Questions & Answers

I didn’t understand… I had been eagerly anticipating this two-hour window all week. For the first time in longer than I’d care to admit, I was headed to the library and straight into the children’s section. I couldn’t wait to wander around, pulling new finds and old favorites off the shelf to soak up and read quietly. But I found myself speeding though the books, unsatisfied.  In fact, some of my favorites, I didn’t even finish! There was a restlessness and unsettled spirit I couldn’t put my finger on.  Fewer buildings brought me as much joy as a library, and never more so then surrounded by picture books. This was completely unprecedented in my happy place!

To be fair, I made this trip on a week that was rough.  I’ve written about conference hangovers before, and this year I’ve been struggling to shake it.  I mean really struggling. I haven’t been reading like I should, so I intentionally scheduled this library run for myself. It was supposed to brighten my mood and lift my spirits, instead I “wasted time” (I even started scrolling Facebook instead of turning pages, GASP.) I managed to eek out a few minutes of revisions on a manuscript that I was carrying, to save face (from myself) and limped out the door. I didn’t check out any books, I didn’t want to bring anything home tainted with the mood of the day. I felt lost.

The next few hours were a blur of homework, dance costumes and baseball practice. I had nearly forgotten about my dreadful afternoon. Then I turned off the lights, laid down in bed and started to cry.  The tears came with such intensity, I was completely stunned. I didn’t understand where they came from, or why they were happening… until I did. When I started this journey, my oldest was prime picture book age and most probably went over my youngest’s head. But here we are, 2 out of 3 of my kids read MG novels to themselves before bed at night. I’ve effectively instilled a love of reading in them, and now, they don’t need me. My youngest will be in Kindergarten next year and still loves to crawl on my lap and listen to a story, but I see how my time is running out. Soon, the picture books that I bring home from the library will be just for me.  It made me sad and if I’m honest, enormously disappointed.

I recognize how I felt at the library now, in my line of work, we call it anticipatory grief; the mourning of an expected loss, before it actually happens. I secretly hoped to be closer to being published by now.  I knew to anticipate the journey to be long, but that didn’t stop me from hoping for something different.  It was an unofficial, off the record, self-inflicted (grossly unrealistic) deadline that was about to pass me by. The tears also finally brought to the surface all the questions and self-doubt that I had been trying to silence. We all know that avoiding a question doesn’t make it go away, and so the longer I tried, the louder they got and the farther away I pushed my stories and social media; facing my characters and the kidlit world I love meant facing the questions.   Questions of my dedication to the dream, my abilities to write and the intention behind it all anyway.  No one ever told me that this journey would be easy. Nothing I’ve ever read said that publishing is for the faint of heart, quite the opposite actually.  A few years ago, I could easily answer the why’s and how’s… but lately, it’s been murky to say the least.  

Thankfully, tears are often the prequel to clarity.  I decided to continue showing up, writing a little each day, even if it didn’t feel earth-shattering, and re-engaging with my community. I even wrote myself a post-it note that says, SHOW UP TO WORK.  If I had to guess, that’s one of the greatest struggles as a pre-published, un-agented author.  No one is waiting on us to show up. No one, except for the main characters of our stories and the deep-seated desires of our own heart begging to be set free.  Since that day there have been enjoyable library trips, conversations with my kids about my WIPs with new stories (& blog posts) surging to the surface. I think I feel relief too, free from the burden of an approaching deadline that I was never supposed to meet. I’m excited to see what’s next. I’m eager to write each day, and I’ll keep showing up as long as you do too.

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Let’s Talk, Vivian and PIPPA!

Maybe you know her from her Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews or her delicious ‘Will Write for Cookies’ author interviews. Maybe you’ve noticed what an active member she is in the Facebook groups that we all call home, or you’ve tried your hand at the deceivingly difficulty #50PreciousWords contest. Even better, maybe after you helped your 7-year-old submit a #50PreciousWordsForKids entry, the two of you bonded over the fact that your daughters are named Caroline. 😊 Regardless of how you’ve come to know her, I have no doubt you’re glad that you do. I’m thrilled to be here today, asking questions to the ever generous and energetic Vivian Kirkfield. She has not one, not two but three upcoming picture books to talk about! So, grab something warm, pull up a chair and snuggle in while we talk about the first of her debut triplets, PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE, scheduled for release on February 5!!

Vivian, I’m so excited that you’re finally here, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? For sure, Jennifer! I’ll have to decide whether to be good and have tea or be bad and have hot chocolate. I do love tea, but if you’ve got any hot chocolate, I guess I’ll have to be bad and ask for that. 😊 I always laugh whenever I’m out and order hot chocolate and the server asks me if I would like whipped cream. Whipped cream? Is there hot chocolate without it? I don’t think so. 😉 Thank you so much for the hot chocolate…and a million thanks for inviting me to visit.

I’m of the opinion that anything warm and served in a mug can NEVER be bad, hot chocolate included! Though I’m a coffee girl myself… you know, I think I’ll have a mocha… part coffee, part chocolate, all goodness! There are so many places we could start, but, I think we should go back to the beginning. What started the story of PIPPA in motion for you? In 2013, I participated in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo story idea challenge (it’s now called Storystorm). One of the guest posters, Kar Ben editor Joni Sussman, put out a call for Jewish holiday books. Even though I was fairly new to the kidlit world and writing picture books, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to submit a story to an editor. A picture of a little mouse came into my mind and I sat down and wrote Pippa’s story of how she couldn’t find her special Seder dish and had to pluck up her courage and ask Cat, Snake, and Owl if they had seen it.

pippa spread

Storystorm is almost finished! (See the latest posts here.)  How delightful to think of all the future picture books that are just ideas on someone’s list right now. So, you are releasing three books in the next few months and they’re three very different stories.  Was your approach different with each manuscript? Do you have a writing routine that you stick to (when you aren’t traveling the world, of course) or do you use a more laid-back approach? They are very different stories, you are right, Jennifer. But I guess the rules of picture book writing apply. Lyrical language, alliteration, simile/metaphor, and the element of three; all the techniques that are in the picture book writing toolbox. And, whether I’m writing a fiction rhyme about a mouse looking for her Passover dish or an African American woman who is an inventor or a bunch of animals at a pristine mountain stream, I’m researching first and writing after.

When I start writing, I look for the way into the story…what is the theme, the heartbeat that will be the thread that is woven into every spread. I often write my pitch first and then I try to get my opening lines. For me, the opening lines are the key that unlocks the story. I know that a lot of people recommend we write the entire rough draft and not worry about the opening lines. But, the wonderful thing about writing, is that everyone has their own process…the steps that work for them. Since opening lines set the tone for the entire story, I like to refine them first. Which doesn’t mean that I never change them. I do, but many of my stories are being published with the opening lines pretty much the way I originally penned them.

And speaking about pen…I almost always use pen and paper for the first part of the story, sometimes the entire story. But sometimes, I just start in longhand and then go to the computer. I do a lot of note-taking in longhand when I am researching…which is not a good idea because then I can’t read what I’ve written and this is especially troublesome when I am working on nonfiction. Maybe I will find a better process in the future. 😊 If anyone out there has something that works for them, I am always open to suggestion and I’ve been told I’m a pretty good listener. 😉

pippa spread
I’ve never considered starting with the pitch! I think it’s fascinating to figure out how other people do things. Can you tell us about PIPPA’S journey to publication… you know, from 2013-2019 in a nutshell? PIPPA was a joy from start to finish! With the wonderful collaboration between illustrator Jill Weber (one of my local critique buddies), it was a fabulous publishing experience. The palate sings with joy! I love every page and the message of coming together in friendship, no matter what our differences may be.

The most different (writing) thing was, it is a rhyming story. I had to be careful that I wasn’t using frivolous rhyme…you know, ‘I wore a hat and that is that’…just making verses that rhyme without making sense. But my critique buddies were such a help and Rhymezone.com was my constant companion.

Another question, as a “new” picture book author, you’ve been working with three different publishing houses (thankfully with the help and guidance of your agent, I’m sure.) What has that experience been like? At this point, I’ve actually been working with five because the two books that are launching in 2020 are with two other publishers. Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring, 2020), illustrated by Alleanna Harris and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020), illustrated by the award-winning Gilbert Ford. So far, these have been amazingly wonderful experiences. Even though I don’t know those illustrators personally, the editors have been wonderful about making sure that I was happy with the illustrator they chose and sending me early sketches for my comments.

The experience overall has been amazingly wonderful, although definitely a challenge, especially because the book with HMH called for nine full-length picture book manuscripts. But fortunately, I am pretty good at multitasking and I’m able to stay up late and keep on going. My husband used to call me the Energizer Bunny. 😉 Maybe it’s because I’m doing exactly what I feel I was meant to do. I know that the support and encouragement I get from my agent, my critique partners, and the kid lit community makes all the difference.

Five books in two years? How tremendous! Two more questions to wrap things up and I’ll keep them short and sweet… I heard your podcast with Katie Davis where you talked about taking leaps of faith (quite literally… out of airplanes) and starting your writing career late in life. What’s the next thing you want to check off your bucket list? I’ll try to keep my answers short and sweet. The next thing to check off on my bucket list is this round the world trip. It’s always been my dream to see these places I’ve only read about and the best part is that I will get to hug kid-lit friends I’ve never met.

Finally, I’ll bring it back to the book we’re talking about today… and your other two upcoming releases if you could describe each of these books in one word, what would it be?
– PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE- Joyful
– FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK – Playful
– SWEET DREAMS SARAH – Powerful
Oh, my goodness, I know I took more time with you than I should have but I just couldn’t help myself!

No apologies! Thanks for being here and sharing that enthusiasm with us today. What else do you have coming down the pipe? Where can my readers find/follow you on social media?  As I mentioned earlier, I have two other books coming out in 2020. And several manuscripts in the hands of editors, so fingers crossed for them to fall in love with those stories. Your readers can find me almost anyplace on social media where picture books are found. 😊 Here are my links: My website, Facebook, TwitterInstagram, also Pinterest and Linkedin.  And if anyone is going to be at the SCBWI conference in Sydney, Australia, the Bologna Book Fair in Italy, the NESCBWI conference in Springfield MA or the annual ALA in Washington DC, please reach out and maybe we can connect in person!

vivian photo

Au revior my dear friend! Enjoy your travels and your book birthdays!
Join Vivian and I here again on March 28 (FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN) & April 28 (SWEET DREAMS SARAH) to learn more about the other ‘triplets’ along with a guest post about #50PreciousWords on March 1!
SO MUCH VIVIAN GOODNESS… and this is just the beginning!

As always…
Thanks for being here, come back anytime!
-JP

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

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