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Happy New Year Critters!

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

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

Lindsay Leslie

Meera Sriram

Sue Fliess

Cathy Breisacher

Shawnie Clark

Jamie L. B. Deenihan

Cathy Ballou Mealey

Julie Falatko

Sheri Dillard

Scott Magoon

Mikela Provost

Ishta Mercurio

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Jenn Harney

Christopher Denise

June Smalls

Sue Reagan

Amanda Jackson

Tara Lazar

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

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

So go out there and start writing!

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

Until next time…

xo

Lindsay

Interview with Debut Author Monique Fields

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward1 Comment

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Monique Fields!

unnamed-1.jpg

Where do you live?

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

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

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

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

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

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

Read. When I read, I am inspired. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Chocolate and Twizzlers.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What inspired you to write your debut book?

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

What is Honeysmoke?

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Author/Illustrator Lindsay Moore

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

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Lindsay Moore!

Just a couple of Lindsays hanging out.

Just a couple of Lindsays hanging out.

Where do you live?

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

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

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

And then...

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

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

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

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

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

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

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

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

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

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

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

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Can you share a bit about your process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

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

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

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

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

Dream project to work on?

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

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Interior spread from SEA BEAR: A JOURNEY FOR SURVIVAL

Tell us about your debut book.

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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


Interview with Author/Illustrator Corinna Luyken

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Corinna Luyken!

Author photo_Corinna Luyken.jpg

Where do you live?

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

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

How many books have you published?

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

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

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

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

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

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

What is your favorite picture book?

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

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

Interior spread from MY HEART

Interior spread from MY HEART

Tell us about your newest book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

Labyrinth!


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


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

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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


Interview with Debut Author Hannah Holt

Debut Interviews, Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

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

So without further ado, please welcome Hannah Holt!

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 Author Tricia Springstubb

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

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

So without further ado, please welcome Tricia Springstubb!

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Where do you live?

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

How many years have you been in publishing?

I’ve been publishing since prehistoric times.  

Do you write full-time?

Yes--I told you I’m lucky! 

What inspires you to create books for children?

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

What surprised you the most working as an author?

That children treat you like a rock star!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

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

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

What do you find difficult working as an author?

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

What is your favorite picture book?

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Book Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, CraftLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s post is all about handling reviews: the good, the bad, and the ugly. After almost ten years in this business, I’ve received them all. Glowing reviews, a starred review, bad reviews, and reviews that ripped my heart out. And I’ve learned something from all of them. Even the really bad ones.

Obviously, the glowing ones are fantastic. They give you confidence to keep creating and putting your work out there. Readers are connecting! It’s a wonderful feeling. But the bad ones…well those can leave you feeling angry, misunderstood, defensive, and make you want to crawl into a hole. I say that having felt that way myself. But here’s the thing— not everyone will love your work. And that’s okay. Truly. I took me a long time to understand this, and it’s something I wish I had known earlier in my career. If you created something that everyone loved, I’m not sure if it would really speak to the quality of the work, right? I mean, the point of storytelling is to spark a connection with your reader. That may not be every reader. And again, that’s okay.

So here are my tips for handling reviews, whether you’ve been doing this for a while or your first book is about to come out:

  1. Be proud of the creativity you put forth.

    Be proud of what you’ve done. You’ve published a book! That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Before I send in anything, whether it’s a manuscript draft, dummy, or finished art, I always ask myself if I’m proud of what I’ve done. If the answer is yes, I send it. If I’m hesitant, then I still have things to work out. Know that once your book has come out, you were at one point incredibly proud of what you’ve done. Hold onto that as reviews begin to come in.

  2. Decide if you are going to read your reviews. Then commit to that decision.

    I have friends who refuse to read their reviews. They have no interest in reading about someone else dissecting the work they’ve created. They know what they did, they don’t need to read about it. That’s one way to handle reviews. But if you are anything like me, then you can’t help but read them. You want to know. Do you people love it? Do they hate it? Either way, commit to how you want to handle reviews. Read them or not. But once you make that decision, stick to it. Don’t second guess yourself. If you choose to read them, see my next tip. (Also, please note, I don’t mean read every single one…that’s not a good idea. Online consumer reviews, for example, can be especially frustrating. Specifically when someone gives you a one star review because they can’t figure out how to read the e-book version on their tablet…seriously.)

  3. Take every review with a grain of salt.

    When reading reviews of your work, take them with a grain of salt. Constructive criticism can be great, it can push you to develop your craft further. Find what you connect with and leave the rest. At the end of the day, it’s your work and you have to be confident in what you’re doing. I can honestly say I’ve learned something from all the reviews I’ve ever read about my work. The great ones gave me a boost of confidence to try new things. And in a weird way, so did the bad ones. Those are the ones that taught me to get back to work and keep creating. Being kicked off the horse every once in the while is not a bad thing. It forces you to grow and really consider your work. Which leads to my next tip…

  4. Push yourself.

    How can these comments, good or bad, help you grow? I look at each book as another chance to push myself. To try something new. To stretch myself in a new direction.

  5. Keep creating.

    This is the most important thing. Don’t stop creating. Certainly not because of a bad review. Keep writing. Keep drawing. Keep putting yourself out there. You are capable of wonderfully creative endeavors.

Until next time,

Happy Creating!

Lindsay

Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


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

The Subtle Art of Pagination

Craft, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a great exercise to try for this:

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

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

Until next time, happy paginating!

Lindsay


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

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author/Illustrator Jen Betton

publishing, Illustrators, Book Reviews, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
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Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jen Betton, the debut author and illustrator of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I met Jen while we were both in school at Syracuse. I was working towards my BFA in Illustration when I took an intro class on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, taught by Jen, who was an MFA Illustration student at the time. Adobe Illustrator is actually the only program that I use when I work digitally…which I have Jen to thank for. I’m not sure I would have learned it otherwise. Thanks Jen!

I'm so excited to share Jen’s work with you all today, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Her watercolors are GORGEOUS! And she has this tremendous ability capturing light….I’m a huge fan of her work and I hope you will all go out and read HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG!

So without further ado…please welcome Jen Betton!

Where do you live?

I recently moved to the Dallas area, so I’m still getting connected with the Kid Lit community here.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I always loved picture books; I never really grew out of them. It just took a while to give myself permission to pursue it because I thought I needed to do something more practical! I loved painting and I loved stories, so creating picture books was a natural combination of those loves.

Tell us about your debut book as an author and illustrator?

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way. 

 I came up with this story while I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. I love stories where the character has a goal that inherently creates conflict!

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One thing that helped me figure out my story structure was understanding the heart of the story. This is the essential, core theme of the story, beneath the surface-level action. I was brainstorming the ending and I had to decide how Hedgehog would finally get his hug. Hedgehog could have hugged another hedgehog (someone just like him) or a turtle (someone who would not be hurt) but I had an “aha” moment where I understood that empathy was important to the story, and I quickly realized that Hedgehog needed to give Skunk a hug.

Can you share a bit about your process?

If I’m writing the story, then I start with an outline. I really have to get the structure of the story right, and the first draft is almost in bullet points. After that I might start weaving small thumbnail sketches into a storyboard while concurrently revising my manuscript. After I have the basic story arc hammered out, I keep writing, tweaking, polishing. At the same time I’m working on the storyboard with rough sketches, trying to get the composition, the page turns, the expressions right. I try to not to get too far into the drawings until the manuscript is fairly firm, because it’s like working a Rubik’s Cube – every change affects every other part of the puzzle. 

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Next, I start working on finished drawings. For this stage I usually gather a lot of reference materials, sometimes getting friends to pose for photos or taking a trip to the zoo. Then I’ll do some color studies. After all those steps are approved by the art director, I’ll start on the finished paintings. I transfer the drawings to my illustration board, and then I jump in with watercolor. After I’ve taken the painting as far as I can, I’ll often add a bit of colored pencil or pastel for details. Once it is scanned, I’ll touch it up a little bit in Photoshop. 

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

Inspiration, community, and perspiration! I get inspired by both books and people. Reading the beautiful books that others have created and seeing how they solved problems teaches me a lot. I find conferences to be energizing - rubbing shoulders with creative pals. My imagination also responds well to discipline, so participating in Storystorm or checking in with critique buddies for some accountability really helps me. And sometimes it’s really helpful to just do something for fun without expectations of how it will turn out. 

Any art supplies you can't live without?

Strathmore 500 Illustration board. Totally different way to watercolor, and I love it! 

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Favorite authors/illustrators?

Soooo many!! John Singer Sargent’s watercolors are stunning. I love Trina Schart Hyman, Min Ji Kim, Lizbeth Zwerger, Christian Birmingham, Scott Gustafson, Greg Manchess. A couple newer illustrators I love are Jessica Lanan and Corinna Luyken. 

Dream project or book to work on?

Something with a sense of wonder or otherworldliness, like Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers or The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe.

What's up next for you?

I’ve been working on a new story, called ANITA’S FLOWERS, which is about perseverance, failure, friendship, and finding your gift. Hopefully it will be ready to submit soon!

I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them here. 

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

Princess Bride and Adventures in Babysitting


Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.

She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.

For more information about Jen Betton and her books, visit her online at www.jenbetton.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenBetton.

TO ORDER a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 20th! US 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!

Interview with Picture Book Author Josh Funk

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

Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

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

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Josh Funk! 

Where do you live?

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

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

How many books have you published?

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

Do you write full-time?

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

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

What surprised you the most working as an author?

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

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

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

What do you find difficult working as an author?

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

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

What is your favorite picture book?

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

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

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

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

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

Tell us about your newest book?

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

Spaceballs.

Thanks for inviting me to chat!

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


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

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

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

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

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


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Marcy Campbell

Authors, book release, Book Reviews, publishingLindsay Ward3 Comments
Adrian Simcox Blog Tour.jpg
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I was lucky enough to meet Marcy Campbell a couple years ago at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. I was participating as an author/illustrator when Marcy walked up and introduced herself. She told me how she'd just signed with an agent and they'd recently sold her first picture book, ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE. It's funny because at the time, I remember getting a feeling that the book she was describing was going to be special, different, maybe even make a mark. And I was right. It's been wonderful to watch the word spread about this book. It has gained incredible buzz. In addition to Marcy's wonderfully powerful text (I cried the first time I read it), the illustrations are by the extremely talented Corinna Luyken, whose debut picture book last year, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my absolute favorite of the year. Needless to say ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE is a must read!

I'm incredibly honored to interview Marcy and thrilled for you all to hear about her stunning, poignant, and extremely relevant debut picture book: ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE.

So without further ado....please welcome Marcy Campbell!

Where do you live?

Wooster, Ohio.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I’ve always been a writer, since my preschool years when I taped books of my pictures together, but I was never encouraged to pursue it as a “career” and so I did other things first, primarily marketing and public relations. I finally decided to take the leap and got a graduate degree in creative writing. I wrote strictly for adults, however, and after publishing a bunch of short stories, started working on what I’d hoped would be a great literary novel. Then, I became a parent and filled my home with picture books. I think any writer, after spending a lot of time with a certain type of book, will entertain the thought of writing those books. Still, it took me quite awhile to set aside my adult novel projects. I kept a list of picture book ideas and kept adding to it. Then, one rainy afternoon, I was sick and tired of editing my novel, and I opened that idea file and got to work on Adrian. It felt right almost immediately. I won’t say that writing for kids is any easier than for adults (and in many ways, it’s more difficult), but it feels natural, like what I’m supposed to be doing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I have a very different process for picture books versus novels (I just finished drafting a middle grade.) I’m very methodical about novels and have all sorts of steps throughout the phases of outlining, drafting and revising, but so far, my best picture book ideas have come in a moment of inspiration and were written pretty quickly. I think about the idea for awhile and jot down some notes, but then I wait for that moment when I hear the voice in my head and have a sense of the story’s arc. The writing can then happen in a day. After that, I’ll sit on it for a few weeks, revisiting, tweaking individual lines. I’ve found that the picture book drafts that took me a long time to write tend to not work out in the end. Of course writing processes are very different for each writer, and even different for the same writer across different types of books. It can take some experimentation to find what works best.

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

Nothing beats surrounding myself with a stack of new books. When I’m in idea generation mode, I’ll be at the library a lot, and you’ll see towering stacks of picture books on my coffee table. Inevitably, something grabs me and turns me onto a new idea. I also find that long walks in the woods help a great deal (for many maladies, not just a lack of book ideas). I like to clean or paint (walls and furniture, not canvases) or rearrange things in my house, anything that keeps my hands busy while letting my mind wander. When I’m coming up with ideas, I have a spotless house! When I’m finishing a manuscript…not so much.

Anything you can't write without?

I’m pretty adaptable in terms of location. I write nearly everything on my laptop, so I’m kind of lost without that, though I’ve certainly been known to jot down ideas on scraps of napkin in a pinch. The most important thing to my writing, and general well-being, is a great cup of coffee.  

Favorite authors/illustrators?

Oh gosh, such a hard question. I will say that the picture book that I found most inspirational while writing ADRIAN was Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street. There are so many fabulous picture book authors and illustrators out there, and, having entered the kidlit world kind of late, I’m discovering new ones every week. Jacqueline Woodson’s books have really touched me. When I want some fun, I love Mac Barnett and Bob Shea and Ame Dyckman (especially her work with Zach O'Hora, whose illustrations I love). Lane Smith is a perennial favorite of mine. I’m certainly partial to Corinna Luyken’s illustrations (and I loved her before she did my book, so I’m only a little bit biased). I’m beyond fortunate to be working with her. The most recent picture book I can’t put down (from both a text and illustration perspective) is Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Tell us about your debut book. What inspired you to write it?

I did know a boy when I was a kid who said he had a horse, but he said he had a lot of things, and his family seemed to be doing well financially, so there was probably some truth to his boasting. I remember, however, that I thought he was lying about the horse in particular. That childhood memory became one line in a list of picture book ideas I started keeping after having my own kids. “Boy says he has a horse and girl doesn’t believe him.” One rainy afternoon, I was struggling with a rewrite of an adult novel and decided to try my hand at a picture book. Chloe's voice came to me quite clearly, and the story took off from there. Over the last few years, I’ve put in a lot of time volunteering at my kids’ public elementary school, which has a high percentage of children with economic need, and I believe those experiences helped shape the story beyond just a couple of kids arguing about a horse and toward issues of class and empathy.

Dream project or book to work on?

That’s a tough one. Thankfully, my dream book is usually the one I’m working on right now. I do think it would be fun to collaborate on some kind of science series with my husband some day (he’s a biologist).

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

Hands down, Back to Future (the first one; I don’t care much for the sequels). I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox, and there was a year where my friends and I were listening to all this old 50s and 60s music for some reason. It hit all the right buttons. I still get chills when he’s playing “Earth Angel” at the dance, and his parents kiss, and his hand reappears.

Thank you Marcy for chatting with us today! Wishing you heaps of success with your stunning debut and future projects!


Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book.

For more information about Marcy Campbell and her books, visit her online at www.marcycampbell.com or follow her on Twitter @marcycampbell.

TO PURCHASE A COPY of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 23rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author + illustrator Betsy Snyder!

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

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, CraftLindsay Ward2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So go out there and write some amazing voices. 

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

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

Interview with Picture Book Author Tammi Sauer

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward76 Comments
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I'm so excited for today's post! Starting this month, Critter Lit will be posting a new monthly feature, interviewing veteran picture book authors and illustrators! How exciting is that?! I can't wait to share with you the awesome line-up of authors, illustrators and author/illustrators to come! My hope is that their advice and insight will inspire you to go out there and create!

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

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

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

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

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

So without further ado, please welcome Tammi Sauer! 

Where do you live?

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

How many years have you been in publishing?

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

How many books have you published?

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

Do you write full-time?

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

What inspires you to create picture books?

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

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

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

What do you find difficult working as an author?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your newest books?

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

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

Knock Knock  Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Guy Francis

Knock Knock Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Guy Francis

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for chatting with us today Tammi!

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

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

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

Raising My Market

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

These days, I'm surrounded by trucks. Literally. If it's not the toy trucks I'm constantly picking up around my house, it's the real ones driving up and down my street. We live in a national park, so there are always front loaders, dump trucks, and skid steers readily on display, working on the trails, dealing with fallen trees, or some other park-related need. And this week, my neighbor is having his driveway paved, so bonus, we have a cement mixer on full display. My two-year-old is in heaven. He could sit and watch these trucks all day long. Seriously. Needless to say, he loves trucks. Here's a sampling of our current bedtime rotation:

Notice a pattern? All trucks, all the time in this house! I had always heard that kids go through phases. The truck phase. The dinosaur phase. The princess phase. And so forth and so forth. But it's not until you're in the midst of it that you realize how all-consuming it is. Obviously, my household is currently living through the truck phase.

This is the first time I've experienced being a parent of the same age group I'm writing books for. It's a rather strange thing. Every night we read three books, and my son always requests at least one book he specifically wants to read. The rest are up to me, which allows for some variation. Thankfully, most of the books he loves, I love too. But then again, I do this for a living so I'm picky about what I add to our home library.

Over time I started to notice a pattern amongst all the books he loves. And no, it's not trucks. We do actually read books without trucks in it...sometimes. Trucks or not, all the books we end up reading together over and over again offer additional details in the pictures for my son to spot. He pours over each page, trying to find Goldbug (Cars and Trucks and Things That Go) or Zombie Truck (Monster Trucks) or identifying all the different types of trucks (Truck Truck Goose). More importantly, though, he can connect to the characters. He's at an age where he understands wanting to help (Little Blue Truck), being sad or protective (The Digger and the Flower), getting confused (The Mixed-up Truck), or being impatient (Sheep in a Jeep). All of these books have total kid appeal. Does it get cuter than Betsy Snyder's elephant driving the fire truck on the cover of Tons of Trucks? No, it doesn't. Could you get a better hook than Anika Denise's Monster Trucks? Nope. Because kids LOVE monsters and trucks! It's brilliant. We literally read that book on repeat.

The 2-3 age is amazing. Kids are sponges, soaking up everything you give them. His memory astounds me and he is learning words at such a rapid rate. One night we were reading Truck Truck Goose, which if you haven't read it, only contains a few words. My son didn't know the word "piano" before reading that book. But he kept seeing Goose pulling around a big, red piano on each spread. Which is a hilarious thing to drag to a picnic in the first place. But that's what makes this book so great. Because kids drag around ridiculous things all the time. Like when my son goes to the potty and has to bring his monster truck with him. He's not going to play with it in there. He just wants to know it's close by. Like Goose and his piano. My son kept asking me what the piano was until he'd committed it to memory. Now we read that book and he points out the piano every time. The word piano isn't even in the book. But the story and illustrations provided him with a new vocabulary word and an interactive way to learn it. Now that's pretty cool.

So what does this all mean? It means don't underestimate kids. Ever. THEY ARE REALLY SMART. Seriously, they pick up on everything. Recently, I had a conversation about using the word "digger" vs. "excavator" in one of my books. The concern was that kids might not know the word "excavator," which is a fair point, some may not. But in all the time I've heard my son talk about trucks, he's never once said "digger," unless he's referring to a name like Digger in The Digger in the Flower. Because he knows it's an "excavator." It's like those kids who can't spell their own name, but they can rattle off the most ridiculously long dinosaur names, unpronounceable to most adults. Unless of course, your household is going through the dinosaur phase...in which case, kudos to you!

So if you don't have a kid on hand to watch like a science experiment for your next book idea like I do, then you need to do your research. Read everything you can get your hands on in the age group you are writing for. Which books are doing really well in that group? Which books aren't? Find the pattern, then find the hole and figure out how you can fill it. I don't think I would be creating a wheel-based board book series with HarperCollins next summer if it weren't for my two-year-old and his obsession with wheels and all things trucks. It's a strange thing to be raising my market, but I'm having a blast.

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

(Want more info on the books I mentioned? Click on the cover images above.)

What's up on deck? Check back next Thursday for an interview and giveaway with GO FISH and KNOCK KNOCK author Tammi Sauer!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Sandra Salsbury

Illustrators, publishing, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment
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This past spring, I had a wonderful experience participating in Writing with the Stars, a contest for aspiring authors and illustrators to win a free three-month mentorship with a published author or author/illustrator. The contest is run by Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie, two sisters, who not only write together, but take the time to run this contest, offering wonderful opportunities to unpublished authors and illustrators. Which as you know, is what we are all about here at Critter Lit.

Make sure to check out Tara and Becky's website if you haven't already done so: www.beckytarabooks.com. The contest will start up again this December.

Contest applicants get to submit their work (either a manuscript or dummy) to a mentor of their choice. I was stunned with all the amazing work I was sent as a mentor. It was such a difficult decision to pick one mentee to work with, but ultimately Sandra Salsbury's work stood out to me immediately. The first thing I noticed was how well she handled her medium, watercolor. But the second, and what really struck me, especially with regards to picture books, is how great she is at composing different perspectives of storytelling.

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I've had the opportunity to get to know Sandra and her work these past few months while mentoring her on her book dummy, MR. FLUFF IS MISSING. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

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So without further ado, I'm thrilled to introduce Sandra Salsbury!

Where do you live?

I live in Berkeley, CA, just below hills full of hiking trails and down the street from one of the best bakeries.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I originally enrolled in art school because I loved to draw, but I spent most of my time floundering around with my art, not really knowing what I would do with it after graduation. It had never even occurred to me that there were people out there making picture books. In my last semester I ended up, on whim, enrolling in a children's illustration class with a local illustrator, LeUyen Pham. This was back in 2006, so there was no way for me, nor any of my classmates, to know what a gift it was to be taught by someone like LeUyen. It felt like there was suddenly a place where my art made sense and it was almost absurd that it hadn't occurred to me before. I ended up enrolling in an MFA program after to focus my portfolio on children's illustration and creating picture books has been my goal since then.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process sort of looks like thinking, then writing, then drawing, then rewriting, then redrawing, and then more thinking and drawing and writing. My stories go through many iterations, first in my head, then in a word document, then on sheets of paper with squares printed out. I usually work in three different sizes of sketches. The smallest is to figure out the overall flow of the story and the pages are small enough that they all fit on one sheet of paper (I will do 3-6 of these, typically). The next size is to figure out the composition of each page. I try to draw 4-8 versions of the page to find the best one. Sometimes the first one is the one that works, but sometimes it's the 8th. The largest size is the most refined version and it's the pages I use for my dummy. Some pages will only have one version, but some will have to be drawing again and again, as I made small changes in the story. And even at the end, you don't know how well a story works until you have put it together into a little book with pages that turn, so I end up with 5-8 final dummies. While working on the dummies I will also do character sketches and art samples to figure out my style and by the time I get to the final paintings, all the hard work is done so I put on an audiobook and get some "reading" done while I paint.

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

I am lucky to live right next to a number of beautiful trails and it seems like my brain does its best thinking while my legs are moving. If I am stuck on a project or I can't think of an idea, the solution is always to take a long walk. Sometimes I have to take a lot of walks, but eventually when I let my mind drift away from the problem at hand or I stop trying to come up with a good idea, something will pop into my head. The best answers are the ones that feel obvious because then you know they are simple enough to work.

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Art supplies you can't live without?

Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper. I have tried switching papers, but I am so familiar with the way the paper absorbs paint and water, that using anything else feels like learning how to paint all over again. People always ask about paint brands and brushes, but paper is the true hero of watercolor paintings.

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Favorite illustrators?

What an impossible question! I love Holly Hobbie's watercolors, Judy Schachner's expressions, Dan Santat's design, Jon Klassen's simplicity, LeUyen Pham's body language, Lorena Alvarez's colors, Chris Appelhan's characters...

Dream project or book to work on?

My dream project is just to write and illustrate (and get published!) my own story. I want to take something from an idea in my mind to a book on a shelf.

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

The Princess Bride. Any other choice would be inconceivable.

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Want to know more about Sandra or her work? Visit her online at www.sandrasalsbury.com or you can follow her on Twitter @SandraSalsbury

Q+A: A Quick Note on Art Notes

Illustrators, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Recently, I was asked a question about the placement and use of art notes in a picture book manuscript. I get this question a lot. Especially from picture book authors-only. Most illustrators understand when they do and don't need to art note, especially since they have the advantage of knowing what will or will not be illustrated along with the text. So if you're an author only, you have to get creative, and consider the illustrations as you write your text.

So, when should you art note your manuscript? Here is my simplest explanation:

ONLY INCLUDE AN ART NOTE WHEN IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT.

Here's an example: say your story is about a monster that only exists in the art. You never mention the monster in the text. The story isn't about the monster. It's about the boy the monster follows around. But in order to know that the monster exists when reading the manuscript, you need to include an art note. Make sense?

Or....

Let's say your story has an action sequence, with a lot of sounds and fun read-aloud bits. But it's not necessarily clear what is actually happening in the action. Art note it. This means the illustrator will understand your intention, but be able to amplify the sounds you've provided to marry the art and text together fluidly.

Now that you know when to art note, what should an art note look like?

I prefer to italicize and change the text color of my art notes. So if the manuscript text is in black (which all of yours should be, this isn't fourth grade, and pink isn't an acceptable font color for submission!), then I like to pick a light to medium gray for my art notes. And yes, even as an illustrator I use art notes. I probably use more art notes that an author-only does. I know what I want spreads to look like, so sometimes I will be very specific in my art notes, especially during the submission process. Editors are not always visual people, and the art director won't be reading your manuscript first, an editor most likely will. So make it easy for them to understand. Don't give them a reason, like lack of clarity, for them to pass on your manuscript.

This is what an art note in one of my manuscripts typically looks like:

[Art Note: ... ]

For me, using italics and changing the text color to gray, helps the art notes stand out from the body text. Not only do I think this helps anyone who is reading my manuscript for the first time, but it also helps me during the revision process.

Where should you place an art note within the manuscript? Before or after the scene to which you are referring?

Usually, I place my art notes after the scene I'm referring to in the art note. But you can also list them first. It just depends on what the scene requires and why you are using the art note in the first place. For example, if you need the art note to set a scene, that either has no text or very minimal text, I would suggest listing it before. I've done this from time to time when I'm planning to use an art note as a way to clarify what I will be showing in the art, that won't be explicitly said in the text.

So what should you keep in mind when including art notes? Here is a few tips that can go a long way:

TIPS FOR USING ART NOTES

- Always read your manuscript aloud. To yourself and to others. You should be doing this regardless, but it will definitely help you understand if you need an art note or not.

- If you are an author-only, consider how your text will allow an illustrator to add their mark to the story. Have you left enough room for them? A truly successful picture book is one that effortlessly marries the art and text together, even if it's done by two different people.

- Don't be descriptive. Again, only art note if it's imperative to understanding the text. Don't add in art notes with descriptions of the characters, what they are wearing, the setting, etc. If the reader will need any of these things to understand your story, then you need to art note it. But otherwise, you are trying to micromanage the illustrations and you need to stop. As an illustrator, I can tell you, it's very annoying.

So go out there and art note correctly, or not. Either way, now you know, and hopefully this post will help you when deciding whether or not to include an art note in your manuscript.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered here on Critter Lit, please email me at lindsay@critterlit.com.

Until next time, happy writing!

Making Brobarians - A Look Back At Last Summer

book release, Authors + Illustrators, Authors, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

To say that last summer was crazy would be an understatement. Within a matter of three months I finished Brobarians and we sold our house. By the end of the summer, we were in tow with a baby and dog and no place to live (our house sold much faster than we anticipated). Thankfully our parents were willing to take us in until we could close on a new house (we bid and lost out on FOUR houses until we found our current house, which was totally worth the wait, but still it was crazy!) Here’s a look at some of the photos I took while making Brobarians last summer:

The beginning of making a picture book. Lots of staring at a wall filled with drawings.

The beginning of making a picture book. Lots of staring at a wall filled with drawings.

This was the first color sample I did for  Brobarians .

This was the first color sample I did for Brobarians.

The tiniest Brobarian you've ever seen!

The tiniest Brobarian you've ever seen!

Making a Brobarian in cut paper (back + front!)

Making a Brobarian in cut paper (back + front!)

Illustrating my own dog Sally into the book.

Illustrating my own dog Sally into the book.

Seen here with her own Brobarian.

Seen here with her own Brobarian.

Adding in the rain.

Adding in the rain.

In order to make the Map of Brobaria endpapers look like it was actually drawn by a kid, I drew it left-handed. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

In order to make the Map of Brobaria endpapers look like it was actually drawn by a kid, I drew it left-handed. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

The red squares = complete. This is how I kept track of which spreads I had finished as I typically don’t work chronologically.

The red squares = complete. This is how I kept track of which spreads I had finished as I typically don’t work chronologically.

The aftermath of a picture book. I’m usually finding bits of paper from a book months after I’ve finished it. The paper gets EVERYWHERE!

The aftermath of a picture book. I’m usually finding bits of paper from a book months after I’ve finished it. The paper gets EVERYWHERE!

Not to worry, even thought I finished the book, I still have my own little Brobarian who keeps me on my toes.

Not to worry, even thought I finished the book, I still have my own little Brobarian who keeps me on my toes.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Lindsay