Weeks 5, 6 & 7!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Weeks 3 & 4

 

Can you imagine living next door to someone for 30+ years and never making it over to visit? In my world, that’s hard to even fathom.  Around here, we gather nearly every Friday evening at one neighbor’s house or another, often times my own, to unwind from the week and watch our kids play.  It’s a ritual and it’s one of my favorites.  Well, I’ve lived next in Louisiana my entire life and thanks to the Gulf of Mexico along our southern border, we only have three neighbor states.  I’ve visited Texas and Mississippi more times than I can count, but I’ve never been to Arkansas… until last week.  It was an obvious decision when my husband and I were planning out first solo family vacation, it’s an easy drive and offers a very different set of circumstances than what we’re used to. We planned, prepped, read reviews, made a few basic decisions then counted down the days.  Last Monday, as we crossed the LA/AR state line for the first time, I was ecstatic.  It was thrilling because we were able to take our family on what our youngest called, ‘a brand-new adventure’.  We had the chance to breaking from the norm and broaden their horizons. We were also going way outside of our comfort zones and were constantly reminded of it

One of the first things we realized once we arrived, there was a TV but no cable. (Thank goodness for the handful of movies the kids packed for the trip.) Coincidentally, one of the last things we realized before leaving- our kids spent ZERO time on any kind of electronic device. In fact, our 2 tablets never made it out of the car. With the exception of one family movie each afternoon, the entire trip was about spending time together in the great outdoors and focusing on our family. We didn’t necessarily plan it that way but it was the incredible icing on the cake. I tell you all of this to explain two things:

1.       Why I didn’t post last week, not that it really matters

2.       The reason behind the ridiculously long list of books we read, before, during and after our trip. (No TV = LOTS of good reading time)

Now that we’re home, its nice to find a routine again! With this tremendous stack of books that we read, it was hard to find one to focus on… until we got hungry, that is.  At the end of ALYCAT (see number 10) there is a delicious surprise; a recipe for Alycat’s Popcorn Popsicles! Here’s our before and after pics. OC and I had a great time making these sweet and simple snacks and we started munching right away! Hope you find your favorite snack and are reading something fabulous! 

Here’s our list from the past two weeks:

1.       The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (this one was for my husband!)

2.       Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (No explanation necessary.)

3.       Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Such an important read and a mentor text)

4.       Maxi the Little Taxi by Elizabeth Upton, illustrated by Henry Cole (A favorite from our own shelves.)

5.       Hooray for Books! By Brian Won (OBVIOUSLY!)

6.       Dude! by Aaron Reynolds (We have 2 sons, enough said.)

7.       Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Our kids have 2 new baby cousins, this is perfect!)

8.       Cheetah Can’t Lose by Bob Shea (I think YC took notes through this one.)

9.       The Bad Seed by Jory John (SO GOOD and such a great lesson that MC really honed in on. Plus, character development is a soft spot for me and this has a fantastic and complicated main character)

10.   Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day by Alyson Foti Borque, illustrated by Chiara Civati (A local favorite with a delicious dessert!)

11.   Frog on a Log by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field (another one from our shelves)

12.   Zombie in Love by Kelly Dipucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Not a day goes by without talk of zombies in my house.)

13.   A Tip-Tap Tale by Denise Gallagher (a local favorite and a 2018 Indie Book Award Finalist!)

14.   Peanut Butter & Jelly by Ben Clanton (Because one was NOT enough.)

15.   Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (I attended a fantastic presentation by Leslie a few months back. I just want to read & learn more!)

16.   Big Chickens Flew the Coop by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (Also, we’re a bunch of ‘big chickens’ over here)

17.   7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald (A Golden Kite award winner, a mentor text and so dang punny!)

18.   The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Great recommendation! Thanks, Vivian!)

19.   Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Just to remind OC that she hasn’t outgrown picture book because that never REALLY happens. This one was for her.)

20.   Bink & Gollie by Kate DeCamillo & Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (another one for OC but everyone loves it!)

Stay tuned, later this week for a wonderful and insightful Paper People interview. WHOOOO is it do you ask? Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out! (Just kidding, its Jason Gallaher… eeek!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP, OC, MC and YC  

 

#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

Be My Guest, Jilanne Hoffmann!

One thing I’ve come to realize is that it really is a ‘small world, after all.’  Throughout the kid lit community, especially amongst picture book writers, it’s easy to run across the same names.  Random Facebook friends you have are actually in person critique partners 6 states away, or the winner of the last picture book giveaway you entered is the same person you connected with over shared love of a Jess Keating tweet.  Interestingly enough, I do remember when I first met Jilanne (The Writer’s Match) but more significantly I remember thinking “I see her name everywhere!” There’s a reason that I think that… she really is EVERYWHERE! Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to know Jilanne a bit more each time our paths cross and through each Susanna Hill contest we enter.  She’s a talented writer who’s been around the PB world. Her writing resume includes contest winner, book giveaway recipient, Highlights attendee, Facebooker, Instagramer, blogger and an active part of 12×12 and the PPBF community.  She’s also the co-producer of Kidquake in San Francisco. One of the most interesting opportunities she’s had recently was being selected as a participant for Rutgers One-on-One Conference.  Are you familiar with this unique event? Have you always been curious? Grab a drink and pull up a chair if you want to hear all about her experience. Jilanne ordered a fine glass of Brunello di Montalcino and I’ll definitley have what she’s having (it’s past 5:00 here, y’all!) 

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

Thinking about applying to the Rutgers One-on-One Conference sponsored by the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature? Not sure if it’s worth it? It spans only one day. Not sure what you’ll get out of it? It depends on what you’re looking for.

I attended in 2017. I didn’t fully understand what to expect, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to get out of it. Call me clueless.

But maybe you haven’t ever heard of Rutgers, so let me take a step back.

The Rutgers One-on-One Conference began nearly 50 years ago as a way for agents and editors to share information and insights about writing and publishing with authors and illustrators. Rutgers is a one-day marathon, consisting of a continental breakfast, a keynote by a former attendee with a recent debut children’s book, small roundtables with other attendees and agents/editors/authors, an individual critique with an agent/editor/author (an assigned mentor), panel discussions with agents and editors, and a final keynote at the end the day. Out of breath from the sprint? The conference goes faster than the time it takes to read this paragraph.

Several people had told me about their experiences. “It goes lightning fast, so be focused” said one. “Review the list of mentors beforehand, and decide which agents, editors, authors or illustrators you really want to meet. You’ll have to focus on the few because there are so many people and so little time,” said another.

One person told me that her mentor finished her MS critique in 15 minutes out of the hour they had together, so she was glad she had more MSS with her. Me? I took seven MS, and my mentor spent the entire hour asking me detailed questions about the single MS I had sent in for the application.

But it was an awesome discussion! And I’ve had valuable ongoing exchanges with the editor since then. But what happens to you could be very different from either of these two examples. Just be prepared with MSS and/or questions. It’s your time. Make the most of it.

Also understand that your mentor only gets a few minutes to read your MS before meeting with you in the middle of the day. So you’re going to get their first impressions. But you will also have that hour to dig deeper into the MS with them if you like. And since they’re spending so much time with you, they’re more likely to remember you and your MS down the road. Build that relationship!

You’ll also benefit from the hour-long discussion at your roundtable with a mixed group of mentors and other attendees. Take that time to ask any burning questions you have about the industry or MSS, in general. It’s not the time to ask questions that pertain only to your work.

And then there are the panels of agents and editors, also quite enlightening. You get to hear about what they’re looking for, what they see far too much of, and if they have any pesky pet peeves to avoid. In between all of these activities, you can schmooze if you’re a schmoozer. But as with any other conference, no handing of an unsolicited MS to an agent or editor.

And then the final huge benefit of attending: being able to send unsolicited MSS to almost everyone on the mentor list, whether you have spoken with them or not, following the conference.

There you have it. Rutgers in a nutshell. If this sounds enticing, send in an application and see what happens! Good luck!

2018 APPLICATION DEADLINES:
June 30, 2018 (fiction & illustration)
June 21, 2018 (nonfiction)

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

Thanks, Jilanne for sharing! I keep toying with the idea of applying, but I’m still not sure. If you do then I wish you the absolute best of luck. Stay tuned, next week for the kickoff of our #100PictureBookSummer! Plus, I’ll have more fun interviews and guest posts to share, too!

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, complete with sun, shade and heartfelt gratitude for eveyone who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect ‘the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave.’

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

The character struggle.

Don’t they say ‘It’s a sign of strength to know your weakness’? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are either but someone says that, right? Or something similar maybe?  Well, regardless I just said it and one of the areas that I struggle with most is Character Development. For the most part, my characters are flat, one dimensional and probably a little cheesy which leads to the dreaded ‘sweet’ labels that my stories so often get. (As a gentle reminder for those of you who haven’t been on the receiving end of this word, ‘sweet’ is typically not a good thing… not in this picture book world. Here it basically means ‘soft’.) I’ve mentioned before that I’m participating in a book study right now of Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, and let me tell you, I’ve been anxiously waiting for Chapter 6, Creating Compelling Characters.  By anxiously waiting I’m talking about the kind that comes when you’re sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office, and you’re pretty sure he/she’s going to tell you that you have a cavity, even though you really have been brushing twice a day albeit a little hurriedly each time. In your defense it’s only because you’ve been busy writing brilliant picture books. Not to mention, when an idea strikes you have to act on it, even if you just so happen to ALWAYS be brushing your teeth. Still, you know you need to hear it. You’ll be glad when it’s over, even if it’s a little painful and you’ll have a better, healthier mouth as a result. Sure.

I was having a conversation about this struggle of mine with a dear friend (and book study moderator- extraordinaire) when two things hit me:

1.       I struggle with only feeling productive when I’m actually writing/revising a manuscript so stepping back to do a character study on someone you only see for 500 words is easily dismissible. (I know this line of thinking is only hindering me, I’m working on breaking this habit.)

2.       I did one. I did a massive character study on a certain main character from a certain first (and shelved) manuscript. (CoughNathanCough.) I knew him inside and out, front and back. I know his favorite color, family life, interests, etc. You name it, I knew it, and it didn’t get me anywhere. If I can be honest, a part of me feels a little burned.

And I had this conversation with a fellow picture book writer that I had the pleasure of meeting at the SCBWI JambaLAya Kid Lit Conference in March.

As a writer of picture books, I’m always aware that I will have no say in what my characters will ever actually LOOK like. I don’t get to decide their facial structure, eye color or physical quirks.  I won’t get to decorate the walls of his bedroom. I don’t know if her hair will be in pig tails or braids. I don’t know the color, size, shape or shine of any of these characters that are swimming around in my brain. The illustrator gets to decide all of this.  I think I have a very healthy appreciation for this unique aspect of writing picture books but, as a result, the characters I’ve created are all a little blurry in my brain. I think it’s how I keep myself emotionally detached, but if I can’t envision your face, how well am I ever going to know you? Even all of my far-flung writing friends have a Facebook photo I can glance at.

And this is all to say that I really have no excuse. Everything I’ve ever read says that if you want to write a picture book that has any chance of becoming successful, regardless of your definition of the word,  you have to know your characters and know them well beyond the 32-page snippet of their life. There’s a part of me that also thinks character development should be an active, engaging, creative process in and of itself.  I’m often called away from the computer when I start leaning in that direction; maybe I grab a paper and pen, or a sketch book and pencils, once was even molding clay, but I never got very far with any of them. I spent so much time gathering supplies and making glamorous, glorious plans, that I didn’t have any time to actually do anything creative. So, I probably need to let that go too, this expectation that I’m going to make something wonderful as I get to know my character. Or maybe I don’t need to let it go, but reign in it. Maybe I need a process and one that is easily reproduced? I definitely need to change my line of thinking that it’s not a productive use of my time. I also should quit wallowing in the past and be grateful for everything I learned the first time around. I also need to let myself own my characters a little more. They are mine after all, they shouldn’t be blurry.

I have 4 manuscripts that I consider ‘priority’ right now for one reason or another. I owe it to all four to pause and flesh these characters out, regardless of whether or not they are submission ready or not (or even submission SENT.) Oh, well. There’s no time like the present! In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post here and update on my progress next week. Doesn’t that excite you? Won’t you sleep better just knowing I’m brushing my teeth like I’m supposed to? 😉

 Hold the phone!  What was I thinking? It’s NaPiBoWriWee! It’s #50PreciousWordsforKids! The character studies still need to happen, but two of my favorite writing challenges converged on the same week (when I’m also up against a big work deadline!) It’s go time, folks… stay tuned for more on NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) and #50PreciousWordsforKids. 

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

Submissions & Admissions

I did it. For the first time, in way too long, I hit the submit button. And get this, I did it not once but five times. Obviously, I didn’t literally hit submit five times: two were sent via US Mail with an enclosed SASE that I hope to never see again, two were via email and only one was an online submission form with an actual SUBMIT button. But the point is, I did it. What’s more important is that I managed to do it at the tail end of a very intense writer’s slump. Let me tell you, it was a helluva slump too. If I’m being honest, it actually felt like a hangover. I’m from south Louisiana, remember, I know a good hangover when I see one and THAT was a hangover… a conference hangover.
Everyone talks about the burst of energy that follows a good writers conference, and after last month I know exactly what they’re talking about it. The weekend was brilliant and the following week I had enough energy to tackle to publishing world. I had a vision for each WIP, I felt good about my chances, and I was writing often and feeling inspired…until I crashed. I crashed into a fit of overwhelming, exasperated self-doubt. All of my works in progress came to a screeching halt, my blog suffered and I grew quiet in my communication with critique partners. I was spiraling and it all happened so fast! Surely, I’m not the only one who’s experienced such a thing? Almost every ounce of my well-intentioned inspiration and energy evaporated, then it got worse. My mood was awful. My house was a mess. My laptop lay untouched, and the laundry piled up. It was the pits I tell you. Luckily, it was ALMOST every ounce of my creative energy… key word, almost.
So, there’s this book study I’m apart of, and our assignments are due every two weeks. I didn’t hit the deadline, which is very out of character for me, but I showed up in the best way I could; a day late and a dollar short. Our assignments are usually due once every two weeks, except this time we already agreed on a one-week extension and I STILL turned it all in two days late. But the important thing was, I finished. (Shout out to my Bookish Studies girls!) In the midst of all of this I also had a major pep talk with myself via the dusty laptop. I sat down with a blank (electronic) sheet of paper and just wrote. I wrote about my struggles, I wrote about my concerns, I wrote about what excited me, made me anxious or just plain scared me. I wrote about my expectations, both the realistic ones and those that aren’t. In the words of Brene Brown, pounded out a SFD, figured out the ‘story I was telling myself’ and how off-kilter it was. (All this is thanks to RISING STRONG, see footnote.)

I still have a couple more confessions… none of which matter to any of you in the least bit. But to keep my self accountable I have to spell them out, so please bear with me.

1. I missed the opportunity for an April edition of Paper People. I’m working on getting back on track for May… stay tuned, there’s more good things to come I hope.

2.  I declared that I would blog about picture books, except that feels really limiting and I think I unintentionally pigeon-holed myself. What I’m really passionate about is living a creatively and authentically. So, I might give myself that chance to start writing about that too… but carefully, because I’m no expert…

Also, this is no confession, but a PSA… you should read Brene Brown. Doesn’t matter which book, just pick the one that speaks to you and read it. I though that DARING GREATLY changed my life, and it did, but let me tell you, RISING STRONG just took things to a whole new level, and I’m only halfway through. Whether you’re a writer, reading, thinker, dreamer or doer, you should read her work. If you’ve experienced disappointment, shame, embarrassment, grief, or doubt, any and all of her books will speak to you. I could go on and on… I won’t because I’m very close to finding myself on a soapbox here. (Plus, I’ve hit my ellipses quota for the week.) Trust me, if you’re human you should read her books.

So, I think that’s all for now. I’m not sure where I’ll take things next week (and I hope that I don’t have any rejections to report!) I do have another Be My Guest post coming up, which is exciting and keeping me on schedule. Thanks for humoring me, like you always do, and as always… (oops, one more!)

 
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

The bridge.

 

Two scary things happened to me on Friday morning. Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I don’t mean life-threateningly, earth-shatteringly scary, more like ‘public speaking’ scary. The second scary experience happened about one hour in to a three-hour drive.  I had my radio cranked up, cruise control set and a glorious amount of windshield time before I arrived at my very first SCWBI Regional conference.  What else do you need on a Friday morning? I can tell you what you don’t need… TRAFFIC. Bumper to bumper traffic, and the kicker? The traffic crawled to a stop about a mile before the tallest bridge in the entire world! Okay. So, it’s not actually the tallest in the world, but for me it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.  Fun fact, I have a strong distaste for anything that takes me higher than a step stool. I find heights to be disorienting, distracting and incredibly disconcerting.  The bridge in question was going to get me across the Mighty Mississippi. There’s no way around it, under it, or through it… only over. Believe it or not, I had never been stuck in traffic on the Mississippi River bridge but just the thought of it has caused a healthy amount of anxiety. What if I roll backwards? What if people are speeding past me and I’m stuck with the bridge bouncing beneath me?!? What if my car gets a mind of its own and drives itself over the side without warning? Right, all very rational concerns.  So, there I was with a solid fifteen minutes to stare straight at the brake lights inching up the bridge and psych myself up for what was about to happen.

Pause.  Let’s rewind about four hours to the quiet moments after I dropped my kids off at school. I came home to pack, print out query letters and hit the road. Everything was just as I planned it, except I was on the verge of tears.  The conference that had been beckoning me for months had finally arrived and I felt distressed. It wasn’t about leaving my family, my husband had things well under control and my kids were excited I was going. It wasn’t the road trip. It wasn’t the cost of the conference or about missing work. For a moment I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was very real and spreading fast. Thankfully, I’m a pretty self-aware girl, not to mention I’m a nurse, so self-diagnosing is kind of my ‘thing.’  It didn’t take me long to realize that I was riddled with a terrible case of insecurity, maybe even my first touch of the imposter syndrome I’ve heard so much about.  My lack of formal training, poor grasp of grammar and countless technical short-comings haunt me on a daily writing basis. Those things are easy enough to hide when I’m in the privacy of my home and I was about to leave the comfort of my hiding spot behind.  I was momentarily frozen with fear that I would be sniffed out as a fraud during the conference.  That I would be overpowered by intelligent conversation and blown away by the skill and success of the writers around me that I would run home on Sunday with my tail between my legs. 

You’ll be happy to know that neither the bridge, nor the worry got the best of me.  When I was crawling towards the bridge I thought back to the tears that fell and the conversation that ensued.  I realized that this was only the beginning.  Hopefully, the beginning of a long and illustrious writing career. More likely than that, though, is that this was the beginning of really believing in myself.  It’s one thing to ‘talk shop’ hidden behind a computer screen, but it’s a whole different ball game when you’re doing it in person.  I was putting myself ‘in the arena’ in a very new and real way.  Just like I was going to have to suck it up and cross the Mississippi River bridge at a sails pace, trusting that I wouldn’t get smashed, or bashed or splashed, I was also going to have to find a way to pump the brakes on my pity-party before it was too late. I know I belong there. I belong there just as much as you belong there and you belong there just as much as the writer across the table from you, and the one sitting behind her, and they one sitting behind him.  We all belong there! I had a conversation with myself at the bottom of the bridge, remembering that there are always two camps, spinning their own version of the same story.  I could continue listen to the self-depreciating, self-doubting, self-conscious version, or I could choose differently for myself, at least for a weekend. So, that’s what I did and I let the bridge help me do the work.  I decided that when I reached the very top I would look to the left and down at the river down below.  (I NEVER look over the side!) Sure, there were trucks driving past, cars switching lanes and the bridge was wobbling more than I care to discuss. But in that moment, looking out on the Mississippi River, I was okay! I let go of my worry and allowed myself the glorious opportunity to embrace 72 hours of full-time writer-mode.  That’s all I really needed, anyway, to just be me and tell the stories that I have to tell. 

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is a gracious, warm and welcoming group of people who are driven by a passion for telling stories aimed at a young audience.  The group of individuals gathered in New Orleans this weekend was no different. I reconnected with old friends & made a few new ones.  I soaked up the information that was given out like a sponge and I ate INCREDIBLY well. I laughed a lot, jotted down notes and had a query letter critiqued. I know that I said that I was trying to write more pointed picture book information here and ramble a little less, but I also said I wasn’t making any promises.  I figured if it happened to me, then maybe it happened to you and if was important to me, it may be an important conversation for you, too.  Whenever your self-doubt creeps in, please know, for what it’s worth, that I don’t buy it.  I’ll be your cheerleader! After all, the greatest gifts we can give each other are support and encouragement, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum from pre- to prolifically published.

I’m still digesting so much of what I learned, but I came back encouraged, excited and inspired. Is anyone surprised? Of course not! That’s what happens when you surround yourself with like minded people.  That’s the beauty of talking shop and sharing stories with people who know EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. In BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about making room for our fear. Instead of fighting it, she suggests we invite it along for the ride but insist that it sit quietly and doesn’t get a voice in any major decisions. Well, insecurity is just fear in a costume, right?  Right.  So, it can’ come along, but I’m banishing it to the back seat, locking the windows so it doesn’t get sneaky and going to keep blaring music and crossing bridges.

Would you look at that? I’m 1200 words into this post! I don’t mean to be rude, but would you mind showing yourself out? I have a stack of revisions calling my name.

 

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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Thanks so much for visiting with me!