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

 

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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

Finding his voice

Nathan.  The beloved main character of my precious, first manuscript.  I know him better than anyone, obviously, and sometimes refer to him as my fourth child.   It’s been over a year since I wrote his story and am constantly trying to do him justice.  I am a significantly better writer today than I was one year ago, at least when it comes to picture books,  so I know it’s improving.  There’s still something missing though; a disconnect that I haven’t been able to put my finger on.  He actually came close to getting shelved, since I last blogged about him, except I promised him a contest entry at the end of this month.  That makes me panic because he’s still not ready.

I have a critique partner who often says, “I love your voice!” when we swap emails about writing, mom-ing and all kinds of other unrelated randomness.  If this weren’t an electronic friendship, I’d think she was making fun of my thick Cajun accent. (Which thankfully not many of you have heard that yet! (I hope you find it ‘charming’ when you do.) I know what she’s saying, I’m animated and excited when I’m writing authentically.  I use A LOT of exclamation points, and I write what I speak when it comes to easy correspondence. I’ve known for a long time, that when I start trying too hard, my writing comes across as serious and stuffy.  It’s the difference between polite birthday party conversation and having a cup of coffee with a good friend.  It wasn’t until she said this, and did so more than once, that I had a bit of a writer’s revelation.  I think his voice is missing.

Sure, you could argue that his voice is actually my voice, but it’s missing none the less.  Here’s what I realized, going way back to the beginning.  I thought that writing in rhyme, which is how Nathan’s story started, was a good disguise.  A cute, rhyming rhythm was a way to glaze over the fact that I have a serious tone and limited knowledge.  Fast forward a few months, I learned a lot and shed the rhyme.  No doubt, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, but it left holes in my story.  I’ve filled in many of the holes but never made it around to this one. Like all great critique partners, she issued a challenge.  Write the story from his perspective; tell it in his words.  So, that’s what my next move will be.  I’m going to take my third person story, and write it in first person, from the angle of a five-year-old boy.  I don’t imagine it’ll stay like this, but I do believe that it will reap great rewards.  I’m even cutting this short and sweet so I can get to my homework assignment.  The contest opens July 15, I’m writing on borrowed time!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

July

July has arrived, with all her sweltering heat and mighty mosquitoes.   As a family, this is often the month where we take a collective sigh and settle in for the second half of summer.  School starts in early August in these parts, so this is our calm before the school year storm.  As a writer, my month will be full and fun… here’s a little of what I have going on.

  • WOW Nonficpic (July 10-14) is an online seminar on writing non-fiction picture books hosted by Children’s Author, Kristen Fulton. I’m a history buff, and a science nerd so the thought of expanding my writing skill set to include non-fiction books is very exciting.  For more info, http://www.kristenfulton.org/
  • I’m working on an author interview series that will begin here, on Magnolias and Manuscripts next month. I’m not ready to discuss all the nitty gritty details yet, but it will involve debut picture book authors and it’s going to be great! Stay tuned!
  • #PBHOT62 (http://www.renatraxel.com/literacy–art/summer-reading-challenge-for-picture-book-writers) is an exciting opportunity that I signed up for, but I think I bit off more than I can chew. Rena Traxel, librarian and children’s writer put together a fun and interactive challenge to encourage picture book writers to read more picture books.  Each day, for the next 62, participants will post pictures of themselves from her list of suggestions, reading a different picture book.  I thought it would fit in nicely with our #100PictureBookSummer, but I just don’t know that I can manage 62 posts, because…. drumroll….
  • The most exciting thing going on for me this month… I’ve been asked to be a part of a book launch team! I mentioned Randi Mrvos in an earlier post, she’s been a kind and generous mentor for me and I’m very excited to return the favor and help to introduce the world to her ‘Maggie’.  If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or are a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll see daily posts starting tomorrow to help spread the word about her book debut which happens this August.  (I even get an ARC to review!  You’ll definitely hear more about that here.) To learn more about Maggie check out her journey at http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/

Blame it on the heat… or the holiday, but that’s all I have for today.  I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Independence Day.  Here’s to the land of the free, home of the brave.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Happy Birthday-ish!

This week I’ll celebrate a birthday of sorts.  Not my actual birthday, though today is my sisters …Happy Birthday, AC! But this coming Thursday, June 15 will mark one year, to the day, that my first picture book manuscript was written.  I had been struggling with the desire to write for years, although at times I couldn’t identify the urge.  I started with a novel.  Eesh… then for a while most of my reading was Lifestyle/Parenting Blogs… I tried my hand at that too.  It took me entirely too long to realize that I was completely avoiding the genre that called out the loudest to me.  If I’m honest, I probably ignored the internal call to write picture books for six months before acquiescing myself to the idea. Even then I waited for the inspiration but to bite. Then one day, while traveling home from a business trip, enjoying the summer sunshine and the quiet car… BAM… it happened and Nathan’s story was born.  In fact, I remember being so overwhelmed with excitement and inspiration that I started talking out loud to myself and did so for the rest of the drive home.  For the next few days, I was completely preoccupied with the story, until I finally sat down and on June 15 put in on paper.  The preoccupation hasn’t lessened, and my desire to write has only grown.  It’s been a wonderful year. It’s been a stressful year.  I’ve been fortunate to make some exciting connections and have bigger, more exciting adventures on the horizon.

I love the original draft of Nathan’s story, and I can still recite it in its entirety.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it could be a poster child for’ Everything You Shouldn’t Do When You Write a Picture Book’.  I literally made every mistake in the book.  The ones I didn’t make, I can promise you I made in the second draft.  The Original, as I’ve affectionately named it, rhymed with no reason or method to it, opened with a terrible cliché, had almost no conflict, and his mother was the protagonist.  It held no character development, no story arc, a preachy-theme and too many words.  It was a hot mess.  Thankfully I’ve learned a lot, though I still do love the mess.  What I love more, however, is where the story stands now.

My birthday present to myself, and to Nathan is a contest.  Rate Your Story, a website that allows its members to submit stories to editors and authors for feedback, hosts an annual contest open to members and non-members alike.  (I’m not a member, but I’ve love to hear from you if you are!) The 2017 RYS contest opens for entries from July 15th-July 31st and I do believe he’s grown up enough to enter.  I’ve enjoyed the experience of sending my kids off to school for the first time, and I hope this contest is no different.  I have a month to make sure his uniform fits, his hair is trimmed and there’s no food on his face.   My opener is cute, there are no rhymes, he is his own hero and I finished in just under 500 words.  His mom only makes a cameo and no longer has any speaking lines, though his younger sister shines in a lovable supporting role. He’s met two freelance editors, and been through eight different critique partners! It’s not always easy to read feedback on my work, but I’m so grateful for every bit that I’ve received.  I think my boy is as ready as he’ll ever be.

Another thing I’m treating myself to this summer is learning more about the world of Non-Fiction Picture Book writing.  As a science and history buff, it seems obvious that I would enjoy this style of writing but I’ve not yet exposed myself to this side of the industry.  Thanks to some guidance and encouragement, I’m signed up for a weeklong on-line seminar called WOW-NonFicPic, hosted by Kristen Fulton.  This will almost certainly be something I expound upon here as I learn more… that’s the point of all this blogging, after all.  I’ve included the link to both the contest and the seminar below in case you want more information.

https://rateyourstory.blogspot.com/p/writing-contest.html

http://www.kristenfulton.org/wow-nonficpic.html

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

JP

Game Plan.

I’m going to give away a little of myself as a sports fan and tell you, today I called an audible.  For those of you who are football fans, you get the analogy.  If you aren’t, an audible is when the quarterback changes the play on the line of scrimmage in the seconds before the ball is snapped.  I had a post ready for today, and it was uncharacteristically somber for me.  In a nutshell, I’ve found myself struggling lately, having lost sight of all that I have in the shimmery fog of all that I want.  To quote my previously written, then scratched blog post ‘I could share the internal conversations I’ve been having, but I’ll spare you the gritty, melodramatic details.  Let’s just say there’s a healthy mixture of envy, irritation, frustration and impatience.’

Thankfully, one well-timed blog post and two nuggets of information saved my spiral. For starters, Bookends, Literacy Agency posted a short and sweet kick-you-in-the-pants-and-keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize blog post about believing in yourself and your story.  It struck a nerve with me, in the best possible way, and helped me to remember what’s most important.  I believe in all my stories, but Nathan, my first-born protagonist, has taught me so much. I believe in Nathan, and I believe in his story.  That should be all the motivation I need to keep pushing on.  Sure, I’ll keep wrestling with doubt.  It’s only natural to think that I’ll feel incredibly self-conscious as this journey continues, this is all uncharted waters.   But I owe it to Nathan, and the others, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Secondly, I found out about two conferences that are, believe it or not, in my neck of the woods, and both in October.  The best news, both are both being visited by agents I was hoping to query.  Coincidence? I don’t believe in such things.  I need to sit with this a while, but I’m sure we’ll talk more about it one day.

Then earlier this evening, I had a small revelation.  My natural instinct is to move fast.  I’m decisive and quick to act. I value efficiency in others consider that, at times, one of my strongest traits.  You don’t need to know much about the publishing industry to know that it operates at a very different speed.  I can be patient, but this persistent patience is a beast of a different color.  So, I have a choice; I can continue to resist the slower and more deliberate pace of this industry, making headache and heartache for myself, or I can reset and realign, embracing the time that I’ve been given to sharpen my skills.  No doubt this lesson will be a work in progress, but let’s get started.

So. I have two conferences on my horizon, with an entire summer ahead of me to hone my skills, read more picture books, and fill my tool box.  The other manuscripts waiting in my wonderful blue binder can now get the attention they deserve, and I can continue to document my journey and expand my network.  I think this sounds like a mighty fine game plan indeed.

Down, Set, Hut…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Clutter.

If you visit my house, you would see that I’m a ‘stacker’ by nature.  It’s always clean but sports a lived-in look.  With summer break staring me in the face and having 3/3 kiddos at home with me after this week, I was starting to sweat.  The only way I can even think about our time together, and not feel overwhelmed, is by finding a way to pare down first. So, I declared May the month to ‘clear out the clutter’.  I’ve made my way through the pantry, fridge, linen closet and laundry room ‘catch-all’ closet.  Today I tackled my own closet, and this coming week it’s my kid’s turn. (Lone socks, stained clothes, and kids-meal toys, beware.) I’ve even managed to move a little furniture around in the process.

That should’ve been my cue.  When furniture starts moving around my home, internal shifts start happening.  I can think of numerous times, large and small, conscious and unconscious that I started moving furniture around when I needed a good kick in the pants.  I’ll give you an easy example; Last summer, my oldest daughter found herself gripped with anxiety about her upcoming first-grade year.  She had heard horror stories about how much more difficult first grade was the kindergarten.  By the time she could explain her emotions and her convictions that she wouldn’t do well, it was almost enough to ruin the summer.  So, I used a dose of my ‘therapy’ with her and we moved her bedroom furniture around.  Together, she and I rearranged her room, using all her existing furniture and decorations, but when we were finished it had a completely different feel.  We declared it her ‘first-grade room’, and slowly, in her new space, she found the confidence she needed to face the school year.  Here we are at the end of first grade, and she did beautifully, just like I knew she would.

This week, it was my turn. I finally admitted that I was in a rut.  It was three-fold too; a mom-rut, a work- rut and a writing- rut.  Coincidentally, or not, as three pieces of furniture switched places and changed roles, I started to find my way out. From a writing standpoint, it felt contradictory, because I was writing more than normal.  Once I was honest with myself though, I’m not sure how much of it was productive.  I rarely feel like I have enough time to write, but suddenly I found my scale tipping towards the quantity as opposed to the quality. I’m trying to iron out wrinkles in my Picture Book manuscript and I’m finishing up a Board Book entry for a contest with a deadline quickly approaching.  I was editing, revising, rewording and reworking and not feeling confident that any of it was advancing my stories.  Thankfully, I received timely feedback from other writers who helped me keep focus and stay the course.   On the day that I moved furniture around, I also had a long talk with myself about my energy and expectations.  I’ve written already about designating time to write each day.  Somehow I fell out of practice, so I took a step back, re-read my post and pressed the reset button.   As I’ve cleaned through the clutter in my home, I’ve managed to start sifting through the creative clutter as well.

My to-do list for this week is lengthy,

  • I need to polish up my BB contest cover letter and entry. I have some rhyming wrinkles and inverted grammar to iron out.
  • I plan to work out a few more kinks on my PB manuscript. I hope to have it ready to send back to a critique partner and get another round of feedback.  If someone can help me know ‘when to say when’ and stop editing this thing I would be eternally grateful.  Do you ever really feel “done” with a manuscript?
  • I have a Sunday post (done) and a Wednesday post (blank) to work on.
  • I also have an idea brewing for a blog series to start this summer, I need to do some homework on it… stay tuned!
  • Organizing my kid’s closets and drawers… a mountain of a task.
  • I need clear work boundaries. In my real job, meaning the ‘not-writing-but-pays-the-bills’ one, I work from home. I love it, and I struggle with it too.  I owe it to my work, and my kids to find a rhythm that will work well for the summer.
  • Did I mention I have two books waiting to be read? Yikes!
  • Oh, yes, tball and softball games this week, too.

Thanks to the antique yellow pie cabinet that’s now residing in my living room, and even a new header image here on Magnolias & Manuscripts, I’m ready for the challenge.  I always appreciate that you take a few moments from your own busy day to spend time here.  I always hope you consider it a good use of your time.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Rosita

I believe that over the course of our lives, we’re blessed with many different role models, sent to help us along a leg of our respective journeys.  These role models, whether they know it or now, and regardless of if we even ever meet them in person, can help us to keep our eyes on the prize.  I was recently “introduced” to such a woman, and I don’t even know her last name.  Rosita, who’s a mother like me, has recently figured out how to chase her dreams, in the midst of raising her large, squealing family.  She goes to great lengths, even constructing an elaborate ‘machine’ to both lessen the impact on her family and give her the flexibility needed to practice her songs and steps.  (For the record, if you know where I can get myself one of THOSE, I’m all ears!)  As she follows her heart, and her authentic self, the most tremendous thing happens, she not only finds success but herself and her family are the real winners.  She’s a better mother and wife when she’s true to herself and her calling. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, we don’t share many similarities, other than motherhood, and the fact that we’re chasing dreams, but I think that’s more than enough. If she found a way to practice harder while raising twenty-five children, I can surely find a way to write more with three. She found her own voice, albeit, with a microphone, I’m slowly but surely finding my own, on paper.  Every time our paths cross, and she dances across my TV screen, I’m filled with excitement for both of us.  I still don’t know much about her; she does sound a lot like Reese Whitherspoon and I do know she’s a fan of Katy Perry, but that’s the extent of it.  I’d love to meet her in person one day and tell her how much I look up to her.  But sadly, that will never happen… because, well, she’s a dancing, singing pig… and I’m not.

Okay, enough silliness for now, even though I meant a lot of what I said.  We have to take full advantage of whatever inspiration we can find, right?  Today was a holiday in my world, so I’m keeping it brief… if today was a special day in yours, I hope it was a great one. If you need a reason to smile, treat yourself to the movie Sing, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Writing from the forest

It’s a saying I’ve heard countless times, “Oh, she can’t see the forest for the trees.”  In fact, it’s one that I use often.  For example, as a young mom, I often can’t see the forest of LIFE from the saplings constantly clamoring for my attention.   As a writer, it’s something I’ve been guilty of and I’m grateful to the women who’ve now pointed it out on two occasions.  Of course, as freelance editors, they didn’t use that phrase, keeping it much more politically (and grammatically correct).  But as I read each of their respective feedbacks, first in December, and again last week, it’s the phrase that continued to surface.  I realize that I am putting my own literary spin on it here, so let me elaborate.

I spent a good part of 2016, especially the second half of the year trying to educate myself.  I read every article and blog post I could get my hands on.  I combed through Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul with a fine-toothed comb and dove into some excellent webinars.   One of the lessons, repeated in almost everyone, is ‘make sure your main character is the protagonist (hero) of his own story’.  I read it over and over and committed it to memory.  Had you asked, I would’ve checked it off my list with a satisfied ‘Got that!”.  Low and behold, when I received the critique back from the first editor I worked with, that was her most significant piece of advice.  The sweet little boy that my story is about, didn’t save his own story.  I was shocked when I realized how glaringly obvious it was too.  His mom was the hero of his story, and I never saw it coming. I had been so close to my story, that I hadn’t seen the problem that I was certain I avoided.  In the three rounds of revisions that followed, I wrote the mom completely out of the story, then back in, and out again, as I struggled to give all the credit to my sweet boy, after all… it is HIS story.

Another common theme in my Kid Lit education was the importance of the ‘Rule of Three’.   I’m very familiar with it and was something I thought I incorporated well into my WIP (work in progress).  Alas, this last editor had similar advice, from a different perspective.  Guess what she said to me, in regards to the Rule of Three in my story?  It was non-existent!  To share a line from the editorial letter I received last week, “Generally, a protagonist tries three times to get what they want before they succeed.”  To explain it simply, if a dog is trying to jump over a fence, he’ll fall short on his first try, again on his second and third, finding success on his fourth attempt.  I knew this.  Somehow, in my rewriting and revising, I lost it, though. The boy in my story has a problem, and BAM solves it on his first try. Even young children deserve for the stories they read to have enough drama to draw them in and make it exciting.  This lack of struggle translated into a lack conflict, probably creating one of the major issues with my WIP.  When I stepped back from my story, having been ‘too close to the trees again’, I discovered a fluffy story, full of warm and fuzzies… and a dragon… it was confusing, even to me.  Once again, I was blindsided.  So I’m back in revision mode, this time creating conflict.   Thanks for joining me as I unpack these great editorial lessons, rest assured, there are many more to come.  I’d love to hear from you if you have your own experience to share.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

P.S- As I was wrapping up my post for today, I learned of an exciting opportunity from kidlitcollege.org.  ‘Page turns’ is another important concept in children’s literature that deserves its own conversations. It is related to my post from today, however, because conflict creates page turns, so maybe it’s a conversation I’ll have soon.  Ann Whitford Paul (mentioned above) is teaching a KidLit College course at the end of the month Picture Book First Pages and Page Turns.  Sounds like something I need in my life, and I’m sharing in case you do too.

East Coast & Edits

I’m breaking my weekly writing schedule with a mid-week post… but for good reason.  Sunday afternoon instead of my standing writing appointment, I was ankle deep in the chilly waters off the Carolina coast.  This past weekend was a monumental one for my young family.  We checked many ‘firsts’ off of our collective list… first flights, first low-country boil and the first time my kids were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean. The opportunity to celebrate the wedding of a family member and his beautiful bride was the icing on a beautifully tiered travel cake.  The wedding provided the opportunity, my kids were constant entertainment, and the lovely city of Charleston, a wonderful hostess, and wealth of inspiration.   

It didn’t surprise me that I discovered fertile ground for writing-fantasies here (you know the kind… “if you would just give me that porch overlooking the the water, a cup of coffee and my laptop, all of my writing troubles would disappear”).  What did surprise me was how many ideas my writing-brain was flooded with.  Getting out of the routine of my South Louisiana life, and all of a sudden a world of possibility opened up to me.  (Thanks, Charleston!) 

Maybe it’s because I’m still in my writing infancy.  Or maybe it’s because this is the first big adventure my young family takes (aside from our annual beach trips) but I was surprised by all of the possibilities that came to me, from these situations which don’t occur in my normal life. Airport experiences are routine to some people, but not the Prevost family. I was able to watch my children experience it all for the first time.  Maybe there’s a story brewing about an airplane now.  Or maybe one day I’ll write a book that takes place in the Carolinas (to ensure I have MANY more reasons to visit).  I feel certain that not only wonderful memories, maybe even another book (or two) have been created this weekend.  

On a coincidental but unrelated note… if there is such a thing.  This weekend I also received feedback from a freelance editor on my WIP. I didn’t let myself read it during the trip, but at 6am on my first day home I opened and read her email. In the spirit of full disclosure, it wasn’t brutal… but it was loaded. (That’s what I paid for… right?).  I plan to unpack it a little at a time so I can digest it well, and of course I’ll share it all here.  In a nutshell, I plan to delve deeper into conflict, the rule of three, and the eternal rhyme vs prose dilemma. April is revision month… Stay tuned, see you Sunday.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP