At last, my book is out in the wild. Welcome, Piglette! Bienvenue au monde!
This story was written and illustrated with such love.
If you’d be willing to request it at your library, purchase it from your indie bookshop, or order it online,
I’d be so grateful. May it bring you and your little ones many happy moments.
***Receive a FREE Piglette printable paper doll when you sign up for my mailing list here!***
Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors & illustrators of Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is shining on author Lisa Katzenberger. Her first picture book, National Regular Average Ordinary Day, illustrated by Barbara Bakos, debuts from Penguin Workshop on June 23rd, 2020.
Congratulations on your upcoming debut! Give us a little teaser of what your book is about.
In National Regular Average Ordinary Day, Peter gets a severe case of boredom with all his usual games. To keep himself entertained, he decides to celebrate all the holidays under the sun—important ones, like National Ice Cream Sandwich Day! But when he’s faced with a day with nothing to celebrate, things take an interesting turn.
Love it! How did the idea of National Regular Average Ordinary Day come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?
One of my writing gigs was working as a social media manager. I had to generate content for a few company’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds. One of the tactics was to find « national holidays » that tied into the company’s brand. I wrote a quick scribble about these holidays as one of my StoryStorm ideas and let the idea sit for a while. Then I tackled it as my December 2017 draft. The story just fell out of me. It went out on submission in February 2018 !
Wonderful. Can you tell us a bit more about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?
Oh gosh, since I was a kid. I learned about creative writing in third grade and fell in love with storytelling. I kept taking writing classes whenever I could in school, all the way through college and eventually in the evenings when I had a career as a technical writer. I wrote two and half really bad novels that will never see the light of day, but I did manage to have some short stories published.
Then when I had my kids and started taking them to story time at the library, I fell in love with a new format – picture books. I joined SCBWI and the 12×12 picture book writing challenge in 2015, and have been writing kidlit ever since.
Today, what do you like to write about, in general?
I’ve realized that my writing falls into a couple categories – either a heartfelt look at self-discovery or plain silliness. But I like to keep challenging myself and hope to grow in my types of storytelling.
What does a Typical Day in The Life of Lisa look like?
I have eight-year-old twins and they are my number one priority. But I make sure to carve out writing time, getting up at 5 or 6am to write before I have to get everyone up for school a few days a week. I also work freelance writing gigs from time to tome, so my schedule varies if I have work to focus on as well. Now that my kids are older, I can write while they play in the basement or read or are taking gymnastics lessons. No day is the same, and I just try to write in the cracks of time I have, a bit here and a bit there.
What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of a creative “funk”?
Honestly for me it is just pure work and sometimes brute force. I make myself open the computer every day and face the screen. Sometimes I’m in deep revision mode or have notes from critique partners and I know just what I need to do. Those times are rare. A lot of times I let myself write really crappy, junky, yucky awful stuff. Then I let it sit and decide if there is a nugget of something worth revising or I just call it writing practice and let it go.
Any tips you can offer other creatives?
When it comes to writing kidlit, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is the best resource for learning about the writing craft, meeting other writers, and understanding the kidlit publishing industry. BUT I hear so many people say they can’t afford to join. You don’t have to be a member to attend many of their smaller local events, which are often free and open to the public !
Another must-go-to FREE resource is www.kidlit411.com. Scour the site for information and then join its Facebook page for questions and conversation.
Lisa, your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
My next picture book, It Will Be OK, will be published by Sourcebooks in February 2021 and illustrated by Jaclyn Sinquett. I have many other picture books in the works and a chapter book series that I hope to see published as well! And then just writing, writing, writing!
Any promotional events where we can look forward to meeting you?
I do have a few online events scheduled! I will be doing an online book launch party hosted by The Writing Barn on June 26 at 11am Central. And my local library is hosting a storytime for kids on June 25th at 2pm Central. More events will be coming soon! You can find additional details in my author newsletter if you’d like to subscribe!
Where can we go to find out more about you and your books?
Follow me on social media ! I love to engage with readers and writers ! You can find me on Twitter @FictionCity and Instagram @lisakatz17. For other details about me, check out www.lisakatzenberger.com. Find a way to say hi !
Thanks for being with us today, Lisa. Here’s wishing you continued inspiration and success!
Preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support Lisa Katzenberger and her new release, preorder National Regular Average Ordinary Day through any of the following retailers:
Today, it’s my great pleasure to be chatting with author Josh Crute about his second book, Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous, Scandalous, Shockingly Sensational Umbrella, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen and releasing from Page Street Kids TODAY.
Happy book birthday! This second book of yours bears quite an impressive title! Give us a taste of what Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous, Scandalous, Shockingly Sensational Umbrella is all about.
Thank you! Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous, Scandalous, Shockingly Sensational Umbrella (*pauses for breath* it is a long title!) tells the surprisingly true story of Jonas Hanway, an English gentleman, traveler, writer, and philanthropist who lived in the middle of the 18th century. He was known in his day for writing dry and didactic books, founding the charitable Marine Society, and campaigning to put an end to child labor, but it’s possible he would be unknown to us today, save for one eccentric blip on his resume:
He is credited as being the first man to carry an umbrella in London.
Now, whether or not he was actually the first is unknown, but it’s clear that he was certainly the first man of reputation to do so, and his reputation suffered for it. People were shocked that an English gentleman would carry around one of those ridiculous (read: French) accessories. They laughed and jeered at him and the cab drivers hated him so much (for threatening their business) that one of them tried to run him over! But Jonas was a stubborn man, and even though it took thirty years of persistent “brollying” to end the bullying and see it catch on as a British necessity, he never wavered.
This slice-of-history picture book has already been named a “Junior Library Guild Selection.” Just how did the idea of Jonas Hanway’s …Umbrella come to you, Josh? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?
I was at the SCBWI summer conference when a friend (whom the book is dedicated to) sent me an article from Atlas Obscura about Hanway and his offensive umbrella. I couldn’t resist! There was just something about the stodgily stubborn character of Hanway that appealed to me, and the idea of an umbrella being shocking (especially in a rainy country like England) amused me to no end. I contacted the writer of the article, Michael Waters, who generously pointed me to some sources. I read everything I could, then sat down to write the manuscript. More than anything, I wanted it to read like a humorous and entertaining story. Words popped into my head like headlines on a newspaper. SCURRILOUS! SCANDALOUS! SHOCKINGLY SENSATIONAL!
Once the manuscript reached a place I felt good about, I researched agents and sent out queries. Painted Words liked it enough to sign me, and from there, we sent it to Page Street Kids, who had published my first book. There, Kristen, Allison, and Courtney helped me edit and improve the prose. They also sent me suggestions for a potential illustrator, and after studying the portfolios, I begged, “OH MY GOSH, can we please please please please please please get Eileen Ryan Ewen????”
Eileen was the perfect illustrator for the book. She had experience with period pieces, and a background in portraits, which meant she could fill an entire city with people and make each of them look fresh, alive, and distinct. In one spread, she fills a London street with golden windows and each is bursting with humanity: siblings waging a pillow war, a host of taverners belting out a song, a girl putting her hand prints on the windowpane. Later in the book, she creates a breathtaking ocean spread, reminiscent of rococo art, that includes a mermaid with an umbrella. A MERMAID WITH AN UMBRELLA, Y’ALL.
How wonderful! Does this book follow closely on the heels of your first book? And how does it differ from your debut?
My first picture book, Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth, was published a year and a half ago, also from Page Street Kids. It’s a fictional story about a jealous sequoia tree, so retelling Hanway from history was a different type of project. But even though Oliver is fiction, Sequoia National Forest is a real place and there are facts about sequoia trees in the backmatter. Likewise, even though Hanway is nonfiction, I took great pains to make it read like an entertaining story.
Have you always considered yourself a writer? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? What other fields do you work in (professionally or otherwise)?
I never defined myself as a writer when I was a kid, but I was always working on creative projects, whether writing a story, drawing comics, creating stuffed animal television shows with my brother, or putting on a magic show as the Great Crutini for my parents. In college, I studied film production, and I moved to Los Angeles to be a writer and director. After several years of being more “starving” than “artist,” I reached a breaking point. At the time, I was working in the children’s department of a bookstore and tutoring kids in writing, so I decided to try my hand at being a children’s author.
(The Great Crutini sounds like a potential picture book title…!) So when did you finally break through as a children’s author? What were some pivotal moments for you?
My “break” came about with Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth.
I met Oliver while on vacation with my family in Sequoia National Park. We were admiring the General Sherman Tree, famous for being the largest living thing on earth, when I noticed another sequoia, just off to the side, who wasn’t that much smaller, yet nobody seemed to care about him. Was he jealous being next to such an illustrious neighbor? The first eight lines of the book popped into my head and I typed them into my phone before I could lose them.
When I finished the first draft, I thought it was terrible! So, I set it aside and moved on to other projects. A few months later, I asked a published friend if I could get coffee with him. I almost didn’t take Oliver because I thought it was so bad, but at the last second, I stuffed it into my backpack. After looking at the first couple manuscripts, he was pleasant, but not very enthusiastic. Then I said, “Wait, I’ve got one more.” He read Oliver, and the air changed. “Keep working on this one,” he said.
The second breakthrough was when I worked up the nerve to show Oliver to an editor friend, who liked it and offered to pass it on to her peers. And finally, there was the moment when I talked with Page Street and they told me they’d like to turn Oliver into a book.
What kinds of books do you like to write, in general? Are there other genres you would like to explore in the future?
I find inspiration everywhere, but I particularly like books full of fantasy, adventure, history, mystery, friendship, and humor. And if I find something that combines these things? WELL…! I’ve only published picture books so far, but I’d love to write a chapter book series, and I’m currently working on my first middle grade novel.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I’ve got a 9-to-5 job to pay the bills, so to write, I have to get up early. I usually wake up, brew coffee, and read something. Then I write in the time left before work, or in the evenings, or on Saturday. I’ve also got a writer’s group that I meet with once a week.
What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you when you’re feeling stuck?
I go on lots of walks! Two of my writing heroes, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were also walkers. Lewis was a charger, preferring to hike full-speed across the countryside, while Tolkien was a meanderer, stopping often to look at the bugs and plants. I have a bit of both inside me and the two are often at war with each other. I also read lots of books, with topics varying all over the place. I read every morning, which helps keep the babbling brook of words, stories, and ideas flowing through me. If I’m not reading, I feel like a stagnant swamp with no inlets or outlets.
What advice would you give other creatives?
Sometimes, it can be a mistake to care too much about a project. I’ve gotten in real trouble, playing mind games with myself, putting so much pressure on each page, each sentence, each word, that I can paralyze and confuse myself and begin missing the forest for the trees. In these instances, I’ve had to force myself to lessen the stakes on the project, and just allow myself to be silly, to make mistakes, and to have fun with it. When I make myself do the work for the work’s sake, I do better work. This advice probably isn’t for everyone, but there may be one person out there like me who needs to hear it.
Your second publication is about to enter the world! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish?
I’ve got a couple more picture books on the way from Page Street Kids, which is very exciting! Aside from that, I’m always working on new ideas and I’ve been chugging away at my first middle grade novel. I would also love to write a chapter book series but have yet to land on the right character. And of course, if Edward Packard wants to collaborate on a new Choose Your Own Adventure series…hit ya boi up.
Got it, haha! Any promotional events where we can look forward to meeting you?
Unfortunately, the coronavirus has cancelled the book launch event that was planned. I’m hoping to do a few virtual events, but no details as of yet.
Well, I hope that this interview helps a bit in spreading the word about your new book. Thank you so much for spending time with us, Josh! Here’s wishing you ongoing success!
So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help author Josh Crute today by ordering his new book at any of the links below. (IndieBound helps you order directly from your local independent bookstore, which could surely use the support as well!)
Affordable Critiques, Queries, & Pitches for Picture Book Writers:
Contact me at katearonson ( at ) gmail ( dot ) com
I critique picture book manuscripts with an eye to concept, voice, heart, lyricism, world-building, and overall story arc. I’ll leave comments throughout your manuscript, plus write a paragraph or more of overall feedback. Ideally, picture book manuscripts should keep word count under 600. Longer manuscripts are priced differently (see menu below). Character-driven narrative fiction is my specialty. Yes, you may send rhyme.
Please “Contact Me” at the link below if you need a quote for a particular request not covered here.
Is your manuscript ready to submit to an agent or editor, but you’re stuck on the dreaded query letter? I’m here to help you:
- write you a custom query letter/email: I’ll read over your picture book manuscript and write a corresponding query letter/email for the agent/editor of your choice. You’ll then be able to use my query letter as a template for all future queries you write.
- critique your current query: I’ll edit your current query letter, proofreading spelling, grammar, and content.
PITCHES for PITCH EVENTS
Before getting an agent, I participated in several Twitter Pitch parties over the course of a year, and averaged a “Like” from an agent each time. Of course, I can’t guarantee that the Twitter pitch I write for your manuscript will get a Like. But, it will be a well-written pitch that shows off the essence of your manuscript while respecting Twitter’s character limit. Each pitch will be emailed to you in image format, as well as in .docx or .pages format, for your future use.
For anything I didn’t address here, please don’t hesitate to
with your questions.
(I will be in touch with you by email within 24 hours of your PayPal payment.)
All throughout 2020, I’m celebrating brand new authors and their debut titles. Today, the spotlight is on Karla Valenti. Her first book, Marie Cure and the Power of Persistance, part of the series My Super Science Heroes, debuts from Sourcebooks Explore…TODAY!
Welcome, Karla! And a very Happy Book Birthday to You!
As of today, your very first book is out in the world. How did Marie Cure and the Power of Persistance come to be?
This book came about in a very untraditional way. I was living in Europe at the time and was informed of an RFP for a children’s book launched by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) – a global network of over 4,000 scientists. MCAA was hoping to partner with an author and illustrator to create children’s books as a potential stream of funds for the science association.
At first, I was hesitant to submit anything since I had never written a non-fiction manuscript. However, it was an opportunity to work with a wonderful group of people and to continue developing my writing experience. So, I came up with a proposal that combined my interest in writing fiction with the mandate of writing an informative but engaging piece about Marie Curie. The proposal was to write a series of books featuring scientists, but rather than focusing on what the scientists accomplished, we would focus on how they achieved what they did.
We realized that many children enjoy science and relate easily to STEM topics. However, many children are intimidated or feel that STEM is out of their league. With this series, we wanted to make science more accessible to those children, showing them that being a scientist isn’t just about making amazing discoveries (there are plenty of books that cover this already). Rather, being a scientist is also about exercising key traits that allow you to pursue your interests in the world around you.
Marie Curie, for example, encountered many challenges throughout her life- both personally and professionally. At every step of the way, she met with opposition and, had she given in to it, she would never have achieved what she accomplished. But Marie Curie was persistent and she never gave up. It was this persistence what allowed her to learn science and develop the skills necessary to discovery radium and polonium. In an important way, her persistence was a super power. And if she had a super power, then that surely made her a super hero ! A super hero must have an antagonist, and Marie Curie’s was the aptly named Mr. Opposition (one of the many minions working with Super Evil Nemesis).
I was delighted to have my proposal selected and began working with the MCAA folks and a very talented illustrator (Annalisa Beghelli) to launch an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. To our great surprise, by the end of the month, not only had we exceeded our goal by 20%, but Sourcebooks had approached us with an interest in acquiring the series.
This book’s journey was completely unexpected, and I couldn’t be prouder of the collaborative efforts that led to its publication. The moral of the story : you never know where your next big break will come from, so don’t turn your back on any opportunity !
You are obviously no stranger to persistence yourself, Karla! From what age did you consider yourself a writer? And what spurred you to pursue this path professionally?
I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I didn’t have the chance to fully work on this as a career until we moved to Europe in 2012. After my third child was born, we decided to go on an adventure. My husband and I looked for opportunities around the world and he found a job in Germany. We didn’t speak the language, nor had we ever been there. Nevertheless, we were eager for the experience. And so, we rented our house, packed up our three kids (ages 8, 5, and 1), and boarded a plane with 16 suitcases that contained everything we were bringing to start our new life.
During the six years we ended up living in Germany, the terms of my visa restricted me from working in Europe. And so, I took advantage of the opportunity to launch my career as a writer. I am so grateful for that time that enabled me to learn what I needed to learn, and to do a great deal of writing !
Now that we’re back in the U.S., I have returned to my work as an attorney. Fortunately, I had written a great deal in the six years abroad (which is work my agent is now able to submit). Miranda Paul once gave this very helpful advice (which I am paraphrasing): it’s important to be a prolific writer and not just work on one manuscript at a time. Always be working on new work (and revising your old work) because it allows you to always have new manuscripts in the pipeline. I am so grateful that I heeded her advice !
You mentioned writing non-fiction as being a little outside your comfort zone at first. What do you prefer to write about, in general? What are your favorite genres and target audiences?
I love to play in the magical realism space, and am especially fond of exploring deep philosophical questions in pint-size packages (PBs and MG novels).
Can you describe a pivotal moment in your career?
I will never forget the day we spoke with Kelly Barrales-Saylor at Sourcebooks and she made an offer for MARIE CURE AND THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE. I distinctly remember how everything slowed down and I thought, “this is it, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.” My husband walked in right then and I turned to him, gave him a huge grin, muted my phone and said, “I’m going to be a published author!” It truly felt like I was standing at the peak of a mountain watching the sun rise.
What tips would you give other creatives on the journey toward publication?
One the most challenging things I’ve struggled with in developing my career as a writer is the crushing heart-break of rejection. We spend so much time working towards our goal, writing, revising, learning, connecting. We put our hearts on the line every time we send out our work. And to be rejected, time and again, is devastating. I think it’s important to talk about the fact that rejection is part of the process. Everyone gets rejected, and often. It’s misleading when we hear about people only getting a handful of rejections (or none at all). Those cases happen, but they are the outliers. Most of us suffer through dozens, if not hundreds of rejections. I stopped counting after 500 rejections.
It’s easy at some point to think that we’re just not cut out for this work, or that our work is just not good enough. The two things that have helped me the most in this pit of despair are :
(1) A phenomenal critique group that has not only bolstered me through the heart-breaking bits, but have pushed me to continue working on my stories, providing solid and critical feedback. They have educated me and inspired me and helped me become a better writer. I cannot understate the value of a good critique group.
(2) Remembering that this is an incredibly subjective industry. An agent or an editor may absolutely love your work and still not be able to acquire it. There’s so much that goes in to the decision to publish a story. Of course, part of it is whether the story is written well (which is why it is very important to learn the craft of writing and either take courses or get professional critiques to help you hone those skills). However, a big part of it is what the agent / editor currently have on their list, their target demographic, the current market or appetite for certain themes, the timeliness of your story, etc. Which is to say, being rejected is not always about your work (and it’s never going to be about you). It’s important to keep that front and center, so we don’t get buried by our dismay.
Great advice. And now, your dream of publishing your very first book has come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
I still can’t believe this has happened ! We spend so much time working towards this dream, never knowing if it will come true… and when it does, it inevitably takes us by surprise. At the moment, I have five books coming out in the next couple of years : two PB books with Sourcebooks, part of the My Super Science Heroes series (2020, 2021), a PB book with Chronicle (2022), and two MG novels with Knopf/Penguin (2021, 2022). I also have a few additional manuscripts soon going out on submission, so I am hopeful they will lead to new opportunities.
Anything else we should know about you, Karla?
I love writing, but I also love critiquing (this is my legal side putting on its writing hat). As a result, I offer professional critiques. I also created a Course on Picture Book Writing and Revising which draws from a great many tips and writing techniques I’ve acquired over years.
Wonderful. Where can we go to find out more about your books and resources?
Thanks for chatting with me today, Karla. Here’s wishing you all the success!
Preorders are vital to a debut author’s career! To support Karla Valenti and her new release, preorder Marie Curie and The Power of Persistance through any of the following retailers.*
*A portion of your purchase goes to support the work being done by the Marie Curie Alumni Association, a non- profit global association of researchers dedicated to the promotion of research and curiosity, and to enhancing professional scientific collaboration.
If you write character-driven fiction like me, you know that sometimes, a brand new character will appear in your mind, suddenly “born” into your imagination out of nowhere. And the next thing you know? They’re demanding their own story.
Eureka! You have been entrusted with a make-believe life! Your task is now to fashion it into an endearing, larger-than-make-believe character that will spring off the page for your readers. But in the case of picture books, how does one create that kind of protagonist in the space of several spreads?
Remember the good fairies in Sleeping Beauty, who bless the infant princess with special qualities just after her birth? You, too, have things to bestow upon your new character if they are to become an appealing, strong, and memorable protagonist worthy of a story. So wave your wand and repeat after me,
“To my brand new picture book character, I give the gift of…”
- Plenty of personality. Will your new character be wickedly funny or devilishly mischievous or inspiringly brave, or all three? Whatever the case, your main character should NOT “fit in.” Your MC (main character) must stand out. They must be quirky. Even downright weird. If you suspect that your MC needs a personality-injection, try choosing one of the following and exaggerate it: the character’s voice (i.e. all the ways they express themselves), their humor, their spunk, their personal preferences, their idiosyncrasies, their beliefs, their flaws, their fears, their secret talents.
- A kid-like dimension: Kids need to be able to identify with your MC. Often in picture books, this comes down to physical smallness and/or “cuteness.” But beyond the physical aspect, the MC should have child-relatable concerns. Maybe it’s wanting to be bigger, a fear of the dark, or loneliness. Maybe it’s the feeling of being left out or left behind. In CLOVIS, my MC seems anything but childlike. He’s a huge, tough, former football-playing bull! But even as someone big and strong, Clovis struggles with controlling his own temper…and there lies a struggle certain children will find relatable.
- A true-to-life trait. By “true-to-life” traits, I mean qualities that can just as easily be flaws. My character Piglette, for example, is a perfectionist. Her perfectionism is not really good or bad. It is both good and bad. It is what drives her toward new pursuits, but it is also what impedes her happiness (especially in book 2, coming in 2021).
- A relationship. It isn’t easy to make a lone character endearing or relatable (unless his/her main problem is loneliness, in which case the goal will be to bridge that loneliness and find connection). We are social beings, and if there is a real connection between the MC of a story and at least one other character, we have the relational dimension we crave. If your story is lacking “heart,” consider examining and developing your MC’s relationship to another/other character(s).
- A want or a need. Identify what your character wants early on in the story, and set them off on pursuing it.
- Frustration. Now, get in your character’s way. Just like in real life, frustration is key to the development of character (not to mention of your story). Frustrate your protagonist’s want or need, and allow them to react to that frustration in a way that is consistent with all the personality traits you’ve given them. Being too easy on your character, or sparing them from conflict, stunts their growth and makes for a boring story. So allow your character to confront obstacles and therefore to grow, to change, to evolve. There are exceptions, but usually, your character should not be the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning of it.
- Internal monologue. Not a long monologue. But sprinkle in a few of your MC’s private thoughts, so the reader can get to know them, and understand how they feel about things. Otherwise, you only give a surface-view of events and their superficial effect on your character. So let your reader see beneath the surface a bit, particularly if your story is written in 3rd person, which fiction picture books often are.
This is no recipe written in stone, but I do believe these tips can help you form a protagonist that is worthy of a story. If an editor eventually “adopts” your character as their own, it will be time to find the right illustrator to bring your MC to life. Only an illustrator can bestow the final gift upon your character: the right “skin” for them to live in! And for me, watching this particular step in the publication process has been the most magical part of the journey yet.
Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors of Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is on Elizabeth Gilbert-Bedia. Her first picture book, Bess The Barn Stands Strong, illustrated by Katie Hickey, debuts from Page Street Kids on September 8th, 2020.
Congratulations on your upcoming debut! What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?
My dream started over a decade ago. I worked as a researcher, an elementary school teacher and an audiologist, prior to staying at home to raise my kids. I had always loved writing and creating stories, but one day in 2007 I sat down and wrote my first children’s story. It was terrible, but I was hooked. I spent the next decade learning as much as I could about writing for children – reading books on craft, reading oodles of PBs, as well as MG/YAs, joining SCBWI and groups such as 12×12 and StoryStorm, attending conferences, and of course, writing.
Now you have not one, but two books in the pipeline. Can you describe the moment that you first knew your dreams of publication were about to come true?
I had been sending BESS out to a few editors who were open to unsolicited/unagented manuscripts and whose interests I’d been keeping an eye on. At that time, I had been receiving my fair share of rejections with BESS and with other manuscripts. I was probably at the lowest point in my writing journey– I felt completely discouraged. I had been actively working on my writing and submitting for about 6 years, and started to question whether I should be writing. I believed in BESS’s story, but it wasn’t striking a chord with editors…until Monday, October 15 th, 2018. I was standing in Panera Bread waiting for a to-go order when my phone buzzed. It was an email from Page Street Kids. I sighed and thought – Well, might as well get this over. I assumed it was a “thanks, but no thanks” email. Then, I opened it…
“Dear Elizabeth, Thanks so much for sending your manuscript, CELEBRATION BESS, to Page Street Kids….Reading BESS felt like home to me…”
It continued and was far from a “thanks, but no thanks” email. It was an offer to acquire and publish my story! I couldn’t even finish reading the email as the tears fell too fast. I had worked so hard to get to this moment – when it happened I was overwhelmed with emotion. So much so, I walked straight out of Panera without picking up my order. I didn’t realize I had forgotten it until I was starting to pull out of the parking lot. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted by the moment and the amazing opportunity that had just been offered to me.
Ha! Another case of “acceptance euphoria”–love it! Now, let’s back up a bit. From what age did you consider yourself a writer? What made you choose to pursue writing professionally?
When I was young, I loved creating fictional stories about the world around me. It wasn’t until after I had both of
my children did I find my way back to it. As I mentioned earlier, I worked as a researcher, elementary school teacher, and audiologist. I have publications in scientific journals – but of course, the writing for those manuscripts was dry and had to be “just the facts.” Writing for children is A LOT more fun and imaginative!
Today, what do you like to write about, in general? What are your preferred genres/target
My sweet spot is picture books from lyrical, thoughtful ones to humorous, quirky ones. But truly, I love writing anything and everything for children, because an idea can literally come from anywhere. I love listening to children because their imaginations and dreams are limitless and provide such great ideas. I do have a middle grade novel that I need to dust off and look at again, but for now – picture books have me hooked and I can’t get enough of them.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
My day starts around 5 :00AM. I try to get a bit of work done before my daughter gets up at 6 :00AM to study before school. I run my two dogs after she heads off to school. Most days, I try to work from 10AM to 2PM but volunteering and running kids from activity to activity take priority some days. Evenings are busy with more activities and keeping my daughter on task with her homework. Later in the evening, when all is quiet – I read. I usually have several books going at once.
What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of a creative “funk”?
I run with my dogs every morning. If I am trying to work out a problematic part in a story I am working on – I tend to run faster and longer on that morning or I go out and run again during the day to clear my head. Chocolate is always a good plan B for me.
What tips do you have for other creatives?
I would say carve out time every day to let your creative juices flow. It doesn’t mean finishing a manuscript. It doesn’t even mean finessing that line that has been bugging you. It may simply mean taking 5 minutes to meditate, taking 5 minutes to read, or taking 5 minutes to doodle on a page. I think there is a lot of pressure to finish or have a finished
product in hand. In reality, finishing takes a lot of time, reflection, and revision. Sometimes, stories need to steep just like a good cup of tea. Be kind to yourself and your story will come together. I, also, saw a wonderful quote from Max Lucado that is a great tip for creatives working on their craft, especially picture book writers. He said, “Make every word earn its place on the page. Not just once or twice, but many times. Sentences can be like just-caught fish, spunky
today and stinky tomorrow. Re-read until you’ve thrown out all the stinkers. Write. Re-write. Repeat.”
Great insights! Now, back to your debut, with that burning question: How did the idea of Bess The Barn Stands Strong come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?
When I was a child, I lived in the rural Midwest where barns dotted the landscape. When I became an adult, I lived in a few cities and now, I live in a suburban area. I have loved all the places I have lived, but my heart remains with the rural landscape. When we moved to our current home there was a mix of farmland and suburban homes. Among all the
houses along a street I drove up and down several times a day, there was a beautiful old barn. It had my heart from the first time I saw it. It was like seeing an old friend every day. It seemed strong and steadfast amongst all the change and modernization going on around it. Until, one day it was torn down. My heart broke, my old friend was gone. I began to think about the « what ifs ». What if, it hadn’t been tore down in the name of urban sprawl ? What if it had shown how strong and steadfast it was ? What if that it showed it was still very much alive and willing to be a part of the community ? That is how BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG came to be.
A beautiful homage to that old barn. And now, your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
My second picture book, ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON, comes out on October 22nd! I am so thrilled for the opportunity. It will be published simultaneously the UK and the US from Upside Down Books/Trigger Publishing UK. Upside Down Books focuses their publications on the mental health and wellness of children. ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON touches on a topic I am passionate about – emotional intelligence of children. It is a story about a young boy, Arthur, who wants a balloon because they make him smile, but his gloomy dad always says no. The story follows Arthur as he tries to understand why his dad is so sad and tries in his own way to help his dad find his smile again. Looking toward plans for the future, I would love one day to complete and polish a few middle grade stories I have, but for now, I am having the time of my life creating picture book stories!
ARTHUR sounds like a such an important and uplifting book! Looking ahead, will there be any promotional events readers where readers can meet you in the near future, Liz?
Currently, I have a few local book launches scheduled and a few local school visits. I hope to schedule more speaking events in the future.
Wonderful! We wish you all the best in your new career!
Thank you, Katelyn!
Readers can keep up-to-date on Elizabeth Gilbert-Bedia, her books, author visits, and resources by visiting her website and following her social media accounts:
Facebook: Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia
Preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support Elizabeth Gilbert-Bedia and her new release, preorder Bess The Barn Stands Strong through any of the following retailers:
All through 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors of Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is on Bonnie Clark. Her first picture book, Taste Your Words, illustrated by Todd Bright, debuts with Worthy Kids (a division of Hachette Book Group) on April 7th, 2020.
Tell us about your debut book. The title Taste Your Words is so intriguing!
Thanks, Katelyn. Taste Your Words tells the story of Amera, who’s having a bad day. Her best friend ruined her cupcake and they both said mean things. When Amera brings her bad mood home with her, her mom tells her to
“taste her words.” Amera’s mean words taste like rotten eggs, spoiled milk, and lemons! As Amera realizes that her mean words make her feel bad and others feel worse, she starts saying the kindest, sweetest words she can find.
I like that this story engages a child’s senses while evoking frustrations we all experience. What can you tell us about its journey to publication? Can you describe “The Call ”or “The Email”–that moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?
My journey to publication was a little unconventional. There were starts and stops along the way but eventually my manuscript for Taste Your Words paired with the illustrations (by my stepbrother!) got some attention by a few agents and publishing houses through a Twitter pitch party. I had a phone call with agent Adria Goetz who had been on my radar for some time. I had critique partners tell me that they thought we would be a good fit, but I had submitted to
her in the past and received a (kind) rejection. When she showed interest in Taste Your Words I was thrilled and signing with her has been a dream come true.
Sounds like a Happily Ever After! How long have you been pursuing this dream?
I have always enjoyed writing, but I’ve been actively writing for children for about 5 years. I fell in love with picture books when my kids were much smaller. We would go to the library and bring home a big bag of books to read. It’s such a magical moment to share a book with a child. I wanted to be a part of that magic for other families.
From what age did you consider yourself a writer? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? What other fields do you work in (professionally or otherwise)?
I have a business degree from Georgia Tech, but the only classes I remember enjoying were my English/writing classes and one on Shakespeare. I guess I didn’t pursue writing professionally because I didn’t think that was an adequate profession. So, I was an over-educated and under-prepared for the toughest job of my life- stay at home mother to three kids (ages 3 and under!). I can remember a pivotal moment for me when I began calling myself a writer. I had joined a kid lit critique group and was actively pursuing writing for children. I took my kids to see our favorite picture book author/illustrator Mo Willems at the art museum in Atlanta. We stood in a long line to get his signature in his latest Elephant and Piggie book and my son was especially excited to see him in person because he loves to draw. When we finally reached Mo, my son said to him, “I want to be an artist when I grow up.” I will never forget Mo looking directly at my son and saying, “You already are an artist.” The moment that was intended for my son, became the permission I needed to start calling myself a writer. Thanks Mo!!
Aw, that’s wonderful. Sometimes we do need “permission” to accept a calling. So, now that you *are* a writer (even an author!), what do you like to write about in general? What are your preferred genres/target audiences?
I prefer to write about social/emotional topics where kids can see themselves, recognize the emotions that the story evokes and remember the lesson as they get older and when they need it most.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
A typical day for me starts early at 5:15. I like to get up before I wake my kids up so that I can enjoy my coffee, read and meditate (spiritual exercise). Once the kids are off to school I head to the gym (physical exercise). And when I get back home I write (mental exercise). I take breaks to throw in a load of laundry or clean, and before long the school bus is pulling up to the house. Afternoons are full of piano lessons, gymnastics, theater & jiu-jitsu and then I start dinner. We try to have dinner together as a family around the table as often as possible. Once the kids are in bed I make a cup of tea and read for hours until I’m sleepy.
What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of that “funk”?
Reading always feeds my creativity as an author- it doesn’t even matter what genre I’m reading! I also love to do hand-lettering. I enjoy making words beautiful (literally and figuratively) and it satisfying to see an idea through to completion on a page. Drawing & hand-lettering are very therapeutic. I drink coffee all day and switch to tea at night.
What tips do you have for other creatives?
Be creative! If you love to write, write! If for no one else but you. I heard a quote once that I love by Earl Nightingale, “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” Keep writing, keep creating art, no time is wasted creating things you love.
So true. Now, back to your debut, with that burning question: How did the idea of (title) come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?
The idea for Taste Your Words originated with myself and my children when they were much smaller and learning how to use their words to communicate. Inspired by Proverbs 16:24, I would tell them to taste their words before they let them out of their mouth. I also remember when I verbalized the idea to my critique group at a SCBWI Conference and they loved it ! I came home from that conference and wrote the first draft. The original title was The Yucky
Words, but after some time editing the manuscript, my agent suggested changing the title to Taste Your Words, which I agreed was more appealing and marketable.
Your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
I have been waiting for 2020 for so long and I am beyond excited about the release of my debut Taste Your Words in the Spring! I am also thrilled that I have a second picture book coming out in August of this year as well entitled Catching Thoughts.
Any promotional events we can look forward to meeting you at?
I will be attending the SCBWI WIK 2020 conference in March where I will be a participant in the writer’s intensive with the one and only Jane Yolen! I am also excited to (hopefully) be signing copies of TYW! I also have a book launch at my local bookstore FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA on April 4th.
You can find out more about me, my books, author visits & resources on my website and social media accounts:
Wonderful, Bonnie. Congratulations, and here’s to a long and fruitful career!
These days, preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support Bonnie Clark and her new release, preorder Taste Your Words through any of the following retailers:
Happy New Year to one and all!
All through 2020, I’ll be interviewing the new authors of Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is on LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss. Her first picture book, I Love Me!, illustrated by Beth Hughes, debuts with Beaming Books on April 21st, 2020.
Tell us a bit about I Love Me! ?
First, I want to thank you for this interview. I appreciate you taking the time.
I Love Me! is a fun, self-affirming, book that encourages children to love and appreciate their bodies. The art is wonderfully inclusive, sharing a diverse group of characters, expressing how they love themselves.
What a great theme for a brand new year! Now, let’s back up: What got you writing in the first place?And what has the journey to publication been like?
I was introduced to picture books as a mom. My son really loved story time and I saw how engaged he was and how he’d request (my husband) or myself to read books again and again. I loved finding new books to share with him and that really opened my eyes to the vast landscape of picture books. Still, writing picture books wasn’t something I was pursuing, it was something that just presented itself to me out of the blue. I was busy cleaning the house and thinking about my son and his bi-racial identity, and out of nowhere the words of a book popped into my head. It was such an exciting moment. And that was the beginning for me, the first spark, back in early 2015.
Incredible–a surprise “calling.” And you’ve come quite far in only 5 years! What other fields have you worked in?
Yes, I’m an incredibly late bloomer to the craft. I could have never imagined being a creative writer. My educational background is Industrial Engineering. So today, my non-literary career involves program management with elements of my degree woven in. I will say, since coming into the creative writing world, I’ve come to realize that being an engineer also requires a fair amount of creativity when designing processes and creating solutions to solve problems. That’s another form of creativity, so I already had that ability, now I’m exploring it through writing. I would not have made that connection in the past, though.
At what point did you realize that your writing career was taking off? How did your first offer of publication come about?
I participated in a Twitter pitch event called #DVPIT, aimed at amplifying diverse voices and stories to agents and publishers. During that event I pitched several manuscripts and two of them got hearts. Beaming books liked my I Love Me! pitch and an agent liked a different pitch. Hearts don’t come easily during Twitter pitch events, so it was both surprising and exciting rolled into one. I then did some research and moved forward with submitting the full manuscript to each, respectively. The agent replied quickly to my submission and asked for a ‘revise and resubmit’ for that story (she wanted me to increase the word count a bit). And while that was underway, I got an offer of publication on the I Love Me! manuscript from Beaming!
And now your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
I know, it’s so exciting! First, I hope that I Love Me! is embraced by children, parents…everyone. Not just in terms of my book, but as a mantra to know and realize that they are enough. Each of us have something positive to contribute to this world, and once we embrace who we are as we are…we can get to a place where that positivity radiates and helps make this world a better place.
Beyond that, my agent has other manuscripts on submission, so I am hoping for good news there. And I continue writing and creating art, hoping to someday be published as an author/illustrator.
So you like writing and illustrating! And what do you prefer to write/illustrate about, in general?
Picture books are my primary focus. The ability to empower, enlighten and entertain a child in 32 pages is just so appealing. I’ll also share that early in my journey I connected with an amazing Author/Illustrator who encouraged me to explore my drawing. I always wanted to draw when I was a kid, but didn’t quite have the confidence to pursue it. I was doing that awful thing of comparing my drawing to others. Never do that. That’s another lesson I’ve learned in this journey. It’s okay to get inspiration, but don’t compare. Getting back to my point, I followed her advice, embraced her guidance and have been working on art ever since.
What is it then, that feeds your creativity? Or helps you out of that “funk”?
Observing kids in real-life or in print. Or people and things in general, I would say. I’m an observer by nature. Sometimes just imagining a scenario playing out either differently or beyond where it ended at that point in time. Letting my imagination extend it to a different possibility. I let things roll around in my head long before I put pen to paper, and that really helps me keep my creativity sharp.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I returned to working outside the home this past May, so my days are mostly filled with that professional work, being a mom and wife. I am still adjusting to the balance of writing and creating art while working full-time, so unfortunately, I don’t have a nice buttoned up routine to share. I wish I did!
Nothing wrong with that! In the midst of that daily juggle, what advice do you have other creatives?
My humble opinion is to know why you’re doing it. That will be your motivation to keep moving forward. Oh, and don’t compare. Being inspired by another’s work is fine, but know that only you can tell the stories you are meant to tell and create the art that you are meant to create.
Great advice, which brings us back to theme of your debut book. How exactly did the idea of I Love Me! come to you? Do you remember your “lightbulb” moment?
Yes, it was inspired by my son, Ryan. I was teaching him to say and sign (ASL), I love you. And he would always say “I love me.” And those three simple, powerful words really stuck with me. Then the rhyming stanzas began filling my head. It became a sing-song that I did with him as I was teaching him various parts of his body. And working toward a picture book was mixed in there as well. I can’t say the events were sequential, I believe it was more a parallel journey.
A true labor of love. Congratulations on your debut, LaRonda! May I Love Me!, find a wide and loving audience. Can we look forward to meeting you at any promotional events in 2020?
We are working on putting some events together as we speak. I will post information on my website and social media as soon as it becomes available.
These days, preorders are vital to a debut author’s career. To support LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and her new release, preorder I Love Me! through any of the following retailers: