I’m a left-brained person. I like lists. I like learning. I like things wrapped up in neat little packages. I LOVE research! My love of research was the result of my brilliant, NASA engineer dad who paid me to research topics when I was a kid. Beginning in the third grade, he taught me how to write research papers and paid me one dollar per report. I quickly came to realize that, it wasn’t the money I wanted but the facts I was collecting! From there I started adding to my school lessons (much to my teachers’ chagrin), amazing (or boring) my friends and irritating my brother with facts.

I thrive on finding bizarre and obscure people, facts and events. I hoard newspaper clippings, and keep a traveler’s notebook filled with things I hear in conversations (yes, I eavesdrop!), on TV programs and movies, or see around me. It’s bursting with questions about everyday objects, why people invent things, how they come up with ideas, etc. Questions are constantly swirling through my brain. My children laugh at me when I begin what they call my “informational lectures” after I’ve found an odd historical fact or learned about an amazing unknown person in history. I get excited and passionate because I want to learn more.

So, how did I come to realize that nonfiction was my niche? I felt like a fraud, unimaginative and bored anytime I tried to write creative fiction. I had tons of ideas, but when I sat down to write, I couldn’t. It came out flat and boring. Then, one day my family paid a visit to a local history museum and BAM! It hit me in the face like a bug hits a windshield…There are stories to tell about all of those weird facts I like to collect. I focused my passion for learning into teaching. I used my love for research to find those unknown nuggets to interest and excite my students. As a history teacher, I did everything I could to bring history alive through primary sources and teaching the facts through storytelling. I never thought about writing … UNTIL three years ago. I was watching a fictionalized series about one of my favorite historical events with my husband and something they said ignited a spark. It was a reminder of my passion for sharing fun history with kids.

     The first lesson most writers learn is “write what you know,” but I think that is false advertisement for ANY writer, especially nonfiction writers. Think about it. Did Jules Verne travel twenty thousand leagues under the sea? Did H.G. Wells time travel? I think better advice is to write what you are passionate about. For me, writing nonfiction is like going on a treasure hunt. You start with an idea which is your treasure map, except there is no X that marks the spot. The treasure is that little tidbit of the unknown and you have to jump from one path to the next until you find your way there. The struggle I constantly have is figuring out what to include and not to include. I want to include EVERYTHING I find! Prolific author John McPhee calls writing nonfiction “literature of fact.” Newbery winner Russell Freedman calls himself a “factual author.” I like that. I’m a factual author!

     So how does writing fiction differ from nonfiction, aside from the obvious? In writing fiction, you work to lure a story line into existence. With nonfiction, we have to recognize the story line that’s already there. The structure of factual information is already in existence. A nonfiction writer has to then flesh out the story and make it interesting and add heart. That’s the hard part. Finding the voice of the story and giving it a life that will appeal to readers yet still remain factual.  And that’s what I love about writing nonfiction. I get to research and learn about something I’m passionate about and then to mold it into a story that others will love.

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

I love learning new things about my friends! A NASA engineer for a father? Cool! I hope you enjoyed getting to know Julie, I can’t wait for the day when you say to yourself “I’ve actually known about her since way back before she was a successful author!”
That’s all for now! But there is always more to come, more musings, more interviews and more friends for you to meet.
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Paper People: Anna Forrester

Today is a special day.  One year ago, I published my first post here on Magnolias & Manuscripts and six months ago I started Paper People.  (It’s also my half birthday! Which is a little ridiculous, I know but its something hat I always celebrate for myself and the exact reason that I launched my blog on this date.) Most importantly, I had the chance to visit with Anna Forrester.  Anna has been kind and helpful to me, since I awkwardly introduced myself to her by way of her blog’s Contact Me page. If I was the gangly, over-eager high school freshman, Anna was the cool, calm and collected upper classman that helped me to find my locker.  I’ve had my sights set on this February interview since the beginning.  So, without further ado. 

Anna! I’m so excited to have you here. First, like always, can I get you something to drink?  Sure – thanks! I tend to start my day with either chai tea or green tea, so either one of those would be great!

I’m sure those are both great options but I haven’t made any progress on my attempts to drink tea. I think I’ll cut myself some slack and have a cup of coffee this time.  So, as we settle in and let our drinks cool a bit, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? After college I started teaching, and quickly decided to pursue my masters in Early Childhood Education. I landed at the amazing Bank Street College, and for my Master’s thesis I opted to research and write a children’s book. That was my first manuscript. But I put children’s writing on hold for a long time after that…until just a few years ago.

 I don’t remember how, but I stumbled upon your website and then found my way to your blog but I’m so glad that I did! That’s actually where Paper People started…I read through Anna’s blog and realized, ‘I bet I could learn so much from authors like her.’  She and I had exchanged a couple emails already so I ran the idea of this author interview series by her and she was super supportive.  Anna put me in touch with Katey Howes, who put me in touch with Emma Bland Smith & Jason Kirschner…the rest is history folks! So, you mention on your website that you started it in order to make writing connections.  That’s the exact reason that I started my own! Has blogging been a successful experience for you? Is there anything about it that surprised you?  My goals for Hmmmmm were three-fold. First, I wanted to connect with people in the kidlit world and develop some community. Second, I wanted a forum for sorting through and sharing what I was learning as I worked: I think best when I write, and the blog gave me a format for that. And third, I thought a blog would give agent or editors a stronger sense of me: how I write and think, what I care about, and that I am a committed writer.

All that said: my energy for the blog flagged a bit last year when BAT COUNT came out and I got busy with book promotion. I’m in the process now of re-evaluating what/if I want Hmmmmm to be in the future.

 Ohhh, I can’t wait to see what direction you take it in.  I always enjoy reading your musings. Speaking of, you were one of the 2017 12×12 featured authors. Can you talk a little about your experience with 12×12 and how it helped you to grow as a writer? 2015 was the first year I joined 12×12, so this is my 4th year there. Julie Hedlund has created an amazingly solid, supportive, and resource-filled community. I find that each year (and week and month) I use the forum’s offerings differently, depending on where I am in my process – and I love that it has that flexibility.

 I joined 12×12 this year, after much back and forth and I’m already so glad that I did.  What an incredible community!  I can’t wait to sport a 12×12 button at my regional conference!! Okay, so on to BAT COUNT, because that’s really where it all started for you.  Was that your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? Aside from my Bank Street thesis way back when, it was. I wrote it pretty quickly and it logged in at 1400 words. Then I discovered that the market wanted REALLY SHORT picture book manuscripts. I didn’t think I could tell that story in so few words, so I shelved it and moved on – until I saw Arbordale’s call for math and science-themed picture books

 I love the ‘citizen science’ aspect of the story and the way it empowers children to take responsibility for their surroundings.  Do many of your other manuscripts have a similar theme?  My interests are pretty wide-ranging, but I am definitely a nature geek. I have lots of science-related projects that hover at the boundary between fiction and non-fiction: I love the challenge of trying to turn kids on to the natural world with compelling voice and story. Ideas for my fiction picture books often sprout from quirky things I see or learn about in the natural world too.

 Yes! My favorite part was that your STEM story had an equally wonderful emotional element . I find myself writing stories that straddle both worlds and I often search for books to guide me.  How did you incorporate both elements? Did one surface before the other? (STEM vs Twins!) I didn’t go into writing the story thinking ‘I want to write a STEM/bat/Citizen-science story’. The story grew from an experience my own family had. But the pitch definitely did focus on those aspects!

As for the twins: have you ever heard this idea that, as writers, we leave ourselves clues in our writing? (I wrote about this a while ago here. Those twins were one of those clues: I don’t know why I initially gave Jojo twin brothers, but I did, and when I was struggling with the story’s ending, there they were, waving their arms at me to get my attention!

I wasn’t familiar with that concept, but that is right up my alley.  I always ask my sub-conscious to help me answer questions, maybe if I just pay attention I’ll find the answers right there in my stories.  Oh, I can’t wait to learn more! Before I get too far off topic, let’s talk about your big day! On February 10 (TOMORROW) you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal?  So funny – it never occurred to me to celebrate! I am just marching on, writing. But I so appreciate your asking me to do this interview – it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the past year!

 Do you remember the first time you saw BAT COUNT on a bookstore shelf? I don’t! But I love when friends send me pictures of it ‘out in the wild’ – at libraries or bookstores where they live — and I save all those photos.

I see pictures of BAT COUNT ‘out in the wild’ quite often lately, your critique group is quite a powerhouse! I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it ‘out in the wild’? Though the human side of the story resonates beyond the bat or citizen science content, the book is pretty “niche”. Both the publisher and I did a lot of outreach to bat groups, wildlife groups, citizen science groups, nature centers, natural history museums and the like. In the summer I did a lot of events at state parks, and I LOVE doing school visits, too –with just one or two classes at a time so I can engage more directly with the kids.

 And you can wear your author and your teacher hats at the same time! I bet you shine during a school visit.  We nurses don’t know what to do with a classroom full of excited kids… I’d probably get stage fright. Thankfully, my sister is a teacher, maybe she can help me one day. What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry?  It’s really true how the goal line seems to just keep moving! But you can’t get too wrapped up in that or it eats you up. Recognizing that has helped me keep in touch with the ways that just writing feeds my soul!

 This is one of the few questions I’ve asked every Paper People interviewee, and that may very well be the most honest and encouraging answer I’ve gotten. In fact, in the few days since I first read it, I’ve said it to myself a few times already.  Can I ask, because you said you’re still writing, what are you working on now? What’s next on your agenda? Where can we find and follow you on social media?  I always have a lot of projects going at once. But I have been my own worst enemy around subbing and I want to get over it! My goal for 2018 is to do five submissions per month (rather than my typical 5 or 6 a year!) Already, I can see how subbing more makes it easier and less uncomfortable. Even having only done my January five, my queries already feel less stiff and awkward!

As for social media: you can find me on twitter, and on facebook. On pinterest, I stockpile images relating to projects I’m thinking about or working on.

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Thanks for stopping by and visiting with me! I always get excited when our paths cross.

Thanks so much for having me Jennifer, and for giving me that chance to reflect on the year!

Man that was a great conversation! The kind that leaves me energized and itching to write.  Next month will be great too, Camille Andros, author of CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED, agreed to join me here!  But first, I have a lot of homework to get to, I owe a feedback on a couple manuscripts to members of my critique group and I have a pitch that needs polishing.  Oh, yeah! I forgot to mention, I snagged another spot on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Would You Read It Wednesday? series.  I need to re-work and rewrite both my pitch and my manuscripts. 

If you live in my corner of the world, it’s carnival time! Hope you have a safe and happy Mardi Gras.  If you live in a place where Tuesday is just, Tuesday, I still hope its a great one!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP 

Hindsight & Forecasting

I’ve been wrestling with and working on this post in my head for weeks now but every line I tried to open with sounded cliché and I keep talking myself out of it. (Hence the reason I didn’t even get it posted in 2017.) Like so many others, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Here are the facts: 2017 was an interesting year for my family, one filled with opportunities, challenges and celebrations. We hit a few mini-milestones (All of our kiddos can put on their own shoes! Everyone can ride a bike! We took our first plane ride as a family!) and added one adorably enthusiastic chocolate lab to the mix. From a writing standpoint, it was a year of great success, a few rejections (5/5) and wonderful connections. Because I believe in the power the importance of celebrating success, big, small or otherwise I challenged myself to list out all of my Kid Lit accomplishments for the past year. I need this on paper, so I can refer back to it anytime I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I need it to serve as a reminder that I’m laying the foundation now, so that hopefully I can have a prolific writing career one day. I need to know exactly where I am now, where I’ve come from and where I hope to go.

So, in 2017, I…

  1. Started a blog, which was something I had been thinking of for months. Since I started on February 9, I’ve posted 61 times and found 73 followers. (I’m grateful for each and every one of you! I never dreamed I’d get more than about 10.)
  2. Participated in 5 contests, (KidLit College Board Book Contest, Sparkhouse Contest, Susanna Leonard Hill’s Hallowensie & Holiday Contests) generating 2 honorable mentions.
  3. Participated in 3 writing challenges, NaPiBoWriWee, WOW-NONFICPIC and #50PreciousWordsforKids (well, technically my daughter gets credit for that one.)
  4. Wrote 6+ manuscripts, brainstormed another 15+ ideas.
  5. Joined and have remained active in 3 critique groups, and have met an incredible group of dear friends along the way (This one holds the most weight, my friends are the greatest… It starts with a few MS swaps and before you know it you’re adding them to the Christmas card list!)
  6. Facilitated an online book study. We started working through Steering the Craft by Ursula le Guin. Sadly, the holidays interrupted our plans, but I hope to resume once we settle in to 2018… and maybe even start a new book!?!
  7. Started Paper People, a monthly debut picture book author interview series plus three lagniappe interviews (one being ANN WHITFORD PAUL!)
  8. Completed my challenge to read 100 Picture books in the course of one summer… (#100PictureBookSummer)
  9. Attended my first writing conference (Bayou Writers Group Fall Conference) P
  10. articipated on a book launch team (Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell by Randi Mrvos)
  11. Joined SCBWI

I’m proud of my list, considering how much I did not now at this time last year. And now its time to look ahead at this new year. When it comes to making resolutions, I’m like a kid in a candy store! In a wonderful podcast a few weeks back, Katie Davis (Writing for Children) gave pointers on how to set attainable goals and set yourself up for success in the 2018. My favorite nugget was something along the lines of “don’t set a goal that you have no control over.” So, in 2018 I plan to…

  1. Complete Storystorm (registered, 1 idea in the books!), ReforReMo, #50PreciousWords, NaPiBoWriWe, & (apply for) Writing with the Stars.
  2. Attend JambaLAya SCBWI Annual Conference (registered! Bonus points if I make it to another!)
  3. Continue Paper People, 12 interviews in 12 months (Stay tuned for Annie Silvestro!)
  4. Enter 6 contests
  5. Continue blogging, at least weekly, on a set schedule. I also hope to sprinkle in a few guest posts from other pre-published writers that I’ve met. (Week 1, check!)
  6. Focus submissions energy towards magazines and publishing houses.
  7. Attend local in-person SCWBI critique groups.

I hope you made your own list. I hope you’ve taken a moment to pat yourself on the back and I hope you have a very Happy New Year.
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Jodi McKay (+ giveaway!)

Happy Holidays! As we wrap up 2017 I have my final Paper People Interview of the year. This month, Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? shares her wisdom and Words with me about her debut picture book release. She’s also offering a giveaway! Seems like a great Christmas present, don’t you think? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I hope you enjoy our visit!
Jodi, thanks so much for joining me today! I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots… “Can I get you something to drink?” Why thank you for asking! So, um, what kind of drink are we talking about? Let me go kid friendly and say a Root Beer Float, OR, a Boston Cooler. Either way, I win because, you know, ice cream.

Yes! I love any excuse to have a good chocolate malt. Great idea! Everyone at my house is a big fan of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?! I know we aren’t the only ones either because every time I try to check it out, I’m on a waiting list! It’s such a unique concept but before we jump into it, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? Wow, thanks! You just made my day! I have always found a sense of comfort and excitement when cracking open a picture book and my happy place truly is the children’s section of a bookstore so writing for kids came quite naturally. It wasn’t until after my son started school that I felt like I could really dedicate myself to learning about how to write for children and then actually write. Five years later, I am still learning and still writing, but now I have some experience under my belt and an office (in my house) where I sit and write in the company of my dog, Ralph and cat, Albi. They love my stories.
In an earlier interview with Laura Sassi, you offer some of my favorite advice ever. I’ll remind you… “Engage your senses to find that spark… Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.” I completely believe this! I try hard to find a balance of keeping my BIC (butt in chair), without being tied to my laptop. What are your favorite places to find inspiration? I’ve found that I am struck with story ideas at the oddest times so I suppose inspiration finds me. I’ve come up with concepts while resting in downward dog, watching cartoons, driving (not the safest), heck even Robin Roberts from Good Morning America said something that resulted in a story. That’s what I meant about being open- be present to whatever situation you’re in and story ideas will bubble up and out. If I’m feeling stuck, however, I usually plug in the headphones, crank up the classical, and take Ralph for a walk.
I do the same! One day (thinking positively) I’m going to have to dedicate a book to my dog because our walks are so productive. I usually listen to Kid Lit podcasts, or something energizing and inspiring to get me excited. I save the classical music for when I’m writing… then it’s all instrumental, all the time. So, what’s your favorite creative outlet, besides writing? I really enjoy taking pictures. In fact, I will be taking our Christmas card photo soon which usually ends up with lots of yelling to get everyone to look at the camera at the same time. This is not easy when the animals are trying to get out of their costumes and the kid is laughing hysterically. Yep, I said costumes and we’ve had some epic cards come out of my creative photo shoot ideas.
That’s amazing! I usually make ours from whatever decent pictures are saved on my phone, but this year I stepped up my game a little. (No costumes here, though). I have to say, in all of your interviews that I’ve read, your voice is wonderfully authentic. Sometimes I feel like that’s one of my biggest struggles, keeping my voice and following the guidelines/formulas/formats. Do you ever struggle with getting your voice into your stories? Sure do. For me, the struggle is trying to do something different to explore other forms of writing and losing my voice in that process. For example, I recently tried to write a quieter book, no humor, more poetic language and… nope. My author voice is usually quirky with a type of humor that makes you want to elbow someone and say, “Ha, get it?” When I am true to that then the story ends up working.

My boys, ages 4, 5 and 33  quote your book all the time!  They look at each other (or me) and say, “Will you stop with the peanuts?” and then fall over laughing. Mission Accomplished! Was WHERE ARE THE WORDS? your first picture book manuscript? How long was it a ‘work in progress’? It was not my first, but it was the one that was different from anything I had ever written. It didn’t take me too long to write, but as usual, longer to revise so I would say that it was a work in progress for roughly 6 months before I was asked if I would be interested in sending it to an editor. I know that is not normal, but It’s such an abnormal book that I suppose this particular journey was meant to be.

Since it was a concept book, did you struggle with finding mentor texts? There’s one that comes to mind for you, but having such a unique storyline must’ve made it tricky. Full discloser- I did not use a mentor text. Phew, I said it. There’s Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Alfie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue as well as other punctuation type books, but I didn’t use them to help guide me. I knew what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. Full, full disclosure- I rarely use mentor texts unless I’m really stuck or want to try something new. I read a ton and make mental notes on what works or what doesn’t work, but I don’t often run to those books when I write. This is why writing and reading programs like ReFoReMo are essential for me. They push me out of my comfort zone and make me approach writing differently.

I have my sights set squarely on ReForReMo this year. I’ve not participated before, but I’m a member of the Facebook group and have already learned a lot. So, back to your book, Exclamation Point and Parenthesis were my favorite characters! (But then again, I often overuse both of those, in case you hadn’t noticed.) Was there a character that you related to more than others? Oddly enough, I’m a bit like Period. I don’t consider myself to be an excitable person like Exclamation Point and I don’t ask a ton of questions. I am a listener, although I’ve been known to throw in an aside here and there much like Parentheses.

On December 20, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy early Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal? Wow, it’s been a year already? I hate to say it, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really thought about how I might celebrate. Any ideas? I think I’ll do a giveaway on Twitter so look for those details in the next few weeks. It does feel unreal that I have a book on store and library shelves, but I mostly feel grateful. There were a lot of people that made this happen- my family, my agent, my editor and the team at Albert Whitman, Denise Holmes who was the illustrator, and the community of children’s book writers with their endless supply of support. This was a team effort so when I celebrate, I will toast to them.

Do you remember the first time you saw WHERE ARE THE WORDS? on a bookstore shelf? Yes! I had that slow-motion running, arms wide open kind of scenario happen and when I got to the shelf I turned around and showed my son that my book was in a bookstore. That was something else. I still get a little giddy when I see it in stores.

I’ve always thought that would be a hugely significant moment, in fact every Paper People interviewee so far has been able to tell me the exact time and place. I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it on those shelves? Marketing is tough, especially when you’re not used to sales. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to promoting my work and myself, but what I did learn and applied was to start well ahead of the book release date. Set up a blog tour at least three months in advance to get exposure and to let people know who you are. Invest in promotional material a.k.a. book swag to send to reviewers or to give to folks at bookstores, conferences, book signing events, or as part of a book package giveaway. I also took time to get to know some of the independent bookstore owners in my state either by stopping by their store or by working with them at a book event. They are always so gracious and willing to host book signing events or carry books of local authors, mine included.

What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I had to think about this one for a while. I wasn’t surprised by much in terms of marketing, sales, or even how hard it would be to sell another book to a publisher. I suppose what has thrown me a bit is how I still compare my journey to those of other authors. Isn’t that horrible? It makes me feel like an ungrateful jerk sometimes, but then I check myself and keep writing.

No! That’s not horrible, I think that’s one of the most honest answers you could have given. No doubt those of us on the pre-published side think that ‘so much’ changes, but the reality is that very little actually does. (I’m assuming.) Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I had known that not every book published receives the same amount of marketing or recognition by the publishing house. It took me a while to figure that out and I should have asked my editor or the marketing team where my book fell on their list. This is common for all publishing houses and had I done my research, maybe I would have found more ways or been more creative in promoting my work.

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Do you have anything coming down the pipe, awaiting publication? Where can we find and follow you on social media? I may very well have some good news, but I’ll need to wait until the time is right to make that announcement. Sorry! While I wait, I have stories in line to be submitted to editors, I have stories on my computer waiting to be sent to my agent, and I have stories in my head begging to be written so I’ll stay busy. If you want something to do while you wait, feel free to head on over to my website (check out my teacher’s guide, school visit info., or critique service!), send me an email, chat me up on Twitter or Facebook, find me on Instagram, or follow my interests on Pinterest.
Website: http://www.JodiMcKayBooks.com
Email: Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JLMcKay1
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JLMcKayBooks/
Instagram: jodimckay1
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/JodiMcKayBooks/

Thanks so much for letting me stop by Magnolias & Manuscripts. It’s always fun to talk with a fellow writer!

Thank you for sharing your WORDS and wisdom! Jodi has been kind enough to offer a giveaway, see below. The giveaway will run for one week; enter for your chance to win


a Rafflecopter giveaway

(I know, its my first giveaway and it doesn’t look right, but click the link-

I promise its there!)

And don’t go far! I have a long list of 2017 debut picture book authors that I hope to add to the 2018 Paper People list. Join me in January as I talk to Annie Silvestro, author of Bunny’s Book Club and then Anna Forrester, author of Bat Count in February. I’m not quite finished for the year though, I still (hope) to have another interview and a blog post or two, and my Holiday Contest entry will be posted this weekend! As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP