Thursday, November 19, 2009

Agents and Ezines

Awesome News 1: I'm delighted to announce that Teresa Kietlinski of Prospect Agency has recently become my agent! And boy oh boy, do I feel lucky. Teresa is great--funny, prompt, helpful, intelligent, knowledgeable, energetic, connected. She's got oodles of experience, and I'm so glad to be working with her. Maybe she'll stop by some day and we can pick her brain about agenty kinds of things. Teresa? Awesome News 2: I just learned that COLUMBIAKids ezine will publish my poem "My Lists" in its Winter 2009 edition! Woo hoo! This magazine for kids, published by the Washington State Historical Society, is packed with fun things to do and read, and the folks who put it together are really nice. Thanks, Stephanie! Check it out if you have a chance.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Debut Picture Book Author, Judith Snyder

Well, it has happened again! Another of my critique buddies has published her first children's picture book. Amazon describes Judith Snyder's What Do You See? (Odyssey Books) this way:

"This title is full of imaginative approaches to artwork, and perfect for curious children, who are eager to combine shapes and sizes in art. There is no end to the creativity this book facilitates, as youngsters open their eyes and the windows of their own creativity. It is a perfect way for adults and youngsters to see the world in a whole new way."

Judith has joined us today to talk about her book. Thanks for stopping by, Judith. Let's start at the beginning.

How did you get your idea for this book?

When I first started teaching, back in the golden years when creative thinking took precedence over skill and drill worksheets, I participated in classes that encouraged teachers to get students to stretch their imaginations. That was when I started using simple line drawings to stimulate creative thinking. I started this activity with fifth graders and when I changed grade levels, I discovered that first and second graders could do these activities as well. So that was the initial idea that followed me into all my classrooms. Many years later on a car trip, I used this activity to entertain my grandson. Everyone in the car had fun brainstorming ideas for different shapes. I saved the doodles and the ideas, and combined them with rhyming couplets and voila—What Do You See?

[It pays to save those scraps of ideas!]

How did you find your editor, or how did she find you?

At my second SCBWI conference in 2006, I had the good fortune to be with a friend who won the chance to sit next to one of the guest editors at lunch. So, along with nine other conference goers, we had a wonderful chat with editor/publisher, Barbara Cilette of Odyssey Books. We all talked about the normal publishing questions, but what I remember most is discussing educational philosophy and how books should stimulate creativity and curiosity. This discussion was a great segue into my What Do You See? book proposal that I had been subbing with no success, so I asked Barbara about the best way to get my vision across to an editor. As a result, I mailed her the manuscript. I remember the wait felt like forever. When Barbara responded initially, it was a “Yes, I like your idea very much, but I can’t promise you anything just yet.”

So I waited a little longer…and I was thrilled when she invited me to lunch to discuss this manuscript and several others she was interested in. (The time from initial query to final book was about three years, which I understand now is common.) And then my books arrived at my door and I discovered it was worth the wait. They are beautiful.

[Amazon tells me my copy is on its way to Missouri. I can't wait to read it!]

It sounds like you thought long and hard about how to make your proposal different from what was already on the market. Tell us about that.

This is a very important piece in getting noticed, and something that I consider as I develop my projects. My first magazine piece was an article and a folktale I sent out as a package, with the suggestion that they could be used together or individually. The article described how to tell a story and used examples from the folktale. It worked. They bought both.

With my Jump Start Your Library activity books, I stressed a hands-on approach, as opposed to simple worksheets, and proposed that the activities be pre-made to save librarians work.

Suggesting ideas outside-the-box can start the editor thinking, too. The concept for What Do You See? is so different from most other things on the market right now, that it was very difficult to market. Luckily, I found an editor with a vision and understanding of the creative process. This book goes far beyond a simple shape book to develop flexible and creative thinking. Preschoolers might enjoy it by finding shapes, but older students and adults are challenged with more abstract thinking.

Now that your book is out, how do you intend to promote it?

Thank goodness I have critique groups and Verla Kay’s message board. I’ve received support to motivate me into cyberspace (my website) and ideas to get me out into the other real world. Since I am a retired school librarian, I still have a few contacts in several metro area school districts to do some author presentations. I’m getting a slow start, but I wanted to make sure I would have my books before I did any presentations. I also think I’m very lucky to be a part of Odyssey Books first book launch. Though Barbara Ciletti has been in the publishing business for a long time, Odyssey Books is her very own imprint. And not only is she well versed in marketing strategies, she is as motivated as I am to get these books into the hands of children. We both are working hard for success.

Also, I am holding a contest on my website, You can win my book by answering a creative thinking question. I’ll put all the responders’ names into a hat and draw a winner. Stop by and check it out. The contest runs through Nov. 30, 2009.

What's next for you?

I love picture books and that’s what I enjoy writing because that’s what I know best. But there is something niggling at me to take a risk and try a different kind of writing. So I’m starting to learn about writing chapter books and a middle grade realistic fantasy novel. I’ve had a few false starts, but I’m gearing up again.

Finally, what's the best advice you’ve been given about writing?

I’ve received lots of great insights into the writing process from my critique groups and at conferences. But I have to go back to the very beginning of my journey, when I was just getting my feet wet and stretching my writing wings. Because I was a school librarian, I had opportunities to invite authors to my school and spend time with them at lunch and throughout the day. I remember asking the authors, Janet Stevens and Justin Mattott, how to get started on the “publishing a picture book” journey. Both replied with similar answers. Join SCBWI, go to conferences, get into a critique group, and write what you know. I followed their advice and it worked. And that’s the advice I would give to any other novice writer—that, and grow a thick skin because you’ll get a lot of rejections before you get that wonderful “YES!”

Thanks for your time, Judith. I wish you all the best with What Do You See?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Debut Picture Book Author, Ann Ingalls

I have known Ann Ingalls for only a year, but it feels like forever. Ann and I are friends and members of the same picture book critique group in Kansas City. So when she announced this summer that her debut picture book, THE LITTLE PIANO GIRL: THE STORY OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS, JAZZ LEGEND, would be published in January 2010 by Houghton Mifflin, we were all thrilled.

Ann has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her path to publication.

JJS: Ann, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little about you. What caused you to want to be a writer?

AI: My dad used to take my siblings and me to the library each week. We could check out as many books as we liked. Our grandmother and Aunt Dorothy bought us books for Christmas, something I still do for my loved ones. I read for hours every single day.

When I got to college, my professors said that I had a talent for writing and storytelling. I don't think I ever realized that before. I got lots of A's. It was one of the first times I ever realized I was good at something besides doing cartwheels and the splits.

JJS: How did you get the idea to write about Mary Lou Williams?

AI: I had written an alphabet picture book called “J is for Jive.” I sent it to the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors for a read. Bill Paprota, president of that organization at that time, suggested I take a look at Mary Lou Williams for the letter W. The more I read about her, the more intrigued I became. I spoke to Maryann [Macdonald, Ann’s sister and co-author] and we agreed to collaborate. We shared the research, shared the responsibility of looking for an agent, shared the responsibility of writing and editing and looking for endorsements. We have written and sold other work so we knew how we could successfully do this.

JJS: How did you find your editor?

AI: Wendy Lawton at Books & Such was my agent at the time. She sent LITTLE PIANO GIRL around to about a dozen publishers. Several publishers were interested but didn't think Mary Lou Williams was well enough known. That really is the reason we wrote the book. Though there are two biographies written about her for adults, none were written for children.

JJS: What has the editorial process been like?

AI: Erica Zappy at Houghton Mifflin has been my editor. From our first communication via email, she has been positive about the project, even sharing comments from others on the editorial staff, saying things like, “It has become a real favorite around here.” She worked tirelessly to find just the right illustrator. Erica looked at many illustrators' work for about a year until she was able to snag Giselle Potter, who I think brings just the right touch to the work. I was lucky enough to meet Giselle in Kansas City at the DNA Litfest that Reading Reptile [children’s indie bookstore] holds annually. That was a huge thrill for me. [Sidenote: I love Giselle Potter!]

JJS: How long did it take, from submission to publication?

AI: LITTLE PIANO GIRL was submitted in the fall of 2006. We received contracts within about 3 months. It took one full year to find an illustrator and another full year to complete the images. It has taken another year to print and promote the book.

Serendipitously, it will be released on the centennial year of Mary Lou Williams' birth. As a result, the Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the American Jazz Museum and the Kennedy Center will all be having special events in her honor.

JJS: Very cool! How has your story changed over time?

AI: It changed hugely over time. We knew we wanted to show that Mary Lou Williams was a musical prodigy and that she supported her family financially by the time she was about 8 years of age. We wanted readers to see that hard work and talent can allow one to rise above his/her circumstances. We also wanted anyone reading the book to feel that race and gender are not barriers to success. I hope we've achieved that.

JJS: How are you promoting your book?

AI: So far, I've been contacting schools, libraries, colleges, assisted living facilities, you name it, about giving presentations. About half the time, those responsible for an event will schedule something. I have to be honest and say that since I'm unknown, many people are not willing to take a chance. The uncertain economy has also played a part in that many schools have less money for these types of events.

JJS: Anything you’d do differently next time?

AI: Next time I would not bring any water or coffee anywhere near my computer. My cat, Harry, lunged across my desk and spilled just enough to kill my computer. Naughty boy!

JJS: I know you write picture books. Any other genre? And what’s next for you?

AI: I write poems, prayers, meditations, and I have written some teacher competency exams and ACT prep exams. I hope someday to write a middle grade book and a murder mystery. I have the victim and the murderer all figured out. to get from the beginning to the very grisly end?

I am currently working with a different writing partner on a book of poetry, and I will continue to write for Highlights and High Five, as I find that to be very satisfying work.

JJS: Thanks for your time, Ann. And have fun with the launch of your first book!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Picture Book Love and Miscellany

Whoever named the crucial final page turn in a picture book "the mother of all page turns" must have had Kevin Sherry's I'm The Biggest Thing In The Ocean in mind (Dial, 2007). Oh my. It's a doosie. If you haven't read this book, please do. It's hilarious, and the voice is perfectly kid-like. I won't ruin it for you, but let me leave you with this thought: I'm the biggest thing on this blog. :)

In other news, I got word recently that Humpty Dumpty will publish a poem of mine in their 2010 March/April issue! Woo hoo! Thanks, Terry!

And...I am overjoyed to say that I am in critique groups with three, count 'em, three debut picture book authors whose books are recently out or are coming out within the next few months. Stay tuned for author interviews, but for now, here they are...

What Do You See? by Judith Snyder (Odyssey)
This Tree Counts by Alison Formento (Albert Whitman)
The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald (Houghton Mifflin)


Monday, September 21, 2009

SCBWI, Weasels, and Winter

Some great things have happened lately in my little corner of the writing world.

First, I attended the very well-organized and upbeat Kansas SCBWI Regional Conference two weekends ago. Fabulous. Eve Adler, Henry Holt, Ruta Rimas, Balzer + Bray, and Ted Malawer, Upstart Crow, all inspired the crowd.

Second, my poem "A Scrumptious Read" was published in the September/October issue of the SCBWI Bulletin. Woo hoo! And guess who illustrated my little ditty? None other than Elizabeth Dulemba. Seriously cool.

Third, I have been re-researching an obscure fact about a certain member of the Mustelidae family--okay, weasels--and in doing so have contacted experts from

North Carolina
New Zealand
New York

and they have been SO nice and helpful. Thanks to all who received and responded to my endless questions. You knows who you ares.

Fourth, I fell in love with another picture book, Waiting for Winter, by Sebastian Meschenmoser. It's everything a PB should be. The illustrations are superb.

Cheers, from my corner to yours!

Monday, August 17, 2009

More of My Favorite Picture Books

As promised, here are a few more of my fav-o-rite picture books. Mmmmmm. Picture book love. It's the best.

Ira Sleeps Over, Bernard Waber
My Friend Bear, Jez Alborough
Mrs. Toggle's Zipper, Robin Pulver
Pete's A Pizza, William Steig
The Dog Who Had Kittens, Polly M. Robertus
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Kevin Henkes
Ginger, Charlotte Voake
How I Became A Pirate, Melinda Long

Do you have more?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Favorite Picture Books

Wow. I mean, how long can you neglect your blog only to find it waiting for you, tail wagging, ears bouncing, when you return? Apparently quite awhile, thank goodness.

But today is a new day, a new, perfect day to discuss picture books. (What day isn't?) So, in no order, here are my fav-o-rites.

The Old Woman Who Named Things, Cynthia Rylant
All the Places to Love, Patricia Maclachlan
The New Girl and Me, Jacqui Robbins
The Day The Babies Crawled Away, Peggy Rathman
Orville, A Dog Story, Haven Kimmel
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig
The Going to Bed Book, Sandra Boynton
I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, Karen Beaumont
Zilla Sasparilla and the Mud Baby, Judith Gorog
The Red Bird, Astrid Lindgren
Louella Mae, She's Run Away, Karen Beaumont Alarcon
When I Met the Wolf Girls, Deborah Noyes
The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

I know I'll think of more the second I publish this post.
What are your all-time favs?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Urgently Seeking Ursula

I recently finished reading Leonard S. Marcus' Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which follows Nordstrom's long and distinguished publishing career at Harpers Books for Boys and Girls. Wow. It's like eavesdropping on some of the most fascinating people in kid lit.

Beginning in 1937 with a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder about On The Banks of Plum Creek, when Nordstrom was an assistant to then-editor Ida Louise Raymond, and continuing through her rise to head the department and beyond, Nordstrom's letters are filled with wit, enthusiasm for her authors and illustrators, and her expert knowledge of publishing. This book is a treasure for those who want to learn about the roots of children's publishing, when authors and illustrators published with just one house for the length of their careers. People like Maurice Sendak, Else Holmelund Minarik, Ruth Krauss, Margaret Wise Brown, E.B. White. Fascinating.

And while the letters are filled with editorial thoughts and questions about current projects, they are not all business. They also contain the mundane details of Nordstrom's life--that the newspaper is no longer being delivered because someone ran into the mailbox, the names of her dogs, how she hated living in New York city, and her inquiries about her readers' lives and families. Her letters have the feel of a note from your witty and wonderful dear Aunt Maude. They are pre-email, pre-internet, even pre-computer. A treasure.

And as truly fascinating as the publishing history is of books like Where the Wild Things Are and Charlotte's Web, and it is fascinating, perhaps the thing that struck me most was Nordstrom's nourishment of and love for her artists and writers. She was an incredible champion for her talent. An amazing lady.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another Writing Contest

I found another great writing contest! This time in the Kansas City Star. Here's how it works: the Star prints a picture; you write a fake caption. It's fast--results are announced the following week--and you can email your submission. Perfect! The kicker: you've got less than 24 hours to submit your best stuff.

So I entered for the first time last Friday, 6/12, on DTV Conversion Day. Although I didn't win the $25 gift card, I was a runner-up. I couldn't get a link to page C7, so here's my caption for this crazy picture:

"Ecstatic over his win in the inaugural DTV Conversion Day Awards, former rock star Melvin Bliggle takes home the Silver Spring."

I've missed the deadline for this week (rats), but I'm gonna enter again when I can. After all, it's a writing contest, and you know how I loves me some writing contests.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One of My Favorite Picture Books

I discovered Orville: A Dog Story by accident. I might have been researching the publisher, Clarion, or perhaps I was wandering in the "K" section at my library. Either way, I lucked out. The supreme beauty of Haven Kimmel's Orville is its luscious blend of raw emotion and perfectly chosen words, the essence of a great picture book. And it doesn't hurt that it features a dog, another of my all-time favorite things.

Picture book writers desiring an example of a great first sentence need only look at Orville's. It hits you right between the eyes:

"He was so lost, and had been lost for so long, that when the early April thunderstorm blew in like a freight train, the dog lay down in the culvert, covered his eyes with his paws, and decided to never get up again."

Wow. It's poetry. It's raw. It's literary. And it doesn't stop with the first sentence. There's a great story there, filled with longing, conflict, and resolution. It's a novel in miniature, a love story. Published in 2003 and written for older picture book readers, Orville is not typical of today's lighter, bouncier, funny picture books. It's the kind of book I'd like to have written.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Children's Book Week

It's Children's Book Week! And to celebrate, I read some of my picture books to two of my favorite elementary classes. What great audiences they were! Thanks to Mrs. Arth, Ms. Alvis and Mrs. Caywood and all your great students (especially my two favorites)!

Keep reading and writing!

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Debut Picture Book

You asked for it! Okay, not all of you. But a few did. Okay two. Two of my friends. So here it is! THE EASTER BUNNY, my debut picture book, written and illustrated by my 10-year old self. (P.S. World rights still available. Call me.)

The first thing you'll notice is the unique cover paper. Made from recycled wallpaper sample books, this stunning volume seamlessly melds art and text. And it's sparkly.

Notice how the animal motif (bunny, tiger) builds on itself on the inside front cover. The title page is simple, yet classic in design, punctuated by a single flower in the top right corner. (And yes, I went through a period where I bubbled the dot above my i's. Cool, huh?)

Page 1. The problem

Page 2. The community gets involved

Page 3. Mole knows something

Page 4. Mole spills (!!)

Page 5. Mumble, mumble

Page 6. Quick! To your homes!

Page 7. The big finish

What I learned by writing and illustrating my own book? You don't have to start big. You just have to start. What will you write today?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writing Contests

Have I mentioned I love writing contests? Well I should have. Writing contests put my brain into overdrive. The excitement! The challenge! The narrow focus and limited timeframe! It's too much for me to resist--kinda like exclamation points--so I usually don't.

In 2006 my entry was a winner in the "Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Contest" sponsored by and the Penguin group. I won a lovely tote, which I carry to all my writing conferences and gigs, the awesome book of the same name, and a poster which hangs proudly on my office wall. Thanks, Roxyanne and Penguin editors!

In 2007 my picture book, Freezing, Wheezing, Sneezing Weasels, took 3rd place in the picture book category of the W.I.N. Contest, also sponsored by smartwriters. com. Thanks, Roxyanne and Verla!

In 2008 my haiku was chosen a winner in the AirQ Haiku Contest, sponsored by the Mid-America Regional Council in Kansas City, Missouri. I won a bike! Thanks, Amanda, judges and River Market Cyclery!

Also in 2008, my holiday haiku took 2nd place in agent Rachelle Gardner's 17 Syllables Contest. Thanks, Rachelle and blog voters!

I can't wait to enter more contests. How about you?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Author Visit

What a great day I had last Friday! The sun shone. The birds sang. And I spoke to a wonderful group of second graders about writing. It doesn't get any better than that!

We talked about the writing process and where ideas come from and how a writer knows when she is finished. They asked questions and listened as I read "The Easter Bunny," a story I wrote and illustrated as a kid (hey, where's my Caldecott?), plus a couple of my more recent picture books, unillustrated. They were polite and interested and interesting, and before we knew it, time was up. Thanks for having me, Mrs. Gutshall and Webster Elementary!