Critter Lit

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Debut Interviews

Debut Interview with Jenn Harney

Authors + Illustrators, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a while— but it’s great to be back! I’ve had a crazy few weeks with ALA and deadlines— I’m trying to push through the rest of the summer until baby no. 3 arrives! BUT I’m so excited to be back to our interview schedule with fellow local author and illustrator Jenn Harney! I’m thrilled to be sharing Jenn’s work with you all today. Her debut, UNDERWEAR! just came out this past April with Disney/Hyperion and it is HILARIOUS— I just know you’re all going to love it!

So without further ado…please welcome Jenn Harney!

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Where do you live?

Twinsburg, Ohio. I usually say “Clevelandish” because people know where Cleveland is. Twinsburg, not so much.

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

I met Tomie dePaola from a far at a Young Author’s Conference when I was, I think, in second grade. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that people could write and illustrate books as a job.

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

I was VERY VERY lucky. When I signed with my agent, Rachel Orr, she asked if I wrote. So, I started writing. My first story went nowhere. My second story was UNDERWEAR! It was picked up by Stephanie Lurie at Disney Hyperion on its first round of submissions. Right time. Right place. Right Editor. I was very lucky.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process always starts with drawings. I love character design and that’s where I start. Just doodling characters and seeing if any of them have any merit. Then, I play with the story. I write everything on legal envelopes. Easy to throw out. Usually I thumbnail a dummy as I write. Everything is always visual with me. The words come afterwards.

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

I’ve learned that if I’m having a bad drawing day to walk away from it. It’ll pass. If I force it, nothing looks good. I’ll get more done in a good drawing day than if I try to force it on a bad one. The Colour Collective weekly drawing challenge is a huge part of the rust shaking, too. Just a great group of illustrators. Just follow the #colour_collective tag on Fridays around 2:30 EST, and you’ll see what I mean.

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

Something to listen to. Not music. Usually has to be an audiobook, or episodes of MST3K or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Have to have talking in the background.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

So many! Bill Watterson, Paul Coker Jr., Tomie DePaola, Tom Yohe, Steven Kellogg, P.D.Eastman, Richard Scarry, David McKee, Alan Tiegreen....I could keep going.

Dream project to work on?

Little Golden Books. I’ve always wanted to do a Little Golden Book.

Tell us about your debut book.

UNDERWEAR! Started with a Colour Collective piece I did. The story worked itself out on a walk with my ever stubborn corgi lodged under a bush and my ever loud self yelling “Get out from under there.” And he looked up at me like “Under where?” and it clicked. Steve went on an extra long walk that day as I looked like a crazy person tapping out syllables and talking out loud about underwear.

UNDERWEAR! Is pretty much autobiographical. I am the frazzled parent who just wants to get their kid out of the tub, into PJs and off to bed. My daughter is said kid who finds ENDLESS ways to keep herself out of bed. I think every parent has been on both sides of this story. And, stories about underwear are never not going to be funny. It’s just a fun word to say.

What’s up next for you?

My second book SWIM, SWIM, SINK is slated for launch in early 2020. Fingers crossed I can just keep working along.

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

Amadeus or Empire Strikes Back or Time Bandits. Don’t make me choose. (Oooo...Sophie’s Choice is good too!)


Huge thank you to Jenn for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for you and your fantastically funny debut! Congrats!


JENN HARNEY has illustrated several picture books, including Todd Tarpley’s HOW TO BECOME A KNIGHT (Sterling), NEVER CRUMPET WITH A TRUMPET (Boyd Mills Press), SMELLY KELLY (Boyd’s Mills Press). She has
also illustrated the covers and interiors for Jennifer Hamburg’s Hazy Bloom series (FSG), and Susan Lurie’s Wanda Seasongood series (Disney-Hyperion).

Jenn made her author-illustrator debut with UNDERWEAR (Disney-Hyperion) to be followed up by SWIM, SWIM, SINK in 2020 (Disney-Hyperion). She enjoys working at break-neck pace at her desk while binge watching old episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. Jenn lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, her daughter, a dog named Steve and the ghost of the oldest living goldfish in North America.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jenn visit her online at jkharney.blogspot.com or follow her on social media:

Instagram + Twitter: @jennharknee

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Interview with Debut Author Ishta Mercurio

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Ishta Mercurio. I’m thrilled to have her with us today and I can’t wait for you to hear about her wonderful debut picture book, SMALL WORLD, illustrated by Jen Corace, which will release with Abrams Books for Young Readers on July 2nd.

So without further ado…please welcome Ishta Mercurio!

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Where do you live?

I live in Brampton, Ontario! I haven't always lived here, though. I grew up in Cincinnati, OH. I come from a long line of people who moved around.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I've always loved storytelling, and I studied theater in college. There was something about using my whole self--my body, my gestures, my facial expressions, my voice--to tell a character's story that I really loved. But when I had kids, I realized that paying someone to look after them was going to cost more than I was earning! So I decided to stop working for a while and stay home with my littles. I read to them every night at bedtime, and I fell in love with the storytelling in picture books: the rhythm of the language captivated me, and the way the words and pictures came together to make something that is greater than the sum of their parts is an alchemy that I had to be a part of.

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

Reading! I didn't know the first thing about how to get published, so I googled it. This is what's so great about living in the 21st century--you can google how to do almost ANYTHING! So I googled it, and I read a whole bunch of blogs by agents (like Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner) and writers (like Shannon Messenger and Casey McCormick and Shannon O'Donnell and Debbie Ohi), and I joined SCBWI and CANSCAIP (which is like SCBWI, but Canadian), and I invested a lot of time (years!) in learning how the industry works.

I also learned very quickly that my writing was not very good, but I knew that that was okay because you can improve as a writer, so I focused on doing that. I joined critique groups through SCBWI. I took a class in writing for children at the University of Toronto. I became part of the community of kidlit writers in the Toronto area. I went to conferences where I paid for my work to be critiqued, and I kept revising and writing new things until the rejections I got sounded less like one-line form rejections and more like "I loved these things about your story, but this part just isn't working." Meanwhile, a friend from my critique group was writing non-fiction in a series for a publisher, and she asked me if I wanted to write the next non-fiction book in the series with her, so I did, and that was great. It was my first experience working with a publisher, but I was doing it with someone who had worked with them before, and that was really valuable.

And then eventually, an agent pulled my query for a chapter book out of the slush and loved it and asked to see more and loved that, and we met and I knew that I wanted her on my team. She really got me, which is important. You want an agent who really gets you and who absolutely loves your work. And the thing is: that chapter book still hasn't sold, but the next thing she sent out did. And that book is SMALL WORLD. So even after all that, you have to know and accept that rejection is part of the process, throughout your career. And that's okay. Write the next thing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I usually get an idea that's just a seed, and I write that down--just a sentence or two--and let it marinate for a while. Then I jot down ideas and doodle until I think I have enough to make a story, and then I write out what I call a "bare bones" draft: it's mostly flat, language-wise, with maybe a couple phrases that touch on the lyricism or whatever tone I'm going for, but it has the basic plot. And then I doodle some more, and think about what layers I can build in, and at that point I write one sentence that encompasses the heart of the story, and I tape that to my desk where I can see it while I work through the multiple drafts it takes to get the story right. It's like my compass: it keeps me heading in the right direction.

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

I read a lot, and I watch movies. I take walks and garden and watch the bugs do their thing. I catch up on the news. Mostly, though, I go out in the world, to museums or to parks, and I just take it in. And I have conversations with people about things that have nothing to do with writing children's books. Ideas are everywhere; you just have to be open to them.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee! But everyone probably says that. I also have a process book, and that's where I write early drafts and doodle and work out niggles in my manuscripts. Even when I reach the type-it-all-out stage, I like to have my process book close by.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Oh, gosh--so many! It would be easier to list the ones who don't, but that would be mean.

I love Marla Frazee's work; her illustrative style is just so gorgeous, and at the same time, so rooted in the messy reality of childhood. She's amazing. I am in awe of Angie Thomas and S. K. Ali, whose books feel so effortless (even though I know they take A LOT of work!). Ekua Holmes' experiments with different illustrative styles and art techniques is blowing me away. Linda Sue Park and Kate DiCamillo both wrote books that made me want to be a better writer. And John Green's books always feel like home.

Dream project to work on?

I have a HUGE bucket list, but one of the things on it is to write a wordless picture book. I know that sounds contradictory, and it's hard to pull it off, but there's no fun without a challenge, right?

Tell us about your debut book.

SMALL WORLD follows Nanda from the day she is born, wrapped in the circle of her mother's arms, right up until the day she goes to the Moon and looks back at the Earth from far away. It's about wonder, and the amazing places your explorations can take you. It's about dreaming big for your future, and finding your place in the vastness of the Universe. It's my love letter to this planet, which is our shared home and which contains innumerable wonders. And it's about joy. Jen Corace illustrated it, and it's a match made in heaven. My editor is a genius for pairing Jen's art with my words.

What’s up next for you?

I'm not allowed to say yet, but I sure hope everyone likes it!

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

The Princess Bride, of course!


Huge thank you to Ishta for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait for your debut to come out! Congrats!


ISHTA MERCURIO is an author and actor. Raised in Cincinnati by an Irish-German-Italian-American father and a Polish-American-Filipino mother, she has traveled to England, Scotland, Italy, France, and all over the United States. She now lives in Brampton, Ontario, where she films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Small World is her debut picture book. Find her online at www.ishtamercurio.com, on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theoneandonlyishta/ , on twitter at @IshtaWrites and on instagram at @ishtamercurio.

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Interview with Debut Author and Illustrator Mikela Prevost

Authors + Illustrators, Interviews, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have a fabulous interview with debut author and illustrator Mikela Prevost whose book, LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY! came out in March. I adore this book so much! It’s cute, funny, and oh so charming with a lot of heart— my favorite combination. Here’s a sneak peek for those of you who haven’t read Mikela’s wonderful debut yet…

Kate and Frank are best friends. To celebrate Frank's birthday, Kate throws him a party with all her favorite things: lots of friends, dancing in circles, loud singing, and sparkly confetti everywhere. But best friends don't always have the same taste in parties. Frank prefers quiet, sun-drenched naps on his favorite rug. So he hides. Kate must find a way to bring Frank back to the party--on his own terms.

I’m thrilled to have Mikela with us today, so without further ado…please welcome Mikela Prevost!

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Where do you live?

In the Valley of the SUN! Phoenix, Arizona.

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

As a kid, I wasn't terribly good at reading but I always had the pictures in books to help guide me through the story in one way or the other. But by 2nd grade, I had started to grow in my reading abilities and at that point, the Harry Potter books of my day were Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic. I devoured these books, for the brevity of the poems and the child-like pen and ink illustrations. 

Silverstein's illustrations seemed so approachable, something that I could do. Drawing came much easier to me than reading, so seeing how a story could be encapsulated in such a brief poem along with an outlandish drawing was so attractive to me. The worlds he created through his poems always had me wondering what else happened beyond that last sentence. 

As a writer and illustrator now, I want to try and give young readers that sense of  "seen" as Shel Silverstein did for me.

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

Signing with a literary agent was the best way for my work to evolve. I attended SCBWI's Winter Conference in 2017 where Rebecca Sherman of Writer's House came across my work. She loved my illustration work and knew that my writing had potential. Over the course of several months, I was writing stories and sending sketches to Rebecca but she really wanted to start my career off on the right foot, so she pushed me to produce my best work. I'm so thankful she did, as I look back and see those earlier stories - I would not want them out in public! When the story idea for Let's Have a Dog Party! came, Rebecca made me feel like I had struck gold! We sent the text, dummy and two finished illustrations out, it went to auction and we found a great home for the story with Joanna Cardenas who (at the time) was the editor for Viking/Penguin.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Writing and illustrating is such a balancing act - having just enough of the best words while allowing the illustrations to do some heavy lifting. I  try to write more than I need then weed out what is superfluous to the story. 

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

I "squeeze the sponge dry" on a topic until I've exhausted every possible story idea. I write out ideas until I reach the end of the page. 95% is garbage worthy, but I will stumble on a gem that makes me so excited, I won't sleep at night.

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

While writing, I listen to a curated instrumental playlist that cues up my brain to stay focused on just that story. While illustrating I binge podcasts and watch/listen to old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. And I keep the coffee flowin'.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

My illustration friends Molly Idle, for her graceful, luscious line work and joyful colors and Juana Martinez-Neal, who captures the essence of children so innately. Also, her talent with patterns is second to none! An author I aspire to emulate is Jon Agee - his humor is so wry yet it translates to children in the perfect way. My Rhinoceros was my own personal masterclass in writing.    

Dream project to work on?

Anything that results in a kid loving a book so much, it falls apart. That, to me, is the true mark of a successful book.

Tell us about your debut book.

With Let's Have a Dog Party! I was sitting in my office, wracking my brain for a good story idea, while my kids and a few neighbor kids were running back and forth by my door chasing our little dog Pepper. She's a good-natured dog that will tolerate anything, but I knew eventually the chaos would reach a crescendo and she would take off running. If I wasn't there to stop this fiasco, I imagined a party breaking out. That's where the idea came from - I liked the idea of the kid characters just deciding out of the blue that "today" was Frank's birthday and using whatever they had on hand to celebrate. Like my kids, I knew a point would come that the characters would realize the poor dog had hit his limit and need to de-escalate the situation.

What’s up next for you?

I can't say just yet - but I can say I'm excited!

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

Ghostbusters! And it still is my favorite movie! I saw it in the theater with my Dad, so I'll always have the good memories to associate with the movie.


Huge thank you to Mikela for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see your debut book and all that you do!


MIKELA PREVOST is an author and illustrator currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their three kids. Born and raised in Southern California, she received her BFA from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Illustration from California State University of Fullerton. Writing and illustrating for children has been her life-long pursuit and passion. Her work is driven by the desire to capture the whimsical innocence and unique perspective from which a child sees the world. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Mikela visit her website or follow her on social media:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LET’S HAVE A DOG PARTY?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, June 6th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Sheri Dillard

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with debut author Sheri Dillard! Her picture book, COWHIDE-AND-SEEK (how cute is that title??!), illustrated by Jess Pauwels, just came out this past Tuesday. (Congrats Sheri!) We are thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit today!

So without further ado…please welcome Sheri Dillard!

Sheri Dillard (author photo).jpg

Where do you live?

Atlanta, GA

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

When my three sons were picture book age, we lived in Lewisburg, a small, central Pennsylvania town. Our friendly borough was surrounded by rolling hills of farmland, and it was almost like living in the pages of a picture book. 

It was during this time that I created COWHIDE-AND-SEEK. I wasn’t even writing yet, but I woke up one night around 2am with the idea of a cow character who accidentally leaves her farm and (unknowingly) creates chaos wherever she goes. I loved it so much that I jumped out of bed and quickly wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. I'm not sure why I wanted to remember it, exactly. Maybe I just wanted to share my dream with my husband and kids? But the next day, I started writing. 

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

Those kids of mine that I mention above? The picture book aged ones? They are now in college and beyond, so that gives you an idea of the length of my road!  But it all worked out pretty well, actually. Now in my first year as an empty-nester, I have my debut book to focus on. And its release date is just before my twin sons come home from their first year of college, so they can help me celebrate. Great timing!

A few months after I first started writing, I discovered SCBWI. It's such a helpful and supportive community, and I always mention it to anyone interested in writing for children. And it was through SCBWI that I connected with my two critique groups. (Hi Crumpled Paper and Critcasters!) Both the experiences of getting critiques and giving critiques helped me grow as a writer. (And still do!)

I spent years writing, revising, critiquing, and then repeating with more writing, revising, and critiquing. I went to conferences. Sent submissions to editors and agents. Eventually, my form letters improved to personal letters and finally to revision requests. And I came really close a couple times.

But my big break came during a Twitter pitch party. (Which is such a surprise because I am still learning how all this social-media stuff works! LOL) The event was called #PBPitch and it eventually led to me signing with my agent Liza Fleissig. We haven't sold the manuscript that she signed me for - (yet!) - but I love that COWHIDE-AND-SEEK will be my first book. And I love that this story found a home at Running Press Kids. Julie Matysik and her team at RPK are wonderful!    

Can you share a bit about your process?

I love to revise. It feels like working on a puzzle, and it is so satisfying when everything starts to fit together. And I love working on manuscripts that I haven't read in a while because I'm seeing them not only with "fresh eyes" but also with the eyes of a more experienced writer.

An important part of my revision process is to read the manuscript out loud. It really helps me see (and hear!) what needs adjusting. I'm a librarian at a preschool, and I have regular weekly storytimes in all the classes. (Love it!) Sometimes, when I'm at home working on a new story, I'll read it out loud and imagine that I'm reading it to one of the classes. It soon becomes clear where I might lose the kids' interest or where things might be confusing. And also where things might be funny or exciting. And that very last page, right before I say, "the end," needs to be satisfying, in some way. 

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

Ideas usually come to me when I'm not paying attention, LOL. I've gotten several ideas when I'm out for a run, and as I'm running, I'll record the ideas on my phone. The combination of my southern accent and the huffing and puffing (from my run) makes for interesting notes, and sometimes that will spark another idea! 

Captain

Captain

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Laptop. Coffee. And I love having my writing companion, Captain, nearby. (He's great at reminding me to take writing-breaks with a nice walk around the neighborhood.)

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Ooh, that will be hard to narrow down. I love fun and silly picture books, so I'll say Tammi Sauer, Doreen Cronin, Jan Thomas, and Chris Haughton. One of my all-time favorite picture books to give as a gift is BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer. 

Dream project to work on?

Actually, I like to think that my dream already came true. Literally! That story idea that woke me up at 2am is the idea that started my writing career and will be my very first picture book. Pretty dreamy, I'd say.

Tell us about your debut book.

COWHIDE-AND-SEEK is about a cow, Bessie, who hears her farmer counting and mistakenly thinks he's starting a game of hide-and-seek. She hurries off to hide and accidentally leaves the farm. Now, the farmer really IS looking for her, but it's not because he's playing the game-- it's because his cow is missing! 

And since Bessie has left the farm, her hiding spots are in places where you typically wouldn't see a cow. Poor thing, it's hard to stay hidden when people keep pointing at you and saying things like, "I see a cow!" Each time, Bessie patiently tries to explain how important it is to stay quiet while hiding, but no one understands "moo." So she has to mooove on...

I love Bessie's earnest efforts to find the perfect hiding spot and her joy in simply playing the game. (The illustration on the very last page is my favorite. :)

What’s up next for you?

As I write this, I'm preparing for my book launch party at my favorite children's bookstore, Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA. And on the book's release date, May 7th, I'll be celebrating with some of my favorite people (kids and adults!) at the preschool where I work. It will be a special storytime for me because I'll be sharing my very own book with everyone. (And rumor has it that my preschool director plans to dress up as a cow that day and "hide" around the school. So fun!)

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

Oh my goodness-- I just checked the release dates for my three favorite movies, and they were all made in the 80s! Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, and Raising Arizona.


Huge thank you to Sheri for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut! Congrats!


SHERI DILLARD is a children's author and preschool teacher/librarian. She lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband Mark, three sons, and a 100-pound puppy named Captain, who is not so good at hiding. Cowhide-and-Seek is her first book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sheri, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @sheridillard

Instagram: @sheridillard

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of COWHIDE-AND-SEEK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 16th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Gail C. Krause!

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward7 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!

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Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

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

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

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Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footloose!


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

Interview with Debut Author B.J. Lee

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward12 Comments

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

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

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

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Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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Anything you can’t live without while you write? 

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you? 

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

Dream project to work on? 

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

Tell us about your debut book. 

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

What’s up next for you? 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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


Interview with 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 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!

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Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Read. When I read, I am inspired. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chocolate and Twizzlers.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What inspired you to write your debut book?

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

What is Honeysmoke?

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with 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 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!

HannahHolt_small.jpg

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 Debut Author Aidan Cassie

Debut Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward4 Comments

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

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

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!

ACassie_HighRes.jpeg

Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

Art supplies you can't live without?

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

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

Favorite illustrators?

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

Dream project or book to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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

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

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


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Beth Anderson

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

Photo Credit: Tina Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you live?

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

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

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you can't live without while you write?

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

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

Favorite authors?

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

Dream project or book to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book?

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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