Be My Guest, Vivian Kirkfield!

You might remember that I’m in the middle of a three-part conversation with Vivian Kirkfield about her picture book debut triplets. Well, I couldn’t have a conversation with her this close to #50PreciousWords and not ask about it! I posed the following questions to her while we were ‘talking’:

‘When you started the contest, did you ever dream it would take off the way that it has? And then you started #50PreciousWordsForKids! What are your favorite parts about running the contest?’
I hope you’ll read on as she answers my questions and brings us back to where it all began.  This year’s contest will run from March 2-March 6. I hope to see you there!

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I guess you could say I started #50PreciousWords on a whim. It was March 1st of 2016. Scrolling through some news articles online I found an interesting tidbit about Dr. Seuss and how his long-time editor, Bennett Cerf (founder of Random House), challenged him to write a story for kids using only 50 unique words. And Green Eggs with Ham was born. Of course, that story has over 700 words, but only 50 unique words. And I began to think about how the publishing industry was looking for shorter more concise word count picture books. Could I write a story in only 50 words? But not 50 unique words. 50 words ONLY. So, I tried it. And it was so much fun that I decided to challenge my friends. I quickly cobbled together a blog post for the next day, which was the birthday of Theodore Geisel. I reached out to a few of my friends and I mentioned it to my agent. And they were all onboard to donate a prize. I announced that the contest would run for five days and the winners would be posted the day after. The day after? Sure, because I assumed that maybe five or ten of my good writing buddies would take pity on me and submit a story. Boy, was I wrong! Within five days, there were 120 amazing entries. I was up all night long. I read them to my husband. I read them to myself. I read them aloud. They were so good, and the top prize winner wound up signing with her dream agent and that story, along with two others, are debuting this year! Dreams can come true!
The next year, I was even more energized. One of my dear critique buddies, Maria Marshall, volunteered to help read and comment. And she did. We had 230 entries and over 1800 comments on that blog post. And last year, both Maria and another kid lit friend, Julie Abery, helped by reading and commenting on 298 entries. And the top winner? She signed with her dream agent. That’s why I encourage people to get their work out there because a story that sings can’t be heard if you keep it locked in a drawer. So, this year, even though my plate is full and I won’t even be in the country, I am hosting #50PreciousWords—from New Zealand. And I’ll have Maria, and Julie, and also, my amazing NZ critique buddy, Diane Tulloch, to help read and comment on all the stories. I know I am making trouble for myself by saying this, but I hope EVERYONE enters!
My favorite part of the contest? Hmmm. I can tell you what my least favorite part is—having to cut from the finalists and winnow it down to the top 10 and then choose which story is first, second, and so on. What’s so difficult is that each story is unique…and so each has great merit and strengths.
My favorite part is seeing how many brave souls there are in this kid-lit community. Because when you put your story out there, you are exposing your heart, and I am touched and honored that so many writers trust that their stories will be treated with loving respect on my blog. Oh, and the other favorite part of the contest is to read the comment thread—100% positive and encouraging and supportive from EVERYONE. This is how the world is supposed to be. I may not be able to influence the leaders of the government or change the world situation, but I can create a haven of safety and support for writers in #50PreciousWords.
The offshoot, #50PreciousWordsforKids came about because one of the writers who participated in the contest messaged me that her young daughter had sat down at the table and wrote a 50-word story of her own. She was thrilled to have this unbelievable bonding moment. Then I asked my 8-year old grandson if he wanted to write a 50-word story. ‘Sure, he said…only 50-words? That’s easy.’ Of course, it wasn’t so easy, but he did it and had fun. I decided to do a kid’s writing challenge to coincide with Children’s Book Week in May and the first year we had children from 13 states and 5 different countries – it was amazing! This year is going to be more of a challenge for me because of all of the traveling, conferences, and book launch events, but I am determined to host it again because I think it encourages children to exercise their creativity and it builds their self-confidence to see their story ‘published’ on a blog. And each child receives a certificate of participation which the parent or teacher can download and print out.

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There you have it! The contest starts tomorrow, so if you haven’t pounded out a 50-word story you still have time. Good luck to all those who are participating, I’ll see you in the comments!
Stay tuned, I have a few posts coming down the pipe… a contest entry, a few of my own musings and, of course, interviews (more Vivian coming your way on 3/28!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
JP

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Valentiny 2019!

Hello and a Happy Valentines Day to you!

For so many people, Valentine’s Day means flowers, chocolate, and showering those you love with… well, love! I do love flowers, and chocolate and I promise to shower 😉 but for me, Valentine’s day means one (other) thing, Susanna Hill’s

4th ANNUAL PRETTY MUCH WORLD FAMOUS VALENTINY WRITING CONTEST!

Without further ado, here’s my entry. Good luck to all the participants! We’re all winners already because we showed up, wrote something and shared it with the world… long distance high five!

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Scooter’s Swap.

Scooter couldn’t sleep.

He had never broken a window before. He hadn’t ever hit a baseball that far before, either.

And he didn’t mean for Freddie to get in trouble, but, when his mom started yelling at Freddie, Scooter didn’t stop her.

The next morning, Scooter thought he might be sick. He dreaded the thought of Freddie being mad at him. But it was Valentine’s Day, which meant the neighborhood Sweet Swap.  If he told his mom the truth, she’d never let him go. If he didn’t go, he would miss out on Ms. Susie’s Strawberry Schmoozies. Those were his favorite cookies, ever.  

At recess, Freddie wouldn’t even look at him.

In the lunchroom, Scooter sat alone. “Is a cookie even worth it?” he asked himself.

During class, Scooter wanted to cry. Valentine’s Day was one of his favorites, but today had been the worst.

After school, he climbed into his mom’s car and crumbled, his truth and tears came pouring out.  

Once they were home, Scooter walked next door. As soon as he saw Freddie, it all came rushing out again. “I’m sorry,” Scooter said, while Freddie just stared. After a minute, Freddie ran inside leaving Scooter to worry and wait.  

Soon, Freddie was back with a Strawberry Schmoozie and a smile.

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That’s all folks!  Please visit the other amazing list of entries on Susanna Hill’s blog!

 

Thanks for stopping by, come back anytime!

-JP

 

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

The Alchemist.

When it comes to books that have been read and re-read, it’s the only one that can give PRIDE & PREJUDICE a run for her money. In fact, as I’m starting it again, I realize it might soon pull out into the lead.  These two books whet different parts of my literary appetite; one sweeps me off my feet and transports me to a different time and place, the other takes me on a deep dive in the here & now. What Jane Austen does for my fairy tale fantasies, Paul Coelho does for my soul.

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.”

So, I’ve started it again, and ‘ve never been more excited. Have you read it? Do you remember the stones given to Santiago, from the King, at the start of his journey? This book is my own Urim and Thurmmim. I’ve loved, lived and underlined different parts of the book and like any true classic, every time I pick it up, I learn something new. But, if you asked me to narrow it down and tell  you exactly why I love this story, cover to cover, I would say that the journey Santiago takes, continues to teach me so much about myself. Of course, at different times, certain aspects of his journey speak louder than others. When I was working at the bedside, caring for patients and their families all day then coming home to care for my own at night, I could see myself, working tirelessly in the crystal shop right alongside him. There are times when I’ve been in a personal dessert, an oasis and wandering aimlessly through fields herding a pack of animals (or children, you pick.) But it’s the simple wisdom and truths that speak the loudest, especially as I continue this journey and write for children.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

I’m no different than everyone else on the planet (or so it seems), I took stock of myself at the end of 2018 and my writing journey. To sum it up, 2018 had its ups and downs, including form rejections and the sweetest of champagne ones. I asked questions, wrote stories, participated in contests and took leaps of faith. Luckily, there were more triumphs than slumps and more stories written in 2018 than years prior, so I’m calling it a win.  I completely believe that every pass, every rejection and every ridiculous moment of inspiration are all steps along my path to publication. In his story, Santiago pays attention to the omens, signs pointing him in the direction of his journey.  In my story, I’ll do the same, and over the past year, those omens have come in the form of dear friendships, encouraging words and honorable mentions.  And the rejections? There’s another quote I keep handy for those…

“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only one thing, and nothing else.”

I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store, especially as I find myself reading Santiago’s story again. I think I know where I am in my journey, but I also know better than to assume. I do know I’m starting off strong, and I hope you are too. I also hope that you’ve found your rhythm again (or maybe a brand-new routine) and you’re able to ride the energy and inspiration that January brings far into 2019.

Here is my plan for 2019: (not because you asked, just so I can hold myself accountable.)

          12 interviews

          12 book reviews

          12 blog posts

  Of course I’m going to continue to write new manuscripts, send out queries, participate in contests and challenges across the Kid Lit landscape (I can’t wait to share more about my experience with Storystorm and Making Picture Book Magic, both are happening as we speak.) I also still have my other writing gig at Lafayette’s Moms Blog (new post coming Thursday!) It feels great to be here, rambling about writing. I hope that whatever it is you’re doing, as this new year picks up steam, it brings you joy.

“The Soul of the World is nourished by people’s happiness.”

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

It’s a book review!

December has started with all of its delicious energy, holiday parties and everyone’s favorite music playing in the background. In honor of the season, I thought I would share my own version of a book review for A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR. You might remember my interview with debut author Didi Zayas from a couple weeks ago. I’m obviously a little biased, since I remember this book in its infancy and am so proud of how it’s grown. But I truly do love Sadie, the sweet sparrow that carries the story on its wings, and so I’ll shout it from the roof tops… and post it on Amazon!

A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR, written simply and balanced out with a sweet refrain is a wonderful new Christmas tradition for any family, young or old. The story of Sadie, the curious sparrow who is determined to make sure the new King has a suitable place to rest his head, gives a refreshing new take on one of the world’s most well-known stories. Kids will immediately relate to Sadie, who’s spunky disposition and ‘get it done’ attitude make her the most charismatic sparrow the world has ever known. The illustrations are charming and captivating, and the icing on the cake is the interactive, faith-based, family activity built right into the book. Author, Didi Zayas offers rich lessons on each item in the activity and each animal in the story which will prepare your family’s hearts for a joyous celebration on Christmas Day.

 

I hope the beginning of your holiday season is filled with more laughter and less stress than you imagined.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

I want to write a picture book.

It’s like a craving I can’t satisfy or an itch I can’t scratch. I want to write a new picture book manuscript and I mean I really want to write one. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for untold stories, tending my creative soil, and even invited inspiration over to stay a while. (Or at least as long as it takes to put 500 words to paper.) I have a nice guest room that doubles as my home office, the walls are covered with character studies and there’s a rose bush growing outside the window. I would be a lovely place for inspiration to stay! Bad news is, I’ve got nothing, or as my husband would say “crickets.” I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead.

Of course, I’ve written a few before. I lost count somewhere around 20, and that was before 2018 even started. Some are good, some are not, some rhyme, some don’t, a few I don’t even remember writing and others keep me up at night. Surely, it’s a unique struggle, writing picture books means quantity AND quality are equally important. If I were writing a novel, I might’ve spent the past three years living within the same story, fleshing it out and building it up. (Which is an incredible feat that keeps me amazed and in awe.) But as a picture book writer, I need new inspiration, often. New stories, fresh ideas, different main characters and unique plot twists.  Apparently, I need at least three polished manuscripts to successfully ‘woo’ an agent.  Not to mention, I once read about a successful picture book author who calculates that she’s written about 20 manuscripts for every story that’s actually been sold and made into a picture book. With odds like that, I might have 2 winners on my hands. I believe in Elizabeth Gilbert’s theory of inspiration. I believe in BIG MAGIC and I work hard on my relationship with creativity.  But let’s get real, it’s a numbers game, people, and I just want to write one little picture book to add to my collection. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!?

I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead because I’m hoping to trick inspiration into paying me a visit.  I’m hoping that I get extra credit for sitting at my laptop and putting words to paper, even if they’re directed at adults and I’m really just writing for myself. It’s November 25th, so far this year I’ve honored my 12×12 commitment and written a new draft each month. I have five days left of the month, and one month left in the year… I need to write a picture book.  

The good thing about being a nurse is that we are excellent self-diagnosticians; that’s where my brain headed tonight. What’s my official diagnosis, you ask? Picture book (writers) block and the really difficult pill to swallow is I don’t think I caught it randomly; I think it’s been self-inflicted.  So, there’s the new writing gig, and I’ve been working hard on those posts which have a much different target audience and theme than these Magnolia posts or my picture book manuscripts. Along the same lines, I’ve been reading a lot of ‘mom’s blog’ posts, to support my fellow writers and brush up on my skills. It’s an important thing for me to be doing, but it’s taking me away from reading picture books. Also, my husband has been reading to the kids, before bed, most nights. It’s been super sweet and helpful and it’s everyone’s favorite part to the day, but it’s taken me away from reading picture books… I need to read more picture books.  

I want to write a picture book, but I’m writing a blog post instead because of THIS. I need to get down to the bottom of the problem I’m having. I know what you’re going to say, ‘try priming the creative pump, silly’. That involves my sewing machine, or some vinyl and a paintbrush. I’ve used both (relatively) recently, so the creative juices are flowing around these parts. However, there have also been quite a few extracurricular activities using my energy and keeping me away from my writing routine.  In fact, as I think back over these past few weeks, it’s no wonder inspiration hasn’t visited me! I basically invited my long-lost friend over to watch me frantically cook, clean and decorate my home for a party she wasn’t invited to… I need to make time for picture books.

I want to write a picture book, but I wrote a blog post instead.  From the very beginning of my time as a blogger, nearly 2 years ago, I said I wanted to capture the journey. This definitely isn’t the most glamorous part, nor the most exciting, but like an airport layover, it’s important and so here I am, convinced that I’m making progress even while I wait.

To sum up our visit, I’m asking for inspiration but not making time for it on my calendar. I’m hoping for a lightning-bolt idea without surrounding myself with similar stories. I’m talking the talk, but not sure I’m walking the walk. Nothing like taking a good hard look in a mirror, eh? I know this hasn’t been too exciting for you, but it sure has been eye-opening for me. At this rate, I hope I haven’t ticked off picture-book-inspiration off to the point of no return. I guess there’s only one way to find out… I know what a good starting point will be! Come back soon, I’ll review the precious book my friend Didi wrote (it finally came in!)

I hope your Thanksgiving week was full of joy, gratitude and endless amounts of your favorite pie.

I also hope you know that I’m grateful for you.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, A Nest for the Savior!

I fully believe that so much of this publishing journey is about hard work, determination, patience and tenacity…. I also think that some things happen thanks to a stroke of luck. For example, I don’t even remember the entire chain of events that led me to my first critique group, but it was two years ago and Didi was there! I remember reading early drafts of this heartwarming story and loving it from the very beginning. In lieu of celebrating the one-year anniversary of a picture book this month, I’m thrilled to celebrate the launch of A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR.  Welcome, Didi! Take us back to the beginning, when did the idea to write picture books find you? Well, I’ve always been a writer. I used to cut covers and spines out of cardboard and glue my stories together as a kid. I studied journalism at the University of Florida and worked for a faith-based magazine after college, so picture books didn’t really come into view until my daughter was a year old. I remember I was getting them ready for bed, and an idea popped into my head that I couldn’t shake. That night, I stayed up until four in the morning writing my very first picture book, which has been put on the shelf for the time being. During that all-nighter, I also learned that the SCBWI was having a conference in just three weeks, so I signed up. And I’ve been writing picture books ever since.

Didi and I have a lot in common, we’re both moms, we both write and we are both 80-year-old women in 30something bodies! (She calls herself Antique at Heart… don’t you love that!) Tell us the MOST Antique thing about you! Want to know mine? I love big band/swing music (think Frank Sinatra), early mornings, sewing and wearing aprons while I cook. I love oldies music too! My favorite oldies crooner is a younger version of the old classics – Harry Connick Jr. (Side-note: I met him once and even got to go on his tour bus thanks to my crazy husband!) One antique thing I’m obsessed with is genealogy and finding out where we came from. One of my ancestors was Mary Barrett Dyer, the first woman martyr in the United States. I love piecing together information for the past so I can share our history with my kids.

Didi and Harry

HARRY CONNICK JR!!! He’s one of my favorites, too! (Bonus points since he’s from Louisiana!) Focus Jenny, back to the book. Do you remember where the seed of inspiration came from for A NEST FOR THE SAVIOR? Like most great ideas, it came in the middle of the night. Everyone else was asleep and I was sitting downstairs with the fake fireplace show playing on Netflix. (I live in South Florida, so that’s the only cozy fireplace I get.)

A song about the first Christmas was playing, and I thought, “What if a little animal overheard the angels tell the shepherds about Jesus and he or she tried to race them to find Him?”

A Nest for the Savior is not really about that at all, but that’s where the story started. It evolved (and was made into a better story I hope) in our critique group and through countless hours of editing.

The main character is a precious and determined sparrow, but a whole host of other animals play important roles in the story. I know (because we talked about it) that you did a lot of research on these animals, making sure they were appropriate to the day & age that the story takes place. (The Birth of Jesus!) Do you have a favorite animal? Tell us about your research process. My favorite animal other than Sadie, the sparrow, is the donkey. He brings his frayed rope as a gift for Jesus, and you find out in the activity guide that he broke free from that rope to catch a glimpse of Jesus. While writing the story, this soundbite from “O Holy Night” was playing on a loop in my mind: “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name, all oppression shall cease.” We all need the Lord to break the chains of sin in our lives, but, even more, the world needs to see a glimpse of the oppression-ending power of Jesus right now.

While writing the story, I researched which animals were considered clean and unclean to the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and which animals would be nearby. Donkeys, for instance, are actually considered unclean animals, but that’s probably why most people don’t eat donkey burgers. They are mentioned numerous times in the Bible and are very symbolic of the coming of the Messiah, so I included them in the story.

One of my favorite parts is the interactive activity for families that accompanies the book.  How did you come up with that idea? As before, it was a too-late-to-be-up idea that I wrestled with for a long time. The activity guide gives kids instructions to build their own nest for the Savior using symbolic items around the house. Each item can teach them a little bit more about Jesus, the first Christmas and the Cross. Plus, it can be used as an Advent calendar. BUT … I wondered for a long time if I’d have to sell a kit with the book or if I’d need to sell a baby Jesus doll to go in the nest. At the end of the day, I decided to sell a limited number of kits and to create a paper doll for the activity. The activity guide was the main reason I decided to start my own publishing company to bring A Nest for the Savior to life. I wanted kids to have the opportunity to learn about the real reason we celebrate Christmas, and I knew the process of finding an agent and publisher could push back publication a few years.

It’s always been so inspiring to me that Instead of getting discouraged, you blazed your own path and decided to self-publish. Can you speak a little to what that discernment and decision was like? I gave myself a deadline. I decided if the story didn’t get picked up by traditional agents or publishers by January 2018, I would publish the book myself. I had been looking for an agent for my stories for years, but I ramped up my game and sent the story to contests, participated in PB Pitch (where I got a few likes) and researched agents who represented faith-based picture book authors (there weren’t many). In the end, it didn’t work out, and, although I was disappointed at first, I’m so glad things worked out the way they did. I also met an indie publisher who makes six figures selling e-books every year and that changed my whole perception of indie authors. Many of today’s self-published authors are choosing to take the road less traveled not because they’re second rate, but because they’re innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in their dreams. I was also inspired by the Indie Kidlit Podcast, Marti Dumas, Elena Paige, Darcy Pattison, Kobi Yamada, Nancy Tillman and the original indie author, Beatrix Potter.

When authors go the traditional route, they are hoping an agent and publisher will connect with their work so much that they will say “yes,” and invest their time and money to make their dreams a reality. I decided to tell myself “yes,” and I embarked on a thrilling, bumpy, sometimes sleepless roller coaster that was better than I could ever imagine.

I love that publishing, and in this case, children’s publishing offers different paths to success. You and I have talked about that before. In your case, you didn’t stop at self-publishing, you also started your own publishing company. What brought that idea on? Looking forward, what are your plans for Antique at Heart? If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. So, I started a little indie publishing company, where I also sell educational games (with more to come). In the future, I’d like to publish more of my picture books, add Middle-Grade books to the list and publish my friend’s stories (hint hint).

Nest, sketch

I haven’t actually held the book in my hands (yet!) but the illustrations look GORGEOUS! Where did you find your illustrator? My illustrator and I actually went to youth group together when we were teenagers. This was her first time illustrating a children’s book, so we knew we would both be learning along the way. But she made things so easy for me! Working with Deja was a dream come true! She was so attentive and produced images I could never have imagined. I literally sent her one picture I sketched, (see above) and she blew me away with her skill, craftsmanship and integrity every step of the way.

Have you been able to keep writing while ironing out the logistics of starting your own business and coming up with a marketing plan for your debut picture book? Not really. I have a few ideas that I’m wrestling with right now for future books, but this experience has really transformed how I see the books I’ve already written. Some of the books I shelved are actually more marketable than my tried-and-true favorites, so I’ll be focusing on the ones I know how to market first. I have to think like a publisher now, which is a good idea for any writer. That’s how you sell books to readers … and agents and publishers.

What a great perspective; ‘think like a publisher’. How are you approaching your book launch? What are you most excited about? What feels most daunting? I’ve never launched a book so I am learning A LOT. I am learning things about social media that really make me feel like an antique. I am working on Pinterest as well to make my book available to more readers. And I’ve found that Amazon reviews are very important whether you are traditionally or indie published. (So, if you read the book, I would LOVE a quick one-sentence review … even if it’s not your cup of tea!)

I am a mix of excited and terrified about the whole process. But I keep going … and I owe a lot of my momentum to our Kickstarter campaign. Once the campaign was fully funded, I felt like I had an entire team behind me, and I couldn’t let them down. That is incredibly humbling and weighty at the same time.

I’ve seen you posting about the prep work you and your family are doing for your book launch.  How involved are your kiddos in your writing? Do they understand what’s coming? (Isn’t this what its ALL ABOUT! Those pictures are my favorite!) My kids aren’t super involved in the writing process, because I need quiet to be creative. But they are always giving me ideas—and their feedback is so valuable. They help me in all sorts of ways though. My daughter (who is now 6) wants to illustrate my books one day, and I can totally see it happening. She colors and creates her own picture books just like I did as a kid. My almost-8-year-old helps me assemble the kits and my 3-year-old just loves to run into my office and tear things apart. Haha! But I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book if I hadn’t been nursing my new little guy (who was born in March). That gave me a little time away each day to focus on him and the book. I don’t think even I know what’s coming (LOL), but the kids are SO excited to sell the book at local events because they are little entrepreneurs in the making. One big reason I decided to start my own publishing company was to show them you could accomplish anything with a lot of faith and what I call “stick-to-it-tive-ness.”

Yes! One of my mom’s favorite words is ‘tenacity’ and you definitely have oodles of tenacity! Where can we order a copy?!? The book, free coloring pages and a free art class full of ideas for making your Nest for the Savior are available at ANestfortheSavior.com. The book is also available on Amazon, BN.com, and in select Barnes and Noble locations. If you make a nest, be sure to enter the #BestNestContest on Facebook or Instagram from November 7—December 15, 2018, for a chance to win fun prizes!

What’s next? Do you have more manuscripts that are ready for publication? Can we find/follow you on social media? I hope to release another book in May 2019. I will keep you posted on that! But, in the meantime, follow me and the book at Facebook.com/ANestfortheSavior and Instagram.com/ANestfortheSavior.

Thank you so much, Jenny, for all your help and encouragement! I can’t wait to celebrate your first book launch with you!

Didi and book

Awe, shucks! Thanks, Didi. I can’t wait for that day either! Stay tuned… more goodness to come. Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Willa wants a bite!

When Willa walked inside,

Her nose picked up a scent.

Today is Halloween!

She knew what that smell meant.

 

The cauldron, piping hot.

It was her favorite meal!

Just thinking of the stew

Made Willa want squeal.

 

She pleaded for a taste.

Her stomach gave a growl.

Mom said she’d have to wait.

She howled a hungry howl.

 

Then pulled on her costume

And shivered down the road.

She hoped when she returned

She’d have a candy load!

 

And after the last house

Shared all their tricks and treats

She raced home, just in time,

A frightfully good feast!

 

 

In my family, Halloween has become the de facto favorite holiday.  We all gather at my parent’s house and cousins in costumes trick or treat around the neighborhood while Nana & Papa pass out candy. After every house on the block has been hit up for candy, we all rush back and feast on her famous Taco Soup. Its (barely) controlled chaos and we all love it.  My contribution this year will be three Looney Toons characters; Daffy, Bugs and the Roadrunner to be exact. 

I hope that whatever your plans are tomorrow, the weather is wonderful, moods are cheerful and there is plenty of the good candy to go around.  The story above is my entry into Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest.  The rules are simple, 100 words or less, must take place on Halloween and incorporate three words decided on by Her Majesty, Queen of Contests (Susanna, of course) at the start; this year’s words are cauldron, howl, and shiver. (I checked all the boxes and had one word to spare!  Plus, I’ve never entered a rhyme before!) If you have any extra time, head over to her website and check out all of the fantastic entries!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Marcie Colleen

Marcie, thanks for being here! Before we get started, I’ll ask you the same questions I ask all my Paper People guests, can I get you something to drink?  Absolutely! I’ll take a coffee. Black. No sugar. Lucky for my readers, my books are a bit sweeter than my beverage of choice!

And thanks so much for having me. What a thrill to mark the one year anniversary of LOVE, TRIANGLE with you! Time certainly flies.

Coffee for me too! Except, I’ll take just a touch of cream and sugar in mine. Your name and face are well known throughout the industry and I love the story of your journey to publishing. (If you’re curious, check out this Huffpost article. It’s a great read.) So, I want to start this interview off differently: Here’s a little of my background, in keeping with the triangle theme: I was raised as the middle of three girls, my husband is the oldest of three boys and we have three children of our own. You might say that 3 is our lucky number (except it isn’t, 11 is.) Do you have a favorite number? Do you have a favorite shape? Wow! That’s a lot of threes!

I have always thought 4 was my lucky number because it has followed me around quite a bit. I was born in April, the fourth month. My childhood home had two 4s in the phone number and two in the house number. And there were 4 people in my family (my parents, my brother, and me). Oh, and I got married and sold both LOVE, TRIANGLE and PENGUINAUT! (my first books) in 2014 when I was 40! And I live in apartment #4. So, let’s stick with 4.

As for my favorite shape, I have always gravitated to heart-shaped stuff. Hearts on dresses, dishes, artwork, etc. I just love hearts!

Ohh, 4 does seem to be following you around! My critique partners and other kid-lit friends have heard me talk a lot about my love for science, but guess what? I love math just as much! The world definitely needs more math-themed picture books. Where did you find the inspiration for LOVE, TRIANGLE? Did the theme of friendship and inclusion come first, or did it find you after the geometry did?  Many have probably already heard me tell this story, but It’s kind of funny, so worth telling again.

I attended my first ever conference—the Winter 2012 SCBWI conference in New York City. One of the keynotes was given by bestselling author, Cassandra Clare, and titled “Love Triangles and Forbidden Love: Creating and Maintaining Romantic Tension in YA Literature.” Much of what she had to say made me blush. I turned to picture book author, Jodi Moore, who was sitting next to me, and jokingly whispered, “Doubt I will use anything from THIS in a picture book.” Jodi responded, “You never know.” That planted the seed. At that moment, I wondered if there was any way I could possibly write a love triangle picture book. I guess you can say that I was first inspired to write a picture book about a trio dealing with friendship and inclusion.

I kept mulling over the idea and, a little over a year later, the premise finally came to me: a Circle and a Square are best friends until a more interesting Triangle shows up. So, although I didn’t set out to write a geometrical, math-focused picture book, once I had the idea of Circle, Square, and Triangle as the main characters, it became just that.

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I love stories that start with an ‘aha’ moment! I can tell you that your play on words with the title LOVE, TRIANGLE has inspired one of my own manuscripts. (Still in a very, very, early version.) So, fun fact, you’re my first established author that I’ve had on Paper People, but in the realm of picture books, LOVE, TRIANGLE was your first.  I had every intention of asking how you switched from chapter books to picture books here… but then I did my homework. I read that Penguinaut! was the first book you sold (more later) LOVE, TRIANGLE, your second, and after those came SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS, even though the series was published first. Did I say that all correctly? What a roller coaster, it happened backward! Can you tell us a little about LOVE, TRIANGLE’s path to publication?  Yes. That is correct. I sold PENGUINAUT! in September 2014, LOVE, TRIANGLE in November 2014 and was contracted to write The Super Happy Party Bears series in October 2015. So, it was a little backwards.

LOVE, TRIANGLE was just an inkling of an idea for quite a while after being challenged by Cassandra Clare’s keynote. But I finally tackled writing it in early 2014. Once it was ready, my agent sent it out on submission at about 4pm at night (there’s that number again!) By morning we had several publishers interested!

I then spent about a week meeting on the phone with each interested editor, discussing their vision for the book and on November 12, 2014, we went to auction. FIVE HOUSES were interested! It was amazing. I had already sold PENGUINAUT!, but I was essentially a debut and five houses were interested!

Alessandra Balzer from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins won the auction and then we got to work tweaking the text and getting an illustrator on board (BOB SHEA!). Alessandra looped me in every step of the way and it was fascinating and exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better “first time” experience.

Wow! What a whirlwind of a week that must have been. Do you remember the first time you saw LOVE, TRIANGLE on a bookstore shelf?  Of course! I had a little brunch get-together with some kidlit buds on the morning of October 3rd and toasted LOVE, TRIANGLE’s debut. And then that night my husband and I went to the local Barnes & Noble. There it was. Sitting proudly on the shelf with all the other picture books.

I remember thinking, “Wow! I am now in TWO different sections of the Children’s Department! The Chapter Books and the Picture Books.” What a rush!

From a marketing perspective, you already had publishing credentials to your name when LOVE, TRIANGLE was released. Did you do anything differently for LOVE, TRIANGLE than you did SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS? What do you think worked the best? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? HarperCollins sent me on a two-week/six-city book tour right after LOVE, TRIANGLE came out, so that was exciting! And since then, I have done a lot more story-times in bookstores than I did with Super Happy Party Bears. Although I have done more school visits with Super Happy Party Bears, probably because of the age level.

I can’t say I am the best at promotion and marketing. But I do love attending kidlit events like book festivals and conferences and am sure to do what not only might promote my books but also fuels and excites me as a creative. If something in the vein of marketing or promoting doesn’t excite me, I won’t do it because my energy would be better spent writing more books.

What great advice! I know so many authors struggle with the marketing aspect, and I’m sure keeping it authentic is one of the greatest challenges.  But, just like anything else, if something feels awkward and forced, you won’t be nearly as successful as when you’re engaged and authentic.  You are a woman of many, many hats! Not only are you churning out chapter books and picture books, you also teach writing courses, both electronically and the live version, not to mention you throw Friday dance parties, and so much more! Thank you for being such a champion for the entire kid lit industry. Think back to when you were just starting out, how did you find your place? Where did it all start for you? Who were the industry leaders who were most influential as you were learning the tricks of your (new) trade? I owe so much to those who encouraged me when I first started out. The biggest shout out goes to Alvina Ling, Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers who read my very first manuscript (as a favor to my husband) and gave me the advice to 1) join SCBWI, 2) find a critique group, and 3) start reading blogs like Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon.  She very well could have been dismissive, but instead, she was nurturing and took me seriously. Had she not, I might have thought this wasn’t worth pursuing.

I took all Alvina’s advice to heart and started meeting other writers. I also found an online tribe at Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (now called StoryStorm). Many of the people I met in 2011, while first participating in PiBoIdMo are still my very good friends.

Bottom line, Brene Brown said it best when she said, “My creativity requires midwifery. I need to be able to talk, tell stories and get feedback. Creativity. We don’t have to do it alone.” I have had a lot of midwives. I could never repay them, but I do make it my mission to never discourage even the greenest of writers, even if they are the cousin of my dentist’s babysitter who is writing a story. Everyone deserves to be encouraged and have a shot. That’s what Alvina did for me and I am forever grateful.

I keep Brene’s books close to my head and my heart because so much of what she says about creativity & vulnerability resonate with me.  Her words help me to keep the answer to ‘why am I doing this’ in focus, even on the most discouraging of days.  Taking it a step further, in an interview with Kidlit 411 from last summer, you said: “The more I create, the more ideas I generate.” What a simple and undeniable fact! I always remind myself that creativity begets creativity.  (Elizabeth Gilbert would be proud, am I right?) What do you do when your creative well runs dry? How do you replenish your energy? What an excellent question! I just gave the closing keynote at SCBWI Midsouth’s conference in Nashville and it was all about self-care and how it both fuels and replenishes.

Instead of waiting until my well runs dry, I have instituted routines within each day to keep me mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. Every day I journal (inspired by Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way), I meditate for at least 10 minutes, and I read something inspiring. This is all a great way to start the day.

In the afternoon, when I start to feel tired or tapped, I take a jog. Just a two-mile run is usually enough to get the cobwebs out and get back to work again.

And in the evening, my husband and I take a 3 mile walk into Balboa Park. Often, we don’t even talk on these walks. Instead, since we are both creatives, we mull over what to do next in our projects.

I have found that if I am continuously caring for myself, my creativity flourishes. Also like to fill myself with theatre and music and positivity whenever I can, too.

You aren’t my first interviewee to mention The Artist’s Way. I need to educate myself, asap. Your routine sounds so grounded, thanks for giving us a peek into your process. So, on October 3 you celebrated one year of being a picture book author! Congratulations! Did you do anything special for your book-iversary? I did not. I am so bad about these things. That was a Wednesday and I spent the whole day at the library working on another book and teaching a Writing Picture Books class in the evening at the University of California at San Diego. I guess that is a good way to pay tribute to LOVE, TRIANGLE…write more books and inspire others to do the same!  

Penguianut cover low res

And this month PENGUINAUT releases this month as well! Can you tell us a little about this (much anticipated) second (but actually first) picture book of yours?  It comes out October 30th!!! PENGUINAUT! is about a spunky little penguin named Orville who lives at the zoo, surrounded by animal pals who go on exciting adventures. A hang gliding rhino! A deep-sea diving giraffe! Orville struggles to keep up, until one day he concocts an adventure all his own: build a spaceship and fly to the moon all by himself. I am super excited to introduce Orville to any kid with big dreams and a strong sense of determination. And Emma Yarlett out-did herself with the illustrations!

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I can certainly think of three Prevost children who are going to love Orville’s story! We can’t wait to meet him! Anything ELSE coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  My next picture book does not come out until Winter 2020. It is called THE BEAR’S GARDEN and it is going to be illustrated by Alison Oliver (of BabyLit books fame) and published by Macmillan/Imprint. It’s a story inspired by an actual community garden in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. The garden is called the Brooklyn Bears Community Garden because of a stuffed bear that was found in the abandoned lot. I have written a fictitious story about how that bear might have come to be among the weeds. I am really excited about this book and to show a quieter, gentler side of my writing.

I also have one more super-secret picture book project that I sold earlier this year, which will be published in 2021.

20160113_D800_marciecolleen_headshot_9442_3x4

You can learn all about my upcoming projects at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or follow me on Twitter @MarcieColleen1.

Marcie, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your wisdom and experience with us! The Kid Lit world is blessed to have you as one of its leaders. 😊

Coming soon… more musings, a contest entry (it’s Hallowensie time folks!) and an interview with a dear friend who is launching her first picture book! Hope you’ll be around to read it all.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Crossroads.

A few months ago, I came to a seemingly clumsy crossroads. I love blogging, and picture books are still one of my favorite subjects… but I’ve covered a lot of ground in the past couple of years and I don’t really have anything new to report.  (Still writing, revising, submitting and waiting.) I feel like I’ve run out of topics that would be helpful and informative and I loathe the idea of writing without substance. So, I stalled.  I’m incredibly grateful for Paper People, those interviews have kept me connected but once a month isn’t enough. I love writing to adult audiences as much as I love working through picture book revisions and I’ve really been missing it.  I thought long and hard about revising my content here, to make room for other musings, but it never really felt ‘right.’ I want to broaden my topics and write from my personal & parenting experience but couldn’t figure out a way that blends the two naturally.

Well, fast forward to the end of August, after a particularly powerful lunch with a friend, I had a message waiting in my inbox.  If you believe in coincidences, I can see where this might fit into that category, I prefer to think of it as incredibly serendipitous.  Long story, short, at the nudging of a (different) friend, I applied and was accepted as a contributor for Lafayette Mom’s Blog! I’ve been a follower and a fan of theirs for months, and I’m thrilled to have another writing outlet and find myself surrounded by like-minded mommas.  (Not to mention I have something to add to my cover letter’s now!)   

One of the things I’m most excited about it to have a platform to share my love of literacy, supporting local authors and shining the light on the up and comers of the kid lit industry.  I do imagine there will be a lot of crossover content, and I can’t wait! I hope you’ll click over and check out their website, even if you aren’t local (or a mom!)  I’m already overwhelmed with ideas and hope I can bring some of them to fruition.  I also feel energy and inspiration pulsing again, in the way that creativity begets creativity, writing helps me to write more! Now I have deadlines and decisions in front of me, and a whole world of topics waiting to be covered. I hope you’ll stick around; Magnolias & Manuscripts will always be my first love.

Would you believe it? Just sitting down to write this post lit a small but very necessary fire under me! Stay tuned for the October edition of Paper People, it’s going to be epic!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP