Paper People: Marcie Colleen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Weeks 8 & 9 but not quite 10.

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

1.       The Story of Ferdinand by Murno Leaf

2.       Meet Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle

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

4.       Hiccupotamus by Steve Smallman, art by Ada Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13.   A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

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

15.   Don’t Touch this Book by Bill Cotter

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

17.   Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

18.   Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

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

20.   Lost for Words by Natalie Russell

21.   Shoo, Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Joy Keller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy Keller

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 5, 6 & 7!

This one could also be called ‘Important Books’ or ‘What happens when you bite off more blogging than you can chew!’… three weeks in one post, here goes!

1. How to Track a Truck by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco (YC picked this one!)
2. I Won’t Eat That by Christopher Silas Neal
3. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (Wow. This one left me speechless.)
4. Elephant & Piggie, There is a Bird on Your Head! By Mo Willems (MC cannot get enough of these two.)
5. 101 Reasons Why I’m NOT Taking a Bath by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Joy Ang (#boymom)
6. The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller
7. May I Have a Word? By Caron Lewis, illustrated by Andy Rash
8. Moo! By David LaRouchelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutkla
9. Wolfie the Bunnie by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zacharia OHora
10. Elephant & Piggie Listen to My Trumpet! By Mo Willems (Seriously!)
11. Elephant & Piggie, Biggie! By Mo Willems (He’s inhaling these books like oxygen.)
12. After the Fall by Dan Santat (So incredibly necessary.)
13. It’s Raining by Gail Gibbons
14. Otis by Loren Long
15. The Umbrella by Jan Brett (Great recommendation! Thanks, Dawn)
16. Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
17. It’s Snowing by Gail Gibbons
18. The Story of Snow, The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.
19. I Hatched! By Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Jen Corace (This may be one of my new favorites!)
20. Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
21. Knuffle Bunny Too, a case of mistaken identity by Mo Willems
22. Grandmother Thorn by Katey Howes, illustrated by Rebecca Hahn (Paper People, coming soon!)
23. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
24. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichteneld
25. What Could Be Better Than This? By Linda Ashman, illustrated by Linda Winderter
26. Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (Apparently we have A LOT of Mo Willems books checked out right now!)
27. Feelings by Aliki
28. The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
29. Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker Reeves (One of my ALL-TIME favorites.)
30. Bayou Song by Margaret Simon, illustrated by Anna Cantrell, photography by Hency Cancienne (This one is the Louisiana selection for the children’s book program at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.! I bought my copy straight from the author at our local SCBWI meet-up last week! Congrats, Margaret!)

My list of ‘important books’ will undoubtedly be different than yours, but the fact of the matter is, they’re important for a reason. In my head, there are two different types: the ones that were/are the standout favorites for each of our three kiddos, read and reread hundreds of times and the ones that we may not read often but are there when we need them for in the big moments of our lives. These past three weeks, we’ve read a lot of really important books.

For starters, we dug the old favorites out and gave them another read, paying attention to why they were favorites. Some were an easy, obvious answer. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a charming read aloud, my boys love trucks and thanks to my husband’s work, we have no choice but to know the proper names for those big pieces of construction equipment. Others have tugged at one of those deep heartstrings and cause me to give the book a hug every time I read it. Nothing Is Better Than This was a gift when OC was born, and she and I have both always loved it for its beautiful love story, but especially the incredibly cool and independent female pirate character.

Aside from our trusty favorites, there are a couple of very important books we’ve borrowed from the library recently, most notably AFTER THE FALL and BOATS FOR PAPA (also IDA, ALWAYS from a couple weeks back.) You better believe that each of these books received a big ole’ book hug when we were finished. Everyone needs these books, regardless of age because the topics are so profound and universal (loss, grief and fear.) If you haven’t read them, I hope you do soon. (Disclaimer: you’ll need a box of tissue handy.) Many of our other books are mentor texts for projects I’m working on and topics I’m researching. Also, a healthy diet of ELEPHANT & PIGGIE is being devoured by MC, our emerging reader. As you can see, I’m not having a hard time keeping up with the reading, only the posting!

Stay tuned next week for another Paper People Interview, this one with Joy Keller of MONSTER TRUCKS! That’s all for now!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Paper People: Jason Gallaher

Without a doubt, my favorite part of blogging is absolutely interviewing! I’m so happy to bring you another (hilarious) Paper People interview with 2017 debut author Jason Gallaher. There’s been a bit of a break in the series, so I’ll give you a quick recap.  Paper is the traditional gift for the first anniversary, its also one of the common fundamental elements of all books, in this case, picture books.  All of the authors interviewed here are celebrating (or have recently celebrated) the first anniversary of their debut picture book, and have learned much in the process.  As a writer, I’ve definitely learned from those prolifically published authors across all genres, but these debut authors are still in the trenches of building their career and have so much wisdom and first hand experience to share. I hope you enjoy my talk with Jason as we talk about his debut picture book, crossing genres, perfect titles and so much more.

Jason, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Do you have any almond milk? I have been completely won over by it. Or a Diet Coke? But definitely not the two of those together.  

Absolutely! I’ll take a diet coke too, the fountain kind with really good ice! So, the first time I was introduced to you was last year during NaPiBoWriWee, before WHOBERT was even released.  It was a great interview (as they all are.) That leads me to my first question, do you participate in any writing contests/challenges? I do participate in writing challenges! I don’t do them habitually, but I do them when I need a little jumpstart. My first challenge was Tara Lazar’s Story Storm back when it was PiBoIdMo. The year was 2014, I completed the 30 ideas in 30 days, and one of those actually sold the next year (it still hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully soon! And yes, the next year was 2015 and we are currently in 2018! Publishing can take a long time!).

I participated in Storystorm for the first time this year and am happy to say I finished with a solid list of 30 ideas!  I did NaPiBoWriWee again too, but only finished with four drafts instead of seven.  Last year, during that interview you talked about how you love titles. I totally get that! What is your creative process when you’re working on a picture book? Do you struggle when your creative process happens out of order? I’m such a sucker for titles, and that’s where my picture book ideas always start. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to me that will fit the title, but I don’t force it. I just let the title sit in my brain, and then it’s when I’m doing something mundane like reciting Anjelica Huston’s filmography that the lightning bolt of an idea strikes and I throw my hands up in the air and scream and the dogs start barking and my husband gets concerned that I’ve hurt myself, but I have no time to worry about any of that because I have to run to my computer to get down the first draft! So, my PB creative process isn’t really a struggle when I write title first, but it’s definitely more dramatic.

The mental images of all that commotion are golden! I’ve giggled every time I’ve read over your answer. Let’s talk about WHOBERT! I am a fan of so many picture books (obviously) but the ones that have all 5 members of the Prevost family clamoring for a turn to read are few and far between.  Let me tell you, that’s WHOBERT in our house! His lack of self-awareness is HILARIOUS, I think because it hits a little close to home for everyone. (Except me, of course.) How long was the path to publication for WHOBERT? From first draft to SOLD. Per usual, WHOBERT came to me first as the title. But I didn’t know exactly who, who Whobert was or what he did. But it was when I was writing a grad paper on Shakespeare in the spring of 2014 that it all clicked. It was near the end of the semester and I was getting so much Shakespeare-fatigue that I started reading his plays out loud in a really dramatic voice. Then I got that lightning bolt moment. I knew this was Whobert’s voice, and I knew that I had to poke fun at myself taking myself so dang seriously in grad school. I was really inspired by the “who, who” call of owls, I figured “who” was a great start to any question for a detective, and SHAZAM! WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE was born. I wrote a couple drafts and had them critiqued by two amazing authors: Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum. From there, I had my revision critiqued at the CenCal SCBWI Writers’ Day by Annie Nybo who was then at McElderry Books. She gave me fantastic notes and told me to resend the manuscript to her if her thoughts resonated with me and I revised WHOBERT. Those notes super duper resonated, so I revised, then signed with my agent, then we sent WHOBERT on back to Annie. She asked for one more round of revisions, I got to those, and then after we submitted it to her again, Annie acquired WHOBERT in March of 2015.

That whole process from first draft to sold was pretty quick, just under a year. But I think it’s important to say that the relatively fast sale timeline would not have been possible if it weren’t for a number of happy milestones that happened along the way that I had nothing to do with. First, there was the fact that both Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum were available to look at my manuscript and gave me great advice. Then there was the fact that I met Erin Murphy at a picture book intensive weekend in the fall of 2014, and she introduced me to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. Then it was that Tricia decided she’d give me a call and took a chance on me after a delightful two-and-a-half-hour conversation. Then there was the fact that I was paired with Annie Nybo for that SCBWI critique and the fact that Annie happened to get my humor and saw what the WHOBERT draft I submitted to her could become. Not to mention, Jen Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency let me intern with her a couple years prior and introduced me to the children’s lit world. If not for each of these amazing women, WHOBERT may never have come to be.

So many people helped and so many factors outside of my control lined up perfectly to make publication of WHOBERT happen. We see articles online all the time about people who sell their books so fast, but I don’t think it’s often highlighted that a book’s publication is reliant on so many people and meeting those people at the right place and the right time. If any one of these mentors hadn’t entered my life, WHOBERT could still be in my computer and not on bookshelves. So if you’ve been trying to sell a manuscript for a long time, keep at it! Be an active part of our writing community and you will meet those people and have those happy accidents that lead you to publication. This is even true after your first book comes out. It’s been over two years since I last sold a manuscript, but I’m trying to keep myself at the keyboard every day, and seek as much help and guidance as I can.

What a refreshingly healthy perspective on the different paths a manuscript can take. WHOBERT is such a clever story, I’m so glad all the stars aligned for a quick publication.  What books helped to shine a light on your writing path as you were working through WHOBERT’S revisions? Are you a believer in mentor texts? I am such a believer in consuming other authors’ and illustrators’ work and being inspired by them, but when I’m working on a revision I try not to read others’ books when I’m in the revise mindset. I don’t want to get so into their rhythm or voice that I subconsciously repeat it. But I do read a ton of picture books outside of my revisions and there are a number of people who inspire me: Dashka Slater’s ESCARGOT is so flipping hysterical and I want it to be a requirement that kids get a copy of this book when they are born; Jessie Sima is amazing at writing and illustrating whimsical worlds that I want to live in; Jessixa Bagley knows so well how to bring out emotion and make you feel (her book BOATS FOR PAPA makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I. Read. It. And I’ve read it at least thirty times). I could go on and on!

I second every single title you just mentioned! I haven’t read BOATS FOR PAPA yet, but it’s waiting for me at the library today, actually. In nineteen days, on July 18th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? My plans are to keep on writing! I love our industry so much, and I want to be a part of it for as long as I can, so I’ll be at my keyboard on July 18th trying to come up with something that hopefully will make people laugh!

Do you remember the first time you saw WHOBERT on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! The first time I saw WHOBERT on a shelf was at BookPeople, our local (and so flipping fantastic there isn’t a word that can express it) independent bookstore in Austin, TX. They had a whole parliament of WHOBERTs sitting there at their welcome desk, and my heart stopped. It was so surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling and flipping through multiple books even though I knew every book had exactly the same thing in it. I just loved it!

You are so good at capturing a moment and helping your readers (aka me) to be right there with you.  When you talk about seeing WHOBERT for the first time, I get all kinds of warm fuzzies! How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? The person who was the absolute best help with marketing was Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She is a GENIUS when it comes to creating materials that can help make your book sing. She made an entire Whobert Story Hour Kit that you can find here!

Now that you have one year under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? The most surprising thing has been how much getting that first book on the shelves just makes you want more! I feel like Cookie Monster screaming, “MORE COOKIES!” only replace “cookies” with “books.” I have this fire in my gut that ignited on July 18, 2017, to have the whole process of publication happen all over again.

See there, you did it again! (#allthefeels) I know enough about you to know that you have a MG fantasy in the works. (That sounded stalkerish! I meant ‘Your website says you have…’) What’s the most difficult part of switching genres for you? What’s drew you to write for the MG audience? Haha! I’m an open book when it comes to…my books. I am completely obsessed with middle grade. I think overall there is an optimism about the world—even in darker MG—and I really like the general MG theme of trying to find your place in a community. I also love fantasy-adventure, and what drew me into writing the genre in MG is that I can develop fantastical worlds with kids who really appreciate the magic going on around them. I can discover these whimsical places through their eyes and really feel their enthusiasm and wonder. The hardest part about going into MG from PBs was getting down all the description. My PBs are really dialogue heavy, so it took me a bit to get into that, “Don’t forget to mention where they are, or what they’re wearing, or what smells so bad” rhythm.

What’s your favorite part of writing MG? What about PB? My favorite part about MG is getting to really dive deep into a world. Fantasy-adventure specifically is so fun for me because I love exploring how magic could enhance, alter or shake up an already confusing time of self-discovery.

My favorite part of PBs is getting to be just plain silly. I love being wacky and flamboyant in my PB writing. I write visually and use a ton of physical humor because, above all, my absolute favorite thing in writing PBs is making people laugh.

Gallaher Headshot

You do that so well!!! Do you have anything coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? I have another picture book coming out, but so far, we are still looking for an illustrator. As soon as I can sing this one from the rooftops, I totally will! I can say that it’s unrelated to WHOBERT, and it’s about my favorite subject: love!

You can find me online at jasongallaher.com; on Twitter and Instagram as @draftingjason; and on YouTube where I gab books at youtube.com/c/jasongallaher. Let’s all be friends, everybody! Thank you so much for having me! This was a hoot!

 

Wasn’t that fun??? See why I love this so much?? The best part is that I have a STACKED schedule of Paper People interviews to post this summer. (There were quite a few wonderful debuts that celebrated their fist anniversary over the spring that I missed, I’m sad to say. You can find a great, comprehensive list of 2017 debut picture books here.  If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions its a great place to start!) Stay tuned my friends!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 3 & 4

 

Can you imagine living next door to someone for 30+ years and never making it over to visit? In my world, that’s hard to even fathom.  Around here, we gather nearly every Friday evening at one neighbor’s house or another, often times my own, to unwind from the week and watch our kids play.  It’s a ritual and it’s one of my favorites.  Well, I’ve lived next in Louisiana my entire life and thanks to the Gulf of Mexico along our southern border, we only have three neighbor states.  I’ve visited Texas and Mississippi more times than I can count, but I’ve never been to Arkansas… until last week.  It was an obvious decision when my husband and I were planning out first solo family vacation, it’s an easy drive and offers a very different set of circumstances than what we’re used to. We planned, prepped, read reviews, made a few basic decisions then counted down the days.  Last Monday, as we crossed the LA/AR state line for the first time, I was ecstatic.  It was thrilling because we were able to take our family on what our youngest called, ‘a brand-new adventure’.  We had the chance to breaking from the norm and broaden their horizons. We were also going way outside of our comfort zones and were constantly reminded of it

One of the first things we realized once we arrived, there was a TV but no cable. (Thank goodness for the handful of movies the kids packed for the trip.) Coincidentally, one of the last things we realized before leaving- our kids spent ZERO time on any kind of electronic device. In fact, our 2 tablets never made it out of the car. With the exception of one family movie each afternoon, the entire trip was about spending time together in the great outdoors and focusing on our family. We didn’t necessarily plan it that way but it was the incredible icing on the cake. I tell you all of this to explain two things:

1.       Why I didn’t post last week, not that it really matters

2.       The reason behind the ridiculously long list of books we read, before, during and after our trip. (No TV = LOTS of good reading time)

Now that we’re home, its nice to find a routine again! With this tremendous stack of books that we read, it was hard to find one to focus on… until we got hungry, that is.  At the end of ALYCAT (see number 10) there is a delicious surprise; a recipe for Alycat’s Popcorn Popsicles! Here’s our before and after pics. OC and I had a great time making these sweet and simple snacks and we started munching right away! Hope you find your favorite snack and are reading something fabulous! 

Here’s our list from the past two weeks:

1.       The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (this one was for my husband!)

2.       Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (No explanation necessary.)

3.       Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Such an important read and a mentor text)

4.       Maxi the Little Taxi by Elizabeth Upton, illustrated by Henry Cole (A favorite from our own shelves.)

5.       Hooray for Books! By Brian Won (OBVIOUSLY!)

6.       Dude! by Aaron Reynolds (We have 2 sons, enough said.)

7.       Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Our kids have 2 new baby cousins, this is perfect!)

8.       Cheetah Can’t Lose by Bob Shea (I think YC took notes through this one.)

9.       The Bad Seed by Jory John (SO GOOD and such a great lesson that MC really honed in on. Plus, character development is a soft spot for me and this has a fantastic and complicated main character)

10.   Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day by Alyson Foti Borque, illustrated by Chiara Civati (A local favorite with a delicious dessert!)

11.   Frog on a Log by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field (another one from our shelves)

12.   Zombie in Love by Kelly Dipucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Not a day goes by without talk of zombies in my house.)

13.   A Tip-Tap Tale by Denise Gallagher (a local favorite and a 2018 Indie Book Award Finalist!)

14.   Peanut Butter & Jelly by Ben Clanton (Because one was NOT enough.)

15.   Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (I attended a fantastic presentation by Leslie a few months back. I just want to read & learn more!)

16.   Big Chickens Flew the Coop by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (Also, we’re a bunch of ‘big chickens’ over here)

17.   7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald (A Golden Kite award winner, a mentor text and so dang punny!)

18.   The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Great recommendation! Thanks, Vivian!)

19.   Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Just to remind OC that she hasn’t outgrown picture book because that never REALLY happens. This one was for her.)

20.   Bink & Gollie by Kate DeCamillo & Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (another one for OC but everyone loves it!)

Stay tuned, later this week for a wonderful and insightful Paper People interview. WHOOOO is it do you ask? Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out! (Just kidding, its Jason Gallaher… eeek!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP, OC, MC and YC  

 

Week 2 of our #100PictureBookSummer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.       The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP   

#100PictureBookSummer Kickoff

Volume 2, Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

–          JP

The character struggle.

Don’t they say ‘It’s a sign of strength to know your weakness’? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are either but someone says that, right? Or something similar maybe?  Well, regardless I just said it and one of the areas that I struggle with most is Character Development. For the most part, my characters are flat, one dimensional and probably a little cheesy which leads to the dreaded ‘sweet’ labels that my stories so often get. (As a gentle reminder for those of you who haven’t been on the receiving end of this word, ‘sweet’ is typically not a good thing… not in this picture book world. Here it basically means ‘soft’.) I’ve mentioned before that I’m participating in a book study right now of Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, and let me tell you, I’ve been anxiously waiting for Chapter 6, Creating Compelling Characters.  By anxiously waiting I’m talking about the kind that comes when you’re sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office, and you’re pretty sure he/she’s going to tell you that you have a cavity, even though you really have been brushing twice a day albeit a little hurriedly each time. In your defense it’s only because you’ve been busy writing brilliant picture books. Not to mention, when an idea strikes you have to act on it, even if you just so happen to ALWAYS be brushing your teeth. Still, you know you need to hear it. You’ll be glad when it’s over, even if it’s a little painful and you’ll have a better, healthier mouth as a result. Sure.

I was having a conversation about this struggle of mine with a dear friend (and book study moderator- extraordinaire) when two things hit me:

1.       I struggle with only feeling productive when I’m actually writing/revising a manuscript so stepping back to do a character study on someone you only see for 500 words is easily dismissible. (I know this line of thinking is only hindering me, I’m working on breaking this habit.)

2.       I did one. I did a massive character study on a certain main character from a certain first (and shelved) manuscript. (CoughNathanCough.) I knew him inside and out, front and back. I know his favorite color, family life, interests, etc. You name it, I knew it, and it didn’t get me anywhere. If I can be honest, a part of me feels a little burned.

And I had this conversation with a fellow picture book writer that I had the pleasure of meeting at the SCBWI JambaLAya Kid Lit Conference in March.

As a writer of picture books, I’m always aware that I will have no say in what my characters will ever actually LOOK like. I don’t get to decide their facial structure, eye color or physical quirks.  I won’t get to decorate the walls of his bedroom. I don’t know if her hair will be in pig tails or braids. I don’t know the color, size, shape or shine of any of these characters that are swimming around in my brain. The illustrator gets to decide all of this.  I think I have a very healthy appreciation for this unique aspect of writing picture books but, as a result, the characters I’ve created are all a little blurry in my brain. I think it’s how I keep myself emotionally detached, but if I can’t envision your face, how well am I ever going to know you? Even all of my far-flung writing friends have a Facebook photo I can glance at.

And this is all to say that I really have no excuse. Everything I’ve ever read says that if you want to write a picture book that has any chance of becoming successful, regardless of your definition of the word,  you have to know your characters and know them well beyond the 32-page snippet of their life. There’s a part of me that also thinks character development should be an active, engaging, creative process in and of itself.  I’m often called away from the computer when I start leaning in that direction; maybe I grab a paper and pen, or a sketch book and pencils, once was even molding clay, but I never got very far with any of them. I spent so much time gathering supplies and making glamorous, glorious plans, that I didn’t have any time to actually do anything creative. So, I probably need to let that go too, this expectation that I’m going to make something wonderful as I get to know my character. Or maybe I don’t need to let it go, but reign in it. Maybe I need a process and one that is easily reproduced? I definitely need to change my line of thinking that it’s not a productive use of my time. I also should quit wallowing in the past and be grateful for everything I learned the first time around. I also need to let myself own my characters a little more. They are mine after all, they shouldn’t be blurry.

I have 4 manuscripts that I consider ‘priority’ right now for one reason or another. I owe it to all four to pause and flesh these characters out, regardless of whether or not they are submission ready or not (or even submission SENT.) Oh, well. There’s no time like the present! In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post here and update on my progress next week. Doesn’t that excite you? Won’t you sleep better just knowing I’m brushing my teeth like I’m supposed to? 😉

 Hold the phone!  What was I thinking? It’s NaPiBoWriWee! It’s #50PreciousWordsforKids! The character studies still need to happen, but two of my favorite writing challenges converged on the same week (when I’m also up against a big work deadline!) It’s go time, folks… stay tuned for more on NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) and #50PreciousWordsforKids. 

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