Submissions & Admissions

I did it. For the first time, in way too long, I hit the submit button. And get this, I did it not once but five times. Obviously, I didn’t literally hit submit five times: two were sent via US Mail with an enclosed SASE that I hope to never see again, two were via email and only one was an online submission form with an actual SUBMIT button. But the point is, I did it. What’s more important is that I managed to do it at the tail end of a very intense writer’s slump. Let me tell you, it was a helluva slump too. If I’m being honest, it actually felt like a hangover. I’m from south Louisiana, remember, I know a good hangover when I see one and THAT was a hangover… a conference hangover.
Everyone talks about the burst of energy that follows a good writers conference, and after last month I know exactly what they’re talking about it. The weekend was brilliant and the following week I had enough energy to tackle to publishing world. I had a vision for each WIP, I felt good about my chances, and I was writing often and feeling inspired…until I crashed. I crashed into a fit of overwhelming, exasperated self-doubt. All of my works in progress came to a screeching halt, my blog suffered and I grew quiet in my communication with critique partners. I was spiraling and it all happened so fast! Surely, I’m not the only one who’s experienced such a thing? Almost every ounce of my well-intentioned inspiration and energy evaporated, then it got worse. My mood was awful. My house was a mess. My laptop lay untouched, and the laundry piled up. It was the pits I tell you. Luckily, it was ALMOST every ounce of my creative energy… key word, almost.
So, there’s this book study I’m apart of, and our assignments are due every two weeks. I didn’t hit the deadline, which is very out of character for me, but I showed up in the best way I could; a day late and a dollar short. Our assignments are usually due once every two weeks, except this time we already agreed on a one-week extension and I STILL turned it all in two days late. But the important thing was, I finished. (Shout out to my Bookish Studies girls!) In the midst of all of this I also had a major pep talk with myself via the dusty laptop. I sat down with a blank (electronic) sheet of paper and just wrote. I wrote about my struggles, I wrote about my concerns, I wrote about what excited me, made me anxious or just plain scared me. I wrote about my expectations, both the realistic ones and those that aren’t. In the words of Brene Brown, pounded out a SFD, figured out the ‘story I was telling myself’ and how off-kilter it was. (All this is thanks to RISING STRONG, see footnote.)

I still have a couple more confessions… none of which matter to any of you in the least bit. But to keep my self accountable I have to spell them out, so please bear with me.

1. I missed the opportunity for an April edition of Paper People. I’m working on getting back on track for May… stay tuned, there’s more good things to come I hope.

2.  I declared that I would blog about picture books, except that feels really limiting and I think I unintentionally pigeon-holed myself. What I’m really passionate about is living a creatively and authentically. So, I might give myself that chance to start writing about that too… but carefully, because I’m no expert…

Also, this is no confession, but a PSA… you should read Brene Brown. Doesn’t matter which book, just pick the one that speaks to you and read it. I though that DARING GREATLY changed my life, and it did, but let me tell you, RISING STRONG just took things to a whole new level, and I’m only halfway through. Whether you’re a writer, reading, thinker, dreamer or doer, you should read her work. If you’ve experienced disappointment, shame, embarrassment, grief, or doubt, any and all of her books will speak to you. I could go on and on… I won’t because I’m very close to finding myself on a soapbox here. (Plus, I’ve hit my ellipses quota for the week.) Trust me, if you’re human you should read her books.

So, I think that’s all for now. I’m not sure where I’ll take things next week (and I hope that I don’t have any rejections to report!) I do have another Be My Guest post coming up, which is exciting and keeping me on schedule. Thanks for humoring me, like you always do, and as always… (oops, one more!)

 
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

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The bridge.

 

Two scary things happened to me on Friday morning. Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I don’t mean life-threateningly, earth-shatteringly scary, more like ‘public speaking’ scary. The second scary experience happened about one hour in to a three-hour drive.  I had my radio cranked up, cruise control set and a glorious amount of windshield time before I arrived at my very first SCWBI Regional conference.  What else do you need on a Friday morning? I can tell you what you don’t need… TRAFFIC. Bumper to bumper traffic, and the kicker? The traffic crawled to a stop about a mile before the tallest bridge in the entire world! Okay. So, it’s not actually the tallest in the world, but for me it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.  Fun fact, I have a strong distaste for anything that takes me higher than a step stool. I find heights to be disorienting, distracting and incredibly disconcerting.  The bridge in question was going to get me across the Mighty Mississippi. There’s no way around it, under it, or through it… only over. Believe it or not, I had never been stuck in traffic on the Mississippi River bridge but just the thought of it has caused a healthy amount of anxiety. What if I roll backwards? What if people are speeding past me and I’m stuck with the bridge bouncing beneath me?!? What if my car gets a mind of its own and drives itself over the side without warning? Right, all very rational concerns.  So, there I was with a solid fifteen minutes to stare straight at the brake lights inching up the bridge and psych myself up for what was about to happen.

Pause.  Let’s rewind about four hours to the quiet moments after I dropped my kids off at school. I came home to pack, print out query letters and hit the road. Everything was just as I planned it, except I was on the verge of tears.  The conference that had been beckoning me for months had finally arrived and I felt distressed. It wasn’t about leaving my family, my husband had things well under control and my kids were excited I was going. It wasn’t the road trip. It wasn’t the cost of the conference or about missing work. For a moment I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was very real and spreading fast. Thankfully, I’m a pretty self-aware girl, not to mention I’m a nurse, so self-diagnosing is kind of my ‘thing.’  It didn’t take me long to realize that I was riddled with a terrible case of insecurity, maybe even my first touch of the imposter syndrome I’ve heard so much about.  My lack of formal training, poor grasp of grammar and countless technical short-comings haunt me on a daily writing basis. Those things are easy enough to hide when I’m in the privacy of my home and I was about to leave the comfort of my hiding spot behind.  I was momentarily frozen with fear that I would be sniffed out as a fraud during the conference.  That I would be overpowered by intelligent conversation and blown away by the skill and success of the writers around me that I would run home on Sunday with my tail between my legs. 

You’ll be happy to know that neither the bridge, nor the worry got the best of me.  When I was crawling towards the bridge I thought back to the tears that fell and the conversation that ensued.  I realized that this was only the beginning.  Hopefully, the beginning of a long and illustrious writing career. More likely than that, though, is that this was the beginning of really believing in myself.  It’s one thing to ‘talk shop’ hidden behind a computer screen, but it’s a whole different ball game when you’re doing it in person.  I was putting myself ‘in the arena’ in a very new and real way.  Just like I was going to have to suck it up and cross the Mississippi River bridge at a sails pace, trusting that I wouldn’t get smashed, or bashed or splashed, I was also going to have to find a way to pump the brakes on my pity-party before it was too late. I know I belong there. I belong there just as much as you belong there and you belong there just as much as the writer across the table from you, and the one sitting behind her, and they one sitting behind him.  We all belong there! I had a conversation with myself at the bottom of the bridge, remembering that there are always two camps, spinning their own version of the same story.  I could continue listen to the self-depreciating, self-doubting, self-conscious version, or I could choose differently for myself, at least for a weekend. So, that’s what I did and I let the bridge help me do the work.  I decided that when I reached the very top I would look to the left and down at the river down below.  (I NEVER look over the side!) Sure, there were trucks driving past, cars switching lanes and the bridge was wobbling more than I care to discuss. But in that moment, looking out on the Mississippi River, I was okay! I let go of my worry and allowed myself the glorious opportunity to embrace 72 hours of full-time writer-mode.  That’s all I really needed, anyway, to just be me and tell the stories that I have to tell. 

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is a gracious, warm and welcoming group of people who are driven by a passion for telling stories aimed at a young audience.  The group of individuals gathered in New Orleans this weekend was no different. I reconnected with old friends & made a few new ones.  I soaked up the information that was given out like a sponge and I ate INCREDIBLY well. I laughed a lot, jotted down notes and had a query letter critiqued. I know that I said that I was trying to write more pointed picture book information here and ramble a little less, but I also said I wasn’t making any promises.  I figured if it happened to me, then maybe it happened to you and if was important to me, it may be an important conversation for you, too.  Whenever your self-doubt creeps in, please know, for what it’s worth, that I don’t buy it.  I’ll be your cheerleader! After all, the greatest gifts we can give each other are support and encouragement, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum from pre- to prolifically published.

I’m still digesting so much of what I learned, but I came back encouraged, excited and inspired. Is anyone surprised? Of course not! That’s what happens when you surround yourself with like minded people.  That’s the beauty of talking shop and sharing stories with people who know EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. In BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about making room for our fear. Instead of fighting it, she suggests we invite it along for the ride but insist that it sit quietly and doesn’t get a voice in any major decisions. Well, insecurity is just fear in a costume, right?  Right.  So, it can’ come along, but I’m banishing it to the back seat, locking the windows so it doesn’t get sneaky and going to keep blaring music and crossing bridges.

Would you look at that? I’m 1200 words into this post! I don’t mean to be rude, but would you mind showing yourself out? I have a stack of revisions calling my name.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Paper People: Camille Andros

One of my favorite things in the world is stumbling upon a book that seems to be written just for me, but I get an even bigger rush when I find a book that is PERFECT for someone else.  That’s what happened with CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED.  One busy afternoon, I stopped in at  B&N with this Paper People interview in mind. It took me all of ten minutes to find it, check out and rush from the store, eager to share my newest treasure with my daughter. As the oldest she is spirited, strong and selfless with an insatiable thirst for all things science.  This adorable bunny book belongs on my daughter’s shelf as much as my trusty copy of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS belongs on my own. Since the beginning of Paper People, I’ve been so grateful that the books I’ve read introduce me to their author by way of these interviews. In CHARLOTTE’S case, I feel blessed that reaching out to Camille helped my daughter and I to know Charlotte. Trust me, if you don’t already, you’ll be glad to know Camille and CHARLOTTE, too. They’re powerful women!  So, what are you waiting for? Read on!

Camille, thanks for being here! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink?  You’re such a great hostess, thank you Jennifer J I always love a cup of cocoa on a cold winter day.

Cocoa it is! Although it’s not wintery here, anymore, there’s just enough of a chill in the air that I think I’ll join you.  So, it seems you are a woman of many hats. Your website mentions that you garden, have six kids and are an EMT along with being an author. Plus, you’ve lived all over the country (and Israel!)  You must have countless stories to tell!  How did you start writing for children? I’ve always loved picture books, never out grew them and always wanted to write them. When my youngest was finally sleeping through the night I decided see what it would take to make that dream a reality.

Elizabeth Gilbert (BIG MAGIC) gives full credit for her writing career and deep-seated respect for creativity to the fact that she watched her mom live a creative life.  Do you see your writing having an impact on your children? The impact I hope for it to have on my children is that they have seen firsthand how I had a dream, set goals to achieve that dream and then worked really really hard to make it happen.

I wish the same for my own! I don’t have a publishing contract in hand, nor one in the foreseeable future, but I keep reminding myself that if I’m helping my kids to embrace their creativity and understand what it means to work towards a dream, then I’ll consider myself a success.  I’ve ‘met’ some of your Picture the Book-mates over recent months and read an interview you did with Anna Forrester. In it, you mention that you’re the oldest of 7 kids! Basically, you have first-hand, life-long experience being ‘squished’.  Where was your favorite place to retreat to when you need a minute alone? My bunk bed. I would walk to the grocery story, buy myself a candy bar, snuggle up in my bed, eat my candy and read. My grandparents also had a tree I loved to climb and read up in the tree. It always sounded like a good idea, but in practice it was actually kind of hard to balance a book up in a tree.

Let’s talk about CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED! I love science (my background is in nursing) and so does my eight-year-old daughter.  We read it often!  Was this story your first picture book manuscript?  How long was it a ‘work in progress’? This wasn’t my first manuscript. I had several I was working on trying to build up a body of work that I could share with an agent, but it was the first book I sold.  My first picture book manuscript I wrote is THE DRESS AND THE GIRL and will be coming out this August illustrated by Julie Morstad.

Not long after we first ‘met’, I saw your cover reveal for THE DRESS AND THE GIRL! It’s beautiful and simple and rich.  Can you give us a taste of what this one is about? Does it have a similar feel? THE DRESS AND THE GIRL is totally different from Charlotte. It’s a story about a little girl and her favorite dress, the power of memory, and how a life we think may be ordinary is actually quite extraordinary.

Tomorrow, March 14, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you! I hadn’t actually thought of celebrating, but I do love any excuse to celebrate, so now you’ve got me thinking…maybe I’ll have a birthday party with my kids for Charlotte the Scientist! J

 Do you remember the first time you saw CHAROLTTE on a bookstore shelf? Yes! A friend texted that she saw it at Barnes and Noble so after everyone got home from school we loaded all the kids up in the car and went to make it official. It was a pretty fun night!

I can imagine! So, tell us, how did you get it on those shelves? Oh my. I think I had zero to do with the book getting on shelves other than writing it. There is so much out of our control in this business and that is one of them. I think you just do the best with the information you have and don’t look back. You can “should-a, could-a, would-a,” yourself to death, but it’s not productive. Spend your time writing more great books.

I’m a member of an online book study and we’ve just started making our way through Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with her book or not, but in the first chapter she recommends typing out a ‘picture book you love’ as a guide. I can tell you that CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST was one of them… for a couple of us! It is so cleverly written.  Where did you get the idea to use the Scientific Method to guide your story? Thank you! In the early drafts of the book the scientific method was only mentioned in passing. It was only after the book was sold that we decided to add in the specific steps of the scientific method.

 It’s spot on! I don’t think we’ll ever study the scientific method the same way again. Now that you have one year and (nearly) two books under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve learned that most people feel like they are an imposter and are just waiting for everyone to figure it out. I’ve also learned that it’s not productive to compare yourself to anyone else. It’ll only make you feel bad. The world is wide enough (to borrow from a Hamilton reference;) for all of us and all of our books and ideas, so our time is best served writing good books, and helping to cheer others on to do the same.

 Yes! Just write good books; so simple and so powerful. Can you remind us when we can expect THE DRESS AND THE GIRL?  Anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?  THE DRESS AND THE GIRL will be out August 7, 2018, another CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST book will be out next year, as will a picture book biography about ELIZA HAMILTON.

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Instagram: @camilleandros

Twitter: @camdros

Facebook: Camille Andros

Thanks so much for visiting with me!

The Meaning of Magnolia.

In January of 2017, I decided to take a leap of creative faith.  The idea of starting a blog had been following me around for about six months, though I had seriously been avoiding it.  For one, I didn’t really understand the point of blogs.  Second, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would read what I had to say. Third, a few parenting/lifestyle/mom blogs and their ‘expert point-of-views’ had left a bad taste in my mouth. But like I said, it was persistent in its pursuit of me.  All the while this was happening, I was struggling to find a sense of community and direction as an aspiring picture book author.  So, I agreed to consider the blog.  I realized that the blog itself might just be the answer to what I was searching for. My one major roadblock?  I didn’t have a name for it. The short version of this long story is that I stewed over possible names for weeks, without any obvious frontrunner. Until one night in early January 2017, in a moment of sheer shower brilliance, I claimed Magnolias & Manuscripts as my very own. It was perfect, it scratched my alliteration itch, incorporated the obvious writing reference and the icing on the cake was the nod to my southern heritage.  The more I worked through it in my brain, however, I knew there was a deeper connection to magnolias that had nothing to do with the state flower of Louisiana or flipping houses. (I’ve never seen the show.)  

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I also know myself and knew that I needed to set a few ground rules before I started.  For one, it’s not in my nature to draw attention to myself; I am a very introverted extrovert. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to blog to generate a following, but to make connections. I wasn’t going to offer an expert point of view, but rather it would be told from the viewpoint of an amateur, aspiring author, with little formal training but a whole lot of tenacity.  And finally, I committed myself to six months of weekly posts. As my first post formulated in my brain and then on paper, I received a wonderful confirmation that this was the right move and it came by way of my precious little Australian Magnolia tree.

My parents are avid and excellent gardeners.  Ask anyone, their yard is a beautiful display of seasonal foliage that always seems to bloom at just the right times, in all the right colors. It really is a masterpiece.  My take on flower beds is decidedly simpler.  I need evergreens, annuals and sun-loving plants that don’t require any attention whatsoever.  I don’t have much of an opinion on flowers.  I don’t know what most of their names are, anyway, and I rarely remember that they are living things in need of some ‘tlc’ (tender, loving care). There was an obvious empty space in the front corner, though, too close to the house for a shade tree and too big for a shrub.  I wanted an ornamental tree that would flower but was as low maintenance as the rest. Finally, after years (literally) of talking about it, my husband went to a nursery and came home with a baby Australian Magnolia.   

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This plucky little tree is just what the doctor ordered for my south Louisiana flower beds.  For the second year in a row, this tree bloomed earlier than any other magnolia I could find and it did so enthusiastically.  It suffered bouts of disease and drought and somehow pulled through. As an aspiring writer, I hope I have many of those same characteristics.  I hope that I can maintain an eager, determined, and vibrant disposition in this field I call my own.  I hope that I continue to find a way to bloom, whenever the time is right for me, surrounded by others who are working just as hard as I am.   

By all accounts, this past year and my blogging experiment has been a smashing success.  I have 83 followers! (WHAT! I’m speechless!) I’ve blogged often. I’ve branched out. I’ve made connections and I’ve put down roots.  I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring! Without a doubt, I’m going to continue Paper People, my interview series (second week of the month), and Be My Guest, my newly released guest-blog series (last week of the month.)  I’m also going to hone the focus of my other posts in on my current genre, picture books.  I hope to have fewer ramblings and musings and more posts with purpose.  But then again, look at today, I’m not sure if that’s even my style.   

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Today marks the ceremonious start to my second year as a blogger! Thanks for joining me here, this week and every week.  Since everything has a way of coming full circle, let me close the loop for you.  We planted our Magnolia tree right around the time that I wrote my first manuscript.  It bloomed for the first time right as I was working on my first blog post.  It wasn’t always pretty, much like many of my drafts.  And the tree now? It’s a little taller, a little fuller and still my favorite.  You could call it a coincidence if you want, but I don’t believe in such things.  We are traveling similar paths, this tree and I, and I’m so grateful to have company.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

 

 

Be My Guest, Julie LaCombe!

Hi there my friends! Today I have the chance to introduce you to a dear friend of mine by way of a new series, Be My Guest! Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to strike up friendships with a few terrific pre-published picture book authors and I want you to know (and remember) their names. Today, my dear friend Julie joins me for a soothing cup of rose tea that she brought all the way from the Lone Star state. (My attempt to enjoy tea is the REAL work in progress here.) Julie and I ended up in the same critique group and bonded over similarities in our first stories (coincidentally or not, they’ve both been shelved.) There have been countless small world connections since we first started swapping manuscripts, she married a boy from my corner of the world and I know one that grew up down the street from her. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat as Julie found her non-fiction voice and I’m so glad she did! She has a wonderful gift of spinning facts into a story and was gracious enough to Be My (first) Guest! Read along as she tells you about her journey to writing non-fiction for kids, and then stroll on over to her site (https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com) and see all the good stuff she has going on!

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     I’m a left-brained person. I like lists. I like learning. I like things wrapped up in neat little packages. I LOVE research! My love of research was the result of my brilliant, NASA engineer dad who paid me to research topics when I was a kid. Beginning in the third grade, he taught me how to write research papers and paid me one dollar per report. I quickly came to realize that, it wasn’t the money I wanted but the facts I was collecting! From there I started adding to my school lessons (much to my teachers’ chagrin), amazing (or boring) my friends and irritating my brother with facts.

I thrive on finding bizarre and obscure people, facts and events. I hoard newspaper clippings, and keep a traveler’s notebook filled with things I hear in conversations (yes, I eavesdrop!), on TV programs and movies, or see around me. It’s bursting with questions about everyday objects, why people invent things, how they come up with ideas, etc. Questions are constantly swirling through my brain. My children laugh at me when I begin what they call my “informational lectures” after I’ve found an odd historical fact or learned about an amazing unknown person in history. I get excited and passionate because I want to learn more.

So, how did I come to realize that nonfiction was my niche? I felt like a fraud, unimaginative and bored anytime I tried to write creative fiction. I had tons of ideas, but when I sat down to write, I couldn’t. It came out flat and boring. Then, one day my family paid a visit to a local history museum and BAM! It hit me in the face like a bug hits a windshield…There are stories to tell about all of those weird facts I like to collect. I focused my passion for learning into teaching. I used my love for research to find those unknown nuggets to interest and excite my students. As a history teacher, I did everything I could to bring history alive through primary sources and teaching the facts through storytelling. I never thought about writing … UNTIL three years ago. I was watching a fictionalized series about one of my favorite historical events with my husband and something they said ignited a spark. It was a reminder of my passion for sharing fun history with kids.

     The first lesson most writers learn is “write what you know,” but I think that is false advertisement for ANY writer, especially nonfiction writers. Think about it. Did Jules Verne travel twenty thousand leagues under the sea? Did H.G. Wells time travel? I think better advice is to write what you are passionate about. For me, writing nonfiction is like going on a treasure hunt. You start with an idea which is your treasure map, except there is no X that marks the spot. The treasure is that little tidbit of the unknown and you have to jump from one path to the next until you find your way there. The struggle I constantly have is figuring out what to include and not to include. I want to include EVERYTHING I find! Prolific author John McPhee calls writing nonfiction “literature of fact.” Newbery winner Russell Freedman calls himself a “factual author.” I like that. I’m a factual author!

     So how does writing fiction differ from nonfiction, aside from the obvious? In writing fiction, you work to lure a story line into existence. With nonfiction, we have to recognize the story line that’s already there. The structure of factual information is already in existence. A nonfiction writer has to then flesh out the story and make it interesting and add heart. That’s the hard part. Finding the voice of the story and giving it a life that will appeal to readers yet still remain factual.  And that’s what I love about writing nonfiction. I get to research and learn about something I’m passionate about and then to mold it into a story that others will love.

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I love learning new things about my friends! A NASA engineer for a father? Cool! I hope you enjoyed getting to know Julie, I can’t wait for the day when you say to yourself “I’ve actually known about her since way back before she was a successful author!”
That’s all for now! But there is always more to come, more musings, more interviews and more friends for you to meet.
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

It’s (almost) Valentiny Tuesday!

For most of you tomorrow is Tuesday, February 13 but down here in my neck of the woods, it’s anything but an ordinary day. That’s right, it’s Mardi Gras y’all! If you aren’t familiar, I’ll catch you up to speed. It’s a sweeping cultural holiday with hints of religious origins.  Fat Tuesday, as it’s also known, is a day of celebrating, splurging and of course, sweets, before the somber church season of Lent.  Before I share my Valentiny entry, allow me to introduce you (Susanna) to the world-famous King Cake.  The doughnut shop in the small town that I call home (and every donut shop, bakery and grocer in the state actually) is known for their King Cakes.  There are as many different styles of King Cakes as floats in the parades, but my particular favorite is this one– a big, stuffed glazed donut (this one is chocolate, obviously!)  Trust me, it’s even better than it sounds. So please enjoy a digital slice of King Cake as you read through all of the wonderful Valentiny stories. Since you’re here, you might as well start with mine, right? (In case you were wondering, I’m not actually allowed to take the wrapper off- I don’t get to eat this one.)

Without further ado, my Valentiny entry… a story of hope in (under) 214 words.

Every Day but Sunday

There was a time when Amber didn’t even think about the mail.

She never wondered what was in all those envelopes and she surely didn’t know what time the mailman passed each day.  That wasn’t the case anymore.

“Will he come today?”  Amber asked.

“Every day but Sunday” her mom replied.

“What about tomorrow? It’s a holiday,” she worried.

“For you and I, it’s Valentine’s Day. For the mailman, tomorrow is just Wednesday.”

Even though her mom gave her the same answer each morning, Amber waited by the mailbox every afternoon, just to see for herself.

By now the mailman knew her by name. “Sorry Amber, nothing today” he said.  She managed a smile, but inside she felt like a balloon that lost all its air. “Thanks anyway. Maybe tomorrow,” Amber replied.

That night she reminded herself, every day but Sunday, and her heart started to feel full again.

The next afternoon, Amber stood in her spot, watching and waiting.   As the mailman turned toward her house, her heart started to race.

Was there a smile on his face? Was there a spring in his step? Amber saw him pull a big, brown envelope out of his bag. Finally, her wait was over.

Best of luck to everyone who’s participating.

Happy Mardi Gras! Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Everything!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Nathan called.

Okay, so he’s not a real person and he didn’t actually call. But I spent the better part of two years getting to know him and his story, in the way only writers can. Technically that’s my second to longest relationship, ever. Nathan is the main character of the first picture book manuscript I’ve ever written. When I started blogging, there were a few picture book drafts in my desk drawer, but his story was still consuming more of my time and energy than the others. Last week, in one of the Storystorm guest posts, Jared Lerner talked about wrestling inspiration into its place and boy, did I ever wrestle with Nathan’s story. I worked through more drafts than I can count. His story was my first critique, my first submission and my first rejection. He and I had many long talks, we changed direction, we rhymed, we didn’t, we argued, there were tears and finally, he was shelved.  Although, I don’t really think it was a mutual decision.
To be fair, I had a number of very valid reasons. For one, I’m pretty sure we both needed a break from each other and the painful revision process. I told him it would be temporary, and that we could still be friends. Second, since I wasn’t focusing all of my energy on his story, I was able to give life to the other stories that were surfacing. There’s no way I would have written the other manuscripts that I have, had I stayed immersed in Nathans’ world. Third, I realized that few authors ever publish their FIRST story, and that maybe Nathan’s job had only been to get me down this path of chasing my dream. Maybe he was sent to introduce me to the wonderful world of Kid Lit because when I started swapping manuscripts, Nathan’s story was all I had to offer. Some of the writers who offered their feedback have morphed from strangers to critique partners and are now my dearest writing friends. There’s something to learn from every relationship, and I thought that maybe Nathan and I’s relationship had run its course because I learned what I needed to from him.
Anyways, like I said, he called. He actually has been for quite some time, but I was doing the writer’s equivalent of silencing and screening. Finally, I answered. I pulled his dummy out and read it for the first time in months. I can still recite the words, I still love the premise of his story and reading it completely excited me.  Thankfully, I’ve learned a little since I last worked with him and the only way I’ll agree to give his story another try is if he understands that we can’t be exclusive.  There are plenty of stories waiting to be written, his will need to share some brain space. Also, he hinted around that he misses his rhyme. You may remember that Nathan’s story was born as a rhyming story. I’ve talked much about it here, along with my decision to drop the rhyme and try to get his story told in prose. I did a decent job in prose, and using those writing muscles paved the way for all of my other main characters to see daylight. But if I’m being totally honest, his story is still, just decent.  I do hope to straddle the fence and write stories in both prose and rhyme, so it seems now is a good a time as any to start rhyming again.  That’s not to say I’ll start with Nathan, because a little part of me feels like he’s asking me to un-do all that I’ve done.
So, what’s the first thing you do when an ex calls you out of the blue, you call your best friend and spill your guts; that’s what I’m doing here. I’m telling you that he called, and I’m not quite sure what his intentions are yet, but I agreed to talk to him about it. We’re meeting for coffee next week.
There’s a line from one of my favorite books on writing that I keep going back to, especially on the days that feel tough. In the introduction of STEERING THE CRAFT, Ursula le Guin wrote, “Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write…Craft enables art. There’s luck in art. And there’s the gift. You can’t earn that. But you can lean skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.”
Did you hear that? YOU CAN LEARN TO DESERVE YOUR GIFT. I think I need to blow that up poster size and put it over my desk… or maybe use it as wallpaper. I’m still not sure if Nathan’s story is one that the world will ever read, and that’s okay. But I’m almost certain I’ll agree to pull him out, especially as I’m working to ‘deserve my gift.’ I think he has more to teach me, and if anything will push me out of my comfort zone, again. I just keep reminding myself that when I learn something from one manuscript, all of my stories- past, present and future will benefit. So, I guess, I really have nothing to lose. Right? Thanks for listening. I feel better already.

And as always,
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Buy the Book

A few summers back, I started chasing this dream.  I had no understanding of the industry, no awareness of the process and no clue where to begin.  Somehow, probably after enough Google searches, I got my hands on a copy of the 2016 Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market.  I remember the excitement I felt when it came in and I promptly read it cover to cover. The excitement quickly turned into overwhelm and the book was shelved.  I had the wonderful problem of having too much information.  Fast forward two years, and I had the good fortune to catch one of Katie Davis’ Writing for Children podcasts (Episodes 74 & 78) about using Market books wisely.  She and her guest, Marni McNiff spoke to the fact that most writers had a copy, and most copies looked brand new because they had never been used. Bam, that was me. Thankfully, I learned a great deal while the book was shelved and recognized that it was time to pull it out again.

Like all writers, one of my 2018 goals is to continue submitting my work (see my full list here).  Last year, I sent a handful of queries out to agents, with an equal amount of rejections received. I don’t think these queries were as ill-fated as my earlier ones, and I believe that I’m moving in the right direction.  But I know myself, I’m a bit of an acquired taste and I always do better with in-person introductions, one major exception being that awful pitch session I had back in the fall. (I’m going to be working on those too.) I also had a long talk with the girl in the mirror and admitted that my intentions for chasing agents were a bit skewed.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely hope that I’m blessed to find one, but there was a part of me that was hiding behind agent queries and avoiding editors out of fear. I’ve received those rejections too, and for me, they stung a bit more than the agents. I’ve shied away from editors because of the power they hold, an convinced myself that my only chance for success was if I had an agent in my corner. Shame on me. All of that might totally be true, I might have a greater chance for success with an agent, but I don’t deserve one if I decide that I’m incapable of chasing this dream alone.  If one day I land the right agent at the right time, I’ll consider myself lucky.  Until then, I’m going to put my big girl pants on and forge my own path. I’ve reset my expectations, outlined my intentions and came up with a game plan.

My mission, should I choose to accept it is to submit to well-researched publishing houses and have my 2016 Market will look worn by the summer. (Think Velveteen Rabbit caliber used and abused.) If I manage to do so, I get to buy the 2018 edition and continue down this path. I love goals! I love deadlines! I’ve already started! I have a spreadsheet with small-mid range publishing houses, listed in alphabetical order, with all the info I might need when its time to start hitting the ‘send’ button. If you don’t have a copy of a recent Market book, I definitely recommend investing in one. An internet search yields little results in comparison to the information within the pages of this book.  No doubt more homework is required then just taking the information at face value (it is a 2016 book after all) but it gives a spectacular starting point as opposed to searching for some variation of “publishers looking for picture books”.  (Another of my goals is to submit to Magazines, and the book has a whole section devoted to this; more on this another day.)  So I’m off, wish me luck and I’ll send it right back to you.

Also, I’m excited to tell you that a few of my pre-published friends have agreed to guest post here over the coming months.  They each have great things to say, most have their own blogs, some I’ve traded manuscripts with and all are going to be wonderfully successful authors one day. I asked them to ‘Be My Guest’ because I want you to meet them!

Now I need to figure out what to do with this white stuff on the ground… AGAIN. Snow falling twice in one winter is more than this Cajun girl can handle.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

A WYRI Tale.

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a spot on Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? Series.  For those of you who are writers, you know how important your pitch is. If you aren’t a writer, rather a reader, let me explain.  Remember the post about my first conference experience, and my less than stellar pitching experience? Well, we all need pitches for our prospective books. There are different forms, Twitter pitches written with hashtags and character counts, ‘elevator pitches’ for if you find yourself lucky enough to get 15 seconds of someone’s attention, and so on. The lengths may vary but the concept is still the same; in as few words as possible, you have to sell your book.  Susanna’s series is designed for writers to help other writers, in this case, its all PB (picture book) and MG (middle grade) stories that are pitched.  I followed her guidelines, submitted a pitch and a short bio, then patiently waited my turn. (It’s a weekly series, held on Wednesdays only). Once posted, other writers, by way of the blog’s comments, offer suggestions, feedback and pose questions to help sharpen the pitch and get it ‘ready’.  I had a wonderful experience! I struggle greatly with pitches, (as you might have heard) and I appreciate every bit of help that was sent my way. I’d like to share a little of the process with you here… (click here if you’re interested in reading the entire Would You Read It? post on Nov 8. If you do, please check out the blogs/websites of the writers who commented. There are so fantastically talented names on that list. I’m sure some you’ll be familiar with and some will be exciting discoveries of soon-to-be up & comers)

So here’s my starting pitch:

Dewey heard the rumblings, this rainfall would be a big one. As he peeked over the edge of the cloud to check the drop zone, he saw the thing he dreaded most of all. All he wanted was to make someone smile, but would he ever get the chance?

And here’s a few snippets of the feedback I received:

  • “The opening sentence is all right but if you could cut part of it out and combine part of the second sentence, it would be stronger. This brings me to the other part…who does Dewey want to make smile and what does he dread? I feel these should be included or at least one of these questions answered in the pitch to pull the pitch together.” 
  • “The first sentence contains a comma splice. Better to make it two sentences or rewrite it so that it isn’t two independent clauses. Or just add the verb “knew” – i.e., Dewey heard the rumblings and knew this rainfall would be a big one. Also, I wonder whether children would know what a “drop zone” is? Maybe find a way to shorten and combine or rephrase the last two sentences?”
  • “Currently the pitch reads as one scene from out of a whole story which leaves the reader hanging, but not in a good way. Rewrite giving a summation of the story from start to almost end – don’t give away the ending, but write so we want to know what it is. Also, remember to add a hook – preferably not in question form.”
  • “I have not done many pitches, but I am leery of ending on a question when you have such a dramatic spot in the middle. All the lines work, but I wonder if they should be reordered?”
  • The MCs name, Dewey, makes me feel this is going to be about libraries via the “Dewey” Decimal system, so I was completely throw off.”
  • “…the rumbling cloud and “drop zone” do a great job of creating tension in expectation of the action. Consider mentioning Dewey’s goal before the obstacle and giving brief specifics about both. A better sense of the plot could make reading this story irresistible to me.”

Isn’t that just fantastic feedback! I have everything from the technical ‘comma splice’ aspects, to major questions about the fundamentals of my MC. (Who IS a raindrop… though I’ve changed the spelling of his name to Dewy.  I still can’t believe I didn’t catch that!) That’s not even all of the helpful comments, either.  Here’s a little of what I did:

  1. Changed the spelling of his name
  2. Included that he is, in fact, a raindrop
  3. Rearranged the order of my sentences
  4. Included more information to thicken the plot and ‘show’ more of Dewy’s story.

So here’s how it reads now, still not ‘finished’ but hopefully closer to being so:

Dewey wasn’t sure he liked being a raindrop. Whether he showed up at recess or on a parade, it always seemed to ruin someone’s day. From the rumblings, he knew today’s rainfall would be a big one. As Dewey crept to the edge of the cloud, he peeked out and saw the very thing he dreaded most of all. There was no way he’d see a smile today.  All he could do now was hope not to land on the cake.

I was so overwhelmingly grateful for the nearly 20 different writers and readers of Susanna Hill’s blog who stopped by to offer their assistance.  If you aren’t familiar with her website, her contests and her challenges you should definitely check it out… right now.  You still have plenty of time to get ready for her Holiday Writing Contest, guidelines should be posted soon! (I received an Honorable Mention for my Halloweensie  contest entry!!)  As if this all isn’t helpful enough, each month one pitch is chosen to receive feedback from a real, live editor! The other pitches from November have been really great, so I know the competition is steep, but I already feel like a winner with my new and improved pitch! Alright, I think that’s enough exclamation points for one afternoon.

I hope everyone has a fantastically joyful and stress-free Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Sue Gallion

The second Friday of the month is quickly becoming my favorite! Today, I’m sharing Sue Gallion and I’s conversation.  I had the chance to pick her brain about not only her debut picture book (and a little about her second) but also all things SCBWI. I’m just starting to get involved and find my place within my local chapter.  I am so excited about being a card-carrying member so, I had no shortage of questions. I hope you learn as much as I did… I should warn you, there’s an awful lot of cuteness in between the lines. Proceed with caution!

Sue, thanks for joining us here! Can I get you something to drink? Coffee or a whole-milk latte would be even better.  Thanks for your hospitality!

Certainly! We finally have another “cool front” around here, so coffee sounds great. It had been so warm the past few days that I almost opened a lemonade stand! Oh, well. The struggles of the south.  Let’s get started, would you mind telling us a little about how you started writing for children?  My background is journalism and public relations, but I got re-hooked on children’s books when my kids were young. I took a children’s literature class about 12 years ago with the thought of becoming a reading specialist, but the assignment to write my own ABC book took me in a different direction. And here I am!

I’d like to jump right into SCBWI.  How did you become involved in the first place?  How did you find your place? What’s your favorite part of the organization? (Can you tell I’m a new member and just a little excited about it?) I found out about SCBWI from another writer’s group. One of the scarier things in this business to me (which you have to do over and over again!) is walk into a room where you know no one and start a conversation. The first SCBWI event I attended was a full-day workshop in Kansas City with Harold Underdown and several other top speakers. I mentioned to one of the volunteers helping with lunch that I was willing to help out with a future event. The next thing I knew, I was coordinating cupcake donations and stuffing packets. I became Assistant Regional Advisor in 2011 to Colleen Cook, who was the person I introduced myself to at the coffee station at that first event.

I could tell you a thousand favorite things about SCBWI. Many of the people I most respect and admire I’ve met through SCBWI. It is an extraordinary creative community with so many opportunities to learn and grow in our craft. I am certain I never would have been traditionally published without SCBWI. More importantly, I have grown as a writer, as an advocate for children’s literacy, and as a person through SCBWI and the people I’ve come to know.

I encourage people to be brave and pursue this dream by connecting with others, and then be sure to pat yourself on the back for being brave! It takes guts to share your work with others. It also takes a lot of humility and perseverance.

How serendipitous! You’re totally right, somehow as an adult, it’s still a bit nerve-wracking to be the new kid on the playground.  How long were you involved for before you sold Pug Meets Pig? About five years. The sale of the manuscript actually came directly from a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI LA conference in 2013.

Of course, it did.  You and SCBWI have quite a sweet love story. Was Pug Meets Pig your first picture book manuscript? No way! I worked on many manuscripts before it, and I revised it over several years. I do wish I had moved on from some of my first manuscripts sooner, though. I think lots of us get too caught up in that one first story and revise it over and over again, rather than move on to new ideas.  Lin Oliver of SCBWI has solid advice to think of your career and your body of work rather than just one book. We all have more than one idea in us.

That’s excellent advice. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that I needed to move on past my first manuscript and start working on others. Do you remember the first time you saw it on a bookstore shelf? You bet! It was shelved right next to Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. Also a thrill!

Ohhhh, that’s a great shelf to be on! Surely you took a picture? Then to have your second picture book follow so closely must’ve been the most delicious icing on the cake. Pug & Pig Trick or Treat is equally as adorable. Not to mention, now you have a series!  Was writing Trick or Treat more or less difficult than you anticipated?  Will we have the chance to follow this pair on more adventures? The second story was inspired by my dog’s reaction to the dog next door dressed in a skeleton costume. I had no plans to write a second book, and I had no idea if Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster would ever buy it. It was a thrill when Andrea Welch acquired it right away. Stay tuned for more adventures for these two!

9781481449779 copy (2)I can’t wait to tell my kids! They’re going to be thrilled. So you must’ve done something to get your book on that incredible shelf.  Can you tell us how you approached the release of your debut picture book?  What worked well for you from a marketing standpoint? That’s a whole other blog, but I took every approach I could imagine, including mailing books to celebrity pugs and pigs around the country.

I’ll just have to invite you back one day and you can tell us all about marketing, pigs and pugs, debut and seasonal books.  Can you tell us about your experience working with an illustrator? The animals are so adorable… I could just reach out and pinch their cheeks! Seeing this story come to life visually was one of the most thrilling parts of this whole process. Joyce Wan is an incredible artist and visual storyteller. The team of Andrea Welch and Allyn Johnston, Beach Lane editors, and Lauren Rille, the art director, is simply brilliant. It’s been an honor to work with them and I’ve learned so much from them.

That reminds me of the quote I heard once on a podcast, ‘it takes a village to make a picture book.’  Within the words of your story, there’s a profound message about adapting to change and accepting others into ‘your space’.  With three kids, very close in age, that’s a lesson that gets lots of practice at my house!  Did that drive your story, or did the theme come along as you wrote it? The issue of change was at the heart of the story from the very beginning. Whether you’re a young child with a new sibling or an adult with a new colleague or family member, change can be hard! The themes of empathy and acceptance of others and their differences are very important to me. As I study picture books and work to improve my own writing, I look for that layer of emotion and heart, and I hope it’s part of my own books.

I appreciated the heart in this one so much and there’s an equally great message in Trick or Treat. Your one year anniversary as a published author just passed on September 26!   If a release date is considered a book birthday, seems fitting call that your First Book-iversary! Did you celebrate the day? I did a story time for the second Pug and Pig book at a local toy store with a real pig that day, which was a wonderful way to celebrate.

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What’s the best thing about dropping the pre- from pre-published and making it to the published side of the industry? The most rewarding part has been the interaction with kids and families and their responses to the book. What a joy!

Not to mention the fact that you get to hang out with the super cute pig! (Did you spot Eva the pig in the picture???)  Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I’d been more organized day by day. In addition to a good writing winter, I need to do a giant office cleanout! And I wish I had attended more story times at libraries or school visits by other authors before this year. Watching someone else do a story time and seeing how kids respond is a great learning opportunity for a writer, and it’s very good preparation for library and school visits in the future.

I just went to my first, obviously to be supportive but mentally I was taking notes.  What’s up next for you?!?  Where can we find, and follow you on Social Media? I’m looking forward to a good writing winter, with lots of coffee! Find me on Twitter (my favorite!) @SueLGallion, or on Facebook at Sue Lowell Gallion. My website is suegallion.com.

Thanks for taking the time to visit with me!

Thanks for the opportunity! And best wishes for your writing winter ahead, too!

Wasn’t she fantastic?  Next month, come back for more fun! I’ll be talking to Jodi McKay, author of Where Are the Words? and  I’m equally excited about sharing that conversation! I also had a lot of excitement this week.  I made it on to Susanna Hill’s Would You Read it Wednesday! Next week I’m going to rebuild my pitch right here, using some of the fantastic feedback I received. Until then, I hope you’re writing/building/doing something fabulous!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP