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

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Be My Guest, Mona Pease!

Here we go again! I have another wonderfully talented pre-published author friend that I can’t wait for you to meet.  I was lucky enough to be in a critique group with Mona a little more than one year ago, and we soon became Facebook friends.  That group has since fizzled out but she and I have stayed connected, continue to swap stories and are even participating in a book study together! She’s a very talented non-fiction writer, but don’t let her fool you! I’ve read a super sweet and silly story of hers that is all made up and such a delightful little read!  She was even one of Susanna Hill’s Holiday Contest winners and graciously agreed to come down here (figuratively speaking of course) for a cup of English tea to talk about the highlights of her writing journey.  (She also took me ‘around Robin Hoods barn’ a time or two!)

Without further ado… Mona Pease!

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

            I’m really pleased to be here and share some of my writing thoughts with you. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m a chatterer. Sometimes I run out behind Robin Hood’s barn and come back talking about something different!

            So, my first thought was to write a post called, How Did I Find My Writing Tribe? To do that, I’d have to start with the first step of my journey. I decided to write children’s books. You’ve heard that before! Then, I decided that I wanted to attend the NESCBWI conference I’d been reading about online.

            In the meantime, there happened to be another writer from right here in Maine who was posting that she was looking for someone to join her in going to her first conference. We wrote back and forth, decided we’d go, and room together. It wasn’t until about the week before we were to leave that we shared phone numbers and our full names!

            My husband thought I was nuts, going out of state to “sleep” with a complete stranger. Her mother worried she might be going with an axe murderer! Thankfully, we bonded and have remained good friends. This happened just before Rules and it was my lucky day when I met my first and dearest, writing friend, Cynthia Lord, whose a name I now know!

            Not only did I meet my first tribe princess at that conference, I got the writing “bug” and the start of my writing education. I love learning and I hope that you do too, because I just stepped out behind Robin Hood’s barn and have to share my thoughts about the educational opportunities we have before us as children’s writers.  There are classes, courses, and workshops all over the place. This is an amazing, sharing, community we belong to, so let’s do a little window shopping.

            SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) is a good place to start the writer’s journey. It’s our organization and we’ve been invited to join.  If you can afford to go to one of the conferences, do it. There are several regional events too. New England is “my” conference. Can you imagine listening to, taking workshops, or being critiqued by the likes of Jane Yolen, Cynthia Lord, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jo Knowles, Erin Dionne, Kate Messner, Kwame Alexander, Jeannine Atkinson, Harold Underdown, just to name a few- yes, a few! And, then there’s a never-ending parade of participating agents and editors who are willing to hear from you.

            Falling Leaves on Lake George in New York, is another amazing event. It’s put on by the Eastern New York chapter. You have to apply with a written piece to be accepted because space is limited, but it is amazing!

            Be a web surfer. Be a site stalker. If you live in the boonies like I do, you can wiggle around the web like a worm in rich soil.  There are valuable groups and classes that you join. Some are free and others you have to pay your dues. I would love to take all of them,but have to pick and choose because the dollars (or lack of)!

            *Kid Lit College www.kidlit.org has an annual fee for members. Nonmembers can attend webinars presented by fabulous agents and editors for very reasonable fees. Jodell Sadler has organized this for us. Check it out. Try taking just one of the webinars and you may be hooked!

            *Rate Your Story is another of my favorites. This one has a fee too but there are the perks. Submit a manuscript every month for a professional critique. Then look for your rating of the story. A 1 rating says it’s time to submit! Look for their occasional free submission days if you didn’t join.

             *Aree Chung’s StoryTellerAcademy.com   offers step by step for creating your picture book. His first class is especially valuable for the author/illustrator. And he’s offering other classes for children’s writers. Again, there’s a fee, but a never-ending access to class or webinars with the addition of any webinar in the future. There’s a community of students that bond to discuss classes or to form critique groups.

            *Sussanna Hill’s, Making Picture Book Magic will really help you write magical words.  SusannaHill.com  Susanna will help you make your own words and sentences sing!

            *12X12 in another place with an annual fee. Monthly webinars. Golden Book members have opportunities to submit to agents every month. Try Julie’s free newsletter while you wait for the new sign-up year.

            There’s tons of free stuff going on. Get yourself a big fat notebook and start stalking. There are blogs, websites, challenges and contests.

*StoryStorm at TaraLazar.com  A professional post each day in January to help us boost our ideas. If you read and post a comment each day, you’ll be in the drawing for -Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!!!

*ReFoReMo – Carrie Charlie Brown’s Reading for Research is a March challenge. Read, read, read, children’s books, read the daily posts, then comment, and you’re eligible for prizes here too! This is an amazing way to find mentor texts for your own stories

*Not only does Susanna Hill offer classes, she has weekly blogs and annual contests that are free and fun with more prizes. I know, I recently won a 2018 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market!

*KidLit 411 is another place to find the news, and the weekly updates give you insight to what’s going on in the industry. This place is like an encyclopedia for children’s writers!

*Check out author, Vivian Kirkfield’s page. She presents author interviews, book reviews, and books to give away!

            Honestly, those are only a few of the gems you’ll find here on the internet. And now, for another trip around Robin Hood’s barn to take you back to where I started.  Along the way, on my journey, I have found friends! Some I’ve met in person and others I only know from here, but you are comrades, friends, critiques, cheerleaders. This is my tribe!

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

Hands down, my favorite line? … “you can wiggle around the web like an earthworm in rich soil.”  Yes, yes, yes! I’m so grateful that I’m a picture book writer in the age of technology and social media, so much of what we need to learn is right at our fingertips! I’m lucky to have such a wonderful group of friends to call my own, Mona included…even though I missed her birthday! How does that even still happen in a Facebook world! Agh!! Mona, I’m sorry! I hope your day was delightful! Thanks for having me as a part of your tribe, my friend, and taking a leap of faith to join me here today!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Submissions & Admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

What’s the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

          What do you do with a broken heart?

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

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

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The bridge.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Be My Guest, Megan Jones!

I interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to introduce you to another dear friend! My first ever ‘new writing friend’ actually.  It’s only fitting that I introduce you this weekend because we ‘met’ thanks to #50PreciousWords, and guess what’s going on right now?!? I guess to be fair, we met because I found her blog (during NaPiBoWriWee), but the first post I read was her award winning #50PreciousWords entry and I knew right at that very moment that I wanted to be her friend! (Creepy much?) So, I watched her blog from afar, low and behold she did the same thing! We swapped comments, for a while and finally connected (via The Writers Match). The rest, my friends, is history.  She writes a wonderful combination of silly, refreshing picture books that will make you giggle along with the sweet, simple kind that tug at your heartstrings.  I simply adore her ‘voice’ (the writing kind, because I’ve never heard the real thing, of course) and I know you will too! Read on, I invited her over for a drink, and she was kind enough to remind her forgetful, southern friend “I’m LDS (aka Mormon) as well as expecting my 3rd child, so my beverage options are very boring.  I should ask for a green smoothie or something healthy, but I’d rather have a chocolate milkshake or a tall glass of milk with a side of cookies, of course.” Done and done. Grab yourself some while you’re at it and read on.  In the words of Mrs. Jones, “Welp, here goes nothing….”

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In 2016, I rediscovered my childhood love of writing.  I started with reading every kid lit blog, writing book and website I could find. In 2017, I forced myself out of my comfort zone by joining Twitter and participating in writing contests, one of which was Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords.  Vivian is a gold mine of kid lit knowledge and one of the nicest people to boot.  If you haven’t yet, you need to read her website ASAP https://viviankirkfield.com/

 In a nutshell, for the #50preciouswords contest you only have 50 words to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Sounds easy, right?  Bahaha!  This contest forces you to edit and analyze every precious word in a new way.  Oh, and after all that editing, you need to have a strong story that can stand on its own.  The idea for my 2017 #50preciouswords story was a Storystorm idea (https://taralazar.com/) I was itching to tell.  Tara’s website is another treasure chest of kid lit goodness.  #50preciouswords seemed like a perfect time to take this idea and try to mold it into a story.  After a few days of revising, analyzing and a few helpful critiques, I felt I had a story that was ready to enter.  Also, knowing how I do things, the contest was probably about to end.  I put the story on my very neglected blog and had some sweet comments.  I spent the rest of the day reading all the talented entries I could.  I felt a connection to fellow participants/complete strangers also following their dream of writing for children.

 The day the results were posted, I was shocked to see I had placed 19th! I screamed like I’d just won the HGTV Dream Home (also a life goal of mine).  I’d entered a few other contests without any success.  This was the boost I needed to get through a few more months of writing disappointments.  The next week Vivian sent me a personal email congratulating me and letting me know it was time to pick my prize.  Seriously, after 251 entries how did she have the energy or time to send a personal message and feedback on my story? 

 I have two young sons that love to be anything except little boys.  My boys never respond to their names.  Depending on the day, we have Marshall the dog, Pup the puppy, Charlotte the cat, and Godzilla the T-Rex.  It seemed only appropriate I chose as my prize HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER written & illustrated by the very talented Jennifer P. Goldfinger. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062399519/hello-my-name-is-tiger

  Vivian put me in contact with Jennifer, and she graciously offered to personalize the book.  Yes, please!  I live in a rural area where the opportunity to attend book signings and meet authors or illustrators is nonexistent.  I screamed again (the neighbors were starting to get worried about all this screaming) when this arrived in the mail…

MJonespic3

 How cute is that?  I’m sure this package spread smiles and sunshine from the East Coast all the way to mountains of Utah.

 I appreciate the kindness of the kid lit community.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without the knowledge and encouragement of authors and these amazing events they sponsor.  Thank you for donating your precious time/resources/books.  It means the world to us newbies trying to navigate our way into the world of kid lit.  Now if you haven’t yet, go write your #50preciouswords story!  I can’t wait to read it.

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She’s not kidding either, go find your 50 words, put them together and tell us a story! I’ll be forever grateful for that award-winning story.  Do you want to read it? Check here and stay tuned for this year’s entry. You won’t be disappointed!  I just want to point out, did you catch that she’s expecting? An interesting bit of foreshadowing, don’t you think!  My life has become infinitely more interesting since I added a dash of the Utah mountains to my deep-south Gumbo. In case you want more Megan Jones in your life, your best bet is twitter @rubycargirl. Her tweets are my favorite! She blogs too, rather inconsistently and quietly but they’re always a great read.

On Tuesday I’ll be posting MY #50PreciousWords entry and the following week I get to share my Paper People Interview with Camille Andros!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Be My Guest, Julie LaCombe!

Hi there my friends! Today I have the chance to introduce you to a dear friend of mine by way of a new series, Be My Guest! Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to strike up friendships with a few terrific pre-published picture book authors and I want you to know (and remember) their names. Today, my dear friend Julie joins me for a soothing cup of rose tea that she brought all the way from the Lone Star state. (My attempt to enjoy tea is the REAL work in progress here.) Julie and I ended up in the same critique group and bonded over similarities in our first stories (coincidentally or not, they’ve both been shelved.) There have been countless small world connections since we first started swapping manuscripts, she married a boy from my corner of the world and I know one that grew up down the street from her. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat as Julie found her non-fiction voice and I’m so glad she did! She has a wonderful gift of spinning facts into a story and was gracious enough to Be My (first) Guest! Read along as she tells you about her journey to writing non-fiction for kids, and then stroll on over to her site (https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com) and see all the good stuff she has going on!

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     I’m a left-brained person. I like lists. I like learning. I like things wrapped up in neat little packages. I LOVE research! My love of research was the result of my brilliant, NASA engineer dad who paid me to research topics when I was a kid. Beginning in the third grade, he taught me how to write research papers and paid me one dollar per report. I quickly came to realize that, it wasn’t the money I wanted but the facts I was collecting! From there I started adding to my school lessons (much to my teachers’ chagrin), amazing (or boring) my friends and irritating my brother with facts.

I thrive on finding bizarre and obscure people, facts and events. I hoard newspaper clippings, and keep a traveler’s notebook filled with things I hear in conversations (yes, I eavesdrop!), on TV programs and movies, or see around me. It’s bursting with questions about everyday objects, why people invent things, how they come up with ideas, etc. Questions are constantly swirling through my brain. My children laugh at me when I begin what they call my “informational lectures” after I’ve found an odd historical fact or learned about an amazing unknown person in history. I get excited and passionate because I want to learn more.

So, how did I come to realize that nonfiction was my niche? I felt like a fraud, unimaginative and bored anytime I tried to write creative fiction. I had tons of ideas, but when I sat down to write, I couldn’t. It came out flat and boring. Then, one day my family paid a visit to a local history museum and BAM! It hit me in the face like a bug hits a windshield…There are stories to tell about all of those weird facts I like to collect. I focused my passion for learning into teaching. I used my love for research to find those unknown nuggets to interest and excite my students. As a history teacher, I did everything I could to bring history alive through primary sources and teaching the facts through storytelling. I never thought about writing … UNTIL three years ago. I was watching a fictionalized series about one of my favorite historical events with my husband and something they said ignited a spark. It was a reminder of my passion for sharing fun history with kids.

     The first lesson most writers learn is “write what you know,” but I think that is false advertisement for ANY writer, especially nonfiction writers. Think about it. Did Jules Verne travel twenty thousand leagues under the sea? Did H.G. Wells time travel? I think better advice is to write what you are passionate about. For me, writing nonfiction is like going on a treasure hunt. You start with an idea which is your treasure map, except there is no X that marks the spot. The treasure is that little tidbit of the unknown and you have to jump from one path to the next until you find your way there. The struggle I constantly have is figuring out what to include and not to include. I want to include EVERYTHING I find! Prolific author John McPhee calls writing nonfiction “literature of fact.” Newbery winner Russell Freedman calls himself a “factual author.” I like that. I’m a factual author!

     So how does writing fiction differ from nonfiction, aside from the obvious? In writing fiction, you work to lure a story line into existence. With nonfiction, we have to recognize the story line that’s already there. The structure of factual information is already in existence. A nonfiction writer has to then flesh out the story and make it interesting and add heart. That’s the hard part. Finding the voice of the story and giving it a life that will appeal to readers yet still remain factual.  And that’s what I love about writing nonfiction. I get to research and learn about something I’m passionate about and then to mold it into a story that others will love.

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I love learning new things about my friends! A NASA engineer for a father? Cool! I hope you enjoyed getting to know Julie, I can’t wait for the day when you say to yourself “I’ve actually known about her since way back before she was a successful author!”
That’s all for now! But there is always more to come, more musings, more interviews and more friends for you to meet.
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Nathan called.

Okay, so he’s not a real person and he didn’t actually call. But I spent the better part of two years getting to know him and his story, in the way only writers can. Technically that’s my second to longest relationship, ever. Nathan is the main character of the first picture book manuscript I’ve ever written. When I started blogging, there were a few picture book drafts in my desk drawer, but his story was still consuming more of my time and energy than the others. Last week, in one of the Storystorm guest posts, Jared Lerner talked about wrestling inspiration into its place and boy, did I ever wrestle with Nathan’s story. I worked through more drafts than I can count. His story was my first critique, my first submission and my first rejection. He and I had many long talks, we changed direction, we rhymed, we didn’t, we argued, there were tears and finally, he was shelved.  Although, I don’t really think it was a mutual decision.
To be fair, I had a number of very valid reasons. For one, I’m pretty sure we both needed a break from each other and the painful revision process. I told him it would be temporary, and that we could still be friends. Second, since I wasn’t focusing all of my energy on his story, I was able to give life to the other stories that were surfacing. There’s no way I would have written the other manuscripts that I have, had I stayed immersed in Nathans’ world. Third, I realized that few authors ever publish their FIRST story, and that maybe Nathan’s job had only been to get me down this path of chasing my dream. Maybe he was sent to introduce me to the wonderful world of Kid Lit because when I started swapping manuscripts, Nathan’s story was all I had to offer. Some of the writers who offered their feedback have morphed from strangers to critique partners and are now my dearest writing friends. There’s something to learn from every relationship, and I thought that maybe Nathan and I’s relationship had run its course because I learned what I needed to from him.
Anyways, like I said, he called. He actually has been for quite some time, but I was doing the writer’s equivalent of silencing and screening. Finally, I answered. I pulled his dummy out and read it for the first time in months. I can still recite the words, I still love the premise of his story and reading it completely excited me.  Thankfully, I’ve learned a little since I last worked with him and the only way I’ll agree to give his story another try is if he understands that we can’t be exclusive.  There are plenty of stories waiting to be written, his will need to share some brain space. Also, he hinted around that he misses his rhyme. You may remember that Nathan’s story was born as a rhyming story. I’ve talked much about it here, along with my decision to drop the rhyme and try to get his story told in prose. I did a decent job in prose, and using those writing muscles paved the way for all of my other main characters to see daylight. But if I’m being totally honest, his story is still, just decent.  I do hope to straddle the fence and write stories in both prose and rhyme, so it seems now is a good a time as any to start rhyming again.  That’s not to say I’ll start with Nathan, because a little part of me feels like he’s asking me to un-do all that I’ve done.
So, what’s the first thing you do when an ex calls you out of the blue, you call your best friend and spill your guts; that’s what I’m doing here. I’m telling you that he called, and I’m not quite sure what his intentions are yet, but I agreed to talk to him about it. We’re meeting for coffee next week.
There’s a line from one of my favorite books on writing that I keep going back to, especially on the days that feel tough. In the introduction of STEERING THE CRAFT, Ursula le Guin wrote, “Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write…Craft enables art. There’s luck in art. And there’s the gift. You can’t earn that. But you can lean skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.”
Did you hear that? YOU CAN LEARN TO DESERVE YOUR GIFT. I think I need to blow that up poster size and put it over my desk… or maybe use it as wallpaper. I’m still not sure if Nathan’s story is one that the world will ever read, and that’s okay. But I’m almost certain I’ll agree to pull him out, especially as I’m working to ‘deserve my gift.’ I think he has more to teach me, and if anything will push me out of my comfort zone, again. I just keep reminding myself that when I learn something from one manuscript, all of my stories- past, present and future will benefit. So, I guess, I really have nothing to lose. Right? Thanks for listening. I feel better already.

And as always,
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Hindsight & Forecasting

I’ve been wrestling with and working on this post in my head for weeks now but every line I tried to open with sounded cliché and I keep talking myself out of it. (Hence the reason I didn’t even get it posted in 2017.) Like so many others, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Here are the facts: 2017 was an interesting year for my family, one filled with opportunities, challenges and celebrations. We hit a few mini-milestones (All of our kiddos can put on their own shoes! Everyone can ride a bike! We took our first plane ride as a family!) and added one adorably enthusiastic chocolate lab to the mix. From a writing standpoint, it was a year of great success, a few rejections (5/5) and wonderful connections. Because I believe in the power the importance of celebrating success, big, small or otherwise I challenged myself to list out all of my Kid Lit accomplishments for the past year. I need this on paper, so I can refer back to it anytime I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I need it to serve as a reminder that I’m laying the foundation now, so that hopefully I can have a prolific writing career one day. I need to know exactly where I am now, where I’ve come from and where I hope to go.

So, in 2017, I…

  1. Started a blog, which was something I had been thinking of for months. Since I started on February 9, I’ve posted 61 times and found 73 followers. (I’m grateful for each and every one of you! I never dreamed I’d get more than about 10.)
  2. Participated in 5 contests, (KidLit College Board Book Contest, Sparkhouse Contest, Susanna Leonard Hill’s Hallowensie & Holiday Contests) generating 2 honorable mentions.
  3. Participated in 3 writing challenges, NaPiBoWriWee, WOW-NONFICPIC and #50PreciousWordsforKids (well, technically my daughter gets credit for that one.)
  4. Wrote 6+ manuscripts, brainstormed another 15+ ideas.
  5. Joined and have remained active in 3 critique groups, and have met an incredible group of dear friends along the way (This one holds the most weight, my friends are the greatest… It starts with a few MS swaps and before you know it you’re adding them to the Christmas card list!)
  6. Facilitated an online book study. We started working through Steering the Craft by Ursula le Guin. Sadly, the holidays interrupted our plans, but I hope to resume once we settle in to 2018… and maybe even start a new book!?!
  7. Started Paper People, a monthly debut picture book author interview series plus three lagniappe interviews (one being ANN WHITFORD PAUL!)
  8. Completed my challenge to read 100 Picture books in the course of one summer… (#100PictureBookSummer)
  9. Attended my first writing conference (Bayou Writers Group Fall Conference) P
  10. articipated on a book launch team (Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell by Randi Mrvos)
  11. Joined SCBWI

I’m proud of my list, considering how much I did not now at this time last year. And now its time to look ahead at this new year. When it comes to making resolutions, I’m like a kid in a candy store! In a wonderful podcast a few weeks back, Katie Davis (Writing for Children) gave pointers on how to set attainable goals and set yourself up for success in the 2018. My favorite nugget was something along the lines of “don’t set a goal that you have no control over.” So, in 2018 I plan to…

  1. Complete Storystorm (registered, 1 idea in the books!), ReforReMo, #50PreciousWords, NaPiBoWriWe, & (apply for) Writing with the Stars.
  2. Attend JambaLAya SCBWI Annual Conference (registered! Bonus points if I make it to another!)
  3. Continue Paper People, 12 interviews in 12 months (Stay tuned for Annie Silvestro!)
  4. Enter 6 contests
  5. Continue blogging, at least weekly, on a set schedule. I also hope to sprinkle in a few guest posts from other pre-published writers that I’ve met. (Week 1, check!)
  6. Focus submissions energy towards magazines and publishing houses.
  7. Attend local in-person SCWBI critique groups.

I hope you made your own list. I hope you’ve taken a moment to pat yourself on the back and I hope you have a very Happy New Year.
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP