Paper People: Joy Keller

Surprise! It’s Paper People time again!! If summer is hotter than you need and you find yourself dreaming of the cooler days of the fall, undoubtedly your thoughts will turn to Halloween. Am I right? Mmm, just think of those cool, crisp evenings and how pleasant it is to be outside trick-or-treating. Close your eyes, can you feel the breeze? Can you see the leaves changing? Now, open. Sorry, it’s still summer and it’s WAY TOO HOT too many places. If you had a moment of relief, though, then you’ll be thrilled to read on as I talk to 2017 debut picture book author Joy Keller about her adorable (Halloween themed) book MONSTER TRUCKS.

Joy, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, can I get you something to drink? I would love some coffee. Really, that’s the only thing that keeps me going lately!

COFFEE! Yes, always. Cheers! Now that we’ve settled in, with adorable and warm mugs in hand, let’s get started.  In addition to being an author, you’re also a teacher and I saw that you started a blog with ‘beyond the book’ activities for teachers (and parents) along with author interviews.  What was your motivation to start Picture This: A Blog for Teachers? As an elementary teacher, I’m always coming across lists of recommended picture books. Most of these lists are a few years old. Some don’t look like they’ve been updated since I was a kid. While many of those titles are timeless, I want there to be a place where teachers can learn about what’s new in the world of picture books and come away with a really easy, fun way to incorporate them into the classroom. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with my blog.

As a parent I appreciate that so much! I always want to give books as gifts to my kid’s teachers but want to do so wisely.  Your blog makes it so easy! Do you enjoy being on the other side of the interview process? What’s your vision for the future of your blog? I’d much rather be on YOUR side of the interview process! There’s less pressure over there! Really, though, I love hearing about the process other writers and illustrators use when creating.

As my blog following grows, I’d love it to become more interactive. I’ve always believed that good teachers are good thieves; they recognize the great work their colleagues are doing and then use those ideas themselves. I hope my blog becomes a place where educators share the awesome ways they’ve used some of these books in their own classrooms. There’s a lot we can learn from each other!

I read your Two Debut Interview with Allison Goldberg and you two talked about Halloween costumes.  She already asked about your favorite costume. (Queen of Hearts! That’s mine too!) What was your favorite costumes that your own kiddos chose?  My favorite kids’ costumes are actually the ones I chose when they were really little. We had someone knit a Princess Leia hat for my daughter and a Yoda hat for my son. Princess Leia looked adorable but slept through all the trick-or-treating (she was only eight months old). Yoda had a great time, though…even if a few neighbors thought he was a green bunny!

I love coordinating costumes! A couple years back, we had a Buzz Lightyear and Woody.  (Rumor has it that we’ll have a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck this year, fingers crossed!) Let’s talk about MONSTER TRUCKS!  I have two young boys, ages 4 & 6 (aka Daffy & Bugs) and they’re right in your target audience sweet spot! Your book does a wonderful job of telling a ‘Halloween’ story without ever feeling like a holiday book. I mean, who doesn’t love Halloween first of all? But second, you add big tough trucks! Do you have a favorite monster? Or a truck you’d love to drive? (I have 2 Yeti fans over here, their older sister likes Ogre and I’m partial to the Witch!)  Let me start by saying that I’m so glad your family liked the book. That’s all an author could ask for!

My favorite spread in MONSTER TRUCKS is the one featuring the witch driving the street sweeper. Not only is the witch my favorite monster and the sweeper my favorite truck, but the entire spread is full of my favorite animals—CATS! I think Misa Saburi’s interpretation of that scene is absolute genius.

Yes! Great mom’s think alike! Next month, on August 27th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you so much! To be perfectly honest, I haven’t made any plans to celebrate that day. Publishing a book is such a long process, with so many moments to celebrate along the way, that I never thought of the release date as the day the book was “born.” I celebrated seeing the illustrations for the first time, and holding the advanced copy in my hands, and seeing the book online, and finding it in the library. But now that you have me thinking about it, I can’t turn down a chance for a party, can I?? 

Absolutely not! There’s always room for a party. Do you remember the first time you saw MONSTER TRUCKS on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment!  I do remember it! I was at Barnes and Noble by myself, and I went to see if MONSTER TRUCKS was in the children’s section. AND IT WAS! It seemed so unreal that I just stared at the shelf. That’s when an employee came over and asked, “Can I help you with something?” I suddenly felt embarrassed to be staring at my own book so I mumbled, “No, thanks. I’m just browsing.” It was totally awkward!

(Pause for giggling.) That story is amazing and so refreshingly honest. How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? I think the lesson in that last story is that I’m terrible at marketing myself. I’m very uncomfortable doing the promotions thing, and I think other people sense it when I attempt to put on my salesperson hat.

Luckily, I’m good at making friends, and that has gone a long way in helping spread the word about my book. In this industry, you can’t do it alone. I was asked to join the Picture the Books group with fellow debut authors, and we worked together to market our books. I also have to thank the Fairport community where I live and teach for spreading the word and making my release party a huge success.

So, in a nutshell, I guess my marketing trick is to make connections: send out postcards to bookstores and libraries, reach out to the people in your community, and find fellow writers to be your support group.

Thanks for that advice, seems incredibly important regardless of where you are on your writing journey. Now that you have one year under your belt, what’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve discovered how much authors enjoy hearing that other people like their books! Before I was published, I was an avid reader (not surprisingly). Never did I imagine that an author would want to hear that I loved their book. I couldn’t believe that a real-life, published author would even remotely care about what I thought. But authors do care! We want to know when our stories have connected with a reader.

 Last fall, I was at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival and got to meet my childhood hero, James Howe. I seized the opportunity to tell him how much I love his writing. I also told him that when I was in fourth grade, I’d read the entire BUNNICULA series to my cat. He was very gracious and assured me that lots of children have done the same thing!

I know you have another book coming out soon! Can you tell us a little about Miss Turie’s Magic Creatures? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? Certainly! MISS TURIE’S MAGIC CREATURES is really a conversation between the owner of a magical pet store and a young boy looking for the pet of his dreams. Let’s just say he’s a pretty tough customer, and Miss Turie has to show him LOTS of pets before he finds the right one for him! It’s being published by The Innovation Press. They’re also publishing my next book, A FUNGUS IS AMONG US! It’s a humorous nonfiction picture book with the feel of a 1950’s horror film.

To stay updated on these books (and hopefully more in the future!), people can follow me on Twitter @jrkeller80.

I am anxiously awaiting both of those titles; I can’t wait to get my hands on them! Best of luck with your marketing 😉 and thanks so much for visiting with me! It was my pleasure! Thank you for helping me celebrate the book-iversay of MONSTER TRUCKS!

Joy Keller

So, there you go, another wonderful interview filled with real-life tricks (and treats) of the trade three more books to add to your TBR list! I hope you’re learning as much as I am from these generous debut authors. Stay tuned next month for more great interviews and the last thirty titles of our #100PictureBookSummer.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Weeks 5, 6 & 7!

This one could also be called ‘Important Books’ or ‘What happens when you bite off more blogging than you can chew!’… three weeks in one post, here goes!

1. How to Track a Truck by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco (YC picked this one!)
2. I Won’t Eat That by Christopher Silas Neal
3. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (Wow. This one left me speechless.)
4. Elephant & Piggie, There is a Bird on Your Head! By Mo Willems (MC cannot get enough of these two.)
5. 101 Reasons Why I’m NOT Taking a Bath by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Joy Ang (#boymom)
6. The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller
7. May I Have a Word? By Caron Lewis, illustrated by Andy Rash
8. Moo! By David LaRouchelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutkla
9. Wolfie the Bunnie by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zacharia OHora
10. Elephant & Piggie Listen to My Trumpet! By Mo Willems (Seriously!)
11. Elephant & Piggie, Biggie! By Mo Willems (He’s inhaling these books like oxygen.)
12. After the Fall by Dan Santat (So incredibly necessary.)
13. It’s Raining by Gail Gibbons
14. Otis by Loren Long
15. The Umbrella by Jan Brett (Great recommendation! Thanks, Dawn)
16. Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
17. It’s Snowing by Gail Gibbons
18. The Story of Snow, The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.
19. I Hatched! By Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Jen Corace (This may be one of my new favorites!)
20. Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
21. Knuffle Bunny Too, a case of mistaken identity by Mo Willems
22. Grandmother Thorn by Katey Howes, illustrated by Rebecca Hahn (Paper People, coming soon!)
23. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
24. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichteneld
25. What Could Be Better Than This? By Linda Ashman, illustrated by Linda Winderter
26. Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (Apparently we have A LOT of Mo Willems books checked out right now!)
27. Feelings by Aliki
28. The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
29. Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker Reeves (One of my ALL-TIME favorites.)
30. Bayou Song by Margaret Simon, illustrated by Anna Cantrell, photography by Hency Cancienne (This one is the Louisiana selection for the children’s book program at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.! I bought my copy straight from the author at our local SCBWI meet-up last week! Congrats, Margaret!)

My list of ‘important books’ will undoubtedly be different than yours, but the fact of the matter is, they’re important for a reason. In my head, there are two different types: the ones that were/are the standout favorites for each of our three kiddos, read and reread hundreds of times and the ones that we may not read often but are there when we need them for in the big moments of our lives. These past three weeks, we’ve read a lot of really important books.

For starters, we dug the old favorites out and gave them another read, paying attention to why they were favorites. Some were an easy, obvious answer. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a charming read aloud, my boys love trucks and thanks to my husband’s work, we have no choice but to know the proper names for those big pieces of construction equipment. Others have tugged at one of those deep heartstrings and cause me to give the book a hug every time I read it. Nothing Is Better Than This was a gift when OC was born, and she and I have both always loved it for its beautiful love story, but especially the incredibly cool and independent female pirate character.

Aside from our trusty favorites, there are a couple of very important books we’ve borrowed from the library recently, most notably AFTER THE FALL and BOATS FOR PAPA (also IDA, ALWAYS from a couple weeks back.) You better believe that each of these books received a big ole’ book hug when we were finished. Everyone needs these books, regardless of age because the topics are so profound and universal (loss, grief and fear.) If you haven’t read them, I hope you do soon. (Disclaimer: you’ll need a box of tissue handy.) Many of our other books are mentor texts for projects I’m working on and topics I’m researching. Also, a healthy diet of ELEPHANT & PIGGIE is being devoured by MC, our emerging reader. As you can see, I’m not having a hard time keeping up with the reading, only the posting!

Stay tuned next week for another Paper People Interview, this one with Joy Keller of MONSTER TRUCKS! That’s all for now!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Weeks 3 & 4

 

Can you imagine living next door to someone for 30+ years and never making it over to visit? In my world, that’s hard to even fathom.  Around here, we gather nearly every Friday evening at one neighbor’s house or another, often times my own, to unwind from the week and watch our kids play.  It’s a ritual and it’s one of my favorites.  Well, I’ve lived next in Louisiana my entire life and thanks to the Gulf of Mexico along our southern border, we only have three neighbor states.  I’ve visited Texas and Mississippi more times than I can count, but I’ve never been to Arkansas… until last week.  It was an obvious decision when my husband and I were planning out first solo family vacation, it’s an easy drive and offers a very different set of circumstances than what we’re used to. We planned, prepped, read reviews, made a few basic decisions then counted down the days.  Last Monday, as we crossed the LA/AR state line for the first time, I was ecstatic.  It was thrilling because we were able to take our family on what our youngest called, ‘a brand-new adventure’.  We had the chance to breaking from the norm and broaden their horizons. We were also going way outside of our comfort zones and were constantly reminded of it

One of the first things we realized once we arrived, there was a TV but no cable. (Thank goodness for the handful of movies the kids packed for the trip.) Coincidentally, one of the last things we realized before leaving- our kids spent ZERO time on any kind of electronic device. In fact, our 2 tablets never made it out of the car. With the exception of one family movie each afternoon, the entire trip was about spending time together in the great outdoors and focusing on our family. We didn’t necessarily plan it that way but it was the incredible icing on the cake. I tell you all of this to explain two things:

1.       Why I didn’t post last week, not that it really matters

2.       The reason behind the ridiculously long list of books we read, before, during and after our trip. (No TV = LOTS of good reading time)

Now that we’re home, its nice to find a routine again! With this tremendous stack of books that we read, it was hard to find one to focus on… until we got hungry, that is.  At the end of ALYCAT (see number 10) there is a delicious surprise; a recipe for Alycat’s Popcorn Popsicles! Here’s our before and after pics. OC and I had a great time making these sweet and simple snacks and we started munching right away! Hope you find your favorite snack and are reading something fabulous! 

Here’s our list from the past two weeks:

1.       The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (this one was for my husband!)

2.       Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (No explanation necessary.)

3.       Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Such an important read and a mentor text)

4.       Maxi the Little Taxi by Elizabeth Upton, illustrated by Henry Cole (A favorite from our own shelves.)

5.       Hooray for Books! By Brian Won (OBVIOUSLY!)

6.       Dude! by Aaron Reynolds (We have 2 sons, enough said.)

7.       Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Our kids have 2 new baby cousins, this is perfect!)

8.       Cheetah Can’t Lose by Bob Shea (I think YC took notes through this one.)

9.       The Bad Seed by Jory John (SO GOOD and such a great lesson that MC really honed in on. Plus, character development is a soft spot for me and this has a fantastic and complicated main character)

10.   Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day by Alyson Foti Borque, illustrated by Chiara Civati (A local favorite with a delicious dessert!)

11.   Frog on a Log by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field (another one from our shelves)

12.   Zombie in Love by Kelly Dipucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Not a day goes by without talk of zombies in my house.)

13.   A Tip-Tap Tale by Denise Gallagher (a local favorite and a 2018 Indie Book Award Finalist!)

14.   Peanut Butter & Jelly by Ben Clanton (Because one was NOT enough.)

15.   Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (I attended a fantastic presentation by Leslie a few months back. I just want to read & learn more!)

16.   Big Chickens Flew the Coop by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (Also, we’re a bunch of ‘big chickens’ over here)

17.   7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald (A Golden Kite award winner, a mentor text and so dang punny!)

18.   The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Great recommendation! Thanks, Vivian!)

19.   Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Just to remind OC that she hasn’t outgrown picture book because that never REALLY happens. This one was for her.)

20.   Bink & Gollie by Kate DeCamillo & Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (another one for OC but everyone loves it!)

Stay tuned, later this week for a wonderful and insightful Paper People interview. WHOOOO is it do you ask? Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out! (Just kidding, its Jason Gallaher… eeek!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP, OC, MC and YC  

 

What’s the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

          What do you do with a broken heart?

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

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

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: 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.

aforrester_0049

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 

Surviving Storystorm

Who am I kidding? That was a tremendous amount of fun.  As a first time Storystorm participant, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I do know myself though, and with any undertaking I have a tendency to start off strong, lag in the middle and then scramble to tie up the ends and (hopefully) finish strong.  Let me tell you, there was no lagging in the middle this month, ideas continued to flow.  I know this was in part because I was in the habit of looking for them, but probably more so because of the incredibly encouraging and inspiring guest posts, served up every day with a healthy dose of realism.

I’ve noticed a trend in my manuscripts recently where many have an academic thread that weaves the emotional arc of the story together. For instance, a few of my current manuscripts have a science element, one has a math theme and one dabbles in ELA.  Well, I just read through my list of 30 ideas, and the trend continues. Unlike many writers in this genre, I’m not a teacher, not by a long shot.  But I do come from strong teacher stock.  As a mom, determined to raise children who love to learn like I do, I weave lessons and interesting facts into all of our conversations, and apparently this happens when I write as well.  I guess the one reason I was excited to find some spots of consistency within my 30 seemingly random ideas is that those are the stories that feel most authentic to me and are the most fun to write.  (My convictions about living and writing authentically will have to wait until another day.)

Like I said, the guest posts of the past months have been fantastic.  (Here’s hoping one of my comments pays off and I win a prize too!) These are some of my new favorite one-liners.  If you haven’t read the posts in their entirety, do yourself a favor and click over to read them now.

–  Jarrett Lerner (Day 18)– “No, an idea is more like a dog who’s just realized he’s about to be taken to the vet. Ideas have to be chased down, wrestled into submission, tricked or bribed with treats.” -ALSO- “…when it comes to writing, there’s a time for quality and a time for quantity”

–  Jess Keating (Day 6) “Inspiration is a muscle, not a muse.”

–  Tara Lubbe (Day 21)– “In your eyes, your book is your baby, your masterpiece, your blood, sweat and tears, your soul. And yes, it IS all of those. But to the retail world, your book is a product, a SKU—inventory to be turned. Is your idea strong enough to be crafted into a sellable product?”

Josh Nash (Day 27)– “Living a creative life is a full-time job and being open to ideas means you are always on the clock.”

–  Jeanette Bradly (Day 26)– “Don’t scare off your ideas by holding out unrealistic standards. Let your ideas grow at their own pace.” – ALSO- “No one cares if you don’t have an idea right now, and you shouldn’t either. Take a nap or go for a walk. Your ideas will grow while you aren’t paying attention.”

And for the record, this is not a comprehensive list of my favorites, there were so many more I could add!

Also, I’m excited to report my first submission of the year! This didn’t happen until October of last year, so 2018 is off to a much better start.  As I try to find a balance between prose and poetry while keeping my BIC, I stumbled across a submission opportunity for poetry geared towards grades K-4.  As a mom to a Kindergartener, 2nd grader and a 4-year-old who thinks he’s 10, I knew that I could speak the right language.  Also, I love (LOVE) deadlines.  This was the perfect way to get words on paper, exercise my rhyming muscles and hold me accountable. Let me tell you, getting started was not fun.  I was out of shape, out of sync and way off track, at least for a while.  (I had a hard time coming up with a rhyming word for ‘you’. Shameful, right?) I had a talk with myself as I struggled to find the right words, just to make sure my intentions were clear to my idea and anyone who may have been listeningHere’s what I said – I know that every submission is a long shot, and I appreciate just having the opportunity.  My goal in this case, is only to complete and submit something that I am proud of. I just want to stay in the habit of putting myself out there; of stepping out in to the arena.  I think my conversation was well received because I continued to chip away at it and when it was all said and done, I had a poem that consisted of 50 words and 8 lines. So that was yesterday, and I’m calling it a win, even without knowing the results.  (Also, you can add my thoughts on ‘writing with intention’ to the list of things I need to elaborate on one day.) Next up, you can find me (not so) patiently waiting for the WWTS winners to be announced. (TOMORROW!  EEK!)

 

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

The Search for Mentor Texts

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

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

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

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

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

Sign up for my e-mail newsletter

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

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