Create.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

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Hooray for Halloweensie!

One of the most enjoyable parts of this writing community comes in the form of contests & challenges. This is my first year participating in Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie contest, but surely not my last. I’ve included a snippet from her blog, explaining the rules below. (Oh, I also borrowed the jack-o-lantern from her blog! I wanted to keep with the theme, you know?)

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.)  Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)  Get it?  Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people 🙂  (And yes, I know 100 words is short, but that’s part of the fun and the challenge!  We got nearly 150 fantastic entries last year, so I know you can do it!)  Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. monsters, monstrous, shadowy, shadowed, whathaveyou 🙂  NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! (And yes, you may submit more than one entry if you’re so inclined 🙂 ) https://susannahill.com/2017/10/16/bic-folks-announcing-the-7th-annual-halloweensie-writing-contest-guidelines/  

And without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to…. (drumroll)

Candie’s Monster Shadows

Candie Corn was excited; it was her favorite night of the year!

She loved everything from costumes to yummy treats.

Her problem was the scary shadows.

This year will be different, she thought, putting on her costume. I’ll pretend they’re something else.

Later, when trick-or-treating was over, she headed home.

One shadow looked like a spider. “You’re just a hand,” she said, giving a wave.

The next resembled a bat, “but I’ll make you a butterfly!”

“And you’re not a monster you’re a monkey!” she giggled.

She tricked away every shadow until she was Home Treat Home.

 

I hope you’re all having fabulous fall weather! Best of luck to all the other Halloweensie participants. I can’t wait to read your fabulous posts!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

The hat.

I spent all of Monday with a baseball cap on my head.  This is strange for two reasons: First, I don’t wear hats more than a handful of times in any given year; but Monday was unusually blustery and my hair was ten kinds of dirty.  Second, the logo on the hat was for a company that had long been one of my husband’s biggest competitors but they recently purchased the company he worked for.  Now they aren’t the competition, instead, they pay the bills. If you’ve been a part of something similar, then you can imagine the stress we’ve been living with.  Thankfully, the unknown and instability of the past few months have smoothed out and the future looks promising. (No pink slips here!) Monday was a turning point for me, and I wore the hat as a concrete symbol of embracing this new chapter.  I’m going to pause here for a second, and tell you about last weekend.

Last weekend I attended my first writers’ conference. It’s a little ridiculous that I’m so far into this journey and hadn’t made my way to a conference, but that’s the truth. So, my first conference was the Bayou Writer’s Group Conference.  It was a perfect first time. I learned so many lessons that I could fill my next six weeks of blog posts. In addition to my first conference, it was my first in-person pitch session. My performance was less than stellar. You and I don’t know each other well enough yet for me to be completely candid, but truly, I did not do well.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to. I hoped to, of course, but I realize that it was uncharted waters and what I needed more than anything was just to jump in and get the first one over with. (I consider myself an optimistic realist.) I’ve affectionately named those fifteen minutes as “the first pancake”.  You get the analogy, I’ll spare you the details.

As I was unpacking and digesting the experience over lunch, a couple hours following my pitch. I had an interesting revelation, which continued through the week.  I did not pitch well, that’s a fact. More importantly, what I did not do well, was ‘talk the talk.’  I think that somewhere along the way I decided that I’ll only feel validated and confident as a writer once I have an agent/sell a book, aka once I ‘have something to show for it.’.  I’ve talked to enough authors, both debut and veteran to know that is far from the truth, but that’s still what I was trying to believe. It was during that lunch, talking to a YA author, whose debut book is due out next summer that I realized what I was so desperately lacking. She held herself with such confidence. She delivered her pitch to me perfectly, without stuttering, while holding perfect eye contact and using the right inflection and emotion. It was an inspiring performance.  As I commented to her on her confidence, she gave me the most wonderful, real-life advice, “It takes practice.”  Light bulb moment, folks. Of course, it does! Not only the pitch itself but talking the talk of a writer.  I have a ‘writers’ hat, but unlike the cap I wore Monday, I’ve been reluctant to wear it well.  My pitch did not go well because there was no confidence behind it.

I can’t sit around waiting for someone else to validate my journey. I can’t search for confidence anywhere else aside from inside of me. I’ll never land an agent, or a publishing deal if I can’t be ‘the whole package’, and that includes doing the hard work, both on paper and in person.  In all fairness, I consider my pitch an ‘ugly win.’ I accomplished what I hoped, I left with her business card and a trunk full of lessons of what to do differently.  I did it, I dove in.  Until my next conference, I can (and will) practice my pitches so that I’m ready. More importantly, I’ll walk with more confidence, at conferences and otherwise, even if it’s the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind.   I’ll find a way to wear that writer’s hat and wear it well.

I’m so excited to be participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest, so stay tuned for my itty-bitty Halloween story to be posted here on Friday.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

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

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

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

I publish a monthly (sometimes less frequently) newsletter that you can sign up for here:

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

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

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

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

 

See you Friday!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Steering the Craft

It’s been a struggle of mine from the beginning.  I love to learn, I’ll soak up every chance I find to hone my skills and expand my knowledge on writing for children.  I keep hitting the same roadblocks, however, and in my most honest moment yet… the biggest one is cost.  I desperately want to learn from the greats.  I would devour any and every piece of wisdom that these prolifically published authors can share if only I could afford it.  You may or may not understand the struggle, but for me, it’s become quite the ‘hamster wheel’.  How am I ever going to find success as a picture book writer if I don’t learn more from those who’ve done it well?  How am I ever going to be able to afford these courses if I don’t sell (a few) books first? But, I can’t sell books that aren’t sellable, so I need to improve… but in order to improve, I need to find a way to afford the fees… and on, and on, and on.

My first venture into the picture book world came by way of a deeply discounted webinar package that included a copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  Since then I’ve remained on the hunt for the literary version of clearance rack deals: webinars offered at a discount, free courses and social media communities that offer guidance and expertise.  Truth be told, some of what I was hearing started feeling repetitive and I couldn’t help but feel that something big was missing from my toolbox though.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that I can hear the same lessons over and over and over again, taking something different from each… but only if my writing is good enough to handle the challenges.  I think I allowed myself to get so bogged down in writing the perfect picture book, that I jumped ahead of myself.  All my energy focused on the picture book end, and I am still missing key components of basic writing.

So, what do I do when I’m feeling down and discouraged? I take myself to the library!  Down at the very bottom of a shelf, taking up only a small section of space, I found the books on writing.  (Seems ironic to me, that in a building filled with writings, there were so few books on the topic, but I digress.)  I only had about ten options, and the attention span of my three cohorts was waning, so I quickly chose two and we checked out.  Fast forward to the following weekend and I realized that I held a gem in my hands.  One chapter in to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin and I ordered my own copy from Amazon. (On sale, no less!) I also stumbled upon an idea, and after sleeping on it and fleshing it out a bit, I created an online book study via Facebook.  There, a handful of critique partners, kindred spirits, new friends and I will take one chapter at a time, and reset our focus on basic writing skills.  (Are you interested? Email me or find me on Facebook if so… we start Oct 1!)

I think so highly of those who see a void and take actionable steps to fill it.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the book study, even if it’s only my own personal void.  I hope all the group members benefit from the book, I also hope we connect a bit more as a small community who can support each other on this journey. I have no doubt that my time and energy (and money) will be well spent, once I sharpen my skills a bit more. And there are numerous communities and opportunities out there at little/no cost to help writers along the way.  I’ve included a short list here of the ones I’ve found helpful… If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • Kid Lit College offers webinars for a small fee ($20-$40 range) and some have been incredibly helpful… one, in particular, ‘Be A Better Critique Partner’ by Heather Alexander I keep on repeat, for myself and my critiques.
  • On Facebook, a group called ‘Debut Picture Book Study’ takes one debut picture book each month and breaks it down and holds a discussion to help readers learn from it. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I’d like, but the conversations are enlightening and I’ve learned a good bit, even if from the fringes.
  • Susanna Hill’s blog is a treasure chest of all things Kid Lit, she runs many different series… ‘Would You Read it Wednesday’ is a great segment, that allows readers to submit their PB pitch and then allows other readers to comment/critique. Pitches are so important to the PB process and something I struggle with in a big way. I think I’m going to try… (update: I did it! I’m on the books for November 8!)
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with the wisdom these audio gems provide. I really need to start taking notes…
  • SCWBI’s webinar calendar offers a wide variety of topics and all are very well priced. I haven’t dug into these but I’m eager to do so.

I know there are other opportunities, some I’m not even familiar with yet (and some are going to be discussed in another post!) To wrap up, I want to include a quote from the Introduction of my new favorite book…

“A skill is something you know how to do.  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 learn skill, you can earn it.  You can learn to deserve your gift… but first of all-it is an art, a craft, a making.  And that is the joy of it.  To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.  To learn to make something well can take your whole life.  It’s worth it.”            

Ursula K. le Guin Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story 2015 edition, pg.xii

 

Here’s to leaning to deserve my gift, your gift, all our gifts.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

PS- I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up! Stay tuned for the next couple of Tuesdays for an extra Let’s Talk posts (one of which is about a certain ‘PB How-To’ book I mentioned earlier!), and then soon after the October edition of Paper People with Liz Wong!

Timesheet

The beauty of this whole writing life, is that it happens at my home, on my time, right?  So, despite the fact that I’m not getting paid for any of this time, otherwise, it’s a pretty sweet gig.  I couldn’t agree more, except it’s really not as easy as you think.  (Well, not YOU, because if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about… I’m talking about non-writing folk).  I realized over the course of the past couple of weeks that I hit a wall.  Not a writer’s block kind of wall, one of those little brick half walls that takes some effort to climb over but allows you to see the other side?  My day job right now is also one that I do from home.  I’m a great self-motivator.  I’m goal oriented and I love deadlines.  I’m fairly efficient and feel confident that I can be effective at whatever is in front of me.  But I struggle so much with applying those same principles to my writing.  I decided enough was enough, I needed to traverse the wall and make some adjustments. Over the course of the past few days, I had some ‘Aha’ moments, that I think will prove to be significant.  In no particular order, here they are:

  1. I account for the time I get paid for from my employer, every minute of it and I can tell you how I spent my time and what I accomplished on any given day… looking back on my time spent writing, and I have no idea how much, or when, or what I’m working on. I am not keeping track of anything when it comes to my time spent writing. In fact, though I feel like I’m writing every day, I haven’t worked on a new manuscript or revised one of my WIP in quite some time.  Which leads me to my next revelation…
  2. Social Media is sucking my productive time! I don’t get on Facebook when I’m ‘on the clock’, I’m careful not to check Twitter or Instagram while I have a project to finish, but as soon as I start ‘writing’, I do. And not only that, I waste such precious time and scrolling mindlessly through that it zaps all of my creative energy and leaves me restless and unsettled.
  3. I used ‘writing’ in quotes just earlier because I’m actually not writing! I’ve not written anything in the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking of writing… intending to, planning on it, and carrying around a notebook, but except for a weekly blog post, nothing creative or productive has made it onto paper.

Mixed up in all of this, is a self-proclaimed ‘identity crisis’; but more on that another day.  (Trust me, it’s not nearly as dramatic as it seems.) With all this new awareness came the understanding that if I continue down this writing path, I need a process.  I can’t keep shooting from the hip, that’s not how I operate.  I don’t shoot from the hip in any area of life, (except parenting, I guess, but don’t we all?) my writing life should be no different.  I’ve established new rules for myself and am trying my very best to hold myself accountable to these…

  1. Set a goal each week for time spent writing… this week I aimed for 8 hours. I finished nowhere close, but I know that because I’ve started,
  2. Keeping track of when I write and what I’m doing, generally speaking at least. And now I have an idea of what I did accomplish and what I need to work on next, not to mention I have a goal to keep aiming for. And finally, probably most importantly,
  3. Limit social media time! I gave myself a very small allotment of time (2 hours/week), and I’m keeping track of how often/how long I spend on social media. On top of that, if I’m going to spend time perusing Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I must be productive.  In some way, I must be building my network, watching a webinar, posting a critique… something productive, no mindless scrolling allowed.

So, here’s my time card for the week:

Monday, I spent 30minutes on Social media & 1-hour writing (which was actually, catching up on Storyteller Academy webinars)

Tuesday had 20 minutes of Social media time & 30 minutes writing (revisions of a manuscript, recording myself reading other manuscripts)

Wednesday looked a lot like Tuesday. (Completed my Master Studies homework for Storyteller Academy)

Thursday, unfortunately, had similar Social Media time, 30 minutes and ZERO writing minutes. (so, nothing to report here)

Friday, well I wrote this post on Friday, so that’s a good chunk of writing time, I also finished some major revisions on a delicious little manuscript I’ve been working on, and spent ZERO time on social media.  I’m giving myself 2 hours of writing credit and a pat on the back for staying on track.

That’s a grand total of four hours writing… 2 hours on Social Media, and the rest of it spent working, mom-ing, and wife-ing. Next week I’ll do better… I hope. It takes two weeks to create a new habit, right? Wish me luck.

*Important footnote- There is so much wonderful benefit to social media, the entire Kid Lit community resides there and we’re all just the click of a button or the touch of a screen away from each other.  I’m grateful for it!  I just need help with my own boundaries… I need more time being productive and less time perusing.  I think there will be a post expanding on this in the not too distant future.  Also, stay tuned for more on Storyteller Academy/Master Studies, my Querying Conundrum, Developing a Process and the above mentioned, Identity Crisis.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Twitter & Truths

I had a topic in mind for today’s post… #PitMad is this week and I am completely Twitter illiterate.  So, I was going to delve into the abyss of my Twitter knowledge and talk about the ‘140 character struggles of a wordy girl.’  But sometimes, and this week included, the words just won’t come, despite my intentions and best efforts.  At the eleventh hour, I didn’t even have 100 words.  If you write, then I know you know the struggle.  (The irony of it all isn’t lost on me… the fact that I can’t find enough words to write a post about my struggles with Twitter and its 140-character limit.)

Thankfully for my bloggers-block self, I did find inspiration in a different form this week, so if you’re interested, read on!  As a blogger of the ‘Aspiring Kid Lit Author’ variety, I know I’m not an original idea.  There are countless posts each week, from prolifically published authors, pre-published authors and everyone in between discussing their struggles, strategies, and successes. I love it and I consider myself blessed to be in good company.  Every now and then, a post or an interview comes through that’s refreshing in its honesty and its approach.  This week, the Kid Lit world was blessed by not one but two, and I can’t get enough of them.  If you haven’t checked out KidLit411’s Author Spotlight interview with Katey Howes, or 12×12’s Featured Author post by Anna Forrester, you are sorely missing out.  I’m lucky enough to have ‘met’ (in the polite, electronic form) both women.  They’ve been kind, encouraging, friendly and informative.  But in this interview and this post, they are both vulnerable, authentic, and real.  It’s always great to read about a books release and an author’s success, but maybe it’s even more helpful to know that even for the ones who seem to have it figured out are still sloshing about in slush piles, or adjusting their expectations.  I’ve been lapping up the wisdom that both authors have imparted on the rest of us and you should too!

And just to clarify… I do get the premise, I need a good, punchy pitch for my picture book manuscripts. I need to get my point across in a few words, saving enough for the necessary hashtags, and then hope to attract the interest of an agent.  I’m close, very close to sending out a round of queries.  I’m waiting on a couple of contests to announce their winners, and then I’m moving forward.  So #PitMad falls at a great time for me.  Maybe one of the agents from my shortlist will take notice, or maybe I’ll be introduced to someone I hadn’t had the chance to consider. Either way, that’s my mission for this week… I have three MS that are ‘ready’ and I get to tweet a pitch for each, three times. That’s nine tweets, with 18 hashtags and a total of 1,260 characters… whew, I just reread the instructions, just three tweetes total, can be for the same or different manuscripts.  Still, what am I hanging around here for? I have to get to work! See you later alligators!

Before I go, next week is the second installment of Paper People and I. Am. So. Excited. (Does it bother you when people add periods for emphasis?) But seriously, I had the chance to talk with Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of Mr. Particular and the whole experience was a blast.  Please come back and check it out, I guarantee you’ll learn something and laugh a bit along the way.

 

Okay, that’s it. I’m really finished now.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

It’s a Book Review!

I was a lucky little girl.  In our home, having a ‘good cry’ was embraced, feelings were talked about and emotions were celebrated.  I’ve always felt grateful to have been born to such emotionally aware parents.  Now with kids of my own, I am equally blessed with three emotional and articulate children.  Though it’s sometimes a struggle amidst the hustle and bustle of family life, I always try to help them stop and pay attention and talk about to how they are feeling.  As a young girl, I knew the power of my feelings and I hope to give my children the same gift.

Thankfully, we live in a world where society tries, and the Kid Lit world excels at understanding exactly how much kids are capable of and trying to speak their language.  In the newly released, Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell, Maggie struggles with both envy and disappointment, emotions familiar to kids of all walks of life.  Because her summer looked different than that of her friends, she struggles to see it for the life changing adventure that it was. In a whimsical way, with pops of color and ‘sassy red shoes,’ this charming story helps kids to understand the importance of empathy and unconditional love.  My kids delighted in reading this book and getting to know the furry friend at the heart of the story

If you want to learn more about Maggie’s path to publication you can visit www.themaggieproject.blogspot.com or read my interview with Maggie’s author, Randi Mrvos here.

Sending prayers and dry wishes for those in the path of (Hurricane) Harvey.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Windshield Musings

Am I the only one who finds endless inspiration behind the wheel of my car? I swear this is where most of my productive thinking takes place, when I’m driving, alone and the radio is off. (Alone is the key component, meaning the back seat is empty and I can actually hear myself think) It happened again this week.  I was driving and chewing over my latest idea and I realized the connecting theme in all the stories I’ve ever written.  It’s a subtle thread that connects stories about dragons, rain drops, watermelon and kitchen appliances.  It continues through stories about days of the week, road trips, farmers, and bears.  Clear as day, I recognized my ‘style’; or at least my current style, because I’m not so naive to think that it’ll never change. It was quite an ‘aha moment’ and it surely taught me a little about myself.

Through all my manuscripts (which is currently around the 20 mark), I continue to be inspired to elevate the status of everyday objects (ideas/people/places/things) and allow them to become something powerful.  Through explanation, imagination and sometimes personification, I try to transform these ‘ordinary’ objects and show my readers what happens when something reaches its full potential.  When the characters rise to their own occasion, my hope is that it will empower the children who read their stories to do the same. I can tell you that the total number of readers I currently have is three, and they’re a bit biased, but we’re off to a good start.

Everything, everyone and everywhere you turn you are stories waiting to be shared.  What’s even better, is that picture books also hold a component of magic you won’t find anywhere else.  The beautiful blend of words and illustrations, the magic combination of 32 pages, engaging covers, and adorable end pages bring readers of all ages to a place where life pauses and stories are shared.  Almost without fail, picture books have a lesson to teach, and these lessons are universal truths.  When the cover to a picture book is opened, and a story begins, children are immediately drawn in and adults can’t seem to resist the pull of the story either. Believe it or not, I’ve even seen the elusive teenager stop in their tracks, put down an electronic and listen as a story is read aloud. Picture books transcend and extend their magic to anyone within earshot.

Amidst the chaos and conflict that seems to engulf our world at times, I hold fast to the belief that if we empower our children we will change the world. As a mother, a woman and a writer, I seek to empower and inspire daily.  I want to tell stories that children can relate to, whether they find themselves on a farm in the country, an east coast apartment, a west coast walk-up or a houseboat in a swamp. I hope that one day, when (thinking positively) my stories become books, kids will think “that’s exactly how I feel”, “that makes perfect sense”, or even “I never thought of it that way”.  I know I’m not alone in these aspirations, which is what makes the Kid Lit community such a great one.  An enormous, encouraging group of people who believe in the power of children.  There are countless ways to tell a story and teach a lesson, thankfully there will be plenty of books to go around.  I hope you’re reading, writing, drawing or playing something fabulous today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP