Paper People: Marcie Colleen

Marcie, thanks for being here! Before we get started, I’ll ask you the same questions I ask all my Paper People guests, can I get you something to drink?  Absolutely! I’ll take a coffee. Black. No sugar. Lucky for my readers, my books are a bit sweeter than my beverage of choice!

And thanks so much for having me. What a thrill to mark the one year anniversary of LOVE, TRIANGLE with you! Time certainly flies.

Coffee for me too! Except, I’ll take just a touch of cream and sugar in mine. Your name and face are well known throughout the industry and I love the story of your journey to publishing. (If you’re curious, check out this Huffpost article. It’s a great read.) So, I want to start this interview off differently: Here’s a little of my background, in keeping with the triangle theme: I was raised as the middle of three girls, my husband is the oldest of three boys and we have three children of our own. You might say that 3 is our lucky number (except it isn’t, 11 is.) Do you have a favorite number? Do you have a favorite shape? Wow! That’s a lot of threes!

I have always thought 4 was my lucky number because it has followed me around quite a bit. I was born in April, the fourth month. My childhood home had two 4s in the phone number and two in the house number. And there were 4 people in my family (my parents, my brother, and me). Oh, and I got married and sold both LOVE, TRIANGLE and PENGUINAUT! (my first books) in 2014 when I was 40! And I live in apartment #4. So, let’s stick with 4.

As for my favorite shape, I have always gravitated to heart-shaped stuff. Hearts on dresses, dishes, artwork, etc. I just love hearts!

Ohh, 4 does seem to be following you around! My critique partners and other kid-lit friends have heard me talk a lot about my love for science, but guess what? I love math just as much! The world definitely needs more math-themed picture books. Where did you find the inspiration for LOVE, TRIANGLE? Did the theme of friendship and inclusion come first, or did it find you after the geometry did?  Many have probably already heard me tell this story, but It’s kind of funny, so worth telling again.

I attended my first ever conference—the Winter 2012 SCBWI conference in New York City. One of the keynotes was given by bestselling author, Cassandra Clare, and titled “Love Triangles and Forbidden Love: Creating and Maintaining Romantic Tension in YA Literature.” Much of what she had to say made me blush. I turned to picture book author, Jodi Moore, who was sitting next to me, and jokingly whispered, “Doubt I will use anything from THIS in a picture book.” Jodi responded, “You never know.” That planted the seed. At that moment, I wondered if there was any way I could possibly write a love triangle picture book. I guess you can say that I was first inspired to write a picture book about a trio dealing with friendship and inclusion.

I kept mulling over the idea and, a little over a year later, the premise finally came to me: a Circle and a Square are best friends until a more interesting Triangle shows up. So, although I didn’t set out to write a geometrical, math-focused picture book, once I had the idea of Circle, Square, and Triangle as the main characters, it became just that.

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I love stories that start with an ‘aha’ moment! I can tell you that your play on words with the title LOVE, TRIANGLE has inspired one of my own manuscripts. (Still in a very, very, early version.) So, fun fact, you’re my first established author that I’ve had on Paper People, but in the realm of picture books, LOVE, TRIANGLE was your first.  I had every intention of asking how you switched from chapter books to picture books here… but then I did my homework. I read that Penguinaut! was the first book you sold (more later) LOVE, TRIANGLE, your second, and after those came SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS, even though the series was published first. Did I say that all correctly? What a roller coaster, it happened backward! Can you tell us a little about LOVE, TRIANGLE’s path to publication?  Yes. That is correct. I sold PENGUINAUT! in September 2014, LOVE, TRIANGLE in November 2014 and was contracted to write The Super Happy Party Bears series in October 2015. So, it was a little backwards.

LOVE, TRIANGLE was just an inkling of an idea for quite a while after being challenged by Cassandra Clare’s keynote. But I finally tackled writing it in early 2014. Once it was ready, my agent sent it out on submission at about 4pm at night (there’s that number again!) By morning we had several publishers interested!

I then spent about a week meeting on the phone with each interested editor, discussing their vision for the book and on November 12, 2014, we went to auction. FIVE HOUSES were interested! It was amazing. I had already sold PENGUINAUT!, but I was essentially a debut and five houses were interested!

Alessandra Balzer from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins won the auction and then we got to work tweaking the text and getting an illustrator on board (BOB SHEA!). Alessandra looped me in every step of the way and it was fascinating and exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better “first time” experience.

Wow! What a whirlwind of a week that must have been. Do you remember the first time you saw LOVE, TRIANGLE on a bookstore shelf?  Of course! I had a little brunch get-together with some kidlit buds on the morning of October 3rd and toasted LOVE, TRIANGLE’s debut. And then that night my husband and I went to the local Barnes & Noble. There it was. Sitting proudly on the shelf with all the other picture books.

I remember thinking, “Wow! I am now in TWO different sections of the Children’s Department! The Chapter Books and the Picture Books.” What a rush!

From a marketing perspective, you already had publishing credentials to your name when LOVE, TRIANGLE was released. Did you do anything differently for LOVE, TRIANGLE than you did SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS? What do you think worked the best? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? HarperCollins sent me on a two-week/six-city book tour right after LOVE, TRIANGLE came out, so that was exciting! And since then, I have done a lot more story-times in bookstores than I did with Super Happy Party Bears. Although I have done more school visits with Super Happy Party Bears, probably because of the age level.

I can’t say I am the best at promotion and marketing. But I do love attending kidlit events like book festivals and conferences and am sure to do what not only might promote my books but also fuels and excites me as a creative. If something in the vein of marketing or promoting doesn’t excite me, I won’t do it because my energy would be better spent writing more books.

What great advice! I know so many authors struggle with the marketing aspect, and I’m sure keeping it authentic is one of the greatest challenges.  But, just like anything else, if something feels awkward and forced, you won’t be nearly as successful as when you’re engaged and authentic.  You are a woman of many, many hats! Not only are you churning out chapter books and picture books, you also teach writing courses, both electronically and the live version, not to mention you throw Friday dance parties, and so much more! Thank you for being such a champion for the entire kid lit industry. Think back to when you were just starting out, how did you find your place? Where did it all start for you? Who were the industry leaders who were most influential as you were learning the tricks of your (new) trade? I owe so much to those who encouraged me when I first started out. The biggest shout out goes to Alvina Ling, Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers who read my very first manuscript (as a favor to my husband) and gave me the advice to 1) join SCBWI, 2) find a critique group, and 3) start reading blogs like Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon.  She very well could have been dismissive, but instead, she was nurturing and took me seriously. Had she not, I might have thought this wasn’t worth pursuing.

I took all Alvina’s advice to heart and started meeting other writers. I also found an online tribe at Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (now called StoryStorm). Many of the people I met in 2011, while first participating in PiBoIdMo are still my very good friends.

Bottom line, Brene Brown said it best when she said, “My creativity requires midwifery. I need to be able to talk, tell stories and get feedback. Creativity. We don’t have to do it alone.” I have had a lot of midwives. I could never repay them, but I do make it my mission to never discourage even the greenest of writers, even if they are the cousin of my dentist’s babysitter who is writing a story. Everyone deserves to be encouraged and have a shot. That’s what Alvina did for me and I am forever grateful.

I keep Brene’s books close to my head and my heart because so much of what she says about creativity & vulnerability resonate with me.  Her words help me to keep the answer to ‘why am I doing this’ in focus, even on the most discouraging of days.  Taking it a step further, in an interview with Kidlit 411 from last summer, you said: “The more I create, the more ideas I generate.” What a simple and undeniable fact! I always remind myself that creativity begets creativity.  (Elizabeth Gilbert would be proud, am I right?) What do you do when your creative well runs dry? How do you replenish your energy? What an excellent question! I just gave the closing keynote at SCBWI Midsouth’s conference in Nashville and it was all about self-care and how it both fuels and replenishes.

Instead of waiting until my well runs dry, I have instituted routines within each day to keep me mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. Every day I journal (inspired by Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way), I meditate for at least 10 minutes, and I read something inspiring. This is all a great way to start the day.

In the afternoon, when I start to feel tired or tapped, I take a jog. Just a two-mile run is usually enough to get the cobwebs out and get back to work again.

And in the evening, my husband and I take a 3 mile walk into Balboa Park. Often, we don’t even talk on these walks. Instead, since we are both creatives, we mull over what to do next in our projects.

I have found that if I am continuously caring for myself, my creativity flourishes. Also like to fill myself with theatre and music and positivity whenever I can, too.

You aren’t my first interviewee to mention The Artist’s Way. I need to educate myself, asap. Your routine sounds so grounded, thanks for giving us a peek into your process. So, on October 3 you celebrated one year of being a picture book author! Congratulations! Did you do anything special for your book-iversary? I did not. I am so bad about these things. That was a Wednesday and I spent the whole day at the library working on another book and teaching a Writing Picture Books class in the evening at the University of California at San Diego. I guess that is a good way to pay tribute to LOVE, TRIANGLE…write more books and inspire others to do the same!  

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And this month PENGUINAUT releases this month as well! Can you tell us a little about this (much anticipated) second (but actually first) picture book of yours?  It comes out October 30th!!! PENGUINAUT! is about a spunky little penguin named Orville who lives at the zoo, surrounded by animal pals who go on exciting adventures. A hang gliding rhino! A deep-sea diving giraffe! Orville struggles to keep up, until one day he concocts an adventure all his own: build a spaceship and fly to the moon all by himself. I am super excited to introduce Orville to any kid with big dreams and a strong sense of determination. And Emma Yarlett out-did herself with the illustrations!

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I can certainly think of three Prevost children who are going to love Orville’s story! We can’t wait to meet him! Anything ELSE coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  My next picture book does not come out until Winter 2020. It is called THE BEAR’S GARDEN and it is going to be illustrated by Alison Oliver (of BabyLit books fame) and published by Macmillan/Imprint. It’s a story inspired by an actual community garden in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. The garden is called the Brooklyn Bears Community Garden because of a stuffed bear that was found in the abandoned lot. I have written a fictitious story about how that bear might have come to be among the weeds. I am really excited about this book and to show a quieter, gentler side of my writing.

I also have one more super-secret picture book project that I sold earlier this year, which will be published in 2021.

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You can learn all about my upcoming projects at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or follow me on Twitter @MarcieColleen1.

Marcie, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your wisdom and experience with us! The Kid Lit world is blessed to have you as one of its leaders. 😊

Coming soon… more musings, a contest entry (it’s Hallowensie time folks!) and an interview with a dear friend who is launching her first picture book! Hope you’ll be around to read it all.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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The Waiting Place.

“Waiting for the fish to bite

Or waiting for wind to fly a kite

Or waiting around for Friday night

Or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

Or a pot to boil or a Better Break

Or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

Or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.”

 

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again… the pursuit of publishing is not for the faint of heart! The rejections will knock the wind out of your sails, sure, but by far the most challenging ‘nearly-make-you-lose-your-mind’ part is all… the… waiting. To be fair I don’t even know about the kind of waiting that comes when a book is ACTUALLY being published, which is a whole other breed of monster I’m sure (which I imagine feels a lot like a 24month pregnancy.)  I’m only talking about the waiting that comes after you finally hit ‘send.’

I’ve been doing my research, right? I believe I have ‘enough’ picture book manuscripts that are ‘ready’. (Though who ever really knows how much is ‘enough’ and when something is really ‘ready’?) I also have been paying close attention and have had an opportunity to submit a couple of those manuscripts to editors that are looking for something similar to what I have to offer.  So, I feel better about my chances than I have in a while. (I’m also having a déjà vu.) Taking it one step further, I had an exciting local opportunity that presented itself but was not without its own waiting game. Here I am, twiddling my thumbs, checking my inbox 157 times a day, each time simultaneously bracing for a rejection and hoping for a ‘revise and resubmit’ or maybe even a “Hey, I like this. Let’s talk!”  It’s enough to drive a girl crazy, I tell ya! Thankfully, I remembered the wise words of Dr. Seuss,

“NO!

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape

all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bring places

where Boom Bands are playing.”

The short version of a long story? I didn’t find ‘boom bands’ but I did find a paintbrush. Here’s what I’m working on…

piggy bank, etc

Both the piggy bank and the heart are symbols of some of my favorite works- in-progress. With the help of a few good songs, leftover craft paint and a quiet weekend afternoon, I channeled all of my ‘waiting’ anxieties into these projects. It didn’t completely erase the bouts of impatience, but I’m checking my email a lot less, and I reset my focus. For one I got my BIC and wrote this long overdue, post. (Am I right, Ali?)  I often forget, and eventually remember that creativity, away from my laptop is the best salve for an anxious itch. If you find yourself in a similar restless place, for whatever reason, try channeling those energies in a totally different direction! You might not find an answer, but I can almost promise you’ll have fun.

Want some good news? I have another great Paper People Interview coming your way. Next week, Randi Mrvos will join me again. The last time we talked her debut picture book was releasing and she’ll be joining me to talk about all that she’s learned in the past year.  If you want a refresher, check out my first interview and review of her delightful book MAGGIE AND THE SUMMER VACATION SHOW AND TELL.

 

Ps- I’m 1 for 3 on good news replies.  Eeek!

(Oh, and in case you didn’t know Dr. Seuss quotes are found in OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 8 & 9 but not quite 10.

We came up short, but finished strong.  Truth be told, my kids have no idea… it’s splitting hairs between 91 and 100 picture books, anyway. What we didn’t accomplish in completion, we more than made up for in engaging activities.  We read Ferdinand, then joined so many other kids and parents at the library one afternoon to watch the movie version (and work on revisions from the back row.) We read all of the latest releases by my local SCBWI group mates, Margaret Simon, Paul Schexnayder, Denise Gallagher and Allyson Foti-Bourque. We covered non-fiction in so many wonderful ways which started even more wonderful conversations that carried on throughout the summer. (Thanks to SHARK LADY and then Shark Week, I might just have an aspiring marine biologist on my hands.) There were beyond the book activities, author interviews, new favorites and classics revisited. We even ended the summer at our local Science Museum and retold tidbits, both facts and fiction from the books that visited our house. Some of the greatest parts of our summer were watching YC retell the stories in his own words, or MC finishing an entire ELEPHANT & PIGGIE book all on his own.  Then there was OC who started and finished an entire SERIES this summer (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID didn’t stand a chance) and branch out to embrace different genres.  All in all, I call this second year of summer reading a smashing success.  Here are the rest of the titles we read:

1.       The Story of Ferdinand by Murno Leaf

2.       Meet Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle

3.       No Sleep for the Sheep by Karen Beaumont, art by Jackie Urbanovic

4.       Hiccupotamus by Steve Smallman, art by Ada Grey

5.       The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, art by Maria Frazee

6.       Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman

7.       Pete the Cat and the Lost Tooth by James Dean

8.       Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, art by Dan Yaccarino

9.       The Water Princess by Susan Verde, art by Peter Reynolds

10.   In the Time of Joy & Wonder by Paul Schexnayder

11.   Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, art by Adam Rex

12.   Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, art by Ross Collins

13.   A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

14.   A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters by James Otis Thach, art by David Udovic

15.   Don’t Touch this Book by Bill Cotter

16.   Duck, Duck, Moose by Sudpita Bardhan-Quallen, art by Noah Z Jones

17.   Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

18.   Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

19.   Pete the Cat and his 4 Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean

20.   Lost for Words by Natalie Russell

21.   Shoo, Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

 There was a symbolic, throwing in of the towel, however, and I think it’s an important conversation for another day.  The short version of a long story is that I lost track of the adult reader in me in the midst of all the picture books. My self-imposed summer reading challenge became something to merely ‘get through’ and I found myself reading out of obligation instead of pleasure. Sure, there’s something to be said about ‘when the going gets tough’ but I think, in this case, keeping the focus on my original intention was more important than finishing just for the sake of finishing.  Once I felt myself disengage, I knew it was only a matter of time before my kids caught on and followed suit.  I couldn’t let that happen and thankfully, the answer to my problem was right under my nose. 

Weeks ago, I borrowed a novel from the shelf of my sister. I carried it with me through vacations, afternoons by pool and waiting rooms at the doctor’s office but never once cracked the cover.  So, guess what I did? I read a book! Not just any book either, THE BOOK OF OVE. It was delightful and poignant, silly and sad and just what the doctor ordered. The fact that I took advantage of the slow pace of summer to indulge in moments of reading for myself is my shining achievement.  It may not seem like much, but it put balls in motion that I didn’t anticipate and gave me the chance to be more than mom, wife, writer and nurse… I was a reader again!

My kids are back in school now, summer is officially over for us (too bad the heat will stick around until the pumpkins come out) and this is the end of our second annual #100PictureBookSummer.  Thanks for all the recommendations and encouragement along the way!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Joy Keller

Surprise! It’s Paper People time again!! If summer is hotter than you need and you find yourself dreaming of the cooler days of the fall, undoubtedly your thoughts will turn to Halloween. Am I right? Mmm, just think of those cool, crisp evenings and how pleasant it is to be outside trick-or-treating. Close your eyes, can you feel the breeze? Can you see the leaves changing? Now, open. Sorry, it’s still summer and it’s WAY TOO HOT too many places. If you had a moment of relief, though, then you’ll be thrilled to read on as I talk to 2017 debut picture book author Joy Keller about her adorable (Halloween themed) book MONSTER TRUCKS.

Joy, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, can I get you something to drink? I would love some coffee. Really, that’s the only thing that keeps me going lately!

COFFEE! Yes, always. Cheers! Now that we’ve settled in, with adorable and warm mugs in hand, let’s get started.  In addition to being an author, you’re also a teacher and I saw that you started a blog with ‘beyond the book’ activities for teachers (and parents) along with author interviews.  What was your motivation to start Picture This: A Blog for Teachers? As an elementary teacher, I’m always coming across lists of recommended picture books. Most of these lists are a few years old. Some don’t look like they’ve been updated since I was a kid. While many of those titles are timeless, I want there to be a place where teachers can learn about what’s new in the world of picture books and come away with a really easy, fun way to incorporate them into the classroom. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with my blog.

As a parent I appreciate that so much! I always want to give books as gifts to my kid’s teachers but want to do so wisely.  Your blog makes it so easy! Do you enjoy being on the other side of the interview process? What’s your vision for the future of your blog? I’d much rather be on YOUR side of the interview process! There’s less pressure over there! Really, though, I love hearing about the process other writers and illustrators use when creating.

As my blog following grows, I’d love it to become more interactive. I’ve always believed that good teachers are good thieves; they recognize the great work their colleagues are doing and then use those ideas themselves. I hope my blog becomes a place where educators share the awesome ways they’ve used some of these books in their own classrooms. There’s a lot we can learn from each other!

I read your Two Debut Interview with Allison Goldberg and you two talked about Halloween costumes.  She already asked about your favorite costume. (Queen of Hearts! That’s mine too!) What was your favorite costumes that your own kiddos chose?  My favorite kids’ costumes are actually the ones I chose when they were really little. We had someone knit a Princess Leia hat for my daughter and a Yoda hat for my son. Princess Leia looked adorable but slept through all the trick-or-treating (she was only eight months old). Yoda had a great time, though…even if a few neighbors thought he was a green bunny!

I love coordinating costumes! A couple years back, we had a Buzz Lightyear and Woody.  (Rumor has it that we’ll have a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck this year, fingers crossed!) Let’s talk about MONSTER TRUCKS!  I have two young boys, ages 4 & 6 (aka Daffy & Bugs) and they’re right in your target audience sweet spot! Your book does a wonderful job of telling a ‘Halloween’ story without ever feeling like a holiday book. I mean, who doesn’t love Halloween first of all? But second, you add big tough trucks! Do you have a favorite monster? Or a truck you’d love to drive? (I have 2 Yeti fans over here, their older sister likes Ogre and I’m partial to the Witch!)  Let me start by saying that I’m so glad your family liked the book. That’s all an author could ask for!

My favorite spread in MONSTER TRUCKS is the one featuring the witch driving the street sweeper. Not only is the witch my favorite monster and the sweeper my favorite truck, but the entire spread is full of my favorite animals—CATS! I think Misa Saburi’s interpretation of that scene is absolute genius.

Yes! Great mom’s think alike! Next month, on August 27th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you so much! To be perfectly honest, I haven’t made any plans to celebrate that day. Publishing a book is such a long process, with so many moments to celebrate along the way, that I never thought of the release date as the day the book was “born.” I celebrated seeing the illustrations for the first time, and holding the advanced copy in my hands, and seeing the book online, and finding it in the library. But now that you have me thinking about it, I can’t turn down a chance for a party, can I?? 

Absolutely not! There’s always room for a party. Do you remember the first time you saw MONSTER TRUCKS on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment!  I do remember it! I was at Barnes and Noble by myself, and I went to see if MONSTER TRUCKS was in the children’s section. AND IT WAS! It seemed so unreal that I just stared at the shelf. That’s when an employee came over and asked, “Can I help you with something?” I suddenly felt embarrassed to be staring at my own book so I mumbled, “No, thanks. I’m just browsing.” It was totally awkward!

(Pause for giggling.) That story is amazing and so refreshingly honest. How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? I think the lesson in that last story is that I’m terrible at marketing myself. I’m very uncomfortable doing the promotions thing, and I think other people sense it when I attempt to put on my salesperson hat.

Luckily, I’m good at making friends, and that has gone a long way in helping spread the word about my book. In this industry, you can’t do it alone. I was asked to join the Picture the Books group with fellow debut authors, and we worked together to market our books. I also have to thank the Fairport community where I live and teach for spreading the word and making my release party a huge success.

So, in a nutshell, I guess my marketing trick is to make connections: send out postcards to bookstores and libraries, reach out to the people in your community, and find fellow writers to be your support group.

Thanks for that advice, seems incredibly important regardless of where you are on your writing journey. Now that you have one year under your belt, what’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve discovered how much authors enjoy hearing that other people like their books! Before I was published, I was an avid reader (not surprisingly). Never did I imagine that an author would want to hear that I loved their book. I couldn’t believe that a real-life, published author would even remotely care about what I thought. But authors do care! We want to know when our stories have connected with a reader.

 Last fall, I was at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival and got to meet my childhood hero, James Howe. I seized the opportunity to tell him how much I love his writing. I also told him that when I was in fourth grade, I’d read the entire BUNNICULA series to my cat. He was very gracious and assured me that lots of children have done the same thing!

I know you have another book coming out soon! Can you tell us a little about Miss Turie’s Magic Creatures? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? Certainly! MISS TURIE’S MAGIC CREATURES is really a conversation between the owner of a magical pet store and a young boy looking for the pet of his dreams. Let’s just say he’s a pretty tough customer, and Miss Turie has to show him LOTS of pets before he finds the right one for him! It’s being published by The Innovation Press. They’re also publishing my next book, A FUNGUS IS AMONG US! It’s a humorous nonfiction picture book with the feel of a 1950’s horror film.

To stay updated on these books (and hopefully more in the future!), people can follow me on Twitter @jrkeller80.

I am anxiously awaiting both of those titles; I can’t wait to get my hands on them! Best of luck with your marketing 😉 and thanks so much for visiting with me! It was my pleasure! Thank you for helping me celebrate the book-iversay of MONSTER TRUCKS!

Joy Keller

So, there you go, another wonderful interview filled with real-life tricks (and treats) of the trade three more books to add to your TBR list! I hope you’re learning as much as I am from these generous debut authors. Stay tuned next month for more great interviews and the last thirty titles of our #100PictureBookSummer.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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.

Gallaher Headshot

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

Week 2 of our #100PictureBookSummer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.       The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP   

#100PictureBookSummer Kickoff

Volume 2, Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

–          JP

What’s the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

          What do you do with a broken heart?

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

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

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The bridge.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

The Meaning of Magnolia.

In January of 2017, I decided to take a leap of creative faith.  The idea of starting a blog had been following me around for about six months, though I had seriously been avoiding it.  For one, I didn’t really understand the point of blogs.  Second, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would read what I had to say. Third, a few parenting/lifestyle/mom blogs and their ‘expert point-of-views’ had left a bad taste in my mouth. But like I said, it was persistent in its pursuit of me.  All the while this was happening, I was struggling to find a sense of community and direction as an aspiring picture book author.  So, I agreed to consider the blog.  I realized that the blog itself might just be the answer to what I was searching for. My one major roadblock?  I didn’t have a name for it. The short version of this long story is that I stewed over possible names for weeks, without any obvious frontrunner. Until one night in early January 2017, in a moment of sheer shower brilliance, I claimed Magnolias & Manuscripts as my very own. It was perfect, it scratched my alliteration itch, incorporated the obvious writing reference and the icing on the cake was the nod to my southern heritage.  The more I worked through it in my brain, however, I knew there was a deeper connection to magnolias that had nothing to do with the state flower of Louisiana or flipping houses. (I’ve never seen the show.)  

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I also know myself and knew that I needed to set a few ground rules before I started.  For one, it’s not in my nature to draw attention to myself; I am a very introverted extrovert. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to blog to generate a following, but to make connections. I wasn’t going to offer an expert point of view, but rather it would be told from the viewpoint of an amateur, aspiring author, with little formal training but a whole lot of tenacity.  And finally, I committed myself to six months of weekly posts. As my first post formulated in my brain and then on paper, I received a wonderful confirmation that this was the right move and it came by way of my precious little Australian Magnolia tree.

My parents are avid and excellent gardeners.  Ask anyone, their yard is a beautiful display of seasonal foliage that always seems to bloom at just the right times, in all the right colors. It really is a masterpiece.  My take on flower beds is decidedly simpler.  I need evergreens, annuals and sun-loving plants that don’t require any attention whatsoever.  I don’t have much of an opinion on flowers.  I don’t know what most of their names are, anyway, and I rarely remember that they are living things in need of some ‘tlc’ (tender, loving care). There was an obvious empty space in the front corner, though, too close to the house for a shade tree and too big for a shrub.  I wanted an ornamental tree that would flower but was as low maintenance as the rest. Finally, after years (literally) of talking about it, my husband went to a nursery and came home with a baby Australian Magnolia.   

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This plucky little tree is just what the doctor ordered for my south Louisiana flower beds.  For the second year in a row, this tree bloomed earlier than any other magnolia I could find and it did so enthusiastically.  It suffered bouts of disease and drought and somehow pulled through. As an aspiring writer, I hope I have many of those same characteristics.  I hope that I can maintain an eager, determined, and vibrant disposition in this field I call my own.  I hope that I continue to find a way to bloom, whenever the time is right for me, surrounded by others who are working just as hard as I am.   

By all accounts, this past year and my blogging experiment has been a smashing success.  I have 83 followers! (WHAT! I’m speechless!) I’ve blogged often. I’ve branched out. I’ve made connections and I’ve put down roots.  I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring! Without a doubt, I’m going to continue Paper People, my interview series (second week of the month), and Be My Guest, my newly released guest-blog series (last week of the month.)  I’m also going to hone the focus of my other posts in on my current genre, picture books.  I hope to have fewer ramblings and musings and more posts with purpose.  But then again, look at today, I’m not sure if that’s even my style.   

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Today marks the ceremonious start to my second year as a blogger! Thanks for joining me here, this week and every week.  Since everything has a way of coming full circle, let me close the loop for you.  We planted our Magnolia tree right around the time that I wrote my first manuscript.  It bloomed for the first time right as I was working on my first blog post.  It wasn’t always pretty, much like many of my drafts.  And the tree now? It’s a little taller, a little fuller and still my favorite.  You could call it a coincidence if you want, but I don’t believe in such things.  We are traveling similar paths, this tree and I, and I’m so grateful to have company.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP