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

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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.)

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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.

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Interview with Agent Lindsay Davis Auld

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Lindsay Davis Auld is an agent at Writers House and is actively building her list. She represents children’s lit, from board books through YA (see here for more details). She taught fourth grade and worked for Harcourt Children’s Books prior to joining Writers House as Steven Malk’s assistant. She calls two countries home and is open to international clients. (And Ben and Jerry, if you’re reading this, please, make her ice cream flavor idea.)

Thank you, Lindsay, for your time!

 

You worked at Writers House with Steven Malk a few years ago and launched several successful books before taking time off to move to England and start your family. Now that you’re agenting again, have you changed how you approach your job, or what you look for in a manuscript? 

Yes, it’s been quite an adventure. In a lot of ways, though, I’d say that, even though I’ve certainly learned a great deal from having children and spending lots of time in bookstores in England, I think I’ll always look for the same qualities in a manuscript: an authentic voice, characters that feel real, a world that fascinates me, and a story I can’t put down. 

What path led you to agenting? Have you always wanted to work in publishing? What would you do if you weren’t agenting? 

After college, I taught fourth grade as a member of Teach for America, and I loved reading with my class and trying to find the right book for each child. It made me realize that I’d like to be a part of bringing children’s and YA books into the world. My first job in publishing was at Harcourt Children’s Books. I then joined Writers House as Steven Malk’s assistant, and eventually began building my own list of authors and artists. Steve has always been an amazing mentor, and I feel incredibly lucky to have learned so much from him, and to have now re-joined Writers House.

I have no idea what I’d be doing if I weren’t agenting. Something to do with stories, I would imagine, as I tend to seek out libraries and bookstores wherever I am, just because I like to be around books.

You and I have a similar situation—we sort of live between two countries. Do you work both in the US and in England? Are you open to international clients?   Continue reading

Interview with Agent Laurel Symonds

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Laurel Symonds recently left her job as marketing manager at a small publishing house to become a literary agent at The Bent Agency. She’s seen the publishing industry from multiple angles and is now offering that expertise as an agent. She is open to submissions for YA, MG, chapter books and picture books (see her bio for more details).

Thank you, Laurel, for taking the time to answer some questions.

 

Your publishing career started in the editorial department of HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Children’s Books. What led you into publishing in the first place?

I was a Creative Writing major at Hamilton College and, like many who major in similar fields, there came a time when I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree. Fortuitously, an alum (shout out to Caroline Abbey, now Senior Editor at Random House Children’s Books!) spoke on campus about her experience working in publishing. I went on to intern with her at Bloomsbury Children’s Books that summer and completely fell in love with the industry.

You also worked in marketing at Albert Whitman, you’ve worked in a library, and as a bookseller. You’ve seen a book through it’s many phases then—from acquisition through marketing, and into the end user’s hands. How will you apply all of that experience to your new role as an agent?

I feel this diversity of experience really sets me apart as an agent and has provided me with insight that allows me to be the best partner for my clients in all aspects of the publishing process.

What do writers need to understand about marketing/publishing before they become too invested in a manuscript?

Knowing as much about the industry—particularly as far as expectations go—can be incredibly helpful for the entire publishing process. At the early stages of a manuscript, though, the best thing to do is read, read, read. Find out what’s popular, what’s similar (and dissimilar) to your project, and be able to explain why your book has a place in the market. Continue reading

Interview with Agent James McGowan

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James McGowan is the Literary Assistant and Social Media Manager at BookEnds Literary, and is open for submissions. He’s looking for adult, YA and picture books (see more details in the links below). James is also a picture book writer and understands the process from both a writer’s and agent’s perspective. He is a Friends aficionado–my name not his–and contributes to the BookEnds’ very fun and informative blog.

Thank you, James, for your time!

 

 

You started out as an intern at BookEnds Literary before becoming a Literary Assistant and Social Media Manager. What led you into publishing in the first place?

Just like anyone in publishing, a love for books. It took me a while to realize that there were people behind the books working to get them on the shelves (it just never clicked), but once I did, I dove right into the application process and eventually landed an internship at BookEnds.

You’ve done some informative interviews with Jessica Faust on BookEnds’ YouTube channel. Do you have a favorite?

Ha! I actually don’t have a favorite, though Jessica’s rants are always hilarious to me. I will say that they’re a blast to film. Jessica and I have a lot of hilarious false starts that we edit out, which usually end in someone hysterically laughing. And then things click, we put on our quasi-serious faces, and we film our video. We hope they’re both informative and fun, and if anyone reading this has suggestions on what we might talk about, please get in touch!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCukLkiCzvK6AIMnYIDqxUug

You have a pretty eclectic mix of what you are looking for: Adult, YA and then a big drop down in age to picture books. Why specifically picture books at the exclusion of most other kidlit?

This is a great question! I recognize that looking for only picture books at this time is a bit unorthodox for a kidlit agent, but as a picture book writer myself, they’re something I am drawn to. I don’t have that same connection to Middle Grade, and I don’t feel I’d be the best champion for those kinds of books. Continue reading