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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!

Natascha Biebow author photo.jpg

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 Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with author Cathy Ballou Mealey! Her debut picture book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska, just released this month with Sterling Children’s Books. I’m so excited to share this brand new book with you all today! Here’s a sneak peek:

When Moose sees the inviting tree where Squirrel has built his nest, he rubs his itchy antlers against the trunk—and sets in motion a chain of comic catastrophes. The tree falls and wakes Bear, who stumbles into Moose, who causes a truck driver to swerve off the road. But then Squirrel jumps onto that truck and ends up in the city, all alone. Who will help him get home? And how will Squirrel thank them? Kids will love this adorable picture book, with its irresistible animal characters and rhythmic text that’s made for reading out loud.

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Ballou Mealey!

Cathy Mealey headshot.jpg

Where do you live?

I have lived in Massachusetts all my life. I grew up just below the Vermont/New Hampshire border, and went to college in Metrowest. After a decade in Cambridge, I’m currently on the fabulous North Shore.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I wrote my first picture book in 2010 to enter the Cheerios “Spoonful of Stories” contest. Even though “Ozzie the Oyster” was definitely not ready for publication, my prize was discovering a passion for the craft of picture book writing. After attending conferences, classes and workshops, I joined SCBWI, the 2012 12X12 Challenge and two critique groups. I have been writing, revising and studying ever since.

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

Drafting TREE took roughly 6 weeks before I had a preliminary version to share with critique partners. I used multiple revision tactics to trim text and tighten the storyline. I plastered sticky notes on my door to rearrange the scene sequence. I pasted sentence strips into a book dummy loaded with stick-critter sketches. When friends urged me to send out the revised TREE, I started to query agents. In May 2015 I signed with Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency and by December TREE was putting down roots at Sterling Books for Children.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Scribble my idea into a notebook and mull it over. Develop a pitch. Research some related non-fiction titles from the library about moose, squirrels, bears, etc. Mull some more. Write a long, rambling draft. Chew on word choices. Revise, re-write. Plunk text into a word cloud generator like WordItOut or Wordle, draft a few rhyming lines, make a dummy with stick figures. Revise until it is ready for critique group. Mull over feedback. Revise, rinse, and repeat until ready!

WHEN A TREE GROWS WordCloud.png

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

Go for a long walk outdoors. Visit a museum. Browse the greeting card section of my favorite stationery store. Bring my son to a playground and eavesdrop on the kid chatter!

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A window. Natural light. Being able to gaze at the sky or trees. I watched a lot of squirrel activity while writing When A Tree Grows, and kept my camera close at hand.

AAA prize squirrel.JPG

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Every up-and-coming writer yet to be published inspires me. Making book dreams come true is tough, especially when balancing the demands of career, family life, and community responsibilities. Those who consistently carve out time to nurture that writing spark inspire me to work harder, write better, persevere.

I have so little drawing ability that I am floored by almost every illustrator’s work in one fashion or another. Particular favorites to pore over include Catherine Rayner, Hadley Hooper, and Melissa Sweet. I’m so grateful to Kasia Nowowiejska for her dedicated efforts to make WHEN A TREE GROWS the very best book it could be.

Dream project to work on?

This is such an interesting question! I can’t name a specific dream project. However, there are certainly manuscripts that I’ve pored blood, sweat and tears into that I would love to see become real, live books one day.

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Tell us about your debut book.

WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose. Kirkus gave it a lovely review, saying “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride.”

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

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

An 80’s movie set in 1963 - Dirty Dancing.

RIP Patrick Swayze.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”


Huge thank you to Cathy for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut and can’t wait to see what’s next!


CATHY BALLOU MEALEY lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Her debut book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

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

Twitter: @CatBallouMealey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.mealey

Instagram: @catballoumealey

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of WHEN A TREE GROWS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 18th! US addresses only please.

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

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!

Stutz headshot 3.jpg

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!

WriteOnCon 2019 Blog Post: Working Full-time as an Author/Illustrator

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Craft, IllustratorsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Earlier this month I had the opportunity to present at WriteOnCon, a wonderful online conference for the Kidlit community. If you don’t know what WriteOnCon is, make sure to check it out next year!

Recently, I’ve been receiving some questions about what it’s like to be a full-time author and illustrator, which oddly enough was the topic of my blog post for WriteOnCon this year. I’ve been making picture books full-time for almost nine years now. There have been many ups and downs. Some years have been fantastic, and others have been scary and awful. (Sorry!) That’s probably not what you want to hear. Okay, let me start again…

Here’s what I know about doing this amazing, terrifying, and creative job that we do as writers and illustrators full-time:

  • If you don’t love it, it’s not going to work. I mean really love it. Like a child. (I don’t say that lightly, I have two kiddos myself). Like children, making books is both exhilarating and exhausting. And you have to be able to roll with that, which isn’t always easy. But, let’s be honest, the best things in life never are.

  • Commit to your craft. Even if you aren’t doing this full-time. Carve out time to be creative, ideally every day (if you can), but whatever time you can dedicate, be consistent with it. Even though I don’t leave my house to work, I still treat it like a job in that I go for a designated time, to a designated space.

  • Your creative space is sacred. Make a space for yourself that you feel completely comfortable in, designated for your craft. A place you can foster creativity. It could be a spare bedroom, a small den, a closet! (If Harry Potter can live in one, you can certainly write in one!) Whatever works for you. But NOT the dining room table or another shared communal space. This space should be just for you and your craft.

  • Respect your craft. Nurture it. Let it flourish. Take care of it.

  • Patience. Patience. Patience. Practice patience every day. You’ll need it. Especially if you are able to make the jump to creating books full-time. Publishing is notoriously slow.

  • Balance. I can’t stress this one enough. I do not believe in working a creative job like a normal, full-time, eight-hour-a-day one. Creativity requires balance. It means taking a break and going for a walk. Or stepping out of your studio to run some errands. Or going for a swim. I’m not talking about procrastination. Think of it more as meditation. I may be going for a walk, but I’m contemplating my work. Mulling it over. Considering all the pieces in order to understand how to put them together.

So here’s what a typical day for me as a full-time author/illustrator looks like:

5:00 a.m.  - Wake up, make coffee, head to my studio.

7:00 a.m. - Get my kiddos up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day (at this point I’ve already worked two hours, uninterrupted by kids and life, which for me, is an incredibly productive and positive way to start the day).

8:00 a.m. - Go for a family walk with my husband (who also works from home), my two kiddos, and our dog. We live in a national park, so walking and hiking is a big part of our day to day and the balance I try to maintain in my workday. 

9:00 a.m. - Come home, put my 15-month-old down for a nap. If it’s not a school day for my three-year-old, then my husband watches him while I go back to work for another two hours.

11:00 a.m. - Make lunch. Take over watching the kiddos while my husband works in his office. I’m done working for the day. I typically only do four hours of creative work a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but I find I’m incredibly productive in those four hours.

The rest of the day is filled with a mix of naps, errands, taking care of stuff around the house, and making dinner.

7:30 p.m. - kiddos are in bed. I tackle emails, play catch-up (writing blog posts like this one), and do some editorial work, either with my husband or on manuscripts submitted through Critter Lit.

Then I get up and do it all over again. This may sound crazy. But somehow we make it work— watching our kids ourselves and working. Don’t get me wrong, there are days where life is nuts in our house, but most days it works. Most days it’s a balancing act. A dance of sorts.

Now, I’m going to tell you this next part to push you. Because the one thing I hear all that time from aspiring writers and illustrators is that they don’t have time to commit to their craft. But here’s the thing…time is what you make it. And if you don’t respect your craft enough to make time for it, then you may as well let it go. You have to believe in the value of your work. No one is going to do it for you.

My plate is full. Like really full. Just like all of you. We are all super busy. In addition to writing and illustrating picture books, I run a small stationery and design business with my mom. Two years ago I decided to start a Critter Lit, offering free critiques, interviews, and advice to up-and-coming writers and illustrators. I have two kiddos under the age of four. We live in a constant state of renovation because my husband and I decided to buy a total fixer-upper. This is my life. I tell you this not to impress you. I tell you because if I can make time, then so can you.

Now go make time for your craft. You totally got this!

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Breisacher

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

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

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Breisacher!

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Where do you live?

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Oh, yes! Diet Pepsi and dark chocolate.  

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Interview with Debut Author Laura Roettiger

Authors, Debut Interviews, Interviews, publishingLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have a debut author interview with Laura Roettiger! Laura’s debut book, ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON, illustrated by Ariel Boroff, releases on February 19th with Eifrig Publishing. We are so thrilled to have her here today to talk about her new book.

So without further ado…

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Please welcome Laura Roettiger!

Where do you live?

I live in the Rocky Mountains at 8,200 ft just west of Boulder, Colorado. For perspective, Boulder is 5,340 ft but only 10 miles away so the road to where I live is quite steep. My backyard is National Forest so it’s beautiful but so different from Chicago and the suburbs where I lived my whole life before moving here in 2016.

 When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I was a reading specialist in Chicago and spent my days reading and writing with students. I often wrote stories for them when I couldn’t find books that I wanted to use. ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON was the first book I wrote with the intention of publishing. I know how rare that is; most people talk about the pile of unusable drafts they wrote before getting anything published.

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

In late 2016 and early 2017, I received some love in a few pitch parties that ultimately led to rejection. They liked the concept but not the actual story. This is because the manuscript WASN’T READY and it’s a very different book now than where it was at that time two years ago. I also submitted to a few publishing houses that accept un-agented work, including Eifrig Publishing. I am a writer, not an illustrator, and they only take on fully illustrated books. I had been approached by a local artist who wanted to collaborate and her sketches were the first ones submitted to Eifrig along with the original manuscript, a letter that explained who Aliana was, my plans for a series of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Music) books, and how the vision of Eifrig Publishing aligned with my values. She had editing and revision recommendations and I continued to work on the story. Fast forward to July 2017 at Southampton Writers Conference and my manuscript went through a revision that I have described as ‘performing surgery on a loved one.’ I know other people use the phrase, ‘kill your darlings’ but I didn’t want to kill my book, I wanted to make it better. The original manuscript was trying to do too many things at the same time. The final book kept many of the ideas and cut out others. When I shared it with Penny at Eifrig, she agreed it was 100% improved. In October 2017, the illustrator backed out of the project due to time constraints of her other jobs. Through a mutual friend, Ariel Boroff and I met and began collaborating. She has done an amazing job of bringing the book to life while working as a costumer on a TV show - “Station 19” which is a “Gray’s Anatomy” spinoff about a fire house. Aliana’s father is a fireman so we both felt like that was a nice overlap.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I have a vivid imagination and often come up with ideas for stories when I am out in nature. I also like to do research and write by hand before I begin drafting a story. Sometimes the research doesn’t even end up in the manuscript, but it gives me additional background knowledge to draw on.

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON was originally written by hand. This year I participated in StoryStorm (31 ideas in January) which was fun. I have many ideas that I thought of when I wasn’t home. I text myself so that I can add them to the brainstorm document when I get home. It’s amusing to see the ideas and I wonder if anyone ever saw the texts if they would think I was crazy! 

My last two books, one which is ready to query and one which is still in revisions, came from different places. The first is inspired by my beloved Goldendoodle puppy, Charlie. I shared it on the 12x12Forum, with my two in person critique groups more than once, and I think it’s ready to send out into the world. I love thinking about that first day, the germ of the idea, and how it’s transformed now that it is ready to share and hopefully be loved. The other one, which is still a WIP was inspired by a 12x12 webinar about how illustrations and text work together in different ways. I’m trying to grow as a writer and try new things. This one is definitely a departure but so far the feedback from critique partners is good so I am going to keep polishing. 

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

I don’t usually have trouble coming up with ideas. In the beginning, I had ideas that I couldn’t figure out how to turn into stories. I’m past that now thanks to several classes, conferences, and studying picture books with a writer’s eye.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

I usually write in my dining room which has actually never been used for eating. It’s wide open with floor to ceiling windows, beautiful artwork, a desk and a large table for two different perspectives, furniture that belonged to my parents’ and grandparents, and interesting woodwork. I like to be comfortable so right now, since it’s winter I’m wearing a sweatshirt and soft flannel. Often I’m in my pajamas. I used to joke that if I was in my pajamas at noon that was the sign of a productive writing morning. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many and I hesitate to name names, but I will say I was fortunate to meet Amy Krouse Rosenthal, David Shannon, and Kevin Henkes while I was teaching and they were so generous with their young fans. That stays with me.

Dream project to work on?

I know this may sound funny, but Aliana is a dream project. She is based on my daughters and a few special students from Carlos Fuentes Charter School in Chicago. I have two more books written about Aliana and Gustavo, both which need further revision, and I can’t wait to see if the world loves her as much as I do.

Tell us about your debut book.

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON is about a curious and creative girl who observes the bright light of the full moon. She uses information from books about the moon and experiments with light and reflection to create a surprise for her brother Gustavo. The book celebrates curiosity and demonstrates her patience and her parents’ patience. The messages are layered and not heavy-handed which is something I’m very happy about.

What’s up next for you?

I have two launch parties and a few events here in Colorado and ten days of mostly school visits in Chicago. I am very excited to be going back to two of the schools where my children were students. I am also working on lining up events at one or both of the places that wrote endorsements for the book: Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and the Challenger Center which has 40 education centers.  https://www.challenger.org

I am also hoping to find an agent this year and am a Gold member of 12x12. 

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

Dirty Dancing. 


Huge thank you to Laura for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can wait to see your book in the world on February 19th! Congrats!


Laura Roettiger is the author of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON. She is a life-long Chicago resident who moved to the Rocky Mountains in 2016. Living adjacent to Roosevelt National Forest and just a few miles from the Continental Divide has provided her with inspiration for much of what she writes about. In Chicago, she worked as a reading specialist and elementary teacher and raised three children who are also the inspiration for her writing. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and letting them know she believes in them. Since moving to Colorado, she has worked in Environmental Education and is now a literacy mentor at a STEM school. In 2018, she adopted a Goldendoodle puppy, Charlie, who is the inspiration for her latest polished manuscript. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Laura and her work visit her website: www.lauraroettigerbooks.com.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 14th! US addresses only please.

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

Interview with Author Sue Fliess

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

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

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

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome SUE FLIESS!

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Where do you live?

Ashburn, in Northern Virginia 

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

How did you first get published?

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

How many books have you published?

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

Do you write full-time?

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

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

What surprised you the most working as an author?

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

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

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

What do you find difficult working as an author?

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

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

Lots of things. 

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

Recommended reading?

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

Tell us about your newest book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author 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!

Happy New Year Critters!

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Craft, Debut Interviews, Illustrators, Interviews, publishing, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy New Year Critters! Can you believe it’s 2019?! I feel as though 2018 flew by! I’m excited to dive into this year and see what exciting adventures await. 2019 will be filled with three new book releases for me as well as a fabulous list of upcoming debut and veteran interviews! Check out some of the authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators who will be stopping by Critter Lit this year:

Lindsay Leslie

Meera Sriram

Sue Fliess

Cathy Breisacher

Shawnie Clark

Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Cathy Ballou Mealey

Julie Falatko

Sheri Dillard

Scott Magoon

Mikela Provost

Ishta Mercurio

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Jenn Harney

Christopher Denise

June Smalls

Sue Reagan

Amanda Jackson

Tara Lazar

and more! I’m so excited to share with you what these amazingly talented people have to say about their process and work. This year is your year! Finish that novel, picture book, middle grade, young adult…you got this!

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” - George Eliot

So go out there and start writing!

Check in with me on Twitter for some Critter Lit Writing Resolutions that I’ll be posting throughout the month of January. Have a writing resolution of your own? I’d love to hear it!

Until next time…

xo

Lindsay

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!

unnamed-1.jpg

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 Debut Author/Illustrator Lindsay Moore

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

Happy Thursday Critters! Can you believe it’s already the end of the year?! This year has flown by. We have just a couple interviews left in 2018 before we make the leap into the new year. One of the wonderful experiences I had this year was traveling to Bowling Green State University here in Ohio to speak with teaching students about writing and illustrating books. During my visit I had the opportunity to meet our guest on Critter Lit today, Lindsay Moore.

It’s rare in this business to get face time, so anytime I can connect with a fellow author or illustrator in person, it’s always lovely. And Lindsay is no exception. Her debut picture book, SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL will be released January 22, 2019 and has received a starred review from both Kirkus and School and Library Journal, with many other rave reviews. A lovely and lyrical text set against stunning watercolors and delicate line work, you won’t want to miss this book. I’m thrilled to be sharing her story and work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Lindsay Moore!

Just a couple of Lindsays hanging out.

Just a couple of Lindsays hanging out.

Where do you live?

I live in Bowling Green, Ohio. It is a small town south of Toledo, surrounded by corn, with a state university and railroad tracks running through it. I am new to town, but my family and I like it here.

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

This question has 2 answers. When I was in third grade my teacher, Mrs. McDonald pulled me aside and told me that I was good at writing and I could grow up to be a writer someday. It was the first time I thought of authors as actual people and I believed her. 

And then...

Around the age of 13 I was reading lots of books by Madeline L'Engle. She had become my favorite author and I came across a her biography at our school library. I read about the challenge she had finding a home for A Wrinkle in Time and the amount of rejection she had to push through in order to publish it. I came to the conclusion that if Madeline L'Engle had that much trouble, then there was no hope for me. Madeline L'Engle was special and I was completely aware of how absolutely ordinary and un-special I was. So, I put any real dreams of being published aside, but continued to enjoy writing for school and for whoever would read it.

It wasn't until I was five or so years out of grad school, living in Ann Arbor, when I went to a Caldecott panel with Brian Floca, Chris Raschka, Erin Stead and Phil Stead, that I really thought seriously again about publishing. I scribbled this quote into my notebook from Erin Stead about working on books:

"Constant state of anxiety with deep shades of regret."

It spoke to me because that summed up a good deal of my experience in the creative process. I didn't know you could be apprehensive and make books.

I read two really good books after that panel at the Kerrytown Bookfest: Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz and Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard Marcus. They kind of confirmed that...I'm struggling on how to say this...making picture books made sense to me in a way that fine art didn't. I needed a story. I wanted there to be words. It was the way my brain/heart/hands worked. I felt like I found the perfect form of art.

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

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

It will have been about 4 years from the time I seriously decided to write to SEA BEAR coming out in January 2019. I think it is important to say that it wasn't clear from the get go that I would ever be published. I didn't believe in myself or even tell many people that I was writing.  

Ann Arbor is a great place for writers though. That is where I started. They have this wonderful program through the Ann Arbor District Library called The Emerging Writers Workshop. They meet twice a month and I met a few aspiring children book writers there. We formed a critique group and met every two weeks to work on our manuscripts. I owe all three of them so much because they patiently and attentively listened to draft after draft of the same story.

SEA BEAR was my first manuscript and I worked on it for about a year, but I was told that maybe it was a bit too serious for children. I put it aside to write manuscripts that were more "fun".  I wrote this really quirky one about a traveling lobster, but everyone my agent submitted it to said it was too off beat for them to follow. Probably the hardest critique I got was unsolicited from another agent that said my artwork looked dated. Her opinion came out of nowhere and it kind of stopped me in my tracks. Like, maybe I should just give up. I was looking up jobs online, thinking maybe I should find a job in the field of medical illustration. That is in fact what my degree is in.  

Around the same time I (somewhat reluctantly) shared my work with another author, Phil Stead.  He encouraged me to submit SEA BEAR and challenged me to experiment with new mediums in my illustrations. So, I finally got a dummy together, but my agent still had to call me for a pep talk because I was so deep in self doubt that I needed someone else to say it's time to submit. I went into the submission of SEA BEAR telling my husband to get ready for a suite of rejection and that it would probably lead to me crying in the shower like Tobias Fünke. Thankfully, that didn't happen. SEA BEAR found the perfect home at Greenwillow Books.

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Can you share a bit about your process?

Sure! So, I'm really slow at the beginning. I research a lot. Even though SEA BEAR is fiction, it is based-off radio collar data that tracked the long swims polar bears make in the Arctic. I read a lot of journal articles and books. The library was an indispensable resource. Honestly, I get a little giddy when I find out that I have interlibrary loan holds ready for pick up. Then I read and think.  Like...I sit in silence and stare at walls and ceilings and light fixtures and focus.

My favorite part is storyboarding. I feel like if there was a job, just making story boards, I would be the happiest person.  

My illustrations are done with watercolor and two different kinds of drawing ink. The inks have slightly different properties and so they interact differently with the watercolor. I also use conte crayon and colored pencil.  My goal with SEA BEAR was to say, "I think the Arctic is a wonderful, mysterious, large, beautiful space, worthy of our awe and conservation." 

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

Walking in the woods clears my mind. I also just try to keep my eyes and ears open to the world, because it's really full of small stories that are just waiting to be noticed. That all being said, I am currently suffering from a bit of writer's block. So….

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

I really like silence and time. Also, I like to read the Psalms. 

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Absolutely. There are so, so many. So many, Lindsay.

I'm going to name two, because otherwise there would be too many and I wouldn't want to leave anyone out.

1. Lynne Rae Perkins - When I read her books, I can feel my heart. She draws out very real childhood feelings and places them honestly on the page and its like she just explained to me something that I had been confused about since I was a kid. I really love The Broken Cat and the artwork in Snow Music makes me pause every time I read it.

2. Erin Stead-  Erin is just brilliant. The illustrations in The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine made me weep because she handles her figures (both animal and human) with such care that you can feel their sorrow.  

Dream project to work on?

That is a good question. It would probably have to do with the water, but I'm really not sure.

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Tell us about your debut book.

SEA BEAR is a 48 page picture book about a long distance swim a polar bear makes from the pack ice to dry land. It's based on field research in the arctic. It focuses on the relationship between polar bears and their sea ice habitat.  

What’s up next for you?

I'm working on a second book with Greenwillow. It's in really early stages though...research phase, so I won't say too much, other than I need to go for a walk in the woods.

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

Oh, I'm not much of a movie person, but "When Cameron was in Egypt's land......"


Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Lindsay! We are so excited to see SEA BEAR out in the world!


Lindsay Moore is an artist and writer with roots in Northern Michigan. She studied Marine Biology and Fine Art at Southampton College on Long Island and figure drawing at the Art Students League in New York City. Lindsay earned her Master of Science in Medical and Scientific Illustration from Medical College of Georgia (now Georgia Regents University) and has received recognition for her work from both the Association of Medical Illustrators and the Australian Institute of Medical and Biological Illustration. After 5 years spent primarily in Queensland and Ontario, then some time Ann Arbor, Lindsay now lives Bowling Green, Ohio with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Lindsay and her work visit her website: www.lindsaykmoore.com or follow her on Twitter @YesPlankton.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY OF SURVIVAL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 27th! US addresses only please.

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


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!

Author photo_Corinna Luyken.jpg

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 Debut Author Hannah Holt

Debut Interviews, Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with debut author Hannah Holt! I’m so excited to be featuring a non-fiction picture book biography this week with Hannah’s debut book, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS & THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL, illustrated by Jay Fleck. This is such an inventive picture book, told in two narratives, about Hannah’s grandfather, H. Tracy Hall, and the fascinating process of how diamonds are created.

So without further ado, please welcome Hannah Holt!

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Where do you live?

I live in Oregon with my husband, four children, and a pet cat.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

One Christmas during graduate school, my husband and I didn't have money for presents, so I created handmade comic books. While I worked I wondered: what if I gave myself year to write a children's book?

After a year, I realized I would need more time and gave myself a decade to pursue publishing a children's bookSeven years into that decade, I sold my first picture book, The Diamond & The Boy, to Balzer+Bray.

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

I began writing ten years ago. During my first year, I received only form rejections and non-replies. By my second year, I had started receiving personal rejections and requests for more work. 

Then my twins were born. With four children ages five and under, I took a year break from writing, so I could attempt sleep every now and then.

After a year away, the writing itch returned stronger than ever, and I joined Julie Hedlund's 12x12 challenge. Two years after my writing reset, I signed with agent Danielle Smith. That didn't work out, so we parted ways.

After another year of querying, I signed with my second agent, Laura Biagi. Oh my heavens, it was such a difference working with a real advocate for my work! We sold two books together. Then she left agenting to pursue her own writing.

Publishing is full of twist and turns, but I try to focus on things I can control, like improving my craft.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I'm the type of writer that needs to revise many times before I have a submission ready piece. I wrote more than eighty drafts of The Diamond & the Boy before it sold. Similarly I wrote more than forty drafts of A Father's Love before it sold. Some authors might find perfection after five or so drafts. It just doesn't work that way for me.

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

I've never had a problem with ideas (knock on wood!). Ideas always seem to come in spades. It's the execution of those ideas that plagues me. It's not unusual for me to try a story from several different points of view or to write drafts in both verse and prose. I keep trying until I find a direction that resonates.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Snacks! When I get stuck, I take a snack break. Snacks make everything better.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many legends I look up to, but here are two authors that might be new to your readers:

Jessie Oliveros has a beautiful picture book about sharing memories called The Remember Balloons. Dana Wulfekotte's limited palette illustrations are a perfect match for the text. I read a lot of picture books, and this one is something special.

Tina Cho recently released a picture book about a girl in South Korea trying to help her neighbors to the north called Rice From Heaven. The language is lyrical and moving.

Dream project to work on?

This isn't necessarily a dream project, but I hope to publish a middle grade novel one day. I've written two so far, but they were both so terrible I never sent them out. I would like to write a middle grade novel someday that doesn't stink.

Tell us about your debut book.

The Diamond & the Boy is a biography of my grandfather, inventor H. Tracy Hall. However, it's also the story of how graphite transforms into a diamond. This dual narrative story covers the two stories side-by-side. From the jacket flap:

"Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.

Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.

From debut author Hannah Holt—the granddaughter of Tracy Hall—and illustrator Jay Fleck comes this fascinating in-depth portrait of both rock and man."

What’s up next for you?

My second book, A FATHER’S LOVE, comes out in 2019 just in time for Father’s Day. It’s a lyrical non-fiction picture book that celebrates different types of animal father’s from all around the world.

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

Better Off Dead


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


Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Hannah and her work visit her website: www.hannahholt.com or follow her on Twitter @HannahWHolt

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS & THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 13th! US addresses only please.

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

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!