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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Paper People: Jason Gallaher

Without a doubt, my favorite part of blogging is absolutely interviewing! I’m so happy to bring you another (hilarious) Paper People interview with 2017 debut author Jason Gallaher. There’s been a bit of a break in the series, so I’ll give you a quick recap.  Paper is the traditional gift for the first anniversary, its also one of the common fundamental elements of all books, in this case, picture books.  All of the authors interviewed here are celebrating (or have recently celebrated) the first anniversary of their debut picture book, and have learned much in the process.  As a writer, I’ve definitely learned from those prolifically published authors across all genres, but these debut authors are still in the trenches of building their career and have so much wisdom and first hand experience to share. I hope you enjoy my talk with Jason as we talk about his debut picture book, crossing genres, perfect titles and so much more.

Jason, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Do you have any almond milk? I have been completely won over by it. Or a Diet Coke? But definitely not the two of those together.  

Absolutely! I’ll take a diet coke too, the fountain kind with really good ice! So, the first time I was introduced to you was last year during NaPiBoWriWee, before WHOBERT was even released.  It was a great interview (as they all are.) That leads me to my first question, do you participate in any writing contests/challenges? I do participate in writing challenges! I don’t do them habitually, but I do them when I need a little jumpstart. My first challenge was Tara Lazar’s Story Storm back when it was PiBoIdMo. The year was 2014, I completed the 30 ideas in 30 days, and one of those actually sold the next year (it still hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully soon! And yes, the next year was 2015 and we are currently in 2018! Publishing can take a long time!).

I participated in Storystorm for the first time this year and am happy to say I finished with a solid list of 30 ideas!  I did NaPiBoWriWee again too, but only finished with four drafts instead of seven.  Last year, during that interview you talked about how you love titles. I totally get that! What is your creative process when you’re working on a picture book? Do you struggle when your creative process happens out of order? I’m such a sucker for titles, and that’s where my picture book ideas always start. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to me that will fit the title, but I don’t force it. I just let the title sit in my brain, and then it’s when I’m doing something mundane like reciting Anjelica Huston’s filmography that the lightning bolt of an idea strikes and I throw my hands up in the air and scream and the dogs start barking and my husband gets concerned that I’ve hurt myself, but I have no time to worry about any of that because I have to run to my computer to get down the first draft! So, my PB creative process isn’t really a struggle when I write title first, but it’s definitely more dramatic.

The mental images of all that commotion are golden! I’ve giggled every time I’ve read over your answer. Let’s talk about WHOBERT! I am a fan of so many picture books (obviously) but the ones that have all 5 members of the Prevost family clamoring for a turn to read are few and far between.  Let me tell you, that’s WHOBERT in our house! His lack of self-awareness is HILARIOUS, I think because it hits a little close to home for everyone. (Except me, of course.) How long was the path to publication for WHOBERT? From first draft to SOLD. Per usual, WHOBERT came to me first as the title. But I didn’t know exactly who, who Whobert was or what he did. But it was when I was writing a grad paper on Shakespeare in the spring of 2014 that it all clicked. It was near the end of the semester and I was getting so much Shakespeare-fatigue that I started reading his plays out loud in a really dramatic voice. Then I got that lightning bolt moment. I knew this was Whobert’s voice, and I knew that I had to poke fun at myself taking myself so dang seriously in grad school. I was really inspired by the “who, who” call of owls, I figured “who” was a great start to any question for a detective, and SHAZAM! WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE was born. I wrote a couple drafts and had them critiqued by two amazing authors: Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum. From there, I had my revision critiqued at the CenCal SCBWI Writers’ Day by Annie Nybo who was then at McElderry Books. She gave me fantastic notes and told me to resend the manuscript to her if her thoughts resonated with me and I revised WHOBERT. Those notes super duper resonated, so I revised, then signed with my agent, then we sent WHOBERT on back to Annie. She asked for one more round of revisions, I got to those, and then after we submitted it to her again, Annie acquired WHOBERT in March of 2015.

That whole process from first draft to sold was pretty quick, just under a year. But I think it’s important to say that the relatively fast sale timeline would not have been possible if it weren’t for a number of happy milestones that happened along the way that I had nothing to do with. First, there was the fact that both Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum were available to look at my manuscript and gave me great advice. Then there was the fact that I met Erin Murphy at a picture book intensive weekend in the fall of 2014, and she introduced me to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. Then it was that Tricia decided she’d give me a call and took a chance on me after a delightful two-and-a-half-hour conversation. Then there was the fact that I was paired with Annie Nybo for that SCBWI critique and the fact that Annie happened to get my humor and saw what the WHOBERT draft I submitted to her could become. Not to mention, Jen Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency let me intern with her a couple years prior and introduced me to the children’s lit world. If not for each of these amazing women, WHOBERT may never have come to be.

So many people helped and so many factors outside of my control lined up perfectly to make publication of WHOBERT happen. We see articles online all the time about people who sell their books so fast, but I don’t think it’s often highlighted that a book’s publication is reliant on so many people and meeting those people at the right place and the right time. If any one of these mentors hadn’t entered my life, WHOBERT could still be in my computer and not on bookshelves. So if you’ve been trying to sell a manuscript for a long time, keep at it! Be an active part of our writing community and you will meet those people and have those happy accidents that lead you to publication. This is even true after your first book comes out. It’s been over two years since I last sold a manuscript, but I’m trying to keep myself at the keyboard every day, and seek as much help and guidance as I can.

What a refreshingly healthy perspective on the different paths a manuscript can take. WHOBERT is such a clever story, I’m so glad all the stars aligned for a quick publication.  What books helped to shine a light on your writing path as you were working through WHOBERT’S revisions? Are you a believer in mentor texts? I am such a believer in consuming other authors’ and illustrators’ work and being inspired by them, but when I’m working on a revision I try not to read others’ books when I’m in the revise mindset. I don’t want to get so into their rhythm or voice that I subconsciously repeat it. But I do read a ton of picture books outside of my revisions and there are a number of people who inspire me: Dashka Slater’s ESCARGOT is so flipping hysterical and I want it to be a requirement that kids get a copy of this book when they are born; Jessie Sima is amazing at writing and illustrating whimsical worlds that I want to live in; Jessixa Bagley knows so well how to bring out emotion and make you feel (her book BOATS FOR PAPA makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I. Read. It. And I’ve read it at least thirty times). I could go on and on!

I second every single title you just mentioned! I haven’t read BOATS FOR PAPA yet, but it’s waiting for me at the library today, actually. In nineteen days, on July 18th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? My plans are to keep on writing! I love our industry so much, and I want to be a part of it for as long as I can, so I’ll be at my keyboard on July 18th trying to come up with something that hopefully will make people laugh!

Do you remember the first time you saw WHOBERT on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! The first time I saw WHOBERT on a shelf was at BookPeople, our local (and so flipping fantastic there isn’t a word that can express it) independent bookstore in Austin, TX. They had a whole parliament of WHOBERTs sitting there at their welcome desk, and my heart stopped. It was so surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling and flipping through multiple books even though I knew every book had exactly the same thing in it. I just loved it!

You are so good at capturing a moment and helping your readers (aka me) to be right there with you.  When you talk about seeing WHOBERT for the first time, I get all kinds of warm fuzzies! How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? The person who was the absolute best help with marketing was Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She is a GENIUS when it comes to creating materials that can help make your book sing. She made an entire Whobert Story Hour Kit that you can find here!

Now that you have one year under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? The most surprising thing has been how much getting that first book on the shelves just makes you want more! I feel like Cookie Monster screaming, “MORE COOKIES!” only replace “cookies” with “books.” I have this fire in my gut that ignited on July 18, 2017, to have the whole process of publication happen all over again.

See there, you did it again! (#allthefeels) I know enough about you to know that you have a MG fantasy in the works. (That sounded stalkerish! I meant ‘Your website says you have…’) What’s the most difficult part of switching genres for you? What’s drew you to write for the MG audience? Haha! I’m an open book when it comes to…my books. I am completely obsessed with middle grade. I think overall there is an optimism about the world—even in darker MG—and I really like the general MG theme of trying to find your place in a community. I also love fantasy-adventure, and what drew me into writing the genre in MG is that I can develop fantastical worlds with kids who really appreciate the magic going on around them. I can discover these whimsical places through their eyes and really feel their enthusiasm and wonder. The hardest part about going into MG from PBs was getting down all the description. My PBs are really dialogue heavy, so it took me a bit to get into that, “Don’t forget to mention where they are, or what they’re wearing, or what smells so bad” rhythm.

What’s your favorite part of writing MG? What about PB? My favorite part about MG is getting to really dive deep into a world. Fantasy-adventure specifically is so fun for me because I love exploring how magic could enhance, alter or shake up an already confusing time of self-discovery.

My favorite part of PBs is getting to be just plain silly. I love being wacky and flamboyant in my PB writing. I write visually and use a ton of physical humor because, above all, my absolute favorite thing in writing PBs is making people laugh.

Gallaher Headshot

You do that so well!!! Do you have anything coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? I have another picture book coming out, but so far, we are still looking for an illustrator. As soon as I can sing this one from the rooftops, I totally will! I can say that it’s unrelated to WHOBERT, and it’s about my favorite subject: love!

You can find me online at jasongallaher.com; on Twitter and Instagram as @draftingjason; and on YouTube where I gab books at youtube.com/c/jasongallaher. Let’s all be friends, everybody! Thank you so much for having me! This was a hoot!

 

Wasn’t that fun??? See why I love this so much?? The best part is that I have a STACKED schedule of Paper People interviews to post this summer. (There were quite a few wonderful debuts that celebrated their fist anniversary over the spring that I missed, I’m sad to say. You can find a great, comprehensive list of 2017 debut picture books here.  If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions its a great place to start!) Stay tuned my friends!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

A most resilient writer.

I could’ve also titled this post, “Momma messed up and is trying to fix it.” 

Let me back up a few steps and explain, my daughter, I know I’ve talked about her before, is what keeps me writing.  She, and her brothers are the reason that I keep chipping away at this dream, even when it feels like the odds are stacked against me.  I do it because I hope to open creative channels in their young hearts and minds.  I do it so that they realize the endless possibilities that life has to offer and understand that that picking a path doesn’t mean its forever, only for now.  I do it so they see me chasing a dream, and hope that one day they’ll find the courage to chase their own.  She’s the one who keeps me on point, though.  She’s the one who reads all my stories, talks through all of my revisions, understands that I’ve received rejections and the reasons I keep writing. Not to knock her brothers, they’re just too young to fully comprehend.  She watched me take a leap of faith at the tender age of 6 and she’s been with me every step of the way.  The best part is, she loves to write just as much as I do. 

Last year she participated in #50PreciousWordsforKids and had a blast.  She and I were eagerly looking forward to the challenge this year, she worked on a story, edited, revised, trimmed fluff and got to a point where she was pleased with herself and her 50 words.  As her mom, I was overflowing with pride… I couldn’t wait to share it, but I forgot to submit it. Can you believe that? It was all my fault, too. There’s no excuse, I just missed the deadline. 

So, I did what I would’ve wanted her to do, tell the truth and beg for forgiveness.  Luckily for me, she’s about the most gracious and forgiving girl around and didn’t hand down a swift punishment but rather accepted the consolation prize I offered. “I can post your story on my blog,” I suggested and she was quick to agree. She really is one of the coolest girls you’ll ever meet.  For the past week she’s immersed herself into the world of Shel Silverstein and is reciting poetry and writing her own off-the-wall rhymes.  She loves to read, to write and to share whether that’s a joke, the last bit of her lunch, her favorite pencil or something she’s created, story or otherwise.   I wish I had been exposed to more authors, makers and creators as a child.  I wish I knew about all these wonderful avenues of creativity and the thousands of ways to share them with the world.  But she does, and my boys will too and at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. 

I hope you enjoy her story as much as I do.  (I’m only a little biased!) Remember, it had to be a complete story in only 50 words (title not included.) If you are curious to know more, check out Vivian Kirkfield’s website here, where she runs both #50PreciousWords and #50PreciousWordsforKids annually and is a constant cheerleader and champion for all things kid lit. 

THE STUDY GAME.

“UHHHH,” ALEX SAID, “I DON’T LIKE STUDYING.”

“ALEX, IT’S NOT BAD”, SAID HIS BROTHER.

ALEX LOVED VIDEOGAMES.  HE WOULD SNEAK TO HIS ROOM AND PLAY THEM.

“ALEX, I’VE GOT A GAME!”  ALEX RAN DOWNSTAIRS. “IT IS A STUDY GAME!  WAIT…I LOVE STUDYING NOW!”

There it is, written and edited all by herself with four words to spare. I’m not sure why it’s all in caps, but she gave me her seal of approval to post it, so post I did.  In the coming weeks, I have another friend I want to introduce to you (except you probably know her already), not to mention the kickoff of our second #100PictureBookSummer and an exciting line up of Paper People Interviews! Thanks for spending time with she and I today, and helping this absent-minded momma make amends. 

 Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Be My Guest, Mona Pease!

Here we go again! I have another wonderfully talented pre-published author friend that I can’t wait for you to meet.  I was lucky enough to be in a critique group with Mona a little more than one year ago, and we soon became Facebook friends.  That group has since fizzled out but she and I have stayed connected, continue to swap stories and are even participating in a book study together! She’s a very talented non-fiction writer, but don’t let her fool you! I’ve read a super sweet and silly story of hers that is all made up and such a delightful little read!  She was even one of Susanna Hill’s Holiday Contest winners and graciously agreed to come down here (figuratively speaking of course) for a cup of English tea to talk about the highlights of her writing journey.  (She also took me ‘around Robin Hoods barn’ a time or two!)

Without further ado… Mona Pease!

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____

            I’m really pleased to be here and share some of my writing thoughts with you. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m a chatterer. Sometimes I run out behind Robin Hood’s barn and come back talking about something different!

            So, my first thought was to write a post called, How Did I Find My Writing Tribe? To do that, I’d have to start with the first step of my journey. I decided to write children’s books. You’ve heard that before! Then, I decided that I wanted to attend the NESCBWI conference I’d been reading about online.

            In the meantime, there happened to be another writer from right here in Maine who was posting that she was looking for someone to join her in going to her first conference. We wrote back and forth, decided we’d go, and room together. It wasn’t until about the week before we were to leave that we shared phone numbers and our full names!

            My husband thought I was nuts, going out of state to “sleep” with a complete stranger. Her mother worried she might be going with an axe murderer! Thankfully, we bonded and have remained good friends. This happened just before Rules and it was my lucky day when I met my first and dearest, writing friend, Cynthia Lord, whose a name I now know!

            Not only did I meet my first tribe princess at that conference, I got the writing “bug” and the start of my writing education. I love learning and I hope that you do too, because I just stepped out behind Robin Hood’s barn and have to share my thoughts about the educational opportunities we have before us as children’s writers.  There are classes, courses, and workshops all over the place. This is an amazing, sharing, community we belong to, so let’s do a little window shopping.

            SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) is a good place to start the writer’s journey. It’s our organization and we’ve been invited to join.  If you can afford to go to one of the conferences, do it. There are several regional events too. New England is “my” conference. Can you imagine listening to, taking workshops, or being critiqued by the likes of Jane Yolen, Cynthia Lord, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jo Knowles, Erin Dionne, Kate Messner, Kwame Alexander, Jeannine Atkinson, Harold Underdown, just to name a few- yes, a few! And, then there’s a never-ending parade of participating agents and editors who are willing to hear from you.

            Falling Leaves on Lake George in New York, is another amazing event. It’s put on by the Eastern New York chapter. You have to apply with a written piece to be accepted because space is limited, but it is amazing!

            Be a web surfer. Be a site stalker. If you live in the boonies like I do, you can wiggle around the web like a worm in rich soil.  There are valuable groups and classes that you join. Some are free and others you have to pay your dues. I would love to take all of them,but have to pick and choose because the dollars (or lack of)!

            *Kid Lit College www.kidlit.org has an annual fee for members. Nonmembers can attend webinars presented by fabulous agents and editors for very reasonable fees. Jodell Sadler has organized this for us. Check it out. Try taking just one of the webinars and you may be hooked!

            *Rate Your Story is another of my favorites. This one has a fee too but there are the perks. Submit a manuscript every month for a professional critique. Then look for your rating of the story. A 1 rating says it’s time to submit! Look for their occasional free submission days if you didn’t join.

             *Aree Chung’s StoryTellerAcademy.com   offers step by step for creating your picture book. His first class is especially valuable for the author/illustrator. And he’s offering other classes for children’s writers. Again, there’s a fee, but a never-ending access to class or webinars with the addition of any webinar in the future. There’s a community of students that bond to discuss classes or to form critique groups.

            *Sussanna Hill’s, Making Picture Book Magic will really help you write magical words.  SusannaHill.com  Susanna will help you make your own words and sentences sing!

            *12X12 in another place with an annual fee. Monthly webinars. Golden Book members have opportunities to submit to agents every month. Try Julie’s free newsletter while you wait for the new sign-up year.

            There’s tons of free stuff going on. Get yourself a big fat notebook and start stalking. There are blogs, websites, challenges and contests.

*StoryStorm at TaraLazar.com  A professional post each day in January to help us boost our ideas. If you read and post a comment each day, you’ll be in the drawing for -Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!!!

*ReFoReMo – Carrie Charlie Brown’s Reading for Research is a March challenge. Read, read, read, children’s books, read the daily posts, then comment, and you’re eligible for prizes here too! This is an amazing way to find mentor texts for your own stories

*Not only does Susanna Hill offer classes, she has weekly blogs and annual contests that are free and fun with more prizes. I know, I recently won a 2018 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market!

*KidLit 411 is another place to find the news, and the weekly updates give you insight to what’s going on in the industry. This place is like an encyclopedia for children’s writers!

*Check out author, Vivian Kirkfield’s page. She presents author interviews, book reviews, and books to give away!

            Honestly, those are only a few of the gems you’ll find here on the internet. And now, for another trip around Robin Hood’s barn to take you back to where I started.  Along the way, on my journey, I have found friends! Some I’ve met in person and others I only know from here, but you are comrades, friends, critiques, cheerleaders. This is my tribe!

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Hands down, my favorite line? … “you can wiggle around the web like an earthworm in rich soil.”  Yes, yes, yes! I’m so grateful that I’m a picture book writer in the age of technology and social media, so much of what we need to learn is right at our fingertips! I’m lucky to have such a wonderful group of friends to call my own, Mona included…even though I missed her birthday! How does that even still happen in a Facebook world! Agh!! Mona, I’m sorry! I hope your day was delightful! Thanks for having me as a part of your tribe, my friend, and taking a leap of faith to join me here today!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Thank you note.

Dear Hivemind,

I stepped away from my microwaving bowl of oatmeal to say a quick “Thank You.”  I hope you know who you are, but if not, I’m talking to the 900+ 12×12 members who make up one of the most welcoming, active and engaged group of picture book writers on the planet.  All it takes is one glance at our Facebook page to see the constant stream of support that you’ve shown not only me, but anyone who stops by to ask a question.  Thanks to the community that’s been created, we have a safe place to share everything from important, thought provoking conversations to our own individual victories, be they big or small.  I hope that right now each one of you has found your reason for dancing (it IS the dance party after all!) My reason this week is the list of 88 words that you all helped to compile.  I’m dancing because you took the time to help me bust through my own ‘brain block’ by sharing your own creative energy.  I’m dancing because of the exciting new direction my WIP is taking, boosted by so many of my friends here, not to mention our fearless leader.  Taking it back a week, I was feeling insecure about my blog and took a moment to share my suspicious. Within a matter of minutes, a few of you with a better understanding of the internet, spammers and all shed some light on my confusion and put my fears to rest (or at least helped me to see that it’s nothing to be afraid of.) I’m dancing because I’m grateful for all you (and the fact that I still have 10 days to get my April draft on paper.) At the risk of sounding redundant, thanks… again.  I hope to return the favor one day soon!

                                                                                                                        Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                           The girl with a burnt bowl of oatmeal.

(Because that’s what happens when you accidently set the microwave to 10 minutes instead of 1 minute and completely lose yourself in a blog post.  Plus, I’m a writer… when the words need to get out, sometimes it happens at all cost. But since I’m writing to writers, I feel safe that I’m not being judged here.  Truth be told, I’ve done a lot worse than burn breakfast while my fingers are flying across the keys of my laptop.)

PS-I don’t want to leave out the other incredibly helpful groups that I’m a part of.  In fact, they’ve each played a big part of helping me along this journey and definitely deserve their own thank you note… ReForReMo’s came back in October, Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? series and the faithful following she’s gathered inspired a post in November and I summed up my wonderful Storystorm experience here in early February. 

 Up next for me?  I’m excited to share another Be My Guest! post from my dear friend Mona Pease next week.  I’m also gearing up for NaPiBoWriWee in early May. I had a great time with it last year, in fact 4/7 stories that came as a result of that week are projects that I’m still working on. That’s better than 50%! I’d call it an inspired week for sure.  I’m still working on Paper People (see my most recent interview here.)  I fell behind and now I’m out of sync with my library, but I hope to get back on track by late May or June.  There were so many fantastic debut picture book authors to celebrate from 2017, I definitely have no shortage of options.  What a great problem to have!

 

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