Making Magic, Picture Book Style

Let’s say you have a bit of extra cash to spend on yourself and your writing aspirations: Where do you go? Which way do you turn?  Who can help? Arghhhh, the struggle! There are so many choices! It’s a great problem to have, really, because so many of the leaders in the kid-litosphere generously give of their time, talents and expertise.  Truly, there is no shortage of options or opportunities. For me, and I’m sure so many others, the trouble lies in deciding which course to invest in.  There’s a unique twist to each one and the author/instructors are incredibly talented, so you really can’t go wrong. The fact of the matter is, you do have to choose, though. So, if you’re sitting at the crossroads of one versus the other, all I can do is wish you luck and tell you about my latest experience with making magic… Making Picture Book Magic, that is.

If you aren’t familiar, Making Picture Book Magic is a month-long course offered by Susanna Hill, with small class sizes, daily assignments and feedback from Susanna, herself.  I’m always wary of buyer’s remorse and know the feeling of investing in a class/webinar that turns out to be disappointing so I eyed it for months and was exhaustive in my research.  I asked everyone I knew about their experience. Many had taken it ‘back when they were starting out’ and a few warned me that I probably knew everything she would review.  Some said I might find it too basic, others never made it thought all the lessons.  One of my nearest and dearest friends, however declared it “one of the best things” she’d ever done for herself.  She had yet to steer me wrong before, (I’m looking at you Judy Cooper) so, I bit the bullet and enrolled.  The tuition for the course was a belated birthday gift from two of my biggest fans (aka mom & dad).  As luck would have it, I was blessed with an incredible group to journey though the month of January with and it only got better from there.

Yes, some of the lessons brought me back to the basics, but I knew that’s exactly what I needed. (The day that I decide that I’ve learned enough about writing picture books should be my last day writing… am I right?) Going back to the basics, now that I have a foundation helped IMMENSLY.  You might call it cheating, but I used an existing manuscript through the course and basically stripped it down to the studs.  It was the most exhaustive revision I’ve ever done. I rethought and reworked every aspect of the story, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this project and got helpful feedback along the way, both from my groupmates and our fearless leader! (I want to pause and talk for a minute about the other writers in my group… they ROCKED! We all engaged with each other via the private Facebook group and I know that’s what pushed our course over the edge from good to GREAT! If you ever do decide to participate, do yourself a favor and go all in… participate, share, offer feedback, engage. You’ll get out everything you put in and then some!)

I’ve suggested this course every chance I get because I know it was a game-changer for me.  It changed the way I revise, it changed the way I approach my stories, and hopefully, it’ll change the trajectory of my pre-published journey. If you’re looking for a way to sharpen your skills, someone to hold you accountable or a handful of new revision techniques, look no farther and let Susanna Hill show you all about Making Picture Book Magic! (<- that’s the link right there, don’t miss it… click on it)

Oh! Before you go, I want to introduce you to my classmates! There were a couple poets (Rebecca & Liz) and an illustrator (Hannah) in the mix.  Liz has a collection of soccer poems called Soccerverse, set to release on June 4th! The other three writers will undoubtedly be names on your bookshelf one day, each with their own style but obviously and equally talented. Find them & follow them so you’ll be one the first to know when their clever and charming stories make it into the world.

          Rebecca Gardyn Levington on Twitter: @WriterRebeccaGL 

          Stephanie Williams aka @StephanieBoyer (also Twitter)

          Liz Steinglass, Twitter: @ESteinglass IG: @elizabethsteinglass & Facebook @ElizabethSteinglass

          Hannah Spiegleman, IG @HannahSpiegleman

 

As always,

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!

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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

 

 

Thank you note.

Dear Hivemind,

I stepped away from my microwaving bowl of oatmeal to say a quick “Thank You.”  I hope you know who you are, but if not, I’m talking to the 900+ 12×12 members who make up one of the most welcoming, active and engaged group of picture book writers on the planet.  All it takes is one glance at our Facebook page to see the constant stream of support that you’ve shown not only me, but anyone who stops by to ask a question.  Thanks to the community that’s been created, we have a safe place to share everything from important, thought provoking conversations to our own individual victories, be they big or small.  I hope that right now each one of you has found your reason for dancing (it IS the dance party after all!) My reason this week is the list of 88 words that you all helped to compile.  I’m dancing because you took the time to help me bust through my own ‘brain block’ by sharing your own creative energy.  I’m dancing because of the exciting new direction my WIP is taking, boosted by so many of my friends here, not to mention our fearless leader.  Taking it back a week, I was feeling insecure about my blog and took a moment to share my suspicious. Within a matter of minutes, a few of you with a better understanding of the internet, spammers and all shed some light on my confusion and put my fears to rest (or at least helped me to see that it’s nothing to be afraid of.) I’m dancing because I’m grateful for all you (and the fact that I still have 10 days to get my April draft on paper.) At the risk of sounding redundant, thanks… again.  I hope to return the favor one day soon!

                                                                                                                        Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                           The girl with a burnt bowl of oatmeal.

(Because that’s what happens when you accidently set the microwave to 10 minutes instead of 1 minute and completely lose yourself in a blog post.  Plus, I’m a writer… when the words need to get out, sometimes it happens at all cost. But since I’m writing to writers, I feel safe that I’m not being judged here.  Truth be told, I’ve done a lot worse than burn breakfast while my fingers are flying across the keys of my laptop.)

PS-I don’t want to leave out the other incredibly helpful groups that I’m a part of.  In fact, they’ve each played a big part of helping me along this journey and definitely deserve their own thank you note… ReForReMo’s came back in October, Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? series and the faithful following she’s gathered inspired a post in November and I summed up my wonderful Storystorm experience here in early February. 

 Up next for me?  I’m excited to share another Be My Guest! post from my dear friend Mona Pease next week.  I’m also gearing up for NaPiBoWriWee in early May. I had a great time with it last year, in fact 4/7 stories that came as a result of that week are projects that I’m still working on. That’s better than 50%! I’d call it an inspired week for sure.  I’m still working on Paper People (see my most recent interview here.)  I fell behind and now I’m out of sync with my library, but I hope to get back on track by late May or June.  There were so many fantastic debut picture book authors to celebrate from 2017, I definitely have no shortage of options.  What a great problem to have!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Tie your rafts.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I’d be lost without my critique group” or “my critique partners got me to where I am today”.  What’s a critique partner you ask?  It’s how we say ‘friend’ in kid lit-anese.  Trust me when I say, a writer in this world is nothing without them.  Tying your raft to a good and trusted partner, or an active and engaged group is the difference between floating alone in the Kid Lit ocean or floating with others, who bring drinks, chips, and dip and maybe even a karaoke machine.  You’re all still floating, but tied together will be much more fun!  It’s the strangest thing, sitting patiently while a good friend takes a red ball point pen to your latest creation, and magically, in the end, everyone wins.

Let me back up a little bit.  Only a couple of months back, I felt like the most eager, but isolated writer on the planet.  I shared here, many times, about my struggle to find my place in the community.  Then as the weeks passed, connections were made.   Some happened thanks to blogs, this one or others.  Different forms of social media have played a role, and as always seems to happen, the world grew smaller and connections bloomed from right under my own nose.  If you’re reading this and feeling like you’re bobbing alone, missing out on the party, I’d love to share some of the places I’ve met friends.

  • Facebook, seems obvious but there are so many groups it can be daunting. Some are active, others are not.  Some allow for good news to be shared, others only allow for questions to be asked and craft to be discussed.  I’ve found a critique group through Facebook, and there’s also a steady stream of blog posts and interviews that appear, always filled with new and exciting authors, or advice from the more seasoned ones.  This is really the best place to build a community.
  • Instagram is filled with book reviews and ‘beyond the book’ activities. It seems like each day there are one hundred book reviews, new and old.  Publishing houses post here too.
  • Twitter… sigh, I have an account now, but I still don’t really get it. I have heard that this is THE place to get info from agents and editors, and all around general kid lit news.   Using things like #MSWL (manuscript wish list) you can find out firsthand what they are all searching for and get a feel for whether you would be a good fit.
  • The Writers Match. This is a fantastic website that offers all the benefits of social media without the drama/excess.  The Writers Match is a place to help writers find critique partners, which hopefully turn into long and fruitful friendships.  You’re able to create a small bio, select what genre you’re interested in critiquing (anything you want is there, way more than just kid lit) and send private messages back and forth. I’ve had a wonderful experience since joining. thewritersmatch.com
  • Blogs! This is what’s always exciting for me because it’s the reason Magnolias was created.  I was in search of a community and convinced that others were out there too.  I’m fortunate enough to have crossed paths and connected with a few of them, and I’d like to introduce you to their sites as a way of saying thank you.  We have a lot of similarities between us, but we are all in different stages of this journey.

https://meganhaslemjones.wordpress.com/ Megan and I are kindred spirits, who met through NaPiBoWriWee.  We live on opposite ends of the country, but I’m convinced we were next door neighbors in a previous life, living in a cute little cul de sac with a certain other someone (*cough*Jody *cough*) living in between and balancing us out.

https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com/ I am lucky enough to be in the same critique group as Julie.  We quickly discovered that our writing styles are similar and personally we have a lot in common.  She even has a Cajun connection!  Our journeys started around the same time and continue to mirror each others I hope this doesn’t change.

http://www.patriciasaunders.com/ About ten years ago, I spent part of two summers living with my aunt and helping at a camp for gifted kids that Patricia was teaching at.  Fast forward to current day, and unbeknownst to be, she’s chasing a similar dream.  That same aunt helped me reconnect with her and she’s taken me under her wing and nudged me in the right direction on more than one occasion.  Her debut picture book, and a second, will hit bookstore shelves soon!

And finally, http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/  Randi was probably one of the first connections I made and has been a gracious mentor and friend.  Her debut picture book is due out this summer!! You can learn more about Maggie, and her journey to publication at the link posted.  Randi has a couple of other websites, including an e-magazine that she publishes. They’ve all been filled with great information. I’m honored to be a part of her book launch team next month! Stay tuned for more!

This is surely not a list of everyone’s path I’ve been fortunate enough to cross, but they are all wonderful writers who I’m lucky to call friends.  If you have a moment, check out their websites and read their take on this wonderful journey.  As always, I appreciate you spending time here.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

#SocialMediaStruggles

I was a part of the original Facebook generation.  I remember waiting, anxiously, for Facebook to find its way to our campus.  It did so right at the end of a semester, in the perilous time where finals were approaching and grades really mattered. I allowed myself to join as a reward for surviving another semester of nursing school and was instantly hooked.  I wish I could say that I kept up with the crowd, that it was easy for me to stay excited about and that it’s been a beautiful love affair ever since.  Sadly, it has not been.  Navigating Facebook was never an issue, but as it ventured away from a college networking site, and into the worldwide monster it is now, I lost enthusiasm.  My relationship now is friendly, but for the ten plus years in between, it’s been downright contentious.  It came to the point where my real-life friends, and even my husband at times, stopped asking, or caring really, when I mysteriously disappeared from Facebook, knowing I would always come back.  I appreciate it now, more so than I have in a while, and I’ve even branched out a bit. #backonagain

One of my writing friends, shout out to The Monster’s Club, told me that I needed an Instagram.  She added that it is one of the best places to keep up with the Kid Lit world, up and coming authors and new release books.  I’d be silly to pass that up, right?  Except I’m 30 years old and 7 years late.  Long story short, my social media-savvy sister agreed to spoon feed me everything I needed to know to get started.  So, I did and then panicked a bit.  Surely the Instagram world will sense that I’m illiterate?  I thought for 48 hours about my first post, and bam, I used my first hashtag.  I’m a few weeks and a handful of timid posts into it now… I have exactly 12 followers. EEK. #bitthebullet

The blog, not one but two Facebook accounts and now Instagram.  WHO AM I?  Do you want to know my secret? I am enjoying it.  They’re all pushing me in different ways, outside of my quiet, little comfort zone.  After all, I’m going to need people to buy my books one day, I’d better get a head start on finding them.  More importantly, I’m making connections and building a network.  I’ve been talking about this very thing since Magnolias was born, and each ‘follower’ is proof that it’s working.  #socialmediawin

I do struggle with boundaries though.  I’ve found that the days when I check Facebook early, I end up checking it often, often mindlessly, hoping for ‘notifications’, I don’t know why I have a hard time realizing that checking seldom and seeing 10 notifications is much more exciting, then slowly collecting one at a time.  In the same way, I’m excited with each new ‘like’ or ‘follow’, on Instagram or WordPress, but like many people, I’m sure, I tend to get carried away once I start looking.  And now I have a hard time keeping up.  My finger accidently brushed up against my screen while I was trying to figure out this whole hashtag thing, and I found a message from my sister.  What? How the heck did that get there? (B, I’m going need you to call me and talk me through this one.) Bear with me y’all, I’ll figure it out soon enough.  Surely I’m not the only one, right? #thankgodforlittlesisters

#toomanyhashtags?

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP