Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to last May for a moment… It all started with NaPiBoWriWee, and a serendipitous blog connection.  I was clicking and scrolling through comments that other participants were leaving on the daily blog posts.  I clicked on a name and felt compelled to comment on her blog… she returned the favor… and for a while, that’s how it went.  Then one day she told me about The Writers Match and how well it fit into her (relatively) social media free life.  She talked highly about the critique partnerships she’s made and I found my own way there.  Every connection I’ve made, thanks to The Writer’s Match, has been fruitful and founder Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz has been a kind and gracious host.  She agreed to join me here for a conversation about her ‘brainchild’, her projects and her place in the Kid Lit community. I’m always inspired by innovators; people who see a problem and take steps to make a change.  That’s exactly what Megan did in the creation of this website designed to create critique partnerships.  If you aren’t familiar with the website, check it out here…. but first…

Megan! Thanks for playing along, I’m so happy to have you here! I’m going to start with a question I’ve been dying to ask you… HOW in the world do you pronounce your last name? Thanks, Jennifer! As you can imagine, I get that question a LOT. We pronounce it TUH-RAS-KA-WITZ. The Polish pronunciation is more like TARA-SKEHV-ITCH. I always know the people with a Polish background because they’ll pronounce it that way and I mentally give them extra credit. Technically my last name combines my maiden and married name so my full name is Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz. Yes, my maiden name was only two letters long (It’s Hungarian) and I repeatedly asked my husband if he’d rather take my name to no avail. So now I’m Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing for children?  It took me a LONG time to realize that I wanted to write for children. Looking back, though, the signs were always there but I ignored them. I never spent my days writing or reading but I always made up stories in my mind. After college and a brief stint as a daycare teacher, I got my graduate degree to become a media specialist. I got married, became pregnant, lost my job while we were in the midst of buying a house and my brother was dying of cancer. Life was a rollercoaster. Losing my brother in 2009 was difficult but losing my son in 2013 was devastating. My son, Owen, died after a virus triggered a rare disease called HLH that we didn’t know he had and the doctors missed. It was after Owen died that I committed myself to pursuing the joys and passions in my life. I began writing more and more and attended my first SCBWI event a few months after he passed. I felt like I finally had a purpose and direction for my life.

Such a profound lesson, and beautifully poignant journey.  With it being such a deep-seated awareness, I have no doubt you’re writing from a rich and fertile place.  How would you describe your writing style? What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? I write humorous stories with lots of wordplay. I love clever and funny stories that are also short and sweet. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is one of those books that I feel like is as close to perfect as possible. I was equally enthralled by it and mad that I wasn’t the one who wrote it when I first read it. I feel similar about Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry. Just so simple and yet complex at the same time. I use Bob Shea’s books as mentor texts all the time, too. Love his humor! I have a goal to write a nonfiction picture book one of these days. I have a draft done that I’d love to get out there one of these days.

Oh, I do love Bob Shea! I’ll need to put those others on my list.  I’m a new member of SCBWI, but you’re very involved with NJSCBWI.  (Which seems like a force to be reckoned with.)  When did you get involved?  How have you found your place? Well, I’m involved with NJSCBWI as a participant only. I do not organize anything with them. They are an amazing group of hardworking individuals who create awesome opportunities for the kid lit community. Their Fall Craft weekend was my first official writing event that I went to in November of 2013. Boy, have I come a LONG way since then. If anyone ever gets the chance to go to a NJSCBWI Spring Conference, it’s a must! As far as finding my place, I feel like I’m still doing that. I do have a reputation for wearing quirky dresses to events and people remember me from that. I think it helps me stand out and is also part of my “brand” as far as being an author who writes humorous stories.

Brilliant!! I mean I do love dresses, but I’m talking about your ability to set yourself apart from the crowd, in a way that’s perfectly authentic.  Bravo!  Now I’m rethinking my outfit for my conference this weekend. Okay, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of why you’re here… The Writers Match.  Tell me all about it!  The idea for The Writers Match had been swimming my head for a while. When I went to the NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in 2016, I was lamenting about how hard it was to find good critique partners to another writer and I explained my idea for a “match.com for critique partners”.  I decided to just make it happen. I can’t remember the exact date the website went live because it was “live” for a bit while I worked on it with my web developer. I had my trusted critique partner, Nicole, sign up first and be our guinea pig in all things TWM. We have 116 members today which is great considering I have not been able to advertise the site as widely as I want yet. I am hoping to get some ads in Writers Digest soon.

I love the profiles, the message system and the ability to filter members both by genre and by experience.  (Picture Books and Unpublished for me!) What do you think the best way to use the website is? Me, too! I really wanted it to be easy for people to search for suitable critique partners based on whatever criteria they wanted. For example, if you are writing a book that takes place in Florida but you live in Alaska, you should be able to search for a critique partner in Florida to help you with your setting. Or if you are a male writer writing a female character, you can search for women to give you feedback.

I think the way to get the most out of the site is to spend some time really writing out what you want in your profile. Write down if you love romance but hate historical fiction or if you are a sci-fi expert but would like to read a contemporary middle grade. It helps other writers get a sense of who you are and if you might “click” as critique partners.

Ah, I saw what you did there! Bonus points awarded for play-on-words! What is your vision for the future of TWM? I firmly believe that having good critique partners is the key to success as a writer. I would love to have a site where thousands of writers are swapping stories daily and making connections. Ultimately, I’d love to offer in-person critique partner meet-ups or critique conferences.

That’s a wonderful, big picture idea.  Then we can all support each other in the big (conference) and little (critique) ways.  Speaking of support, I know that in addition to TWM and SCBWI, you wear a lot of hats and seem to have many irons in the fire in your community.  How do you juggle writing and the rest of your life, raising an adorable young family and all that good stuff?   Thank you. My most important hat is “MOM”. I have two young daughters that take up a lot of my time. My older daughter just entered kindergarten, which has freed up the time that my younger daughter naps so I can do some work. I also try to get up at 6am so I can work for about an hour before they get up.  Last year when my older daughter took a dance class, I went to the library and worked while she danced. I squeeze it in wherever I find the time. I love my community so I try to be as involved as possible. I work with my son’s former school and PTO to organize a race every year to raise money for his school in memory of him. It takes months to organize and plan the race. We just had the race last Saturday so in the weeks leading up to it, I got no work done and that’s okay! I try to be gentle with myself and not put too much pressure on my writing self.

Sounds like great, healthy boundaries.  Slowly but surely, I think I’m getting there. What phase of your writing journey are you in now?  I feel like I am just on the threshold of being published which has made me a bit more impatient. It’s sort of like the third trimester of pregnancy; so close but it feels like a really long time and it’s hard to get sleep-ha! When I meet with agents and editors at conferences and events and they have positive things to say about my writing and stories, it’s a great feeling. When I submit those stories and get nothing but the sound of crickets in my inbox, it becomes frustrating. I recently had a great agent say, “I love this story! It’s perfect…but I’m not representing picture book authors at this time.” In those moments, I just shake my fist at the sky and yell, “NOOOOOO!” But, like life, publishing is a rollercoaster and I’m in it for the long haul. I currently have 10 queries out to agents and I’m trying to write as much as possible while I wait

Oh, I love that analogy! I feel your pain… but only in the actual pregnancy sense, not in the publishing way. Maybe I’m close to the end of my first trimester? Hmm… Interesting.  Since you’re so close, can you share what you consider the most valuable writing tools in your toolbox?  I recently won a scholarship for the 12×12 Challenge (12x12challenge.com) and it has helped me have the most prolific year of writing possible. I’ve written at least one draft each month and a few of those have been good enough to start querying with. I want to make sure I have a deep well of drafts from which to draw from when an agent comes knocking.

The program offers webinars, online support, critique partners, and unique querying opportunities each month. Other than that, I participate in Read for Research Month or ReFoReMo and StoryStorm. I will do anything that’s offered for free and I am always reading new books. I get huge stacks from the library every week or so. My kids love all the new books and they don’t realize it’s mom’s “work” to read them.

12×12 and ReForReMo are both on top of my to-do list.  I missed both in 2017, but don’t plan to let that happen again.  Do you have anything on your Kid Lit wish list that you hope to accomplish in the next year? Well, the ultimately goal is to have an agent, right? Fingers crossed that I get one soon! I plan to do at least one conference next year. As I said before, I love the NJSCBWI one and I really enjoyed going to the NESCBWI this past year so I may try to get there again. I’d LOVE to do a retreat but it may not be in the financial cards. I’d love to organize a retreat through The Writers Match with lots of critiquing and a professional to help. I think that would be awesome! As always, though, the goal is to just keep writing and to keep growing as a writer.

That sounds like a great plan, keeping sights set on both the ‘big goals’ and day-to-day writing at the same time.  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! I wish you all the best and look forward to crossing paths with you.  One day soon we’ll be celebrating your debut picture book, I can feel it! Thank YOU! I can feel it, too. I know the hard work will get me there!

And that’s not the only interview I have on-tap for this week! Come back Friday for the next installment of Paper People with Liz Wong.  Her debut picture book is the adorable Quackers and it’s a hot-ticket item right now.  Have you heard about Read for the Record? Are you signed up? Check out this video clip! You won’t want to miss our conversation! See you soon!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Lessons from a Dummy

It’s a fact, the dummy changed my life.  Dramatic as that may sound, from the perspective of a picture book writer who felt stuck in her own revision process, it’s completely true.   I’ve known about the concept of dummy picture books for months now, and I’ve heard (or read) tons of people talk about what a necessary step it is.  I must be a slow learner because I’ve been avoiding it until this week.  But I did it, and I love it and I can’t wait to talk about it.

I used scrapbook paper because I like the weight of the paper in my hands.  After I cut them in half, stapled them together and numbered them 1-32, I pasted in my text.  I started on page 5. (And if anyone has a different opinion on this, please share.) For this dummy, which will be the first of many, I just separated my sentences into what I thought would work best.  You have to start somewhere, right?  It blew my mind what a different feel the story had, now that it’s not in paragraph form on 8.5 x 11” sheets of paper, and instead actually resembles a book.  Many of my hiccups became clear, as did clumsy wording and soft spots in my story.  There are a few of my sentences that need to be tightened up, and for probably one-third of those, I could easily see how to do so. I’m going to keep chipping away at the edits that are surfacing from this experience.  Of course, I’m going to make another, if not more after that, touching things up along the way. How crazy that I was leaving out this incredibly crucial step!

As I’m still digesting the revelation that I talked about in my last post, and coming off my ‘dummy’ high, I know what wrinkles need to be ironed out now… Read Aloud Potential.  It’s the obvious next step and is exactly what the dummy is helping me to discover.  I don’t just want to write a picture book; I want to write some kid’s favorite picture book.  On top of that, I want to write one that parents love to read to their children.  (aka Panda Cake!)  That’s where the magic happens in this corner of the market, and it’s completely unique to picture books.  I know my opinion of the book I’m reading affects the quality of my reading and the tone of my voice.  I know the pain of being asked to read a story to one of my kids that I REAAALLLYYYY don’t like, or when I suggest one that’s not a favorite of my kids. On the other hand, I know the joy and delight that comes when I read a story that we all love, and what a richer experience it makes.  I want to write one of those, and I need its real aloud potential to be off the charts.  (Mary Kole just posted a great video blog on this exact thing, you can find it here if you want more info)

So, the moral of this story… make a dummy of your picture book manuscript, in fact, make a dozen.  I’m going to the store tomorrow, stacking up on paper and glue sticks, and will turn my sweet little writing desk into a dummy factory.

 

In somewhat unrelated news… Kid Lit College is having a Board Book contest, with two categories (standard & novelty) going on now through May 31.  There’s also a chapter book contest going at the same time.  I’m going to enter the board book contest with a blend of one of my NaPiBoWriWee stories and a previous project!  The winner gets their manuscript critiqued by five editors, what a great opportunity.

Also, my daughter finished and submitted her #50PreciousWordsforKids entry.  We had a blast working on her story together.  This was one she had previously written but was way above the word limit, so we talked and walked through a bit of editing together.  Mother-Daughter editing; it did get as dicey as it sounds, but that was short-lived, and she was very proud of her finished product.  You can read Mia the Cat and all of the entries here. The contest received entries from 15 states and 6 different countries.  It was a wonderful lesson for my seven-year-old on just how small the world is while at the same time expanding her view beyond the city limits of our small town.  Whew, I think that’s all I have for today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Senses

Disclaimer: I feel certain that one day I’ll look back at this post with a patronizing smile, or maybe a cringe, and think of what a sentential idealist I was. I fully expect to laugh at all the fluff.  But, if this site is about recording the journey, and this is where I am today. Plus, if that does happen and I find myself looking back, then I’ve gone somewhere; mission accomplished.

I am a small fish.  Within my current school, I find myself among thousands of others, trying to get their Picture Book published. Slowly I am making my way to the middle of the group, with the majority ahead of me and a handful of others just starting out. I know that if I’m ever going to have a chance of making it in this industry, I need to do a few things.  I need the quality of my writing to improve.  I need to continue to educate myself on the industry.  I need to form a network of other fish so we can help each other out when the current gets rough.  I also need to know who it is I aspire to be.  I have a clear understanding of why I write today, and who I am at this moment, but I need to discover who I want to be, as a writer, five, ten or twenty years from now.  This week, in the midst of a good book and a great writing challenge, I started to figure it out.

Erica Bauermeister, the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners, is my favorite.  Her books have affected me greatly, in fact, they’re more than friends; they’re family.  Erica has an incredible gift of incorporating all five senses, so as the reader, you have the chance to BE in the story, not just watch it unfold.  She takes something as menial as buying a tomato at a produce stand and transforms her words into an experience.  Before I know it, I can feel the weight of the tomato in my hand, see the shiny red skin, smell the surrounding produce and hear the lively market in the background.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried to utilize all of my senses in every aspect of life.  When studying in nursing school, I would re-write all my notes, read them aloud, listen to the same classical music CD and drink ice water.  When reading to my children, I always have them sit in my lap, we touch the pages as we go through them and have even smelled a book or two.  If I’m cooking supper for my family, I like to chop my own onions, grate my own cheese, and smell every ingredient before adding it to the pot. It’s no wonder Erica’s books speak to me; they do the same.

As a writer, this is what I want to bring to children.  I want to write stories that not only encourage creativity but also stimulate their senses.  I want to make it easy for them to taste the refreshing bite of watermelon, or hear the screech of a table saw in the background.  I want to write books that are more than stories for children to hear, I want to write stories they can experience.

Last Tuesday evening, I had an ‘Aha moment’ as I was unpacking this revelation.  From that point on, I allowed the five senses (plus one) to guide me through my NaPiBoWriWee challenge.  I used six of the seven days to write a story that focused on one of the senses, with the sixth being emotions.  If I’m going to find success, I have to master the use of descriptive words, at a very basic and elementary level. I know that I have a long way to go, and for some of you this might seem like an intangible and therefore unrealistic goal.  I can appreciate that, and I know that I have more to unpack about my future hopes and dreams.  But the good part about goals is that they only need to hold significance for the one who set them, and I’m excited to get back to my WIP with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to my NaPiBoWriWee friends:

  1. Violet’s Heartbreak- Emotion
  2. Messy Grace’s Messy Place- Sight
  3. My Momma has a Monster- Sound
  4. Wendy’s Watermelon- Taste
  5. Bruce is Loose! – Smell
  6. Nurses- Touch
  7. School of Superheroes- All 6! Score!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Reduce heat & let simmer…

I’m taking a break from the construction analogies, for one that comes much more naturally for me.  ICYMI-I’ve demolished my picture book manuscript, cleared out and sifted through the rubble, started on the foundation and am currently letting the cement slab dry.  While that happens, I’ll move it to the back burner, reduce the heat and let it simmer a while.

This week I found, NaPiBoWriWee, otherwise known as National Picture Book Writing Week, and just in the nick of time.   It’s a writing challenge for picture book writers, 7 books in 7 days, running May 1-7.  Obviously, it takes much more than 7 days for a Picture Book manuscript to reach completion, so these aren’t so much as ‘books’ as they are ‘drafts’.  It’s meant to be a ‘creative kick start’, to get juices flowing.  The drafts are only for myself at the end of it all, but maybe a future bestseller will emerge from one of the participants, that would not have been written otherwise.  The real benefit to the challenge is the opportunity to make connections.  We have a Facebook group, blog posts, and hashtags, keeping us connected and helping each of us to celebrate our daily success. There are a few of these opportunities scattered throughout the year in the Kid Lit world, but this is the first one I have the chance to participate in and so far, I’m having a blast.  I do believe that as the week goes on, it’ll get more difficult, but writing through those times of is one of the trademarks of being a writer, right? Here’s what I have so far…

Day 1– A tender story about heartbreak and putting the pieces back together after a loss. This one had been brewing for quite some time, I’m glad to have finally mustered up the courage to put it on paper.

Day 2– A silly story about a girl named Grace, her messy room and the understanding that she and her mom come to.

Day 3– I think I feel another story about my main man (aka 5-year-old main character) rising to the surface.

Day 4 thru Day 7, only time will tell.  Next time I see you, I’ll have finished the challenge!

Through NaPiBoWriWee and other avenues, I continue to establish connections with other writers and am humbled that some have gone so far as to take time out of their busy schedules to offer some feedback and guidance.  Some I’ve found by chance; others are bloggers that I’ve been following for a while.  Just this week, I found a blog, started from a very similar place as mine, three years before Magnolias.  The author of that site just had her first book published!  I’ve found other writers who are young mothers and fathers and even some from healthcare backgrounds.   I’m grateful for these new connections and excited to watch new relationships form.   From time to time I come across, ‘Blogs I Follow’ lists on other sites and have learned much from them.  I’m including a short one here, in case anyone is looking for more on my favorite topic.

www.kitlit.com

https://jeanswriting.com

www.themaggieproject.com

http://www.annaforrester.com/hmmmmm

https://taralazar.com

http://childrenswritersworld.blogspot.com

https://jennifermaryg.com

http://www.adventuresinagentland.com

http://paulayoo.com  (NaPiBoWriWee Host!)

https://viviankirkfield.com

Next week, I plan to bring my picture book manuscript back to the front burner, check the seasoning and maybe toss in a few green onions.  Mmmmmm… wish me luck!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP