Are you missing in-person events?

In the last year and a half authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers and book sellers are missing in-person events. So I thought I’d share a post I wrote after I was at the ALA conference in Chicago in 2017. This is why in-person events are so special!

 I loved my elementary school librarian and her wonderful quiet space filled with books waiting to be explored. She always knew just what to recommend and, when she saw that my appetite for books exceeded my weekly check-out limit, she suggested that a friend and I pick our books together and trade halfway through the week. For me, librarians know where to find all the answers and all the good books, so it was an honor to be invited to sign copies of my new book, The Day I Ran Away, and my upcoming No More Noisy Nights at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, where so many lovers of books and knowledge gather in one place.

Although I’d seen the list of exhibitors online, I was awestruck by the number of booths, their size and scope, and the variety of publishers and industry-related products represented. As my husband and I wandered the halls prior to my signing, I pointed out publishers with whom I’d had contact over the years (too many rejection letters to count!) and looked for books I’d seen reviewed. I noticed some LONG lines of excited attendees waiting for an author’s signature, and then other authors with no line at all. I grew a bit apprehensive, as my signing time got closer. Would people want copies of my books?

We found the booth and were met by the wonderful staff of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), who distribute for Flashlight Press and hundreds of other independent publishers. The author who was signing before me did have a line, and in fact, ran overtime into my slot to give away as many books as possible. When the IPG staff member announced that they’d run out of her books, I piped up and suggested that folks wait, because I’d be giving away books in a few minutes too. Librarians love books, especially free ones! They asked what my books were, so we handed out two samples which they looked at and passed down the line to share.

By the time I began signing, I had my own line of excited librarians who were thrilled that they didn’t have to choose between The Day I Ran Away and No More Noisy Nights, but could have one of each. Although I had less than a minute with each librarian, it was exciting to speak with people from all over the US and Canada. With the ALA conference in Chicago this year, many attendees were from the Midwest, but folks also came from California, Texas, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, and more that I cannot recall. There were public and private school librarians, university librarians, and public librarians. Many were gifting their free books to family or friends, and others were donating to their schools. I loved hearing their enthusiasm not only for my books, but for their work in sharing books with children. 

Before I knew it, my time was up, and IPG cut me off! Several people then asked my husband if I could sign for them, so we moved to the corner of the booth and gave away a few more of the remaining books. In all, we gave away about 160 books!

One last highlight: the IPG booth was located near the Library of Congress booth, and it was heartening to see Carla Hayden, the new director, being treated like a rock star with interviews and people clamoring for a moment of her time! When my first picture book was released in 2004, my son was excited to point out that a copy would be forever kept in the Library of Congress. An amazing thing to think about! 

It was such an uplifting day! Librarians know that reading is essential to understanding ourselves, our world, and our place in it. When we learn how to “find friends” in books, we are never alone. It is my hope that these wonderful librarians will create lifelong readers, and lifelong readers will help make this world a better place.

Run away home?

Have you ever wanted to run away? Maybe you are thinking, YES, just yesterday when the work was crazy, the car needed an oil change and the refrigerator had somehow eaten all the food and was wanting to be filled AGAIN. 

Now you do remember wanting to run away when you were a child? I think most children do at some point.  The injustices of childhood loom large.  Everything happens above you. Decisions big (we’re having another baby) and small (blueberry yogurt instead of cherry) are made without you.  Just when you are in the middle of something important (the biggest block tower ever) it’s bedtime, and it seems the rules are constantly changing (don’t lie, unless the neighbor got an ugly haircut).

In Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells and A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban the main character feels ignored and replaced because a new sibling has arrived.  And Max in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has suffered the injustice of being sent to bed without any supper.  And so, they run away to escape. In my book, The Day I Ran Away, Grace feels she’s been wrongly banished to her room and packs up to run away only to be thwarted by the fact that she’s not allowed to cross the street. 

As a child I remember one time packing my little suitcase and heading down the road (I actually just went next door), but mostly when I needed to “escape” I picked up a book.  When the weather allowed, I took my book to swing under a willow tree.  Books allowed me to forget my problems big and small and they gave me examples of how others solve their problems.

Being a child or a grown up can be difficult.  Wanting to run away may just mean we need to escape for a bit so we can face our problem with fresh eyes. And when we return we might hope a good dinner is on the table!

Grace comes home for Spaghetti and Meatballs, her favorite! I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s her favorite because it’s a family favorite often requested when my kids are returning home.

In honor of Pasta Day (yesterday) this month’s recipe is early!

The Niner meatballs and sauce recipes. Be sure to use the slider to see both!

Word Clouds & Mental Health

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Whether or not you or a loved one struggles with a mental health problem it is important to understand them. To understand their impact on individuals, families and communities.

Because my son has OCD I had first hand knowledge about OCD and it’s impact on him and our family. That is what lead me to write Mr. Worry: A story about OCD. And that lead to I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette syndrome.  Through my books I’ve been able to interact with individuals and families with these disorders.

This summer I was honored to be asked to participate in the International OCD Foundation’s virtual summer camp for kids. I was amazed! They create a wonderful virtual camp for kids from all over the world. They were able to listen to speakers and interact with each other and amazing volunteers.

My part was small. I read Mr. Worry and then took questions. I was awed by the questions and insight these elementary age kids had about themselves and OCD. While I didn’t get to see any, my activity was for them to make word clouds about themselves because it is important to realize that you are more than your disorder.

Try making a word cloud. Think about words that tell about you. Or make one about feelings you have, people in your life, things you’d like to do.

Are you an A.U.T.H.O.R?

Author is defined by Merriam-Webster for Kids as: a person who creates a written work. I like to share that definition with students because it is encouraging.  If you put the words on paper, you are an author.  You are a wordsmith, but you must also be brave and thick-skinned. If you want to be a published author, putting words on paper is just the first step. And there are things you can do to increase your chance of success.

Understanding the business of publishing is one key to success.  It is a business that involves many people, all of whom are hoping to make a living. I did not find success as an author until I began to study the business. The knowledge gained helped me target submissions and decreased the sting of rejection! For example, understanding how many submissions a publisher receives vs how many books they publish a year is eye opening, as is a look at resources like Publishers Weekly.  Any given week, a majority of their top 25 picture book best sellers were written decades ago.

Tenacity, according to my invaluable Flip Dictionary, is a synonym for patience and persistence.  Two of the words I wanted to use, but there’s no P in AUTHOR. However, maybe tenacity is really the right word. And writing is about finding the right word. Tenacity involves patience, persistence and determination.  To be a published author you cannot give up or be discouraged.  Despite the overnight success stories, most authors will be rejected MANY times (I have been hundreds of times) and they will have waited months for this lovely rejection news!

Hone your craft. An author is never done learning.  In the age of the internet, resources abound. There are blogs, online workshops, and online critique groups.  Join groups like the Author’s Guild or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and you’ll find abundant information and links to MORE information. A critique group, or at least readers other than family and friends, is a must.  Like the game of telephone, what you see in your head does not always make it to the paper and into your reader’s mind.

Organize your time. Most authors have other jobs and obligations.  When I have time to devote to my writing, I have to decide how to utilize my time – do I work on a new story, revise an old one, research places to send a story, catch up on industry news, read reviews of books, read books in the genre I write, do a writing workshop, read a book about the craft of writing, market the books I have published, etc.! AND, don’t forget what may be the most important:  quiet thinking time, letting the ideas come and grow in your mind!

Read, read, read! If you want to be a published author you need to read. Reading books in the genre you write will help you understand what goes into a book that makes it from manuscript to library shelf. Reading any genre exposes you to words, language and the art of storytelling. And reading does one more thing-it supports other authors, which is what you are or hope to be!

I LOVE Fall

If you’ve been reading my blog you can’t help but know that I love to bake and cook with pumpkin so, as you might imagine, I love fall. But it’s not just the pumpkin that shows up in things from coffee to ice cream that I love.

fallbannerFall commands the attention of all my senses. The crisp air that requires a jacket. The leaves in hues of orange, yellow and red capture both my eyes and my ears when the crunch underfoot. That crunching creates a leafy aroma like the grinding of spices. I hear the geese call good by as the cross the sky in perfect V formation. The Red-winged Blackbirds gather and put on a nightly show swooping as one for weeks before they too head south. As the sun moves south it sets earlier and earlier. Walking in the dusk of evening, house windows glow and I imagine the of families gathered inside. And when I return home the warmth of a fire greets me. It’s fall!

When you are writing it is important to think about your senses. What senses are awakened by  a place, season,  or activity? Including such details, not in a big paragraph as above, but slipped in here and there will enrich your story and help your reader feel like they are in the story with you!

A Recipe

Now, who wants some Pumpkin Cinnamon Pull-Apart Loaf?!

Print a copy from here & watch a video of constructing the loaf!

Story Boards, Book Dummies & Page Breaks

Last week we took a quick look at picture book construction. All editors and publishing houses have their own methods, but in my personal experience, the editors I worked with laid out the words using a book dummy. They also noted illustrations ideas on those pages to share with me and the illustrator. Laying the story out is important because page breaks are. We want the reader to keep turning the pages ! So authors should be thinking about page breaks and story layout as they revise their manuscript.

TO DO THIS authors and illustrators might make a STORY BOARDScreenshot 2021-08-16 095053

To make a story board take a long piece of paper and  fold it so you get 16 rectangles and you will divide each in two for your 32 pages (see above).   These are called thumbnails.  You can plan your illustrations by doing a sketch or writing what it would be.  You can write your text in, but if it’s a lot of words you could put first and last word.

OR a BOOK DUMMY0414181557_HDR  

A book dummy can be made a couple of ways.  You could take 8 sheets of paper, fold in the middle and you’ll have 32 pages.  Or you can make a smaller one by folding a large sheet of paper in half one way and then the other.  Then cut on those folds.  Fold in half and you have a 16 page signature.  How many do we need to make  the most common number of pages in a picture book? 

Some things to think about

So how will you decide where to break your story? These are some things to consider:

Suspense:  Think about books you’ve read-picture books or chapter books.  One of the things that makes us want to turn the page or read more is wondering what is going to happen on the next page.  So suspense is important in thinking about your page breaks.

Illustrations:  You want your illustrations to be different on each page, so as you look at your text you think about how you might illustrate those words or use pictures to add to the story.

White space: In most books you don’t want so many words on a page that there’s not enough room for pictures or that it looks overwhelming to read.

Question in the text: answer on next page

Stop a sentence in the middle:  SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL, SO SHE TOOK A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE BUSHES AND ALMOST TRIPPED OVER A….  (KITTEN) on the next page

Transition words: Then, When, But, And, Until and Ellipsis SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL.  SHE LEFT ON TIME, BUT…

Rhythm: of quick page breaks, build anticipation

When an editor works on your story your page breaks might change, but thinking about them has helped you submit a better story!

Picture Book Construction??

IF YOU take the time to write a picture book, the last thing you want is for the reader to put the book down before they’ve finished it.  You want them to keep turning the pages.  So it’s important what we decide to put on each page.

WE OFTEN call any book with illustrations a picture book, but there are really 2 types of illustrated books: 

  • Story books: Where the text tells the whole story and can be read without illustrations 
  • True picture books: where the pictures and words combine to tell the story.

So you need to know which type of illustrated book you’ve written as this will determine the book’s length and how the story is laid out on the pages.

Next we need to think about how picture books are constructed.

  • Most picture books are 32 pages and there’s a reason why.
  • Picture books are made from SIGNATURES-not the kind where we write our name. In printing a signature is:  a group of pages that are printed on both sides of a sheet of paper. The paper is then folded, cut and trimmed down to the finished page size.  So pages are laid out and printed on large sheet which is cut in half (so you have 4 sides) then cut in half again (8 sides) and folded so you have 16 pages.  Most picture books have 2 of these.speechbubblebookpage

So you have 32 pages, but some of these may be used for a title page, dedication, copyright material.  So 28 pages for your story.signatures

With 28 pages it will be important to plan how the words will fit into those pages. Is there room in the story for rich illustrations that add to the experience and to the story? 

Next week let’s look at story boards and book dummies as a way to plan your story.

Labor Day Memories

It’s Labor Day! I hope you are relaxing from your labors. Growing up a LONG time ago and on the East Coast school began the day after Labor Day. While all the schools where I live now have already put in many days of school I still think of Labor Day as the official start. In my youth Labor Day would find us watching the Jerry Lewis telethon as we frantically finished sewing clothes for school. While my forays into sewing are few and far between these days I still get the itch to sew this time of year.

Screenshot 2021-08-16 103634I also get the itch to read new things, learn new things and cover some books with brown grocery bags🙂! I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I recently tried the Washington Post’s Daily Mini (+weekly Meta) and I’m hooked. They are small and you can check each word as you do it. I know crossword fanatics would never do that, but that little bit of help has kept me playing and I find I am solving them more quickly. I’m also learning how crossword puzzle makers think!

I was thinking how picture books, while glorious in their own right, are also a mini step for readers into the world of reading and how story works; for that matter how life works. The pictures give clues to help with the words. The new reader builds confidence as they read book after book. Eventually the reader moves on to bigger things, hopefully returning on occasion to the rich worlds offered by picture books. I don’t know if I’ll ever “move on” to bigger crossword puzzles, but my daily mini is perking my interest and giving me confidence.

Now for some book reviews

If Kids Ran the World, Leo and Diane Dillon,  The Blue Sky Press 2014

Inviting, bright illustrations show the world as it should be where kindness reigns and food, shelter, medicine, education and love are there for everyone. This world exists if Kids ruled the world. Until the world shows them otherwise kids assume all things are possible. May this book inspire us to find the child inside, see the world as it should be and strive to improve it each in our own way. An afterward suggest ways to make the world a better place.

20210420_141954

 

And kids now that the most important thing in the world isn’t money, or being king or queen, or pushing other people around. It’s love: giving it, sharing it, showing it.”

A Perfectly Messed-up Story, Patrick McDonnell,  Little Brown and Company 2014

A quirky, humorous mixture of real images and drawings that break the 4th wall. Louie is a character in HIS story. He’s happily going along when he find that someone has dropped jelly on the page, thus ruining the story. He is talking to the reader about it when plop some peanut butter drops on him. Then Louie finds fingerprints and orange juice. He gives a lecture on the importance of books and begins again only to find someone  has colored in the book. He tries to start again but decides it’s just a messy old book no one will want and he gives up. The story starts without him and he finds out that everything is just fine. And Louie decides it is just fine, messes and all!

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“Everything is fine. I’m still here. You’re still reading. And it is a pretty good story. Messes and all.”

I am a Thief!, Abigail Rayner, Illus Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books, 2019

20210420_160813Eliza Jane Murphy, who sees herself as a model student, becomes a thief when she takes a sparkly stone from a display of green things in her classroom. But then her “heart stopped singing”, her letters “went wonky” and she was “too heavy to swing.” She begins to explore her feelings by asking the adults in her life if they’ve ever stolen something. It turns all of them, except her dad, admitted to some minor thievery in their lives. But that doesn’t make Eliza Jane feel any better. So she tells her parents and knows what to do. When she returns it and confesses her teacher said she was brave. She realizes that “nobody is just a thief. Everyone is a lot of things”. Just as she is about to close her investigation on the family thieves she discovers her dad stealing the last piece of cake! Nice lessons showing we are all more than our mistakes, that adults make mistakes too,  and that admitting to and learning from mistakes is what counts.

Authors make good friends

 One of the things I love about being an author is meeting other authors! Writers are a welcoming lot. They understand the ups and downs of the profession. They are always there to cheer the successes and offer support in the failures. I have author friends that live right here in Indiana. Ones I’ve meet at book events and others I’ve only meet online. I love connecting with all of them. So I thought I’d share books from some of my friends.

And a recipe!

Robin’s book has some persistent peacocks trying to get their wings on some mac ‘n cheese. Once they do they’re not so sure they like. That made me think of a recipe I enjoy

WAFFLED MACARONI AND CHEESE

Maybe the peacocks would have liked their mac ‘n cheese this way!

Wishing for Author Visits

We are all hoping that back-to-school this year means a return to something normal. School may never be the same as the pandemic will leave an indelible mark, both good and bad. As an author I hope that this year means a return to in-person author visits!

I had an opportunity to whet my appetite for this when I presented at the Appleseed Writing Camp. This a local camp for students interested in writing. They meet for 3 hours each morning for 2 weeks. I was lucky to spend a morning with 25 rising 4th, 5th and 6th graders. You think an author visit is all about the author inspiring the students. And certainly, that is the goal, but it’s no secret that authors benefit too.

An author spends a lot of time alone, well their characters are there, but … So visiting with students is a welcome change of pace. Authors get lots of rejections of their work, so when students look at your with those “you’re a rock star” eyes the affirmation is welcome. Students have wonderful ideas. If you share a work in progress, they might just provide the spark you are looking for to raise the story to a new level.

Slipped into my hand by a student

But the MOST important thing students give me is HOPE. To see them collaborating with each other, cheering each other on, pulling ideas out of nowhere, tells me this world will survive. There will be people to lead, people with imaginations big enough to find the answers, and people who will bring joy.

A student’s story start