Posts by Kate

The Impertinent Interview Welcomes: Ellen Leventhal

As founder of The 2021derfuls group, I’m particularly inspired by multi-published children’s authors and illustrators. These creators have established successful careers in the industry and are still going strong, despite a global pandemic and an ever-changing market. The Impertinent Interview seeks not only to feature their newest books, but also to ask a few questions about what makes them tick and how they identify as kid lit creators.

Today, I’m “impertinently” interviewing guest author Ellen Leventhal, who has three published picture books to her credit. The most recent, A Flood of Kindness, illustrated by Blythe Russo and published by Worthy Kids, will release on April 13th, 2021.

Author Ellen Leventhal

Happy book birthday and thank you for being here, Ellen!

Thank you so much, Katelyn for having me here and asking such interesting questions. They definitely made me think!

Let’s start with the dreaded Blank Page. What is your most common mistake/hurdle when writing that first draft?

Sometimes getting that hook in the beginning is a problem on the first draft (and second and third, and…). You want to pull your readers in right away, and that’s something I have to work on. The other thing I tend to do in my early drafts is wander away from the storyline. It’s not always clear to me as I write it, but as a reader, I find myself asking what the story is really about. Often on those early drafts, story to be about too much, and in a picture book, that won’t work. But I don’t stress because I know it twill work its way out during revision.

What kind of writer are you? Are you a plotter? A pantser? A plantser? Something else?

I would say I am a plantser. I haven’t heard it put that way before, but what a great word ! I usually write a very basic plot of where I want to go, but the pantser in me often takes over after that. It’s sometimes fun to see where my characters go, and then I tweak a lot in revision. As we all know, writing is re-writing.

Introvert or extrovert and how does this effect your career in general & your PR work out there?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am an extroverted introvert. I can be outgoing, but crowds make me crazy. I’m not comfortable with a lot of strangers, and I’m not great with small talk. But put me in a school or someplace else where I can talk about books, writing, kindness, or anything else I am passionate about, and I won’t shut
up ! I can be silly and outgoing for hours at a school, but afterwards, I definitely need some alone time. As far as the PR work, that is SO difficult for me. The actual, « Buy my book, please » or « Here’s a good review, » is terribly hard for me. I embarrass easily, and to be honest, I ask myself, « What are you doing? You’re not that good ! » Yes, PR is HARD especially when Imposter Syndrome is your closest friend. I have a PB biography coming out (unknown date), and I think I will do better at that because I will be promoting my subject, not myself.

What about your writing career worries you most/keeps you up at night?

Going back to the previous question, I wonder if I can do a good enough job at marketing my work when that goes against my basic personality. I also worry that I don’t have any more good stories inside me.

(I think a lot of writer-readers are nodding their heads right now!) What was your single biggest influence from childhood that feeds your writing today? From adulthood?

My father was definitely an influence on my writing when I was a kid. He was a technical writer, but he also always wrote stories and poetry for us. I tried to do the same for my children when they were growing up. As far as an influence from adulthood, aside from all my kidlit friends who do incredible work (including the wonderful Katelyn Aronson 😉 ) I would say my children and my students influenced my writing, and now my grandchildren and I write stories together. They are great little idea generators.

Your first memory of an encounter with the “heart” of a story? Maybe an emotional moment where a story spoke directly to you—possibly choking you up? Similarly, has your own story ever made you cry?

I clearly remember reading a middle grade novel called FOLLOW MY LEADER about a seeing eye dog. I remember sitting on a rock in a park reading it and wondering what it would be like to be blind. I felt I was in the story. The funny thing is that I read it many years later, and didn’t feel a thing. That reminds me that words and events resonate with different people at different times. Now, watching children react to a book always brings me back to my own childhood. As an adult, when Leslie went to Terabithia by herself, I knew something would happen, and
the tears just came. (Ignore the teacher in the corner trying not to yell, « Don’t go, Leslie ! » )

My latest book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, which releases on April 13, definitely chokes me up a bit. It is based on a true event, and when I watched my critique group read it, I saw the emotion in them, which, of course, almost brought me to to tears. I hope my last line brings an « Ahh » to readers as it does to me.

What is your absolute favorite spread of your newest book and are you at liberty to show it here?

I can’t say that any specific spread is my favorite. They are all tell different parts of the story, but I do like this one because it’s the lead up to the end which is emotional:

A line of your text you had to take out against your will? A darling you had to kill?

I had to change a lot in LOLA CAN’T LEAP. I loved the line « Great Grandma Gertie held the record for jumping the highest. » The possible illustrations for this line danced in my head. But of course the story was much better without a lot of the extraneous lines, even if I loved them.

If all we had were your books to go on, what might we wrongly assume about you?

Since most of my published works are picture books, people may wrongly assume that I only enjoy that age group. Actually, I taught fifth grade for many years, and I love that age and middle school kids.

What unofficial “industry rules” has your published work managed to break through?

I don’t know that I broke through because it was the publisher’s idea, but an author isn’t always lucky enough to be privy to the illustration process. However, I was able to work closely with Joel Cook, illustrator of DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS and Noelle Shawa, illustrator of LOLA CAN’T LEAP. I got to see each step and even collaborate a bit. However, I had very little to say since they are both such talented illustrators and really brought the characters to life in a way a could never imagine myself.

Shamelessly plug your newest book! Why should we buy A Flood of Kindness?

This book celebrates the healing power of kindness which is universal. All children deal with sadness and loss in some way, whether it stems from a natural disaster, the death of a pet, or moving to a new place. A Flood of Kindness acknowledges those difficult feelings and helps readers process them. Charlotte endures a flood and has to move to a shelter for a while. Although Charlotte’s situation is extreme, everyone goes through difficulties at one time or another. Through this book, children will be encouraged to be kind to those who need a friend and empowered with the knowledge that they can help others by accepting and passing on acts of kindness.

Blythe Russo’s beautiful illustrations complement the story. They capture the mood and the emotion so well that a child will know what’s going on even without the words. Her small touches and little hints of what comes next will have children reading this over and over to find more details. Blythe expertly moves the reader through dark days and into the sunlight of hope with her use of color and facial expressions.

Is there a story behind this story?

Yes. I live in Houston, and some may remember the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused in 2017. However my community had just gone through the 2015 Memorial Day flood and the 2016 Tax Day flood as well. We had just cleaned up from the 2016 flood when Harvey slammed us. On the surface, this book is a story about a young girl navigating through a difficult time after she loses her possessions in a flood. However, the real story is about how kindness helps people and communities heal during turbulent times. Here in Houston, I saw that firsthand.

My fictional character, Charlotte mirrors that of many children I knew and those with whom I worked. They were angry and felt helpless. Of course, many adults felt that way too. But when I stood outside my ruined home, I thought of Mr. Rogers’s call to “Look for the helpers.”  I didn’t have to look far. Anyone whose home was without damage reached out to us, and their kindness was a blanket of hope. At that point, I knew that if I was ever going to write something about these floods, I would focus on kindness and hope.

What message do you hope readers will take from A Flood of Kindness?

We have had and will continue to have challenging times. I hope this book is received as a story of empathy, hope, and empowerment. My wish is that young readers understand the power of kindness and believe they have the power to make things better, even if it’s for one person.

Wonderful, Ellen. Thank you so much for your time. We’re wishing you continued success and many more books!

Thank you so much for having me here, Katelyn!

Support Ellen Leventhal’s work by ordering her 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!

IndieBound.org

Bookshop.org

BarnesandNoble

The Impertinent Interview Welcomes: Rosie J. Pova

As founder of The 2021derfuls group, I’m particularly inspired by multi-published children’s authors and illustrators. These creators have established successful careers in the industry and are still going strong, despite the ever-changing market. The Impertinent Interview seeks not only to feature their newest books, but also to ask a few questions about what makes them tick and how they identify as kid lit creators.

Today, I’m “impertinently” interviewing guest author Rosie J. Pova.

Welcome, Rosie!

To date, how many children’s books have you published? And psst: Are there any more in the pipeline that you aren’t allowed to talk about yet?

I have five traditionally published children’s books. The latest one in the pipeline, THE SCHOOL OF FAILURE: A STORY ABOUT SUCCESS, was recently announced. Hopefully, there will be more in the pipeline soon…

Ooh, looking forward to that one! What age groups do you write for and do you have a soft spot for one in particular?
I write for children in all age groups ― from board books to young adult ― but my soft spot is undeniably for picture books! They are such a unique format and pack such genius into them! Picture books offer the full variety of subject matter ― they cover the whole spectrum, from silly and funny to serious issues and inspiring real-life heroes. But whatever subject they tackle, they make it so approachable, the illustrations add to the text in a magical way, and picture books always offer hope. So, to me, picture books are for all ages and many adults can greatly benefit from reading them, too. Sometimes, a serious topic just needs to be broken down to a simple concept in order to be digested, and that’s what picture books do so well.

How do you “identify” as a writer? (As a plotter? A pantser? A plantser? Something else?)
All of the above! With fiction picture books, I’m definitely a pantser. With non-fiction picture books and writing for older audiences — chapter books, middle grade, young adult — I’m mostly a plotter, but could be a plantser too. I like the variety ― I’m never bored! 😉

Do you have a preference for fiction or non-fiction and why?

As for my preference, it’s for fiction right now. Up until recently, I was too afraid to attempt writing non-fiction even though I love reading well-written non-fiction picture books. I was too scared of the amount and depth of research they require, plus I was struggling to find the right voice and make the story entertaining. My drafts read like reports, I was trying to stick to and mention each and every fact, and wasn’t sure how to approach it as a story. It was hard for me to relax and let go of the obsession to include everything. I am still learning, but have now completed a few non-fiction drafts that my agent likes so hopefully published non-fiction picture books are in my near future!

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? How does this affect your career in general and your PR work out there?
Definitely an introvert! But I’ve learned how to be the so-called “situational
extrovert” whenever the situation calls for it, and I pretty much don’t have a choice if I wanted to reach my goals of connecting with my readers, the kidlit community or marketing my books ― in cases like school visits, conferences, and various author events. It took a lot of work though and stretching outside my comfort zone. And the work is never done!

What about your writing career worries you most/keeps you up at night?
That I won’t have enough sales of my current titles which would create poor track record and affect future projects being acquired by both new houses and the ones I’m already working with (such as sequels I’m hoping to publish or more titles with the same publisher).

I love what I do, I’m eager to share my stories, and I work hard on advancing my career as a children’s author. So, I know that both the creative part and the business part of being an author are equally important in order to succeed. Both must be mastered.

Any writing career regrets?
I wish I’d known about SCBWI earlier and joined a critique group earlier. Those two milestones changed my career dramatically, but I wasted quite a few years struggling to figure it all out on my own.

What is your absolute favorite spread of your newest book and are you at liberty to show it here?
Yes, I can show you one from Sunday Rain, illustrated by Amariah Rauscher and published by Lantana. This one is my favorite because it shows my main character on an imaginative, beautiful island ― the mood is happy and the spread is so sunny and exciting. In my daydream escapes, I imagine a beautiful beach with palm trees and a turquoise ocean every time!

What’s a line of text you’ve had to delete against your will? A darling you’ve had to kill?
Yes, from my other upcoming book, The School of Failure: A Story about Success:

The school of failure was located in the middle of nowhere, but it was the center of everything.
I’m still a little sad about that one… ☺

What widely-accepted industry belief has your work managed to break through?
That quiet books are hard to sell. Sunday Rain is by far the book that sold the easiest.

Who is an author or illustrator you’d love to collaborate with?
Dan Santat.

Shamelessly plug your latest book for us! Why should we buy Sunday Rain?

  1. The story has one of the most universal themes — making friends — and every child can relate to that. In addition, at some point, every child has been in a situation of being “the new” kid and looking for ways to adapt, so I believe Elliott’s experience will resonate with all kids. There’s a story within the story — in the book that Elliott is reading — and it adds more layers and subthemes that I think are important. 
  2. As for the reading experience you’d get from this book, it’s a fun read-aloud with onomatopoeia spread throughout and adorable illustrations by Amariah Raucher, who’s also the illustrator for the Princess Truly series. 
  3. Also, a reviewer recently pointed out is that this would be a good book to read to a class on the first day of school. So, teachers out there, consider adding Sunday Rain to your classroom library.
  4. Parents Magazine featured Sunday Rain in their 5 Parents-Approved Children’s Books to Read Right Now, “The imagination-fueled adventures will restore your faith in the kindness of kids.”
  5. Kirkus Reviews calls it “A quiet, sweet story blending common themes of moving, imagination, and friendship.”

What message do you hope children take away from Sunday Rain?
I hope they’ll never forget to use their imagination, in all kids of situations, to be spontaneous and adventurous, yes, but be themselves first, and trust that they, too, can find their way in to new friendships, just like Elliott. And read lots of books, of course! 

Thanks, Rosie. May your bright and brilliant career continue its course!

Parents and teachers are invited to send Rosie pictures of kids’/students’ Sunday Rain artwork to post in her special online kids’ art gallery. There are lots of craft ideas and a coloring sheet on Rosie’s website, available here: http://www.rosiejpova.com/books

*GIVEAWAY!*

Leave your name in the comments if you’ve ordered Rosie’s new book, Sunday Rain, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win the flower print umbrella + swag below! (US only, winner’s receipt required, ends March 9th). Sunday Rain can be ordered at any of these links:

IndieBound.org

Bookshop.org

BarnesandNoble

Amazon

Piglette 2: Due May 25, 2021!

This spring, I’ll be welcoming the scrumptious sequel to Piglette. In these books, I’ve sought to celebrate the senses, while also exploring questions of the heart.

While the first Piglette focused on fragrances and finding one’s place in the world, Piglette’s Perfect Surprise is all about flavor and patisseries (plus a look at striving versus simplicity–I may have been preaching to myself there). Eva Byrne’s luscious illustrations will have your mouth watering!

Authors’ careers are often determined by pre-orders these days, before their books even hit the shelves. That’s why I’d be so grateful for your pre-order, which makes future Piglettes a possibility. The book is available at any of the links below. Indiebound in particular supports your local bookshop, which could surely use the support at this time. Merci beaucoup! and please enjoy a sneak peak inside the book here.

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

Bookshop.org

Interview with Carolyn Leiloglou

Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors & illustrators of the group Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, I have the pleasure of chatting with author Carolyn Leiloglou! Her debut picture book, Library’s Most Wanted, illustrated by Sara Pogue, released in May from Pelican.

Welcome, Carolyn! Tell us what Library’s Most Wanted is all about!

Thanks for having me, Katelyn!

As you mentioned, Library’s Most Wanted came out May 25, 2020 from Pelican. Main character Libby longs to be a great librarian like her aunt Nora, and it just chaps her hide when kids vandalize books. She hangs up Wanted posters to drive the “outlaws” from her “territory.” But when she realizes that a librarian’s real job isn’t protecting books but connecting them with readers, she must find a way to lure them back.

You’ve infused the story with such a fun “Far West” flavor. Librarians, teachers, and book collectors of ALL ages will find this story relatable, and its wonderful message applies to so many aspects of life. (I personally love how it promotes respect for books but also for the readers who love them.) Where did you get the idea for Library’s Most Wanted? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?

I don’t remember how I got the idea, but I remember where I was! I was sitting at the park brainstorming while my kids played. I still have the notebook where I wrote down my original ideas about the story.

In general, though, when I write picture books, I love starting with an interesting idea, catchy title, or pun and then delving into the story that might be behind it.

What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

It was when I had kids of my own that I rediscovered picture books. That was about fifteen years ago. I dabbled in writing for many years, but around five years ago, I finally got serious about pursuing it.

What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? What other fields have you worked in?

I’ve wanted to write since I was a kid, and I actually started writing my first novel in fourth grade. Being an author was a profession that always appealed to me, though for a long time I lacked the confidence to pursue it. Currently I homeschool my four kids, which is a fairly full-time job. Before having kids, I was a substitute teacher.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

There’s no typical day! Homeschooling keeps me pretty busy during the school year, so I have to set aside time to write or catch quiet moments. I also often write in the evenings after the kids are in bed.

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you when you’re feeling stuck?

I’m not sure it fuels my creativity, but I love webinars and classes. It gives me a boost to want to work on writing when I feel like I’m learning more about my craft.

What tips would you offer other creatives?

I think it’s important to invest in yourself. If you want to take your work seriously, you are going to have to invest time, first of all, but probably also money on tools, education, conferences, books. You aren’t going to seriously improve without taking your work seriously.

Words of wisdom, indeed. Looking back a couple of years, can you describe a pivotal moment in your writing career? That point when you realized your dreams were about to come true?

For me, there were several things that all snowballed at once. I had been submitting to agents and contests as well as participating in pitch parties on Twitter for a couple of years. Within the span of one month, I got an offer from a publisher, signed with an agent, and was notified I was a finalist
for the 2018 Katherine Paterson Prize, in that order. Talk about a boost of confidence!

The Katherine Paterson Prize–wow, what an honor! Fast forward just 2 years, and your dream of publishing your very first picture book has come true. Will you continue to publish picture books or pursue other genres & age groups?

I certainly hope there will be more picture books in my future! I do have a chapter book, Save the Cave, coming out in October. It’s the second in my Noah Green Junior Zookeeper series.

Congratulations on a two-book year! And thank you so much with being here to chat about your career, Carolyn. Are there any promotional events where we can look forward to meeting you?

I’ll be at The Twig in San Antonio on October 3, 2020 for a book signing! All other events will be listed on my website: www.carolynleiloglou.com.

Wonderful! Here’s wishing you much success and many more books!

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Support author Carolyn Leiloglou’s work by ordering her 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!

Interview with A.J. Irving

Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors & illustrators of the group Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is shining on author A.J. Irving. Her debut picture book, Dance Like A Leaf, illustrated by Claudia Navarro, is out today from Barefoot Books.

Welcome, A.J., and Happy Book Birthday! Thrilled to chat with you today! Tell us what Dance Like A Leaf is all about.

Thanks so much for having me! My book’s official synopsis goes like this:

As her grandmother’s health declines, a young girl begins to lovingly take the lead in their cozy shared autumn traditions. Poetic prose paired with evocative illustrations by Mexican illustrator Claudia Navarro make for a beautiful celebration of life and a gentle introduction to the death of a loved one.

Beautiful. Would you share what inspired you to tackle such a powerful yet delicate topic?

I remember it vividly. My grandma and I were pen pals all my life. DANCE LIKE A LEAF was inspired by the last letter I wrote her. I went on three walks the day I learned my grandma’s life was nearing the end. It was a gorgeous autumn day. I brought a notebook with me on the third
walk to write her a letter. I read the letter at her service. So many folks told me how much they were moved by my words. That’s when I knew I had to write a picture book for her.

How amazing it must feel to know that your gift to her will now be a gift for thousands of readers! This is your first book. What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

I have been pursuing this dream since childhood. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I changed my mind a lot about the type of writing I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels when I was in elementary school. I wanted to be a sportswriter in junior high school, an investigative journalist in high school, and a freelance magazine writer for publications like Bitch, Bust, and Ms. when I was in college. I rediscovered my love of kidlit after my 12-year-old son was born. I’ve been writing picture books ever since.

I didn’t know what I was doing at first. I made a lot of mistakes and received a lot of rejections, but I didn’t give up. I became serious about my craft in 2014. I joined SCBWI, 12×12, and connected with my first critique group. In 2018, I pitched my debut picture book in #KidPit on Twitter, and received a heart from my editor, Kate DePalma.

What originally sparked your interest in writing? And what spurred you to pursue this path professionally? What other fields have you worked in?

My mom told me I had a gift with words when I was growing up. She used to say I should write Hallmark cards. English was my best subject in school. I received a lot of praise from my teachers. This continued in college with praise from my journalism and women’s and gender studies professors. My WGS advisor told me that I would make a difference in the world with my words. I hope she’s right.

I used to be a bookmobile librarian. Best job ever (besides children’s author)! My bookmobile picture book manuscript is currently on submission. Fingers crossed!

Today, what subject matter do you like to write about, in general?

My projects range from lyrical to humorous. One of my recent WIP is in rhyme. I never write in rhyme! I most enjoy writing character-driven picture books with heart and humor.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

It depends on the season. We live in a tiny town in Wyoming. In the winter, I get up really early to shovel our very long driveway. Then I write while my kiddos are at school. In the summer, my kids sleep in and I make them snacks all day long. LOL. On a more serious note, I’m more focused in the morning. I finally have a legit writing space. I light a candle and get to work before they wake up.

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of that “funk”?

Walking and hiking feed my creativity and help me get out of funks, which isn’t possible in the winter. In the winter, I drink tea and contemplate doing PiYo. I’m really going to do it this winter! A lot of kidlit authors talk about chocolate. I prefer chips. Salt and vinegar chips.

Ha! I love chips, too. But onward from chips to tips: What advice would you give other creatives?

I learned how to make dummies from Arree Chung’s Storyteller Academy. You don’t have to be an artist to make a dummy! I use stick figures. Dummies help with page turns, determining if there’s too much text on a spread, and visualizing opportunities for wordless spreads. They are
magic. I also use post-its. I write my manuscript out on post-its and place them in a well-paced picture book. This also helps with page turns, cutting words, and making sure the setup, inciting incident, climax etc. are falling at about the right places in the book.

As of today, you are a published author. What has been the pivotal moment in your writing career? “The Call ”or “The Email” or whatever moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?

There have been a few pivotal moments. The first was getting an email from my agent, Jordan Hamessley. I submitted a LGBTQ manuscript to her on a Friday morning. She responded that afternoon, asking for more work and to set up a time to chat on the phone. I was in the library when I received her email. I wasn’t shy about happy dancing right then and there. We had “the call” the following Monday. I knew immediately she was the right agent for me.

The second pivotal moment was receiving an email from my editor. A few months had passed since I submitted to her, so I assumed it was a no. In her email, she asked if the manuscript was still available. I said YES! She said she was going to pass it along to her contracts team. Then I received a lovely offer letter from my publisher:

Our editorial team has long been looking for the right picture book to communicate loss to small children. We are moved by the simple, sensory story of a child experiencing both the seasons of the year and changing seasons of life with their grandmother, and we think children and their families will be too. We are excited to bring the story to life and delighted to have you as part of our community of contributors. Your story fits beautifully with Barefoot Books’ mission as a publisher to open the hearts and minds of children.’

That IS lovely. And now your dream of publishing this very special book in memory of your grandmother has come true. What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?

I have so many polished picture books, WIP picture books, and a folder full of ideas. I have also been thinking of writing MG or YA.

Good luck with your many works in progress, A.J.! As for Dance Like A Leaf, I saw that the book has already received a starred review!

Yes! From School Library Journal–such an honor! They wrote:

“This evocative pairing of story and art creates a tone poem and lesson, a lovely reflection on the season of life, and a gentle lead-in to discussion of death and renewal.”

This book is getting a lot of well-deserved ‘buzz’ out there. What specific promotional events can readers look forward to meeting you at, either virtually or otherwise?

My book launch is on Saturday, August 22 at 6 pm MST. This event will be hosted by Storyteller Academy. My friend and agency sister, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, is going to chat with me about being a slush pile success, cows, grizzly cubs, and all sorts of other things. It’s going to be so much fun, happy hour style!

I will also be participating in The Detroit Room event “Picture Book Publishing: Six Tips from Debut Authors” with Elizabeth Bedia and Susan Novich on Tuesday, August 25 at 5 pm MST.

I have a YouTube interview scheduled with Mr. Alex’s Bookshelf.

I am also excited to be Kidlit411’s Author Spotlight in October.

Any other fun facts to share, A.J.?

My motto: Dream big! Never give up!

My furry coworkers are Bosa and Ish.

My daughter created a chalk art version of the cover of DANCE LIKE A
LEAF!

Where can we stay in touch with you and your work?

All over social media!

Website: https://ajirving.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/aj_irving
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aj_irving/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ajirvingauthor/

Wonderful. Thanks for sharing your book birthday with us today, A.J.! Here’s to many more!

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So many live author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help A.J. Irving today by ordering her new book at any of the links below. Dance Like A Leaf is already available in both hardcover and paperback, and in English, Spanish, and French! (IndieBound helps you order directly from your local independent bookstore, which could surely use the support as well!) 

Interview with Jolene Gutiérrez

Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors & illustrators of the group Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is shining on author Jolene Gutiérrez. Her debut picture book, Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, illustrated by Heather Bell, is out today from Spork of Clear Fork Publishing! And she’s got plenty more books where that came from…

Welcome, Jolene! Happy Book Birthday! Tell us about the many titles you have releasing over the next year.

Thank you for having me! I have 6 books coming out this fall through the winter of 2021! My fiction picture book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader releases today, as you mentioned. Mac and Cheese is about a boy, Oliver, who wants to learn how to be a good friend, so he watches classroom pets Mac and Cheese to see how friends treat each other. My nonfiction middle grade book Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Beaks, and Legs is being published by Lerner/Millbrook Press on October 6, 2020. Bionic Beasts tells the story of five animals from around the world and how people use STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) to help build prosthetic devices for these animals. In January 2021, my nonfiction Stars of Latin Pop series will come out with titles about artists Shakira, J Balvin, Sofía Reyes, and Ozuna. 

Brava! It sounds like you have a fabulous year ahead. What can you tell us about your personal journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

I’ve been a member of SCBWI since 2008. I self-published a paranormal young adult romance in 2011 and then I set a goal of being traditionally published. It took me a while, but I made it!

From what age did you consider yourself a writer ? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? What other fields have you worked in?

My second-grade teacher offered to “publish” anything we wrote, and I took him up on that! I wrote books of short stories that I illustrated after he and his wife typed them up (on a typewriter!). Holding that “published” book in my hands was the best feeling, and I was hooked.

I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve been a teacher-librarian for the past 25 years. I told myself that I’d pursue writing “someday.” A close friend, Rae, passed in 2006–a friend with whom I used to talk about books and writing. Soon after Rae’s death, an author, Denise Vega, visited the school where I teach to present to a small group of my students. She asked each of us if we considered ourselves writers. I said yes. She asked if I was currently writing something. I told her no, but I would someday. She asked me, “Why not now? Why not today?” Her words resonated. My friend had died, reminding me that there are no guarantees in life. She was right—why NOT today? I started writing and in 2008, I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), where Denise was a regional advisor. I’m so grateful for her gentle reminder that today is the best day to start working toward achieving our goals.

So from that point on, you took your writing seriously. And eventually, you broke through to publication! Do you remember the turning point? Maybe “The Call” or “The Email” or whatever moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?

Yes! I paid for a critique with Callie Metler-Smith, editor and publisher at Clear Fork/Spork. I chose to work with her on a manuscript I thought she’d be able to give me unique insights into, a manuscript I called THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER. Even though I never say so in the book, my character Oliver is on the autism spectrum and is based off of some of my students and my daughter’s struggles with social skills. Callie is the mom of and an aunt to children with autism, so I felt that she’d be the perfect person to critique my manuscript. She gave me amazing feedback and said she’d like to see my edits. And when Callie saw the edits I’d made, she offered me a contract!

A truly Happy Ending…or rather, beginning!

Today, what do you like to write about? What are your preferred genres and target audiences?

I like to write a little bit of everything! I write funny fiction picture books. I write history, science, and biography picture books and middle grade. And I write middle grade and young adult horror, coming of age, and verse novels.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

Pre-Coronavirus, I would get up at 5:00 to drop my son off at school and get myself to work. I teach from 7:45-4:15. The school I work at is 1st-12th grades, and since I’m the only librarian, I work with kids of all ages. I teach a huge variety of lessons but focus on researching skills, online citizenship, diversity, social justice, and finding “just right” books. When I’m done with work, I drive to my son’s school and wait for him to be done with his after-school activities. We’d get home around 7:00 most evenings. Teaching from home has been challenging, but it saves me at least 3 hours a day because I don’t have to commute, so that’s a silver lining. Most of my writing was done in the time I was waiting for my son, on weekends, and during school breaks.

What keeps you going as a writer? Or helps you out of that “funk”? Hobbies? A certain routine? A particular comfort food/drink?

I usually have multiple projects in various states of development. I love doing that because if I get stuck on one manuscript, I’ll move to another and give my mind a break to work things out with the first manuscript, or I’ll do research for a nonfiction project, or I’ll do publicity work or check social media. So switching between projects is most helpful for me.

My comfort drinks include caffeine: I love Yogi’s Sweet Tangerine Positive Energy tea or True Lemon Energy Wild Cherry Cranberry powder to add to my water, and my guilty snacks rotate from sweet to savory. . .I love Albanese gummy bears or Trader Joe’s new “The Crispy Crunchy Mochi Rice Nuggets.” ☺

(A snack with an almost book-ish title, ha!) What tips would you offer other creatives?

Keep working toward your goals! What I tell myself is this: I have 2 choices—to give up, or to keep going forward. If I give up, I’ll never achieve my goals. But if I keep working, I’ll achieve those goals eventually. Work hard, be kind to yourself and others, and always keep learning and growing!

Now, back to your debut, with that classic question: How did the idea of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?

One of my favorite students would always be too close—in my personal space and others’. I took her aside a few times to explain that she was invading others’ personal space and that it feels uncomfortable to many people when this happens. Eventually, we began to joke about it and I told her that I was going to write a book about being a personal space invader. She knows she’s the main inspiration for this book, but I’ve worked with many kids over the years who struggle with personal space. Whenever I tell teachers what my book is about, they nod and say, “Oh, yes, I could use that book in my class!” 

As of today, your dream of publishing your very first picture book has officially come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?

I’m over-the-moon excited because I just signed with agent Kaitlyn Sanchez—finding an agent was one of my dreams and goals for myself. My other goals are to publish the picture book and middle grade biographies I’ve written. I’ve interviewed some fascinating people with important stories, and I’d love to share their stories with the world!

That’s wonderful news–congratulations! Are there any upcoming promotional events where we can look forward to seeing you, either virtually or in person? 

On August 15 at 4:00 MDT, I’ll have my official book launch and read-aloud with local bookstore, Second Star to the Right. The event is free but tickets are required: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-launch-with-jolene-gutierrez-tickets-115409032523 The video will be available after the event on their website at www.secondstartotherightbooks.com.

Other events:

On August 3, Melissa Stoller will host me on her blog to talk about MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER as well as my MG nonfiction, BIONIC BEASTS!

On August 13, Jedlie will be interviewing me for his Reading With Your Kids podcast.

On August 14, Vivian Kirkfield will host MAC AND CHEESE for Perfect Picture Book Friday!

On August 18, I’ll be hosted by the Detroit Writing Room along with Perfect2020PBs authors Randi Sonenshine and Lisa Katzenberger. Learn more and get tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/picture-book-publishing-tips-from-6-debut-authors-tickets-112071278210

On October 19, MAC AND CHEESE Illustrator Heather Bell and I will be hosted by our agent, Kaitlyn Sanchez!

Where can readers keep in touch with you and your work?

Website: www.jolenegutierrez.com 

Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene

Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene

Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene

Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene

Thanks for sharing your book birthday with us today, Jolene. Here’s wishing you success in your many writing endeavors!

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So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help Jolene Gutiérrez today by ordering her 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!) 

Interview with Kristen Schroeder

Throughout 2020, I’m interviewing the new authors & illustrators of the group Perfect 2020 PBs. Today, the spotlight is shining on author Kristen Schroeder (who happens to be an agency sister of mine at McIntosh & Otis). Her debut picture book, Alien Tomatoillustrated by Mette Engell, just released from Page Street Kids on July 14th, and it’s a beauty!

Welcome, Kristen!

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Lovely to have you! Now, this is one intriguing title. What is Alien Tomato about?

Thanks for having me, Katelyn! Alien Tomato is the story of a mysterious red sphere that lands in a vegetable garden. The veggies are convinced it’s an alien tomato and treat it like royalty, but the cantankerous gopher is skeptical.

The illustrations are so well-suited to your story with their vibrant colors and expressive characters.

Yes! I’m so excited and honored that Mette Engell has brought ALIEN TOMATO to life. I’m in love with her art!

I have to ask…Where in the world did the idea for this book come from?

My daughter was about 11 years old at the time and blurted out the words, « alien tomato ». « What did you say ? » She just laughed and didn’t even know why she said it. I started thinking about whether I could write a picture book about an alien tomato, and the kernel of the book idea came to me.

Ha! Too funny. Tell us about the book’s journey to publication. How long have you been pursuing this dream?

I started writing picture books in 2013, when my youngest child started first grade and I had a little more time to write. I joined the 12×12 community in 2014, which helped me navigate and understand the industry. In 2015, I got a gold membership and started submitting to agents. Although I didn’t get my agent through 12×12, I do credit 12×12 with helping me have the confidence to submit more widely. I am a #pitmad success story. I received two offers of representation in late 2015. And then…it took three long years to sell my first book. My son will be entering eighth grade in the fall, so it’s been a seven year journey, so far !

It IS such a long road, but you hung in there and triumphed. Looking back, can you describe a pivotal moment in your career? Maybe “The Call ”or “The Email” or whatever moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?

The pivotal moment for me was when my agent, Christa Heschke, told me we had an offer for ALIEN TOMATO. We had come close several times, with ALIEN TOMATO and other manuscripts being considered by editors or going to acquisitions meetings. So it wasn’t until we had an actual offer that I felt being a published author was going to happen for me.

You mentioned starting to write once your youngest began school. Had you ever dreamed of becoming an author before adulthood? And what other fields have you worked in professionally?

I was a huge reader growing up, but I didn’t really see myself as a writer or even enjoy writing until I was much older. I tried writing as a hobby on and off for about ten years, entering a few short story contests and trying to write a mystery once. I have a Bachelor’s degree in business and MBA degree and I still run my own business in Australia. When I discovered writing for children, it seemed to click for me, and I decided to pursue writing more seriously.

What are your preferred genres and target audiences?

Humorous picture books are my favorite to read and write, so the majority of my manuscripts would fall into this category. I recently received a rejection on two manuscripts for being « too quirky » which I took as a compliment, However, my second and third books would not be described as humorous. FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, published by EK Books, is a story about embracing differences and staying true to yourself. SO MUCH SNOW comes out in fall 2022 with Random House Studios  and could be described as a lyrical read-aloud with some rhyme. I’m so glad I stretched myself creatively to try new things.

What does a typical day in your life look like? 

I live the glamorous life of a parent/business owner/writer. Get kids off to school. Answer emails for my business. Reward myself with writing time. Do household chores. Check social media. Repeat until carpool time.

How do you continue to feed your creativity?

Staying connected with 12×12 members, critique partners, and the writing community keeps me motivated. Attending SCBWI conferences is also a great way to fire up the creativity. I was registered to attend the NE SCWI conference for the second time (I’m hoping this chapter will adopt me – they put on a great conference !) but it was cancelled due to Covid-19. In the meantime, a lot of great online content is available, including webinars.

What advice would you offer other creatives?

We are not machines. Creative people tend to work in bursts, and that’s okay. Embrace the creative wave when it hits and ride that wave ! If you are in a slump, don’t worry, don’t stress and don’t force it. You will find your creative mojo again.

Amen to that! Now that your dream of publishing your very first picture book has come true, what’s next? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

Keep writing and keep selling more books ! My next two books don’t come out until 2022, so I’m hoping to hold a delayed launch event for ALIEN TOMATO in 2021, if possible. I’ll keep celebrating my début as long as I can ! (Starting with these cookies made by a local baker : How Sweet It Is Desserts. I dropped some off for local friends and neighbors who pre-ordered ALIEN TOMATO. They were almost too cute to eat !)

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Yum! Those cookies look amazing! Do you have any virtual events coming up, where readers can “meet” you?

I’m doing some virtual storytimes on Instagram, so that will have to suffice for now. Follow me on Instagram at @klschroeder for details, or drop by and say hi anywhere on social media:

Twitter: @KLSchroed

Author FB Page: Facebook.com/KLSchroed

Website: www.kristenschroederbooks.com

Thank you so much, Kristen. Congratulations on Alien Tomato, which I know is going to be a hit!

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So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help Kristen Schroeder today by ordering her 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!) 

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Interview with Skylaar Amann

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 is a special day! Author-illustrator Skylaar Amann’s debut picture book, Lloyd Finds His Whalesong, splashes onto the kidlit scene today, hot off the presses of Page Street Kids. I love this book and am so happy to be chatting with its very talented creator.

Welcome, Skylaar! 

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Please, introduce us to your brand new book baby!

Thanks! Lloyd Finds His Whalesong is about Lloyd, a young humpback whale, who can’t sing. His family’s whalesong guides the whales through danger and connects them to each other. But Lloyd is too quiet to join in. When Lloyd finds a magical, mysterious object with supersonic seaweed strings, it could be his chance to be part of the song. He practices and practices, nervously preparing to show the other whales. But before he can perform for them, a noisy disruption scatters the pod. Lloyd’s powerful new instrument may be the only thing that can reunite them—if he can find the courage to share his unique song.

What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

Publishing was always something I was interested in, but I have only been working seriously toward it for the last six or seven years. I quickly realized I wanted to (and needed to) improve my illustration skills. While I was tinkering with picture book idea (including Lloyd), I was mainly taking classes focused on art and illustration fundamentals. I studied and worked long hours. It was weird to be a student again, producing work that I didn’t like, that wasn’t “Instagram worthy” and so on—but it changed the course of my work and life forever. Even though I’m still learning to be a better storyteller and illustrator, I finally felt like I could tackle the style of illustrations I wanted, and I revised Lloyd several more times.

Eventually I sent a promotional illustration postcard to Page Street Kids, and Kristen Nobles responded with a very nice email about my work. Soon after, I submitted Lloyd to her. I went through many (many, many, haha) drafts with Kristen and Courtney Burke, and eventually landed in a place where the story was solid, and I finally got that “yes.”

How wonderful! Your hard work has certainly paid off–the book is gorgeous. From what age did you consider yourself a writer-illustrator? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? And have you worked in any other fields?

I wanted to write as far back as I can remember, even before I wanted to illustrate. I wrote tons of stories during elementary school that were bound and “published” for the school’s Author’s Tea Party, during which we read excerpts of our books to students and parents!

I studied fine art (drawing, printmaking, and bookbinding) in college along with creative writing. I made artist books and zines and published poetry for many years before refocusing my work back to my childhood dreams of writing and illustrating books for kids.

Professionally, I work as a corporate copy editor and freelance illustrator, and am working on expanding my work into online teaching and mentoring. I’m excited to be back for my second year as a picture book mentor for WriteMentor this spring.

What themes do you gravitate toward in your writing and illustrating? What are your preferred genres/target audiences and preferred media/art techniques?

My favorite subject in all media is the ocean. It is my life’s greatest inspiration and humanity’s lifeblood. I grew up on the rugged Oregon Coast, with the rocky shoreline, pounding waves, diverse tide pools, commercial fishing fleet, and marine science center practically in my backyard. That environment colored the way I think about and approach everything in life, from marine conservation to sustainable fishing to the poetics of the tide to our pressing climate emergency.

I like to create work that infuses real science and real creatures with emotion and narrative. That might look like a painting of a shark (with googly eyes) or a story about the amazing properties of humpback whale song (enhanced by a ukulele). When I’m not working on a project about the sea, I’m still usually drawing or writing about some aspect of nature, like the forest, or a specific animal, or the lifecycle of a tree.

How do you feed your creativity as an artist in order to keep the creation flowing? What do you do when you feel “stuck”?

Nature and the ocean definitely feed my creativity, but I live in the city right now, so a lot of my ideas come from walking around aimlessly and thinking and jotting down notes in my phone’s notes app. I often get an inkling of an idea and let it sit for a while (days, months, even years sometimes!) before I do anything with it. If I know it’s something I definitely want to work on but can’t figure out the story, I will sketch the characters or environments to help build the world. As great as inspiration and creativity are, routine is more important to me. If I treat my work like a job, it will become one. That means sitting down to work even when I don’t want to or can’t think of anything. If I’m really stuck, I’ll watch an online class or practice art fundamentals.

When I’m stuck with writing, I’ll print my draft and then edit with a pen. I’ve also developed some page layout templates that I can jot notes and doodles on to think in a fresh way. I find this works extremely well, (especially with pacing).

Great strategies. What other advice would you have for fellow creatives?

Figure out what your goal is and work toward that. If an opportunity pops up, evaluate it against your goal. If it won’t move you toward that goal, politely decline. There are so many distractions and pressures with social media, and tons of small projects that don’t pay or aren’t worth your time. Set your goal, believe in it and yourself, and work logically and pragmatically toward it.

Now, back to your debut, with that burning question: How did the idea of Lloyd Finds His Whalesong come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?

My original title was something like “Lonely Lloyd and His Little Ukulele.” All I knew at that point was that the story was about a sad little whale who finds a ukulele. It was around the time I myself started learning to play the ukulele. I didn’t have an opportunity to pursue music education as a kid, so picking up the uke as an adult was a really moving experience for me. (I still can’t sing very well though, haha!)

As of today, your dream of publishing your very first picture book has come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?

My next steps are to find a literary agent who can help me continue along my publishing and illustration path. I would like to continue writing and illustrating picture books and hope to branch out into more illustration projects as well. I very much want to pursue novel writing as well and have been hard at work learning plot structure and pacing for the last few years. It definitely doesn’t come easy to me, but I am working hard at it and am excited to see where it goes!

What promotional events for do you have planned for Lloyd?

I will be doing some virtual events in July for Lloyd Finds His Whalesong.

– July 2 10 am eastern, reading on the Page Street Kids IG account
– July 14, 11 am pacific, reading for Green Bean Books on their FB page
– July 25, 11 am pacific, Powell’s via zoom webinar

Beyond that, the best way to stay up to date with my events is to sign up for my newsletter.

How can readers found out more about you and your work?

You can follow my illustrations on Instagram and chat with me about writing and ocean stuff over on Twitter! My website and illustration portfolio is at skylaaramann.com.

Skylaar, thank you so much for being here with us today! Happy Book Birthday, and here’s to many more.

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So many live author events and book launches have been impeded by the current pandemic. Help support author-illustrator Skylaar Amann today by ordering her book at any of the links below. 

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Interview with Cristina Lalli

Today, it’s my great pleasure to be chatting with author-illustrator Cristina Lalli about her debut picture book, Nola’s Scribbles Save the Day, releasing from Page Street Kids on June 23rd, 2020. 

Welcome, Cristina! 

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Congratulations on your brand new book! Give us a taste of what Nola’s Scribbles Save the Day is all about.

My story follows young Nola, who loves to scribble and doodle in her own way to brighten her world with her imagination. Frustration comes when others around her don’t understand what she is doing and why. She struggles with the idea of whether to change her scribbles into something others can understand and appreciate, or to be true to her own self and celebrate her work just the way it is. She stumbles into a “big, boring blank” but in the process realizes that she is not alone in this dilemma. There are many other creators who have fallen into the same void. The only way out, they have all realized, is to collaborate with all of their own, unique ideas.

How did the idea of Nola’s Scribbles…come to you? What can you tell us about its journey to publication?

Nola’s Scribbles began as my own scribbles and a vague idea about a young girl and her difficulties with the creative process. You could say it’s semi-autobiographical. The initial concept began about 5 years ago, while I was living and working for a few years in the UK and completing the Masters of Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. It was an amazing program, but I felt inadequate compared to my peers, as it had been several years since I had been able to focus on honing my drawing skills. That struggle to find a balance between what I wanted to express, and how I was going to approach it, was my own parallel narrative.

From what age did you consider yourself an illustrator? A writer? What spurred you to pursue
this path professionally? What other fields have you worked in?

I knew from at least Kindergarten that I wanted to do something involving drawing, and I was often hand-making cards, poems, and little stories to give to my siblings or parents as gifts. I have taken a very winding path to where I am now, but I started my creative career straight out of college as a greeting card designer in Cleveland, Ohio. Following that, I volunteered in the U.S. Peace Corps in Tanzania, then worked various freelance design and illustration jobs upon returning home. I struggled with whether to continue in design or to follow my interest in education, leading me to New York to complete a masters and teaching fellows program at Teachers College, Columbia University and subsequently taught special education in New York City Public Schools, and then in London. It was there that I decided to finally take the risk of combining together my interest and experiences with education, literacy and my own creative pursuits to focus on writing and illustrating children’s books.

Can you describe a pivotal moment in your career? “The Call ”or “The Email” or whatever
moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?

I think I had several “false alarms” as probably most authors and illustrators can tell you- I think it’s really rare that you get one call and then those dreams quickly come to fruition. But if you do, that’s great! For me, it’s been a long and slow road to publication, with many rejections or really promising interests that either faded away or didn’t get picked up in a publisher’s list for one reason or another. I was really excited when an agent approached me and we signed a contract, but then I didn’t renew after a year because we didn’t gel as well as I expected we would. I do, however, feel really grateful to have been able to send out my work to publishers and agents who were taking open and unagented submissions- this is how I was able to submit to Page Street Kids. I remember the thrilling feeling when I knew they were serious about taking a chance on me, and they patiently worked with me to get my first book to where it is
now.

What subject matter do you like to write about/illustrate most? 

I actually prefer to draw animals and nature scenes over human characters- I could ink this type of
stuff all day, but it was my idea of the “Scribbles” that was very persistent, and people really seemed to respond to- I think it’s relatable to most people who struggle with what they want to make and how to communicate it. In addition, whenever I get stressed out and don’t know what to draw or write, I make these almost meditative scribbles and doodles- so it lent itself perfectly to Nola’s character.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I have no typical days at the moment, as my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world 5 months ago, but it’s a joyous kind of upheaval. I’m still struggling with the balancing act of work plus baby and trying to squeeze in creative/work time, but I am finding inspiration in observing how she is already interacting with the world– and books! Early visual learning is fascinating to me, so I’m hoping to use this “research period” to inform some later work.

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you when you come up against that creative “block”?

All the walks, hikes, and coffee! I miss city living for the constant inspiration from overhearing a conversation on the subway, or observing interactions on the street- but living in Portland has offered me the kind of quiet, contemplative nature walks I’ve longed for since a kid. I’ve always been the kid who sometimes needed to sit in the backyard alone or talk to herself in the bathroom, just to get some time with her own imagination. I’m a daydreamer, basically.

What tips do you have for other creatives?

Persistence. I have to remind myself that there are no good days and bad days- just good minutes and bad minutes- just keep going and get really comfortable with rejection and “ghosting.” Also- patience, and this often means supplementary income while you’re getting your work off the ground.

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?

It is both an amazing and terrifying feeling- the idea of my work finally getting into the hands of children! What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t understand it? But that is exactly the lesson Nola is giving in the book. I’m just going to continue making what I feel I connected with as a child, or observe other children connecting with, and there will no doubt be some children out there who will relate.

A great philosophy to have! Will there be any promotional events where we can look forward to meeting you, Cristina?

There will be a Page Street Instagram Virtual Book Launch on publication day (June 23rd),
a Virtual Storytime at Greenbean Books (Portland, OR) in late June, TBA,
and a Facebook Live Virtual Storytime on 7/18 through Brazos Bookstore in Houston, TX!
Wonderful! And where can readers follow you on social media?
You can browse my work on my website: https://www.cristinalalli.com or follow me on Twitter  or Instagram  🙂
Thank you for being with us today, Cristina. Here’s wishing you a long and successful career as author-illustrator! 

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So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help author-illustrator Cristina Lalli today by ordering her book at any of the links below. 

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Interview with Alexandra Thompson

Today, I have the HuGe pleasure of welcoming talented author/illustrator Alexandra Thompson. I’m already such a fan of her work, so I couldn’t be happier to celebrate the imminent release of her first picture book, A Family for Louie, releasing from G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. 

Welcome, Alexandra!

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Your debut picture book, A Family For Louie, is out June 9th. The cover is so charming! Tell us what this story’s about. 

Meet Louie. He’s a dog of very fine taste. He knows every chef in town, and each day he wanders the city, visiting his favorite restaurants. It’s a good life, except… Louie is all on his own. What Louie wants more than anything is a family.

But try as he might, Louie can’t seem to find a family that’s right for him. At the beach, he meets a little boy and his mother… but they’re eating green jello salad and sardine sandwiches (Louie’s least favorite foods!). At his favorite sushi restaurant, Louie spies a father and daughter with an open seat at their table… but their cat chases him away. At the park, he meets a nice family having a yummy barbecue, but when they invite him to play frisbee… Louie just can’t keep up. Where-oh-where will Louie find a just-right family of his very own?

Instantly endearing. So how did the idea of A Family For Louie come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment? 

When an art director was reviewing my portfolio at an SCBWI conference, she was really drawn to my illustration of a little bulldog eating a steak in a restaurant. She commented that he was a little foodie and asked what his name was. I didn’t have one at the time, but the name Louie popped into my head. His story started to form in my mind from that moment onward.

Love it! What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?

I have always wanted to illustrate children’s books, but it was something that I put on the back burner for years. In 2016 I took an online course (Make Art that Sells – Illustrating Children’s Books) to get the inside scoop on making picture books – I knew nothing about the business or where to start if I wanted to break into the industry. That course helped me build up a portfolio and during one of the instructional videos, I doodled Louie for the first time. He looked a lot different then!

After the course I joined SCBWI and went to their 2017 summer conference in LA.

I decided to go all in and splurged for the portfolio review – I just wanted someone that was in the industry to tell me if I was on the right track and what I needed to improve. I was super fortunate to have Lucy Ruth Cummins as my reviewer and she gave me some invaluable feedback. 

I ended up receiving the mentorship award at the conference, along with 5 other amazing artists. As part of the mentorship, we had our portfolios reviewed by 6 industry professionals, including my future art director, Cecilia Yung. This was huge! I left the conference with so many new friends, my head bursting with ideas and inspiration – not to sound sappy, but joining SCBWI was truly life-changing for me. I felt like I found my people!

One of the big takeaways from my critiques was that I had stories in my portfolio – develop them! So I did. Louie felt like he had the most direction, so I worked to get that dummy ready to send out to agents. My mentorship group turned into my critique group and was really critical in getting feedback and keeping me accountable for my book goals. 

During this time I was researching and compiling a list of about 5 agents that I felt would be a good fit for me. Right when I finished the dummy and just before I was about to start querying, I got an email from Hannah Mann at Writers House. The crazy thing? She was number one on my list of agents to query! I ended up signing with her and within a few months we sold Louie. It was nuts. 

Wow! So you were basically “discovered” before even querying? Magical! But also well-deserved. From what age did you consider yourself a writer &/or illustrator? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? 

I have always considered myself an illustrator. Drawing has always been my number one passion. Although I used to write stories all the time growing up (which I was reminded of after rediscovering my old diaries), I never thought about being a writer until I won the mentorship at the 2017 SCBWI LA conference. I got a lot of feedback that there were stories in my illustrations and I should develop them.

Before picture books, I used to work in-house doing prints and graphics for children’s apparel. I actually went to school for Fashion Design. I ended up leaving and going full-time freelance, and I still do that kind of work on the side – although less and less as my schedule fills up with book work.

What do you like to write about/illustrate, in general? What are your preferred media and techniques?

I love animals, cozy scenes, nature. Anything magical and maybe a little spooky, but not scary.

Louie was done digitally and the next book I’m working on will be digital as well. I’ve been experimenting with mixed media in my spare time. I’m not confident enough to do a book that way yet, but I’d like to at some point!

What does a typical day in your life look like?

My schedule has been all over the place lately, but generally I get up around 730am, exercise, breakfast, and then head into the studio to work on whatever is on my plate until 1230. I’ll have lunch, work for another couple of hours and try to get out for a walk around 330pm. I usually finish up around 530. A lot of times I end up back in the studio after dinner and work until 830. 

What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you out of that “funk”? (Hobbies? A certain routine? Comfort food/drink?)

Getting outside! Walking, hiking, wake surfing when it’s warm enough. I think it’s so important to get your body moving – not only for your physical health, but for your mental wellbeing. I also love to read, see a movie, go to museums – especially natural history museums! Of course, getting out has been limited with the pandemic. Virtual hangouts with friends and family and baking have been getting me through these strange times.

What tips would you offer to other creatives?

Set goals and break them down – set due dates. And draw..all the time. If you practice, you will improve. Lastly, find your creative community – whether that’s in real life or online. It’s so vital to have community, especially when you work in a field where you are often alone.

Your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish?

Woohoo! I still can’t believe it 😀 I’m currently working as an illustrator on a picture book, but I can’t share details on that yet! 

Louie was a 2-book deal, so I have another author/illustrator book that’s in the works.

I just want to keep doing this. I learned so much from making Louie, so I hope to continue improving my artwork and storytelling. 

Any promotional events we can look forward to meeting you at?

Covid-19 has, of course, turned the world on its head. Instead of an in-person book launch, I’ll be doing a virtual book launch. I’ll be going live on my Instagram channel on June 9th at 3pm EST! I’ll be reading A Family for Louie, followed by a Q&A. I hope to see you there!    

You can also browse through my work on my website,

www.alexandraco.com

and follow me on Instagram to see my day-to-day and arty things.

https://www.instagram.com/alexandraco_illustration/

Also, the mentees have a blog with great information for anyone interested in illustrating books for children!

http://kidlitartists.blogspot.com/

Wonderful! Thank you so much for spending time with us, Alexandra. Here’s wishing you plenty of success. I know little Louie will win many hearts!

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So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help Alexandra Thompson today by ordering her 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!) 

A Family for Louie_jacket