Whether you celebrate Valentine’s, Galentine’s, or Palentine’s, Piglette and I are sending you lots of love this February 14th So here is a free printable valentine card made just for you by illustrator Eva Byrne. Download it & give it to someone you love (or like extremely well). xoxo
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 Tomato, illustrated by Mette Engell, just released from Page Street Kids on July 14th, and it’s a beauty!
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 !)
Yum! Those cookies look amazing! Do you have any virtual events coming up, where readers can “meet” you?
Author FB Page: Facebook.com/KLSchroed
Thank you so much, Kristen. Congratulations on Alien Tomato, which I know is going to be a hit!
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!)
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.
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.
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?
Skylaar, thank you so much for being here with us today! Happy Book Birthday, and here’s to many more.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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,
and follow me on Instagram to see my day-to-day and arty things.
Also, the mentees have a blog with great information for anyone interested in illustrating books for children!
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!
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!)
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!)
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.
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: