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 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 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

Interview with Author Pam Calvert

pam5Pam Calvert is a former science teacher turned award-winning children’s author. She’s best known for her Princess Peepers series, but recently launched her new chapter book series Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight, illustrated by Liana Hee. Pam has mentored other writers through the Writing With the Stars mentorship program and through her own informative site, Woven With Pixie Dust. Pam has two character-driven series under her belt and a soon-to-be-third underway. She’s joined us to talk about characters. Thank you, Pam!

What made Princess Peepers a character that could translate across several stories?

She’s a quirky character that has a personality. If you don’t know your character, you can’t write more stories about them. Princess Peepers loves everyone no matter what they look like or who they are. They could be an ugly troll or a tiny dragonfly, she’ll love it. Which is quite different from many people who put labels on things. And that comes through the stories. She also is a people pleaser, which is one of her faults. Your character must have flaws they have to work through to make a story—this causes problems, something every story must have! Also, PP always loses her glasses, one way or another, and this allows for comedic situations that make children laugh when she can’t see what’s going on. Put all that together on top of some of her silly catch phrases, and you have a good series character! 

With Brianna Bright, did you purposefully plan to have a character driven series and if so, how did you go about crafting her in a way from the beginning to ensure that she could last across a series? 

I did. My editor came to me and asked if I could write a strong girl book. She wanted a commercial book, too, which lends itself to series. 

Calvert-BriannaBrightBallerinaKnight-21431-JK-FL-v4.inddSo…I knew ballet books were very popular with girls, and Two Lions didn’t have one. But I wanted to do something different. At the time, I was reading and watching Game of Thrones. Arya Stark, one of the characters, was this strong princess type character that didn’t want to be in frilly dresses. She wanted to be a knight like her brothers (they didn’t call them this in the story but that’s basically what they are.) That gave me the idea to make my ballerina princess into a knight as well. I worked backward to create the story with what if’s…what if a clumsy ballerina also wanted to become a knight? What would happen? How would she go about finding her way? Then the story basically wrote itself. 

The key to a great story is an even greater idea. Giving my ballerina princess a sword had never been done before. Sure, there’s princess knights out there, but there’s only ONE princess ballerina knight. That’s Brianna Bright. Continue reading

The Cat Sent My Query: And Other Cautionary Advice

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It’s true, there I was pulling up my query that I’d been marinating for a few days–re-reading, re-tweaking, resting to read again. That day was the day–I’d done everything I could think of to personalize it, tighten it, make it shine, oh, except for that one line and this word and this one …

Right in the middle of changing a word, my foster kitty decided to attack. 

The swirling icon of doom assured me that her pounce had hit the bulls eye. Once the swirl’s hypnotic effect wore off, it took all of one second to realize that my query had been sent—mid-change and without a final edit. 

At that point, I figured that all illusion of professionalism had tucked tail and fled, so I hurriedly replied back and explained that my cat had sent the query and that here’s what that line should have said and btw, “can I interview you for my site.” 

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Interview with Agent Natascha Morris Part 2

NMorris320x400IMG_20161127_103045-240x300Natascha is a former editor turned agent for BookEnds Literary. I first interviewed Natascha just over a year ago when she was getting started in her new career. With a year-plus behind her, I’ve been dying for an update. Luckily, she agreed to a second interview. 

Thank you, Natascha!

 

You recently hit your year-mark as an agent. What has been the biggest surprise for you from the agenting side of the industry?

There have been two really big surprises. The first is the amazing talent I have found, and the connections I have made. I had some idea when going in, but it is just amazing how far I have come. The second was how much grit it takes to be on this side of the desk. Agents take those punches alongside their clients, and we do it for everyone. Being an agent teaches you about yourself.  

 I imagine you’ve built up a solid client list by now. Are you still seeking clients?

Always seeking new clients, but out of necessity, I am getting pickier. When I first started, I had loads of time to pour into a client. Now, I have to weigh that against the time for 24 other talented people. It’s not just one book per author, it’s multiple books per author.

What would you say is the split between the categories you represent? How many are PB writers, MG, illustrators, etc.? Continue reading

Story Mapping with Arree Chung

Arree=HeadshotArree Chung is the author-illustrator of Ninja!, Ninja! Attack of the ClanNinja Claus!, and Out!. He’s also the founder and host of the Storyteller Academy, a class for aspiring writers and illustrators. He left his production scheduling job at Pixar to enroll at the Art Center College of Design. Arree graciously agreed to share his thoughts on a technique he teaches in his class. Thank you, Arree!

What is a story map?

A story map is kind of like mind mapping, where you write down all your ideas then group or organize them into a sequence, keeping in mind the logical flow from the beginning, to the inciting event, to the end. Here’s an example: 

StoryMap

I can see how this would be valuable for longer works, but how does it help with picture books?

Story mapping is helpful in many ways. First, it can help you capture ideas and quickly connect them. Story mapping also helps you plot several variations of a story. The hardest part in making up a story are the endless possibilities so using a story mapping strategy helps you nail down the story more quickly. Continue reading

I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot: Hamiltonian Advice for Writers

profile-picI met Tara two years ago in our critique group while she was still polishing manuscripts. Shortly after, she had three picture book contracts and an agent. She’d been seriously writing for children for 18 months, but she’d been absorbing the craft of picture books for years. She’s sharing her story with us and announcing a few details about the upcoming WWTS mentorship contest. Thank you, Tara!

Tara, your debut picture book, I Am Famous, published by Albert Whitman & Co., will be released March 1, 2018, followed by Shark Nate-O (little bee*, April 3, 2018). You have a sequel for I Am Famous under contract with Albert Whitman (spring 2019), you also have a fourth picture book that went to a multi-house auction, and two more picture books under contract, none of which we can talk about yet. What did you do to get to this point?

Well, I put in a lot of time reading picture books before I ever started writing them. I owned my own toy and book store. I specialized ages 0-6, so the only books I sold were picture books. I loved them, and I had to learn what made them work in order to be a successful retailer. I would get ideas from the store, and I told myself that someday, I would try to write them. But with three little kids, a traveling husband, and a store, there was no time for that. Then my family relocated to the Charlotte area for my husband’s job, and I no longer had the store. Even though I had no writing experience (but tons of reading experience), I decided to bring out all those ideas and try my hand at it. I sent my first manuscript to my sister to review. She sent it back half changed, so we became co-authors. I joined SCBWI. I found the online kidlit community. I met critique partners. I studied craft. I joined 12 x 12. I attended SCBWI conferences. I kept up my knowledge of the industry by reading voraciously.

Hamilton

During this process, I became obsessed with the musical Hamilton. If you already have Hamalaria, you know how amazing Hamilton is. If you are not familiar with it, you need to be. There is a reason editors, agents, writers and creative types in general are obsessed with it. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a lyrical genius. And Alexander Hamilton was a bit obsessive in his learning and writing because he was “young, scrappy and hungry” and clawing his way up to the top. He did not rest on his laurels and never “threw away his shot.”  
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