Let’s Talk, Heather Gale!

This month, I’m thrilled to share my conversation with another incredible debut author, Heather Gale.  I invite you to read along as Heather and I talk about her incredible and timely non-fiction picture book HO’ONANI HULA WARRIOR. Everything about this book is as wonderful and inspiring as the foodspiration you’ll find at the end of the interview! Yep, I just dropped a teaser there! Read on to learn about this book’s unexpected path to publication (and a STARRED REVIEW!) 


Welcome, Heather! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink? 
Oh, thanks so much, Jennifer. I’d love my favorite if you have it – fresh mint leaves in hot water! And if you have a fresh slice of ginger that’s a great combination too.

Of course, coming right up! That sounds wonderfully refreshing, in a warm and cozy kind of way. I’ll have one too! Since we have some creative wiggle-room here, I’ll get fresh mint leaves from my imaginary herb garden. (Also since we’re imagining things, I’m pretending its not 90 degrees outside; such is fall in the south.)

Reading your bio, it mentions you fell in love with your family telling stories on long car trips. What kind of stories did you all love the most? Was there ever a recurring theme or character? Yes, we had both. When we were younger most of our characters were farm animals and my brother usually added a stinky smell to his. And, except for the storyteller, all of us had to hold our breath until he declared the smell gone. On hindsight, we must have all cheated. Once we moved to a haunted house, we were a little older and our stories expanded. As you can imagine, with four brothers we used to try and out-scare each other.

I carried on the story telling tradition with my sons, with some changes, mostly because we no longer lived in a small town or a scary house. We took turns so no one else knew where or when each chapter would end. And some stories had an ever-lasting feel with many of them returning for a new series and extra characters.

I love everything about this! I never considered myself a ‘story teller’ but everything changed when I had kids of my own. Amazing things happen when you give them a blank to fill in with their own imagination. I could go on, but back to the book! You had a very unusual journey to publication with the idea stemming from a documentary. How did you channel all of the information and inspiration into a picture book manuscript? You’re so right, this isn’t a traditional debut journey, but I loved every moment of it. I respected Joe Wilson and Dean Hammer’s authenticity in A Place in the Middle and wanted that same feeling woven through the story for kids to also sense. I also wanted multiple layers of culture, society, families, and respect.

Then, I needed three escalating obstacles. Once those were in place, it was time to dig deeper for the emotions. I watched the documentary over and over again, picking up character traits and facial expressions. That’s when I put pen to paper and started my draft.
 

I can see why Ho’onani’s story spoke to you, it’s so timely and important. I have a daughter and two sons and we speak often about authenticity and acceptance. (We also talk frequently about the importance of supporting each other as siblings, which is another great lesson from the story.)

I have a favorite question to ask non-fiction writers… What’s your favorite nugget of information that didn’t make it into the book? One of my biggest nuggets was Kumu Hina’s all-important role in the story. As a Mahu herself, Kumu Hina understood Ho’onani’s predicament more than anyone at school. In the documentary A Place in the Middle she reminded the troupe of their strengths, encouraging them through honesty and respect. So, you can imagine how ecstatic I was to find Mika Song’s illustrations exemplified Kumu Hina’s integrity.

I would like to include a link to Kumu Hina’s Ted Talk for your readers. Here Kumu Hina discusses the inner turmoil of her journey. You will gain an understanding and appreciation for what it was like for Kumu Hina to be Mahu, a person in the middle, neither male or, female but both.  Watch the video here!

What a wonderful treasure to share! And yes, Mika Song’s art is equal parts powerful and peaceful. Can we talk a little about your experience collaborating with her? I know you had a mental image of what the characters should look like, but what was it like when you saw them on paper? I was fortunate to be part of Mika’s process from the beginning so there are three parts to this. When I saw Mika’s early sketches, I knew in that instant, her heart was in the story as much as mine. Ho'onani parentsThen, when I saw the watercolors and had the chance to study each person’s face I knew Mika had enjoyed illustrating this story as much as I had writing it. And as I opened my first copy of the book I wept. The illustrations were more than I had ever dreamed they could have been. My kids filmed the grand opening and I couldn’t see the pages – the illustrations were swimming before me!

What I adore most in the illustrations are the details. How Ho’onani’s parents hold hands on the first page to her determination as she faced the crowd, her biggest obstacle, to the last page showing the person Ho’onani knew she always was.

In the spirit of honesty, I cry every time I read this book. (All good tears!) The refrain, “Strong, sure and steady,” shows up a few times and is one of my favorite parts of the story. Was it always written that way in your manuscript or did it evolve during the revision process? Strong, sure and steady were in the manuscript from the beginning and they represent the three qualities I admired in Ho’onani as a person. She is a strong character who stands by her beliefs. She is sure about her place as a Mahu and steady, never wavering from her decisions or commitments.

Do you have an agent or did you negotiate this contract yourself?
I negotiated this contract myself but it probably helped that I knew what I wanted and needed. For example, from the beginning I promised the producers of A Place in the Middle that, should I ever sell this story, they would remain part of the process.
Penguin Random House’s contract was straight forward and whenever I had a question, my editor, Samantha Swenson, found the answer.

Do you have marketing plans now that your book is finally out in the wild? I do! My publicist, Samantha Devotta, at Tundra Books and I have brainstormed many ideas. She’s been wonderful, always there for any marketing ideas I send along. So far, I’m booking interviews, library Story Time for kids and school visits.

And I have to ask, you live in Canada (SO FAR from the islands), but you grew up in New Zealand. I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed anyone who lived on such opposite ends of the world! Where is your favorite place on the planet? I have so many favorite places it’s hard to choose one, however, I love Portugal as the lifestyle reminds me of NZ, taking the dogs day down the bush ravines in Toronto reminds me of NZ, and while at the cottage on the lake . . . yup you guessed it, I’m reminded of NZ.

Do you have anything else coming down the pipe? Where can my readers find/follow you on social media? I’m working on several manuscripts right now, one which is submitted to a conference for this October. It’s another non-fiction picture book based on a true story about an autistic boy who learns through string how to overcome exclusion because he is different.

Heather-head-shotI’m easily found on Twitter & FaceBook! And if any of you are interested in food, I blog for fun at Whole Food Studio, find me on Instagram & Pinterest

Also, For readers who are interested in exploring more behind Ho’onani: Hula Warrior, I’d like to add a link to the documentary A Place in the Middle.

There is so much goodness right there, I don’t even know where to start! Maybe check out her gorgeous food photos, find inspiration for a snack, then settle in with the documentary! Thanks so much for being here, Heather! I can’t wait to watch the rest of the world love Ho’onani! 

There are few things I love as much as celebrating picture books and the success of my kidlit friends! I hope you love this book as much as I do.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Let’s Talk, Patricia Saunders!

Somewhere in the range of 15 years ago, I spent the summer with my aunt & uncle working at a camp for gifted & talented students in the DFW area. My list of responsibilities was simple, prepare snacks and set-up/take-down/extra-set-of-hands kind of work; the teachers were the ones in charge of the kiddos. If my memory serves me well, one of my favorite rooms to help out in was the art room. The teacher was funny, passionate, down to earth and none other than my guest today! You can imagine my surprise a couple years ago when I crossed paths with her again, this time on an aspiring author level of the picture book variety. (Shout out to the same aunt who helped us to connect happens to be one of my most loyal followers! 😉) Patricia didn’t remain ‘aspiring’ for long after we reconnected and today, I’m thrilled to help her celebrate the release of her debut (and soon to follow second) picture book! She’s had a fascinating journey to publication, so I hope you’ll read on…

Hooray! I’m so excited it’s finally here! Before we get started, you know me (and my people), I can’t invite anyone over to visit without offering a drink. So, what’ll it be?!? Good question! I love milkshakes :>) and Mocha Frappuccino, but I don’t splurge that often. So, there’s nothing better than really good ice-cold water…like Ozarka from Arkansas.

I definitely think a book release calls for a splurge. Milkshakes for everyone!!! Your day job is an art teacher at an elementary school. How did you find picture books? Or better yet, how did picture books find you? It was through our visiting authors that got me excited about picture books. I used them with my lesson plans. And then there was the art history for kindergarten and 1st grade, which was Prehistoric Art. I wanted to teach the kids the substance of the art and I discovered The Altamira Cave located in Spain. That led to contacting the museum. In short, I created a power-point for the kids with maps, little stories, a printable coloring book and so on. Then in 2014 it turned into a picture book manuscript! I’ve revised many times and it will be published one day, I believe.

Oh, that sounds fascinating! Back at the beginning of your journey, what were the first courses/classes/conferences that helped you kick start your writing journey? Spring 2014, I found Kristen Fulton’s archeological writing class, on line. That summer I attended her 1st WOW Retreat. That’s what really kick started my writing as a picture book author. There I met agents, editors and authors. I also attended Pat Miller’s Conference in Houston that following Fall and I took Susanna Hill’s online writing class. These were within the first months of my writing efforts.

Yes! You helped me to connect with the online WOW Community! I attending an online course at your encouraging and learned a TON. Let’s talk about your debut picture book, Mother Teresa: The Little Pencil in God’s Hand… CONGRATULATIONS!!! Where did you find the story nugget for this one? I always wondered how Mother Teresa grew into the woman she became. My book is dedicated to the caregivers in the world. I found my nugget by reading and found her childhood fascinating.

Mother Theresa page

Talk about starting strong right out the gate. You picked such a famous MC! I can only imagine that was daunting, although I’m sure there was no shortage of research material. What was the hardest point of the writing process for this book? The writing process wasn’t as hard as making sure what I was writing was truth! I was shocked to discover that a lot of information in books about Mother Teresa is not true at all. For instance, many books claim she had a clubfoot. Well, that’s false which I discovered through reaching out to the Mother Teresa Center in Rome. I found out by accident because I needed to know for illustration purposes. Not only was that not true, but the quote I had chosen had been paraphrased. In the end, the Mother Teresa Center offered three other equivalent options. I had to get written permission to use the quote and they also required a copy of my book.

So, what you’re saying, is your book has a permanent home in Rome?!? I bet not many debut authors can say that! Can we talk a little about illustrating… you found yourself wearing both author and illustrator hats unexpectedly for Mother Teresa. Did that change your approach to the story at all? No, my story was already written and it never changed. Even though I have a BA in Art and Performance, an M.A. in Art and an MFA, I never thought of myself as an illustrator. At first, I felt awkward but I found myself enjoying the picture making process.

And now your writing resume is stacked! I’m always curious when talking with non-fiction writers… Do you have a favorite fact that you learned about Mother Teresa in your research that you didn’t include in the book? What’s not in the story is in the back matter. I tried to get it all in and I think I did. Except I didn’t share how much Sister Teresa enjoyed teaching which is what she did in India. She later became the principal and Mother Teresa. I also didn’t share how she would help her brother climb up high to reach the sweets in their mother’s cupboard. She never tattle-tailed on him. We can’t imagine Mother Teresa doing something like this. But you have to realize that she was once a little girl . . . just an ordinary girl. It should make us see the human child within her.

How wonderful (& adorably sneaky!!) That really makes her so relatable for all of us, but especially the picture book audience. You have a second book coming soon… Can we talk about that one, too? Yes, we can. It’s about the origin of the muffuletta sandwich. It’s a Muffuletta! It’s a Whata? It’s a fun book and it practically wrote itself. I’m anxious to get to the illustrations. I’ve contacted the owners of the ‘shopa’ and we’ll be making our way down to New Orleans in a few weeks just to introduce myself. (Check out this sneak peek of her illustrations!)

Muffuletta-in-progress

It’s one of the greatest cities on earth, that’s for sure! I always enjoy time spent in New Orleans because you never have the same experience… and it’s definitely never boring. What a great place to have a story originate from. Now you really HAVE to go… aw shucks.😉. In the midst of your travels, how are you balancing writing new stories with the marketing of these books? I’m not sure yet :>) I’ve spent my time making bookmarks, having pencils made and I taught for three weeks in June. Now I’m working on stuff that I ignored. I do know that I’m going to have to make a schedule of when to do what :>)

I have a book signing with Logos Book Store in Dallas, September 21st. I’ve also connected with Carole Weitzel @ Authors and More who will handle all my events. (Learn more here.)

Just by what I’ve seen over social media, you seem to have a great relationship with your editor. Tell us about how you two found each other? Clear Fork Publishing and Callie Metler-Smith are a great fit for me. I don’t know if it’s a Texas thing or what but we’ve been on the same page since day one. I submitted my manuscript and she responded with a few questions. Then a few weeks passed and on Good Friday, 2017, she emailed me with a contract and apologized for taking so long! Really? I was on cloud ten :>) It seems like Callie is the Energizer Bunny. She owns the town’s newspaper, she’s on the school board, she’s a writer, and she has a family to raise. Callie is definitely an inspiration. I love Callie and I feel extremely blessed to know her. Established in 2009, Clear Fork Media published its first book in 2014 and is well on its way.

What’s next? Do you have anything coming down the pipe? I’m really excited about an Early Reader series that I started working on last November. It could end up being a chapter book series? I have five written. The MC is Wesley Rose a nine-year-old girl living in Texas. A few years ago, a cute, blonde, blue eyed nurse introduced herself, “I’m Wesley Rose”. I had to smile, “with a name like that, you should be a country western singer.” I never forgot :>)

Oh, she sounds adorable! I can’t wait to read more! So, where can my readers find & follow you on social media? Where can we get our hands on a copy of Mother Teresa: The Little Pencil in God’s Hand? My website http://www.patriciasaunders.com, on Twitter @writersaunders & Facebook. 

Mother Teresa: The Little Pencil In GodPatricia Saunders’s Hand can be purchased at: www.clearforkpublishing.com and on Amazon (click here).

And the best news is, she’s doing a giveaway! Enter HERE… winner be chose one week from today and will receive a copy of Mother Teresa: The Little Pencil in God’s Hand (plus maybe a few other goodies!) 

I’m so glad you stopped by today! I love nothing better than celebrating the success of one of my first writing friends. More good things to come… I hope no one is melting in this heat!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Paper People: Patricia Valdez

Can you believe it? This is my first Paper People interview of 2019! I am so excited to share my conversation with debut author Patricia Valdez about her adorable and inspiring picture book, JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR. Along with it being my first Paper People of the year, it’s also my first interview with a non-fiction author and I’m fairly certain the first time I talk about reptiles! I hope you’ll read on… I might have inside scoop on a certain Twitter giveaway for those that do! 😉

Patricia, thanks for being here! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Thanks so much for having me! I’ll take a black tea, my caffeine source of choice. It’s always time for tea. Maybe that’s why I started and ended JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR with a tea party!

Well if we’re having a tea party then I’ll have some too! I’ve been meaning to drink more, there’s no better time than the present (with pretend tea) am I right? Right off the bat I have to say, there probably aren’t many picture book writers with a resume quite as impressive (and unrelated) as yours. When and where did you first feel the pull to write picture books? Was JOAN PROCTER the first manuscript you wrote? I’ve spent most of my life as a scientist and I currently work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I’m also a mother of a teen and pre-teen, and when my kids were young, I loved reading picture books with them. I quickly figured out elements that clicked for me and my children and those that didn’t. It’s so important to have text that is fun to read because as parents, we read some books over and over. I also noticed that there weren’t many books about science while my kids were fascinated with little stories I wrote about my research – the tiny armies in our bodies that fight off harmful invaders. I also realized there were simply not enough picture books about women scientists, and that’s is how I set myself on the road to JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR.

JP illustr 1

I think you’re the first nonfiction author that I’ve had on Paper People, and I am THRILLED about it. I know that nonfiction picture books are experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now, what a great time for a nonfiction debut! In the spirit of honesty though, I’ve often struggled to find nonfiction picture books that I can engage in and connect with… but that’s not true of JOAN PROCTER! In a way that reminds me of Jess Keating’s SHARK LADY, I was completely entranced with Dr. Procter from the very first line. As of right now, are your works in progress strictly nonfiction or a mix? Woo hoo! Thanks for giving nonfiction some love! Right now, all of my work is nonfiction, though I’ve dipped my toes into fiction and we’ll see where that leads. I often find that true life is stranger than fiction and I think Joan Procter’s story is just that. I think as authors we try to tell a story in a way that connects with both the child and the reader (often teachers or parents in the case of picture books). Sure, there are some kids that connect with straight expository nonfiction, but I feel that even more readers can connect with narrative nonfiction. Plus, these books often have expository material in the backmatter for those kids that crave it.
The research required to write nonfiction books is an added layer that not all fiction stories require. This means adding to the amount of time you need to hammer out and polish up a manuscript. How do you find time for writing amidst your work at the National Institute of Health and family life? Research is the most exciting part of the process for me. You never know what kinds of juicy tidbits you might find. Even if you don’t end up using all of the research in the main story, those details help give shape to a person’s life and personality (plus, you can always include it in the backmatter). With work and kids, I end up doing my writing at night and on the weekend. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband, who is also a scientist.

JP BookshelfNeedless to say, those long nights and weekends paid off! Do you remember the first time you saw JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR on a bookstore shelf? I held my book launch at our local independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. It was such a wonderful experience to see my book out and about. A friend of my daughter visited the Natural History Museum in London this last summer and told me that my book was in the gift shop. That was certainly thrilling since Joan Procter got her start right there! I’ve seen pics of my book for sale in New Zealand, France, and South Korea, so that’s been exciting, too!

Oh, she’s a world traveler! That makes you an international author! Let’s go back to the beginning for you, what were some of the most helpful resources you used when you were first starting out on your KidLit writing journey? I read as many picture book biographies as I could. I also joined SCBWI and read everything I could find about writing query letters once my manuscript was ready. I should also credit my kids for being both sounding boards and critics. 🙂

I mentioned above that you had me captivated by the first line of your story. (I’m JP illust 2even going to use it as a part of my #favoritelinefriday tweets!) First lines are some of the hardest to write, for me, because there is so much riding on them. What’s the most challenging part of writing picture books for you? Thanks so much! First lines are so important. In picture book biographies, I want the first line or two to evoke time, place, and theme. Plus, they have to really draw the reader into the story. I figured lizards at a tea party might do the trick. I also love tying the ending to the beginning (I’m a fan of the circular structure). Of course, you need a strong beginning for this to work. So, I have to agree with you that the first lines are indeed the most challenging.

We’ve all heard that a majority of the marketing of picture books falls to the author once a book is published. Was this your experience? How did you get JOAN PROCTER onto the shelves and into the hands of kids? The publisher gets books to trade publishers and reviewers, so that’s incredibly helpful. Beyond that, us picture book authors have to hustle for marketing. My agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, suggested that as a debut author, I focus on blog appearances (like this!) instead of holding book events. This advice was perfect for me since I have a full-time job and a family. I did a few book events here and there, but not a lot. I also did a few book giveaways on Twitter and with my debut picture book group, Epic 18.

You’ve been a published author for exactly one year today! Congrats on your Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? I plan to give away a signed copy of JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR on Twitter and have an adult beverage. It’s been quite a year!

Is there anything you learned in the past twelve months that surprised you? For some reason I had this idea that once the book was out there, it would be smooth sailing, but that’s not the case at all. There are many interviews and book events, though as I mentioned, I tried to limit those. I didn’t think about the amount of time I’d spend at the post office mailing off F&Gs and books. All the while, I was working on the second book. No pressure there, right? Ha!

 

Okay, so you have a busy day ahead of you… what with the Twitter giveaway and all. But I have one more question, before we wrap up, how do you feel about reptiles, honestly? Do you have a favorite or do they make you squirm? We have a pet turtle named Theo at home and I love turtles, but my favorite reptile has to be the Komodo dragon. I would never have found Joan Procter if it wasn’t for my need to know more about these amazing creatures. One sentence near the end of an article about Komodo dragons mentioned that Joan Procter was the first person to describe them in captivity. My cPatricia Valdez headshoturiosity led me to her amazing story which I’m so honored to share!

Scaly, slimy creatures have a special place in my life, too… I happen to live in the Frog Capital of the World! (Just don’t ask me how I really feel about them.) Thanks so much for joining me, Patricia! Where can my readers find and follow you on social media? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe? You can find me most often on Twitter @Patricia_Writer, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaValdezAuthor, and less often on Instagram @pvaldez11. Folks can also find and contact me via my website: www.patriciavaldezbooks.com. My next book hasn’t been announced yet, but I can tell you that it’s a picture book biography about a Latina scientist. I can’t wait to share it!

Oh goodness, I can’t wait! Congrats, again! Okay, now head over to Twitter before its too late to enter her drawing… go ahead, we’re finished here! Just promise me you’ll come back soon, there are always more good things to come!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Be My Guest, Vivian Kirkfield!

You might remember that I’m in the middle of a three-part conversation with Vivian Kirkfield about her picture book debut triplets. Well, I couldn’t have a conversation with her this close to #50PreciousWords and not ask about it! I posed the following questions to her while we were ‘talking’:

‘When you started the contest, did you ever dream it would take off the way that it has? And then you started #50PreciousWordsForKids! What are your favorite parts about running the contest?’
I hope you’ll read on as she answers my questions and brings us back to where it all began.  This year’s contest will run from March 2-March 6. I hope to see you there!

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I guess you could say I started #50PreciousWords on a whim. It was March 1st of 2016. Scrolling through some news articles online I found an interesting tidbit about Dr. Seuss and how his long-time editor, Bennett Cerf (founder of Random House), challenged him to write a story for kids using only 50 unique words. And Green Eggs with Ham was born. Of course, that story has over 700 words, but only 50 unique words. And I began to think about how the publishing industry was looking for shorter more concise word count picture books. Could I write a story in only 50 words? But not 50 unique words. 50 words ONLY. So, I tried it. And it was so much fun that I decided to challenge my friends. I quickly cobbled together a blog post for the next day, which was the birthday of Theodore Geisel. I reached out to a few of my friends and I mentioned it to my agent. And they were all onboard to donate a prize. I announced that the contest would run for five days and the winners would be posted the day after. The day after? Sure, because I assumed that maybe five or ten of my good writing buddies would take pity on me and submit a story. Boy, was I wrong! Within five days, there were 120 amazing entries. I was up all night long. I read them to my husband. I read them to myself. I read them aloud. They were so good, and the top prize winner wound up signing with her dream agent and that story, along with two others, are debuting this year! Dreams can come true!
The next year, I was even more energized. One of my dear critique buddies, Maria Marshall, volunteered to help read and comment. And she did. We had 230 entries and over 1800 comments on that blog post. And last year, both Maria and another kid lit friend, Julie Abery, helped by reading and commenting on 298 entries. And the top winner? She signed with her dream agent. That’s why I encourage people to get their work out there because a story that sings can’t be heard if you keep it locked in a drawer. So, this year, even though my plate is full and I won’t even be in the country, I am hosting #50PreciousWords—from New Zealand. And I’ll have Maria, and Julie, and also, my amazing NZ critique buddy, Diane Tulloch, to help read and comment on all the stories. I know I am making trouble for myself by saying this, but I hope EVERYONE enters!
My favorite part of the contest? Hmmm. I can tell you what my least favorite part is—having to cut from the finalists and winnow it down to the top 10 and then choose which story is first, second, and so on. What’s so difficult is that each story is unique…and so each has great merit and strengths.
My favorite part is seeing how many brave souls there are in this kid-lit community. Because when you put your story out there, you are exposing your heart, and I am touched and honored that so many writers trust that their stories will be treated with loving respect on my blog. Oh, and the other favorite part of the contest is to read the comment thread—100% positive and encouraging and supportive from EVERYONE. This is how the world is supposed to be. I may not be able to influence the leaders of the government or change the world situation, but I can create a haven of safety and support for writers in #50PreciousWords.
The offshoot, #50PreciousWordsforKids came about because one of the writers who participated in the contest messaged me that her young daughter had sat down at the table and wrote a 50-word story of her own. She was thrilled to have this unbelievable bonding moment. Then I asked my 8-year old grandson if he wanted to write a 50-word story. ‘Sure, he said…only 50-words? That’s easy.’ Of course, it wasn’t so easy, but he did it and had fun. I decided to do a kid’s writing challenge to coincide with Children’s Book Week in May and the first year we had children from 13 states and 5 different countries – it was amazing! This year is going to be more of a challenge for me because of all of the traveling, conferences, and book launch events, but I am determined to host it again because I think it encourages children to exercise their creativity and it builds their self-confidence to see their story ‘published’ on a blog. And each child receives a certificate of participation which the parent or teacher can download and print out.

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There you have it! The contest starts tomorrow, so if you haven’t pounded out a 50-word story you still have time. Good luck to all those who are participating, I’ll see you in the comments!
Stay tuned, I have a few posts coming down the pipe… a contest entry, a few of my own musings and, of course, interviews (more Vivian coming your way on 3/28!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
JP

I want to write a picture book.

It’s like a craving I can’t satisfy or an itch I can’t scratch. I want to write a new picture book manuscript and I mean I really want to write one. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for untold stories, tending my creative soil, and even invited inspiration over to stay a while. (Or at least as long as it takes to put 500 words to paper.) I have a nice guest room that doubles as my home office, the walls are covered with character studies and there’s a rose bush growing outside the window. I would be a lovely place for inspiration to stay! Bad news is, I’ve got nothing, or as my husband would say “crickets.” I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead.

Of course, I’ve written a few before. I lost count somewhere around 20, and that was before 2018 even started. Some are good, some are not, some rhyme, some don’t, a few I don’t even remember writing and others keep me up at night. Surely, it’s a unique struggle, writing picture books means quantity AND quality are equally important. If I were writing a novel, I might’ve spent the past three years living within the same story, fleshing it out and building it up. (Which is an incredible feat that keeps me amazed and in awe.) But as a picture book writer, I need new inspiration, often. New stories, fresh ideas, different main characters and unique plot twists.  Apparently, I need at least three polished manuscripts to successfully ‘woo’ an agent.  Not to mention, I once read about a successful picture book author who calculates that she’s written about 20 manuscripts for every story that’s actually been sold and made into a picture book. With odds like that, I might have 2 winners on my hands. I believe in Elizabeth Gilbert’s theory of inspiration. I believe in BIG MAGIC and I work hard on my relationship with creativity.  But let’s get real, it’s a numbers game, people, and I just want to write one little picture book to add to my collection. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!?

I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead because I’m hoping to trick inspiration into paying me a visit.  I’m hoping that I get extra credit for sitting at my laptop and putting words to paper, even if they’re directed at adults and I’m really just writing for myself. It’s November 25th, so far this year I’ve honored my 12×12 commitment and written a new draft each month. I have five days left of the month, and one month left in the year… I need to write a picture book.  

The good thing about being a nurse is that we are excellent self-diagnosticians; that’s where my brain headed tonight. What’s my official diagnosis, you ask? Picture book (writers) block and the really difficult pill to swallow is I don’t think I caught it randomly; I think it’s been self-inflicted.  So, there’s the new writing gig, and I’ve been working hard on those posts which have a much different target audience and theme than these Magnolia posts or my picture book manuscripts. Along the same lines, I’ve been reading a lot of ‘mom’s blog’ posts, to support my fellow writers and brush up on my skills. It’s an important thing for me to be doing, but it’s taking me away from reading picture books. Also, my husband has been reading to the kids, before bed, most nights. It’s been super sweet and helpful and it’s everyone’s favorite part to the day, but it’s taken me away from reading picture books… I need to read more picture books.  

I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead because of THIS. I need to get down to the bottom of the problem I’m having. I know what you’re going to say, ‘try priming the creative pump, silly’. That involves my sewing machine, or some vinyl and a paintbrush. I’ve used both (relatively) recently, so the creative juices are flowing around these parts. However, there have also been quite a few extracurricular activities using my energy and keeping me away from my writing routine.  In fact, as I think back over these past few weeks, it’s no wonder inspiration hasn’t visited me! I basically invited my long-lost friend over to watch me frantically cook, clean and decorate my home for a party she wasn’t invited to… I need to make time for picture books.

I want to write a picture book, but I wrote a blog post instead.  From the very beginning of my time as a blogger, nearly 2 years ago, I said I wanted to capture the journey. This definitely isn’t the most glamorous part, nor the most exciting, but like an airport layover, it’s important and so here I am, convinced that I’m making progress even while I wait.

To sum up our visit, I’m asking for inspiration but not making time for it on my calendar. I’m hoping for a lightning-bolt idea without surrounding myself with similar stories. I’m talking the talk, but not sure I’m walking the walk. Nothing like taking a good hard look in a mirror, eh? I know this hasn’t been too exciting for you, but it sure has been eye-opening for me. At this rate, I hope I haven’t ticked off picture-book-inspiration off to the point of no return. I guess there’s only one way to find out… I know what a good starting point will be! Come back soon, I’ll review the precious book my friend Didi wrote (it finally came in!)

I hope your Thanksgiving week was full of joy, gratitude and endless amounts of your favorite pie.

I also hope you know that I’m grateful for you.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, A Nest for the Savior!

I fully believe that so much of this publishing journey is about hard work, determination, patience and tenacity…. I also think that some things happen thanks to a stroke of luck. For example, I don’t even remember the entire chain of events that led me to my first critique group, but it was two years ago and Didi was there! I remember reading early drafts of this heartwarming story and loving it from the very beginning. In lieu of celebrating the one-year anniversary of a picture book this month, I’m thrilled to celebrate the launch of A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR.  Welcome, Didi! Take us back to the beginning, when did the idea to write picture books find you? Well, I’ve always been a writer. I used to cut covers and spines out of cardboard and glue my stories together as a kid. I studied journalism at the University of Florida and worked for a faith-based magazine after college, so picture books didn’t really come into view until my daughter was a year old. I remember I was getting them ready for bed, and an idea popped into my head that I couldn’t shake. That night, I stayed up until four in the morning writing my very first picture book, which has been put on the shelf for the time being. During that all-nighter, I also learned that the SCBWI was having a conference in just three weeks, so I signed up. And I’ve been writing picture books ever since.

Didi and I have a lot in common, we’re both moms, we both write and we are both 80-year-old women in 30something bodies! (She calls herself Antique at Heart… don’t you love that!) Tell us the MOST Antique thing about you! Want to know mine? I love big band/swing music (think Frank Sinatra), early mornings, sewing and wearing aprons while I cook. I love oldies music too! My favorite oldies crooner is a younger version of the old classics – Harry Connick Jr. (Side-note: I met him once and even got to go on his tour bus thanks to my crazy husband!) One antique thing I’m obsessed with is genealogy and finding out where we came from. One of my ancestors was Mary Barrett Dyer, the first woman martyr in the United States. I love piecing together information for the past so I can share our history with my kids.

Didi and Harry

HARRY CONNICK JR!!! He’s one of my favorites, too! (Bonus points since he’s from Louisiana!) Focus Jenny, back to the book. Do you remember where the seed of inspiration came from for A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR? Like most great ideas, it came in the middle of the night. Everyone else was asleep and I was sitting downstairs with the fake fireplace show playing on Netflix. (I live in South Florida, so that’s the only cozy fireplace I get.)

A song about the first Christmas was playing, and I thought, “What if a little animal overheard the angels tell the shepherds about Jesus and he or she tried to race them to find Him?”

A Nest for the Savior is not really about that at all, but that’s where the story started. It evolved (and was made into a better story I hope) in our critique group and through countless hours of editing.

The main character is a precious and determined sparrow, but a whole host of other animals play important roles in the story. I know (because we talked about it) that you did a lot of research on these animals, making sure they were appropriate to the day & age that the story takes place. (The Birth of Jesus!) Do you have a favorite animal? Tell us about your research process. My favorite animal other than Sadie, the sparrow, is the donkey. He brings his frayed rope as a gift for Jesus, and you find out in the activity guide that he broke free from that rope to catch a glimpse of Jesus. While writing the story, this soundbite from “O Holy Night” was playing on a loop in my mind: “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name, all oppression shall cease.” We all need the Lord to break the chains of sin in our lives, but, even more, the world needs to see a glimpse of the oppression-ending power of Jesus right now.

While writing the story, I researched which animals were considered clean and unclean to the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and which animals would be nearby. Donkeys, for instance, are actually considered unclean animals, but that’s probably why most people don’t eat donkey burgers. They are mentioned numerous times in the Bible and are very symbolic of the coming of the Messiah, so I included them in the story.

One of my favorite parts is the interactive activity for families that accompanies the book.  How did you come up with that idea? As before, it was a too-late-to-be-up idea that I wrestled with for a long time. The activity guide gives kids instructions to build their own nest for the Savior using symbolic items around the house. Each item can teach them a little bit more about Jesus, the first Christmas and the Cross. Plus, it can be used as an Advent calendar. BUT … I wondered for a long time if I’d have to sell a kit with the book or if I’d need to sell a baby Jesus doll to go in the nest. At the end of the day, I decided to sell a limited number of kits and to create a paper doll for the activity. The activity guide was the main reason I decided to start my own publishing company to bring A Nest for the Savior to life. I wanted kids to have the opportunity to learn about the real reason we celebrate Christmas, and I knew the process of finding an agent and publisher could push back publication a few years.

It’s always been so inspiring to me that Instead of getting discouraged, you blazed your own path and decided to self-publish. Can you speak a little to what that discernment and decision was like? I gave myself a deadline. I decided if the story didn’t get picked up by traditional agents or publishers by January 2018, I would publish the book myself. I had been looking for an agent for my stories for years, but I ramped up my game and sent the story to contests, participated in PB Pitch (where I got a few likes) and researched agents who represented faith-based picture book authors (there weren’t many). In the end, it didn’t work out, and, although I was disappointed at first, I’m so glad things worked out the way they did. I also met an indie publisher who makes six figures selling e-books every year and that changed my whole perception of indie authors. Many of today’s self-published authors are choosing to take the road less traveled not because they’re second rate, but because they’re innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in their dreams. I was also inspired by the Indie Kidlit Podcast, Marti Dumas, Elena Paige, Darcy Pattison, Kobi Yamada, Nancy Tillman and the original indie author, Beatrix Potter.

When authors go the traditional route, they are hoping an agent and publisher will connect with their work so much that they will say “yes,” and invest their time and money to make their dreams a reality. I decided to tell myself “yes,” and I embarked on a thrilling, bumpy, sometimes sleepless roller coaster that was better than I could ever imagine.

I love that publishing, and in this case, children’s publishing offers different paths to success. You and I have talked about that before. In your case, you didn’t stop at self-publishing, you also started your own publishing company. What brought that idea on? Looking forward, what are your plans for Antique at Heart? If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. So, I started a little indie publishing company, where I also sell educational games (with more to come). In the future, I’d like to publish more of my picture books, add Middle-Grade books to the list and publish my friend’s stories (hint hint).

Nest, sketch

I haven’t actually held the book in my hands (yet!) but the illustrations look GORGEOUS! Where did you find your illustrator? My illustrator and I actually went to youth group together when we were teenagers. This was her first time illustrating a children’s book, so we knew we would both be learning along the way. But she made things so easy for me! Working with Deja was a dream come true! She was so attentive and produced images I could never have imagined. I literally sent her one picture I sketched, (see above) and she blew me away with her skill, craftsmanship and integrity every step of the way.

Have you been able to keep writing while ironing out the logistics of starting your own business and coming up with a marketing plan for your debut picture book? Not really. I have a few ideas that I’m wrestling with right now for future books, but this experience has really transformed how I see the books I’ve already written. Some of the books I shelved are actually more marketable than my tried-and-true favorites, so I’ll be focusing on the ones I know how to market first. I have to think like a publisher now, which is a good idea for any writer. That’s how you sell books to readers … and agents and publishers.

What a great perspective; ‘think like a publisher’. How are you approaching your book launch? What are you most excited about? What feels most daunting? I’ve never launched a book so I am learning A LOT. I am learning things about social media that really make me feel like an antique. I am working on Pinterest as well to make my book available to more readers. And I’ve found that Amazon reviews are very important whether you are traditionally or indie published. (So, if you read the book, I would LOVE a quick one-sentence review … even if it’s not your cup of tea!)

I am a mix of excited and terrified about the whole process. But I keep going … and I owe a lot of my momentum to our Kickstarter campaign. Once the campaign was fully funded, I felt like I had an entire team behind me, and I couldn’t let them down. That is incredibly humbling and weighty at the same time.

I’ve seen you posting about the prep work you and your family are doing for your book launch.  How involved are your kiddos in your writing? Do they understand what’s coming? (Isn’t this what its ALL ABOUT! Those pictures are my favorite!) My kids aren’t super involved in the writing process, because I need quiet to be creative. But they are always giving me ideas—and their feedback is so valuable. They help me in all sorts of ways though. My daughter (who is now 6) wants to illustrate my books one day, and I can totally see it happening. She colors and creates her own picture books just like I did as a kid. My almost-8-year-old helps me assemble the kits and my 3-year-old just loves to run into my office and tear things apart. Haha! But I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book if I hadn’t been nursing my new little guy (who was born in March). That gave me a little time away each day to focus on him and the book. I don’t think even I know what’s coming (LOL), but the kids are SO excited to sell the book at local events because they are little entrepreneurs in the making. One big reason I decided to start my own publishing company was to show them you could accomplish anything with a lot of faith and what I call “stick-to-it-tive-ness.”

Yes! One of my mom’s favorite words is ‘tenacity’ and you definitely have oodles of tenacity! Where can we order a copy?!? The book, free coloring pages and a free art class full of ideas for making your Nest for the Savior are available at ANestfortheSavior.com. The book is also available on Amazon, BN.com, and in select Barnes and Noble locations. If you make a nest, be sure to enter the #BestNestContest on Facebook or Instagram from November 7—December 15, 2018, for a chance to win fun prizes!

What’s next? Do you have more manuscripts that are ready for publication? Can we find/follow you on social media? I hope to release another book in May 2019. I will keep you posted on that! But, in the meantime, follow me and the book at Facebook.com/ANestfortheSavior and Instagram.com/ANestfortheSavior.

Thank you so much, Jenny, for all your help and encouragement! I can’t wait to celebrate your first book launch with you!

Didi and book

Awe, shucks! Thanks, Didi. I can’t wait for that day either! Stay tuned… more goodness to come. Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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!  

Penguianut cover low res

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

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