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

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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.

IMG_0972[1909]

 

Instagram: @camilleandros

Twitter: @camdros

Facebook: Camille Andros

Thanks so much for visiting with me!

#50PreciousWords

Tommy’s Two Wheels.

“It’s broken, buddy.”

“My training wheel? This is the worst day.”

“Want to try riding without them?”

Tommy’s stomach flipped.

          “Two wheels? But, will you help?”

Dad smiled, “Foot on the pedal.”

          “Don’t let go!”

“Push!” Wobble.

          “Don’t let go!”

“Pedal!” Wobble.

          “Don’t… let…”

“Go!”

         “This is the BEST day!”

 

Well there you have it! That was HARD.  For a lot of reasons, one, 50 words is a lot less than you think. Two, I really wanted to rhyme… really, really, really, but in the end, the story didn’t, so I let it go.  Three, I’ve been feeling a little creatively tapped out. I nearly gave myself a brain cramp trying to get this story down on paper and four, did I mention it was only FIFTY WORDS? The struggle is real for a naturally wordy person like myself.  I will almost always use 45 words to say something, when I really only need 5.

Here’s a fun fact! This story is loosely based on true events.  My five-year-old (MC) had an unusually tough day at school, last Friday. You know, in the big picture, the day wasn’t so bad for him, but as his parents it was tough on us.  As my husband and I tried to shake off the events of the afternoon and start the weekend MC took a minute to survey his options. He was punished… from a lot, but he’s the pragmatic sort and quickly settled on a bike ride. After a couple trips up and down our street, he parked to his beloved hand-me-down bike and declared, “I think I’m ready to take my training wheels off!” And he was.

In a moment, the day was transformed by the pride on his face and the squeals he let out as he quickly got the hang of riding on two wheels.  Any lingering frustration and frazzle, my husband and I were still feeling melted away as we watched him conquer the open road.  In the end, it was a great weekend and we all survived the punishment. It’s been ten days and every evening it’s still an act of Congress to get that kid off of his bike and inside for supper. That fateful Friday will forever live on as the day he rode without training wheels (after earning himself a trip to the principals office).

There are so many incredible entries, head on over to Vivian Kirkfield’s blog here and check out the comments section for a plethora of short and sweet stories. I give myself and everyone else who entered an A+ for completion. I’m not kidding- That. Was. Hard.

The End.

(Also, I think I’m going to give myself bonus points for using the words plethora and pragmatic after 9pm on a Monday)

Stay tuned for my visit with Camille Andros next week!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Be My Guest, Megan Jones!

I interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to introduce you to another dear friend! My first ever ‘new writing friend’ actually.  It’s only fitting that I introduce you this weekend because we ‘met’ thanks to #50PreciousWords, and guess what’s going on right now?!? I guess to be fair, we met because I found her blog (during NaPiBoWriWee), but the first post I read was her award winning #50PreciousWords entry and I knew right at that very moment that I wanted to be her friend! (Creepy much?) So, I watched her blog from afar, low and behold she did the same thing! We swapped comments, for a while and finally connected (via The Writers Match). The rest, my friends, is history.  She writes a wonderful combination of silly, refreshing picture books that will make you giggle along with the sweet, simple kind that tug at your heartstrings.  I simply adore her ‘voice’ (the writing kind, because I’ve never heard the real thing, of course) and I know you will too! Read on, I invited her over for a drink, and she was kind enough to remind her forgetful, southern friend “I’m LDS (aka Mormon) as well as expecting my 3rd child, so my beverage options are very boring.  I should ask for a green smoothie or something healthy, but I’d rather have a chocolate milkshake or a tall glass of milk with a side of cookies, of course.” Done and done. Grab yourself some while you’re at it and read on.  In the words of Mrs. Jones, “Welp, here goes nothing….”

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

In 2016, I rediscovered my childhood love of writing.  I started with reading every kid lit blog, writing book and website I could find. In 2017, I forced myself out of my comfort zone by joining Twitter and participating in writing contests, one of which was Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords.  Vivian is a gold mine of kid lit knowledge and one of the nicest people to boot.  If you haven’t yet, you need to read her website ASAP https://viviankirkfield.com/

 In a nutshell, for the #50preciouswords contest you only have 50 words to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Sounds easy, right?  Bahaha!  This contest forces you to edit and analyze every precious word in a new way.  Oh, and after all that editing, you need to have a strong story that can stand on its own.  The idea for my 2017 #50preciouswords story was a Storystorm idea (https://taralazar.com/) I was itching to tell.  Tara’s website is another treasure chest of kid lit goodness.  #50preciouswords seemed like a perfect time to take this idea and try to mold it into a story.  After a few days of revising, analyzing and a few helpful critiques, I felt I had a story that was ready to enter.  Also, knowing how I do things, the contest was probably about to end.  I put the story on my very neglected blog and had some sweet comments.  I spent the rest of the day reading all the talented entries I could.  I felt a connection to fellow participants/complete strangers also following their dream of writing for children.

 The day the results were posted, I was shocked to see I had placed 19th! I screamed like I’d just won the HGTV Dream Home (also a life goal of mine).  I’d entered a few other contests without any success.  This was the boost I needed to get through a few more months of writing disappointments.  The next week Vivian sent me a personal email congratulating me and letting me know it was time to pick my prize.  Seriously, after 251 entries how did she have the energy or time to send a personal message and feedback on my story? 

 I have two young sons that love to be anything except little boys.  My boys never respond to their names.  Depending on the day, we have Marshall the dog, Pup the puppy, Charlotte the cat, and Godzilla the T-Rex.  It seemed only appropriate I chose as my prize HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER written & illustrated by the very talented Jennifer P. Goldfinger. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062399519/hello-my-name-is-tiger

  Vivian put me in contact with Jennifer, and she graciously offered to personalize the book.  Yes, please!  I live in a rural area where the opportunity to attend book signings and meet authors or illustrators is nonexistent.  I screamed again (the neighbors were starting to get worried about all this screaming) when this arrived in the mail…

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 How cute is that?  I’m sure this package spread smiles and sunshine from the East Coast all the way to mountains of Utah.

 I appreciate the kindness of the kid lit community.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without the knowledge and encouragement of authors and these amazing events they sponsor.  Thank you for donating your precious time/resources/books.  It means the world to us newbies trying to navigate our way into the world of kid lit.  Now if you haven’t yet, go write your #50preciouswords story!  I can’t wait to read it.

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She’s not kidding either, go find your 50 words, put them together and tell us a story! I’ll be forever grateful for that award-winning story.  Do you want to read it? Check here and stay tuned for this year’s entry. You won’t be disappointed!  I just want to point out, did you catch that she’s expecting? An interesting bit of foreshadowing, don’t you think!  My life has become infinitely more interesting since I added a dash of the Utah mountains to my deep-south Gumbo. In case you want more Megan Jones in your life, your best bet is twitter @rubycargirl. Her tweets are my favorite! She blogs too, rather inconsistently and quietly but they’re always a great read.

On Tuesday I’ll be posting MY #50PreciousWords entry and the following week I get to share my Paper People Interview with Camille Andros!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

The Meaning of Magnolia.

In January of 2017, I decided to take a leap of creative faith.  The idea of starting a blog had been following me around for about six months, though I had seriously been avoiding it.  For one, I didn’t really understand the point of blogs.  Second, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would read what I had to say. Third, a few parenting/lifestyle/mom blogs and their ‘expert point-of-views’ had left a bad taste in my mouth. But like I said, it was persistent in its pursuit of me.  All the while this was happening, I was struggling to find a sense of community and direction as an aspiring picture book author.  So, I agreed to consider the blog.  I realized that the blog itself might just be the answer to what I was searching for. My one major roadblock?  I didn’t have a name for it. The short version of this long story is that I stewed over possible names for weeks, without any obvious frontrunner. Until one night in early January 2017, in a moment of sheer shower brilliance, I claimed Magnolias & Manuscripts as my very own. It was perfect, it scratched my alliteration itch, incorporated the obvious writing reference and the icing on the cake was the nod to my southern heritage.  The more I worked through it in my brain, however, I knew there was a deeper connection to magnolias that had nothing to do with the state flower of Louisiana or flipping houses. (I’ve never seen the show.)  

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I also know myself and knew that I needed to set a few ground rules before I started.  For one, it’s not in my nature to draw attention to myself; I am a very introverted extrovert. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to blog to generate a following, but to make connections. I wasn’t going to offer an expert point of view, but rather it would be told from the viewpoint of an amateur, aspiring author, with little formal training but a whole lot of tenacity.  And finally, I committed myself to six months of weekly posts. As my first post formulated in my brain and then on paper, I received a wonderful confirmation that this was the right move and it came by way of my precious little Australian Magnolia tree.

My parents are avid and excellent gardeners.  Ask anyone, their yard is a beautiful display of seasonal foliage that always seems to bloom at just the right times, in all the right colors. It really is a masterpiece.  My take on flower beds is decidedly simpler.  I need evergreens, annuals and sun-loving plants that don’t require any attention whatsoever.  I don’t have much of an opinion on flowers.  I don’t know what most of their names are, anyway, and I rarely remember that they are living things in need of some ‘tlc’ (tender, loving care). There was an obvious empty space in the front corner, though, too close to the house for a shade tree and too big for a shrub.  I wanted an ornamental tree that would flower but was as low maintenance as the rest. Finally, after years (literally) of talking about it, my husband went to a nursery and came home with a baby Australian Magnolia.   

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This plucky little tree is just what the doctor ordered for my south Louisiana flower beds.  For the second year in a row, this tree bloomed earlier than any other magnolia I could find and it did so enthusiastically.  It suffered bouts of disease and drought and somehow pulled through. As an aspiring writer, I hope I have many of those same characteristics.  I hope that I can maintain an eager, determined, and vibrant disposition in this field I call my own.  I hope that I continue to find a way to bloom, whenever the time is right for me, surrounded by others who are working just as hard as I am.   

By all accounts, this past year and my blogging experiment has been a smashing success.  I have 83 followers! (WHAT! I’m speechless!) I’ve blogged often. I’ve branched out. I’ve made connections and I’ve put down roots.  I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring! Without a doubt, I’m going to continue Paper People, my interview series (second week of the month), and Be My Guest, my newly released guest-blog series (last week of the month.)  I’m also going to hone the focus of my other posts in on my current genre, picture books.  I hope to have fewer ramblings and musings and more posts with purpose.  But then again, look at today, I’m not sure if that’s even my style.   

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Today marks the ceremonious start to my second year as a blogger! Thanks for joining me here, this week and every week.  Since everything has a way of coming full circle, let me close the loop for you.  We planted our Magnolia tree right around the time that I wrote my first manuscript.  It bloomed for the first time right as I was working on my first blog post.  It wasn’t always pretty, much like many of my drafts.  And the tree now? It’s a little taller, a little fuller and still my favorite.  You could call it a coincidence if you want, but I don’t believe in such things.  We are traveling similar paths, this tree and I, and I’m so grateful to have company.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

 

 

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