Paper People: Jason Gallaher

Without a doubt, my favorite part of blogging is absolutely interviewing! I’m so happy to bring you another (hilarious) Paper People interview with 2017 debut author Jason Gallaher. There’s been a bit of a break in the series, so I’ll give you a quick recap.  Paper is the traditional gift for the first anniversary, its also one of the common fundamental elements of all books, in this case, picture books.  All of the authors interviewed here are celebrating (or have recently celebrated) the first anniversary of their debut picture book, and have learned much in the process.  As a writer, I’ve definitely learned from those prolifically published authors across all genres, but these debut authors are still in the trenches of building their career and have so much wisdom and first hand experience to share. I hope you enjoy my talk with Jason as we talk about his debut picture book, crossing genres, perfect titles and so much more.

Jason, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Do you have any almond milk? I have been completely won over by it. Or a Diet Coke? But definitely not the two of those together.  

Absolutely! I’ll take a diet coke too, the fountain kind with really good ice! So, the first time I was introduced to you was last year during NaPiBoWriWee, before WHOBERT was even released.  It was a great interview (as they all are.) That leads me to my first question, do you participate in any writing contests/challenges? I do participate in writing challenges! I don’t do them habitually, but I do them when I need a little jumpstart. My first challenge was Tara Lazar’s Story Storm back when it was PiBoIdMo. The year was 2014, I completed the 30 ideas in 30 days, and one of those actually sold the next year (it still hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully soon! And yes, the next year was 2015 and we are currently in 2018! Publishing can take a long time!).

I participated in Storystorm for the first time this year and am happy to say I finished with a solid list of 30 ideas!  I did NaPiBoWriWee again too, but only finished with four drafts instead of seven.  Last year, during that interview you talked about how you love titles. I totally get that! What is your creative process when you’re working on a picture book? Do you struggle when your creative process happens out of order? I’m such a sucker for titles, and that’s where my picture book ideas always start. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to me that will fit the title, but I don’t force it. I just let the title sit in my brain, and then it’s when I’m doing something mundane like reciting Anjelica Huston’s filmography that the lightning bolt of an idea strikes and I throw my hands up in the air and scream and the dogs start barking and my husband gets concerned that I’ve hurt myself, but I have no time to worry about any of that because I have to run to my computer to get down the first draft! So, my PB creative process isn’t really a struggle when I write title first, but it’s definitely more dramatic.

The mental images of all that commotion are golden! I’ve giggled every time I’ve read over your answer. Let’s talk about WHOBERT! I am a fan of so many picture books (obviously) but the ones that have all 5 members of the Prevost family clamoring for a turn to read are few and far between.  Let me tell you, that’s WHOBERT in our house! His lack of self-awareness is HILARIOUS, I think because it hits a little close to home for everyone. (Except me, of course.) How long was the path to publication for WHOBERT? From first draft to SOLD. Per usual, WHOBERT came to me first as the title. But I didn’t know exactly who, who Whobert was or what he did. But it was when I was writing a grad paper on Shakespeare in the spring of 2014 that it all clicked. It was near the end of the semester and I was getting so much Shakespeare-fatigue that I started reading his plays out loud in a really dramatic voice. Then I got that lightning bolt moment. I knew this was Whobert’s voice, and I knew that I had to poke fun at myself taking myself so dang seriously in grad school. I was really inspired by the “who, who” call of owls, I figured “who” was a great start to any question for a detective, and SHAZAM! WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE was born. I wrote a couple drafts and had them critiqued by two amazing authors: Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum. From there, I had my revision critiqued at the CenCal SCBWI Writers’ Day by Annie Nybo who was then at McElderry Books. She gave me fantastic notes and told me to resend the manuscript to her if her thoughts resonated with me and I revised WHOBERT. Those notes super duper resonated, so I revised, then signed with my agent, then we sent WHOBERT on back to Annie. She asked for one more round of revisions, I got to those, and then after we submitted it to her again, Annie acquired WHOBERT in March of 2015.

That whole process from first draft to sold was pretty quick, just under a year. But I think it’s important to say that the relatively fast sale timeline would not have been possible if it weren’t for a number of happy milestones that happened along the way that I had nothing to do with. First, there was the fact that both Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum were available to look at my manuscript and gave me great advice. Then there was the fact that I met Erin Murphy at a picture book intensive weekend in the fall of 2014, and she introduced me to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. Then it was that Tricia decided she’d give me a call and took a chance on me after a delightful two-and-a-half-hour conversation. Then there was the fact that I was paired with Annie Nybo for that SCBWI critique and the fact that Annie happened to get my humor and saw what the WHOBERT draft I submitted to her could become. Not to mention, Jen Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency let me intern with her a couple years prior and introduced me to the children’s lit world. If not for each of these amazing women, WHOBERT may never have come to be.

So many people helped and so many factors outside of my control lined up perfectly to make publication of WHOBERT happen. We see articles online all the time about people who sell their books so fast, but I don’t think it’s often highlighted that a book’s publication is reliant on so many people and meeting those people at the right place and the right time. If any one of these mentors hadn’t entered my life, WHOBERT could still be in my computer and not on bookshelves. So if you’ve been trying to sell a manuscript for a long time, keep at it! Be an active part of our writing community and you will meet those people and have those happy accidents that lead you to publication. This is even true after your first book comes out. It’s been over two years since I last sold a manuscript, but I’m trying to keep myself at the keyboard every day, and seek as much help and guidance as I can.

What a refreshingly healthy perspective on the different paths a manuscript can take. WHOBERT is such a clever story, I’m so glad all the stars aligned for a quick publication.  What books helped to shine a light on your writing path as you were working through WHOBERT’S revisions? Are you a believer in mentor texts? I am such a believer in consuming other authors’ and illustrators’ work and being inspired by them, but when I’m working on a revision I try not to read others’ books when I’m in the revise mindset. I don’t want to get so into their rhythm or voice that I subconsciously repeat it. But I do read a ton of picture books outside of my revisions and there are a number of people who inspire me: Dashka Slater’s ESCARGOT is so flipping hysterical and I want it to be a requirement that kids get a copy of this book when they are born; Jessie Sima is amazing at writing and illustrating whimsical worlds that I want to live in; Jessixa Bagley knows so well how to bring out emotion and make you feel (her book BOATS FOR PAPA makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I. Read. It. And I’ve read it at least thirty times). I could go on and on!

I second every single title you just mentioned! I haven’t read BOATS FOR PAPA yet, but it’s waiting for me at the library today, actually. In nineteen days, on July 18th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? My plans are to keep on writing! I love our industry so much, and I want to be a part of it for as long as I can, so I’ll be at my keyboard on July 18th trying to come up with something that hopefully will make people laugh!

Do you remember the first time you saw WHOBERT on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! The first time I saw WHOBERT on a shelf was at BookPeople, our local (and so flipping fantastic there isn’t a word that can express it) independent bookstore in Austin, TX. They had a whole parliament of WHOBERTs sitting there at their welcome desk, and my heart stopped. It was so surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling and flipping through multiple books even though I knew every book had exactly the same thing in it. I just loved it!

You are so good at capturing a moment and helping your readers (aka me) to be right there with you.  When you talk about seeing WHOBERT for the first time, I get all kinds of warm fuzzies! How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? The person who was the absolute best help with marketing was Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She is a GENIUS when it comes to creating materials that can help make your book sing. She made an entire Whobert Story Hour Kit that you can find here!

Now that you have one year under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? The most surprising thing has been how much getting that first book on the shelves just makes you want more! I feel like Cookie Monster screaming, “MORE COOKIES!” only replace “cookies” with “books.” I have this fire in my gut that ignited on July 18, 2017, to have the whole process of publication happen all over again.

See there, you did it again! (#allthefeels) I know enough about you to know that you have a MG fantasy in the works. (That sounded stalkerish! I meant ‘Your website says you have…’) What’s the most difficult part of switching genres for you? What’s drew you to write for the MG audience? Haha! I’m an open book when it comes to…my books. I am completely obsessed with middle grade. I think overall there is an optimism about the world—even in darker MG—and I really like the general MG theme of trying to find your place in a community. I also love fantasy-adventure, and what drew me into writing the genre in MG is that I can develop fantastical worlds with kids who really appreciate the magic going on around them. I can discover these whimsical places through their eyes and really feel their enthusiasm and wonder. The hardest part about going into MG from PBs was getting down all the description. My PBs are really dialogue heavy, so it took me a bit to get into that, “Don’t forget to mention where they are, or what they’re wearing, or what smells so bad” rhythm.

What’s your favorite part of writing MG? What about PB? My favorite part about MG is getting to really dive deep into a world. Fantasy-adventure specifically is so fun for me because I love exploring how magic could enhance, alter or shake up an already confusing time of self-discovery.

My favorite part of PBs is getting to be just plain silly. I love being wacky and flamboyant in my PB writing. I write visually and use a ton of physical humor because, above all, my absolute favorite thing in writing PBs is making people laugh.

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You do that so well!!! Do you have anything coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? I have another picture book coming out, but so far, we are still looking for an illustrator. As soon as I can sing this one from the rooftops, I totally will! I can say that it’s unrelated to WHOBERT, and it’s about my favorite subject: love!

You can find me online at jasongallaher.com; on Twitter and Instagram as @draftingjason; and on YouTube where I gab books at youtube.com/c/jasongallaher. Let’s all be friends, everybody! Thank you so much for having me! This was a hoot!

 

Wasn’t that fun??? See why I love this so much?? The best part is that I have a STACKED schedule of Paper People interviews to post this summer. (There were quite a few wonderful debuts that celebrated their fist anniversary over the spring that I missed, I’m sad to say. You can find a great, comprehensive list of 2017 debut picture books here.  If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions its a great place to start!) Stay tuned my friends!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Paper People: Sue Gallion

The second Friday of the month is quickly becoming my favorite! Today, I’m sharing Sue Gallion and I’s conversation.  I had the chance to pick her brain about not only her debut picture book (and a little about her second) but also all things SCBWI. I’m just starting to get involved and find my place within my local chapter.  I am so excited about being a card-carrying member so, I had no shortage of questions. I hope you learn as much as I did… I should warn you, there’s an awful lot of cuteness in between the lines. Proceed with caution!

Sue, thanks for joining us here! Can I get you something to drink? Coffee or a whole-milk latte would be even better.  Thanks for your hospitality!

Certainly! We finally have another “cool front” around here, so coffee sounds great. It had been so warm the past few days that I almost opened a lemonade stand! Oh, well. The struggles of the south.  Let’s get started, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?  My background is journalism and public relations, but I got re-hooked on children’s books when my kids were young. I took a children’s literature class about 12 years ago with the thought of becoming a reading specialist, but the assignment to write my own ABC book took me in a different direction. And here I am!

I’d like to jump right into SCBWI.  How did you become involved in the first place?  How did you find your place? What’s your favorite part of the organization? (Can you tell I’m a new member and just a little excited about it?) I found out about SCBWI from another writer’s group. One of the scarier things in this business to me (which you have to do over and over again!) is walk into a room where you know no one and start a conversation. The first SCBWI event I attended was a full-day workshop in Kansas City with Harold Underdown and several other top speakers. I mentioned to one of the volunteers helping with lunch that I was willing to help out with a future event. The next thing I knew, I was coordinating cupcake donations and stuffing packets. I became Assistant Regional Advisor in 2011 to Colleen Cook, who was the person I introduced myself to at the coffee station at that first event.

I could tell you a thousand favorite things about SCBWI. Many of the people I most respect and admire I’ve met through SCBWI. It is an extraordinary creative community with so many opportunities to learn and grow in our craft. I am certain I never would have been traditionally published without SCBWI. More importantly, I have grown as a writer, as an advocate for children’s literacy, and as a person through SCBWI and the people I’ve come to know.

I encourage people to be brave and pursue this dream by connecting with others, and then be sure to pat yourself on the back for being brave! It takes guts to share your work with others. It also takes a lot of humility and perseverance.

How serendipitous! You’re totally right, somehow as an adult, it’s still a bit nerve-wracking to be the new kid on the playground.  How long were you involved for before you sold Pug Meets Pig? About five years. The sale of the manuscript actually came directly from a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI LA conference in 2013.

Of course, it did.  You and SCBWI have quite a sweet love story. Was Pug Meets Pig your first picture book manuscript? No way! I worked on many manuscripts before it, and I revised it over several years. I do wish I had moved on from some of my first manuscripts sooner, though. I think lots of us get too caught up in that one first story and revise it over and over again, rather than move on to new ideas.  Lin Oliver of SCBWI has solid advice to think of your career and your body of work rather than just one book. We all have more than one idea in us.

That’s excellent advice. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that I needed to move on past my first manuscript and start working on others. Do you remember the first time you saw it on a bookstore shelf? You bet! It was shelved right next to Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. Also a thrill!

Ohhhh, that’s a great shelf to be on! Surely you took a picture? Then to have your second picture book follow so closely must’ve been the most delicious icing on the cake. Pug & Pig Trick or Treat is equally as adorable. Not to mention, now you have a series!  Was writing Trick or Treat more or less difficult than you anticipated?  Will we have the chance to follow this pair on more adventures? The second story was inspired by my dog’s reaction to the dog next door dressed in a skeleton costume. I had no plans to write a second book, and I had no idea if Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster would ever buy it. It was a thrill when Andrea Welch acquired it right away. Stay tuned for more adventures for these two!

9781481449779 copy (2)I can’t wait to tell my kids! They’re going to be thrilled. So you must’ve done something to get your book on that incredible shelf.  Can you tell us how you approached the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you from a marketing standpoint? That’s a whole other blog, but I took every approach I could imagine, including mailing books to celebrity pugs and pigs around the country.

I’ll just have to invite you back one day and you can tell us all about marketing, pigs and pugs, debut and seasonal books.  Can you tell us about your experience working with an illustrator? The animals are so adorable… I could just reach out and pinch their cheeks! Seeing this story come to life visually was one of the most thrilling parts of this whole process. Joyce Wan is an incredible artist and visual storyteller. The team of Andrea Welch and Allyn Johnston, Beach Lane editors, and Lauren Rille, the art director, is simply brilliant. It’s been an honor to work with them and I’ve learned so much from them.

That reminds me of the quote I heard once on a podcast, ‘it takes a village to make a picture book.’  Within the words of your story, there’s a profound message about adapting to change and accepting others into ‘your space’.  With three kids, very close in age, that’s a lesson that gets lots of practice at my house!  Did that drive your story, or did the theme come along as you wrote it? The issue of change was at the heart of the story from the very beginning. Whether you’re a young child with a new sibling or an adult with a new colleague or family member, change can be hard! The themes of empathy and acceptance of others and their differences are very important to me. As I study picture books and work to improve my own writing, I look for that layer of emotion and heart, and I hope it’s part of my own books.

I appreciated the heart in this one so much and there’s an equally great message in Trick or Treat. Your one year anniversary as a published author just passed on September 26!   If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting call that your First Book-iversary! Did you celebrate the day? I did a story time for the second Pug and Pig book at a local toy store with a real pig that day, which was a wonderful way to celebrate.

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What’s the best thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry? The most rewarding part has been the interaction with kids and families and their responses to the book. What a joy!

Not to mention the fact that you get to hang out with the super cute pig! (Did you spot Eva the pig in the picture???)  Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I’d been more organized day by day. In addition to a good writing winter, I need to do a giant office cleanout! And I wish I had attended more story times at libraries or school visits by other authors before this year. Watching someone else do a story time and seeing how kids respond is a great learning opportunity for a writer, and it’s very good preparation for library and school visits in the future.

I just went to my first, obviously to be supportive but mentally I was taking notes.  What’s up next for you?!?  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media? I’m looking forward to a good writing winter, with lots of coffee! Find me on Twitter (my favorite!) @SueLGallion, or on Facebook at Sue Lowell Gallion. My website is suegallion.com.

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me!

Thanks for the opportunity! And best wishes for your writing winter ahead, too!

Wasn’t she fantastic?  Next month, come back for more fun! I’ll be talking to Jodi McKay, author of Where Are the Words? and  I’m equally excited about sharing that conversation! I also had a lot of excitement this week.  I made it on to Susanna Hill’s Would You Read it Wednesday! Next week I’m going to rebuild my pitch right here, using some of the fantastic feedback I received. Until then, I hope you’re writing/building/doing something fabulous!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The hat.

I spent all of Monday with a baseball cap on my head.  This is strange for two reasons: First, I don’t wear hats more than a handful of times in any given year; but Monday was unusually blustery and my hair was ten kinds of dirty.  Second, the logo on the hat was for a company that had long been one of my husband’s biggest competitors but they recently purchased the company he worked for.  Now they aren’t the competition, instead, they pay the bills. If you’ve been a part of something similar, then you can imagine the stress we’ve been living with.  Thankfully, the unknown and instability of the past few months have smoothed out and the future looks promising. (No pink slips here!) Monday was a turning point for me, and I wore the hat as a concrete symbol of embracing this new chapter.  I’m going to pause here for a second, and tell you about last weekend.

Last weekend I attended my first writers’ conference. It’s a little ridiculous that I’m so far into this journey and hadn’t made my way to a conference, but that’s the truth. So, my first conference was the Bayou Writer’s Group Conference.  It was a perfect first time. I learned so many lessons that I could fill my next six weeks of blog posts. In addition to my first conference, it was my first in-person pitch session. My performance was less than stellar. You and I don’t know each other well enough yet for me to be completely candid, but truly, I did not do well.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to. I hoped to, of course, but I realize that it was uncharted waters and what I needed more than anything was just to jump in and get the first one over with. (I consider myself an optimistic realist.) I’ve affectionately named those fifteen minutes as “the first pancake”.  You get the analogy, I’ll spare you the details.

As I was unpacking and digesting the experience over lunch, a couple hours following my pitch. I had an interesting revelation, which continued through the week.  I did not pitch well, that’s a fact. More importantly, what I did not do well, was ‘talk the talk.’  I think that somewhere along the way I decided that I’ll only feel validated and confident as a writer once I have an agent/sell a book, aka once I ‘have something to show for it.’.  I’ve talked to enough authors, both debut and veteran to know that is far from the truth, but that’s still what I was trying to believe. It was during that lunch, talking to a YA author, whose debut book is due out next summer that I realized what I was so desperately lacking. She held herself with such confidence. She delivered her pitch to me perfectly, without stuttering, while holding perfect eye contact and using the right inflection and emotion. It was an inspiring performance.  As I commented to her on her confidence, she gave me the most wonderful, real-life advice, “It takes practice.”  Light bulb moment, folks. Of course, it does! Not only the pitch itself but talking the talk of a writer.  I have a ‘writers’ hat, but unlike the cap I wore Monday, I’ve been reluctant to wear it well.  My pitch did not go well because there was no confidence behind it.

I can’t sit around waiting for someone else to validate my journey. I can’t search for confidence anywhere else aside from inside of me. I’ll never land an agent, or a publishing deal if I can’t be ‘the whole package’, and that includes doing the hard work, both on paper and in person.  In all fairness, I consider my pitch an ‘ugly win.’ I accomplished what I hoped, I left with her business card and a trunk full of lessons of what to do differently.  I did it, I dove in.  Until my next conference, I can (and will) practice my pitches so that I’m ready. More importantly, I’ll walk with more confidence, at conferences and otherwise, even if it’s the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind.   I’ll find a way to wear that writer’s hat and wear it well.

I’m so excited to be participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest, so stay tuned for my itty-bitty Halloween story to be posted here on Friday.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to last May for a moment… It all started with NaPiBoWriWee, and a serendipitous blog connection.  I was clicking and scrolling through comments that other participants were leaving on the daily blog posts.  I clicked on a name and felt compelled to comment on her blog… she returned the favor… and for a while, that’s how it went.  Then one day she told me about The Writers Match and how well it fit into her (relatively) social media free life.  She talked highly about the critique partnerships she’s made and I found my own way there.  Every connection I’ve made, thanks to The Writer’s Match, has been fruitful and founder Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz has been a kind and gracious host.  She agreed to join me here for a conversation about her ‘brainchild’, her projects and her place in the Kid Lit community. I’m always inspired by innovators; people who see a problem and take steps to make a change.  That’s exactly what Megan did in the creation of this website designed to create critique partnerships.  If you aren’t familiar with the website, check it out here…. but first…

Megan! Thanks for playing along, I’m so happy to have you here! I’m going to start with a question I’ve been dying to ask you… HOW in the world do you pronounce your last name? Thanks, Jennifer! As you can imagine, I get that question a LOT. We pronounce it TUH-RAS-KA-WITZ. The Polish pronunciation is more like TARA-SKEHV-ITCH. I always know the people with a Polish background because they’ll pronounce it that way and I mentally give them extra credit. Technically my last name combines my maiden and married name so my full name is Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz. Yes, my maiden name was only two letters long (It’s Hungarian) and I repeatedly asked my husband if he’d rather take my name to no avail. So now I’m Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing for children?  It took me a LONG time to realize that I wanted to write for children. Looking back, though, the signs were always there but I ignored them. I never spent my days writing or reading but I always made up stories in my mind. After college and a brief stint as a daycare teacher, I got my graduate degree to become a media specialist. I got married, became pregnant, lost my job while we were in the midst of buying a house and my brother was dying of cancer. Life was a rollercoaster. Losing my brother in 2009 was difficult but losing my son in 2013 was devastating. My son, Owen, died after a virus triggered a rare disease called HLH that we didn’t know he had and the doctors missed. It was after Owen died that I committed myself to pursuing the joys and passions in my life. I began writing more and more and attended my first SCBWI event a few months after he passed. I felt like I finally had a purpose and direction for my life.

Such a profound lesson, and beautifully poignant journey.  With it being such a deep-seated awareness, I have no doubt you’re writing from a rich and fertile place.  How would you describe your writing style? What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? I write humorous stories with lots of wordplay. I love clever and funny stories that are also short and sweet. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is one of those books that I feel like is as close to perfect as possible. I was equally enthralled by it and mad that I wasn’t the one who wrote it when I first read it. I feel similar about Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry. Just so simple and yet complex at the same time. I use Bob Shea’s books as mentor texts all the time, too. Love his humor! I have a goal to write a nonfiction picture book one of these days. I have a draft done that I’d love to get out there one of these days.

Oh, I do love Bob Shea! I’ll need to put those others on my list.  I’m a new member of SCBWI, but you’re very involved with NJSCBWI.  (Which seems like a force to be reckoned with.)  When did you get involved?  How have you found your place? Well, I’m involved with NJSCBWI as a participant only. I do not organize anything with them. They are an amazing group of hardworking individuals who create awesome opportunities for the kid lit community. Their Fall Craft weekend was my first official writing event that I went to in November of 2013. Boy, have I come a LONG way since then. If anyone ever gets the chance to go to a NJSCBWI Spring Conference, it’s a must! As far as finding my place, I feel like I’m still doing that. I do have a reputation for wearing quirky dresses to events and people remember me from that. I think it helps me stand out and is also part of my “brand” as far as being an author who writes humorous stories.

Brilliant!! I mean I do love dresses, but I’m talking about your ability to set yourself apart from the crowd, in a way that’s perfectly authentic.  Bravo!  Now I’m rethinking my outfit for my conference this weekend. Okay, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of why you’re here… The Writers Match.  Tell me all about it!  The idea for The Writers Match had been swimming my head for a while. When I went to the NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in 2016, I was lamenting about how hard it was to find good critique partners to another writer and I explained my idea for a “match.com for critique partners”.  I decided to just make it happen. I can’t remember the exact date the website went live because it was “live” for a bit while I worked on it with my web developer. I had my trusted critique partner, Nicole, sign up first and be our guinea pig in all things TWM. We have 116 members today which is great considering I have not been able to advertise the site as widely as I want yet. I am hoping to get some ads in Writers Digest soon.

I love the profiles, the message system and the ability to filter members both by genre and by experience.  (Picture Books and Unpublished for me!) What do you think the best way to use the website is? Me, too! I really wanted it to be easy for people to search for suitable critique partners based on whatever criteria they wanted. For example, if you are writing a book that takes place in Florida but you live in Alaska, you should be able to search for a critique partner in Florida to help you with your setting. Or if you are a male writer writing a female character, you can search for women to give you feedback.

I think the way to get the most out of the site is to spend some time really writing out what you want in your profile. Write down if you love romance but hate historical fiction or if you are a sci-fi expert but would like to read a contemporary middle grade. It helps other writers get a sense of who you are and if you might “click” as critique partners.

Ah, I saw what you did there! Bonus points awarded for play-on-words! What is your vision for the future of TWM? I firmly believe that having good critique partners is the key to success as a writer. I would love to have a site where thousands of writers are swapping stories daily and making connections. Ultimately, I’d love to offer in-person critique partner meet-ups or critique conferences.

That’s a wonderful, big picture idea.  Then we can all support each other in the big (conference) and little (critique) ways.  Speaking of support, I know that in addition to TWM and SCBWI, you wear a lot of hats and seem to have many irons in the fire in your community.  How do you juggle writing and the rest of your life, raising an adorable young family and all that good stuff?   Thank you. My most important hat is “MOM”. I have two young daughters that take up a lot of my time. My older daughter just entered kindergarten, which has freed up the time that my younger daughter naps so I can do some work. I also try to get up at 6am so I can work for about an hour before they get up.  Last year when my older daughter took a dance class, I went to the library and worked while she danced. I squeeze it in wherever I find the time. I love my community so I try to be as involved as possible. I work with my son’s former school and PTO to organize a race every year to raise money for his school in memory of him. It takes months to organize and plan the race. We just had the race last Saturday so in the weeks leading up to it, I got no work done and that’s okay! I try to be gentle with myself and not put too much pressure on my writing self.

Sounds like great, healthy boundaries.  Slowly but surely, I think I’m getting there. What phase of your writing journey are you in now?  I feel like I am just on the threshold of being published which has made me a bit more impatient. It’s sort of like the third trimester of pregnancy; so close but it feels like a really long time and it’s hard to get sleep-ha! When I meet with agents and editors at conferences and events and they have positive things to say about my writing and stories, it’s a great feeling. When I submit those stories and get nothing but the sound of crickets in my inbox, it becomes frustrating. I recently had a great agent say, “I love this story! It’s perfect…but I’m not representing picture book authors at this time.” In those moments, I just shake my fist at the sky and yell, “NOOOOOO!” But, like life, publishing is a rollercoaster and I’m in it for the long haul. I currently have 10 queries out to agents and I’m trying to write as much as possible while I wait

Oh, I love that analogy! I feel your pain… but only in the actual pregnancy sense, not in the publishing way. Maybe I’m close to the end of my first trimester? Hmm… Interesting.  Since you’re so close, can you share what you consider the most valuable writing tools in your toolbox?  I recently won a scholarship for the 12×12 Challenge (12x12challenge.com) and it has helped me have the most prolific year of writing possible. I’ve written at least one draft each month and a few of those have been good enough to start querying with. I want to make sure I have a deep well of drafts from which to draw from when an agent comes knocking.

The program offers webinars, online support, critique partners, and unique querying opportunities each month. Other than that, I participate in Read for Research Month or ReFoReMo and StoryStorm. I will do anything that’s offered for free and I am always reading new books. I get huge stacks from the library every week or so. My kids love all the new books and they don’t realize it’s mom’s “work” to read them.

12×12 and ReForReMo are both on top of my to-do list.  I missed both in 2017, but don’t plan to let that happen again.  Do you have anything on your Kid Lit wish list that you hope to accomplish in the next year? Well, the ultimately goal is to have an agent, right? Fingers crossed that I get one soon! I plan to do at least one conference next year. As I said before, I love the NJSCBWI one and I really enjoyed going to the NESCBWI this past year so I may try to get there again. I’d LOVE to do a retreat but it may not be in the financial cards. I’d love to organize a retreat through The Writers Match with lots of critiquing and a professional to help. I think that would be awesome! As always, though, the goal is to just keep writing and to keep growing as a writer.

That sounds like a great plan, keeping sights set on both the ‘big goals’ and day-to-day writing at the same time.  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! I wish you all the best and look forward to crossing paths with you.  One day soon we’ll be celebrating your debut picture book, I can feel it! Thank YOU! I can feel it, too. I know the hard work will get me there!

And that’s not the only interview I have on-tap for this week! Come back Friday for the next installment of Paper People with Liz Wong.  Her debut picture book is the adorable Quackers and it’s a hot-ticket item right now.  Have you heard about Read for the Record? Are you signed up? Check out this video clip! You won’t want to miss our conversation! See you soon!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Search for Mentor Texts

“Read more books about this topic,” she said, “Some of the best writers read 50 comp titles.”   I’ve heard this before, probably too many times.  “But I read picture books all the time!” I thought with frustration and also, “How the heck  am I going to get my hands on that many books?”   But in the spirit of critique group etiquette, I slept on it.  I thought it over.  I did my best to detach from my manuscript and read it with the same critical eye that she did. Guess what? She was right.  (That seems to be her pattern.) I am reading LOTS of picture books, but rather than reading with intention, I’ve fallen back into the habit of quickly casting a wide net that includes some new titles, a few old favorites and a couple that my kids grab on face value alone.

The challenge that my kids and I undertook this summer was to read 100 Picture Books.  But knowing myself and my tendencies to grab-&-go, I followed a list, as closely as possible, to guide us to stellar books we hadn’t yet read.  It was a smashing success, but since the summer has ended (early August around here), we’ve slacked off on our library runs and I’ve been a lot less intentional with my selections. Now that I’m writing more and polishing up a handful of manuscripts to begin the querying process, I need to hone in on the topics that I’m writing about now.  I need mentor texts. I need comp titles.  I need help.  Just a quick Google search usually reveals a good starting point.  If I’m lucky, there will be a Goodreads list on the topic.  Just for the sake of experiment, I searched for the following lists on Goodreads and was blown away by the results: Picture Books about… Seasons, Food, Family, Friendship, School, Geography, Emotions, Holidays, I could go on and on.  (Addendum, I just listened to a podcast that talked about utilizing Amazon searches/filters to find comps, another great idea.)

I also set off to the library as soon as it opened. Low and behold, there it was, the very book that my critique group facilitator suggested, waiting for me on display.  I read it and it was brilliant.  Having comparable titles has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I understand their importance, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I could give you the laundry list of reasons why,  but  I’ll spare you the details.  They’re just excuses anyway.  Just because something doesn’t come easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.  In fact, that’s the very reason I need to submerge myself in mentor texts.  Thankfully there are a number of social media outlets and though I had only heard of it, I knew it was time dive into the world of ReForReMo.  Reading for Research Month Challenge, held in March, “was developed to help picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching picture books.” (http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo).   I’m a few months early to sign up for the challenge, but there’s a Facebook group… request to join, sent and accepted.

The most wonderful thing happened, I found exactly what I was looking for!  Taking it further than this manuscript, I posted a question looking for mentor texts for another project.  For this second one, my searches weren’t producing much fruit but the members of the ReForReMo group sure did in a hurry.  Here’s just another great example of the Kid Lit community looking out for each other.  I know this world is filled with fantastic writers, many of them who still carry the pre– in front of published.  The fact is, I I feel blessed to be writing in this day & age (cue Full House theme song). So as I sit and soak up the goodness of this latest library haul, guided by suggestions, I’m sending up grateful vibes to the kid lit universe; grateful for the chance to just sit and read picture books on a Saturday morning, grateful for this new tool in my toolbox and especially grateful for my new ReForReMo friends, and the brains behind its wonderful operation.  Happy reading and happy writing!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

It’s a Book Review!

I was a lucky little girl.  In our home, having a ‘good cry’ was embraced, feelings were talked about and emotions were celebrated.  I’ve always felt grateful to have been born to such emotionally aware parents.  Now with kids of my own, I am equally blessed with three emotional and articulate children.  Though it’s sometimes a struggle amidst the hustle and bustle of family life, I always try to help them stop and pay attention and talk about to how they are feeling.  As a young girl, I knew the power of my feelings and I hope to give my children the same gift.

Thankfully, we live in a world where society tries, and the Kid Lit world excels at understanding exactly how much kids are capable of and trying to speak their language.  In the newly released, Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell, Maggie struggles with both envy and disappointment, emotions familiar to kids of all walks of life.  Because her summer looked different than that of her friends, she struggles to see it for the life changing adventure that it was. In a whimsical way, with pops of color and ‘sassy red shoes,’ this charming story helps kids to understand the importance of empathy and unconditional love.  My kids delighted in reading this book and getting to know the furry friend at the heart of the story

If you want to learn more about Maggie’s path to publication you can visit www.themaggieproject.blogspot.com or read my interview with Maggie’s author, Randi Mrvos here.

Sending prayers and dry wishes for those in the path of (Hurricane) Harvey.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Emma Bland Smith

Finally, we have arrived at my very first Paper People interview.  In the spirit of learning and building community, I’ve reached out to debut picture book authors about one year after their books release. I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of us who are writers consider ourselves a ‘paper person’.  More than a common personality trait, however, the name of the series is celebratory in nature. Paper is the traditional gift for a first anniversary.  It’s my hope that I can repay these authors for the advice they’ve shared, by starting another conversation about these incredible books. (Disclaimer: this is a longer post than normal, but that’s only because it’s packed to the brim with greatness!)

This month I had the pleasure of visiting with Emma Bland Smith, author of the award-winning Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf in the West.   The book is simply captivating.  Thanks so much, Emma, for taking the time to visit with us!

Emma zoo reading

I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots: Can I get you something to drink? I’ve decided that in this imaginary meet-up, it’s about 7 pm on a Friday, so I’ll take a nice glass of red wine, please!

Ah, a woman after my own heart.  The only slight change is that I’ll take a glass of white, chilled of course… it’s the only way to survive summer in the south. For starters, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?

I’ve always gravitated toward writing, but after my kids were born, I fell in love with kids’ books and decided I wanted to be part of that world. I had already written a book for adults (a nonfiction photographic history of San Francisco), but breaking into children’s book writing turned out to be way, way harder than I had expected. (Surprise!) I continued taking classes, going to conferences, and meeting with my critique group. It took me nine years (nine!) from the time I wrote my first manuscript to the day I signed with my agent.

Nine years! Talk about tenacity! What’s even more impressive is that you continue to wear many hats.  I often daydream about being a librarian and spending my day surrounded by books.  You ARE a librarian, so I’m a little envious.  How is it that you keep yourself balanced, juggling work at the library, writing and raising a family?  Where do you find time for it all?

I tend to thrive on pressure and get depressed when I have nothing to do, so somehow, on pure adrenaline, I managed to get that my master’s degree, write, and take care of my very young kids, all at the same time. (It’s crazy how much you can accomplish during nap time or two episodes of Caillou if you move at superhero speed!)

Today, I’m a substitute librarian and tend to work only about twice a week. The rest of the time, I do all the other things that it takes to keep a household running—shopping, cooking, cleaning, schlepping, home improvement, taking care of the neighbors’ cats, despairing over my son’s middle school math homework, etc. Writing isn’t always a priority, but I love it so much that I manage to fit it in. I fully admit to being a multitasker (for better or for worse) so I frequently read emails while I wash dishes and critique friends’ manuscripts or check kidlit411 in between conversations with my kids.

Oh man, so much of what you said is so true in my life too! My kids are still young, so naptime is my favorite.  But you aren’t here to talk about toddlers, are you? Let’s get to the good stuff… Was Journey the first picture book manuscript you wrote? 

Journey was not my first manuscript. When I signed with my agent, I probably had about eight polished manuscripts. In fact, I didn’t send my agent Journey until I had been with her for several months because it was different from my other work and I wasn’t confident about it. Luckily, she immediately saw the potential, sent it off to a few publishers, and to my surprise, it was acquired very quickly.

How wonderful that your agent could see the life-changing potential in it!  In a Will Write for Cookies Interview from 2016, you encouraged authors to start with an agent, as opposed to submitting directly to publishing houses.  How did you to land this agent with an eye for success? 

I submitted for years, to both agents and editors! Then one day in early 2015 I heard about the Twitter hashtag #MSWL (“manuscript wish list”) and was perusing it. I saw a post from an agency looking for picture books and sent a bunch of my manuscripts. She contacted me shortly after that and we clicked! My agent was fairly new, so she was building her client list and actively seeking new clients. I encourage writers to read the SCBWI magazine to find out about new agencies and agents.

I’m also curious about your experience working with an illustrator.  The illustrations in Journey are stunning.  I wanted to reach out and pet the wolf as I was reading!  What was it like watching your story come to life in color?

Thank you! Or rather, thank you on behalf of Robin James, the illustrator! I didn’t have any input on choosing the illustrator, but I’m thrilled with her work. I was curious more than nervous waiting to see the sketches because I knew my editor and illustrator were pros and would do a great job. And then the sketches came in and I was utterly charmed and delighted, the cover just blew me away; I never get tired of gazing at it.

Journey cover

Do you remember the first time you saw Journey on a bookstore shelf?

To be honest, the whole launch period is a bit of a blur now! (Sasquatch has a fabulous publicist!) I do remember when my husband found my two advance copies of Journey in the mail and brought them to me. And I remember the surreal feeling right before I read Journey and showed a slideshow, the night of my launch party. I’ll also never forget the moments when I learned that Journey had won two national awards! (And to go back in time a bit, I’ll really never forget learning that Sasquatch wanted to publish Journey. I cried.) I do surreptitiously visit my local bookstore about once a week to see if they’re still stocking the book. I always give the stack a little affectionate pat

If nothing else that sure sounds like good book karma.  It must be incredible to see the fruits of your labor so close to home.

You included a few pages of back matter which was a nice surprise.  I enjoyed learning more about OR7’s real journey and seeing the actual photos.  This book strikes a great balance of factual and fiction, did it ever feel like you were writing two stories?

Not exactly. I tried to maintain a similar tone, and it always felt like two parts of the same book to me. But yes, there are absolutely two distinct voices. The story alternates between the point of view of OR7, and a girl named Abby. (Abby, although fictional, is based on two real kids who really did, like her, submit the name Journey to a contest and win.) I wove a lot of informational material into the Abby parts. And when I wrote from the wolf’s POV, I worked hard to avoid anthropomorphism. Almost everything in the wolf’s sections is documented, including him playing with coyotes, meeting a female, and having pups.

I think you wove the wolf’s story in with Abby’s seamlessly, helping to highlight the power that kids have to make a big impact on their little world.  It made it very tangible for my kids.  As a mom, I think that’s what I appreciate most from your book.

Yay, and thank you! I do think having a child main character, as well as the wolf main character, makes the book more relatable for kids.

The children’s publishing industry is unique in that authors and illustrators have to create something that will sell to both parents and children.  To top it off, authors are often responsible for a majority of their own marketing.  How did you approach the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you?

Leading up to the release, there were a few blog posts and events. A new wolf exhibit opened at the SF Zoo one month before my book release. The zoo was able to order books early, and I did two story times there before the book even came out. I decided to have a launch party on the day my book released at my local indie bookstore. We had the party at night, and I provided wine and cookies. We sold out that night, so it was a good thing for the bookstore, too. Right after the release, I had a number of events and interviews, all arranged by my publisher’s publicist. After a little while, I started to do things on my own. I’ve arranged other bookstore and school visits, contacted a local newspaper, called a national park, etc. I’ve been on a few SCBWI panels, and of course, I try to stay active on social media. I’m not the greatest publicist or marketer, and I certainly prefer writing to pushing my book, but I’m trying to make an effort.

emma authors day

Continuing the spirit of celebration, Journey’s release date was October 11, 2016.  Your one year anniversary as a published author is quickly approaching! If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting to celebrate a book-iversary! How do you plan to celebrate in a couple of months?

I hadn’t thought of a book-iversary! What a fantastic idea! I’m going to think up something wonderful. Maybe I’ll donate some money to the Sierra Club (for their work protecting habitat), buy something at my local bookstore, then treat my husband, kids, and myself to a dinner out. Oh, and I’ll be sure to send something to my editor and agent! They are so much a part of this.

What’s been the most surprising thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry?

I thought that after I signed that first contract, more contracts would come rolling in immediately. As it happened, it took about 18 months. In the Kid Lit world, each manuscript is considered individually and must stand on its own merits, regardless of the author’s credentials. You can have ten published books out, and still, experience rejection.

Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance?

This is always such a tricky question! I think all the mistakes I made were part of my process. My biggest recommendation to pre-published authors is to immerse yourself in the Kid Lit world, even if just for a while. Take some online classes, check out kidlit411, go to conferences, pay for the critiques. It will give you context and perspective, and make you feel like this is something real you’re diving into, not just a cute hobby.

That’s wonderful advice.   I appreciate your honesty and persistence.  Journey was a story that needed to be told.  You have some upcoming books, including What Is It Like to Live on an Island (Little Big Foot April 2019).  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media?

Besides What Is It Like to Live on an Island? I have a nonfiction picture book called The Pig War, from Boyds Mill Press, hopefully for 2019, and a series of chapter books called Zadie Jacobs, CEO, from the educational publisher ABDO, coming in fall 2018. You can learn more at my website, http://www.emmabsmith.com, and follow me on Twitter (@emmablandsmith).

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me and becoming the first of the Paper People! 

This was so fun! Answering interview questions actually teaches me so much about myself! And I can’t wait to read about your future books, Jennifer!

Well, that’s a sweet way to end a wonderful conversation.  If you haven’t read Journey: Based on the True Story of Or7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, you should absolutely treat yourself.  It would make a wonderful addition to any public, home or classroom library. 

Join me next week as I continue down my own (hopeful) path to publication, and next month when I’ll share my conversation with Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of the adorably funny Mr. Particular.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week Nine!

We’ve started cashing in! Well it turns out we should have been doing that all summer long, but we started cashing in on Summer Reading prizes nonetheless. The theme is Building Better Readers, so my kids have made lego characters and filled tool boxes that are displayed on the wall.  We even had a silly and sweet pizza lunch yesterday thanks to the ‘Free Kids Buffet’ coupons they earned.  (Don’t worry, we started at the salad bar… which is good because we ended with chocolate pizza!)  My kids are proud of their accomplishments, and I’m just proud that I could see this challenge through.  Ten more books and we’ll hit our 100-book mark, and just in time because school starts next week.  We’ve strayed from the list a bit more, with OC asking for chapter books and my boys asking to ‘pick their own’.  I guess taking a stack from the hold shelf doesn’t hold the same appeal.  So, most of the list below are from Book Nerd Mommy’s 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading list, but the next ten are all ‘kids pick’.  Also, I have a fun celebration planned for next Wednesday, which happens to also be my birthday AND the last official day of summer. It’s going to be great.

  1. 1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman & Colin Jack
  2. Flora the Flamingo by Molly Idle
  3. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell & David Catrow
  4. Ninja by Aree Chung
  5. I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black & Debbie Ridpath Ohi
  6. More Pies by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko
  7. Where Are The Words? By Jodi McKay & Denise Holmes
  8. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson
  9. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  10. The Best Pirate by Sue Mongredien & Dan Taylor

Here’s the full list: http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

As I wind down my Wednesday posts with the challenge next week, I have one more ‘guest reviewer’ to introduce to you.  YC, as he’s known here, is a man of many aliases and can often be found wearing dingy white tube socks and someone else’s shoes.  He’s the entertainer of the bunch. Sitting on the brink of the magical age of four, he’s part toddler, part ‘big boy’ and all heart. YC provides countless laughs every day.  He quotes movies… appropriately in conversation, he’s the first to give hugs, smothers me with adorable kisses and is the proud owner of countless imaginary friends. (Toby is a dragon, Zack is a bear, and there’s a whole herd of ‘his kids’ that tag along too).

If I really get down to the bottom of who he is, inside that precious little body is a boy appropriately and adorably sure of himself, as only a ‘threenager’ can be.  He’s the one who likes to swing higher and driver faster, he possesses an on-point comedic timing and he doesn’t hesitate to stand up for himself (even to kids more than twice his age/size).  Something about his personality exudes a confidence and a calmness that is contagious.  When I find myself in the midst of a motherly-spiral, he gives me a hug, and I immediately start to calm down.  (If you read between the lines here, I just pointed out that like any good third born, he knows exactly how to work the system and when he needs to turn up the charm to stay on my good side. Did I mention that he’s funny?)  I asked YC what it was he likes most about reading.  He ‘loves when someone says the words to (him).’   I’m guessing that means while he’s sitting on their lap because he still fits perfectly there.  As the last line of the last book says, YC is “…the smallest, the bravest, (one of) the best.”

So that wraps up their time in the Magnolias spotlight and nearly wraps up our summer.  I hope you join me next week for numbers 91-100, and to hear how the four of us celebrate our success.  I also hope you’ll join me here Sunday, for the first of my Paper People interviews!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, Maggie!

Today, I’m thrilled to share with my interview with Randi Lynn Mrvos whose debut picture book release is right around the corner. I hope you enjoy getting to know Randi & Maggie’s story as much as I have the past few months!

Randi, thanks so much for joining me here today.  This must be such an exciting time; your debut picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell is only days away from its release.  Congratulations my friend!

I’ll start from the beginning, about six months ago, I found my way to your blog The Maggie Project.  I was just starting my own and was immediately drawn to you because of your medical background. (I found a kindred spirit!) Can you tell us all a little about yourself and how you changed course and started writing for children?  I loved creative writing in high school, but my parents wanted me to get a degree in the medical field.  After I graduated college, I got a job as a Medical Technologist at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and worked in the clinical laboratory for over twenty years.  I didn’t think about writing until our daughter was born.  Every night before bedtime, my husband and I read picture books to her.  These books awoke a long-buried desire to be creative and to write again.

Was Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell the first picture book manuscript you wrote?  Actually, I had written five picture book manuscripts before Maggie.  And, there have been several more manuscripts written after Maggie.  Many of my stories won prizes, and I thought that would make a good selling point.  But it takes more than winning contests to get published.  Publishers want to fall head-over-heels in love with the character, the voice, and the plot of a story.

When you were starting out, what resources did you use to learn about the writing process and improve your craft? What are the best tools you have in your tool box now?  When I got serious about writing, I took a class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in my hometown Lexington, Kentucky.  For one of our projects, we had to write a children’s book.  My first book was called “Are We There Yet?”  I actually believed that after one writing class that my first story would get published.  So naïve.  But those rejections were a wake-up call.  I needed to learn more about writing picture books and the publishing industry.  So, I became a member of SCBWI, read writer’s magazines, attended writer’s conferences and workshops and studied picture books as well as books on the craft of writing for children.

Two of my favorite writing books are Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.

Oh, I love Ann Whitford Paul’s book! One of my critique partners refers to it as the ‘Picture Book Bible’. I need to get my hands on the Children’s Writer’s Word Book now. 

Since the day our paths crossed you’ve been an incredible mentor to me. Were there specific people who helped you at the beginning of your journey?  Who do you look up to now, as a kid lit writer?  I know from firsthand experience how hurtful it can be when published writers refuse to lend a helping hand.  I am flattered that writers seek me out, so I’m eager to reach out and encourage others.

My husband Jim is the biggest influence in my life.  In fact, he is my editor.  Jim often tells me I am off to a good start (which is a nice way to say the story needs more work).

There are four people to whom I look up to and admire.  My creative director and editor Melissa Carrigee has guided me throughout the publishing process.  Editor Chuck Sambuchino advocated the importance of getting an agent.  Award-winning author Evelyn Christensen has been a generous, graceful and kind-hearted friend and Mary Kole gave me spot-on editorial advice.

Now, let’s focus on Maggie!! When I started following you, you had just reopened the site.  After deciding to shelve The Maggie Project, you took a five-year hiatus.  It appears Maggie took the scenic route to publication.  Can you tell us a little about your journey with this book?  What was it that made you pull her off the shelf and try again?  I shelved Maggie because it was rejected by 50 publishers.  I began other writing projects and focused on a story about Parisian carousel pony called Rosie.  But it was déjà vu all over again.  Rosie was repeatedly rejected.  I was frustrated and wanted to understand how to get out of this rut, so I hired editorial consultant Mary Kole.  She offered to take a look at Rosie and three query letters.  I pulled out the query for Maggie.  That prompted me to re-read the story.  I was surprised to find that I still liked it.  But the publishing industry had changed since Maggie was written.  Long picture books were a thing of the past, and because Maggie was close to 1000 words long, 500 words needed to be cut if I ever entertained the thought of submitting the story again.  I decided it would be a good writing exercise to see if I could edit the piece.  Afterward, I liked the story even better.  I sent Mary the query letter for Maggie, two additional queries, and the story about Rosie.  Mary’s remarks encouraged me to submit Maggie again (and now, Rosie sits on a shelf!)

Can you tell us about the day you got ‘The Call?’  Those are my favorite kind of stories! The “call” was actually an email.  Last November, my husband and I decided to celebrate our birthdays in New Orleans.   Two weeks before leaving, Maggie was submitted to five publishers.  Before we left I received a rejection, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin our celebration.  While in NOLA, I was dying to get my fortune read by a psychic in Jackson Square.  She invited me to sit at her table.  She asked me to choose a crystal gem and three cards and then make three wishes (One of the wishes was to get a book published.)  After studying the gem and the cards, she told me to expect good things.  The very next evening before dinner, I checked my messages.  There was a curious email.  Surprisingly, it was from an agent.  She had written:  I like your book!  Sometimes, wishes really do come true.

Ohhh, that’s a fabulous New Orleans story and a wonderful birthday surprise! I bet the Crescent City has a special place for you now.  If you ever visit again you must let me know!

We’ve talked some about your experience working with an illustrator.  You were able to help with the final selection, which I think is incredible! What was it like seeing Maggie and the other characters come to life?  Working with a small press like Cactus Moon Publications has many benefits.  One of the benefits was having the incredible opportunity to “audition” illustrators.  I chose the amazingly talented Emiliano Billai.  When I first saw Maggie, my heart melted.  It was like seeing a newborn child for the first time.  It was incredible!  Emiliano was able to interpret the text and capture Maggie’s personality.

Randi is also the editor or an online magazine for kids called Kids Imagination Train.  I’m curious, do you think your experience as editor of the e-zine helped you along your publishing journey?  Can you elaborate a little about KIT and your work there? Being an editor has helped me grow as a writer because I read a lot of submissions and have learned to recognize the strengths and weakness in manuscripts.

Kid’s Imagination Train was conceived to encourage kids to read and learn as well as to offer writers a market for their work.  We have book reviews, fiction, poetry, puzzles, and nonfiction for kids ages 5 – 12.  KIT is unique in that it engages children by providing them the opportunity to draw for the magazine and to have their pictures published online.  We even have an audio page where children may listen to their favorite features!  How cool is that?  Our little magazine is remarkable.  Everyone on the staff donates their time and talents so we can keep the magazine free for kids.

The cover of the latest issue makes me want to jump headfirst into a swimming pool! My daughter is hard at work on the Body Parts crossword puzzle too.

What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during the publishing process? When writers work with a small press, they must do a lot of promotion.  I knew this was required, but I was surprised how much time and hard work was involved.  In the beginning, I was clueless and scared—I had never marketed a book before.  But with the guidance of the creative director and by researching how others promote their books, I began to understand what was needed to develop an exciting and unique marketing plan.

I’ve had a blast as a member of your book launch team for the past few weeks!  What are your plans moving forward?  After the book is released in August, it will be time to contact the local news media, schedule book signings and reading engagements, apply to book festivals, and coordinate with animal advocacy groups.  Meeting and greeting fans is what I look forward to the most.

And I thought it best to end with a fun one, there’s a dog in your story… so if you could be any dog (or breed of dog) for a day, which one and why? You know, I’m actually a cat person…but if I could be a dog it would be a basenji.  Never heard of the basenji?  It’s a barkless dog (though it growls, whimpers and whines).  The basenji is intelligent and stubborn.

So when is Maggie’s official book birthday (release date)?  And where can readers find you on social media?  There is no official date yet, but we’re expecting the book to be released in August.

You can learn more about Randi and Maggie at  http://www.randilynnmrvos.com and http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com

Thanks again for joining us today!!  On Tuesday, August 1, I’ll have a guest blog on Randi’s OTHER website, Children’s Writers World where I’ll talk a little about my own manuscript, and the best writing advice I’ve ever received. (Guess who it came from?)

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Sunday

I’ve always thought that Sunday’s were interesting creatures. For as long as I can remember, they’ve been my favorite day of the week.  Sometimes, they are warm, sunny, restful and peaceful.  Others are cold, rainy, cozy and playful.  Some Sundays are filled with family visits and church services, others are packed to the brim with overdue laundry, housework and the anticipation of the week ahead.  I made a conscious decision when I started this Magnolias & Manuscripts journey to post weekly on Sunday.  I may not feel inspired seven days a week, but somehow, I can count on waking up with the urge to write on a Sunday.  Maybe it’s because I’m most rested, after a playful weekend and two days of ‘sleeping in’.  Maybe it’s my own way of acknowledging my gifts and feeding my soul.  Maybe, it’s only because I can count on my husband being around and having a chance to sneak off with my laptop for a bit.  A typical Sunday at my house starts with a big breakfast.  Then we spend the morning playing outside and after lunch, everyone takes a nap.  (My famous words- “If God needed a day to rest then so do you”) We typically visit with some combination of someone’s grandparent(s), and depending on the season, end the day by grilling burgers or watching football.  Whatever they look like, I heart Sunday’s.

If I take it to a deeper level, I know that writing is how I best nurture myself and my creative urges.   It’s how I feed my soul in a way that honors what is sacred and special inside of me.  For me, writing is a spiritual experience and hope that you’ve found what it is that feeds your own soul in a similar way. There’s a creative side to everyone.  Sure, some can tap into it more easily and can channel it in more obvious ways.  But I hope you’re treating yourself to a bit of creative expression on this warm and rainy Sunday.

There have been 22 Sunday’s since I started blogging and 58 Sunday’s since I started writing picture books.  At some point, I extended a challenge to myself and increased my posts to twice weekly.  Over the course of this summer, Wednesday’s have been the day where we celebrate and document our summer reading goals.  As much fun as that has been, (3 weeks left!) I’ll return to weekly posts at the end of the summer.  I hope you’ll stick around, I have exciting things happening.

Sunday, July 30– Join me for an interview with Randi Lynn Mrvos, author of the soon to be released picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell.  Check out her new website… http://www.randilynnmrvos.com/

Sunday, August 13– The introduction of my monthly interview series, Paper People.  Here, I track down and check in with debut picture book authors, one year after the launch of their book. There’s no greater teacher than the school of life, and these authors have much wisdom to share!

Sunday, August 20– Join me for my first Paper People interview with author/illustrator Jason Krischner!

Fitting in amongst all the great things mentioned above, will be a very special birthday post, my first ever picture book review (Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell) and hopefully good news when the contest winners are announced! (Kid Lit College’s Novelty Board Book Contest, and 2017 RYS Picture Book Contest)  Thanks for sharing another Sunday with me and as always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

– JP