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Interview with Author Natascha Biebow

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with Natascha Biebow, author of THE CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS, illustrated by Steven Salerno, which just released last month. How cool does this book sound?! I’m so excited about this biography and I can’t wait to share it and Natascha’s work with all of you!

So without further ado…please welcome Natascha Biebow!

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Where do you live?

I live in London, England.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I published my first book in 1995, and have worked as a children’s book editor since 1993.

How did you first get published?

I wrote my first book, Eleonora, a true story about how elephants mourn each other, as part of a children’s literature course at Smith College. It was kicking about for a couple of years before I decided to show it to the publisher of a small children’s picture book imprint, ABC. I was surprised and delighted when she said she’d like to publish it. The publishing industry was very different then – no social media (!) or easy way to get the word out – so, though it sold reasonably well, it is sadly now out of print.

Do you write full-time?

I wish! But I’m lucky that I have a day job that I love – I edit children’s books freelance for big and small publishers, and coach and mentor authors and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission through my literacy consultancy Blue Elephant Storyshaping.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Picture books are my passion. I have an affinity with this young age group and love the synergy of words and pictures working together.

What surprised you the most working as an author?

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is my first non-fiction picture book, so I was surprised by the amount of research and fact-checking that was involved, even in late stages of book production, and how much time this took. But I enjoyed doing it!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I love that you get a printed book at the end of your creative journey that you can share with young readers so that you can enthuse them with the story too. I love connecting with young readers (and grown-ups’ inner child).

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Possibly the most challenging aspect is that picture books evolve in the course of their editorial journey and sometimes you have to reconcile aspects of your original vision with the final version. This is part of the creative, collaborative approach, though, and leads to a better book ultimately.

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

I look for ideas all around me – from people, pets, the news and experiences . . . I try to learn at least one new fact a day. A walk is often great for getting unstuck and figuring out stuff too. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I don’t keep extensive notes – most of my work is done in my head! I love stationery though – so doodling with colored crayons is a great way to brainstorm ideas and tap into my inner child.

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

I have volunteered for over 20 years as the Regional Advisor for the SCBWI British Isles region. It has led to so many great opportunities to help learn new skills and make connections with people in the industry. I learned how to make a book trailer from fellow volunteers. I met my agent at the SCBWI conference in LA. I took a non-fiction writing course recommended by another writer that got me connected to the non-fiction Kid Lit community. And so much more! People are really very giving and supportive.

Recommended reading?

Yes, read read read every new picture book you can get your hands on. In terms of craft-based reading, I love Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass– though it’s about novel-writing, all the elements and thinking logic are the same for picture books.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I love that you get a printed book at the end of your creative journey that you can share with young readers so that you can enthuse them with the story too. I love connecting with young readers (and grown-ups’ inner child).

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

I was awarded a SCBWI Marketing Grant to fund a mini-book tour this May, and so I’m excited to be able to connect with young readers in person!

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

That I’d have to teach myself all about marketing and then implement it!

Can you tell us about your newest book?

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is a non-fiction picture book biography: the true story of Edwin Binney, a man who had a knack for listening and making what people needed, whose love for color led to the invention of one of America’s most iconic toys – Crayola crayons. In a world where we take crayons for granted, what must it have been like to only have slate and chalk? It’s a fabulous journey of color and creativity, an inspiring story for the next generation of inventors who will be our future.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more non-fiction picture books. I am also writing a series of chapter books, which is a new venture for me.

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

I’ve realized that if you’re serious about writing for children and getting your work published, you need to make a real effort to carve out the focus and time and just do it. There is no greater writing tip than butt on seat.

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

E.T. heart-warming, flying bicycles, “E.T. phone home!” – all part of my childhood.


Huge thanks to Natascha for stopping by Critter Lit today! We love your new book and can’t wait to see all your upcoming projects!


NATASCHA BIEBOW’S favourite crayon color is periwinkle blue because it makes her heart sing. She loves to draw and make stuff, just like the inventor of the Crayola crayons. She lives in London, where she writes, edits, coaches and mentors children’s book authors and illustrators at Blue Elephant Storyshaping, and is the long-time Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles. In 2018, she was awarded an MBE for her services to children's writers and illustrators.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Natascha and her work, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Facebook

LinkedIn

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS ?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, 25th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Julie Falatko!

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator and Husband and Wife Team Megan and Jorge Lacera

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, we have an interview with debut author and illustrator Megan and Jorge Lacera! A husband and wife team, their debut picture book, ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!, released this week in both English and Spanish! I’m thrilled to share their work with you today!

So without further ado…please welcome Megan and Jorge Lacera!

Where do you live?

Our home is Cypress, Texas, y’all—a suburb of Houston. 

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

Collaborating has always been our jam. We met while we were both working in the kids’ entertainment studio at American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we both love everything about stories—reading them, watching them, critiquing them, arguing over them! Creating stories together is magical.

Once we got married, we started thinking more about picture books. We loved that we could create something from beginning to end and execute the full vision that we collectively dreamed up. Super appealing.

After Jorge attended a week-long illustration seminar with faculty that included amazing creators like Adam Rex, James Gurney, and Rebecca Leveille Guay, we were both inspired and excited so we started to really go for it. Our first attempts didn’t exactly come together (re: they were a mess), but we kept evolving. When a little zombie kid character named Mo shambled his way into Megan’s brain, we knew we were onto something that we couldn’t let go.   

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

We put a ton of time and energy into learning and sharpening our craft. Years. We attended local and national SCBWI conferences. Read countless books, studied their structures and forms. Founded a critique group that was very focused on achieving publication-level work. Completed a seminar with Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy. Made dummies, critiqued the heck out of them, threw them out, started over.

After all that we felt confident in querying agents. We’re now represented by John Cusick at Folio Jr. (he’s awesome!). ZOMBIES wasn’t on submission all that long before the offer from Lee and Low came in. We absolutely love Lee and Low and have so much respect for their integrity and dedication to multicultural stories and creators. Editor Jessica Echeverria’s offer letter was unbelievable….she got EVERYTHING we were going for with ZOMBIES and more. Perhaps cliché, but collaborating with Jessica and Lee and Low feels meant to be.

From signing the deal to the book’s release, two years have passed. Much of that time has been on revising, revising, revising. Some days were challenging, but holding the final book in our hands is totally worth it!

Can you tell us about how you work together as a husband and wife team? 

Usually when we tell people that we work together they look totally mystified. “On purpose?!?” they ask.

Yep. We really do love working together. 

We work at home. After we get our son off to school, we talk over coffee and breakfast. Usually that includes some debate over the latest news stories or a movie we watched the night before. But there’s also a review of our goals for the day, ways to divide up the work, reminders of our big vision and where we’re headed. In addition to our books, we also consult and freelance for companies together—so there are those projects that require collaboration and sometimes quite a bit of negotiation on how it will all get done on time.

The day from there depends on where we are in the process. At the concept stage of a book, we’re together a lot….sketching out ideas, outlining a plot, building art reference, watching movie clips. Once we’re on the same page, we both go off separately; Megan to write the manuscript, Jorge to draw. Then we come back together to review and critique everything we’ve both done. 

People often want to know if we argue. Of course we do! Part of we’ve learned while collaborating at companies is how important healthy disagreement and creative conflict are to the process. Ideas and stories get better when you can push each other to go even further. Respectfully, while keeping your focus on the work. We welcome the “conflict” now because we know it means there’s room to grow…our standards are pretty high and holding each other accountable to those standards is key to our process.

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

Consistent exercise is really important to both of us. Jorge does Cross-fit and Megan does hot yoga. Sweat seems to clear space for creative work. We take walks most days and talk about where we’re at with a project or hammer out details of what’s working and what isn’t. 

It isn’t always easy to remember (okay, you might have to drag us kicking and screaming) but taking days off from working to go see a movie, eat Torchy’s Chips and Queso (it’s amazing and totally dangerous), or just do a whole lot of nothing can open up room for ideas and fresh energy. 

Getting new ideas isn’t really an issue; it’s zeroing in on the ones that speak to us most urgently, knocking them around enough to slough off the dust and craggly parts, and then carefully cultivating them into the special somethings that they become.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

Jorge: I work digitally primarily. I recently made the switch to a Dell Canvas and I’m not sure how I survived before. It’s upped my game and I love it. 

Also, Cuban crackers. Nom, nom.

Megan: My Macbook Air. So not unique, but I love me some coffee while clicking and clacking away. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Gosh, there are tons. To name just a few…

Adam Rex

Paulo Coelho

Yuyi Morales

Kate DiCamillo

Judy Blume

Peter Brown

Mac Barnett

William Joyce

Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

Alice and Martin Provensen

Jon Klassen

Dream project to work on?

This is our dream. We loved creating ZOMBIES, we love our current projects, and we really can’t wait to get started on all the stories we have popcorning around in our heads. We’ve been planning for this time in our lives, working day and night to make it happen. So eternally grateful!

Tell us about your debut book.

Mo Romero is a zombie who loves nothing more than growing, cooking, and eating vegetables. Tomatoes? Tantalizing. Peppers? Pure perfection! The problem? Mo's parents insist that their niño eat only zombie cuisine, like arm-panadas and finger foods. They tell Mo over and over that zombies don't eat veggies. But Mo can't imagine a lifetime of just eating zombie food and giving up his veggies. As he questions his own zombie identity, Mo tries his best to convince his parents to give peas a chance.

The Spanish edition ¡Los Zombis No Comen Verduras! is also available and features details exclusive to that edition. Our story has a lot of puns and zombie jokes that wouldn’t work with a straight translation. Yanitzia Canetti adapted ZOMBIES and did a wonderful job!

We hope you’ll love our quirky story about family, self-discovery, and the power of acceptance!

 What’s up next for you?

We signed a two-book deal with Lee and Low Books (their first for picture books!) so we are already working on book #2 (monsters may or may not be involved). We also have several other projects in the works, including more picture books and illustrated middle grade series.

We’ve also created several animated series for kids. One is currently in development…stay tuned for more news on this in the coming months!

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

Megan: A hard choice of epic proportions, but I have to go with The Neverending Story. What I wouldn’t do for a luck dragon like Falcor!

Jorge: Impossible to pick just one. Okay, fine! Monster Squad.


Huge thank you to Megan and Jorge for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on your wonderful new book, we can’t wait to see all your upcoming projects!


JORGE LACERA was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida, drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist for companies like American Greetings and Irrational Games. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latino kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son. 

MEGAN LACERA grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, GoldieBlox, and Hasbro, and later formed her own creative company (Studio Lacera) with husband Jorge Lacera. After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs--multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Megan and Jorge and their work, visit them online here or follow them on social media:

Twitter: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

Instagram: @Jlacera

Facebook: @MeganAndJorgeLacera

LinkedIn: @Jlacera @MeganLacera

TO ORDER Megan and Jorge’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 11th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Cathy Ballou Mealey!

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!

Critter Lit Call for Questions

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Craft, publishingLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m reaching out to find out about YOUR questions. Questions about writing, illustrating, querying, submissions, publishing— and everything else in between. Critter Lit will begin featuring a Q & A post every month answering YOUR questions. So send them over to lindsay@critterlit.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

xo

Lindsay

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

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 Meera Sriram

Authors, book release, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, we have a fabulous interview with author Meera Sriram, whose debut book, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, illustrated by Meera Sethi, will be released with Penny Candy Books on March 12th! Filled with brilliant patterns and colors, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, explores the complexities of living in a new country and dealing with loss. Both poignant and extremely relevant, this is a picture book everyone should read.

I’m honored to share this beautiful book with you today.

So without further ado, please welcome Meera Sriram!

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Where do you live?

I live in Berkeley, California. I was born and raised in India, and moved to the U.S about two decades ago.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When I had my first child, my daughter and I read tons of picture books together. We went to the library several times a week, carried books everywhere, and enjoyed story-times. This was all fascinating to me as I grew up without access to picture books. Eventually, I started reviewing and recommending diverse books. When I went back to work in the corporate world (as an electrical engineer), I realized I had left my heart behind in picture books.

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

I started out with no relevant academic or industry background in publishing. At first, I wanted to write for children in India, to sort of give back what I had missed as a child. I went on to co-author four books that were published in India. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to work towards addressing the void here, in the U.S – kids that looked and lived like my own were missing in stories. I was obsessed with learning the craft, knowing the process and resources, attending workshops and conferences, and of course writing and reading. But the most important contribution came from my critique groups, my diligent and talented writer friends! I’ve learned from them and leaned on them, and they’ve guided and encouraged me at every stage. I’m thankful for being part of a supportive cohort on this journey because the road to publication is far from easy, particularly when you think about revisions, harsh rejections, and long waits. Many submissions later, someone liked my work – believed in its importance and liked it enough to put it out in the world. And I’m very grateful for that.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure, I usually pick an idea and mull over it for a few weeks. When I sit to write, I make a mental checklist of story elements for my specific work – characters, conflict, plot, resolution, takeaway – to ensure that the story I want to tell allows for a structure with these elements. Then, I write in burst mode and revise until I lose count. In fact, I don’t really shelve it until it’s reasonably polished (my CPs must hate me for this :)

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

Honestly, I don’t struggle with ‘seed’ ideas. However, I’m often challenged to come up with a good plot. Then, I go back and read my favorite authors, to consciously study plots and story arcs. I also brainstorm with friends (and my own kids) to get my juices flowing. Sometimes, I distance myself for a few days before returning to tackle it.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chai, and it’s no secret. Also, a dictionary, and windows that look out into the sky or patches of green.

Any authors who inspire you?

Oh, so many! If I were to name a few picture book writers, then I’d say Jacqueline Woodson, Allen Say, and Patricia Polacco.

Dream project to work on?

Maybe a middle-grade on social justice set in India.

Tell us about your debut book.

THE YELLOW SUITCASE is a story about a little girl who returns to India to attend her dear grandmother’s funeral. She is devastated and confused, until she finds comfort in a special gift. The narrative fleshes out the universal emotion of grief while telling the experience from an immigrant perspective. The inspiration for this story came from my own family’s experience when my children lost their first grandparent in India. I hope THE YELLOW SUITCASE helps open up conversations around death in classrooms and families. The book is illustrated by Meera Sethi who has brought in many wonderful colors and cultural details to the spreads.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited about a couple of projects that are out (or about to go out) on submission. Currently, I’m trying to promote my debut alongside revisions of work-in-progress. In the long run, I aspire to write stories on experiences, themes, and people less visible in picture books.


Thank you for stopping by Critter Lit today Meera! We are so excited to see THE YELLOW SUITCASE on bookshelves! Congrats!


Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S at the turn of the millennium. An electrical engineer in her past life, she now enjoys writing for children and advocating early and multicultural literacy. Meera has co-authored several books published in India. She believes in the transformative power of stories and writes on cross-cultural experiences that often take her back to her roots. Meera loves yoga and chai, and lives with her husband and two children in Berkeley, California, where she fantasizes about a world with no borders.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Meera and her work visit her website: www.meerasriram.com or follow her on Twitter @Meeratsriram and Facebook.

TO PRE-ORDER Meera’s debut book, ring up your local bookstore, or visit IndiBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of THE YELLOW SUITCASE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 31st! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Sue Fliess!

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 Debut Author Monique Fields

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season with family and friends. I’m very excited to share today’s interview with debut author Monique Fields!

In addition to writing picture books, Monique is an incredibly accomplished journalist, with essays appearing in Ebony magazine, NPR’s All Things Considered, and TheRoot.com. Her debut picture book, HONEYSMOKE: A STORY OF FINDING YOUR COLOR, illustrated by Yesenia Moises, will release on January 8, 2019. Monique’s debut is a wonderful book that encourages children to find and create their own identity in the world.

So without further ado, please welcome Monique Fields!

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Where do you live?

I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the University of Alabama. 

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I was a journalist for about 20 years, and I always have enjoyed writing. After I had my girls and read a trillion picture books over and over again at bedtime, I started to think I could write one, too.

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

Oh, I don’t know if this blog post is long enough. It’s been a long, winding road. I wrote a manuscript, but I didn’t really know how to write a children’s book. There was a learning curve as I figured out page turns and the other mechanics of writing for children. As a journalist, I didn’t know much about critique groups. I had to find one. When I couldn’t find one in my hometown, I started a digital group. After I polished off a few manuscripts with the help critiques from writers, agents, and editors at SCBWI events, I still had to find an agent. Thank goodness Kevin O’Connor took a chance on me. That’s the short version. Whew!

Can you share a bit about your process?

I mine my life and the lives of others for ideas. I can see a potential picture book in almost anything I witness during the course of the day. When something strikes me as interesting, I write it down in my electronic notebook. 

When it comes to writing, I get the beginning and the ending on the page first. That’s a throwback to my journalism days. The hardest part is in the middle.

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

Read. When I read, I am inspired. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chocolate and Twizzlers.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are two author/illustrators whose work I truly adore: Yuyi Morales and Vashti Harrison. Both bring such dreamy intricacies to their work. Oh, how I wish I could draw and tell a beautiful story. 

Dream project to work on?

I’d love to work with Tracee Ellis Ross and Serena Williams on pretty much anything. 

Tell us about your debut book.

HONEYSMOKE is about a little girl who discovers her very own color. Simone, the main character, looks around her world to find her place in it. Her skin color is not like any of her friends at school or her parents. So, what is her color? She chooses one of her own, and creates a new word: Honeysmoke. It wrote the book so that all children can create their own identity. 

What inspired you to write your debut book?

The manuscript that became HONEYSMOKE started as a question from my three-year-old daughter: Who am I? She didn’t ask her question in such succinct terms, but that’s exactly what she wanted to know. I was surprised and a little disappointed when I couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. 

What is Honeysmoke?

Honeysmoke is my childhood nickname, and it is the color of my skin. When I was growing up, I decided that my mother, a light-skinned black woman, was the honey and that my father, a dark-skinned black man, was the smoke. I was the same as my parents but also different. 

How did your nickname become a children’s picture book?

As I considered how I could help my biracial daughter understand the complexities of race, I turned to my childhood nickname. She was the same as her father and me but also different. She had inherited qualities from us, and she would soon discover that she had some of her very own, that she was more than what she looked like on the outside. The little girl who inspired HONEYSMOKE is now a teenager, and she continues to discover her world and her place in it.

What’s up next for you?

Well, I hope to be a nonfiction picture book author soon. That’s all I can say about it for now. 

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

The answer to this question is going to date me. Purple Rain is my favorite 80s movie.


Huge thank you to Monique for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see HONEYSMOKE out in the world!


Monique Fields is an award-winning journalist. Her essays about race and identity have appeared on air, in print, and online, including NPR’s All Things Considered, Ebony magazine, and TheRoot.com. She is the founder and editor of Honeysmoke.com, a site for parents raising multiracial children. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Monique and her work visit her website: www.MoniqueFields.com or follow her on Twitter @honeysmokeblog

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of HONESMOKE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, January 3rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post to kick off the new year!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken

Vet Interviews, Interviews, Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today CORINNA LUYKEN is here! I’m such a huge fan of Corinna’s work, as I know all of you will be too. Her first book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my favorite book of 2017. Corinna’s books are incredibly beautiful and insightful, and I can’t wait for all of you to see MY HEART, her newest picture book that will be released on January 8th. It is simply exquisite.

So without further ado, please welcome Corinna Luyken!

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Where do you live?

In Olympia, WA, at the base of the Puget Sound.

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, came out in 2017.

How many books have you published?

MY HEART is my third book as illustrator, second as author/illustrator.

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

I do!  It’s been an eighteen year dream of making picture books, and I feel incredibly grateful to be doing this full time.

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

What inspires you to create picture books?

I’m in love with the form of the picture book, the way that words and images can work together to make something bigger than either one alone. Although I love to draw, and I love to write, it’s the magic that happens when they come together that thrills me.

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

After having a debut book that was well received, it really surprised me (in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised) how difficult the second book became. Because suddenly I started to worry about what other people would think, and if the second book would measure up to the first one. I stressed myself out about all of this a lot more than I thought I would. Doubt and self judgement can be useful tools as an illustrator, but they can also paralyze you if you don’t keep them in perspective. I re-started a morning meditation practice in the midst of my second book, which helped a lot. Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are tiny specks on a spinning planet in a vast universe. Which helps me to create from a place of love, instead of fear.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Finding out that a book I’ve made has touched someone else’s heart.

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

Balancing my devotion to my work and the amount of time it takes to make beautiful books with being a mom can be very difficult. But being a mom has also opened up my heart in a very big way. It’s a balancing act, but worth it.

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

Going for walks is great. Being near the ocean or any water also helps me to quiet my mind, which makes me more receptive to new ideas. Slowing down, in general, is a good thing. When I’m rushing around too much, it’s hard for me to make room for anything new. 

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I try to start every day with quiet meditation time. Whether things are going really well, or I’m struggling with something… either way it helps to keep it all in perspective. A hot cup of tea or coffee is also necessary!

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

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

I’ve found this community to be full of many kind, generous people. Some of the most meaningful experiences have been small kindnesses early on in my career from people who were further along in the journey. Marla Frazee showed some interest in a dummy that I brought along to my first national SCBWI conference, and even went on to share it with an editor. The editor didn’t end up acquiring the story, but the fact that both of them saw potential in the project meant so much at the time. And then, a few years later (after many revisions) that dummy went on to win the SCBWI Don Freeman Work In Progress grant. And now, almost five years (and many more revisions) later, it is going to be my next book, MY HEART.

What is your favorite picture book?

I have SO many favorites!  I can’t choose just one…  but THE VERY PERSISTENT GAPPERS OF FRIP by Lane Smith and George Saunders is the book that made me want to make books.  

I also adore WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad, EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, EMILY’S BALLOON by Komako Sakai, WAVE by Suzy Lee, MIGRANT by Isabelle Arsenault and Maxine Trottier, SCHOOL’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, DU IZ TAK by Carson Ellis, ALL THE WORLD by Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon, NOTHING by Jon Agee, THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS by Hadley Hooper and Patricia MacLachlan …. and many many more.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been so many highlights! Watching my daughter hug our first copy of THE BOOK OF MISTAKES tightly to her chest (the book was inspired by and is dedicated to her), getting my first packet of thank you art from a classroom full of kids in the mail, receiving a note that I had won the Leo Award for my first book (Leo is a young boy who has created his own award for his favorite book of the year!), and also hearing from Lane Smith, who illustrated the book that made me want to make books (see above) that he loved THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.

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

Persistence is more important than talent. Persistence, and truly loving the work.

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

Tell us about your newest book?

MY HEART is coming out January 8th. It's a celebration of the heart (in all its varied emotions), as well as an ode to love, and to keeping your heart open. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m just finishing up illustrations for WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS, which is a middle grade written by Carolyn Crimi and coming out from Candlewick in fall 2019.  

I’ve got a few other exciting things lined up, but I can’t talk about most of them yet! But I will be making another book as author/illustrator with Dial that has a lot of arguing in it. And the next picture book I’m working on is called NOTHING IN COMMON by Kate Hoefler. It is about an old man, a hot-air-balloon-flying dog, and two kids who appear to have nothing in common, but perhaps do where it counts most.  

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

I think it’s really important to read as widely as possible. To fall in love with an enormous variety of work. Not just the work that is similar to what you want to make. The more books you love, the wider the pool of words and images that will filter through you and into your work. If you only love a few artists or writers, often, without even meaning to, the work you make will end up being overly influenced by them. And the world doesn’t need another Carson Ellis or Isabelle Arsenault or Jon Klassen. The world needs YOU and your voice. For me, the best way to create a unique style is to open your heart very wide and study the vast web of work that came before you. The more that you can find to love, the more varied your influences will be and the more you will, without even trying, develop a unique voice and style.

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

Labyrinth!


Huge thank you to Corinna Luyken for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see all of your upcoming books!


Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Corinna and her work visit her website: www.corinnaluyken.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @CorinnaLuyken.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of MY HEART?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 20th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with author/illustrator Lindsay Moore!


Interview with Author Tricia Springstubb

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited for today’s interview because it’s with none other than the fabulously talented Tricia Springstubb, who also happens to be a friend of mine and fellow local author here in the Cleveland area. Tricia writes early chapter books, middle grade, and picture books—she’s a triple threat! Many of you may know her from her latest series, the CODY books, which are wonderful! Here at my house, we are big fans of PHOEBE AND THE DIGGER. Her writing is lovely, insightful, and powerful. I’m honored to share her work with you today and give you all a sneak peek at her process.

So without further ado, please welcome Tricia Springstubb!

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Where do you live?

I live in Cleveland Heights with my husband, my garden and Billy the cat. We have three grown daughters and here’s how lucky we are--our two grandbabies live a bicycle ride away. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

I’ve been publishing since prehistoric times.  

Do you write full-time?

Yes--I told you I’m lucky! 

What inspires you to create books for children?

Children are the world’s most passionate readers—no one believes in and cares about story more deeply than they do. The world is still so new for them, and their hearts are wide open. I feel privileged to write for them. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

That children treat you like a rock star!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I still get the craziest thrill when I find one of my books on a library or bookstore shelf. 

Also, I love working with illustrators. I’ve been so lucky (lucky!) to have many talented, visionary artists do the covers and spot art for my novels. The illustrators for my picture books and chapter books make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. I’m always so excited getting those first sketches. You feel you know your story inside out, and then you see it through the artist’s eyes and it takes on a whole new, rich dimension.  

What do you find difficult working as an author?

When I’ve lost my way and know that I need to go back in for a major revision or possibly even start over from scratch. There’s a certain relief in scrapping something you know isn’t working, but it’s also hard to let go of all those weeks and months of writing.  

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I always write in the morning, when I’m closest to my dreams and before the world has a chance to make me cranky. After I finish, I go for a long walk or, in summer, a swim. Almost always I get another idea or two, or untangle some knot in the plot-- I make sure to carry pen and notebook in my pocket or swim bag! 

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

Kid lit has always been a warm and generous community, and it’s getting even better. Social media has allowed us to come together over so many wonderful causes. Just in the last few months, I’ve been part of #kidsneedbooks, where we donate books to teachers who need them for classroom libraries, and #kidsneedmentors, where we’re partnering with teachers and students to encourage writing and creativity of all kinds.  

What is your favorite picture book?

Yesterday I’d have said Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Today I’ll say Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Tomorrow I might say Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. Can you tell I’m re-visiting the classics with my grandbabies? I couldn’t even begin to choose among contemporary picture books—one after another, they are breaking new ground in text and art. Breath-taking!  

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

What a slow, slow writer I am, and how there seems to be no help for it. I try to tell myself that I’m creating something that never existed before, something I hope will last for a long time—but I still wish I didn’t have to go through a zillion drafts every time!!! (Maybe it’s better that I didn’t know all this when I first started.) 

Tell us about your most recent book?

This past spring, the fourth and last book in my Cody series published. Cody and the Heart of a Champion rounds out a year in the life of Cody, her family, her neighbors and friends. The books are inspired by my own diverse, lively, Cleveland neighborhood. They’re about the things that loom big in kids’ lives: whether the teacher likes you; how to do the right thing even when it’s really hard; not being good at soccer. Every few pages there’s an illustration by the genius Eliza Wheeler, who gives the characters and settings the perfect comic and sweet (but never too sweet) touch. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m revising a new middle grade novel of which I must not yet speak, and looking forward to my new picture book, Khalil and Mr. Hagerty. Candlewick will publish it in 2020. It’s inspired both by my late grandfather and by an Iraqi refugee family with whom my family has become close friends. The illustrator is Elaheh Taherian and you really, really want to look up her work right now at elahehtaherian.com

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

In the 80s we were raising our three kids and I swear we didn’t go to the movies more than twice the whole decade. I remember loving Tootsie but I’m not sure if that’s because it was good or I was so happy to get out of the house. I pretend to have seen The Goonies even though (ssh) I really haven’t.


Huge thank you to Tricia Springstubb for stopping by Critter Lit to chat today! We can’t wait to see all of your upcoming books!


Tricia has been publishing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels for over thirty years. Her work has received many starred reviews and appeared on numerous Best of the Year lists. Her books have won the Parents Choice Silver Award and the Ohioana Award for Children’s Literature, been nominated for state reading awards, and been chosen by the Junior Library Guild. She is a frequent speaker at schools, libraries and conferences.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Tricia and her work visit her website: triciaspringstubb.com or follow her on Twitter @springstubb.

TO ORDER a copy of any of Tricia’s wonderful books, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 6th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with debut author Hannah Holt!

Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.

Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…

So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.

I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.

For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).

Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.

So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.

I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.

I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!

Interview with Debut Author Aidan Cassie

Debut Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m very excited to share with you the work of debut picture book author and illustrator Aidan Cassie! I received an F&G of Aidan’s debut book, STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, this past summer and immediately fell in love with little Sterling.

Sterling the dog has always wanted a home. But no home has ever wanted him. So when Sterling sees a sign on the side of the Butlery Cutlery Company advertising free "shipping to homes around the world," he is determined to become the most terrific fork ever! For what home doesn't need flatware?

Sterling is delivered on time and undamaged to the Gilbert family's front door. He is not, however, what they ordered. . . . But he may be exactly what they need. A humorous, heart-tugging picture book about finding a family, who wants you just as you are.

Sterling is quite lovable. Just look at the adorable cover below. Our family dog, Sally, was a rescue, so I immediately connected with Sterling’s hope of finding the perfect family and home. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is charming. I hope you enjoy Aidan’s new book as much as I do.

So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!

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Where do you live?

I live on a west coast island, on the side of a small mountain, in Canada’s Salish Sea, just north of Seattle. It’s a quirky, rural pocket of co-op farmers, naturalists and artsy-folk, but most people here are urban-transplants, like myself. I love island life - our daughter takes a ferry to school while my husband and I work from our home studios (to the great delight of our big red dog, Sooka).

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

While I was working on my degree in animation I started telling stories visually and fell in love with the process. After creating my wordless animated film, I thought I’d naturally write wordless picture books. Instead I discovered my voice, and the wonderful space between the text and illustrations.  I’m fascinated by the way readers/listeners/viewers construct what is happening with what is on the page, as well by the unsaid words and implied images. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Assuming I’ve settled on a promising story idea nugget, I start by sketching characters to help me visualize the story. Then there’s the “walking and talking in the woods phase” as I envision it playing out like a little movie that I tell myself aloud… rewind, revise, and tell again. Sooka just chases sticks and is very non-judgmental. 

At the point my tale feels relatively solid I often enjoy a burst of drawing and writing. I pare things down to the important visual “shots” and make a series of thumbnail drawings, the same way I’d storyboard for animation. Later I might redraw with a bit more detail onto recipe cards, so I can reorder, add to, and edit the elements. I constantly flip between modifying drawings and editing words. Often the words are last to come.

 When I’m happy with the final flow I scan my sketches and create a digital dummy that has all the text in place for my crit group to read and edit. Later, many revisions later, if my agent likes it, I’ll make some final art samples for prospective publishers. I go back to the tiny 1’ drawings again, this time digitally. I experiment with the color narrative, palette and tonal balance for the whole book laid out on one page. I do each tiny spread’s colour very roughly so as to have a guide when doing final art. I use a Cintiq to create final art, usually with digital water color layers and textures that sit beneath my drawings. 

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

Of course ideas must be caught and gathered as they show up. Sometimes they come from mining strong childhood feelings of my own, but most often they come from the outside; like overheard conversations, observing something strange, a great line in a song, bizarre news stories or by mashing together unlikely things, like dachshunds and forks. And sometimes I just need to put myself somewhere new; we just came back from taking a year to live in Provence; every day in France was brimming with “new”!

Art supplies you can't live without?

It’s a short list; my 2B pencils, and a good eraser.

Maybe some run-of-the-mill photocopy paper too.  All my creations are born of a pencil line on cheap photocopy paper. It allows me feel free to let loose and make oodles of useless doodles. And useless is important. For me, being too precious or careful cramps my creativity and exploration. I like the erasable nature of pencils, so when it comes to watercolor painting (not a forgiving medium), I find I take more risks when I work digitally, because I know there is an “undo”.

Favorite illustrators?

Oh, yes, I love sharing my art crushes!! Birgitta Sif, Isabelle Arsenault, Emily Gravett, Kady MacDonald Denton and, and, and… Chris Riddell, Carter Goodrich, Pierre Pratt and Shaun Tan!

Dream project or book to work on?

I’m feeling pretty lucky that I’m working on a bunch of my own books right now, so things are pretty dreamy as it is. One day I’d love to work collaboratively with a funny author (like Emily Jenkins or Aaron Reynolds), preferably on a ridiculous story jam-cram-packed with dogs - you know, if we’re talking DREAM project.

Tell us about your debut book.

My debut book was inspired by a childhood dog I had, an odd little dachshund. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is about a dog who’s had a hard time finding a home, so he lives in a damp box. When he discovers a fork factory that ships to good homes he thinks he’s found his ticket to happiness. When it occurs to him that the new family, surprised by the little stow-away, may not need a fork, Sterling decides he could be anything if they would just keep him. He’s an expert at adapting, but it takes him a while to understand what this loving family really wants.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve just finished up the final cover art for my second book, Little Juniper Makes It Big, about a wee raccoon who feels too small for everything, and that will come out in 2019. While waiting for edits and feedback on that book I’ve been working on my third book (still at the untitled dummy-book stage) that will come out the following year, both with FSG Macmillan.

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

Wow, “80s movie” feels like a genre in itself – like I need an answer that features the Neutron Dance. But I have to go with animation! As a 9 year old I was completely spell bound by the The Secret of Nimh in 1982. 


Aidan Cassie studied animation and earned a media arts degree at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design as well as Edinburgh College of Art. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is her first picture book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Aidan and her book, visit her website at www.aidancassie.com.

TO ORDER a copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 18th! US and Canadian addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.

Halloween Book Picks | October 2018

Recommended Reading, Holiday BooksLindsay WardComment

Happy Halloween Critters! I know it’s a little early, and we still have the rest of October to go, but Halloween is big in our house. It’s my husband’s favorite holiday (I’m more of a Thanksgiving kinda gal…) but I do love a good Halloween story. So, this month, instead of two new book reviews, I’m sharing a round-up of Critter Lit’s Favorite Halloween Books.

I’m a huge fan of holiday books and now that I have kids, it’s so much fun share them throughout the month with my kiddos. Some of these books are new, some are old, all are wonderful! I hope you take the time to check them out. Enjoy!



What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator Aidan Cassie!

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!