Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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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

 

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

Paper People: Emma Bland Smith

Finally, we have arrived at my very first Paper People interview.  In the spirit of learning and building community, I’ve reached out to debut picture book authors about one year after their books release. I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of us who are writers consider ourselves a ‘paper person’.  More than a common personality trait, however, the name of the series is celebratory in nature. Paper is the traditional gift for a first anniversary.  It’s my hope that I can repay these authors for the advice they’ve shared, by starting another conversation about these incredible books. (Disclaimer: this is a longer post than normal, but that’s only because it’s packed to the brim with greatness!)

This month I had the pleasure of visiting with Emma Bland Smith, author of the award-winning Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf in the West.   The book is simply captivating.  Thanks so much, Emma, for taking the time to visit with us!

Emma zoo reading

I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots: Can I get you something to drink? I’ve decided that in this imaginary meet-up, it’s about 7 pm on a Friday, so I’ll take a nice glass of red wine, please!

Ah, a woman after my own heart.  The only slight change is that I’ll take a glass of white, chilled of course… it’s the only way to survive summer in the south. For starters, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?

I’ve always gravitated toward writing, but after my kids were born, I fell in love with kids’ books and decided I wanted to be part of that world. I had already written a book for adults (a nonfiction photographic history of San Francisco), but breaking into children’s book writing turned out to be way, way harder than I had expected. (Surprise!) I continued taking classes, going to conferences, and meeting with my critique group. It took me nine years (nine!) from the time I wrote my first manuscript to the day I signed with my agent.

Nine years! Talk about tenacity! What’s even more impressive is that you continue to wear many hats.  I often daydream about being a librarian and spending my day surrounded by books.  You ARE a librarian, so I’m a little envious.  How is it that you keep yourself balanced, juggling work at the library, writing and raising a family?  Where do you find time for it all?

I tend to thrive on pressure and get depressed when I have nothing to do, so somehow, on pure adrenaline, I managed to get that my master’s degree, write, and take care of my very young kids, all at the same time. (It’s crazy how much you can accomplish during nap time or two episodes of Caillou if you move at superhero speed!)

Today, I’m a substitute librarian and tend to work only about twice a week. The rest of the time, I do all the other things that it takes to keep a household running—shopping, cooking, cleaning, schlepping, home improvement, taking care of the neighbors’ cats, despairing over my son’s middle school math homework, etc. Writing isn’t always a priority, but I love it so much that I manage to fit it in. I fully admit to being a multitasker (for better or for worse) so I frequently read emails while I wash dishes and critique friends’ manuscripts or check kidlit411 in between conversations with my kids.

Oh man, so much of what you said is so true in my life too! My kids are still young, so naptime is my favorite.  But you aren’t here to talk about toddlers, are you? Let’s get to the good stuff… Was Journey the first picture book manuscript you wrote? 

Journey was not my first manuscript. When I signed with my agent, I probably had about eight polished manuscripts. In fact, I didn’t send my agent Journey until I had been with her for several months because it was different from my other work and I wasn’t confident about it. Luckily, she immediately saw the potential, sent it off to a few publishers, and to my surprise, it was acquired very quickly.

How wonderful that your agent could see the life-changing potential in it!  In a Will Write for Cookies Interview from 2016, you encouraged authors to start with an agent, as opposed to submitting directly to publishing houses.  How did you to land this agent with an eye for success? 

I submitted for years, to both agents and editors! Then one day in early 2015 I heard about the Twitter hashtag #MSWL (“manuscript wish list”) and was perusing it. I saw a post from an agency looking for picture books and sent a bunch of my manuscripts. She contacted me shortly after that and we clicked! My agent was fairly new, so she was building her client list and actively seeking new clients. I encourage writers to read the SCBWI magazine to find out about new agencies and agents.

I’m also curious about your experience working with an illustrator.  The illustrations in Journey are stunning.  I wanted to reach out and pet the wolf as I was reading!  What was it like watching your story come to life in color?

Thank you! Or rather, thank you on behalf of Robin James, the illustrator! I didn’t have any input on choosing the illustrator, but I’m thrilled with her work. I was curious more than nervous waiting to see the sketches because I knew my editor and illustrator were pros and would do a great job. And then the sketches came in and I was utterly charmed and delighted, the cover just blew me away; I never get tired of gazing at it.

Journey cover

Do you remember the first time you saw Journey on a bookstore shelf?

To be honest, the whole launch period is a bit of a blur now! (Sasquatch has a fabulous publicist!) I do remember when my husband found my two advance copies of Journey in the mail and brought them to me. And I remember the surreal feeling right before I read Journey and showed a slideshow, the night of my launch party. I’ll also never forget the moments when I learned that Journey had won two national awards! (And to go back in time a bit, I’ll really never forget learning that Sasquatch wanted to publish Journey. I cried.) I do surreptitiously visit my local bookstore about once a week to see if they’re still stocking the book. I always give the stack a little affectionate pat

If nothing else that sure sounds like good book karma.  It must be incredible to see the fruits of your labor so close to home.

You included a few pages of back matter which was a nice surprise.  I enjoyed learning more about OR7’s real journey and seeing the actual photos.  This book strikes a great balance of factual and fiction, did it ever feel like you were writing two stories?

Not exactly. I tried to maintain a similar tone, and it always felt like two parts of the same book to me. But yes, there are absolutely two distinct voices. The story alternates between the point of view of OR7, and a girl named Abby. (Abby, although fictional, is based on two real kids who really did, like her, submit the name Journey to a contest and win.) I wove a lot of informational material into the Abby parts. And when I wrote from the wolf’s POV, I worked hard to avoid anthropomorphism. Almost everything in the wolf’s sections is documented, including him playing with coyotes, meeting a female, and having pups.

I think you wove the wolf’s story in with Abby’s seamlessly, helping to highlight the power that kids have to make a big impact on their little world.  It made it very tangible for my kids.  As a mom, I think that’s what I appreciate most from your book.

Yay, and thank you! I do think having a child main character, as well as the wolf main character, makes the book more relatable for kids.

The children’s publishing industry is unique in that authors and illustrators have to create something that will sell to both parents and children.  To top it off, authors are often responsible for a majority of their own marketing.  How did you approach the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you?

Leading up to the release, there were a few blog posts and events. A new wolf exhibit opened at the SF Zoo one month before my book release. The zoo was able to order books early, and I did two story times there before the book even came out. I decided to have a launch party on the day my book released at my local indie bookstore. We had the party at night, and I provided wine and cookies. We sold out that night, so it was a good thing for the bookstore, too. Right after the release, I had a number of events and interviews, all arranged by my publisher’s publicist. After a little while, I started to do things on my own. I’ve arranged other bookstore and school visits, contacted a local newspaper, called a national park, etc. I’ve been on a few SCBWI panels, and of course, I try to stay active on social media. I’m not the greatest publicist or marketer, and I certainly prefer writing to pushing my book, but I’m trying to make an effort.

emma authors day

Continuing the spirit of celebration, Journey’s release date was October 11, 2016.  Your one year anniversary as a published author is quickly approaching! If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting to celebrate a book-iversary! How do you plan to celebrate in a couple of months?

I hadn’t thought of a book-iversary! What a fantastic idea! I’m going to think up something wonderful. Maybe I’ll donate some money to the Sierra Club (for their work protecting habitat), buy something at my local bookstore, then treat my husband, kids, and myself to a dinner out. Oh, and I’ll be sure to send something to my editor and agent! They are so much a part of this.

What’s been the most surprising thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry?

I thought that after I signed that first contract, more contracts would come rolling in immediately. As it happened, it took about 18 months. In the Kid Lit world, each manuscript is considered individually and must stand on its own merits, regardless of the author’s credentials. You can have ten published books out, and still, experience rejection.

Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance?

This is always such a tricky question! I think all the mistakes I made were part of my process. My biggest recommendation to pre-published authors is to immerse yourself in the Kid Lit world, even if just for a while. Take some online classes, check out kidlit411, go to conferences, pay for the critiques. It will give you context and perspective, and make you feel like this is something real you’re diving into, not just a cute hobby.

That’s wonderful advice.   I appreciate your honesty and persistence.  Journey was a story that needed to be told.  You have some upcoming books, including What Is It Like to Live on an Island (Little Big Foot April 2019).  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media?

Besides What Is It Like to Live on an Island? I have a nonfiction picture book called The Pig War, from Boyds Mill Press, hopefully for 2019, and a series of chapter books called Zadie Jacobs, CEO, from the educational publisher ABDO, coming in fall 2018. You can learn more at my website, http://www.emmabsmith.com, and follow me on Twitter (@emmablandsmith).

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me and becoming the first of the Paper People! 

This was so fun! Answering interview questions actually teaches me so much about myself! And I can’t wait to read about your future books, Jennifer!

Well, that’s a sweet way to end a wonderful conversation.  If you haven’t read Journey: Based on the True Story of Or7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, you should absolutely treat yourself.  It would make a wonderful addition to any public, home or classroom library. 

Join me next week as I continue down my own (hopeful) path to publication, and next month when I’ll share my conversation with Jason Kirschner, author/illustrator of the adorably funny Mr. Particular.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Big Finale!

Today is a great day.  Not your run of the mill great day either; I’m talking about a ‘stars have aligned, my hair isn’t frizzy and I’m having the best cup of coffee ever’ kind of great day.  On top of all that goodness, it’s the last day before school starts in our house, the official end to our #100PictureBookSummer, marks 6th months to the day that Magnolias & Manuscripts has been in existence… and it’s my birthday. See, what I mean!

Before I talk more about our day, I want to rewind a few months.  On a not so hot, not as humid, late springtime afternoon I received an unexpected package.  Feeling confused and excited, I opened it to find one of the more thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  A dear family member surprised me with the most wonderful vote of confidence and whole hearted support, in the form of an adorable monogrammed book bag you see at the top of the post and my very own stationery.  Being the sentimental type, I cried and knew that I was holding in my hand something very significant.  The book bag lit such an enthusiastic fire under me, from a writing perspective.  I’m convinced that it’ll always stand out as a turning point in my journey.  It validated that there are people who believe in me, and on those days where I’m feeling so far from the top of this picture book mountain, I look at the bag and remember that I need to believe in myself. The bag quickly became one of my most treasured possessions and has lovingly carried each and every library haul on our 100 book journey.  Here are numbers 91-100, and I’ve included the link to the full list if you’re interested… But like I said last week, this week was all kids choice.  We went ‘off-list’ and picked ones that called to us from the library shelves. Here they are, in no particular order…

  1. Super Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
  2. Hide and Sheep by Andrea Beaty & Bill Mayer
  3. Maxwell’s Mountain by Shari Becker & Nicole Wong
  4. Jack by Tomie dePaola
  5. No Dogs Allowed by Linda Ashman & Kristin Sorra
  6. Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman
  7. Doodleday by Ross Collins
  8. My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell
  9. Llama llama, Time to Share by Anna Dewdney
  10. How this Book was Made by Mac Barnett & Adam Rex

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

In order to mark all of the goodness of today, but especially to celebrate the fact that my kids and I have eagerly devoured every part of 100 books this summer, we spend the morning at Barnes & Noble.  Being a family that is frugal and faithful library patrons the actual BUYING of books are saved for extra special occasions, and today was exactly that.  Each of our kids and their momma chose a book to add to our home library, and then we had lunch! We took our time, read a few, talked about a few more and made very careful decisions.  YC picked a favorite from week one, MC chose one that features a familiar feline, OC decided on the first of a fancy new series, and I decided to surround myself with extraordinary women. Regardless of whether you’ve been following along from number 1 or just caught the last 10, I appreciate you being here. This summer has been one for the record books, and I loved sharing our journey.  The start of school marks the end of my mid-week posts, but also the start of exciting new opportunities. h Join Emma Bland Smith and I on Sunday for a conversation about her debut picture book, Journey: Based on the story of Or7, The Most Famous Wolf in the West. As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Making Connections

I’m sure we all get it from somewhere.  After all, things like hair color, eye color, and shoe size can be easily traced to someone in our lineage, so why not creative genes too.  I’m sure painters had parents who painted, and most musicians come from musically inclined folks.  As for writers, well like I said, we get it from somewhere.  I have my mother’s eyes and nose, her smile and many of her mannerisms.  But the writing, that comes from my dad.

Everyone should be lucky enough to know the man I get to call Dad.  He has a heart of gold, with a giving spirit and all the good emotions living right below the surface.  Poor guy was out numbered from the day he became a father, surrounded by strong, opinionated women.  There were a few years in there that the scales were balanced, but then baby number three was a girl (Holla!) and it happened again.  He never complained, at least not to us. Although he did have a big burly dog that kept him company in the backyard each evening.

He’s seen to the highest of high’s and met the lowest of lows.  He works tirelessly in an unforgiving and unstable industry, having built a business and a reputation throughout his community that brings with it admiration and respect.  He laughs at his own jokes, he loves to ‘piddle’ and his boyish Cajun accent still comes out when his parents call.  My dad taught me how to make pancakes, my sister how to perfect her toe-touch and could teach men across the globe a thing or two about being a devoted family man.  Many people who know him, know all of these things… most people don’t know, he’s a writer.

I see it in his eyes when I talk about writing.  There’s an understanding that comes when I share my lessons and experiences.  He loves words, whether he’s reading or writing them like I do.  He ‘gets’ the publishing dream.  He even rhymes well!  That’s where it all starts for me, with my dad.  I feel blessed to have been given a share in those genes.

Something I’ve heard him say, regardless of where I am in life is “It’s about making connections.” Those words, coupled with a deep-seated desire to play an active role in the Kid Lit community spawned the birth of Paper People.   Starting next week, and following on the second Sunday of each month, I invite you to follow along and learn from newly published authors alongside me.  For those of us still on the pre-published side of the fence, those who are published seem like they have it all.  There are some wildly successful picture book authors who serve as mentors to many.  I’m lucky enough to have learned from a few of them.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that newly published authors have a lot to teach as well… if someone would just ask.  So, that’s what I started doing, making connections and asking questions.  I honed in on debut picture book authors one year after their books release, assuming the honeymoon phase is over and the real work has long since begun.  It bodes well for me that I am inquisitive in nature and am a newly discovered extrovert.  I’m excited to share with our conversations. I’m also excited to bring back to the surface these incredible books, that have moved over to make room for the new releases.

I’m grateful to my dad for countless lessons that he’s taught me over the years but the example he set when he found the courage to blaze his own trail is one of the biggest.  I am always in search of the paths that I’m supposed to take, and on the lookout for places where a new one can be created.  Happy Birthday to the man who is my favorite writer and (one of) my biggest fan(s). Thanks, BG, for blazing your own trails.

(I did have a bit of a schedule change) Please join me next week when I share my interview with Emma Bland Smith.  Her debut picture book is the award winning, Journey: Based on the True Story of Or7, The Most Famous Wolf in the West.  Emma blends facts and fiction seamlessly as she allows her main character, Abby, to have a profound impact on her environment.  Journey is one of those rare picture books that easily transcends her target audience and is loved by children of all ages.  I’m eager to share our conversation, she had fascinating things to say.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week Nine!

We’ve started cashing in! Well it turns out we should have been doing that all summer long, but we started cashing in on Summer Reading prizes nonetheless. The theme is Building Better Readers, so my kids have made lego characters and filled tool boxes that are displayed on the wall.  We even had a silly and sweet pizza lunch yesterday thanks to the ‘Free Kids Buffet’ coupons they earned.  (Don’t worry, we started at the salad bar… which is good because we ended with chocolate pizza!)  My kids are proud of their accomplishments, and I’m just proud that I could see this challenge through.  Ten more books and we’ll hit our 100-book mark, and just in time because school starts next week.  We’ve strayed from the list a bit more, with OC asking for chapter books and my boys asking to ‘pick their own’.  I guess taking a stack from the hold shelf doesn’t hold the same appeal.  So, most of the list below are from Book Nerd Mommy’s 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading list, but the next ten are all ‘kids pick’.  Also, I have a fun celebration planned for next Wednesday, which happens to also be my birthday AND the last official day of summer. It’s going to be great.

  1. 1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman & Colin Jack
  2. Flora the Flamingo by Molly Idle
  3. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell & David Catrow
  4. Ninja by Aree Chung
  5. I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black & Debbie Ridpath Ohi
  6. More Pies by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko
  7. Where Are The Words? By Jodi McKay & Denise Holmes
  8. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson
  9. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  10. The Best Pirate by Sue Mongredien & Dan Taylor

Here’s the full list: http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

As I wind down my Wednesday posts with the challenge next week, I have one more ‘guest reviewer’ to introduce to you.  YC, as he’s known here, is a man of many aliases and can often be found wearing dingy white tube socks and someone else’s shoes.  He’s the entertainer of the bunch. Sitting on the brink of the magical age of four, he’s part toddler, part ‘big boy’ and all heart. YC provides countless laughs every day.  He quotes movies… appropriately in conversation, he’s the first to give hugs, smothers me with adorable kisses and is the proud owner of countless imaginary friends. (Toby is a dragon, Zack is a bear, and there’s a whole herd of ‘his kids’ that tag along too).

If I really get down to the bottom of who he is, inside that precious little body is a boy appropriately and adorably sure of himself, as only a ‘threenager’ can be.  He’s the one who likes to swing higher and driver faster, he possesses an on-point comedic timing and he doesn’t hesitate to stand up for himself (even to kids more than twice his age/size).  Something about his personality exudes a confidence and a calmness that is contagious.  When I find myself in the midst of a motherly-spiral, he gives me a hug, and I immediately start to calm down.  (If you read between the lines here, I just pointed out that like any good third born, he knows exactly how to work the system and when he needs to turn up the charm to stay on my good side. Did I mention that he’s funny?)  I asked YC what it was he likes most about reading.  He ‘loves when someone says the words to (him).’   I’m guessing that means while he’s sitting on their lap because he still fits perfectly there.  As the last line of the last book says, YC is “…the smallest, the bravest, (one of) the best.”

So that wraps up their time in the Magnolias spotlight and nearly wraps up our summer.  I hope you join me next week for numbers 91-100, and to hear how the four of us celebrate our success.  I also hope you’ll join me here Sunday, for the first of my Paper People interviews!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, Maggie!

Today, I’m thrilled to share with my interview with Randi Lynn Mrvos whose debut picture book release is right around the corner. I hope you enjoy getting to know Randi & Maggie’s story as much as I have the past few months!

Randi, thanks so much for joining me here today.  This must be such an exciting time; your debut picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell is only days away from its release.  Congratulations my friend!

I’ll start from the beginning, about six months ago, I found my way to your blog The Maggie Project.  I was just starting my own and was immediately drawn to you because of your medical background. (I found a kindred spirit!) Can you tell us all a little about yourself and how you changed course and started writing for children?  I loved creative writing in high school, but my parents wanted me to get a degree in the medical field.  After I graduated college, I got a job as a Medical Technologist at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and worked in the clinical laboratory for over twenty years.  I didn’t think about writing until our daughter was born.  Every night before bedtime, my husband and I read picture books to her.  These books awoke a long-buried desire to be creative and to write again.

Was Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell the first picture book manuscript you wrote?  Actually, I had written five picture book manuscripts before Maggie.  And, there have been several more manuscripts written after Maggie.  Many of my stories won prizes, and I thought that would make a good selling point.  But it takes more than winning contests to get published.  Publishers want to fall head-over-heels in love with the character, the voice, and the plot of a story.

When you were starting out, what resources did you use to learn about the writing process and improve your craft? What are the best tools you have in your tool box now?  When I got serious about writing, I took a class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in my hometown Lexington, Kentucky.  For one of our projects, we had to write a children’s book.  My first book was called “Are We There Yet?”  I actually believed that after one writing class that my first story would get published.  So naïve.  But those rejections were a wake-up call.  I needed to learn more about writing picture books and the publishing industry.  So, I became a member of SCBWI, read writer’s magazines, attended writer’s conferences and workshops and studied picture books as well as books on the craft of writing for children.

Two of my favorite writing books are Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.

Oh, I love Ann Whitford Paul’s book! One of my critique partners refers to it as the ‘Picture Book Bible’. I need to get my hands on the Children’s Writer’s Word Book now. 

Since the day our paths crossed you’ve been an incredible mentor to me. Were there specific people who helped you at the beginning of your journey?  Who do you look up to now, as a kid lit writer?  I know from firsthand experience how hurtful it can be when published writers refuse to lend a helping hand.  I am flattered that writers seek me out, so I’m eager to reach out and encourage others.

My husband Jim is the biggest influence in my life.  In fact, he is my editor.  Jim often tells me I am off to a good start (which is a nice way to say the story needs more work).

There are four people to whom I look up to and admire.  My creative director and editor Melissa Carrigee has guided me throughout the publishing process.  Editor Chuck Sambuchino advocated the importance of getting an agent.  Award-winning author Evelyn Christensen has been a generous, graceful and kind-hearted friend and Mary Kole gave me spot-on editorial advice.

Now, let’s focus on Maggie!! When I started following you, you had just reopened the site.  After deciding to shelve The Maggie Project, you took a five-year hiatus.  It appears Maggie took the scenic route to publication.  Can you tell us a little about your journey with this book?  What was it that made you pull her off the shelf and try again?  I shelved Maggie because it was rejected by 50 publishers.  I began other writing projects and focused on a story about Parisian carousel pony called Rosie.  But it was déjà vu all over again.  Rosie was repeatedly rejected.  I was frustrated and wanted to understand how to get out of this rut, so I hired editorial consultant Mary Kole.  She offered to take a look at Rosie and three query letters.  I pulled out the query for Maggie.  That prompted me to re-read the story.  I was surprised to find that I still liked it.  But the publishing industry had changed since Maggie was written.  Long picture books were a thing of the past, and because Maggie was close to 1000 words long, 500 words needed to be cut if I ever entertained the thought of submitting the story again.  I decided it would be a good writing exercise to see if I could edit the piece.  Afterward, I liked the story even better.  I sent Mary the query letter for Maggie, two additional queries, and the story about Rosie.  Mary’s remarks encouraged me to submit Maggie again (and now, Rosie sits on a shelf!)

Can you tell us about the day you got ‘The Call?’  Those are my favorite kind of stories! The “call” was actually an email.  Last November, my husband and I decided to celebrate our birthdays in New Orleans.   Two weeks before leaving, Maggie was submitted to five publishers.  Before we left I received a rejection, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin our celebration.  While in NOLA, I was dying to get my fortune read by a psychic in Jackson Square.  She invited me to sit at her table.  She asked me to choose a crystal gem and three cards and then make three wishes (One of the wishes was to get a book published.)  After studying the gem and the cards, she told me to expect good things.  The very next evening before dinner, I checked my messages.  There was a curious email.  Surprisingly, it was from an agent.  She had written:  I like your book!  Sometimes, wishes really do come true.

Ohhh, that’s a fabulous New Orleans story and a wonderful birthday surprise! I bet the Crescent City has a special place for you now.  If you ever visit again you must let me know!

We’ve talked some about your experience working with an illustrator.  You were able to help with the final selection, which I think is incredible! What was it like seeing Maggie and the other characters come to life?  Working with a small press like Cactus Moon Publications has many benefits.  One of the benefits was having the incredible opportunity to “audition” illustrators.  I chose the amazingly talented Emiliano Billai.  When I first saw Maggie, my heart melted.  It was like seeing a newborn child for the first time.  It was incredible!  Emiliano was able to interpret the text and capture Maggie’s personality.

Randi is also the editor or an online magazine for kids called Kids Imagination Train.  I’m curious, do you think your experience as editor of the e-zine helped you along your publishing journey?  Can you elaborate a little about KIT and your work there? Being an editor has helped me grow as a writer because I read a lot of submissions and have learned to recognize the strengths and weakness in manuscripts.

Kid’s Imagination Train was conceived to encourage kids to read and learn as well as to offer writers a market for their work.  We have book reviews, fiction, poetry, puzzles, and nonfiction for kids ages 5 – 12.  KIT is unique in that it engages children by providing them the opportunity to draw for the magazine and to have their pictures published online.  We even have an audio page where children may listen to their favorite features!  How cool is that?  Our little magazine is remarkable.  Everyone on the staff donates their time and talents so we can keep the magazine free for kids.

The cover of the latest issue makes me want to jump headfirst into a swimming pool! My daughter is hard at work on the Body Parts crossword puzzle too.

What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during the publishing process? When writers work with a small press, they must do a lot of promotion.  I knew this was required, but I was surprised how much time and hard work was involved.  In the beginning, I was clueless and scared—I had never marketed a book before.  But with the guidance of the creative director and by researching how others promote their books, I began to understand what was needed to develop an exciting and unique marketing plan.

I’ve had a blast as a member of your book launch team for the past few weeks!  What are your plans moving forward?  After the book is released in August, it will be time to contact the local news media, schedule book signings and reading engagements, apply to book festivals, and coordinate with animal advocacy groups.  Meeting and greeting fans is what I look forward to the most.

And I thought it best to end with a fun one, there’s a dog in your story… so if you could be any dog (or breed of dog) for a day, which one and why? You know, I’m actually a cat person…but if I could be a dog it would be a basenji.  Never heard of the basenji?  It’s a barkless dog (though it growls, whimpers and whines).  The basenji is intelligent and stubborn.

So when is Maggie’s official book birthday (release date)?  And where can readers find you on social media?  There is no official date yet, but we’re expecting the book to be released in August.

You can learn more about Randi and Maggie at  http://www.randilynnmrvos.com and http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com

Thanks again for joining us today!!  On Tuesday, August 1, I’ll have a guest blog on Randi’s OTHER website, Children’s Writers World where I’ll talk a little about my own manuscript, and the best writing advice I’ve ever received. (Guess who it came from?)

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP