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

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It’s Contest Time!

Like I said, it’s contest season!  Below you will find my contest entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 7th Annual Holiday Contest. Much like Halloweensie, the rules were clear and simple, but that’s where the similarities ended. For the Holiday Contest the rules were:
1. Each entry must be about a holiday surprise
2. 250-word limit
What did I tell you? Simple, right? Deceptively simple actually. The judging will be on: Kid-Appeal, Holiday Surprise, Quality of Story, Quality of Writing, Originality and Creativity. I had even more fun with this contest than Halloweensie. It definitely took work, a few rounds or revisions and a lot more feedback from a couple dear friends. The story was inspired by the ornament that you see as my featured image, except I quickly realized that in this story, she was a she, and not a he.  Her name is Ginger, and she led the story, as characters do when you give them the proper time and space.  So now, without further ado, I give you, in 249 words…

GINGER’S GIFT.
Ginger was Melody’s favorite ornament and always snagged the best spot on the tree. This year, even with all the holiday decorations, she could see that Melody’s eyes didn’t have their usual sparkle. Ginger knew this first Christmas in the new house would be tough for Melody. She wanted to help.

One day, she watched Melody gloomily flip through the pages of the toy catalog. She stopped only once, to stare at a picture of a guitar. Right then, Ginger knew what to do. She shared her idea with the other ornaments and the entire tree rustled in agreement.

That night, when Ginger gave the signal, the Nutcrackers near the fireplace tip-toed over to the catalog and dragged it to a spot under the tree. Ginger took a deep breath and pulled her hook straight. She tumbled from one branch to the next and landed under the tree with a soft THUD. Ginger quickly and quietly found the page with the guitar and laid down next to it.

The next morning, Melody’s mom saw Ginger on the ground. As she picked Ginger up, the catalog caught her eye and the corners of her mouth twitched into a knowing smile.

On Christmas Day, Ginger watched from her branch as Melody ripped the wrapping off the final present. Instantly, Melody was jumping around the living room screaming, “A guitar! It’s perfect! How did you know?” Melody’s mom gave a smile in Ginger’s direction, and said, “I had a little help.”

There it is! Best of luck to everyone who’s participating; I’ve read some of the entries already and they are fantastic.  (Susanna and her team of judges have their work cut out for them!) Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s Paper People Interview and Giveaway with Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? The Rafflecopter link for the giveaway is tucked in the interview, and will run until Friday, Dec 15.

That’s all folks!
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Tis the season…

For contests! Sure, you thought I was talking about the Holiday Season, and that’s nice too, but I’m talking about the wonderful variety of Kid Lit contests that are floating around in the world today! That’s one of the reasons I’m so off schedule here, (no post since 11/19!!) I’ve been polishing up my entries and trying to give all my story kids the best chance to bring home a prize. Here’s the list so far…
1. Halloweensie- That was great fun, especially the part where I received an honorable mention. It’s over, obviously, but it’s really where the snowball started…
2. Sparkhouse Contest– well this one is technically over, the deadline was in November and the winner will be announced soon (Dec 15)! I hit ‘submit’ on this contest entry the same day I found out about my Halloweensie good fortune. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a little luck on my side. I don’t have a link to share because like I said- it’s over… fingers crossed.
3. Kid Lit College 2017 Contest– there’s a small fee for this one, but it also offers some really exciting perks. You have the option to submit and continue revising your manuscript even after doing so, right up until the deadline. Also, its open to many different genres, not only picture books and the site says every entry will receive feedback! So, you’re paying a little but getting a lot. See the link for more info https://kidlitcollege.org/
4. Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Contest– well of course! With a 250-word limit, the story must be about a holiday and contain an element of ‘surprise’. Easy enough right? Wrong! My entry will be posted here, sometime this weekend. It’s not quite ready yet, but I’m really excited about my chances. Stories will be judged on the quality of story/writing, kid-appeal, originality and creativity. Have I piqued your interest? Check it out here… https://susannahill.com/2017/11/24/a-special-saturday-surprise-for-you/
5. Writing with The Stars (aka WWTS)- If you’re a frequent follower here, you may remember a comment on my Steering the Craft post from Tara Lubbe that talks about her brainchild, WWTS. My explanation probably won’t do it any justice, but I’ll try… aspiring (unpublished/unagented) writers get three chances to apply to one of a group of Picture Book Mentors who have committed their time and energy into helping the selected mentee learn the ropes of the publishing industry- for three months. The list of mentors for 2018 was just released and it’s STACKED! I’m working on my applications now! The window to apply is not until mid-January, but I know enough to know that I’d better do my homework, polish up my answers and patiently give my self the best chance for success. Here’s the link to the page and mentor list… (I can’t pick a favorite out of this list, but I sure am excited by the possibility of an opportunity like this!) http://beckytarabooks.com/wwts-contest/
6. StoryStorm– technically I think this falls into the category of a challenge instead of a contest, but prizes are given away and creative energy runs amok! The premise is that you come up with “30 story ideas in 30 days” and there are guest blog posts galore from all over the Kid Lit community. If you’ll remember, Mr. Particular, the debut picture book from my September Paper People interview was a Storystorm success! That takes place the entire month of January and I can’t wait! https://taralazar.com/storystorm/
I feel like I’m forgetting something… but surely that’s enough to keep anyone entertained! And guess what else? Friday is Paper People day! This month I had the chance to talk to Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and it was a blast. Want to know the icing on the cake? She offered a giveaway! Yep, you’ll be able to check one of your Christmas gifts off your list with a copy of this quirky, punctuated (literally) tale. To recap, Friday is Paper People and you have to come back to give yourself a chance to win. Saturday or Sunday I will post my Holiday Contest entry and there might be a few other good things that I have up my sleeve, so don’t wander off.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

A WYRI Tale.

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a spot on Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? Series.  For those of you who are writers, you know how important your pitch is. If you aren’t a writer, rather a reader, let me explain.  Remember the post about my first conference experience, and my less than stellar pitching experience? Well, we all need pitches for our prospective books. There are different forms, Twitter pitches written with hashtags and character counts, ‘elevator pitches’ for if you find yourself lucky enough to get 15 seconds of someone’s attention, and so on. The lengths may vary but the concept is still the same; in as few words as possible, you have to sell your book.  Susanna’s series is designed for writers to help other writers, in this case, its all PB (picture book) and MG (middle grade) stories that are pitched.  I followed her guidelines, submitted a pitch and a short bio, then patiently waited my turn. (It’s a weekly series, held on Wednesdays only). Once posted, other writers, by way of the blog’s comments, offer suggestions, feedback and pose questions to help sharpen the pitch and get it ‘ready’.  I had a wonderful experience! I struggle greatly with pitches, (as you might have heard) and I appreciate every bit of help that was sent my way. I’d like to share a little of the process with you here… (click here if you’re interested in reading the entire Would You Read It? post on Nov 8. If you do, please check out the blogs/websites of the writers who commented. There are so fantastically talented names on that list. I’m sure some you’ll be familiar with and some will be exciting discoveries of soon-to-be up & comers)

So here’s my starting pitch:

Dewey heard the rumblings, this rainfall would be a big one. As he peeked over the edge of the cloud to check the drop zone, he saw the thing he dreaded most of all. All he wanted was to make someone smile, but would he ever get the chance?

And here’s a few snippets of the feedback I received:

  • “The opening sentence is all right but if you could cut part of it out and combine part of the second sentence, it would be stronger. This brings me to the other part…who does Dewey want to make smile and what does he dread? I feel these should be included or at least one of these questions answered in the pitch to pull the pitch together.” 
  • “The first sentence contains a comma splice. Better to make it two sentences or rewrite it so that it isn’t two independent clauses. Or just add the verb “knew” – i.e., Dewey heard the rumblings and knew this rainfall would be a big one. Also, I wonder whether children would know what a “drop zone” is? Maybe find a way to shorten and combine or rephrase the last two sentences?”
  • “Currently the pitch reads as one scene from out of a whole story which leaves the reader hanging, but not in a good way. Rewrite giving a summation of the story from start to almost end – don’t give away the ending, but write so we want to know what it is. Also, remember to add a hook – preferably not in question form.”
  • “I have not done many pitches, but I am leery of ending on a question when you have such a dramatic spot in the middle. All the lines work, but I wonder if they should be reordered?”
  • The MCs name, Dewey, makes me feel this is going to be about libraries via the “Dewey” Decimal system, so I was completely throw off.”
  • “…the rumbling cloud and “drop zone” do a great job of creating tension in expectation of the action. Consider mentioning Dewey’s goal before the obstacle and giving brief specifics about both. A better sense of the plot could make reading this story irresistible to me.”

Isn’t that just fantastic feedback! I have everything from the technical ‘comma splice’ aspects, to major questions about the fundamentals of my MC. (Who IS a raindrop… though I’ve changed the spelling of his name to Dewy.  I still can’t believe I didn’t catch that!) That’s not even all of the helpful comments, either.  Here’s a little of what I did:

  1. Changed the spelling of his name
  2. Included that he is, in fact, a raindrop
  3. Rearranged the order of my sentences
  4. Included more information to thicken the plot and ‘show’ more of Dewy’s story.

So here’s how it reads now, still not ‘finished’ but hopefully closer to being so:

Dewey wasn’t sure he liked being a raindrop. Whether he showed up at recess or on a parade, it always seemed to ruin someone’s day. From the rumblings, he knew today’s rainfall would be a big one. As Dewey crept to the edge of the cloud, he peeked out and saw the very thing he dreaded most of all. There was no way he’d see a smile today.  All he could do now was hope not to land on the cake.

I was so overwhelmingly grateful for the nearly 20 different writers and readers of Susanna Hill’s blog who stopped by to offer their assistance.  If you aren’t familiar with her website, her contests and her challenges you should definitely check it out… right now.  You still have plenty of time to get ready for her Holiday Writing Contest, guidelines should be posted soon! (I received an Honorable Mention for my Halloweensie  contest entry!!)  As if this all isn’t helpful enough, each month one pitch is chosen to receive feedback from a real, live editor! The other pitches from November have been really great, so I know the competition is steep, but I already feel like a winner with my new and improved pitch! Alright, I think that’s enough exclamation points for one afternoon.

I hope everyone has a fantastically joyful and stress-free Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Hooray for Halloweensie!

One of the most enjoyable parts of this writing community comes in the form of contests & challenges. This is my first year participating in Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie contest, but surely not my last. I’ve included a snippet from her blog, explaining the rules below. (Oh, I also borrowed the jack-o-lantern from her blog! I wanted to keep with the theme, you know?)

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.)  Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)  Get it?  Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people 🙂  (And yes, I know 100 words is short, but that’s part of the fun and the challenge!  We got nearly 150 fantastic entries last year, so I know you can do it!)  Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. monsters, monstrous, shadowy, shadowed, whathaveyou 🙂  NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! (And yes, you may submit more than one entry if you’re so inclined 🙂 ) https://susannahill.com/2017/10/16/bic-folks-announcing-the-7th-annual-halloweensie-writing-contest-guidelines/  

And without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to…. (drumroll)

Candie’s Monster Shadows

Candie Corn was excited; it was her favorite night of the year!

She loved everything from costumes to yummy treats.

Her problem was the scary shadows.

This year will be different, she thought, putting on her costume. I’ll pretend they’re something else.

Later, when trick-or-treating was over, she headed home.

One shadow looked like a spider. “You’re just a hand,” she said, giving a wave.

The next resembled a bat, “but I’ll make you a butterfly!”

“And you’re not a monster you’re a monkey!” she giggled.

She tricked away every shadow until she was Home Treat Home.

 

I hope you’re all having fabulous fall weather! Best of luck to all the other Halloweensie participants. I can’t wait to read your fabulous posts!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Steering the Craft

It’s been a struggle of mine from the beginning.  I love to learn, I’ll soak up every chance I find to hone my skills and expand my knowledge on writing for children.  I keep hitting the same roadblocks, however, and in my most honest moment yet… the biggest one is cost.  I desperately want to learn from the greats.  I would devour any and every piece of wisdom that these prolifically published authors can share if only I could afford it.  You may or may not understand the struggle, but for me, it’s become quite the ‘hamster wheel’.  How am I ever going to find success as a picture book writer if I don’t learn more from those who’ve done it well?  How am I ever going to be able to afford these courses if I don’t sell (a few) books first? But, I can’t sell books that aren’t sellable, so I need to improve… but in order to improve, I need to find a way to afford the fees… and on, and on, and on.

My first venture into the picture book world came by way of a deeply discounted webinar package that included a copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  Since then I’ve remained on the hunt for the literary version of clearance rack deals: webinars offered at a discount, free courses and social media communities that offer guidance and expertise.  Truth be told, some of what I was hearing started feeling repetitive and I couldn’t help but feel that something big was missing from my toolbox though.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that I can hear the same lessons over and over and over again, taking something different from each… but only if my writing is good enough to handle the challenges.  I think I allowed myself to get so bogged down in writing the perfect picture book, that I jumped ahead of myself.  All my energy focused on the picture book end, and I am still missing key components of basic writing.

So, what do I do when I’m feeling down and discouraged? I take myself to the library!  Down at the very bottom of a shelf, taking up only a small section of space, I found the books on writing.  (Seems ironic to me, that in a building filled with writings, there were so few books on the topic, but I digress.)  I only had about ten options, and the attention span of my three cohorts was waning, so I quickly chose two and we checked out.  Fast forward to the following weekend and I realized that I held a gem in my hands.  One chapter in to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin and I ordered my own copy from Amazon. (On sale, no less!) I also stumbled upon an idea, and after sleeping on it and fleshing it out a bit, I created an online book study via Facebook.  There, a handful of critique partners, kindred spirits, new friends and I will take one chapter at a time, and reset our focus on basic writing skills.  (Are you interested? Email me or find me on Facebook if so… we start Oct 1!)

I think so highly of those who see a void and take actionable steps to fill it.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the book study, even if it’s only my own personal void.  I hope all the group members benefit from the book, I also hope we connect a bit more as a small community who can support each other on this journey. I have no doubt that my time and energy (and money) will be well spent, once I sharpen my skills a bit more. And there are numerous communities and opportunities out there at little/no cost to help writers along the way.  I’ve included a short list here of the ones I’ve found helpful… If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • Kid Lit College offers webinars for a small fee ($20-$40 range) and some have been incredibly helpful… one, in particular, ‘Be A Better Critique Partner’ by Heather Alexander I keep on repeat, for myself and my critiques.
  • On Facebook, a group called ‘Debut Picture Book Study’ takes one debut picture book each month and breaks it down and holds a discussion to help readers learn from it. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I’d like, but the conversations are enlightening and I’ve learned a good bit, even if from the fringes.
  • Susanna Hill’s blog is a treasure chest of all things Kid Lit, she runs many different series… ‘Would You Read it Wednesday’ is a great segment, that allows readers to submit their PB pitch and then allows other readers to comment/critique. Pitches are so important to the PB process and something I struggle with in a big way. I think I’m going to try… (update: I did it! I’m on the books for November 8!)
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with the wisdom these audio gems provide. I really need to start taking notes…
  • SCWBI’s webinar calendar offers a wide variety of topics and all are very well priced. I haven’t dug into these but I’m eager to do so.

I know there are other opportunities, some I’m not even familiar with yet (and some are going to be discussed in another post!) To wrap up, I want to include a quote from the Introduction of my new favorite book…

“A skill is something you know how to do.  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 learn skill, you can earn it.  You can learn to deserve your gift… but first of all-it is an art, a craft, a making.  And that is the joy of it.  To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.  To learn to make something well can take your whole life.  It’s worth it.”            

Ursula K. le Guin Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story 2015 edition, pg.xii

 

Here’s to leaning to deserve my gift, your gift, all our gifts.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

PS- I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up! Stay tuned for the next couple of Tuesdays for an extra Let’s Talk posts (one of which is about a certain ‘PB How-To’ book I mentioned earlier!), and then soon after the October edition of Paper People with Liz Wong!

Twitter & Truths

I had a topic in mind for today’s post… #PitMad is this week and I am completely Twitter illiterate.  So, I was going to delve into the abyss of my Twitter knowledge and talk about the ‘140 character struggles of a wordy girl.’  But sometimes, and this week included, the words just won’t come, despite my intentions and best efforts.  At the eleventh hour, I didn’t even have 100 words.  If you write, then I know you know the struggle.  (The irony of it all isn’t lost on me… the fact that I can’t find enough words to write a post about my struggles with Twitter and its 140-character limit.)

Thankfully for my bloggers-block self, I did find inspiration in a different form this week, so if you’re interested, read on!  As a blogger of the ‘Aspiring Kid Lit Author’ variety, I know I’m not an original idea.  There are countless posts each week, from prolifically published authors, pre-published authors and everyone in between discussing their struggles, strategies, and successes. I love it and I consider myself blessed to be in good company.  Every now and then, a post or an interview comes through that’s refreshing in its honesty and its approach.  This week, the Kid Lit world was blessed by not one but two, and I can’t get enough of them.  If you haven’t checked out KidLit411’s Author Spotlight interview with Katey Howes, or 12×12’s Featured Author post by Anna Forrester, you are sorely missing out.  I’m lucky enough to have ‘met’ (in the polite, electronic form) both women.  They’ve been kind, encouraging, friendly and informative.  But in this interview and this post, they are both vulnerable, authentic, and real.  It’s always great to read about a books release and an author’s success, but maybe it’s even more helpful to know that even for the ones who seem to have it figured out are still sloshing about in slush piles, or adjusting their expectations.  I’ve been lapping up the wisdom that both authors have imparted on the rest of us and you should too!

And just to clarify… I do get the premise, I need a good, punchy pitch for my picture book manuscripts. I need to get my point across in a few words, saving enough for the necessary hashtags, and then hope to attract the interest of an agent.  I’m close, very close to sending out a round of queries.  I’m waiting on a couple of contests to announce their winners, and then I’m moving forward.  So #PitMad falls at a great time for me.  Maybe one of the agents from my shortlist will take notice, or maybe I’ll be introduced to someone I hadn’t had the chance to consider. Either way, that’s my mission for this week… I have three MS that are ‘ready’ and I get to tweet a pitch for each, three times. That’s nine tweets, with 18 hashtags and a total of 1,260 characters… whew, I just reread the instructions, just three tweetes total, can be for the same or different manuscripts.  Still, what am I hanging around here for? I have to get to work! See you later alligators!

Before I go, next week is the second installment of Paper People and I. Am. So. Excited. (Does it bother you when people add periods for emphasis?) But seriously, I had the chance to talk with Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of Mr. Particular and the whole experience was a blast.  Please come back and check it out, I guarantee you’ll learn something and laugh a bit along the way.

 

Okay, that’s it. I’m really finished now.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week Nine!

We’ve started cashing in! Well it turns out we should have been doing that all summer long, but we started cashing in on Summer Reading prizes nonetheless. The theme is Building Better Readers, so my kids have made lego characters and filled tool boxes that are displayed on the wall.  We even had a silly and sweet pizza lunch yesterday thanks to the ‘Free Kids Buffet’ coupons they earned.  (Don’t worry, we started at the salad bar… which is good because we ended with chocolate pizza!)  My kids are proud of their accomplishments, and I’m just proud that I could see this challenge through.  Ten more books and we’ll hit our 100-book mark, and just in time because school starts next week.  We’ve strayed from the list a bit more, with OC asking for chapter books and my boys asking to ‘pick their own’.  I guess taking a stack from the hold shelf doesn’t hold the same appeal.  So, most of the list below are from Book Nerd Mommy’s 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading list, but the next ten are all ‘kids pick’.  Also, I have a fun celebration planned for next Wednesday, which happens to also be my birthday AND the last official day of summer. It’s going to be great.

  1. 1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman & Colin Jack
  2. Flora the Flamingo by Molly Idle
  3. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell & David Catrow
  4. Ninja by Aree Chung
  5. I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black & Debbie Ridpath Ohi
  6. More Pies by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko
  7. Where Are The Words? By Jodi McKay & Denise Holmes
  8. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson
  9. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  10. The Best Pirate by Sue Mongredien & Dan Taylor

Here’s the full list: http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

As I wind down my Wednesday posts with the challenge next week, I have one more ‘guest reviewer’ to introduce to you.  YC, as he’s known here, is a man of many aliases and can often be found wearing dingy white tube socks and someone else’s shoes.  He’s the entertainer of the bunch. Sitting on the brink of the magical age of four, he’s part toddler, part ‘big boy’ and all heart. YC provides countless laughs every day.  He quotes movies… appropriately in conversation, he’s the first to give hugs, smothers me with adorable kisses and is the proud owner of countless imaginary friends. (Toby is a dragon, Zack is a bear, and there’s a whole herd of ‘his kids’ that tag along too).

If I really get down to the bottom of who he is, inside that precious little body is a boy appropriately and adorably sure of himself, as only a ‘threenager’ can be.  He’s the one who likes to swing higher and driver faster, he possesses an on-point comedic timing and he doesn’t hesitate to stand up for himself (even to kids more than twice his age/size).  Something about his personality exudes a confidence and a calmness that is contagious.  When I find myself in the midst of a motherly-spiral, he gives me a hug, and I immediately start to calm down.  (If you read between the lines here, I just pointed out that like any good third born, he knows exactly how to work the system and when he needs to turn up the charm to stay on my good side. Did I mention that he’s funny?)  I asked YC what it was he likes most about reading.  He ‘loves when someone says the words to (him).’   I’m guessing that means while he’s sitting on their lap because he still fits perfectly there.  As the last line of the last book says, YC is “…the smallest, the bravest, (one of) the best.”

So that wraps up their time in the Magnolias spotlight and nearly wraps up our summer.  I hope you join me next week for numbers 91-100, and to hear how the four of us celebrate our success.  I also hope you’ll join me here Sunday, for the first of my Paper People interviews!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, Maggie!

Today, I’m thrilled to share with my interview with Randi Lynn Mrvos whose debut picture book release is right around the corner. I hope you enjoy getting to know Randi & Maggie’s story as much as I have the past few months!

Randi, thanks so much for joining me here today.  This must be such an exciting time; your debut picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell is only days away from its release.  Congratulations my friend!

I’ll start from the beginning, about six months ago, I found my way to your blog The Maggie Project.  I was just starting my own and was immediately drawn to you because of your medical background. (I found a kindred spirit!) Can you tell us all a little about yourself and how you changed course and started writing for children?  I loved creative writing in high school, but my parents wanted me to get a degree in the medical field.  After I graduated college, I got a job as a Medical Technologist at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and worked in the clinical laboratory for over twenty years.  I didn’t think about writing until our daughter was born.  Every night before bedtime, my husband and I read picture books to her.  These books awoke a long-buried desire to be creative and to write again.

Was Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell the first picture book manuscript you wrote?  Actually, I had written five picture book manuscripts before Maggie.  And, there have been several more manuscripts written after Maggie.  Many of my stories won prizes, and I thought that would make a good selling point.  But it takes more than winning contests to get published.  Publishers want to fall head-over-heels in love with the character, the voice, and the plot of a story.

When you were starting out, what resources did you use to learn about the writing process and improve your craft? What are the best tools you have in your tool box now?  When I got serious about writing, I took a class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in my hometown Lexington, Kentucky.  For one of our projects, we had to write a children’s book.  My first book was called “Are We There Yet?”  I actually believed that after one writing class that my first story would get published.  So naïve.  But those rejections were a wake-up call.  I needed to learn more about writing picture books and the publishing industry.  So, I became a member of SCBWI, read writer’s magazines, attended writer’s conferences and workshops and studied picture books as well as books on the craft of writing for children.

Two of my favorite writing books are Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.

Oh, I love Ann Whitford Paul’s book! One of my critique partners refers to it as the ‘Picture Book Bible’. I need to get my hands on the Children’s Writer’s Word Book now. 

Since the day our paths crossed you’ve been an incredible mentor to me. Were there specific people who helped you at the beginning of your journey?  Who do you look up to now, as a kid lit writer?  I know from firsthand experience how hurtful it can be when published writers refuse to lend a helping hand.  I am flattered that writers seek me out, so I’m eager to reach out and encourage others.

My husband Jim is the biggest influence in my life.  In fact, he is my editor.  Jim often tells me I am off to a good start (which is a nice way to say the story needs more work).

There are four people to whom I look up to and admire.  My creative director and editor Melissa Carrigee has guided me throughout the publishing process.  Editor Chuck Sambuchino advocated the importance of getting an agent.  Award-winning author Evelyn Christensen has been a generous, graceful and kind-hearted friend and Mary Kole gave me spot-on editorial advice.

Now, let’s focus on Maggie!! When I started following you, you had just reopened the site.  After deciding to shelve The Maggie Project, you took a five-year hiatus.  It appears Maggie took the scenic route to publication.  Can you tell us a little about your journey with this book?  What was it that made you pull her off the shelf and try again?  I shelved Maggie because it was rejected by 50 publishers.  I began other writing projects and focused on a story about Parisian carousel pony called Rosie.  But it was déjà vu all over again.  Rosie was repeatedly rejected.  I was frustrated and wanted to understand how to get out of this rut, so I hired editorial consultant Mary Kole.  She offered to take a look at Rosie and three query letters.  I pulled out the query for Maggie.  That prompted me to re-read the story.  I was surprised to find that I still liked it.  But the publishing industry had changed since Maggie was written.  Long picture books were a thing of the past, and because Maggie was close to 1000 words long, 500 words needed to be cut if I ever entertained the thought of submitting the story again.  I decided it would be a good writing exercise to see if I could edit the piece.  Afterward, I liked the story even better.  I sent Mary the query letter for Maggie, two additional queries, and the story about Rosie.  Mary’s remarks encouraged me to submit Maggie again (and now, Rosie sits on a shelf!)

Can you tell us about the day you got ‘The Call?’  Those are my favorite kind of stories! The “call” was actually an email.  Last November, my husband and I decided to celebrate our birthdays in New Orleans.   Two weeks before leaving, Maggie was submitted to five publishers.  Before we left I received a rejection, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin our celebration.  While in NOLA, I was dying to get my fortune read by a psychic in Jackson Square.  She invited me to sit at her table.  She asked me to choose a crystal gem and three cards and then make three wishes (One of the wishes was to get a book published.)  After studying the gem and the cards, she told me to expect good things.  The very next evening before dinner, I checked my messages.  There was a curious email.  Surprisingly, it was from an agent.  She had written:  I like your book!  Sometimes, wishes really do come true.

Ohhh, that’s a fabulous New Orleans story and a wonderful birthday surprise! I bet the Crescent City has a special place for you now.  If you ever visit again you must let me know!

We’ve talked some about your experience working with an illustrator.  You were able to help with the final selection, which I think is incredible! What was it like seeing Maggie and the other characters come to life?  Working with a small press like Cactus Moon Publications has many benefits.  One of the benefits was having the incredible opportunity to “audition” illustrators.  I chose the amazingly talented Emiliano Billai.  When I first saw Maggie, my heart melted.  It was like seeing a newborn child for the first time.  It was incredible!  Emiliano was able to interpret the text and capture Maggie’s personality.

Randi is also the editor or an online magazine for kids called Kids Imagination Train.  I’m curious, do you think your experience as editor of the e-zine helped you along your publishing journey?  Can you elaborate a little about KIT and your work there? Being an editor has helped me grow as a writer because I read a lot of submissions and have learned to recognize the strengths and weakness in manuscripts.

Kid’s Imagination Train was conceived to encourage kids to read and learn as well as to offer writers a market for their work.  We have book reviews, fiction, poetry, puzzles, and nonfiction for kids ages 5 – 12.  KIT is unique in that it engages children by providing them the opportunity to draw for the magazine and to have their pictures published online.  We even have an audio page where children may listen to their favorite features!  How cool is that?  Our little magazine is remarkable.  Everyone on the staff donates their time and talents so we can keep the magazine free for kids.

The cover of the latest issue makes me want to jump headfirst into a swimming pool! My daughter is hard at work on the Body Parts crossword puzzle too.

What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during the publishing process? When writers work with a small press, they must do a lot of promotion.  I knew this was required, but I was surprised how much time and hard work was involved.  In the beginning, I was clueless and scared—I had never marketed a book before.  But with the guidance of the creative director and by researching how others promote their books, I began to understand what was needed to develop an exciting and unique marketing plan.

I’ve had a blast as a member of your book launch team for the past few weeks!  What are your plans moving forward?  After the book is released in August, it will be time to contact the local news media, schedule book signings and reading engagements, apply to book festivals, and coordinate with animal advocacy groups.  Meeting and greeting fans is what I look forward to the most.

And I thought it best to end with a fun one, there’s a dog in your story… so if you could be any dog (or breed of dog) for a day, which one and why? You know, I’m actually a cat person…but if I could be a dog it would be a basenji.  Never heard of the basenji?  It’s a barkless dog (though it growls, whimpers and whines).  The basenji is intelligent and stubborn.

So when is Maggie’s official book birthday (release date)?  And where can readers find you on social media?  There is no official date yet, but we’re expecting the book to be released in August.

You can learn more about Randi and Maggie at  http://www.randilynnmrvos.com and http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com

Thanks again for joining us today!!  On Tuesday, August 1, I’ll have a guest blog on Randi’s OTHER website, Children’s Writers World where I’ll talk a little about my own manuscript, and the best writing advice I’ve ever received. (Guess who it came from?)

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Weeks Seven & Eight

Maybe I can blame it on the heat.  Surely the humidity is high enough around here to stifle whatever creativity is left out.  Could it be that my creative energy is spent on my kiddos, having them home? There’s also a good chance I let myself slip out of my routine. Whatever the case may be, I hit a writing wall in the past couple of weeks and I’m doing my darndest to plow through it… But. It’s. Just. So. HOT.

I am happy to report that we haven’t lost any #100PictureBookSummer steam, even though I did skip last week.  I had a good reason, I promise. I’m going to catch up here, listing weeks seven and eight and reveling in the fact that we are only 20 books away from reaching our summer reading goal!  I’ve included the link to Book Nerd Mommy’s full list below.  I always make a few adjustments but it’s been a wonderful guide for me these past few weeks.  Here’s number 61-80…

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

  1. Billy and Goat at the State Fair by Dan Yaccarino
  2. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  3. Have you Seen Elephant? by David Barros
  4. Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
  5. The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
  6. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
  7. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder & Julie Morstad
  8. The Summer Nick Taught his Cats to Read by Curtis Manley & Kate Berube
  9. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnette & John Klassen
  10. Hannah Hashimoto Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegake & Qin Leng
  11. If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff & Felicia Bond
  12. On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
  13. The Branch by Pierre Pratt & Mireille Messier
  14. Quackers by Liz Fleming
  15. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn & Ruth E Harper
  16. I’m Bored by Christine Schneider & Herve Pinel
  17. The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
  18. The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud
  19. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as retold by Mo Willems
  20. In My Heart: a Book of Feelings by Jo Witek & Christine Roussey

Two posts back, I talked a lot about OC.  This week, I’d like to introduce you a little more to MC.  At five years old, he’s proud to have the lightest hair in the family (still brown), wears his heart on his sleeves (both) and does everything in his little life with so much passion.  Don’t mistake the passion for speed though, he’s only in a hurry when he wants to be.  MC’s life is one leisurely stroll through the park, with periodic bursts of energy interspersed with ninja moves and three-hour meals that would make a Parisian antsy. He is my self-proclaimed bodyguard, a fantastic story teller and the most enthusiastic audience you’ll ever meet. I spent most of my life hoping and wishing for a son, he is one helluva an answer to a deeply rooted prayer.

If my journey as a writer has an impact on any of my kids, its MC that I think it will affect the most.  Yes, OC loves to read and has a voracious literary appetite, but unfortunately for her, she reads like her mother… quickly and sometimes the details get lost.  MC has a keen ability to hone in on a story, and soak it in with an attentiveness and understanding that doesn’t come naturally to most kids his age.  He’s also at that magical place of learning to read.  He loves sounding words out and talking about letters.  He’s on the cusp of establishing his own relationship with the written word, and it’s a beautiful thing for a mother to watch.  The icing on the cake is when he uses sentences like “One day, I’ll write a book about…”, or “This will make a great book one day…” or “One day, when I’m a writer…” and my heart skips a beat.

Depending on his mood, he could say that almost all the books listed above are his favorite. I know he means it, too.  He loves the experience of being read to, he loves the words on the page and I think most of all he loves getting lost in a story.  Stay tuned, as our summer reading wraps up I’ll introduce you to YC…he’s the funny one!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP