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   

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Be My Guest, Jilanne Hoffmann!

One thing I’ve come to realize is that it really is a ‘small world, after all.’  Throughout the kid lit community, especially amongst picture book writers, it’s easy to run across the same names.  Random Facebook friends you have are actually in person critique partners 6 states away, or the winner of the last picture book giveaway you entered is the same person you connected with over shared love of a Jess Keating tweet.  Interestingly enough, I do remember when I first met Jilanne (The Writer’s Match) but more significantly I remember thinking “I see her name everywhere!” There’s a reason that I think that… she really is EVERYWHERE! Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to know Jilanne a bit more each time our paths cross and through each Susanna Hill contest we enter.  She’s a talented writer who’s been around the PB world. Her writing resume includes contest winner, book giveaway recipient, Highlights attendee, Facebooker, Instagramer, blogger and an active part of 12×12 and the PPBF community.  She’s also the co-producer of Kidquake in San Francisco. One of the most interesting opportunities she’s had recently was being selected as a participant for Rutgers One-on-One Conference.  Are you familiar with this unique event? Have you always been curious? Grab a drink and pull up a chair if you want to hear all about her experience. Jilanne ordered a fine glass of Brunello di Montalcino and I’ll definitley have what she’s having (it’s past 5:00 here, y’all!) 

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Thinking about applying to the Rutgers One-on-One Conference sponsored by the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature? Not sure if it’s worth it? It spans only one day. Not sure what you’ll get out of it? It depends on what you’re looking for.

I attended in 2017. I didn’t fully understand what to expect, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to get out of it. Call me clueless.

But maybe you haven’t ever heard of Rutgers, so let me take a step back.

The Rutgers One-on-One Conference began nearly 50 years ago as a way for agents and editors to share information and insights about writing and publishing with authors and illustrators. Rutgers is a one-day marathon, consisting of a continental breakfast, a keynote by a former attendee with a recent debut children’s book, small roundtables with other attendees and agents/editors/authors, an individual critique with an agent/editor/author (an assigned mentor), panel discussions with agents and editors, and a final keynote at the end the day. Out of breath from the sprint? The conference goes faster than the time it takes to read this paragraph.

Several people had told me about their experiences. “It goes lightning fast, so be focused” said one. “Review the list of mentors beforehand, and decide which agents, editors, authors or illustrators you really want to meet. You’ll have to focus on the few because there are so many people and so little time,” said another.

One person told me that her mentor finished her MS critique in 15 minutes out of the hour they had together, so she was glad she had more MSS with her. Me? I took seven MS, and my mentor spent the entire hour asking me detailed questions about the single MS I had sent in for the application.

But it was an awesome discussion! And I’ve had valuable ongoing exchanges with the editor since then. But what happens to you could be very different from either of these two examples. Just be prepared with MSS and/or questions. It’s your time. Make the most of it.

Also understand that your mentor only gets a few minutes to read your MS before meeting with you in the middle of the day. So you’re going to get their first impressions. But you will also have that hour to dig deeper into the MS with them if you like. And since they’re spending so much time with you, they’re more likely to remember you and your MS down the road. Build that relationship!

You’ll also benefit from the hour-long discussion at your roundtable with a mixed group of mentors and other attendees. Take that time to ask any burning questions you have about the industry or MSS, in general. It’s not the time to ask questions that pertain only to your work.

And then there are the panels of agents and editors, also quite enlightening. You get to hear about what they’re looking for, what they see far too much of, and if they have any pesky pet peeves to avoid. In between all of these activities, you can schmooze if you’re a schmoozer. But as with any other conference, no handing of an unsolicited MS to an agent or editor.

And then the final huge benefit of attending: being able to send unsolicited MSS to almost everyone on the mentor list, whether you have spoken with them or not, following the conference.

There you have it. Rutgers in a nutshell. If this sounds enticing, send in an application and see what happens! Good luck!

2018 APPLICATION DEADLINES:
June 30, 2018 (fiction & illustration)
June 21, 2018 (nonfiction)

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Thanks, Jilanne for sharing! I keep toying with the idea of applying, but I’m still not sure. If you do then I wish you the absolute best of luck. Stay tuned, next week for the kickoff of our #100PictureBookSummer! Plus, I’ll have more fun interviews and guest posts to share, too!

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, complete with sun, shade and heartfelt gratitude for eveyone who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect ‘the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave.’

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

A most resilient writer.

I could’ve also titled this post, “Momma messed up and is trying to fix it.” 

Let me back up a few steps and explain, my daughter, I know I’ve talked about her before, is what keeps me writing.  She, and her brothers are the reason that I keep chipping away at this dream, even when it feels like the odds are stacked against me.  I do it because I hope to open creative channels in their young hearts and minds.  I do it so that they realize the endless possibilities that life has to offer and understand that that picking a path doesn’t mean its forever, only for now.  I do it so they see me chasing a dream, and hope that one day they’ll find the courage to chase their own.  She’s the one who keeps me on point, though.  She’s the one who reads all my stories, talks through all of my revisions, understands that I’ve received rejections and the reasons I keep writing. Not to knock her brothers, they’re just too young to fully comprehend.  She watched me take a leap of faith at the tender age of 6 and she’s been with me every step of the way.  The best part is, she loves to write just as much as I do. 

Last year she participated in #50PreciousWordsforKids and had a blast.  She and I were eagerly looking forward to the challenge this year, she worked on a story, edited, revised, trimmed fluff and got to a point where she was pleased with herself and her 50 words.  As her mom, I was overflowing with pride… I couldn’t wait to share it, but I forgot to submit it. Can you believe that? It was all my fault, too. There’s no excuse, I just missed the deadline. 

So, I did what I would’ve wanted her to do, tell the truth and beg for forgiveness.  Luckily for me, she’s about the most gracious and forgiving girl around and didn’t hand down a swift punishment but rather accepted the consolation prize I offered. “I can post your story on my blog,” I suggested and she was quick to agree. She really is one of the coolest girls you’ll ever meet.  For the past week she’s immersed herself into the world of Shel Silverstein and is reciting poetry and writing her own off-the-wall rhymes.  She loves to read, to write and to share whether that’s a joke, the last bit of her lunch, her favorite pencil or something she’s created, story or otherwise.   I wish I had been exposed to more authors, makers and creators as a child.  I wish I knew about all these wonderful avenues of creativity and the thousands of ways to share them with the world.  But she does, and my boys will too and at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. 

I hope you enjoy her story as much as I do.  (I’m only a little biased!) Remember, it had to be a complete story in only 50 words (title not included.) If you are curious to know more, check out Vivian Kirkfield’s website here, where she runs both #50PreciousWords and #50PreciousWordsforKids annually and is a constant cheerleader and champion for all things kid lit. 

THE STUDY GAME.

“UHHHH,” ALEX SAID, “I DON’T LIKE STUDYING.”

“ALEX, IT’S NOT BAD”, SAID HIS BROTHER.

ALEX LOVED VIDEOGAMES.  HE WOULD SNEAK TO HIS ROOM AND PLAY THEM.

“ALEX, I’VE GOT A GAME!”  ALEX RAN DOWNSTAIRS. “IT IS A STUDY GAME!  WAIT…I LOVE STUDYING NOW!”

There it is, written and edited all by herself with four words to spare. I’m not sure why it’s all in caps, but she gave me her seal of approval to post it, so post I did.  In the coming weeks, I have another friend I want to introduce to you (except you probably know her already), not to mention the kickoff of our second #100PictureBookSummer and an exciting line up of Paper People Interviews! Thanks for spending time with she and I today, and helping this absent-minded momma make amends. 

 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

 

Be My Guest, Mona Pease!

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

Without further ado… Mona Pease!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Thank you note.

Dear Hivemind,

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

                                                                                                                        Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                           The girl with a burnt bowl of oatmeal.

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Submissions & Admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

What’s the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

          What do you do with a broken heart?

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

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

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The bridge.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

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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Thanks so much for visiting with me!