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

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What’s the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

          What do you do with a broken heart?

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

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

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Camille Andros

One of my favorite things in the world is stumbling upon a book that seems to be written just for me, but I get an even bigger rush when I find a book that is PERFECT for someone else.  That’s what happened with CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED.  One busy afternoon, I stopped in at  B&N with this Paper People interview in mind. It took me all of ten minutes to find it, check out and rush from the store, eager to share my newest treasure with my daughter. As the oldest she is spirited, strong and selfless with an insatiable thirst for all things science.  This adorable bunny book belongs on my daughter’s shelf as much as my trusty copy of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS belongs on my own. Since the beginning of Paper People, I’ve been so grateful that the books I’ve read introduce me to their author by way of these interviews. In CHARLOTTE’S case, I feel blessed that reaching out to Camille helped my daughter and I to know Charlotte. Trust me, if you don’t already, you’ll be glad to know Camille and CHARLOTTE, too. They’re powerful women!  So, what are you waiting for? Read on!

Camille, thanks for being here! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink?  You’re such a great hostess, thank you Jennifer J I always love a cup of cocoa on a cold winter day.

Cocoa it is! Although it’s not wintery here, anymore, there’s just enough of a chill in the air that I think I’ll join you.  So, it seems you are a woman of many hats. Your website mentions that you garden, have six kids and are an EMT along with being an author. Plus, you’ve lived all over the country (and Israel!)  You must have countless stories to tell!  How did you start writing for children? I’ve always loved picture books, never out grew them and always wanted to write them. When my youngest was finally sleeping through the night I decided see what it would take to make that dream a reality.

Elizabeth Gilbert (BIG MAGIC) gives full credit for her writing career and deep-seated respect for creativity to the fact that she watched her mom live a creative life.  Do you see your writing having an impact on your children? The impact I hope for it to have on my children is that they have seen firsthand how I had a dream, set goals to achieve that dream and then worked really really hard to make it happen.

I wish the same for my own! I don’t have a publishing contract in hand, nor one in the foreseeable future, but I keep reminding myself that if I’m helping my kids to embrace their creativity and understand what it means to work towards a dream, then I’ll consider myself a success.  I’ve ‘met’ some of your Picture the Book-mates over recent months and read an interview you did with Anna Forrester. In it, you mention that you’re the oldest of 7 kids! Basically, you have first-hand, life-long experience being ‘squished’.  Where was your favorite place to retreat to when you need a minute alone? My bunk bed. I would walk to the grocery story, buy myself a candy bar, snuggle up in my bed, eat my candy and read. My grandparents also had a tree I loved to climb and read up in the tree. It always sounded like a good idea, but in practice it was actually kind of hard to balance a book up in a tree.

Let’s talk about CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED! I love science (my background is in nursing) and so does my eight-year-old daughter.  We read it often!  Was this story your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? This wasn’t my first manuscript. I had several I was working on trying to build up a body of work that I could share with an agent, but it was the first book I sold.  My first picture book manuscript I wrote is THE DRESS AND THE GIRL and will be coming out this August illustrated by Julie Morstad.

Not long after we first ‘met’, I saw your cover reveal for THE DRESS AND THE GIRL! It’s beautiful and simple and rich.  Can you give us a taste of what this one is about? Does it have a similar feel? THE DRESS AND THE GIRL is totally different from Charlotte. It’s a story about a little girl and her favorite dress, the power of memory, and how a life we think may be ordinary is actually quite extraordinary.

Tomorrow, March 14, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you! I hadn’t actually thought of celebrating, but I do love any excuse to celebrate, so now you’ve got me thinking…maybe I’ll have a birthday party with my kids for Charlotte the Scientist! J

 Do you remember the first time you saw CHAROLTTE on a bookstore shelf? Yes! A friend texted that she saw it at Barnes and Noble so after everyone got home from school we loaded all the kids up in the car and went to make it official. It was a pretty fun night!

I can imagine! So, tell us, how did you get it on those shelves? Oh my. I think I had zero to do with the book getting on shelves other than writing it. There is so much out of our control in this business and that is one of them. I think you just do the best with the information you have and don’t look back. You can “should-a, could-a, would-a,” yourself to death, but it’s not productive. Spend your time writing more great books.

I’m a member of an online book study and we’ve just started making our way through Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with her book or not, but in the first chapter she recommends typing out a ‘picture book you love’ as a guide. I can tell you that CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST was one of them… for a couple of us! It is so cleverly written.  Where did you get the idea to use the Scientific Method to guide your story? Thank you! In the early drafts of the book the scientific method was only mentioned in passing. It was only after the book was sold that we decided to add in the specific steps of the scientific method.

 It’s spot on! I don’t think we’ll ever study the scientific method the same way again. Now that you have one year and (nearly) two books under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve learned that most people feel like they are an imposter and are just waiting for everyone to figure it out. I’ve also learned that it’s not productive to compare yourself to anyone else. It’ll only make you feel bad. The world is wide enough (to borrow from a Hamilton reference;) for all of us and all of our books and ideas, so our time is best served writing good books, and helping to cheer others on to do the same.

 Yes! Just write good books; so simple and so powerful. Can you remind us when we can expect THE DRESS AND THE GIRL?  Anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  THE DRESS AND THE GIRL will be out August 7, 2018, another CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST book will be out next year, as will a picture book biography about ELIZA HAMILTON.

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Instagram: @camilleandros

Twitter: @camdros

Facebook: Camille Andros

Thanks so much for visiting with me!

Paper People: Anna Forrester

Today is a special day.  One year ago, I published my first post here on Magnolias & Manuscripts and six months ago I started Paper People.  (It’s also my half birthday! Which is a little ridiculous, I know but its something hat I always celebrate for myself and the exact reason that I launched my blog on this date.) Most importantly, I had the chance to visit with Anna Forrester.  Anna has been kind and helpful to me, since I awkwardly introduced myself to her by way of her blog’s Contact Me page. If I was the gangly, over-eager high school freshman, Anna was the cool, calm and collected upper classman that helped me to find my locker.  I’ve had my sights set on this February interview since the beginning.  So, without further ado. 

Anna! I’m so excited to have you here. First, like always, can I get you something to drink?  Sure – thanks! I tend to start my day with either chai tea or green tea, so either one of those would be great!

I’m sure those are both great options but I haven’t made any progress on my attempts to drink tea. I think I’ll cut myself some slack and have a cup of coffee this time.  So, as we settle in and let our drinks cool a bit, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? After college I started teaching, and quickly decided to pursue my masters in Early Childhood Education. I landed at the amazing Bank Street College, and for my Master’s thesis I opted to research and write a children’s book. That was my first manuscript. But I put children’s writing on hold for a long time after that…until just a few years ago.

 I don’t remember how, but I stumbled upon your website and then found my way to your blog but I’m so glad that I did! That’s actually where Paper People started…I read through Anna’s blog and realized, ‘I bet I could learn so much from authors like her.’  She and I had exchanged a couple emails already so I ran the idea of this author interview series by her and she was super supportive.  Anna put me in touch with Katey Howes, who put me in touch with Emma Bland Smith & Jason Kirschner…the rest is history folks! So, you mention on your website that you started it in order to make writing connections.  That’s the exact reason that I started my own! Has blogging been a successful experience for you? Is there anything about it that surprised you?  My goals for Hmmmmm were three-fold. First, I wanted to connect with people in the kidlit world and develop some community. Second, I wanted a forum for sorting through and sharing what I was learning as I worked: I think best when I write, and the blog gave me a format for that. And third, I thought a blog would give agent or editors a stronger sense of me: how I write and think, what I care about, and that I am a committed writer.

All that said: my energy for the blog flagged a bit last year when BAT COUNT came out and I got busy with book promotion. I’m in the process now of re-evaluating what/if I want Hmmmmm to be in the future.

 Ohhh, I can’t wait to see what direction you take it in.  I always enjoy reading your musings. Speaking of, you were one of the 2017 12×12 featured authors. Can you talk a little about your experience with 12×12 and how it helped you to grow as a writer? 2015 was the first year I joined 12×12, so this is my 4th year there. Julie Hedlund has created an amazingly solid, supportive, and resource-filled community. I find that each year (and week and month) I use the forum’s offerings differently, depending on where I am in my process – and I love that it has that flexibility.

 I joined 12×12 this year, after much back and forth and I’m already so glad that I did.  What an incredible community!  I can’t wait to sport a 12×12 button at my regional conference!! Okay, so on to BAT COUNT, because that’s really where it all started for you.  Was that your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? Aside from my Bank Street thesis way back when, it was. I wrote it pretty quickly and it logged in at 1400 words. Then I discovered that the market wanted REALLY SHORT picture book manuscripts. I didn’t think I could tell that story in so few words, so I shelved it and moved on – until I saw Arbordale’s call for math and science-themed picture books

 I love the ‘citizen science’ aspect of the story and the way it empowers children to take responsibility for their surroundings.  Do many of your other manuscripts have a similar theme?  My interests are pretty wide-ranging, but I am definitely a nature geek. I have lots of science-related projects that hover at the boundary between fiction and non-fiction: I love the challenge of trying to turn kids on to the natural world with compelling voice and story. Ideas for my fiction picture books often sprout from quirky things I see or learn about in the natural world too.

 Yes! My favorite part was that your STEM story had an equally wonderful emotional element . I find myself writing stories that straddle both worlds and I often search for books to guide me.  How did you incorporate both elements? Did one surface before the other? (STEM vs Twins!) I didn’t go into writing the story thinking ‘I want to write a STEM/bat/Citizen-science story’. The story grew from an experience my own family had. But the pitch definitely did focus on those aspects!

As for the twins: have you ever heard this idea that, as writers, we leave ourselves clues in our writing? (I wrote about this a while ago here. Those twins were one of those clues: I don’t know why I initially gave Jojo twin brothers, but I did, and when I was struggling with the story’s ending, there they were, waving their arms at me to get my attention!

I wasn’t familiar with that concept, but that is right up my alley.  I always ask my sub-conscious to help me answer questions, maybe if I just pay attention I’ll find the answers right there in my stories.  Oh, I can’t wait to learn more! Before I get too far off topic, let’s talk about your big day! On February 10 (TOMORROW) you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal?  So funny – it never occurred to me to celebrate! I am just marching on, writing. But I so appreciate your asking me to do this interview – it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the past year!

 Do you remember the first time you saw BAT COUNT on a bookstore shelf? I don’t! But I love when friends send me pictures of it ‘out in the wild’ – at libraries or bookstores where they live — and I save all those photos.

I see pictures of BAT COUNT ‘out in the wild’ quite often lately, your critique group is quite a powerhouse! I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it ‘out in the wild’? Though the human side of the story resonates beyond the bat or citizen science content, the book is pretty “niche”. Both the publisher and I did a lot of outreach to bat groups, wildlife groups, citizen science groups, nature centers, natural history museums and the like. In the summer I did a lot of events at state parks, and I LOVE doing school visits, too –with just one or two classes at a time so I can engage more directly with the kids.

 And you can wear your author and your teacher hats at the same time! I bet you shine during a school visit.  We nurses don’t know what to do with a classroom full of excited kids… I’d probably get stage fright. Thankfully, my sister is a teacher, maybe she can help me one day. What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry?  It’s really true how the goal line seems to just keep moving! But you can’t get too wrapped up in that or it eats you up. Recognizing that has helped me keep in touch with the ways that just writing feeds my soul!

 This is one of the few questions I’ve asked every Paper People interviewee, and that may very well be the most honest and encouraging answer I’ve gotten. In fact, in the few days since I first read it, I’ve said it to myself a few times already.  Can I ask, because you said you’re still writing, what are you working on now? What’s next on your agenda? Where can we find and follow you on social media?  I always have a lot of projects going at once. But I have been my own worst enemy around subbing and I want to get over it! My goal for 2018 is to do five submissions per month (rather than my typical 5 or 6 a year!) Already, I can see how subbing more makes it easier and less uncomfortable. Even having only done my January five, my queries already feel less stiff and awkward!

As for social media: you can find me on twitter, and on facebook. On pinterest, I stockpile images relating to projects I’m thinking about or working on.

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Thanks for stopping by and visiting with me! I always get excited when our paths cross.

Thanks so much for having me Jennifer, and for giving me that chance to reflect on the year!

Man that was a great conversation! The kind that leaves me energized and itching to write.  Next month will be great too, Camille Andros, author of CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED, agreed to join me here!  But first, I have a lot of homework to get to, I owe a feedback on a couple manuscripts to members of my critique group and I have a pitch that needs polishing.  Oh, yeah! I forgot to mention, I snagged another spot on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Would You Read It Wednesday? series.  I need to re-work and rewrite both my pitch and my manuscripts. 

If you live in my corner of the world, it’s carnival time! Hope you have a safe and happy Mardi Gras.  If you live in a place where Tuesday is just, Tuesday, I still hope its a great one!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP 

Nathan called.

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

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

Paper People: Jodi McKay (+ giveaway!)

Happy Holidays! As we wrap up 2017 I have my final Paper People Interview of the year. This month, Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? shares her wisdom and Words with me about her debut picture book release. She’s also offering a giveaway! Seems like a great Christmas present, don’t you think? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I hope you enjoy our visit!
Jodi, thanks so much for joining me today! I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots… “Can I get you something to drink?” Why thank you for asking! So, um, what kind of drink are we talking about? Let me go kid friendly and say a Root Beer Float, OR, a Boston Cooler. Either way, I win because, you know, ice cream.

Yes! I love any excuse to have a good chocolate malt. Great idea! Everyone at my house is a big fan of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?! I know we aren’t the only ones either because every time I try to check it out, I’m on a waiting list! It’s such a unique concept but before we jump into it, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? Wow, thanks! You just made my day! I have always found a sense of comfort and excitement when cracking open a picture book and my happy place truly is the children’s section of a bookstore so writing for kids came quite naturally. It wasn’t until after my son started school that I felt like I could really dedicate myself to learning about how to write for children and then actually write. Five years later, I am still learning and still writing, but now I have some experience under my belt and an office (in my house) where I sit and write in the company of my dog, Ralph and cat, Albi. They love my stories.
In an earlier interview with Laura Sassi, you offer some of my favorite advice ever. I’ll remind you… “Engage your senses to find that spark… Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.” I completely believe this! I try hard to find a balance of keeping my BIC (butt in chair), without being tied to my laptop. What are your favorite places to find inspiration? I’ve found that I am struck with story ideas at the oddest times so I suppose inspiration finds me. I’ve come up with concepts while resting in downward dog, watching cartoons, driving (not the safest), heck even Robin Roberts from Good Morning America said something that resulted in a story. That’s what I meant about being open- be present to whatever situation you’re in and story ideas will bubble up and out. If I’m feeling stuck, however, I usually plug in the headphones, crank up the classical, and take Ralph for a walk.
I do the same! One day (thinking positively) I’m going to have to dedicate a book to my dog because our walks are so productive. I usually listen to Kid Lit podcasts, or something energizing and inspiring to get me excited. I save the classical music for when I’m writing… then it’s all instrumental, all the time. So, what’s your favorite creative outlet, besides writing? I really enjoy taking pictures. In fact, I will be taking our Christmas card photo soon which usually ends up with lots of yelling to get everyone to look at the camera at the same time. This is not easy when the animals are trying to get out of their costumes and the kid is laughing hysterically. Yep, I said costumes and we’ve had some epic cards come out of my creative photo shoot ideas.
That’s amazing! I usually make ours from whatever decent pictures are saved on my phone, but this year I stepped up my game a little. (No costumes here, though). I have to say, in all of your interviews that I’ve read, your voice is wonderfully authentic. Sometimes I feel like that’s one of my biggest struggles, keeping my voice and following the guidelines/formulas/formats. Do you ever struggle with getting your voice into your stories? Sure do. For me, the struggle is trying to do something different to explore other forms of writing and losing my voice in that process. For example, I recently tried to write a quieter book, no humor, more poetic language and… nope. My author voice is usually quirky with a type of humor that makes you want to elbow someone and say, “Ha, get it?” When I am true to that then the story ends up working.

My boys, ages 4, 5 and 33  quote your book all the time!  They look at each other (or me) and say, “Will you stop with the peanuts?” and then fall over laughing. Mission Accomplished! Was WHERE ARE THE WORDS? your first picture book manuscript? How long was it a ‘work in progress’? It was not my first, but it was the one that was different from anything I had ever written. It didn’t take me too long to write, but as usual, longer to revise so I would say that it was a work in progress for roughly 6 months before I was asked if I would be interested in sending it to an editor. I know that is not normal, but It’s such an abnormal book that I suppose this particular journey was meant to be.

Since it was a concept book, did you struggle with finding mentor texts? There’s one that comes to mind for you, but having such a unique storyline must’ve made it tricky. Full discloser- I did not use a mentor text. Phew, I said it. There’s Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Alfie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue as well as other punctuation type books, but I didn’t use them to help guide me. I knew what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. Full, full disclosure- I rarely use mentor texts unless I’m really stuck or want to try something new. I read a ton and make mental notes on what works or what doesn’t work, but I don’t often run to those books when I write. This is why writing and reading programs like ReFoReMo are essential for me. They push me out of my comfort zone and make me approach writing differently.

I have my sights set squarely on ReForReMo this year. I’ve not participated before, but I’m a member of the Facebook group and have already learned a lot. So, back to your book, Exclamation Point and Parenthesis were my favorite characters! (But then again, I often overuse both of those, in case you hadn’t noticed.) Was there a character that you related to more than others? Oddly enough, I’m a bit like Period. I don’t consider myself to be an excitable person like Exclamation Point and I don’t ask a ton of questions. I am a listener, although I’ve been known to throw in an aside here and there much like Parentheses.

On December 20, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy early Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal? Wow, it’s been a year already? I hate to say it, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really thought about how I might celebrate. Any ideas? I think I’ll do a giveaway on Twitter so look for those details in the next few weeks. It does feel unreal that I have a book on store and library shelves, but I mostly feel grateful. There were a lot of people that made this happen- my family, my agent, my editor and the team at Albert Whitman, Denise Holmes who was the illustrator, and the community of children’s book writers with their endless supply of support. This was a team effort so when I celebrate, I will toast to them.

Do you remember the first time you saw WHERE ARE THE WORDS? on a bookstore shelf? Yes! I had that slow-motion running, arms wide open kind of scenario happen and when I got to the shelf I turned around and showed my son that my book was in a bookstore. That was something else. I still get a little giddy when I see it in stores.

I’ve always thought that would be a hugely significant moment, in fact every Paper People interviewee so far has been able to tell me the exact time and place. I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it on those shelves? Marketing is tough, especially when you’re not used to sales. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to promoting my work and myself, but what I did learn and applied was to start well ahead of the book release date. Set up a blog tour at least three months in advance to get exposure and to let people know who you are. Invest in promotional material a.k.a. book swag to send to reviewers or to give to folks at bookstores, conferences, book signing events, or as part of a book package giveaway. I also took time to get to know some of the independent bookstore owners in my state either by stopping by their store or by working with them at a book event. They are always so gracious and willing to host book signing events or carry books of local authors, mine included.

What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I had to think about this one for a while. I wasn’t surprised by much in terms of marketing, sales, or even how hard it would be to sell another book to a publisher. I suppose what has thrown me a bit is how I still compare my journey to those of other authors. Isn’t that horrible? It makes me feel like an ungrateful jerk sometimes, but then I check myself and keep writing.

No! That’s not horrible, I think that’s one of the most honest answers you could have given. No doubt those of us on the pre-published side think that ‘so much’ changes, but the reality is that very little actually does. (I’m assuming.) Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I had known that not every book published receives the same amount of marketing or recognition by the publishing house. It took me a while to figure that out and I should have asked my editor or the marketing team where my book fell on their list. This is common for all publishing houses and had I done my research, maybe I would have found more ways or been more creative in promoting my work.

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Do you have anything coming down the pipe, awaiting publication? Where can we find and follow you on social media? I may very well have some good news, but I’ll need to wait until the time is right to make that announcement. Sorry! While I wait, I have stories in line to be submitted to editors, I have stories on my computer waiting to be sent to my agent, and I have stories in my head begging to be written so I’ll stay busy. If you want something to do while you wait, feel free to head on over to my website (check out my teacher’s guide, school visit info., or critique service!), send me an email, chat me up on Twitter or Facebook, find me on Instagram, or follow my interests on Pinterest.
Website: http://www.JodiMcKayBooks.com
Email: Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JLMcKay1
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JLMcKayBooks/
Instagram: jodimckay1
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/JodiMcKayBooks/

Thanks so much for letting me stop by Magnolias & Manuscripts. It’s always fun to talk with a fellow writer!

Thank you for sharing your WORDS and wisdom! Jodi has been kind enough to offer a giveaway, see below. The giveaway will run for one week; enter for your chance to win


a Rafflecopter giveaway

(I know, its my first giveaway and it doesn’t look right, but click the link-

I promise its there!)

And don’t go far! I have a long list of 2017 debut picture book authors that I hope to add to the 2018 Paper People list. Join me in January as I talk to Annie Silvestro, author of Bunny’s Book Club and then Anna Forrester, author of Bat Count in February. I’m not quite finished for the year though, I still (hope) to have another interview and a blog post or two, and my Holiday Contest entry will be posted this weekend! As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Paper People: Sue Gallion

The second Friday of the month is quickly becoming my favorite! Today, I’m sharing Sue Gallion and I’s conversation.  I had the chance to pick her brain about not only her debut picture book (and a little about her second) but also all things SCBWI. I’m just starting to get involved and find my place within my local chapter.  I am so excited about being a card-carrying member so, I had no shortage of questions. I hope you learn as much as I did… I should warn you, there’s an awful lot of cuteness in between the lines. Proceed with caution!

Sue, thanks for joining us here! Can I get you something to drink? Coffee or a whole-milk latte would be even better.  Thanks for your hospitality!

Certainly! We finally have another “cool front” around here, so coffee sounds great. It had been so warm the past few days that I almost opened a lemonade stand! Oh, well. The struggles of the south.  Let’s get started, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?  My background is journalism and public relations, but I got re-hooked on children’s books when my kids were young. I took a children’s literature class about 12 years ago with the thought of becoming a reading specialist, but the assignment to write my own ABC book took me in a different direction. And here I am!

I’d like to jump right into SCBWI.  How did you become involved in the first place?  How did you find your place? What’s your favorite part of the organization? (Can you tell I’m a new member and just a little excited about it?) I found out about SCBWI from another writer’s group. One of the scarier things in this business to me (which you have to do over and over again!) is walk into a room where you know no one and start a conversation. The first SCBWI event I attended was a full-day workshop in Kansas City with Harold Underdown and several other top speakers. I mentioned to one of the volunteers helping with lunch that I was willing to help out with a future event. The next thing I knew, I was coordinating cupcake donations and stuffing packets. I became Assistant Regional Advisor in 2011 to Colleen Cook, who was the person I introduced myself to at the coffee station at that first event.

I could tell you a thousand favorite things about SCBWI. Many of the people I most respect and admire I’ve met through SCBWI. It is an extraordinary creative community with so many opportunities to learn and grow in our craft. I am certain I never would have been traditionally published without SCBWI. More importantly, I have grown as a writer, as an advocate for children’s literacy, and as a person through SCBWI and the people I’ve come to know.

I encourage people to be brave and pursue this dream by connecting with others, and then be sure to pat yourself on the back for being brave! It takes guts to share your work with others. It also takes a lot of humility and perseverance.

How serendipitous! You’re totally right, somehow as an adult, it’s still a bit nerve-wracking to be the new kid on the playground.  How long were you involved for before you sold Pug Meets Pig? About five years. The sale of the manuscript actually came directly from a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI LA conference in 2013.

Of course, it did.  You and SCBWI have quite a sweet love story. Was Pug Meets Pig your first picture book manuscript? No way! I worked on many manuscripts before it, and I revised it over several years. I do wish I had moved on from some of my first manuscripts sooner, though. I think lots of us get too caught up in that one first story and revise it over and over again, rather than move on to new ideas.  Lin Oliver of SCBWI has solid advice to think of your career and your body of work rather than just one book. We all have more than one idea in us.

That’s excellent advice. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that I needed to move on past my first manuscript and start working on others. Do you remember the first time you saw it on a bookstore shelf? You bet! It was shelved right next to Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. Also a thrill!

Ohhhh, that’s a great shelf to be on! Surely you took a picture? Then to have your second picture book follow so closely must’ve been the most delicious icing on the cake. Pug & Pig Trick or Treat is equally as adorable. Not to mention, now you have a series!  Was writing Trick or Treat more or less difficult than you anticipated?  Will we have the chance to follow this pair on more adventures? The second story was inspired by my dog’s reaction to the dog next door dressed in a skeleton costume. I had no plans to write a second book, and I had no idea if Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster would ever buy it. It was a thrill when Andrea Welch acquired it right away. Stay tuned for more adventures for these two!

9781481449779 copy (2)I can’t wait to tell my kids! They’re going to be thrilled. So you must’ve done something to get your book on that incredible shelf.  Can you tell us how you approached the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you from a marketing standpoint? That’s a whole other blog, but I took every approach I could imagine, including mailing books to celebrity pugs and pigs around the country.

I’ll just have to invite you back one day and you can tell us all about marketing, pigs and pugs, debut and seasonal books.  Can you tell us about your experience working with an illustrator? The animals are so adorable… I could just reach out and pinch their cheeks! Seeing this story come to life visually was one of the most thrilling parts of this whole process. Joyce Wan is an incredible artist and visual storyteller. The team of Andrea Welch and Allyn Johnston, Beach Lane editors, and Lauren Rille, the art director, is simply brilliant. It’s been an honor to work with them and I’ve learned so much from them.

That reminds me of the quote I heard once on a podcast, ‘it takes a village to make a picture book.’  Within the words of your story, there’s a profound message about adapting to change and accepting others into ‘your space’.  With three kids, very close in age, that’s a lesson that gets lots of practice at my house!  Did that drive your story, or did the theme come along as you wrote it? The issue of change was at the heart of the story from the very beginning. Whether you’re a young child with a new sibling or an adult with a new colleague or family member, change can be hard! The themes of empathy and acceptance of others and their differences are very important to me. As I study picture books and work to improve my own writing, I look for that layer of emotion and heart, and I hope it’s part of my own books.

I appreciated the heart in this one so much and there’s an equally great message in Trick or Treat. Your one year anniversary as a published author just passed on September 26!   If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting call that your First Book-iversary! Did you celebrate the day? I did a story time for the second Pug and Pig book at a local toy store with a real pig that day, which was a wonderful way to celebrate.

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What’s the best thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry? The most rewarding part has been the interaction with kids and families and their responses to the book. What a joy!

Not to mention the fact that you get to hang out with the super cute pig! (Did you spot Eva the pig in the picture???)  Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I’d been more organized day by day. In addition to a good writing winter, I need to do a giant office cleanout! And I wish I had attended more story times at libraries or school visits by other authors before this year. Watching someone else do a story time and seeing how kids respond is a great learning opportunity for a writer, and it’s very good preparation for library and school visits in the future.

I just went to my first, obviously to be supportive but mentally I was taking notes.  What’s up next for you?!?  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media? I’m looking forward to a good writing winter, with lots of coffee! Find me on Twitter (my favorite!) @SueLGallion, or on Facebook at Sue Lowell Gallion. My website is suegallion.com.

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me!

Thanks for the opportunity! And best wishes for your writing winter ahead, too!

Wasn’t she fantastic?  Next month, come back for more fun! I’ll be talking to Jodi McKay, author of Where Are the Words? and  I’m equally excited about sharing that conversation! I also had a lot of excitement this week.  I made it on to Susanna Hill’s Would You Read it Wednesday! Next week I’m going to rebuild my pitch right here, using some of the fantastic feedback I received. Until then, I hope you’re writing/building/doing something fabulous!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Create.

For most of my life, I considered myself one of the unlucky ones. I thought that if someone wasn’t artistically inclined in an obvious way then the creative bug missed them (and me) completely. It only took me 30 years to realize I was wrong. For starters, I learned to recognize and embrace my writing as a wonderful creative expression. Second, I’ve discovered that creativity begets creativity. As my writing journey has gathered steam over the past year the number of manuscripts and story ideas I have continues to rise and writing gives way to more writing. The more often I write, the more likely I am to find inspiration for a story and the more smoothly the stories flow from my brain through my fingertips and on to the page. Then I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Have you read it? You should. I’m not going to review it. I’m not going to get into any of her nitty-gritty details, I’m just going to tell you that I bought myself a copy and you probably should too. I’m not just talking about writers either. I’m talking to anyone who has any ounce of creativity and guess what, that includes you. One of the main themes of the book is that if you open yourself up to ideas and creative inspiration then they will find you. I’ve seen it with my writing, and it’s starting to manifest itself in other ways as well. I (not so) jokingly told my sister last week that I found myself so overwhelmed with ideas that I’m at a loss for where to start.

It also helped me to take stock of the people around me. When’s the last time you looked around and counted how many creative people you know? One of my neighbors is ripping pallets apart as we speak to start making holiday decorations for her extended family. Across the street from my house you’ll find a woman who can transform a few pieces of wood, a little vinyl and some paint into something you’d love to hang on the walls of your home. Two of my friends from high school, neither of whom we’re the obvious creative choices are making waves and providing for their families with monogramming machines and fondant creations. There’s an elementary school teacher who lives down the street and one bite of her Lazy Tacos will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about them, and then order a tray full. A sorority sister of mine from college/dear friend and kindred spirit just started her own photography business.  You see what I mean? Creative people are all around me, and I’d be willing to bet they’re all around you too.

In her book, Elizabeth Gilbert also encourages you to trace your creative lineage and find the connecting threads. Mine is easy; I consider myself blessed. My mom just undertook a new hobby/business venture and is overflowing with creative energy. Her mom was a whiz at so many things, and had so many creative hobbies in her lifetime I’ve lost count. I’ve talked before about my dad’s writing and the walls of his parent’s house are lined with paintings by my grandfather. Opening my eyes up to the creative energy around me, has inspired me in so many ways. For one, I find myself drawn to spend time with people who are living creatively in their spare time. To be creative is to make the world a more beautiful place, whether that’s through words, paint, pillows, quilting, cross-stitching, gardening, music, movement, home décor, or whatever your medium is. I hope you know what your creative outlet is, and I truly hope you honor it.

As I continue writing, searching, submitting and hoping, I know that the words won’t always come easy. There are days when they don’t seem to flow and inspiration runs short; but I know that I just have to keep at it. When I first started writing stories for children’s books, I was incredibly productive in the first two months and then it all came to a screeching halt (in a good way.) I spent the next few months revising, rewriting, editing, revising and rewriting those same stories over and over again. Honestly, most of those stories will never be good enough to have a chance at publication, but I have always wondered how I found so much inspiration in those first few weeks when I knew so little. Now, I get it and it has nothing to do with how much I know (or don’t know). It’s simple, inspiration feeds inspiration, writing prompts more writing, creativity begets creativity. As of today, my manuscript count is up to twelve, with another five I hope to “finish” by the end of the year. (For those of you who are wondering… I mean finish as in first draft, ready to send to a critique group. I have three, almost four that are “finished”.) It’s a tall order for sure. If you need me, just follow the smoke that’ll surely be coming from my poor, tired, overworked computer. Or, better yet, don’t come find me, go create something yourself (and at least think about reading Big Magic.)

 

Guess what, it’s almost Paper People time! Come back on Friday and read my conversation with Sue Gallion about pigs, pugs and everything SCBWI!!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

The Search for Mentor Texts

“Read more books about this topic,” she said, “Some of the best writers read 50 comp titles.”   I’ve heard this before, probably too many times.  “But I read picture books all the time!” I thought with frustration and also, “How the heck  am I going to get my hands on that many books?”   But in the spirit of critique group etiquette, I slept on it.  I thought it over.  I did my best to detach from my manuscript and read it with the same critical eye that she did. Guess what? She was right.  (That seems to be her pattern.) I am reading LOTS of picture books, but rather than reading with intention, I’ve fallen back into the habit of quickly casting a wide net that includes some new titles, a few old favorites and a couple that my kids grab on face value alone.

The challenge that my kids and I undertook this summer was to read 100 Picture Books.  But knowing myself and my tendencies to grab-&-go, I followed a list, as closely as possible, to guide us to stellar books we hadn’t yet read.  It was a smashing success, but since the summer has ended (early August around here), we’ve slacked off on our library runs and I’ve been a lot less intentional with my selections. Now that I’m writing more and polishing up a handful of manuscripts to begin the querying process, I need to hone in on the topics that I’m writing about now.  I need mentor texts. I need comp titles.  I need help.  Just a quick Google search usually reveals a good starting point.  If I’m lucky, there will be a Goodreads list on the topic.  Just for the sake of experiment, I searched for the following lists on Goodreads and was blown away by the results: Picture Books about… Seasons, Food, Family, Friendship, School, Geography, Emotions, Holidays, I could go on and on.  (Addendum, I just listened to a podcast that talked about utilizing Amazon searches/filters to find comps, another great idea.)

I also set off to the library as soon as it opened. Low and behold, there it was, the very book that my critique group facilitator suggested, waiting for me on display.  I read it and it was brilliant.  Having comparable titles has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I understand their importance, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I could give you the laundry list of reasons why,  but  I’ll spare you the details.  They’re just excuses anyway.  Just because something doesn’t come easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.  In fact, that’s the very reason I need to submerge myself in mentor texts.  Thankfully there are a number of social media outlets and though I had only heard of it, I knew it was time dive into the world of ReForReMo.  Reading for Research Month Challenge, held in March, “was developed to help picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching picture books.” (http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo).   I’m a few months early to sign up for the challenge, but there’s a Facebook group… request to join, sent and accepted.

The most wonderful thing happened, I found exactly what I was looking for!  Taking it further than this manuscript, I posted a question looking for mentor texts for another project.  For this second one, my searches weren’t producing much fruit but the members of the ReForReMo group sure did in a hurry.  Here’s just another great example of the Kid Lit community looking out for each other.  I know this world is filled with fantastic writers, many of them who still carry the pre– in front of published.  The fact is, I I feel blessed to be writing in this day & age (cue Full House theme song). So as I sit and soak up the goodness of this latest library haul, guided by suggestions, I’m sending up grateful vibes to the kid lit universe; grateful for the chance to just sit and read picture books on a Saturday morning, grateful for this new tool in my toolbox and especially grateful for my new ReForReMo friends, and the brains behind its wonderful operation.  Happy reading and happy writing!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, Writing Picture Books (and so much more)!

It was one of those surreal moments that will forever be embedded in my brain.  Right in my inbox, an email from the Contact Me page here on my blog. She read my recent post and thanked me for mentioning her book.  This line was the kicker, “If you ever want to interview me for your blog, I’m available… “ANN WHITFORD PAUL, Y’ALL!  I started this blog to make connections, but this was more than I dreamed of.  You see there was a time at the end of last year when I decided that it was time to invest in myself and my writing journey.  Being a one (and a half) income family with three small kids, a mortgage and a life, I had to spend wisely.  At that time, I wasn’t fully aware of the expansive Kid Lit online community, but I did come across a deeply discounted webinar package that came with a copy of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  I had been eyeing this book for months, and the price of the whole bundle was exactly what I was looking for.  As soon as the book came in, I devoured it and it has since found a permanent spot on my nightstand.  For me, this book was the beginning of my education as a writer; it’s my kid lit foundation.  In addition to her impressively informative book, my kids and I are also huge fans of her picture books and she has another coming out soon! So, I invite you to come along for my conversation with Ann as we talk about her writing career, including books for both children and adults.

Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me, Ann! This is such a wonderful treat.  Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing for Children?  I was born and lived mostly in the Midwest, Chicago and Madison Wisconsin, with interludes in Philadelphia.  Graduated from the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University School of Social Work.  I worked for several years in a hospital where I met my husband.  Our honeymoon was a drive across country to California where he had taken a job.  I stopped doing social work when the first of my four children were born and would have loved working part-time but Ronald Reagan was governor and cutting back on social programs.  I had to find something else and it was that lovely quiet time of reading with my children that inspired me to try writing books that other grown-ups and children could share together.

Your first picture book was published in 1985, and you have upcoming books scheduled for the next two years, how tremendous! How do you keep up with the changing industry?  How do you keep your writing skills sharp? I think I keep up with the changing industry badly.  It’s been a special challenge when editors are looking for “edgy”.  That’s not me, but I do try to add a little more humor to my writing and to think outside the box.  Still, I’m me and it’s hard for me not to write who I am.  I keep my writing skills sharp by writing every single day and I belong to a monthly kid’s lit group where we discuss a new middle-grade or YA and a picture book.  That keeps me up with the latest publishing trends.

What is the most interesting shift in the children’s book market that you notice happening now? When I started out in the business, most sales went to the school and library market.  Now on-line and independent stores are where the sales are going.  That means the books have to appeal to parents who are not necessarily savvy about what makes a good story.  Art is becoming much more important and especially what appears on the cover to attract buyers. 

In 2009, 24 years after your debut picture book was released you published Writing Picture Books.  What prompted you to put this book together?  Was there anything new about the publishing process in writing for adults? I had been teaching for over ten years at UCLA Extension and at numerous conferences.  One of my students suggested, no pushed and prodded, me to write a book.  It was certainly a challenge, but once I told myself to look at each chapter as a long picture book, I was able to fool myself into thinking I could do it.  One of the super-nice things about writing for adults is that I didn’t have to split my earnings with an illustrator.  And I hear back from so many writers about how the book has helped them.  I love getting those notes and e-mails.

I have to tell you, my critique partners and I call your book ‘The Picture Book Bible’. Writing Picture Books is filled with such invaluable information and advice.  How did you organize and compile all your thoughts for the book?  See what I mean about hearing back from writers.  Thanks so much!  The organization was actually fairly easy, because I tried to organize my classes around those chapter subjects.  Also, because I’d given many talks, I was able to adapt some of those into the book.

 It sure seems to have a life of its own. Has the book accomplished everything you hoped since its publication?   What does the future hold for Writing Picture Books?I’m so glad you asked this question, because right now I am deep into doing an updated and revised edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which will be published fall 2018.  There will be some new chapters, all new examples and all new books cited.  Also, Writer’s Digest Books (the publisher) and I are partnering to fund the SCBWI Most-Promising Picture Book Award to recognize and encourage the work of aspiring picture book writers.

Ohh, that’s very exciting!  I can only imagine the wisdom those pages will hold.  Since you’ve taught so many of us HOW to write, I’m curious, what is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?  “Write what you know.”  I’m aware that’s mundane and everyone has heard it over and over again, but I’m an insecure writer and have lived a fine and thankfully uneventful life.  I’ve never saved a child from drowning, never stopped a bank robbery and never swam the English Channel, (but my son did) so I worried, and still sometimes do, wondering what on earth I have to write about.  But years ago at an SCBWI conference, hearing those words made me think about the patchwork I loved sewing and about how the names of the patterns spoke of long ago life.  I was so inspired, I finished the manuscript for EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET IN six months.  That my hobby, my love of history and how people lived, could resonate with others (the book is still in print after twenty-five years) has made me less likely to push aside my ideas that might seem pedestrian.  I accept that my ideas might be boring to me, but exciting and fascinating to others.  Write what you know and are passionate about and your stories will touch others.

 Such great advice!  I try to remind myself often to be authentic in my writing, I can only tell my stories, not someone else’s right?  Speaking of my stories, I’ve learned from more than just your book, in your webinar for Kid Lit College, you talk about the importance of making a dummy.  That webinar is still one of my favorites. It completely reinforced what you wrote about in Writing Picture Books and totally transformed my creative process.  Why is making a dummy such a crucial step for writers? I’m glad you found making a dummy so helpful and transformative.  It was, and continues to be, the same for me.  There’s something about seeing your words cut out and pasted onto pages that you have to turn that shows you where your story weaknesses are.  Invariably when I make a dummy, I find words that can be cut.  Recently I’ve noticed in my writing that I tend to go on a bit too long after the problem has been solved.  That usually means I don’t have enough in the middle of my story or that I can delete or tighten the wrap-up at the end.  The act of reading my dummy aloud and turning the pages helps me to create stronger page turns also.  I would never submit a manuscript without making a dummy first.

Next month (October 2017) you’re scheduled to release If Animals Said I Love You.  This makes your Animals an adorable series. Congratulations!  Can you tell us a little about how the second book came about, eight years later? (If Animals Kissed Goodnight, 2009 was the first) On a trip to New York, I decided it would be a good time to meet the editor, Janine O’Malley, who had taken over for my original editor on IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT and had a lot to do with making it into a board book.  I arrived at an auspicious time for that very day, FS&G had ordered a huge reprinting of the book.  The board book, much to my joy and delight, had taken off in this new format.  In that meeting, Janine had suggested writing a follow-up, which I did.  I wrote TWO!  One about animals bathing in tubs and another about animals wearing clothes.  She rejected them both and suggested I write IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU.  I was doubtful.  Wasn’t that very close to IF ANIMALS KISSED?  However, my son Alan and his family live in South Africa and we were headed there for a visit and I determined to at least try and write that story while there.  We went on several safaris where I made notes and wrote couplets about them.  Also we went trekking to see Gorillas.  Something I would never do again—three hours straight up to find them.  I ached for days afterwards.  To make this story a bit different, I decided not just to have parents and children express love, but grandparents and cousins and siblings.  The manuscript was completed during our three week trip.

That sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and it was productive to boot! Fabulous! I actually have a safari themed manuscript and going on safari is on top of my vacation wish list, now my wheels are turning… Hmmm… Okay, before I get carried away let’s get back to the good stuff… The rhythm and rhyme scheme of If Animals Kissed Goodnight is one of my all-time favorites.  Was writing the second book more, or less challenging than you anticipated?  It was both.  When there’s a first book, the format is already determined, so you’re kind of locked into it.  The challenge for me was to work to differentiate the two since they were both about ways of expressing love.

While I was preparing for this interview, I read a 2013 interview you did with Henry Herz and I realized we share a love of Jane Austen! Just to make sure my daughter started her little life off right, I read Pride & Prejudice to her as a newborn.  Are you reading anything now?  Who’s your favorite author? Jane Austen is definitely my favorite author.  I’m also hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series.  I belong to three different book clubs so am always in the middle of a book—one is a couples reading club, another women only (and you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that co-ed book clubs are drawn to different books than the single-sex ones.)  In addition, I belong to a book club of teachers, librarians and writers and illustrators that read one novel (middle-grade or YA) and one picture book each month.  We post our discussions here:http://bookchatthursday.blogspot.com/

Is there anything else you have coming out soon?  Where can my readers find you if they want to follow along?

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

IF ANIMALS SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS will be published in the fall of 2018

IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL will be published in the fall of 2019

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS—New and Revised edition will be published in the fall of 2018.

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Check out my web-site www.annwhitfordpaul.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your time, energy and wisdom with me! I had such a hard time narrowing my questions down to these 12.  Congratulations on your upcoming releases! Happy Writing! 

 Guess what? I have ANOTHER exciting interview coming next week… actually, make that TWO.  First up, is my chat with Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz, founder of The Writer’s Match.  Do you have enough critique partners? Do you have a go-to place to find and connect with more?  If you answered ‘No’ to either of those questions, stop what you’re doing and check out The Writer’s Match.  It’s a free website that creates critique partnerships and allows you to search based on genre, experience level, and more.  I’ve had great success, and I know you will too! And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

 

See you Friday!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP