It’s that time of year again, when I’m busier than usual helping with the KidLit GN pitch event. Click the info graphic below for details and to get access to KidLit GN’s website where more rules and information resides:
Author: Johnell DeWitt
You’re Never Too Old or Too Late to Follow Your Dreams with Author PJ McIlvaine
PJ McIlvaine has been published in The New York Times and Newsday. PJ is also a regular contributor for the Children’s Book Insider newsletter, and a co-host of #PBPitch, a Twitter pitch party for picture book creators.
PJ has written across ages and genres, including a screenplay for Showtime which became the movie My Horrible Year. Her picture book, Dragon Roar, releases on Oct. 19, 2021 through MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, Inc, which specializes in books for readers with dyslexia.
You’ve had quite a career in writing, including writing a movie for Showtime (which earned a daytime Emmy nomination, very cool). What has that been like and why did you switch to kidlit?
Well, it’s like being on a roller coaster without a harness or safety belt. Sometimes you have to hang on and hope when the rides over, you haven’t broken every bone in your body. I consider myself a Jill of all genres when it comes to writing: I started out writing short stories, then poems, song lyrics, then eventually novels and screenplays but nothing in the kid-lit arena. Then my mother died (I was her caretaker for years), and I was now a grandma. I read picture books to the babies, and I realized hmmm, this was something I could write. So then I immersed myself fully in picture books, and soon graduated to middle grade and young adult. I have a good feel for kid lit—I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden growing up. So given where I was in my life, it was a natural evolution.Continue reading
It’s Been a While and Other Good Things
I’ve been neglecting this site, but for good reasons. I’ve been busy as part of a team effort on the newest KidLit GN Pitch event, which is Oct. 6! Coming next week.
I’ve also been busy writing my own graphic novels and other work, some of which I’ll be pitching then as well, but I do have a new post coming soon.
For now, check out the details at https://kidlitgn.com if you are a graphic novel creator and are looking to pitch to agents or editors (agented and un-agented creators are welcome on the website pitch).
And check out the posts on the KidLit GN Blog for great advice on pitching and for a chance to win some awesome prizes, including classes, critiques, Kids Comics Studio membership and more.
Have a great week!
Voice p.2: World-building
I previously discussed “Voice” as it applies to different age groups. Voice is the sum of your word choice, word order, beat, rhythm, and structure (see here for my favorite definition of voice).
Voice also creates your characters’ personalities, the mood, the setting, and your world. For this post, I’ll focus on the last one–world building. You can put the reader smack in the world of your story by using the right words for the right time, setting, and mood that your world resides in.
For example, synonyms can create a different tone, even though, technically, they mean the same thing. Pa, Dad, Da, Pops, Papa, Father, all names for the male parent, but they each create a different world in the mind of the reader.
Let’s apply this to various texts:
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
Show, Don’t Tell with Author Karla Valenti
As 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.
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.
Interview with Author Chana Stiefel
Chana 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.
I 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
Ken 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.
I 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?