Graphic Novel Pitch Event

Yes, it’s been a while. Yes, I’ve been busy. We’re winding down the move-in part after another overseas move. A much more difficult transition in the days of Covid. However, I’ve also been hopping with other good things too, like helping to organize the event pictured above. We’ve got less than a week away and I’m beyond excited to participate.

So, if you’ve got a graphic novel ready to submit, plan on joining this event. And check out the event info on the website at: https://kidlitgn.blogspot.com

If you’re interested in creating graphic novels for middle grade and younger, join the group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KidLitGN

And to be notified of other pitch events, join the Twitter page at: https://twitter.com/KidLitGN

Happy writing!

Show, Don’t Tell with Author Karla Valenti

K headshotAs one of my critique partners, Karla has been a huge part of my writing journey. I can say with experience that she gives excellent and thorough advice. And luckily, she’s agreed to share some of that here, along with the chance to win her new picture book, Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence, a story about science and perseverance that’s definitely needed right now. See the details below on how to enter. In the meantime, enjoy Karla’s sage advice on how to show not tell.

 

Thank you, Karla!

Thanks for talking about this hard-to-pin-down topic of how to show not tell. With that, I’m going to turn the rest of this interview over to you to explain how to do this.

Johnell – thank you for inviting me on to your site and giving me a chance to launch my Show Don’t Tell blog series. I also appreciate the chance to share a little bit of information about my upcoming debut picture book “Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence.”

What is Show Don’t Tell?

I’ve been doing PB critiques for many years and have read hundreds of manuscripts. Time and again, the two things that come up most often in my feedback is the importance of structure and showing vs telling. Structure is fairly easy to understand, but showing is a lot more elusive and difficult to explain. I always find it easier to simply point out instances of showing (or telling) in my client’s work, and to analyze why those scenes worked (or not). Eventually, my clients begin to internalize these moments and acquire their own instinct for when they were showing vs telling. 

I’ve wanted to do something similar using books that have been published and are accessible to any reader. My hope is that by understanding (and assimilating) these tips, it will become more instinctive in our own work. Cover

I thought I’d start with my book since I know it pretty well. Also, when I wrote it, I was very deliberate about finding ways to show what I wanted to convey so it’s easier for me to point out those instances.

I do want to say, this is simply my opinion and readers are welcome to disagree. I do not claim to be an expert on this. However, to the extent this sheds some light on this very elusive but important storytelling rule, I hope it helps. Continue reading

Voice: “Your picture book sounds too old.”


In writing, you will hear about “voice,” but you won’t often get a clear answer as to what that means. That’s because it’s one name for many different things. It’s like saying “smurf” in the old Smurf cartoons—it means a different thing depending on how you use it.

I could address “voice” in a dozen different ways. I could talk about how each author is encouraged to find their own “voice”–how you can tell a poem by Emily Dickinson apart from Langston Hughes, for example. In singing, it’s the equivalent of knowing when Pavarotti is singing as opposed to Stevie Nicks. Each singer has a unique, recognizable style—you know their voice when you hear it.

I could also talk about your character’s voice, how we should be able to see as much of your character from what words they choose to use, what details they talk about (and what details they don’t). Does your villain speak in short phrases or long flowery ones? Does your main character repeat a specific word or phrase? Is your cowboy supposed to sound like Benedict Cumberbatch? This type of “voice” is a whole post all itself.

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Interview with Author Chana Stiefel

 

ChanaStiefel_Head shot_Color.jpgChana Stiefel’s latest picture book, My Name is Wakawakaloch!, made its debut last month and has already charmed its way into the kidlit circles. Chana is graciously giving one reader a signed copy of My Name Is Wakawakaloch!. Please see below for details.

Thank you, Chana, for your time. 

Your newest picture book, My Name is Wakawakaloch!, hit the shelves in August. What was the inspiration for it?

I grew up with a hard-to-pronounce name (click here to learn how to pronounce her name), and I could never find my name on a T-shirt, mug or keychain. People continue to bungle my name every single day. Originally, I wrote a story about a girl named Chana who wanted to change her name to Sue. Her grandmother told her about her namesake, her great grandmother Chana who came to America as an immigrant and was incredibly kind. (Guess which name Chana kept?) My critique partners liked the story and found it relatable, but they felt that Chana should solve her own problem. I agreed, but I struggled with a solution. A few months later, my husband and I were on vacation in the Canadian Rockies. I had read a blog post by my agent John Cusick, who basically said that if you’re stuck on a story, drop your main character into a new setting. While hiking in Banff among rocks and boulders, I thought to myself, “What if Chana was a cave girl?” and “What if her name was something different, like…Wakawakaloch?” I started writing at 5 a.m. the next day. The new pre-historic setting opened up fresh opportunities for storytelling, as well as new language, new dialogue, new characters, and a new set of conflicts and solutions.

MY_NAME_IS_WAKAWAKALOCH_JKT.inddI can relate to Wakawakaloch, you wouldn’t think it, but especially when I travel overseas, my name trips up a lot of people. And there were never any t-shirts for me as a kid. Did you know this story would be relatable to so many kids and adults?  Continue reading

Interview with Author-Illustrator Ken Lamug

Kens photoKen is not only a talented artist and writer, but he’s also incredibly giving of his time and expertise to his fellow kidlit creators, and serves as the regional illustrator coordinator for his SCBWI chapter. I’m honored Ken took time out to share his experience with graphic novel creation and to give us a sneak peek at his upcoming collaboration with author Teresa Bateman. Double bonus, one lucky reader will receive a signed copy of Petro and the Flea King!

Thank you, Ken!

You self-published your wordless graphic novel Petro and the Flea King, which my family owns and LOVES. Why did you choose that route? And what were the challenges of a wordless graphic novel?

When I started my publishing journey, I did it because of my love for storytelling and illustrating. 

A5-Hardcover-Book-Mockup-vol7I realized early on that the traditional publishing route is a long journey and that there is a high possibility that many of my ideas will not make it to the bookshelves. So I told myself that I would have a plan B which is self-publishing. It just so happened that Createspace/Amazon offered such a service that fit Petro and the Flea King perfectly. 

I knew that a wordless graphic novel would be a challenge to sell, but at that point it didn’t matter. The train had left the station, and it was a book that I wanted to create. 

One of the technical challenges was a personal test to see if I could complete a book with 100+ pages of illustrations and to see how long it would take. And being that it was a wordless, I had to create more illustrations to show small emotions and reactions that could be easily conveyed by speech or word bubble.

 

I showed the book to graphic novel publishers, and even traditional publishers, and while they loved the illustrations and ideas, they also had to look at the market dynamics to see if it was something they could sell. And this is probably the biggest challenge.

You also funded your The Tall Tales of Talbot Toluca series through Kickstarter, so you’ve already got this amazing entrepreneurial spirit. What pushed you into traditional publishing finally? Continue reading

Interview with Agent Brent Taylor

 

Brent Taylor is an agent at TriadaUS and represents picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels (GNs) for kids and teens. Brent graciously agreed to share his knowledge about GNs for the MG and younger crowd. His answers help fill in the gap authors and illustrators often stumble into when seeking info on GNs for lower ages. For more information about Brent and his interests in other categories, please visit his MSWL.

Thank you, Brent!


What made you choose to represent graphic novels?

I’ve always loved reading them, and I want to work on what I love as a reader.

How young can graphic novels go? There’s clearly a market for MG and even chapter book graphic novels (like the Narwhal and Jelly books). We’ve seen some publishers dipping their toes into the PB-aged market with Benny and Penny, Mini Grey’s books, Mr. Particular, and Mad Scientist Academy, but is this dip into younger audiences something you think will continue, or maybe even expand?

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Interview with Author-Illustrator Jason Platt

 

Jason Platt

Graphic novels are a big deal in the publishing world right now, and I’ve been anxious to find out more about them. Fortunately, there’s some really great graphic novelists out there, Jason Platt being one of them. His debut graphic novel Middle School Misadventures hit the shelves in April of this year. My family purchased our copy and it’s already been read multiple times. In my budding graphic novel nerdiness, I was especially impressed with how well he positioned his dialogue tags–no easy task. It’s with great pleasure, that I present Jason’s excellent insights on graphic novels with hopes of more GN news to come.

Thank you, Jason!

What got you started writing and illustrating graphic novels? 

It’s funny, because I never really saw myself doing graphic novels. I had been doing my webcomic “Mister and Me” for a number of years, and even though that is close to a graphic novel, its structure is handled differently. In a traditional comic strip, you have four panels to tell part of a story and where it usually ends with some sort of punchline. But with a graphic novel you have time to really tell all of the story, and develop the characters more. It’s really nice.

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Originally, I had started to write what is now called “Middle School Misadventures” as a book that is similar to, let’s say, Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid kind of style. Where it was written with prose and then a spot illustration mixed throughout the whole thing. When my agent approached editors with it, we got some positive responses, however, one editor suggested making it into a full graphic novel and asked if I was interested in changing its format. Immediately I said yes, of course. It would flow really well with how I tell stories anyway. But I also knew that the job would be that much harder to complete. There is a lot more construction and organizing that’s involved. But once I got started, I knew it was the right direction to go.

So it wasn’t necessarily something that I was aiming for, but it was a storytelling device that I was able to fall into easily.

What is it that appeals to you about graphic novels?

Very similar to the first question. I think what’s really nice about the graphic novel format is being able to harness any character development and show that in a visual form. And also not have the limitations of a traditional comic strip panel sizes. In other words, it’s so nice to be able to dedicate a whole page for one moment and use that to express the impact that the story may have. And usually, it helps with the excitement or the punchline of a funny moment that is happening.  

Who are some of your inspirations? Continue reading

I Remember … or I wish I Did

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I recently unpacked my Honors English final–a creative writing journal in which I had to include a prescribed list of poems and stories in order to get full credit. Even though, the stories and poems were all written by a younger me, I felt like I was reading the words of a stranger.

There’s the rub as an adult, we become strangers to our younger selves and forget how everything felt as a child (and even as a youth). But the truth is, our joys and sorrows never get smaller, we just get bigger. And then we forget, altogether, just how big everything felt when we were small.

My youngest came home from school feeling pretty low because her teacher had to get after her for chatting too much with her friend. A simple rebuke ruined her day. I had to squelch my feigned concern and remind myself that to her, this was a BIG deal. In adult terms, it was equivalent of having your boss chew you up onside and down the other for something you knew you shouldn’t have done. (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a perfect example of this feeling.)

Continue reading

Interview for StoryTeller Academy

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Happy New Year one and all. The holidays are often a busy time, so I will start this off with a short post and interview with Myrna Foster at Storyteller Academy who was kind enough to ask me some questions about my writing journey and what I’ve learned.

You can find that interview here: https://www.storytelleracademy.com/2019/01/02/member-stories-johnell-dewitt/

And I want to give you all a heads up about the Writing With the Stars mentorship contest that will be opening up for submissions on January 9, so read the rules at the link and get your submissions ready.

Wishing you all a glorious new year.

 

Interview with Author Penny Parker Klostermann

klostermann_pennyPenny Parker Klostermann is the author of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight and A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale (Random House Children’s Books, illustrated by Ben Mantle). She has an informative website with gobs of great info about poetry and rhyme. She recently made a comment on my art notes post that I thought deserved its own space, so I asked if she’d answer some questions for me. She’s given back to the writing community in so many ways, and I’m grateful she took time out to teach us what’s she’s learned about art notes and rhyme.

Thank you, Penny, for your time!

Note: When I got Johnell’s interview questions, she asked about two things — art notes and rhyme. These are two topics that come up often in the picture book writing community. And these are two topics that I had many questions about when I started writing. 

The ONLY reason I have published books, and that I think I have some insight to share, is that while I asked questions and thought about the answers, I worked on my craft. I don’t feel any advice will make much sense or help you unless you’re constantly working on and improving your craft to apply the advice.

Think about all the advice, rules, and information that we hear about writing picture books: 

  • Word count
  • Voice
  • Character development
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Pacing and page turns
  • Art notes
  • Queries
  • Arc
  • Etc.

I wouldn’t have gained understanding about any of these things, if I’d just read articles and blog posts and asked questions.

Continue reading