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

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The hat.

I spent all of Monday with a baseball cap on my head.  This is strange for two reasons: First, I don’t wear hats more than a handful of times in any given year; but Monday was unusually blustery and my hair was ten kinds of dirty.  Second, the logo on the hat was for a company that had long been one of my husband’s biggest competitors but they recently purchased the company he worked for.  Now they aren’t the competition, instead, they pay the bills. If you’ve been a part of something similar, then you can imagine the stress we’ve been living with.  Thankfully, the unknown and instability of the past few months have smoothed out and the future looks promising. (No pink slips here!) Monday was a turning point for me, and I wore the hat as a concrete symbol of embracing this new chapter.  I’m going to pause here for a second, and tell you about last weekend.

Last weekend I attended my first writers’ conference. It’s a little ridiculous that I’m so far into this journey and hadn’t made my way to a conference, but that’s the truth. So, my first conference was the Bayou Writer’s Group Conference.  It was a perfect first time. I learned so many lessons that I could fill my next six weeks of blog posts. In addition to my first conference, it was my first in-person pitch session. My performance was less than stellar. You and I don’t know each other well enough yet for me to be completely candid, but truly, I did not do well.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to. I hoped to, of course, but I realize that it was uncharted waters and what I needed more than anything was just to jump in and get the first one over with. (I consider myself an optimistic realist.) I’ve affectionately named those fifteen minutes as “the first pancake”.  You get the analogy, I’ll spare you the details.

As I was unpacking and digesting the experience over lunch, a couple hours following my pitch. I had an interesting revelation, which continued through the week.  I did not pitch well, that’s a fact. More importantly, what I did not do well, was ‘talk the talk.’  I think that somewhere along the way I decided that I’ll only feel validated and confident as a writer once I have an agent/sell a book, aka once I ‘have something to show for it.’.  I’ve talked to enough authors, both debut and veteran to know that is far from the truth, but that’s still what I was trying to believe. It was during that lunch, talking to a YA author, whose debut book is due out next summer that I realized what I was so desperately lacking. She held herself with such confidence. She delivered her pitch to me perfectly, without stuttering, while holding perfect eye contact and using the right inflection and emotion. It was an inspiring performance.  As I commented to her on her confidence, she gave me the most wonderful, real-life advice, “It takes practice.”  Light bulb moment, folks. Of course, it does! Not only the pitch itself but talking the talk of a writer.  I have a ‘writers’ hat, but unlike the cap I wore Monday, I’ve been reluctant to wear it well.  My pitch did not go well because there was no confidence behind it.

I can’t sit around waiting for someone else to validate my journey. I can’t search for confidence anywhere else aside from inside of me. I’ll never land an agent, or a publishing deal if I can’t be ‘the whole package’, and that includes doing the hard work, both on paper and in person.  In all fairness, I consider my pitch an ‘ugly win.’ I accomplished what I hoped, I left with her business card and a trunk full of lessons of what to do differently.  I did it, I dove in.  Until my next conference, I can (and will) practice my pitches so that I’m ready. More importantly, I’ll walk with more confidence, at conferences and otherwise, even if it’s the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind.   I’ll find a way to wear that writer’s hat and wear it well.

I’m so excited to be participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest, so stay tuned for my itty-bitty Halloween story to be posted here on Friday.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Steering the Craft

It’s been a struggle of mine from the beginning.  I love to learn, I’ll soak up every chance I find to hone my skills and expand my knowledge on writing for children.  I keep hitting the same roadblocks, however, and in my most honest moment yet… the biggest one is cost.  I desperately want to learn from the greats.  I would devour any and every piece of wisdom that these prolifically published authors can share if only I could afford it.  You may or may not understand the struggle, but for me, it’s become quite the ‘hamster wheel’.  How am I ever going to find success as a picture book writer if I don’t learn more from those who’ve done it well?  How am I ever going to be able to afford these courses if I don’t sell (a few) books first? But, I can’t sell books that aren’t sellable, so I need to improve… but in order to improve, I need to find a way to afford the fees… and on, and on, and on.

My first venture into the picture book world came by way of a deeply discounted webinar package that included a copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  Since then I’ve remained on the hunt for the literary version of clearance rack deals: webinars offered at a discount, free courses and social media communities that offer guidance and expertise.  Truth be told, some of what I was hearing started feeling repetitive and I couldn’t help but feel that something big was missing from my toolbox though.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that I can hear the same lessons over and over and over again, taking something different from each… but only if my writing is good enough to handle the challenges.  I think I allowed myself to get so bogged down in writing the perfect picture book, that I jumped ahead of myself.  All my energy focused on the picture book end, and I am still missing key components of basic writing.

So, what do I do when I’m feeling down and discouraged? I take myself to the library!  Down at the very bottom of a shelf, taking up only a small section of space, I found the books on writing.  (Seems ironic to me, that in a building filled with writings, there were so few books on the topic, but I digress.)  I only had about ten options, and the attention span of my three cohorts was waning, so I quickly chose two and we checked out.  Fast forward to the following weekend and I realized that I held a gem in my hands.  One chapter in to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin and I ordered my own copy from Amazon. (On sale, no less!) I also stumbled upon an idea, and after sleeping on it and fleshing it out a bit, I created an online book study via Facebook.  There, a handful of critique partners, kindred spirits, new friends and I will take one chapter at a time, and reset our focus on basic writing skills.  (Are you interested? Email me or find me on Facebook if so… we start Oct 1!)

I think so highly of those who see a void and take actionable steps to fill it.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the book study, even if it’s only my own personal void.  I hope all the group members benefit from the book, I also hope we connect a bit more as a small community who can support each other on this journey. I have no doubt that my time and energy (and money) will be well spent, once I sharpen my skills a bit more. And there are numerous communities and opportunities out there at little/no cost to help writers along the way.  I’ve included a short list here of the ones I’ve found helpful… If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • Kid Lit College offers webinars for a small fee ($20-$40 range) and some have been incredibly helpful… one, in particular, ‘Be A Better Critique Partner’ by Heather Alexander I keep on repeat, for myself and my critiques.
  • On Facebook, a group called ‘Debut Picture Book Study’ takes one debut picture book each month and breaks it down and holds a discussion to help readers learn from it. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I’d like, but the conversations are enlightening and I’ve learned a good bit, even if from the fringes.
  • Susanna Hill’s blog is a treasure chest of all things Kid Lit, she runs many different series… ‘Would You Read it Wednesday’ is a great segment, that allows readers to submit their PB pitch and then allows other readers to comment/critique. Pitches are so important to the PB process and something I struggle with in a big way. I think I’m going to try… (update: I did it! I’m on the books for November 8!)
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with the wisdom these audio gems provide. I really need to start taking notes…
  • SCWBI’s webinar calendar offers a wide variety of topics and all are very well priced. I haven’t dug into these but I’m eager to do so.

I know there are other opportunities, some I’m not even familiar with yet (and some are going to be discussed in another post!) To wrap up, I want to include a quote from the Introduction of my new favorite book…

“A skill is something you know how to do.  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 learn skill, you can earn it.  You can learn to deserve your gift… but first of all-it is an art, a craft, a making.  And that is the joy of it.  To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.  To learn to make something well can take your whole life.  It’s worth it.”            

Ursula K. le Guin Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story 2015 edition, pg.xii

 

Here’s to leaning to deserve my gift, your gift, all our gifts.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

PS- I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up! Stay tuned for the next couple of Tuesdays for an extra Let’s Talk posts (one of which is about a certain ‘PB How-To’ book I mentioned earlier!), and then soon after the October edition of Paper People with Liz Wong!

Sunday

I’ve always thought that Sunday’s were interesting creatures. For as long as I can remember, they’ve been my favorite day of the week.  Sometimes, they are warm, sunny, restful and peaceful.  Others are cold, rainy, cozy and playful.  Some Sundays are filled with family visits and church services, others are packed to the brim with overdue laundry, housework and the anticipation of the week ahead.  I made a conscious decision when I started this Magnolias & Manuscripts journey to post weekly on Sunday.  I may not feel inspired seven days a week, but somehow, I can count on waking up with the urge to write on a Sunday.  Maybe it’s because I’m most rested, after a playful weekend and two days of ‘sleeping in’.  Maybe it’s my own way of acknowledging my gifts and feeding my soul.  Maybe, it’s only because I can count on my husband being around and having a chance to sneak off with my laptop for a bit.  A typical Sunday at my house starts with a big breakfast.  Then we spend the morning playing outside and after lunch, everyone takes a nap.  (My famous words- “If God needed a day to rest then so do you”) We typically visit with some combination of someone’s grandparent(s), and depending on the season, end the day by grilling burgers or watching football.  Whatever they look like, I heart Sunday’s.

If I take it to a deeper level, I know that writing is how I best nurture myself and my creative urges.   It’s how I feed my soul in a way that honors what is sacred and special inside of me.  For me, writing is a spiritual experience and hope that you’ve found what it is that feeds your own soul in a similar way. There’s a creative side to everyone.  Sure, some can tap into it more easily and can channel it in more obvious ways.  But I hope you’re treating yourself to a bit of creative expression on this warm and rainy Sunday.

There have been 22 Sunday’s since I started blogging and 58 Sunday’s since I started writing picture books.  At some point, I extended a challenge to myself and increased my posts to twice weekly.  Over the course of this summer, Wednesday’s have been the day where we celebrate and document our summer reading goals.  As much fun as that has been, (3 weeks left!) I’ll return to weekly posts at the end of the summer.  I hope you’ll stick around, I have exciting things happening.

Sunday, July 30– Join me for an interview with Randi Lynn Mrvos, author of the soon to be released picture book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell.  Check out her new website… http://www.randilynnmrvos.com/

Sunday, August 13– The introduction of my monthly interview series, Paper People.  Here, I track down and check in with debut picture book authors, one year after the launch of their book. There’s no greater teacher than the school of life, and these authors have much wisdom to share!

Sunday, August 20– Join me for my first Paper People interview with author/illustrator Jason Krischner!

Fitting in amongst all the great things mentioned above, will be a very special birthday post, my first ever picture book review (Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell) and hopefully good news when the contest winners are announced! (Kid Lit College’s Novelty Board Book Contest, and 2017 RYS Picture Book Contest)  Thanks for sharing another Sunday with me and as always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

– JP

Turning the spotlight

There’s one thing that I take almost as seriously as my writing, and that’s my critiquing.  For those of you not familiar with this aspect of the Kid Lit world, I’ll fill you in because it’s a curious but necessary process. You can pay people to critique your manuscript, join critique groups, and/or establish critique partnerships.  It’s a swapping of stories, suggestions, and constructive criticism, from people across the industry.  Think of it as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” but instead it’s “You read mine, provide feedback, I’ll gladly do the same.”  Many published authors provide critiquing services for a fee since they have the industry insight and personal success to stand on, but there are countless free opportunities as well.  I’ve talked about it before, I have a group, a few partnerships and some experience with paid services.

I enjoy critiquing, and as I said, I take it seriously.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a posse to publish a book.  I try hard not to use empty words, keeping my comments productive and never shy away from the hard/awkward/clumsy/obvious questions.   I approach every critique as a way to help another writer, and I’m hopeful that those who look at my work for me do the same.  It’s all about karma, folks. I want to be an active and engaged member of this community. I want to contribute in a way that helps me to find success but also helps others on their way to publication.  I want to be known as a good and effective critique partner.

Every chance I can, I learn something about writing, and the same is true for my critiques.  I make notes and follow a similar set of questions/prompts.  I always give it more than one look, and usually ‘put a sleep cycle on it.’ Do you know what I don’t do?  I don’t do a very good job when it comes to critiquing myself.  This glaring truth surfaced this week, as I was getting ‘final’ thoughts from a couple of different partners, and they each sent stories my way.  I thought about the WIP that I’m readying for a contest, and realized that if I looked at my own work, I would have comments for days! What’s the deal? Why is there a disconnect in my brain?  How is it that I can hold others to higher standards but my own story slips by with major structural/formatting issues? Thankfully this came to light in time to shine the light on my own work.  I took my critiquing process and turned the tables, forcing myself to look at my WIP as someone else would.  To make a long story short, it was a roller coaster and my self-esteem took a hit.  Thankfully, I’m resilient and I was able to work through it.  I think, and hope, that I elevated my story to a new, and necessary level.  As soon as I hit ‘publish’, I’m sending in my contest entry.  He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.  Wish me luck!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week Six

I’m afraid my adorable guest reviewers have left me high and dry this week.  Well, that’s not technically true since it’s been raining every day, but regardless, I’m solo.  I can’t blame them though, spending a week at the farm, swimming, picking watermelons and chasing bunnies does sound like a lot of fun.  Thankfully I didn’t lose momentum without them, (let’s be honest, I’m doing this for me anyway!)  I think this is one of the best groups of books yet.  I substituted a couple from the list with some books I needed for other projects, and they were a wonderful fit.  Strategically, or coincidentally placed throughout Book Nerd Mommy’s list (see link at the bottom for the full list) are wordless picture books, this week was no exception.  Journey was a beautiful story about the power of creativity, color and imagination.  Maybe Something Beautiful had a similar theme and was based on true events.  Journey: Based off of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf in the West was also based on true events, and was written by a debut picture book author.  Let Me Finish was also written by a debut author, and I’m pretty sure was based off of the events of my everyday life… okay not really, but its adorable and I completely empathize with the struggle!

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but I’ve been trying to educate myself on the ins and outs of debut authors. Your only ‘debut’ once, and we all hope to be there one day, right?  This desire has been exacerbated (nursing word!) by participating on a book launch team, and seeing some of the behind the scenes goodness.  Little (or widely) known fact: Authors are responsible for the majority of their books marketing.  Some publishing houses even want a written marketing plan from their authors.  It seems prudent to me, to learn as much as I can, while writing as much as I can, and reading as much as I can.  That’s it folks, one day if I make it big, that’s the advice I’ll share… Read. Write. Learn. Always and Often.  I’ll be the guinea pig and let you know how it turns out! Here’s the list of books from this week and a link to Book Nerd Mommy’s full list of 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading.

  1. Let Me Finish! by Minh Le & Isabel Roxas
  2. Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campony, Theresa Howell & Rafael Lopez
  3. Journey by Aaron Becker
  4. Journey: Based On the True Story of OR7 the Most Famous Wolf in the West by Emma Bland Smith & Robin James
  5. Put Me in a Zoo by Robert Lopshire
  6. They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenxzel
  7. If I Had A Gryphon by Vikki Vansickle & Cale Atkinson
  8. Billy and Goat at the State Fair by Dan Yaccarion
  9. The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat
  10. City Shapes by Diana Murray & Bryan Collier

You’ll be happy to know that I did complete my homework from Sunday, and even turned it in early…Writing in first person, it was more fun than I thought! Also, stay tuned later this month, I’m interviewing Randy Lynn Mrvos, editor of Kids Imagination Train and author of Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show and Tell just days before the books big release!

Here’s the link I promised you!

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

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Finding his voice

Nathan.  The beloved main character of my precious, first manuscript.  I know him better than anyone, obviously, and sometimes refer to him as my fourth child.   It’s been over a year since I wrote his story and am constantly trying to do him justice.  I am a significantly better writer today than I was one year ago, at least when it comes to picture books,  so I know it’s improving.  There’s still something missing though; a disconnect that I haven’t been able to put my finger on.  He actually came close to getting shelved, since I last blogged about him, except I promised him a contest entry at the end of this month.  That makes me panic because he’s still not ready.

I have a critique partner who often says, “I love your voice!” when we swap emails about writing, mom-ing and all kinds of other unrelated randomness.  If this weren’t an electronic friendship, I’d think she was making fun of my thick Cajun accent. (Which thankfully not many of you have heard that yet! (I hope you find it ‘charming’ when you do.) I know what she’s saying, I’m animated and excited when I’m writing authentically.  I use A LOT of exclamation points, and I write what I speak when it comes to easy correspondence. I’ve known for a long time, that when I start trying too hard, my writing comes across as serious and stuffy.  It’s the difference between polite birthday party conversation and having a cup of coffee with a good friend.  It wasn’t until she said this, and did so more than once, that I had a bit of a writer’s revelation.  I think his voice is missing.

Sure, you could argue that his voice is actually my voice, but it’s missing none the less.  Here’s what I realized, going way back to the beginning.  I thought that writing in rhyme, which is how Nathan’s story started, was a good disguise.  A cute, rhyming rhythm was a way to glaze over the fact that I have a serious tone and limited knowledge.  Fast forward a few months, I learned a lot and shed the rhyme.  No doubt, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, but it left holes in my story.  I’ve filled in many of the holes but never made it around to this one. Like all great critique partners, she issued a challenge.  Write the story from his perspective; tell it in his words.  So, that’s what my next move will be.  I’m going to take my third person story, and write it in first person, from the angle of a five-year-old boy.  I don’t imagine it’ll stay like this, but I do believe that it will reap great rewards.  I’m even cutting this short and sweet so I can get to my homework assignment.  The contest opens July 15, I’m writing on borrowed time!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

July

July has arrived, with all her sweltering heat and mighty mosquitoes.   As a family, this is often the month where we take a collective sigh and settle in for the second half of summer.  School starts in early August in these parts, so this is our calm before the school year storm.  As a writer, my month will be full and fun… here’s a little of what I have going on.

  • WOW Nonficpic (July 10-14) is an online seminar on writing non-fiction picture books hosted by Children’s Author, Kristen Fulton. I’m a history buff, and a science nerd so the thought of expanding my writing skill set to include non-fiction books is very exciting.  For more info, http://www.kristenfulton.org/
  • I’m working on an author interview series that will begin here, on Magnolias and Manuscripts next month. I’m not ready to discuss all the nitty gritty details yet, but it will involve debut picture book authors and it’s going to be great! Stay tuned!
  • #PBHOT62 (http://www.renatraxel.com/literacy–art/summer-reading-challenge-for-picture-book-writers) is an exciting opportunity that I signed up for, but I think I bit off more than I can chew. Rena Traxel, librarian and children’s writer put together a fun and interactive challenge to encourage picture book writers to read more picture books.  Each day, for the next 62, participants will post pictures of themselves from her list of suggestions, reading a different picture book.  I thought it would fit in nicely with our #100PictureBookSummer, but I just don’t know that I can manage 62 posts, because…. drumroll….
  • The most exciting thing going on for me this month… I’ve been asked to be a part of a book launch team! I mentioned Randi Mrvos in an earlier post, she’s been a kind and generous mentor for me and I’m very excited to return the favor and help to introduce the world to her ‘Maggie’.  If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or are a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll see daily posts starting tomorrow to help spread the word about her book debut which happens this August.  (I even get an ARC to review!  You’ll definitely hear more about that here.) To learn more about Maggie check out her journey at http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/

Blame it on the heat… or the holiday, but that’s all I have for today.  I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Independence Day.  Here’s to the land of the free, home of the brave.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Tie your rafts.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I’d be lost without my critique group” or “my critique partners got me to where I am today”.  What’s a critique partner you ask?  It’s how we say ‘friend’ in kid lit-anese.  Trust me when I say, a writer in this world is nothing without them.  Tying your raft to a good and trusted partner, or an active and engaged group is the difference between floating alone in the Kid Lit ocean or floating with others, who bring drinks, chips, and dip and maybe even a karaoke machine.  You’re all still floating, but tied together will be much more fun!  It’s the strangest thing, sitting patiently while a good friend takes a red ball point pen to your latest creation, and magically, in the end, everyone wins.

Let me back up a little bit.  Only a couple of months back, I felt like the most eager, but isolated writer on the planet.  I shared here, many times, about my struggle to find my place in the community.  Then as the weeks passed, connections were made.   Some happened thanks to blogs, this one or others.  Different forms of social media have played a role, and as always seems to happen, the world grew smaller and connections bloomed from right under my own nose.  If you’re reading this and feeling like you’re bobbing alone, missing out on the party, I’d love to share some of the places I’ve met friends.

  • Facebook, seems obvious but there are so many groups it can be daunting. Some are active, others are not.  Some allow for good news to be shared, others only allow for questions to be asked and craft to be discussed.  I’ve found a critique group through Facebook, and there’s also a steady stream of blog posts and interviews that appear, always filled with new and exciting authors, or advice from the more seasoned ones.  This is really the best place to build a community.
  • Instagram is filled with book reviews and ‘beyond the book’ activities. It seems like each day there are one hundred book reviews, new and old.  Publishing houses post here too.
  • Twitter… sigh, I have an account now, but I still don’t really get it. I have heard that this is THE place to get info from agents and editors, and all around general kid lit news.   Using things like #MSWL (manuscript wish list) you can find out firsthand what they are all searching for and get a feel for whether you would be a good fit.
  • The Writers Match. This is a fantastic website that offers all the benefits of social media without the drama/excess.  The Writers Match is a place to help writers find critique partners, which hopefully turn into long and fruitful friendships.  You’re able to create a small bio, select what genre you’re interested in critiquing (anything you want is there, way more than just kid lit) and send private messages back and forth. I’ve had a wonderful experience since joining. thewritersmatch.com
  • Blogs! This is what’s always exciting for me because it’s the reason Magnolias was created.  I was in search of a community and convinced that others were out there too.  I’m fortunate enough to have crossed paths and connected with a few of them, and I’d like to introduce you to their sites as a way of saying thank you.  We have a lot of similarities between us, but we are all in different stages of this journey.

https://meganhaslemjones.wordpress.com/ Megan and I are kindred spirits, who met through NaPiBoWriWee.  We live on opposite ends of the country, but I’m convinced we were next door neighbors in a previous life, living in a cute little cul de sac with a certain other someone (*cough*Jody *cough*) living in between and balancing us out.

https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com/ I am lucky enough to be in the same critique group as Julie.  We quickly discovered that our writing styles are similar and personally we have a lot in common.  She even has a Cajun connection!  Our journeys started around the same time and continue to mirror each others I hope this doesn’t change.

http://www.patriciasaunders.com/ About ten years ago, I spent part of two summers living with my aunt and helping at a camp for gifted kids that Patricia was teaching at.  Fast forward to current day, and unbeknownst to be, she’s chasing a similar dream.  That same aunt helped me reconnect with her and she’s taken me under her wing and nudged me in the right direction on more than one occasion.  Her debut picture book, and a second, will hit bookstore shelves soon!

And finally, http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/  Randi was probably one of the first connections I made and has been a gracious mentor and friend.  Her debut picture book is due out this summer!! You can learn more about Maggie, and her journey to publication at the link posted.  Randi has a couple of other websites, including an e-magazine that she publishes. They’ve all been filled with great information. I’m honored to be a part of her book launch team next month! Stay tuned for more!

This is surely not a list of everyone’s path I’ve been fortunate enough to cross, but they are all wonderful writers who I’m lucky to call friends.  If you have a moment, check out their websites and read their take on this wonderful journey.  As always, I appreciate you spending time here.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP