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Interview with Debut Author Lisa Rogers

Authors, book release, debut interview, InterviewsLindsay Ward9 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This will be our last interview post for a couple weeks until October 3rd, as I’m about to have baby no. 3 any day now…!!! BUT today, I’m thrilled to be featuring the work of debut author Lisa Rogers, whose new non-fiction picture book, 16 WORDS WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEEL BARROW”, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, releases on September 24th with Schwartz & Wade books! So exciting! This fantastic book has received multiple starred reviews and is a must read for any picture book or poetry lovers out there! I’m so happy Lisa could share her work and process with us today…so without further ado, please welcome Lisa Rogers!

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Where do you live?

Just west of Boston, at the halfway point of the Boston Marathon. It’s the place to be each year on Marathon Monday, cheering on all of the participants—my hands always are sore from clapping. Actually running it—which I’ve done four times—is even better. What a thrill and honor! 

When did you know you wanted to write picture books? 

As a child, I was a huge reader, fascinated by folktales, fairytales, and poetry, and the illustrations that accompanied them. My goal was to be a writer and artist. I wrote poems, drew all the time, and started a little family newspaper. I grew up to become a news reporter and editor. Then, when I thought it wise not to be working on deadline with a small child on my lap, I changed careers and eventually became an elementary school librarian. After years of immersion in children’s literature and learning from my students, I realized that writing picture books was what I had to do.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you? 

You would think that my two careers would set me up perfectly—and they have—but I had so much to learn! Writing for children is incredibly complicated. This year one of my students wrote to me, “You taught me that a book is not just for reading, it is more.” Getting to that “more” is my goal. For me, it means writing about a topic close to my heart. I was lucky to submit the manuscript for my debut to an agent who saw its potential, and she sold it very soon after we signed. In the meantime, a committee of writers also chose that manuscript for a Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. That award was a wonderful boost as I pursued publication. Groups like SCBWI, the 12 x 12 writing challenge, and The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. have been crucial to supporting me in my learning.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I don’t have a standard routine, partly because it’s hard for me to sit down. I do most of my writing in my mind while I’m doing something else. A phrase or sentence comes to me and that starts the whole process. I can sit down and set goals and get writing and revisions done (that’s where my deadline experience kicks in), but the inspiration really has to be organic. My favorite spot to get words down is on my patio where hummingbirds sometimes mistake me for a flower.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas? 

I live on a beautiful pond, and love to take a break on a late summer afternoon, hop in my kayak, and boat over to our little town beach for a swim. The combination of exercise and quiet boosts my creativity. If it’s blustery, I get out a canvas and do some painting.

Anything you can’t live without while you write? 

A pencil and any scrap of paper. Writing for me needs to be tactile, at least when I’m beginning a story, but also when I’m trying to find the heart of it. I’ve even written in the sand while on a run at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, because I didn’t want to forget my thought. 

My daughter gave me a Moomin notebook with an attached pencil, which I adore, and which I used to write my next book, HOUND WON’T GO. Speaking of which, a big dog is essential to get me moving after I’ve been sitting too long. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?  

So many! I adore picture book biographies and nonfiction, and so do my students. When we read a great biography, they are so absorbed that they can’t believe it’s true. I look for that sense of wonder in any book, like Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse, Jessixa Bagley’s Boats for Papa and Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead’s collaborations. Margaret Wise Brown has been a longtime favorite, and I love Mac Barnett’s new biography of her. Illustrators: Shane Evans, Juana Martinez-Neal, Christian Robinson, Melissa Sweet and of course 16 WORDS illustrator Chuck Groenink! When I find a picture book that resonates, I want to live in that world.

Dream project to work on?

16 WORDS has been a dream project from beginning to publication! I couldn’t be prouder of this book.

Tell us about your debut book.

My debut, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW” (Schwartz & Wade Books) is about the inspiration for Williams’ favorite, and most famous poem. He wrote those sixteen words after noticing Thaddeus Marshall’s wheelbarrow outside in the rain and felt it was the most profound, moving image he had ever seen. 

Williams was a doctor as well as a poet, and Marshall was his neighbor and patient. The book parallels their lives of work and caring. The poem was written nearly 100 years ago, but Marshall’s role was only recently identified. When I learned about him, I had my own inspiring moment, and that’s what started this whole adventure!

What’s up next for you? 

I’m excited about HOUND WON’T GO, inspired by my incredibly stubborn, lovable, gigantic rescue hound. He’s brought so much fun and joy to our lives. One day when he, as is typical, refused to move because he wanted to go one way and I the other, the first few lines ran through my mind. My editor, Christina Pulles at Albert Whitman & Company, loves the manuscript as much as I do. HOUND will be unleashed, with delightful illustrations by Meg Ishihara, in spring 2020.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Working Girl! That puffy hair, those padded shoulders! Sneakers with office wear! I love it for its iconic 80s fashion. You’ll never see me in shoulder pads, but that was one empowering movie. 


Huge thank you to Lisa for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut! We can’t wait to see HOUND WON’T GO next!


LISA ROGERS is an elementary school librarian and a former newspaper reporter and editor. She grew up in West Long Branch, NJ, not far from where Thaddeus Marshall, the inspiration for William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow," tended his garden. 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW,” (Random House/Schwartz & Wade Books) is her first book for children. HOUND WON’T GO, illustrated by Meg Ishihara, will be published in 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company. Lisa lives near Boston with her family and hound dog.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lisa Rogers visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @LisaLJRogers

Facebook: LisaLabancaRogers

TO ORDER Lisa’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW”?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 26th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author June Smalls

Authors, debut interviewLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s interview is with June Smalls, whose debut picture book ODD ANIMAL ABC’S, illustrated by Claire Sedovic, released in May. We are so thrilled to have her with us today!

So without further ado…please welcome June Smalls!

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Where do you live?

I live just outside of DC in the Shenandoah Valley.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

It’s funny, but when I first started thinking of writing for traditional publication, I thought of romance. But just because I liked to read it didn’t mean I was any good at writing it.

 When my child was little she loved books. I caught myself reading her picture books even after she’d fallen asleep. I loved the full and beautiful stories with short and pithy lines. I remembered the joy of discovering library books as a kid. Then I had one idea…it led to another… and then I couldn’t shake it. I had to write kid lit.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

I’m an overnight success. It only took about 5 or 6 years to get there.

Like many writers, I had a lot to learn. My first picture books were way too long, I wasn’t leaving room for the illustrator, and I sent things out before they were ready (*The Horror!*)

Luckily, I love learning. I joined SCBWI. I joined critique groups. I attended conferences and classes. Bit by bit I improved and learned patience.

I’d gone from getting form rejections to personal rejections and finally I had two offers of rep from agents.

I signed with Rebecca Angus at Golden Wheat in 2018, sold two picture books with her and I did my first two work for hire books as well in the same year. I went from nothing for a few years to GOOD GRAVY! Four books with my name on them.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I’m weird and don’t have a single process. Some books come to me like a lightening bolt and I jot down a rough draft quickly. Some ideas need to marinate for a while. I toyed with one idea for months without writing more than the title idea.

When I write, I prefer to get comfy on my couch, noise canceling headphones go on (this also lets my family know it is writing time and not to bug me needlessly), and work on whichever project is speaking to me at the time.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I tend to have a number of projects going at once unless I’m on a deadline. For me this keeps things fresh and interesting. Sometimes I just take a few days off writing and daydream instead. I do not live by the ‘write everyday’ rule. But I tend to write or research most days.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Not really. I love my headphones since they get me in the zone. But I’ll write anywhere and everywhere by any means necessary. On receipts in a restaurant, on my phone in a waiting room, or at my computer with a soda and dogs at my feet. I just have to write!

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

All of them! Inspiration can be found in everything. I love the humor of Ame Dykman’s Wolfie the Bunny illustrated by Zachariah OHora.

I love the read-aloud-ability of The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley.

I love the heart and art of Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad.

I LOVE The Dot by by Peter H. Reynolds.

Just try to read these without feeling inspired. There are many more, but this could be a blog series by itself.

Dream project to work on?

Well, I’m a huge Scooby Doo fan…

Seriously though, my personal dream projects are the ones that make kids want to pick up another book. Whether to continue laughing or to learn something new because I’ve sparked their curiosity. There is no one book that is my dream. This may sound corny, but it’s all I’ve got.

Tell us about your debut book.

Odd Animal ABC’s is illustrated by Claire Sedovic and her amazing watercolors.

Those classic animals have been overworked so the odd animals who have been overlooked take over the alphabet and send the classics packing.

It's time for Aye-Aye, Fossa, Numbat, Xenops and more curious, yet real animals to shine.

Some letters even get more than one odd new animal. (This was not because I liked both animals so much that I couldn't choose just one... really…)

What’s up next for you?

I have a lyrical non-fiction called She Leads: They Elephant Matriarch coming out in spring of 2020 with Familius. I also have several picture books, a chapter book, and novelty books out on submission.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Only one!? The Princess Bride. The cast, the sword fights, the rodents of unusual size! Just a great all-around movie… oh yeah, and the love story too.


Huge thank you to June for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your debut and all your upcoming projects!


JUNE SMALLS lives in Northern Virginia with her hubby, the kid, and her own odd assortment of animals. She writes children’s literature for the trade and educational markets.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about June visit her online or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @June_Smalls

TO ORDER June’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ODD ANIMAL ABC’S?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 15th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author Gayle C. Krause

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with Gayle C. Krause, whose newest book, DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON?, illustrated by Carlos de la Garza, focuses on the relationship between a boy and his father, who is deployed overseas. I was so touched by the story and message in this book, as I know all of you will be too! I’m thrilled to have Gayle with us today, sharing her work.

So without further ado, please welcome Gayle C. Krause!

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Where do you live? 

I live in a country cliffside house in Northeastern PA overlooking PA, NY, and NJ.  The Delaware River, which divides PA from NY, is two blocks from my house.

 When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I always made up stories to entertain my sisters and the neighborhood kids when I was a child, but I didn’t start thinking about writing them down until I was the Director of a Laboratory PRE-K in a teacher education program, which was my first career.

 Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

My first picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA (2008), was an original Scholastic Book Club acquisition, which is rare these days. I met my editor at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. It was my first foray into writing for children and I’ve been writing ever since. 

My second book was a YA urban fantasy titled RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, which is a retelling of The Pied Pier set in a dystopian future with global warming. It’s one of my favorite things that I have written.

DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? is my second picture book, eleven years after my first. You see, the key is to never give up your dream.

 Can you share a bit about your process?

I write in the morning as soon as I get up. My house is quiet because my husband is still sleeping and I’m free to let my mind wander in and out of scenes with my characters. If I can’t write for a solid time period, then I jot down ideas as they come to me. I’ve been known to write a whole chapter from a sentence or two quickly written on a scrap piece of paper or a napkin.

 What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I am NOT a believer of the Butt-In-Chair writing philosophy. I would only waste my time. If the kernel of an idea has not already sprouted in my mind, I can’t force it to come by staring at a blank computer screen. 

So I do something else in the creative realm like quilting or doll-making until one of my characters speaks to me, or shouts at a villain, or gives a cheeky answer to another character…and then I’m off and writing.

 Anything you can’t live without while you write?

The Internet. Whether I’m writing a silly picture book, a serious YA, or a whimsical MG (I never write nonfiction) it requires research. Did you know that baby T-Rex’s looked like fuzzy baby chicks? Or That you could make a bonfire on ice without it melting? 

 Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Authors – Juliet Marillier for fantasy 

Illustrator – Kinuko Y. Craft also for fantasy

 Dream project to work on?

It’s funny you should say a dream project. All of my stories start as dreams. Even as I am writing one, I’m dreaming of another, something that’s saying… “hurry up and finish what you’re writing. You need to write my story.”

 Tell us about your new book.

Written in rhyme, Daddy, Can You See the Moon? is about the special moments a young boy and his deployed dad share by looking at the moon, until the father comes home a wounded warrior and the boy realizes that love was what kept them connected all along. Carlos de la Garza’s illustrations are vibrant and beautiful and realistically portray the poignant story my words tell.

 What’s up next for you?

Once Upon a Twisted Tale is a ‘Fractured Fairytale’ poetry collection I’ve worked on for several years. And it will be released on June 18, 2019, also from SPORK. As you can tell from the answers to my other questions, I love fantasy and fairytales. This collection combines unlikely characters in the same story. Here is a quote from the introductory poem – 

“These characters, right or wrong—

in stories where they don’t belong.”

The illustrations were done by Caroline O’Neal and have a beautiful, ethereal touch of “fairy” in each one.

 And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

 It would have to be Princess Bride.


Huge thank you to Gayle C. Krause for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see what you do next!


As a Master Educationalist, GAYLE C. KRAUSE has taught Children’s Literature, creative writing, and storytelling techniques at the secondary and post-secondary levels. She’s a member of SCBWI, the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, and a past member of The Poets’ Garage. Gayle is the author of six children’s books. Her work has been nominated for the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the International Reading Award. She currently serves on Angie Karcher’s National Rhyme Revolution Committee, choosing the best rhyming picture book from 2015-2018 and presents writing seminars to children’s authors. Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary represents her.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Gayle, visit her online at http://www.gayleckrause.com or follow her on social media:

Twitter @GeeCeeK

Instagram

Facebook

TO ORDER Gayle’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 23rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Scott Magoon!

Critter Lit is Growing!

AnnouncementsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited to announce that Critter Lit is growing! This little side-project that I started two years ago has taken off since February 2017, when I first launched the site. Huge thanks to all of you for your support and interest in Critter Lit!

I’m so proud of everyone who’s sent me their work. You’ve all committed the journey of being a creative and trying to break into the business of publishing. I know it’s not easy! I’ve been so impressed with what you’ve sent and your willingness to share your words with me. I’ve seen you get agented, published, and develop new voices. And I’m truly honored to be apart of your process.

When I started Critter Lit, I knew one day that I would need help— critiquing, editing, and handling the general maintenance of the site. But my goal was to always offer FREE ONE-TIME CRITIQUES, no matter what. Which at the time I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to handle in addition the very full plate I already had with my own work, family, and life. But this was and is my mission statement. You can read more about this here.

Here in the Tupta household, we’ve had a lot of changes in the last year. One of which is that my husband, Frank Tupta, will be publishing his first picture book, HOW TO BUILD A HAUNTED HOUSE, with Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing in July 2020! So exciting! I couldn’t be more proud of him! (Stay tuned for his debut author interview next year).

Frank has been writing for the last five years, working mostly on adult novels. Over the years, we’ve always edited each other’s work and bounced ideas off one-another. He has an incredible eye and has been a wonderful critique partner for my own work. So…I’m thrilled to announce that Frank will be joining Critter Lit to help me with handling all the critiques we receive.

So without further ado…please welcome Frank Tupta to the Critter Lit family!

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Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay

Interview with Debut Author Jonathan Stutzman

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with debut author Jonathan Stutzman. I’m so excited to share his work with you all— his debut picture book, TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG, illustrated by Jay Fleck, is already a favorite in our household and has become a regular request at bedtime.

So without further ado…please welcome Jonathan Stutzman!

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Where do you live?

I live right outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania (the land of chocolate!).

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I love telling stories, I think I always have, and I’ve been tinkering with different ways of doing that since I was a child. I wrote my first comic book when I was 9 or 10 and my first picture book when I was 11. I tried making one with a friend again while I was in film school, but it wasn’t until I met my fiancée (illustrator Heather Fox) that I really dove into picture books. I worked on a school project with her (which we self-published) and it was SO MUCH FUN. I started spending a lot of time in the kids section at my local library and the bookstore, reading a bunch of the classics as well as popular current titles. I connected with them instantly. The mix of words and images, the page turns, it reminded me a lot of filmmaking, which I studied in college and grad school. The visual storytelling of picture books held a similar power and poetry for me.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

So my first published writing was actually some “Tiny stories” I wrote for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tiny Book of Tiny Stories Vol 1-3. I submitted to his collaborative online company Hitrecord, they liked them, and a handful ended up in all three volumes of the series. It was such a fun experience collaborating with people I never met. And then finding those books at bookstores, seeing my words on the page, it lit a fire in me. It’s mind blowing and humbling to know that strangers all around the world are reading something you wrote. There is magic to it, a reminder that we are all connected, and it only deepened my love of storytelling.

A year or two later I met Heather. As I mentioned before we self-published a book together on a whim, and we had such a blast doing it we thought, why don’t we try to find an agent and do this full time? So we spent many many hours researching, both the nuances of picture book storytelling as well as the publishing industry. I will always repeat this to anyone who dreams of being published: we had no idea what we were doing. We just made it up as we went. It’s ok if you are as lost and naive as we were. 

I’m very passionate about things I like. So when I fell for picture books I fell hard. I wanted to know everything. I read STACKS of books. I bought too many. I acquired library fines. I began writing a bunch of stories from the ideas building up. Of course, I thought the ones I wrote were absolutely terrible, but thankfully Heather was there to encourage me and push me to just maybe… take a chance and submit queries. We worked together to tighten up our WIP (Butts Are Everywhere), Heather made adorable illustrations to go with it, and I compiled a list of the top agents to query (which I found just looking online). I kept tinkering away at the story and would probably still be doing that to this day if not for Heather, who with a swift and firm “Send it NOW, Jonathan”, pushed me to hit send.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Well I think being inspired is always first, and there are many ways to be inspired. For me they often come when I’m reading or watching a movie or listening to music. Something will trigger a new idea or a character or a title. I’m weird, I often think of titles first and then dive into characters. Do other people do that? Once I have the idea I write out the story. Spend time reworking it, reading it out loud over and over, trying to feel out the page turns and momentum of the story. Often I’m writing multiple at one time. I jump from idea to idea. Whatever is feeling exciting at the moment. For me I have to feel something about the story in order to put my time and energy in it.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

This again goes back to being inspired. I rarely “take a break” because I find writing and storytelling to be incredibly fun and so woven into the fabric of who I am. Sure I go hang out with my friends, watch movies, have adventures, and enjoy the world, but the entire time I’m also thinking about stories. Reworking them in my head, piecing things together. I think most writers or creative people work that way. If you are finding joy and life in the people and the world around you, creative inspiration will be hitting you from all sides. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee. Also, I love being surrounded by books while I work.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many. I’m constantly amazed at the writers and illustrators working today and all the amazing books being made. Not to mention all the brilliance of the past. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, and Jacqueline Woodson is magic at everything she does. I love comic strips, so Schultz’ Peanuts, Larson’s The Far Side, Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes really inspire me. For kid lit, there are too many to name them all, but here are a few creators working today that inspire me: Isabelle Arsenault, Dan Santat, The Fan Brothers, Corinna Luyken, Kazu Kibuishi, Ame Dyckman, Christian Robinson, Carson Ellis. And Heather! She’s my creative partner in crime and she inspires me daily. I feel so lucky to make such silly and fun books with her!

Dream project to work on?

Every project feels like a dream project. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I can’t believe I get to write stories that get made into books, let alone having a chance to work with incredible illustrators that create beautiful, adorable art for my words. I work with Heather every day on so many fun books. I have a series with Jay Fleck. A book coming out with Joseph Kuefler. And one with Dan Santat. Like I said, every one is a dream project. It still doesn’t seem real to be able to be making books with such talented creators.

Tell us about your debut book.

TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG is the first book in a picture book series with Chronicle Books. It follows the diminutive, but plucky Tiny T. Rex who is determined to find a way to cheer up his best friend, Pointy. Tiny decides hugging is the way to go, even though his tiny arms (as is the t-rex way) make hugging very difficult. Tiny asks his family for advice and overcomes many obstacles to show that the biggest hugs come from the biggest hearts. I wanted a character that kids could cheer for, but also encouraged them to remember their own agency. That they too can make a difference in the world, and in someone’s life, no matter the odds stacked against them.

What’s up next for you?

I have so many exciting projects coming up, a few I mentioned before. The next twp picture books are with Heather, Llama Destroys the World (May 7th, Macmillan), and Don’t Feed the Coos (January 2020). Book 2 of the Tiny T. Rex series comes out next spring, as does another silly picture book with Heather, Butts Are Everywhere (Putnam/Penguin).

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

OH That is difficult. There are so many great ones. I guess I’d have to Empire Strikes Back or E.T. Extra Terrestrial, which are two of my favorite movies ever.


Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Jonathan! We can’t wait to see all your amazing books. Huge congrats on all your success!


Jonathan Stutzman is an award-winning filmmaker and writer. His short films have screened at film festivals all over the world and on television. He lives outside Hershey, Pennsylvania.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jonathan and his work visit him online here or follow him on Twitter @dustdancestoo or Instagram @thedustdancestoo.

TO ORDER Jonathan’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator and husband and wife team Megan + Jorge Lacera!

Interview with Debut Author Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut picture book author Jamie L. B. Deenihan! Her debut book, WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, just released with Sterling Publishing earlier this month AND received a starred review from Kirkus!!! So exciting! I’m thrilled to have her visit us today and share her wonderful work with you all.

So without further ado…please welcome Jamie L. B. Deenihan!

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Where do you live?

I live in Suffield, Connecticut very near the family farm I grew up on. I live with my husband, two children, and our dog, Max, in a house filled with books and a growing collection of lemon trees.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Although I’ve always loved to read and write stories, I don’t remember setting goals to become a published author when I was a kid. I do remember wanting to be a veterinarian, until the day I observed a cow’s stomach surgery and quickly decided teaching would be a better fit. I grew up and became a first-grade teacher and a mom who was immersed in picture books for most of the day and I absolutely loved it! It was in those years of teaching full-time and raising two young children that I decided I wanted to publish a book someday. In 2014, my husband and I went to a free library workshop where I received tips about how to become an author. That’s the day I officially set a goal of getting published and I’ve been working at it ever since!

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Here’s the abbreviated version of my journey to my first picture book deal:

January 2014 – attended a free workshop at my town library and decided I wanted to publish a book someday

March 2015 – wrote the first draft of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

*Between March 2015 and February 2016, I was submitting multiple manuscripts to agents and editors and received several rejections.

February 2016 – submitted the manuscript to Sterling Publishing through the slush pile.

Early March 2016 – Sterling Editor, Christina Pulles, asked for a R&R (revise and resubmit)

Late March 2016 – revised and resubmitted to Sterling and while waiting for their response, received more rejections from agents and editors

April 2016 – continued waiting and received more rejections from agents and editors

June 2016 – received an offer from Sterling and signed with my agent, Linda Camacho

March 5, 2019 – release date for my debut picture book, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Can you share a bit about your process for your debut picture book?

In 2015, I started writing down some thoughts for this story in one of my journals. Then, I wrote a terrible first draft (yay!) and started the revision process with my amazing critique partners. Although this manuscript didn’t go through major revisions, it took about 30 drafts to play around with the POV and carefully choose each word. After I had a solid draft complete, I wrote the sentences on post-it notes and used them to create a book dummy to test the page turns. That’s pretty much the same process that I’ve gone through with each of the five manuscripts that I’ve sold so far.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I have two young children and I work part-time at a preschool, so I am constantly surrounded with inspiration and I love fleshing out new story ideas with my husband and children. My critique partners played a huge role in helping me polish my manuscripts. I am grateful to have critique partners who care about my stories as much as I do, and I look forward to celebrating their books when they hit the shelves.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Comfy clothes, a cozy chair, post it notes, mechanical pencils, dark chocolate, tea, and cheese popcorn are a few of the things that make me happy when writing. My favorite time to write is with my kids, but my most productive time to write is very late at night when everyone is asleep, and the house is quiet.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple are two of the most hard-working, kind, knowledgeable, and inspiring authors I know. In 2017, I had the privilege of attending their Picture Book Boot Camp at Jane Yolen’s home which has been one of the highlights of my writing career. 

Dream project to work on?

Working on my projects with Sterling, Penguin, and Avenue A Books have all been dreams come true. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the talented editors at each house as well as the illustrators who brought each manuscript to life. I don’t really have my sights set on a specific publishing house or editor because I believe, with the help of my agent, Linda Camacho, my manuscripts will end up with the right person, at the right place, at the right time.  

Tell us about your debut book.

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, was recently honored with a starred review from Kirkus. I think Kirkus did a wonderful job describing my debut picture book, so here it is:

“Gardening tips abound in this delightful guide to caring for a lemon tree. The unnamed protagonist has a carefully drawn-out list of acceptable electronics she wants for her birthday. But Grandma instead brings…gasp…a lemon tree. The second-person text covers appropriate and inappropriate reactions and then advises readers to accept the potted present politely and wait for Grandma to leave or take a nap. Then you definitely shouldn’t: drop it from a bridge, send it aloft with balloons, or ‘play ding dong ditch’ with it (all illustrated with wry understatement). Instead, the narrator offers some incredibly important do’s: put the fruit tree ‘in a sunny spot’ (the grassy verge between sidewalk and street), don’t overwater it, and ‘battle against intruders’ who seem to come from all directions. After nearly a year of caring for her reluctantly received sapling, the protagonist joyously picks her lush lemons, and Grandma even returns to help make some fresh lemonade, the sale of which leads to more plants for her burgeoning garden. Rocha’s colors and characters leap right off the page, encouraging readers to get out into the world and create life, beauty, and some great-tasting lemonade (recipe included). The community is diverse and urban, with no lack of personality and detail. The protagonist and Grandma are both black, she with black pigtail puffs and Grandma with a white poof of hair. Charms from cover to cover.” —Kirkus (Starred review)

What’s up next for you?

As of this June, I am resigning from my part-time preschool teaching position to pursue writing full-time. I would like to have several more manuscripts out on submission by the fall and I’m also looking forward to booking more author’s visits at schools, libraries, bookshops, and other venues. My upcoming picture books include:

The New Bird in Town, illustrated by Carrie Hartman (Avenue A Books June 2019)

The Tooth Fairy VS. Santa, illustrated by Erin Hunting (Penguin Workshop fall 2019) *available for preorder now!

The Tooth Fairy VS. The Easter Bunny, illustrated by Erin Hunting (Penguin Workshop spring 2020)

When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (Sterling spring 2020)

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Footloose!


Huge thanks to Jamie for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to check out all your wonderful books!


Jamie L. B. Deenihan is a teacher and picture book author who lives in Suffield, Connecticut with her husband and two children. Her debut picture book, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha, is now available for purchase everywhere.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jamie and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @jlbdeenihan or Instagram @jlbdeenihan.

TO ORDER Jamie’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of WHEN GRANDMA GIVES YOU A LEMON TREE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, March 21st! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author B.J. Lee

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward12 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m thrilled to be interviewing debut author B.J. Lee today! Her debut picture book THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH, illustrated by David Opie, was just released on February first of this year!

Gators and panthers and crabs, oh my! The classic cumulative tale There Was an Old Lady gets a Floridian flourish in this charming adaptation. Down in the southern swamps a hungry gator accidentally swallows a moth. Of course, he swallows a crab to get the moth! What will he swallow next? The gator predictably continues swallowing bigger and bigger creatures until the unexpected happens―all over the page! Along the way to its hilarious ending, the story―strengthened by the delightful illustrations―introduces readers of all ages to the many critters, both big and small, of the Florida swamp. With a familiar use of repetition and an abundance of rhythm, this silly story is perfect for read-aloud experiences.

So without further ado, please welcome B.J. Lee!

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Where do you live?

I currently live in Florida, though I’m originally from the Northeast.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Writing picture books and poetry for children happened purely by accident. I had been an aspiring novelist when I had an accident and had to have shoulder surgery. After the surgery I had severe bicep tendinitis for two years. I couldn’t even hold a pencil. I realized I would have to write something shorter if I was to write it all. I started studying children’s picture books and poetry and discovered I could write the stuff. That’s how it all began.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

My road to publication started with a poem published in the SCBWI Bulletin in 2010. Three years later I had my first poem published in a children’s poetry anthology, and three years after that I had my first picture book acceptance. I have had poetry published in 25 poetry anthologies to date. This is my first picture book.

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

Can you share a bit about your process?

I live and breathe writing, I work at my office computer and also have an area set up in the living room with a comfy chair, bookshelves on either side, and a reading stand so I can have materials at eye level. I generally start in a journal and then transfer to a word doc on my computer.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I don’t have any trouble generating ideas. If anything, I have too many ideas and tend to overwork. To recharge, I do chores, enjoy nature or play in my swim spa.

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Anything you can’t live without while you write? 

I love my Peter Pauper Press journals and my Kimberly 2B graphite drawing pencil. I also can’t live without my pooch, Bijoux, who is always happy to help.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you? 

Both poets and lyrical picture book writers (fiction and nonfiction) inspire me. Joyce Sidman was an early influence. Both Lee Bennett Hopkins and J. Patrick Lewis have been mentors. My favorite illustrator is Pamela Zagarinsky who is simply wondrous! I also think Calef Brown is quite magical.

Dream project to work on? 

I’d love for Joan Rankin to illustrate one of my dryly humorous poetry collections for McElderry Books, my dream poetry publisher.

Tell us about your debut book. 

THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH is based on the popular cumulative rhyme, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Gator lives in a Florida lagoon, where he encounters many Florida animals and can’t help but…well…swallow them! Gator is a larger-than-life character with universal appeal. Radio personality, PatZi Gil, called this book “evergreen” on her program Joy on Paper.

What’s up next for you? 

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

Interior illustration from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH

I’m working on fiction and nonfiction picture books and poetry collections as well as a verse novel.

And last, but not least, favorite 80’s movie?

High Fidelity – wait, that’s 90’s – I guess I’d have to say Out of Africa.


B.J. Lee is a former college music librarian turned full-time author and poet. Her debut picture book, There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, released on February 1, 2019 from Pelican Publishing. Additionally, she is an award-winning children’s poet with over 100 poems and stories published/forthcoming in major anthologies by such publishers as Little, Brown, National Geographic, Bloomsbury and Wordsong. Magazine credits include Spider, Highlights, and The School Magazine. She lives in Florida with her husband, poet Malcolm Deeley, and toy poodle Bijoux. 

B.J. Lee is available for school visits including assemblies and writing and poetry workshops with a musical component. She can be reached at bjlee@childrensauthorbjlee.com

FOR MORE INFORMATION about B.J. and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @bjlee_writer and Instagram @b.j.lee

TO ORDER B.J.’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

FOR COLORING PAGES from THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, March 14th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Jamie L.B. Deenihan!


Interview with Author Shawnie Clark

Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with Shawnie Clark, who is both self-published and traditionally published, and provides books for children in a font specifically designed for Dyslexia. How cool is that??? I’m thrilled to have her on Critter Lit today.

So without further ado, please welcome Shawnie Clark!

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Where do you live?

I live in a small town called Manteca located in Northern California. It's approximately 45 miles south of the State Capitol, Sacramento. Many moons ago it was well know for it's famous water slides.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I've been writing for many years. I developed a love of reading and writing in middle grade school. It stuck with me. In my early thirties I decided to write a couple of articles for  the local newspaper, in turn that led to writing small articles for online magazines and blogs. I came across a small publishing press located in New York. The publisher was looking for short stories children stories. Turns out that I loved it! I didn't publish with her, but the inspiration for Crocky Dile came about during the same time frame I wrote the Saltwater Crocodile activity book. I've been publishing children's books for about 9 years.

How many books have you published? 

10. I self published 8 books, 2 traditionally.

Do you write full-time? 

I write part time, but when I start a project, I work on it full time until it’s finished. As I get ideas, I write them down, then at a later time I will brainstorm, this provides a story line. Once I have a story line it's full on writing time.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I absolutely love the process of taking an idea and turning it into a finished product. It's like bringing my thoughts to life. I enjoy being outdoors. I get ideas from watching the silly things that people and animals do. I also read A LOT! This gives me inspiration and tips for future writings. While I'm doing social media sometimes I'll see an illustration that catches my eye and the brainstorming begins. I have grandchildren who have inherited my vast imagination, so I get a lot of ideas from them, too. I turn them into stories that we can share together. They love it, just as much as I do.

What surprised you the most working as an author?

The Kidlit community is really a wonderful group of people. (Not that I thought any different!) Just how much joy I would get out of the whole process. I love to write, but being able to collaborate with others in the publishing process and seeing it come to life, then being able to share— priceless.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

All of it! Seeing the finished product and sharing it with children. It's wonderful to see something I wrote bring such big smiles to those little faces.

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Editing, editing, and more editing! Need I say more.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I read more and I really pay attention to what people around me have to say. I get suggestions for children's stories often. It's just a matter of which ones tickle my fancy so to speak. I will also pitch ideas I have to friends and collaborate with them.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kidlit community?

It's hard to choose just one. The people in the Kidlit community are such a good group. Particularly in the SCBWI Northern California. Everyone is encouraging, helpful, supportive, and has a positive attitude. A wonderful group of people.

What is your favorite picture book? 

This is hard one. I love Dr. Seuss, but I think my very favorite is Good Night Moon by  Margaret Wise Brown. I pick this book because I've enjoyed sharing it with my grandchildren over and over again. It's our all-time favorite.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

How addictive it is lol!

You are both self-published and traditionally published. Can you tell us about your experiences with both?

I first started self-publishing in 2010. During this time frame self-publishing was not looked on favorably by the publishing world. But I didn't care. My desire to meet my goals out weighed the opposition. I asked for a lot of help and advice for others. I did months of research. Trial and error became the theme. It was very hard work, but I'm extremely thankful for the knowledge I gained from that experience. 

Traditional publishing is much easier to say the least. An author friend of mine shared with me that her publisher was excepting manuscripts, so I submitted Wonder Wheels and that was the start of a wonderful relationship with MacLaren - Cochrane Publishing. Instead of doing everything myself, I now had to collaborate with the publisher, which was a good thing. It freed up my time more so that I could help promote the book.

Your books are available using a font specifically designed for Dyslexia. Can you tell us more about that?

I didn't know of dyslexic font until I formed a relationship with MacLaren - Cochrane Publishing. It is basically a type set font that enables people with dyslexia to be able to identify the letters easier, which allows them to read better. Here is the link for more information pertaining to this subject. https://www.maclaren-cochranepublishing.com/dyslexic-font-books-info

How did you come to create books designed for readers with Dyslexia?

The Publisher MacLaren - Cochrane publish all of their children's books with the option to purchase in this font. I believe this sets them apart from all other publishers because at this time they are the only publishing company to make this available to the public.

You've also written stories for the Bedtime Stories App. Can you share a bit about that?

That was such a wonderful experience. I love the Bed Time Stories crew.

I was contacted via twitter back in April 2017 by Michael Sokolar, The Founder and CEO of Get Bedtime Stories. He said they had this idea for a new children's AP and wanted to know my opinion. As soon as I read about their vision I was on board. The AP is designed to help parents tell stories to their children, to make the experience more enjoyable and interactive between parent and child. The AP gives age appropriate story worlds to choose from or you can choose to get idea's to make your own story. They now have a story telling course in the AP.  It's FANTASTIC! See for yourself at Getbedtimestories.com or the AP GetBedtimestories in iTunes.

This project proved to be a real challenge.  Each story world has five stories, all of which are connected. My time frame was six weeks. So I had to come up with five connecting stories, and shall I say there were strict word limits due to the AP structure. It's hard enough to come up with one story, much less five, in that amount of time, but I did it. The Secret Treasure Chest Story world came to be. That was my small contribution. I'm so very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this project. I could go on more but I think this is a good stopping point.

What is your newest book? 

A children's picture book titled BUG OFF. 

Peter is full of anticipation for the first day of school. As he looks for the yellow blip of a school bus coming down the street he contemplates how his day will turn out. “What will the other students be like?”  “What will they think of me?”

Overcome by a whirlwind of mixed emotions his legs begin to tremble. A fear of the unknown has set in. Peter whispers, “Will the other students like me?” Peter finds the answers to these questions and discovers that school can be a heavy weight especially when the school bully comes calling. Life would never be the same due to one of the ugliest bugs inching onto the scene and one genuine act of kindness.

What’s up next for you?

I started a middle grade chapter book.

Here is a sneak peek...

Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump…

Heart pounding, feeling like it wants to escape the confinement of her chest. The cold from the ground crept through her skin causing goose bumps to rise. A strange smell lingered in the air tickling her nose. It was a familiar smell but she couldn’t quite figure it out. She fluttered her eyes but they wouldn’t open. A breeze rustled some leaves nearby crunch, crunch, as they scattered across the ground. It was a warm breeze that brought comfort. Thoughts of her soft cuddly bed in her room lingered in her mind, “in my room, in my room,” panic set in, realizing that she wasn’t in her room.  She fought with all of her might to open her eyes. The warm breeze was growing ever hotter. She could feel sweat forming on her brow. Finally a glimpse of light filtered through the tiny cracks. Things were all a blur. Gently rubbing her eyes she regained focus. She looked on in amazement, pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, as she whispered the words, “What are you?”

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Don't give up! Meet a challenge head on! Stay positive!

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark


Huge thank you to Shawnie Clark for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on all of your books!


Shawnie Clark, has been writing children's stories since 2010. She's a self-published and traditionally published author, with 10 children's book to date. The most current, BUG OFF, a children's picture book was released in July 2018. She is currently working with MacLaren – Cochrane Publishing. The topics of her books help children to be more aware of issues such as bullying, self esteem, friendships, youth issues, and compassion to name a few. As an energetic storyteller, Shawnie is a local favorite attending many events such as school visits, book fairs, and book stores. She is proficient in writing children's fiction, knowing what it takes to do school visits, along with self-publishing and marketing. Shawnie also had the privilege of writing a series of children’s stories for a new children’s AP called “GetBedtimestories” available to download for free on the Apple AP Store. She is also an active member of SCBWI, a Purple Dragonfly Awards Honoree, and Story Monsters Approved. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Shawnie and her work visit her website or follow her on Twitter @Shawnie_Clark.

TO ORDER Shawnie’s books, click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of BUG OFF?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, March 7th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author BJ Lee!

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Breisacher

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Cathy Breisacher, who will release TWO books this year! How awesome is that?! Her first, CAVEKID BIRTHDAY comes out next month with Charlesbridge, and her second CHIP AND CURLY: THE GREAT POTATO RACE, in May with Sleeping Bear Press. So exciting! I love the humor in Cathy’s books and I can’t wait to share her work and writing process with you all today.

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Breisacher!

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Where do you live?

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

I live in Pennsylvania in a town called Hollidaysburg, which is located in the South Central part of the state. It is a small town nestled among the beautiful mountains. From my office where I do my writing, I often sit and stare out the windows at the mountains and admire the beauty of it all. 

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I have always been fascinated with stories, but I was especially drawn to the magic of picture books when I was in graduate school studying to become an elementary school counselor. At the campus library, there was a room for Education majors filled with picture books. It was wonderful. I would get caught up in the stories (ones that I remembered from my childhood and new ones that I wanted to use in the classroom). I started thinking about how fun it would be to write my own books someday. But, I didn’t actually pursue this idea until several years later. One day, I received a brochure in the mail about a Children’s Book Writing Conference in Chautauqua, New York put on by the Highlights Foundation. I was so intrigued. I had not written any stories up to that point, but I signed up for the weeklong workshop anyway. As a result of being around so many amazing children’s authors, I caught the kidlit bug. While at the workshop, Jane Yolen recommended joining SCBWI. It was an excellent piece of advice, and it was the first thing I did upon returning home. After that, I started attending SCBWI events and trying to learn as much as I could about the craft of writing children’s picture books. 

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

After that event in Chautauqua, I knew I had so much to learn. I was a high school guidance counselor, and my job took up a lot of my time. I usually only wrote during the summer months. Eventually I realized that I wanted to devote more time to writing and trying to get published, so I decided to make a career change. I earned my Master of Library Science degree and switched from the high school guidance job in my district to the elementary librarian job. This move gave me more time to focus on books and, subsequently, my writing.  I also started attending the NJ SCBWI annual conference. It was after my first conference that I landed an agent. A year later, CAVEKID BIRTHDAY sold to Charlesbridge, and a year after that, CHIP AND CURLY sold.  Both books are coming out this spring. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I continue to learn. One of the most important things I have learned is the value of making connections. The kid lit community is filled with amazing people who are all willing to help one another. Sharing what we know and being open to learning from others is extremely beneficial and valuable. I also learned that things don’t happen overnight. We all need large amounts of patience and tenacity.  

Can you share a bit about your process?

In my life, I try to be organized. In fact, I spend a lot of time organizing my work duties and things I need to do at home. But interestingly, when it comes to writing, I feel like I am scattered all over the place. I don’t have a normal process that is consistent from one story to the next, or from one day to the next. At any point in time on any given day, I’m jotting down story ideas or adding to a work in progress, or two works in progress, or even three. I may add lines to a couple of different stories, bouncing back and forth between them as inspiration strikes. I often work like this until one of my stories starts to gel and take off. I do this until I can churn out a first draft.  It can take me months to get a first draft on paper. I spend a lot of time letting ideas marinate in my mind to see where they can go before I write things down. But, once I have a first complete draft written, then I focus on that story and revise and revise and revise. I love the revision stage, focusing on each line, each word, the overall story arc, and the page turn effects. The revision part of writing is my favorite part. I feel alive in writing when I have a complete draft that I can mold and shape into something fun to read. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Fortunately, the easiest thing for me when it comes to writing is thinking of new ideas. I have notebooks filled with ideas. Now, if I can just find the time to try my hand at each of these ideas to see which ones will take off.  Some of my favorite story ideas sadly don’t come together. After working at them for a while I’ll just save what I’ve written knowing that I can always come back to it if inspiration hits again. There have been stories that I have worked on for too long, knowing that they weren’t working, but hoping to make some magic happen with them. Eventually I will come to that realization and move on to one of my other ideas. But, thankfully I always have more ideas swimming around my brain. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Oh, yes! Diet Pepsi and dark chocolate.  

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

I love fun, funny, and silly picture books, so the authors I look up to include Mac Barnett, Aaron Reynolds, Jon Klassen, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Kelly DiPucchio, Ame Dyckman, Tammi Sauer, Jory John, and Ryan Higgins. 

Dream project to work on?

I have really enjoyed the process of working on CAVEKID BIRTHDAY with the fabulous team at Charlesbridge and CHIP AND CURLY, THE GREAT POTATO RACE with the talented folks at Sleeping Bear Press. These two projects have seemed like dream projects to me. Everyone at both houses, along with both illustrators – Roland Garrigue and Joshua Henisz – has been incredible. I would enjoy working on a book with either of them again. In the future, I would also look forward to having one of the following folks illustrate a book of mine since I am a huge fan of their art:  Dan Santat, Pierre Collet–Derby, Troy Cummings, Eric Rohmann, Jennifer Harney, etc. But, honestly, there are so many amazing illustrators and I am awe-struck at how art designers know how to choose the perfect illustrator for a story. 

Tell us about your debut book.

CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue and published by Charlesbridge will come out on March 5, 2019.  In the story, Caveboy and Cavegirl are best friends and do all kinds of cavekid activities together. They also share the same birthday! So, with their birthday approaching, each one decides to get something special for the other. They both have something valuable that they can take to Caveman’s Collectibles to trade, but when it’s time to exchange gifts, they are in for a big surprise. However, these Cavekids are resourceful, so they use their imagination and creativity to come up with a way to have a satisfying and very happy birthday. 

I really hope readers will see how much fun it can be to use their imagination and creativity when they play.  The inspiration for this story came about during Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (now called STORYSTORM) in 2014 when I spotted a clipart image of a caveboy and a cavegirl. I was looking for a way to mash two ideas together in a picture book.  So, at one point I decided to mash the Cavekids with Christmas and I started writing. It didn’t take long before the idea of doing a twist on the Gift of the Magi popped into my head. I have always loved O. Henry’s story about the husband and wife who each take their most treasured possession and sell it to buy a perfect gift for the other one. So I decided to take that premise and have it take place during prehistoric time with Cavekids. After many rounds of revision, the Christmas theme got changed to a Birthday, and the rest of the story flowed from there. 

What’s up next for you?

I have many other stories written and a couple of them are out on submission right now. I’m currently working on two other stories that I’m really excited about. I plan to keep writing fun, silly picture books and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that each one finds a perfect home at a publishing house.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Oh my goodness…the 80s is my favorite decade for movies and music. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to choose just one.  So, I’ll pick four (and even narrowing the list to four is a challenge):  Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Dirty Dancing, E.T., and Top Gun. I don’t often watch movies more than once, but I’ve watched each of these movies several times. I enjoy many types of movies - funny, romantic, sweet, and dramatic. Just like books, my favorite movies have characters that are memorable, and a story line that stays with me long after I’ve watched it. 


Huge thank you to Cathy Breisacher for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your wonderful books out in the world this year! Congrats!


Cathy Breisacher is the author of the following spring releases: CAVEKID BIRTHDAY (Charlesbridge, - March 5, 2019) and CHIP AND CURLY - THE GREAT POTATO RACE (Sleeping Bear Press - May 15, 2019). She is also an elementary school librarian and former high school guidance counselor. Her passion is to write fun, silly, humorous picture books that will put a smile on kids’ faces. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends. She loves all kinds of parks – national parks, theme parks, and Central Park – and is happy when she gets a chance to visit any of these. Cathy lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Cathy and her work visit her website: www.cathybreisacher.com or follow her on Twitter @CathyBreisacher.

TO PRE-ORDER Cathy’s books, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of CAVEKID BIRTHDAY?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 21st! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author Sue Fliess

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a big week! Huge congrats to all the winners and honors from the ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday. So many beautiful books to celebrate. If you haven’t had a chance to check out all the books honored this year, click here.

Also this week (today actually!) the Writing With the Stars mentorship program will announce the mentees chosen for this year’s contest. If you haven’t heard of this program and are an aspiring picture book author, illustrator, or author/illustrator, make sure to check it out and apply next year. This is an awesome contest run by picture book authors and sisters, Becky Cattie and Tara Leubbe, who both volunteer their time to give back to the Kidlit community. This is the second year I will be participating as a mentor and I’m so thrilled to be apart of this wonderful opportunity for new writers and illustrators.

Okay, now let’s get to our interview today!

YOU GUYS! TODAY WE HAVE SUE FLIESS! I’m so excited! We are big fans of Sue’s work here in our house. My three-year-old LOVES Tons of Trucks and The Bug Book. I was lucky enough to meet Sue last summer at ALA. She is incredibly funny and talented and I adore the playfulness in her picture books.

So without further ado, please welcome SUE FLIESS!

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Where do you live?

Ashburn, in Northern Virginia 

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started my journey in children’s publishing in 2005. 

How did you first get published?

I attribute nearly all my success to the connections and industry knowledge I gained from being an active member of SCBWI (for those who don’t know, that’s the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators). 

How many books have you published?

I have 27 books out in the world, and 6 currently under contract, coming out between now and sometime in 2020. 

Do you write full-time?

Yes. Hooray for that! But let’s use ‘write’ loosely, as so many other book-related tasks must share that writing time. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

They’re just more fun to write than any other kind of story! So, I guess the pure joy of letting my brain enter that wacky realm, keeps me coming back for more. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

How motivated I would be to continue to sell more manuscripts. I thought once I sold one, the fire in my belly would dim a bit, but it had the opposite effect. The sale of my first book lit an inferno and I’ve been on a writing tear ever since.   

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Having my own schedule (barring any publisher deadlines), being my own boss as far as writing what I want to write/feel passionate about, and visiting schools and meeting the readers/teachers/librarians. 

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Prioritizing the ‘tougher’ writing. I tend to procrastinate on the writing that I’m struggling with. I have been “writing” a middle grade novel for going on 7 years now. Ha! But I keep getting ideas or publisher asks for new picture books, and they get moved to the top of my writing list, naturally. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Lots of things. 

I go to the library and read books or if the timing is right, I’ll attend a writing conference, which always inspires. Sometimes I’ll meet other writers for lunch, or go on a weekend writing retreat. And my remote critique group meets once a month via Google Hangout, and often that is the kick in the pants I need to get back on track.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

COFFEE. I’m joking, sort of, but I just need to be awake and alert to be creative. Coffee helps. 

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

There are so many! I would say any time another author/illustrator takes the time to boost my book(s), attend a book signing, or refer me to a school for a school visit. Also, when I was starting out, a few authors took the time to meet with me for coffee – the dreaded ‘pick your brain’ conversation! I accept these invites now too when I can, to pay it forward, because I know there is nothing like talking with someone actually doing what you aspire to do. 

Recommended reading?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and any books that are in the genre/style you wish to write in. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Again, this is too difficult! Any time I sign a new contract for a book is a highlight – a complete joy and reward. I would say that the real highlights though, come in the form of the children I meet at school visits, who think I’m the greatest thing since…video games. I get big hugs and hear things like, “Can you adopt me?” or “This has been the best day of my life!” You cannot beat that. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

It doesn’t matter how many books you have out, how many awards/honors you received, you will still have book events that are poorly-attended. Unpredictability is just part of the gig. Also, sometimes the book that was the ‘best thing you ever wrote’ and took you forever to get right, does not sell, but the one that just poured out in no time, gets scooped up right away. 

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is called NINJA CAMP, and it just released on January 8! It follows the story of a group of campers who attend a summer ninja camp in the hopes of receiving the training they need to become the Ninjas of the Night. But they must be brave and guard the Shadow Blade…and when the rival camp invades and steals the relic, they must use their new skills to get it back. It’s in rhyme, and has a fast pace, and is fun to read aloud. 

What’s up next for you?

I have a BIG year of books ahead, for which I’m so grateful! But I do dread the fact that I’ll be talking about myself all year on social media. So do a girl a favor and retweet me, yeah? Hehe. 

On February 5, HOW TO TRACK AN EASTER BUNNY, illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, releases with Sky Pony Press.

On March 1, THE EARTH GIVES MORE, illustrated by Christiane Engel, releases with Albert Whitman & Co. 

This fall, HOW TO TRICK A CHRISTMAS ELF, also illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, comes out. 

Finally, LITTLE RED RHYMING HOOD publishes October 1 with Albert Whitman, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Don’t give up. It sounds so cliché, but there is a lot of rejection in this business, and it’s important to remember that it is such a subjective industry. Keep working on your craft and your story will find a home. 

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Pretty in Pink. Story arc, soundtrack, actors—all of it! 


Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Sue! We can’t wait to check out all the wonderful books you have coming out this year! So exciting!


Sue Fliess ("fleece") is the bestselling author of Robots, Robots Everywhere!, How to Trap a Leprechaun, and 25 other children's books, including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, Mary Had a Little Lab, Ninja Camp, Tons of Trucks, and many Little Golden Books. Her books have sold over 850k copies worldwide. Her background is in copywriting and PR/marketing, and her essays have been in O Magazine, HuffPo, Writer's Digest, & more. Fliess has also written for Walt Disney. Her books have received honors from SCBWI, have been used in school curricula, museum educational programs, been named to A Mighty Girl's Best Books lists, and have even been translated into French and Chinese. The Bug Book was chosen for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Mary Had a Little Lab was named to Oklahoma's Redbud Read-Aloud Award master list and made the top 10 for Rhyme Revolution's Best in Rhyme award. She's a member of SCBWI & Children's Book Guild of DC. She does school visits and speaking engagements and lives with her family in No. Virginia. Visit her at www.suefliess.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sue and her work visit her website: www.suefliess.com or follow her on Twitter @SueFliess

TO PRE-ORDER Sue’s newest book, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NINJA CAMP?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 7th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Laura Roettiger.

Interview with Debut Author Lindsay Leslie

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Welcome back! It’s 2019 and I am so excited about all the interviews we have lined up on Critter Lit this year. We are kicking off the year with a debut author whose book, which comes out next month, has the best title of the year…I’m callin’ it! I can’t wait for you all to check out THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS (great title right? Told ya!)

So without further ado…please welcome Lindsay Leslie!

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Where do you live?

I live in the great city of Austin, Texas! Trying to keep it weird over here. (The city’s motto is Keep Austin Weird, in case you all don’t know.)

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

Not too long ago. I can be a bit slow about understanding what should be my path, and what works for my personality and my talents, but I get there in a very roundabout way. It was toward the end of 2014 when I connected the dots between my ability and love of writing, my love for being creative in some form or fashion, and my adoration of children and how they see the world. The idea smacked me in the face one evening when I was riffing a.k.a. making up a story on the fly to my son. After I said “the end,” I picked up a picture book off his floor and that’s when the smack happened. Helllooooo, Lindsay! You should write for children!!!

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

It involved study of the form and finding out where I needed to be in terms of children’s literature. I started out writing chapter books. I have a series I created based on the stories I made up and told my kids at their nightly bedtime tuck-ins. I have since put those in my electronic drawer to simmer. I moved on to picture books and felt that I connected with the challenge and the focus of creating a story that packs a punch but in very few words. I became obsessed with finding the right words and playing with rhythm and pacing. I also tried out a middle grade novel and became a bit exhausted. It was a lot. I haven’t given up, but for now, it’s in my electronic drawer of goodies.

So, I kept my mind focused on picture books. I wrote and created as much as I could and I learned from those before me. The amount of fantastic knowledge and how it’s given so willingly has always been overwhelming to me. I often think about how I can pay that forward. Anyway, I soaked in all I could and read so many picture books. I also joined supportive children’s literature groups with vaults of knowledge, including SCBWI Austin and 12x12. Also, I found a bunch of wonderful writers who wanted to form a writing group. We lean on each other for everything.

When I was ready to find an agent, I turned to querying traditionally and was a BIG FAN of all the various contests and pitch events on Twitter that seek to connect writers and illustrators with agents and editors. It’s a great way to get immediate feedback on queries and concepts. Back in March 2017, I decided to participate in #pitmad on Twitter, which is a huge pitch event covering all genres--everything and anything. I’ve participated in #pitmad a couple of times, and I’ve always wondered whether picture books get lost in the scrolling madness of YA and adult novels. I’m glad I didn’t give up. I pitched four of my picture book manuscripts, and I only got one “favorite” that day. But, it was the only one I needed. That favorite came from Kristen Nobles, children’s publisher with Page Street Kids. A month and a half later, I received an email from Associate Editor Charlotte Wenger at Page Street requesting an R&R (revise and resubmit). I worked with Charlotte back and forth for the next month and a half to see if I could shape THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS into a picture book Page Street Kids would want to publish. And it worked! I received an offer directly from Page Street.

With an offer in hand, I was referred to Red Fox Literary via a literary connection and connected to Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, who offered representation. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Oh, it’s a silly process without much science behind it, but it works for me! And, isn’t that what it comes down to? What works for you. So, I wait for my muse. I wait for an idea to pole vault into my noggin’ and if I’m paying attention, I’ll stop in my tracks and have to write down the idea. I’ve got a long running list of those ideas in my phone. Then I pay attention (there’s a lot of that) to the idea that keeps marching in a very belligerent manner through my mind. The idea that just won’t give up. If an idea is doing that, I know I have to explore it on the page. 

Next, I write the horrible first draft, or at least I try to allow myself to do that. Sometimes I can be such an over-editor at the beginning. I let that horrible first draft, or how ever many words I’m able to get down, sit. And, I let it sit for as long as it needs … until it calls me back. Then I go back to it and rewrite or complete the draft. I’d say I do this over and over again until I feel it’s ready for extra eyeballs, and those would be the eyeballs of my trusted critique partners. I make sure to run my work by quite a few people and see what the common pain points are—what’s working, what’s not. I edit and edit and edit, and then I pass it on to my agent. Then I edit and edit and edit. This line of business and creative works takes a lot of patience. By that, I mean patience for yourself.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I don’t have one prescribed thing I do besides give myself time. I don’t berate myself for not being at the keyboard knocking out new stories all the time or editing, editing, editing every day. I do cheer myself on when I am able to do the work, when I am inspired by an idea, and when I make any forward progress. I acknowledged and keep chugging forward. It takes a lot of listening to yourself and a lot of patience. 

But when I really throw a brain cell at what I’m doing during those idea-creating moments, I can nail down two ways I come up with ideas: creating associations and active sensing.

  1. Creating associations: I let my mind wander and investigate topics I love and that intrigue me. I love asking what-if questions and I make sure I don’t edit my mind and direct its creative investigation. I just keep letting it think and go, even if it goes in a weird direction. And it almost always does. THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS was definitely born from one of those associative moments—an idea that came forward from stepping on my son’s picture book and the ideas that sprang forward from my childhood experiences with anxiety.

  2. Active sensing: I say active sensing, but it’s a living-in-the-moment-and-being-present thing. I actively observe with all of my senses. The two senses I lean on most: listening and looking. Yes, really listen to your kids when they talk about Pokemon, because it may give you an idea that ends up in a book deal (a.k.a. my next picture book NOVA THE STAR EATER). Yes, do some people watching. I get so much quality material watching people go about their daily lives. One of the best places for material, the school cafeteria. Watching how the children interact with each other and hearing some of their conversations. It’s a creative gold mine!

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Not really, no. OK, I’m kind of lying. I do love to break for a snack or lunch. It’s kind of something I look forward to. I love food. Oh, I do. But while I’m writing? Hmmm...I need my desktop computer or laptop. But I can be anywhere. I don’t have to be at a certain place or have a certain desk or chair. When I’m focused, I’m way focused. Maybe too much. I can have background noise, music, or not. Kids screaming around me or not. I’m very laid back and flexible that way. What I can’t be without is a great idea that takes me to that story in my mind where I can’t be distracted and I want to stay and play.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

How long is this blog? I could go for days on this. I’ve been inspired by so many. I’ll stick with the authors who shaped me as a kiddo … Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary. The trifecta. These authors were my childhood. Hands down. I feel they are a combo of relatable and quirky. That’s where I like to be with my writing. 

Dream project to work on?

Each project I’ve done has been a dream, so don’t wake me up. And, it’s been dreamy to work hand-in-hand with my editor, Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids. I trust her feedback implicitly. We seem to really get each other and have a fantastic creative/working relationship. 

Someday, I would like to finish that middle grade novel. That’s my carrot I’m chasing. It’s an odd, quirky thing, and a hard one to write. I was told it would be really difficult to do, but to me that sounds like a challenge, and I love a challenge. One way to get me to accomplish a goal is to tell me I can’t do it. 

Tell us about your debut book.

Oh, THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS …  and wary … and absolutely unadventurous, and is freaking out about what story might be on its pages. The book takes the reader on a journey of its fears, navigating the book’s possible contents together. With each page turn, the book becomes a bit braver. The book is multi-layered and incorporates the five senses, multiple literary genres, and various book parts. Ultimately, the relationship between book and reader brings everything together.

I’m so glad it’s my debut picture book. I’ve battled with anxiety for the majority of my life, so I’m well-versed in what anxiety feels like and how these emotions can get the best of us. This sweet, anxious book mimics what we all feel when anxiety comes rushing in. That heightened state and then the slow realization that we aren’t in immediate danger and we aren’t alone, so the calming begins. 

What’s up next for you?

Lots! THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS hits the shelves on Feb. 19, and I’m looking forward to the book launch at BookPeople in Austin on Feb. 23 (at 2 p.m.!) and celebrating with everyone. On May 21, I will usher in my next book, NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids), illustrated by John Taesoo Kim. Then, in summer 2020, WANTED: DUSK RAIDERS (Page Street Kids) will release. In the meantime, I keep creating and having a blast connecting with the wonderful folks of the kidlit world! Also, keep an eye out for the debut picture book authors and author/illustrators of New In Nineteen. There’s so much unbelievable talent in that group. Check out the website at www.newin19.weebly.com

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! 


Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Lindsay! We can’t wait to see your fantastic books out in the world!


A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. Her debut picture book, THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS (Page Street Kids/illustrated by Alice Brereton), releases on Feb. 19, 2019. Her blog A Book and a Pie reviews picture books and pairs them with fitting pie recipes. Lindsay lives with her husband, two young boys, and two fur-beasts in Austin.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lindsay and her work visit her website: lindsayleslie.com or follow her on Twitter @lleslie | Instagram @lindsaylesliewrites

TO ORDER Lindsay’s debut book, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 24th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Meera Sriram!

Interview with Picture Book Author Anika Denise

Interviews, Vet Interviews, book releaseLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by the fabulously talented Anika Denise. I had the pleasure of meeting Anika and her husband, illustrator Christopher Denise, a little over three years ago at a writing workshop. It turned out we were represented by the same agent. Both are such lovely and talented people, and I’m thrilled to be sharing Anika’s books with you today.

I was first introduced to Anika’s work through her book MONSTER TRUCKS, illustrated by Nate Wragg, which is one of my oldest son’s absolute favorites. So much so that it was the theme of his 2nd birthday party. I mean you can’t beat monsters and trucks in the same book! Seriously—we are on our third hardcover copy. That’s how much we read this book. Thankfully, MONSTER TRUCKS is now available as a board book too, should we need a fourth copy….

Needless to say, we are big fans of Anika’s books in my household!

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So, without further ado, please welcome Anika Denise!

Where do you live?

We live in Barrington, Rhode Island — a tiny town in the tiniest state.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Gosh *counts on fingers* nearly 12 years! 

How many books have you published?

I have six books out in the world right now, and four more coming soon.

Do you write full-time?

Up until recently, yes! For the next year, I’ll be working in-house as a copywriter for a toy company. It’s fast-paced, fun, and different. But I haven’t abandoned my personal writing projects. I do my best to schedule in writing time on my days off. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My kids, for sure! Having children allows me to experience the world through their lens. It also makes me pause and really consider the world they’re inheriting. In the current climate of divisiveness and isolationism, I’m inspired to create (and support) diverse stories of hope, empathy, and inclusion — especially “own voices” books that invite readers to step outside themselves and see the world through the perspective of marginalized communities.  

What surprised you the most working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

I think at first I was surprised by how much the work of promoting a book and connecting with readers falls to the author. Now that I’ve been doing this awhile, I have a greater understanding of how many books are on a publisher’s list and the limited resources a single title might have. I’ve come to embrace and enjoy making my own connections.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

The fame and money. HAHAHA! (Just kidding.) What I love most is the feeling of creating something that didn’t exist until I put in on a page. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to having a super-power. There’s magic in it. And most magical of all is the fact that a kid somewhere is sitting and enjoying a story I conjured. It’s truly rewarding.

What do you find difficult working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

Well, I suppose (as evidenced in my recent acquisition of a day job) it is making a sustainable living with writing. I’m married to a children’s book illustrator, so supporting a family in a two-freelance income household can be challenging at times.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I love creativity journaling. I just received an early copy of a book written by my friend and mentor, Leigh Medeiros, called The 1-Minute Writer (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.) The book offers a series of unique 1,10, and 20-minute writing prompts. It’s amazing how the ritual of a daily writing practice, even at 1 minute a day, can clear the cobwebs and provide fertile ground for your next story idea. If you’re a doodler—check out Peter Reynolds’s Start With A Dot journal.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Before I write, I light a candle and get the essential oil diffuser in my studio going. I sit for a few quiet minutes and express gratitude. I ask my muses/ angels to show up to support me. It’s a little like prayer, a little like mediation, and a little like visualization. I’m always happier and more productive when I begin this way.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

The kid lit community has been such a gift, it’s tough to pick just one — but last March, I traveled to the UK with a group of writers and illustrators. We visited famous children’s book sites in England the first week; then spent the next week writing in a castle in Scotland!

And oh! I flew an eagle owl on the castle’s falconry grounds.

What is your favorite picture book?

The Snowy Day is one of my favorite books from childhood. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been many highlights, but perhaps the most special was holding the first copy of my forthcoming book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar. My husband brought the envelope to me as a surprise at my book launch party for Lights, Camera, CARMEN!. For many reasons, but particularly as an author with Puerto Rican heritage, this book is dear to my heart. It took me several years to write. My only regret is my father didn’t live to see it published. He knew I was working on it, and he was very proud. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

Don’t ever compare your career to others. In the age of social media, it can be difficult not to. But comparison almost always leads to unnecessary suffering. You do you.

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is Lights, Camera, CARMEN! illustrated by the amazing Lorena Alvarez Gómez. It’s the follow-up to Starring Carmen! (Abrams 2017). In this installment, everyone’s favorite one-girl sensación is back, and has her sights on winning a contest to be in a commercial. She enlists the help of her adoring hermanito, Eduardo, but things don’t go exactly to plan.

What’s up next for you?

2019 will be a busy year for book releases. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré will be on-shelves January 15. Bunny in the Middle, a new picture book collaboration with Chris, releases July 2. And in December, The Love Letter, illustrated by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, will be out in the world. I’m also revising a new picture book biography on Rita Moreno!

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Keep going, you’re almost there!

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

The Goonies

Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today, Anika! We can’t wait to check-out all of your upcoming books!


Anika Denise is the celebrated author of many picture books, including Lights, Camera Carmen!Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. In 2019, to coincide with Women’s History Month, HarperCollins will publish her forthcoming book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré illustrated by Paola Escobar. Other new titles coming in 2019 include Bunny in the Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Anika lives in Rhode Island with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Anika and her books, visit her website at www.anikadenise.com.

TO ORDER a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN! ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN!?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit’s Must Reads for October!


The Subtle Art of Pagination

Craft, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Hello Critters! This week’s craft post is all about pagination, something that I think can make or break a picture book. All great picture books demonstrate a strong grasp of pacing, which is ultimately determined through the final pagination of the text and development of the manuscript itself.

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Take, for example, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Maurice Sendak has some seriously long, run-on sentences in that book that would even give Nathaniel Hawthorne a run for his money. But it doesn’t matter, because Sendak is a genius. He understood that it wasn’t the structure of the sentence that mattered so much as how he broke it up amongst the pages. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the greatest picture book of all time for many reasons, but pagination is a big part of that. Sendak breaks sentences in the middle, straddling them across the pages throughout the book, not necessarily in conjunction with the punctuation. In 1963, that was pretty revolutionary for a picture book. Even today, I rarely see authors do that without an ellipsis.

I remember the first time I re-read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE as adult. On the final page, the text reads “and it was still hot.” The line is in reference to Max’s dinner, which we know Max’s mother sends him to bed without in the beginning of the story. The pagination of this line is brilliant. It’s the perfect ending. It leaves the reader wondering how much time has actually passed? Did Max really leave? So many questions arise from this simple collection of words. It’s satisfying, and yet leaves us wanting to know more. It allows the reader to understand that even at our worst, there is still love. Max misbehaves and lets his inner monster out, but it doesn’t change his mother’s unconditional love for him.

Sometimes I wonder what Ursula Nordstrom, Sendak’s editor, thought of his manuscript the first time she saw it. I imagine it would have looked a bit like a short paragraph. The entire book is only made up of 10 sentences, totaling about 338 words. But it’s how Sendak broke those 10 sentences that created such dynamic pacing and anticipation for the reader.

For me, pagination is a feeling. I sit down with my manuscript and read it aloud to myself over and over and over again. I like to test raw manuscripts out on my three-year-old too. I’m always surprised by the lines or details he connects with instantly. As I read, I make a mental note of all the places I naturally pause in my speech to formulate or process the next set of words. Those pauses become part of my timing. I also note any hiccups I come across. Places where I stumble over my own words, or find myself self-editing as I read them aloud. Those are sections that still need revision work, which I finesse until I no longer struggle with them. The placement of one word can make all the difference.

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your work aloud, whether it’s to yourself or a group. It’s the easiest, fastest way to hear issues in your manuscript. You have to understand how your words sound together when read aloud. It’s absolutely impearative as a picture book author.

Once I feel like the text is in great shape, I consider the reveal. I think of the page turn as a curtain on a stage. Every time the reader turns the page, I’m pulling back the curtains. Showing them what’s coming next. It’s my job to get them excited about turning that page. This is where pagination really helps. As an illustrator, I have the advantage of visualizing the illustrations as I do this, which is incredibly helpful. However, if you are an author-only, practicing and understanding how to paginate your own text will help your writing tremendously. It forces you to really look at your pacing and how it works in relation to your story.

Here’s a great exercise to try for this:

Print out three copies of your manuscript. Paginate each manuscript differently. Cut up the text and paste/tape them down inside of a dummy mock-up. You can use copy paper stapled together for this. Read each version aloud and see how the pagination has changed the pacing of your story. Is there a version you gravitate towards? A version that surprised you? A version that clarified a problem area for you? Usually one pagination will just feel right when you read it aloud.

Generally, if you are an author-only, you most likely won’t need to paginate your own text, the editor or illustrator will do that. BUT, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to do it and get so darn good at it that it becomes second nature. It will only help you improve as a writer and storyteller.

Until next time, happy paginating!

Lindsay


What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with picture book author Anika Denise!

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Beth Anderson

Interviews, Authors, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments
Photo Credit: Tina Wood

Photo Credit: Tina Wood

Happy Thursday Critters! I'm so excited for today's interview with debut author Beth Anderson, whose debut book AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION (illustrated by incredibly talented Elizabeth Baddeley) is a non-fiction picture book about how two patriots teamed up to create a uniquely American spelling system. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction picture books, they are a wonderful resource for kids and a great way to expose them to interesting and important topics in an approachable way.

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution  written by Beth Anderson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

So what's AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN & NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION all about?

Once upon a revolutionary time, two great American patriots tried to make life easier. They knew how hard it was to spell words in English. They knew that sounds didn’t match letters. They knew that the problem was an inconvenient English alphabet.

In 1786, Ben Franklin, at age eighty, and Noah Webster, twenty-eight, teamed up. Their goal? Make English easier to read and write. But even for great thinkers, what seems easy can turn out to be hard.

Children today will be delighted to learn that when they “sound out” words, they are doing eg-zakt-leewhat Ben and Noah wanted.

How cool does this book sound?! I can't wait for you all to check it out September 25th when it hits bookstores near you!

So without further ado...please welcome Beth Anderson!

Where do you live?

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog!

I live in Loveland, Colorado, but have been fortunate to experience life in various parts of the country. I grew up in Grayslake, Illinois, then moved to Wisconsin, Ohio, Connecticut, Georgia and Texas. Now, I’m a flatlander who wakes up every morning and marvels at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I was a kid who always enjoyed writing and received a lot of encouragement from teachers. I took a few feeble cracks at writing for children during my adult life, but (pre-internet) never learned about the industry, studied specifics of the craft, or found my path. 

Then for years, as an ESL teacher, I used literature as a medium for language learning as well as teaching curriculum objectives. I experienced picture books on many levels and witnessed the magic they offered in the classroom and connections they built for learners from every corner of the world. When I retired from teaching, my students asked me what I was going to do. That old “someday” idea bubbled to the surface, and I came clean and admitted I’d always wanted to write for children. Their excitement at the prospect stuck with me. How could I tell them to chase their “someday” if I wasn’t willing to do it?

Can you share a bit about your process?

Once I discovered the joys of narrative nonfiction and historical fiction, I dove in. To start with, I look at various news feeds and other sources for interesting bits of history and current events. If an idea intrigues me, I read everything I can find online first to get an overview, then dig into other sources once I have a bit more direction. Often, what first interested me is the tip of the iceberg, and I discover that there is a more important story behind it. So I gather and organize information (a post on my method HERE), then brainstorm on vital ideas, kid hooks, and structure possibilities.

After all that, I start drafting and revising, getting the story down. Then I examine it, share with critique partners, and start asking the hard questions. How can I frame it to create a marketable hook? How can I enhance the story and emotional arcs? How can I make it matter? (the list goes on…)  Then I dive back into the research for specifics. I read other random articles about the topic or theme or a concept within the story – looking for something that will spark new thoughts. I search out more quotes from the main characters to understand them better. And the revisions continue.

An example of a second dive into research - After revising AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET per an editor critique, I felt like I had lost some of the emotion. So, I reread and looked at additional sources for evidence of just how strong Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s friendship really was.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

As I mentioned above, newsfeeds from various sources can spark ideas. Also, I often stumble upon interesting tidbits for more stories while researching a manuscript. New ideas can spring from something I randomly read or saw or heard. 

When I’m stuck, really stuck, in the midst of a manuscript, it helps to widen my understanding – reading related articles, checking for You Tube videos on setting or another aspect of the story. And recently I’ve realized (I don’t know why it took this long) that when consulting sources, I need to go beyond the chapters related to the topic and read the introduction and concluding chapter. As writers we know this is where the essence, interconnections, and implications are discussed.  

One example of how exploring related articles can help a story – While revising what will be my second picture book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS, an article on how we tell our hero stories caught my attention. I was already seeing Lizzie’s story as a centerpiece in the context of “standing on the shoulders of those who came before us,” but this article had something more. We tend to portray heroes as super capable people who bring about change on their own. But in reality, no one does it alone. Kids need to know that. The idea that these super people take care of things leads kids to think they don’t have a role. Each of us may not be a leader, but we all can participate.

Anything you can't live without while you write?

A computer with an internet connection, of course! Coffee and snacks also help. 

And taking “while you write” in a larger sense, I can’t live without my critique partners!

Favorite authors?

As I seek out mentor texts and learn from other picture book writers, I’ve definitely found some favorites who help me along this narrative nonfiction path: Barb Rosenstock, Mara Rockliff, Suzanne Slade, Deborah Hopkinson, Jen Bryant, Andrea Pinkney, Michelle Markel, Candace Fleming, and Lesa Cline-Ransome come to mind immediately.

Dream project or book to work on?

I can’t think of any specific project. Just any idea that grabs my heart, knocks my socks off with an urgency to be written, and has a hook that no editor can resist. (And no one has already written it!) 

Tell us about your debut book?

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET hit me in the heart from the very beginning. Franklin’s quote, “Those people spell best who do not know how to spell,” brought to mind the endearing spelling of young children learning to write using “invented spelling.” I connected as a teacher, as a parent, as a linguistics major, as a history lover. I thought, wow, kids are writing just as Ben Franklin had hoped! 

In many ways, Ben and Noah are opposites, drawn together by their love of language and education and their determination to make reading and writing English easier. When their revolutionary attempts are rejected by the public, Noah keeps trying, and in the process learns that neither fame nor force can sell an idea that people see as just too inconvenient. Though the two great patriots don’t achieve their initial goal, Noah does end up with his great success, the first real American dictionary.

Children deal with our inconvenient alphabet every day as they learn to read and write. This book is my answer to all those students who asked why English spelling is so crazy. Another layer that drew me was “sounds easy, does hard.” I think it’s a great example for kids of how one seemingly simple, sensible idea may have so many consequences. The historical layer not only gives a hint of what life was like in the 18th century, but also introduces the idea that revolutions are not only military, but seep into daily life in varied forms. Elizabeth Baddeley’s creative illustrations enhance every layer of the story and bring a spirit of spunk and joy. 

The manuscript seemed to have special messages for me as a writer about the need to be flexible, patient, and persevere. But what I really internalized was the need to let our ideas “take a chance in the world,” and that often, no matter how hard we push, others will decide the success of our endeavors. So I offer up the book in hopes kids will laugh and learn, connect and question, and be inspired to share their ideas and let them morph and grow into something they didn’t imagine. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m looking forward to sharing AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET with children and experiencing a few more picture books come to life with illustrations and an editor’s magic…

A civil rights story from 1854, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS with Calkins Creek is scheduled for spring 2020. I’m currently in suspense waiting to see E.B. Lewis’ sure-to-be fabulous illustrations! 

Then comes “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES: THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF AN ORDINARY MAN AND HIS EXTRAORDINARY NOSE, also with Calkins Creek, illustrated by Jenn Harney, scheduled for fall 2020.  Set in the labyrinth of the 1930s New York City subway, a humble immigrant learns to use his natural talents for the benefit of all—and also finds out what it takes to be a true hero.

And there’s one more under contract that hasn’t been announced…

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Definitely, The Princess Bride! A classic! Masterful storytelling, unforgettable characters, for young and old, the joy of story, grandfather and grandson, twoooo love, lines that live forever.

AND there just happens to be one line in AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET that was inspired by a line in the movie…can you find it?

Thank you for chatting with us today Beth! We can't wait to see your upcoming titles!


Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same.

For more information about Beth Anderson and her books, visit her online at www.bethandersonwriter.com or you can follow her on Twitter @BAndersonWriter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

TO PRE-ORDER AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 13th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit's interview with debut author/illustrator Jen Betton!

Interview with Picture Book Author Josh Funk

Vet Interviews, Interviews, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Funk for the first time this past June at ALA in New Orleans. My husband and I attended a party hosted by Two Lions for their authors, librarians, and other book-loving folks. Hours later, in the heart of the French Quarter, I ended up sitting around a table with my husband, Josh, and Sue Fliess (another Two Lions picture book author) talking about books, publishing, writing, and all the bits in between.

For those of you who are in this business, you know how rare it is to get face time with other writers and illustrators, we are usually holed up in our offices or studios, in our own heads, spread out all over the country. Needless to say, it was such a treat sitting around chatting about books that night.

We are big fans of Josh's books in our house and I'm thrilled to share his work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Josh Funk! 

Where do you live?

Outside Boston, Massachusetts (in the United States … on the planet Earth)

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast) came out in 2015, but I started writing my very first really really horrible picture book manuscript in the summer of 2011.

How many books have you published?

As of today, I have seven books published (but my 8th and 9th will be released within the next month).

Do you write full-time?

Nope. I’m a software engineer during the day. I write books in the evenings, over weekends, and during bathroom breaks.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I really enjoyed reading with my kids - and I think they enjoyed reading with me. I just want to create entertaining picture books for kids and the adults that read with them.

What surprised you the most working as an author?

Every time I see the art for one of my books for the first time, I am blown away by how amazing it is! Picture book illustrators are the most talented artists in the world today!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Connecting with readers. There’s no question that this is my favorite aspect of being an author.

What do you find difficult working as an author?

The worst is when you have to cut something out of a story that you really liked (like a good joke or a clever rhyme), but you know the book will better as a whole without it.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I think about what I want to see illustrated. As someone who can’t draw, but gets silly ideas in my head, I try to think about what I’d want to see a really talented artist create - and then write a story about that!

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Very little. I kind of just work on things whenever and wherever the mood and idea strikes. As I’m writing books that generally have fewer than 500 words, I can write them on my phone, edit a few words as I’m falling asleep, or change a line in the car (when I’m not driving). I’m kind of a haphazard writer.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

The kid lit community is pretty amazing. I have to say that most people I meet are super supportive. I’ve been a member of a local writing community called The Writers’ Loft (in the Boston suburb of Sherborn, MA). I’ve met so many people who’ve given me critiques, advice, and support that really pushed me in the right direction on the way toward publication.

What is your favorite picture book?

Today, I’m gonna go with Iver and Ellsworth by Casey W. Robinson and Melissa Larson. But I frequently have new favorites as there are so many amazing books created all the time.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The fact that I’ve published a book at ALL! How crazy is it that there’s a book in libraries, bookstores, and even bookshelves in kids’ bedrooms with words that I wrote?! How did this happen?!?

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

Keep writing new things. You may feel very strongly about your first story - but as you revise and get feedback and learn about the craft and business of writing for children, you’re going to improve as a writer. So your second story will start off in a much better position than the first. And the third will be even better. So don’t revise that first story to death. Write something new. And then write something newer.

Tell us about your newest book?

Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude, illustrated by Stevie Lewis comes out on August 28th! This is the first picture book about Patience and Fortitude, the two lion statues that faithfully guard the New York Public Library (in fact, this book is published in partnership with the NYPL). When Patience goes missing, Fortitude realizes that Patience has ventured inside the library. So for the first time ever, Fortitude abandons his post to search for Patience before the sun rises and we, the readers, get to explore the library for the first time alongside Fortitude.

What’s up next for you?

Next month the third book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, Mission Defrostable, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, comes out (on September 25th). In this action-packed adventure, the fridge is freezing over - and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have to travel to parts of the fridge they’ve never ventured ... and need to enlist the help of one of their fiercest rivals. Dun. Dun. DUN!

_Mission Defrostable.jpeg

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Have fun. Keep learning. And don’t give up.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Spaceballs.

Thanks for inviting me to chat!

Thank you Josh for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today!


Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books - such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission Defrostable), How to Code a Sandcastle (and the upcoming sequel How to Code a Rollercoaster), It's Not Jack and the BeanstalkDear DragonAlbie NewtonPirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It's Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!

Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 300 schools, classrooms, and libraries. Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

OR MORE INFORMATION about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

TO ORDER A COPY of LOST IN THE LIBRARY or MISSION DEFROSTABLE visit your local book store, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of LOST IN THE LIBRARY or MISSION DEFROSTABLE by Josh Funk?! Comment on this post below or share it on Twitter. Two lucky winners will be announced Thursday, September 6th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next Thursday for an interview with debut picture book author Beth Anderson!

Get That Raccoon Off the Table: Why Voice Matters in Picture Books

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, CraftLindsay Ward2 Comments

Sometimes I think one of the hardest parts of my job as a children’s book author is to keep my own voice in check when I’m writing. I’m constantly asking myself, would a kid say that? I think this is one of the reasons that creating a strong voice is incredibly difficult. We, as children’s book authors and illustrators, have this wonderful task to create meaningful literary experiences for children. We get to introduce them to new places, experiences, and voices. But in doing so create a new challenge for ourselves. How do we keep our own feelings, opinions, and reactions out of the voices in our books? How do you write a character that can make their own decisions, without your bias?

Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t write your own experiences into a character. Obviously writers do that all the time. I myself do it. But what I’m talking about are the characters we write that aren’t us, who have an entirely different experience than we had, intentionally. It’s our job to offer up a fully developed voice in the context of the world we’ve created for them. And that’s no easy feat! 

Many times, I have read manuscripts where I see authors infiltrate the text. A character starts saying or doing something that seems odd or inconsistent with what we know about them. It’s really easy to let yourself slip in under the radar without realizing it. I've done this many times. For me, it’s not until I read the words aloud that I can catch myself and make the correction. To avoid this, I try to get to know my characters as best I can so they become fully independent from me.

I start by determining who they are. What are their likes? Dislikes? Hobbies? What is their environment? Who surrounds them? What do they care most about? Least about? How do they fit within the story I'm trying to tell? The list goes on and on. I make an entire character chart with this information. Keep in mind I write picture books. I don’t write novels. But I try to approach my characters as if I do.

I can tell you that Dexter T. Rexter’s favorite ice cream is Mint Chip, with rainbow sprinkles. I’ve never used this detail about him in any of the Dexter books, but I’ve spent enough time getting to know him, writing and rewriting him, that I know without a doubt, he's Mint Chip all the way. This may sound silly. But there is a method to the madness. The more you know your characters the better you will be able to write them and, in my case, draw them, independent of yourself.

When I sit down to write Dexter’s voice, I don’t even feel like I’m writing anymore. It’s as if he’s sitting beside the computer, telling me what to type, and I'm simply listening. He's very indecisive, neurotic, and slightly bossy because that’s just who he is. It isn’t so much that I can hear his voice when I'm writing, but I can hear the pacing, syntax, and structure of how he would speak. I know immediately if he would or wouldn't say something and if he would, how he would deliver it. Which takes time to develop with a character. I’m three books in with Dexter and I’m still learning things about him.

Age is equally important in developing voice too. Especially when you write for kids. You need to understand the age group you are writing for. How old are they? Where are they cognitively and behaviorally? What is challenging for them? How can they connect with your story? If you’ve written a character, who's supposed to be four years old, but acts and talks like an adult, then you aren’t paying attention to age and you won’t connect with your readers.

Before I had kids, I wrote about my experiences as a kid. I am an only child, so my voice seeped into my work. When Blue Met Egg is my love letter to New York City, after living there one summer during college. I was inspired to write Please Bring Balloons because my parents met painting carousels at an amusement park. This worked for me then because that was the point. I was trying to speak to the type of kid that I was. My early books are all about adventure and escapism because that's what I loved to read about as a child.

But now, it’s become more about being a witness, than first hand experience. I’m watching my kids see the world for the first time. And in doing so, I’m seeing things in ways I haven't since I was a child. As an adult it's really easy to forget how small moments can be so impactful when you're young. I find myself writing about their experiences as I witness them unfold. My books have become more and more voice driven, because those are the type of books that make my kids laugh and connect.

Recently, I was reading Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, (the same creators of Dragons Love Tacos) with my oldest son, who’s three. He loves that book. The first time I read it to him, I thought, I don’t get this. Why does he think this is so funny? And then it dawned on me. Duh! It’s silly. There isn’t anything to get. That’s the point. It’s a ridiculous book about a raccoon who loves pizza but rarely gets to have any because he’s always being chased off by the pizza man wielding a menacing broom. Thus the Raccoon Sniffing Broom Bots. I could continue the synopsis…but you should probably just read Secret Pizza Party because it is silly, ridiculous, and your kids will love it. The narrator's voice is written in a way that not only makes my son laugh, but it makes me laugh too because phrases like 'sweet sassy molassy' are hilarious. If that doesn't make you laugh when you read it, then I don't know what will. When driving to get pizza recently, my son shouted "GET THAT RACCOON OFF THE TABLE!" I couldn’t stop laughing. It was random and completely out of the blue. Just like Secret Pizza Party. And I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said it. 

My son also sings the Dexter song constantly (so much so there are days I regret writing it in the first place.) He doesn't understand that I wrote Don't Forget Dexter, or even the song for that matter. He doesn’t care. He’s three. But he’s my barometer now. He's in my target age group. If he likes it, then I must be doing something right. Right?

I mean isn’t that the ultimate test? Not how much you love your work? That's easy. But a kid. A real, live kid, who doesn’t get caught up in the bias. They just like it because they like it. It makes them laugh. Or think. Or feel connected. They are seeing your book for the first time, fresh and new, absorbing everything you have to offer them. And that's the best part about this job. Writing a book that a kid wants to read over and over again and becoming apart of their reading experience with their family.

I have read Secret Pizza Party more times that I can count. It's got 'pizza' and 'party' in the title. This book was always going to go over well with my son (who loves pizza). But the narrator's voice is what really sells it. It's the way the narrator tells Raccoon's story, empathizing with Raccoon's plight in life (lack of pizza), while pointing out the humor of it all. Kids connect with Raccoon. They get him. They are him. Because voice matters. Always.

So go out there and write some amazing voices. 

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

What's Up On Deck? Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse Blog Tour Stops by Critter Lit! Check back next Thursday to read my interview with debut author Marcy Campbell.

Interview with Picture Book Author Tammi Sauer

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward76 Comments
tammisauer.authorphoto.jpg

I'm so excited for today's post! Starting this month, Critter Lit will be posting a new monthly feature, interviewing veteran picture book authors and illustrators! How exciting is that?! I can't wait to share with you the awesome line-up of authors, illustrators and author/illustrators to come! My hope is that their advice and insight will inspire you to go out there and create!

If you tuned in to Critter Lit last Thursday, you already know that we are big fans of TRUCK, TRUCK GOOSE! in my household, so naturally I was thrilled to hear there was going to be a sequel: GO FISH! by the fabulously talented Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Zoe Waring (whose illustrations are oh so cute!) Critter Lit shout out to Zoe and her adorable illustrations!

Go Fish!  Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Zoe Waring

Go Fish! Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Zoe Waring

I've been a fan of Tammi Sauer's work well before I was a mom reading her books with my kiddos. My first encounter with her work was as a bookseller, before I was published. Mostly Monsterly, illustrated by Scott Magoon, is one of my favorite picture books, because I believe baking and sprinkles do make everything better. Personally, I think we all need WWBD (What Would Bernadette Do) bracelets for a little guidance every now and then.

Needless to say, I'm honored to be interviewing Tammi Sauer this week! Make sure to comment at the end of this post for a chance to win one of Tammi Sauer's new picture books: GO FISH! and KNOCK KNOCK, which are both equally hilarious and charming. 

So without further ado, please welcome Tammi Sauer! 

Where do you live?

My family and I live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Cowboy Camp, my first book, debuted in 2005. It's still in print. Yeehaw!

How many books have you published?

I have 23 published picture books. I have another 10 that are under contract. 

Do you write full-time?

I am a full-time writer, but I spend a lot of my time presenting at schools and writing conferences across the nation.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I never set out to be a writer. My plan was to be a third grade teacher. During my senior year at Kansas State University, however, I had the best teacher of my life. Dr. Marjorie Hancock began every class in a beautiful way--she shared a picture book. This class involved a lot of reading, but it involved a lot of writing as well. One day, Dr. Hancock pulled me aside and said, "Tammi, you have a gift with words. You should pursue publication." Knowing Dr. Hancock believed in me helped me to believe in myself.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I love when something I have written really connects with a kid. I recently received a video from a mom that featured her reading GO FISH! to her toddler. The kid was belly-laughing the whole time. I'm honored that something I created played a part in such a great mom and kiddo moment. I also receive the best mail from kids. One of my favorite letters ended with the line, "Do not tell her this, but I like you more than Kelly Clarkson." Another favorite letter ended with a line that might be the loveliest compliment I have ever received:  "You make me light up like Christmas lights." Awwwww!

What do you find difficult working as an author?

For me, the absolute hardest part about the picture book creating process is coming up with a good idea. A wow idea. An irresistible-to-editors idea.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

When I visit schools, I always tell kids to celebrate the weird stuff in life. The weird stuff is good material for stories. 

KNOCK KNOCK, for example, got its start from a weird thing that happened to me. One day, I had a ton of work to do, but I kept getting interrupted. My doorbell rang. My phone rang. My dog barked. Everyone in the entire world texted me 362 different times. The more interruptions that came my way, the more frustrated I got. 

Later, I got to thinking that maybe I should write a story about a character who grows increasingly frustrated because he gets interrupted again and again and again. But, in the story, I wanted all of those interruptions to end up being a Very Good Thing. I also wanted those interruptions to be funny.

So, yes, apparently, I now have this brand new book all because I was really annoyed one afternoon. Hooray!

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I like it to be quiet when I write. That helps me to get in the zone. I also like a 32oz. cup of unsweetened mango ice tea. I have a cup of it next to me right this very minute.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

I wish I had known all of the stuff that needs to go into a picture book! This is my all-time favorite quote about writing picture books: "My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task."--Lynn Hazen

I would have loved to have had this advice from day one!

Tell us about your newest books?

GO FISH! (HarperCollins), illustrated by Zoe Waring, features Goose and his friends. The group sets out for a fine day of fishing, but things don't exactly go as planned.

For this book as well as for the book Truck Truck, Goose! which features the same cast, I had a specific audience in mind. I wanted to give kids who are just starting to read the opportunity to feel like accomplished readers. To do this, I kept the text in each manuscript to a minimum and included a lot of art notes. Zoe's charming and hilarious art tells the bulk of these stories.

Knock Knock  Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Guy Francis

Knock Knock Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Guy Francis

KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Guy Francis, stars a bear named Harry who is all set to hunker down for hibernation, but his woodland friends have other ideas. 

While this book is written almost entirely in knock knock jokes, it contains a real deal story with characters, conflict, and commotion. What is more, it's full of humor, but it has lots of heart, too.

When writing this book, I not only wanted to tell a story in an entirely new way, but I wanted the text to encourage lots of audience participation. I've test-driven this book at school visits, and it's been a huge hit with the crowds.

What’s up next for you?

In September, a quiet kid gets paired with a noisy kid in Quiet Wyatt (Clarion), illustrated by Arthur Howard. And in November? A beaver and a raccoon make a big discovery in Making a Friend (HarperCollins), illustrated by Alison Friend. 

In 2019, my pals Wordy Birdy and Nugget and Fang will be back in Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants (Doubleday), illustrated by Dave Mottram, and Nugget & Fang Go to School (Clarion), illustrated by Michael Slack. A new character will be joining the mix, too, in A Little Chicken (Sterling), illustrated by Dan Taylor. This book stars Dot. She's a little chicken who, let's face it, is a little chicken. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors?

Yes! Find a good critique group. Not only will you receive valuable feedback on your manuscripts and/or art, but it's so nice to have people to celebrate and commiserate with! Make sure, however, that the other members of your group are at least as good as you are--preferably better. You want these people to push you to make good things great. 

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

While I am a huge fan of The Breakfast Club, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and The Goonies, top billing goes to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I love you, Ferris!

Thank you for chatting with us today Tammi!

Tammi Sauer is a full time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 23 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, Tammi's books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, Wordy Birdy was named a Spring 2018 Kids' Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy.

For more information about Tammi Sauer or her books, visit her online at www.tammisauer.com or follow her on Twitter @SauerTammi

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of GO FISH! or KNOCK KNOCK by Tammi Sauer?! Comment on this post below. Two winners will be selected Thursday, August 2nd!

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit's August Picture Book Picks!