A Billion Giveaway

1 12 2015

logo billion ebookFor “Giving Tuesday,” ustyme has embarked on a huge literacy outreach campaign called the Billion eBook Gift! Through the Billion eBook Gift, they will be kicking-off the largest gift of books in history! Over a billion classic ebooks will be given free to families across the nation.

This campaign supports Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) and other literacy programs to ensure that children have access to a choice of books caring adults can read and share with them. To see more info on this campaign, check out their site at billionebookgift.org or read about it in the New York Times, Business Wire, PR-WEB, and CBS News (SF Bay Area).

I’m excited that a book I illustrated, Teeny Tiny Woman, will be part of this giveaway. Teeny Tiny Woman cover web

See some of the other 50 books here:

billion ebook gift

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How to Plot a Picture Book without Losing the Sparkle

20 09 2015

scbwi-celebrate-clareToday we have another wonderful picture book author who’s sharing her tips on plotting. I’m excited about Clare Helen Welsh’s release, Aerodynamics of Biscuits, and thrilled that she’s willing to share her expertise with us. Welcome, Clare!

How to Plot a Picture Book without Losing the Sparkle

by Clare Helen Welsh

Those of you who read my interview with Minty author, Christina Banach,  will know that plotting is not something I consider a strength of mine. I often start with a title, like to write spontaneously and would definitely describe myself as a ‘pantser’ as opposed to a ‘plotter;’ a writer who “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little (@Magic_Violinist, themagicviolinist.blogspot.com).

So who better to write about plotting than someone who doesn’t believe in it/ isn’t very good at it?

Thus, here I am! Taking a deep breath… and jumping head first into the mind field that is picture book plotting. This is by no means the only way to work but it’s served me well so far: How to plan the perfect picture book without losing the sparkle.

GpsTurn off the SAT NAV

There are lots of different plotting tools out there and the story arc seems to be as good as any, designed to streamline plot and ensure pace. But is planning every twist, turn and line before you start really necessary? Knowing your route inside and out is great on a long car journey but what about for a 32 page plot?

My theory is that planning your picture book in this detail before you start, will almost always result in a forgettable idea that’s been done many times before, since you are drawing on the inspiration from your outer most periphery of your brain. This is where the stereotypes and clichés lie. For example, a bear in a wood, a pig in mud. So where do the juicy, uncharted, award winning story ideas live?

To come up with something that has never been done before you need to bring together ideas that don’t normally go together, for example, a bear on the beach, a pig in an ice rink. Have you ever tried starting with just a premise? Ever picked up your pen and paper or word processing tool and begun your story without a map? You won’t know what’s going to happen from one to line to the next, but it will force you to think ‘outside the box’ and fingers crossed, you’ll come up with something original.
TigerPamela Butchart, author of Never Tickle a Tiger plans in this kind of way. She says she mostly knows where her story is going, but it allows for her characters to surprise her! However, it is important to keep the ending in mind. It might change as your story develops, but knowing your story outcome will help keep you and, your characters, on track.

penguinIt’s worth also mentioning that if you’re an author-illustrator like Helen Stephens, your story premise and ending might be visual. Helen’s inspirations come as one clear image.
plot hole

Plot Holes

Working in this way, you will inevitably come across some big, back all-encompassing plot holes, big enough to swallow your motivation in one fail swoop and stop you and your story in its tracks. Lucky you! For me, this is where the magic happens! Plot holes are an opportunity to break through the clichés and come up with a completely new idea like a bear in a train station (Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum’s Paddington) or like a pig in a pond (Pig in a Pond by Martin Waddle and Jill Barton). If you listen to your characters, take risks and change route, even if it means rethinking your initial plan, your diverted story arc might well be more exciting, engaging and probably a lot more original, than your initial take on your theme.

Take the Scenic Emotional Route

And then comes the editing, which is essentially plotting in reverse. Whether you plot a lot, a little or not at all, your finished journey needs to leave the reader feeling fully satisfied. Now can be a good time to come back to your story arc. You’ve captured your original picture book sparkle, so now ensure the pace is such that we see trials, tribulations and disasters! Make us feel like there’s no way the main character is EVER going to reach their story goal; add in obstacles, heighten the tension, and then whip out your powerful, perfect resolution at the very last second, leaving us fully resolved and ‘wowed’ with the perfect pay off… so much so that we want to read it again.. and again, and again!

I wish you all a treacherous, eventful and holey writing journey to your perfect picture books! I’d love to hear more about how you plot your stories. Please feel free to share your experiences. Are you a plotter? Or a panster? Or perhaps a bit of both?!

Thank you, Laurie for the ‘plotting’ challenge and for the opportunity to blog as a guest on your site.

Thank you for being here, Clare, and for sharing such great information. Looking forward to your release on September 28!

biscuitsAbout Aerodynamics of Biscuits

Aerodynamics of Biscuits features Oliver, a five year old boy who sneaks downstairs in the middle of the night to find pirate mice stealing his biscuits! But Captain Sneaky McSqueaky and his crew are not eating Oliver’s biscuits… they’re making rockets! Aerodynamics biscuit rockets to fly to the moon to steal cheese! Ahhharrrr!

The book can be purchased in bookstores, through the publisher Maverick Books or on Amazon.COver

About Clare Helen Welsh

Clare lives in Devon with her husband and two children. She teaches in a primary school and has over ten years experience in Early Years and Key Stage One. In 2014 she became a Specialist leader of Education, supporting local schools to achieve high standards in phonics, primary languages and the Early Years Foundation Stage.

In 2013, Clare won The Margaret Carey Scholarship for Picture Book Writers and she received Silver Medal at The Greenhouse Funny Prize 2014 for her picture book, Aerodynamics of Biscuits, which is illustrated by Sophia Touliatou and due to be published by Maverick Books in September 2015.

Clare is represented by Alice Williams of David Higham Associates. Find out more about Clare on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

01-09-2015 20-33-02blurb





Aliens, Bears, and Tara Lazar, Oh, My!

31 08 2015

tarafall2011picrounded1I’m excited to have Tara Lazar with us today to celebrate one of her books that came out this month.

Welcome, Tara! So glad to have you here. First of all, congratulations on your latest release, I Thought This Was a Bear Book. I see you have other books coming out around the same time. We’d love to hear a bit about those other books too.

 

Thanks, Laurie! Up next is LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, which is another fairytale mash-up. (I didn’t plan the releases that way, they just happened!)littleredglidinghood

I bring multiple fairytales and nursery rhymes into the fray. Everyone from The Three Blind Mice to Rapunzel makes a cameo. Illustrator Troy Cummings (NOTEBOOK OF DOOM series) created an icy-cool enchanted wonderland. Cleverly, LITTLE RED is the only red on each spread. (BTW, the book doesn’t rhyme. Just that sentence.)

After that, there’s NORMAL NORMAN in March and WAY PAST BEDTIME in the fall. 7 ATE 9 (based on the joke “Why was 6 afraid of 7?”) is slated for 2017.

How did you come up with the idea for the Bear book? And what revisions did it go through on its way to becoming published?

I Thought This was a Bear BookBEAR came about from wanting to insert a character where he didn’t belong. Prince Zilch and the gang went through at least a dozen revisions, including the resolution, which I changed AFTER Benji Davies had already made initial sketches. (Sorry, Benji!) I also changed the last line of the book in the final stages because I was never satisfied with it. Those who have the F&G will notice the difference!

As Rebecca Colby mentioned in her post, you do humor very well. What secrets can you share for writing “funny”?

Oh wow, what a question! I think humor is something innate and intangible. You know it when it’s funny, but it’s difficult to describe what makes you laugh.

Perhaps it’s a misunderstanding, an exaggeration, the unexpected and/or a clever association between two or more previously unrelated things.

But I don’t analyze my humor. It just spits itself out. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing with my father, who coughed up brilliant one-line zingers. And my husband, he makes me laugh daily.

There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s father yells “My wallet’s gone!” at the doctor’s office—he’s certain the physician has stolen it. About 15 years ago, my husband and I were in a department store on a stormy summer day. Department stores in the mall don’t have windows. The power went out and it was pitch black. Within a few seconds my husband yelled, “My wallet’s gone!” I fell on the floor in a fit of laughter.

So I surround myself with humor, and thus, humor comes out naturally. (In other words, get yourself a funny spouse.)i-thought-this-was-a-bear-book-9781442463073.in02

Can you give us an idea of your writing process?

The only constant in my process is letting an idea “marinate”. When I first began writing, I’d get a flash of an idea and sit down immediately. I never paused to think, “Is this a good idea? Is this a great idea?”

Now I do. I think about it. And then I don’t think about it. My subconscious does some work. I tend to get a tingle when it’s ready to come out. Kind of like a sneeze.

Any tips for new writers?

That’s my tip, examine your ideas before writing them. For every 20 or so ideas, you’ll arrive upon one great one. The rest might be mediocre and not worth your time.

Any tips for more experienced writers?

Experienced writers don’t need my tips. Everyone’s process is different, and they’ve probably recognized what theirs is and how they work best. Just keep doing what you’re doing!

Have you ever had writers block? If so, what did you do to overcome it?

I go for a walk or take a bath. (This depends upon how clean or dirty I am.)

Then I start a new project. That’s exactly how I began BEAR BOOK. Another story wasn’t going so well; I had been slaving over it and not getting anywhere. I switched gears to something fresh and exciting.

What are you working on now?

Ahhhh! The 20th revision of a “longish” picture book (800 words) that I’ve always loved but have never gotten quite right. I let it sit for over a year and picked it up again specifically to present to one of my existing editors.

I’m really excited because this time, it’s working. The logic is logical. The tension is there. I removed unnecessary “schtick”. The premise is golden and evergreen—two colors you want. I am hopeful!

It would be great to get to know a bit more about you, so I hope you won’t mind answering some personal questions…

Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived/visited influenced your work?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. I never left the state. Some people think it’s the “armpit of America” but that just goes to show what they don’t know. It’s not all Tony Soprano and The Sitch. We’re an hour to NYC, an hour to the beach, an hour to the mountains. What more does one want?

I don’t think geography has influenced my work, aside from my close proximity to NYC and the NJ-SCBWI. I would not be here without the organization and their exceptional events.

tara3yearsoldAs a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

You’re lookin’ at it!

What super power do you wish you had?

To fly, of course! Although these days, I don’t wanna be up there with the drones.

In addition to your picture books, you’re known as the founder of PiBoIdMo. Can you tell us a bit about the group and how/why it started?

It began out of a desire to have an event specifically for PB writers. It has grown beyond my wildest imagination. The number of wonderful children’s books it has sparked is steadily growing and nothing makes me more proud. I love to share the success of PiBoIdMo participants.

Where can readers find out more about you?

One place, taralazar.com, has links to everything and everywhere you can find me.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Tara. And I know everyone who hasn’t already snagged a copy of Bear will want to rush right out to get one. If you enjoy aliens, bears, fairytales, and metafiction, then this is the book for you.

i-thought-this-was-a-bear-book-9781442463073.in03About I Thought This Was a Bear Book (from Simon & Schuster website):

When an alien crashes into the story of “The Three Little Bears,” it’s a laugh-out-loud adventure and a classic storybook mash-up!

After an unfortunate bookcase collapse, Alien suddenly finds himself jolted out of his story and into a very strange world, complete with talking bears. Desperate to return to his book, Alien asks the Bear family for help so he can get back to his story and save his beloved Planet Zero from total destruction before it’s too late.

Mama Bear and Papa Bear try all kinds of zany contraptions (with some help from their nemesis, Goldilocks) without much luck. Baby Bear might have the perfect solution to get the Alien out of the woods and back to his planet…but will anyone listen to the littlest voice in the story?





Writing Humorous Picture Books

27 08 2015

Rebecca witch 1Today I have the great pleasure of hosting my friend Rebecca Colby, an awesome picture book writer, whose book, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, released this month. She’s agreed to give share some secrets for writing funny picture books. And as a special bonus, if you read through the post, you’ll find a clue for her Scavenger Hunt. Be sure to collect all of the clues to be eligible for a prize.

And here’s Rebecca…

 

 

Show Them the Funny: Writing Humorous Picture Books

Everywhere I look on editor and agent submission wish lists these days, I read the following: WANTED: Funny, Quirky Picture Books. Why? Because everyone enjoys a laugh—kids and adults alike. Laughing makes people feel good, and as a result, funny sells.

But if you’re not the kind of person who automatically sees the funny side of life, you may find writing humorous picture books difficult. (And even if you do see the funny side of life, like me, you may still find it a struggle.) So here are some tips to showing editors and agents “the funny.” And if you’re playing my online scavenger hunt, here is one of the names you’re looking for: Sabrina.

 

JuxtapositionPirates Don't Change Diapers

Put two things together that don’t normally go together. This already sets the scene for a humorous story before you’ve even written a word. For example, Melinda Long puts ‘pirates’ and ‘a baby’ together in Pirates Don’t Change Diapers (illustrated by David Shannon). Who can resist laughing at babysitting pirates, especially when they think they’ve been given the task of sitting on babies.

 

Contradictions

Dear Mrs LaRueSome of the funniest books to read are those in which the illustrations contradict the text. Mark Teague does this so well in his book, Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School. In the book, Ike begs to be rescued from dog obedience school. He writes letters home to Mrs. LaRue, complaining about the school and painting a bleak picture of it, while the color illustrations tell a very different picture—that of a luxury, high-class school that is more akin to a spa retreat.

 

Potty HumorMorris the Mankiest Monster

Okay, so it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but most kids of average picture book age, love (and I do mean LOVE!) potty humor. And if you’re looking for an example of a book that is super-duper, hilariously disgusting then look no further than Morris, the Mankiest Monster by Giles Andreae and Sarah McIntyre. Morris lives in a house made of dung and eats green bogies. Need I say more?

 

The Web FilesWord play

Be it nonsense words, puns, tongue twisters, or other word play techniques, using fun language can add humor to a book. And the sillier sounding the language, the better. A picture book author that knows how to use word play to its best effect (and one to study) is Margie Palatini. With titles like Broom Mates, Moosetache, and Gone with the Wand, you already know she’s an author who likes to play with words. In her book, The Web Files (illustrated by Richard Egielski), someone has pilfered a peck of perfect purple almost-pickled peppers and Ducktective Web must investigate the fowl play. While it proves to be a hard case to quack, he eventually finds the dirty rat involved. Now how’s that for some fun word play?

 

Give it a twistI Thought This was a Bear Book

Another way to ensure your book is humorous is to add a twist. Your book should be anything but predictable, so surprise your audience. A recent book I’ve read that accomplishes this is I Thought This was a Bear Book by Tara Lazar and Benji Davies. The entire book is a twisted fairy tale with an alien accidentally falling into the pages of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But while some of the elements in the book, like the appearance of Goldilocks, porridge, chairs, and beds are expected, these elements are mish-mashed with the story of the alien, making for a completely new and unpredictable book. And just when you think you’ve got the book sussed and the happy ending is looming, a further twist shows up on the last page. But to find out what it is, you’ll have to read the book!

 

Illustrations

Illustrations are another way to inject humor into your picture book. However, since this is a post about writing, rather than illustrating, I’m not going to say much here, except occasionally–and only VERY OCCASIONALLY–if you come up with a strong, visual image that would enhance the humor in your text, then you might want to consider inserting an illustration note in your manuscript.

Humor is subjective so employing these tricks is no guarantee that every editor or agent will find your book humorous, but you’re sure to tickle a few funny bones.

Thank you for hosting me today, Laurie! I’ve had a great time and I hope everyone will get writing and “show them the funny”!

Thank you for being here, Rebecca. Lots of great advice for those who want to write “funny.”Here’s more about It’s Raining Bats and Frogs! and about Rebecca. Be sure to use that Scavenger Hunt clue.

It’s Raining Bats and Frogs! Blurb

Delia has been looking forward all year to flying in the annual Halloween Parade. But parade day brings heavy rain. So, Delia takes action. Using her best magic, Delia changes the rain to cats and dogs. But that doesn’t work too well! Then hats and clogs. That doesn’t work, either! Each new type of rain brings a new set of problems. How can Delia save the day?

About Rebecca Colby

When not staring at blank pieces of paper, Rebecca can be found scribbling on napkins, walking into lampposts, and talking to herself. You can learn more about Rebecca and her strange habits at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com Alternatively, check out some of her one-sided conversations on Twitter at @amscribbler.

Rebecca is the author of It’s Raining Bats & Frogs (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2015) and There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie (Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014), and the forthcoming Motor Goose (F&F/Macmillan, 2017).

 





Realities of the Writing LIfe

16 03 2015

writingMost writers rack up rejection slips as they dream of the day that they’ll sign with an agent. Once they get the call and sign with their dream agent, most authors discover they’ll need additional edits on the manuscript they’ve already worked to death. And except for a lucky few, a long wait follows while the book goes out on sub. Then there’s the wait for the book to make it past the acquisitions committee.

Finally comes that glorious day of signing a book contract–one of the pinnacles of an author’s life. But wait…

You can’t tell anyone your fabulous news until it’s officially announced. So you spill the secret to a few trusted friends and family members and wait impatiently for the day you can shout it to the world. Then you bask in the congratulations and eagerly await the day your book heads to publication. Soon you’ll hold your baby in your hands! Yay! Um, no…

monkey reading

Although some days it may feel as though a team of monkeys is tearing apart your baby, in the end you’ll find the book has greatly improved.

It’s time for more waiting… For the editorial letter(s). And the REAL work begins. You thought your gem was finished? Sorry, the editor has plenty of requested changes. Then the copy editor. Then the proofreaders. And then is it ready yet?

Not yet. Next is waiting for the illustrator if it’s a children’s book. Then galleys, F&Gs, ARCs, final printing. Is it a book yet? Finally, yes. But there’s still waiting for release day.

And if you thought you were done working when you turned in your final draft, you’re discovering you’re working harder than ever — promoting your book, working on the next book, setting up school/library visits and bookstore signings…

But the upside of all this is that at least you can quit your day job and totally focus on your writing. Um, no…

Is This What Librarians Are Really Like?

Noooo!!!

Even if you got a six-figure advance (which most authors only dream of), you haven’t made much money yet. Don’t believe me? Check out agent Jennifer Laughran’s post about author advances, REAL TALK: $ix Figure Book Deal$, for the truth.

So you’ve gone through all of this and still need to keep your day job? Wouldn’t you have been better off working a second job for minimum wage? Probably. But why did you do this in the first place?  If it was for LOVE or to touch lives or to increase literacy, you’ll have the joy of seeing your book in reader’s hands. And nothing is more valuable than that.Children





Late to the Party

18 02 2015

Teeny Tiny WomanLife has been moving quickly since the beginning of 2015. Lots of great news to share, including finishing final revisions on the picture book app, THE TEENY TINY WOMAN (pic on left), I’m illustrating for ustyme, coming out in March 2015, and completing the last of the three YA nonfiction books, ANCIENT EGYPT, due out later this year. It will be part of the UXL World Eras series, along with the other two, IMPERIAL CHINA and WEST AFRICAN KINGDOMS, which are in the edits/copy edit stage.

I’m also excited to announce that I signed with agent Mary Sue Seymour of the Seymour Agency for my adult Amish novel, CHANGE OF HEART.

Seymour Agency

bom-cover-love-profanityIn other news, I received hardcover copies of LOVE & PROFANITY, coming out from Capstone in March. I’m excited to have a story in this anthology, along with this year’s Newbery winner, Kwame Alexander.

And the cover for Book 2 in the WANTED series also arrived. ARCs will follow later this month. Her Cold Revenge 9781630790073 webFor those of you who are eager to read the next installment of Grace’s story begun in Grace and the Guiltless, the saga continues in HER COLD REVENGE, coming out in August 2015. If you can’t wait that long to see what happens, I’ll be posting chapters on Wattpad, starting next week and leading up to the release date.

I also spent time at Kindling Words East, an awesome time of bonding with other authors, illustrators, and editors, followed by a writing retreat. As a follow-up to Kindling Words, I may have some thrilling news to announce later in the spring. And, lest you think my whole life revolves around books and book-related projects, I’m off to San Diego now for a week of sun and fun.

But the truth of it is… My life does revolve around books for the most part, and I love it.

This month is always a favorite for me because the Brown Bookshelf puts out an awesome list of authors. I usually try to give them a shout-out at the beginning of February (hence, the blog title). If you haven’t already been doing so, why not play catch-up and read the fabulous authors they have listed? It’s exciting to see so many friends’ names (and favorite authors) on the list. So while you’re snowed in, here’s a wonderful selection to choose from. 28dayslogoThe only thing that disappoints me is that this list only comes out once a year. Why confine celebrating all these excellent books to one month? Keep reading them all year long. And if these 28 aren’t enough, check out the lists from previous years. Enjoy!





Climbing toward a Dream

26 01 2015

ladder to sky I always loved this picture of a ladder reaching to the sky. When I first decided I wanted to write, I drew a symbol like this as my logo. I pictured myself climbing that ladder to success, rung by rung, each rung representing a new skill, a new publication, a new height. And slowly, I started learning and climbing.

Some of the most important steps along the way were joining SCBWI, participating in critique groups, reading craft books, and taking classes. I even added an MFA to my goals. But the most important step was doing the writing itself. I’d read somewhere that to become an expert in any skill, you needed to put in 10,000 hours and write 1,000,000 words. So I did.

And the work began to pay off. First in small writing assignments and then in books. During the early writing years, I drew another picture in addition to that logo–a stack of books. A tall stack set up in a spiral shape. I was reminded of that recently when I decided to take a picture of the books I’ve written in the past five years. That drawing looked almost exactly like this:

7_BooksInterestingly enough, some of the titles I put on those books were related to the topics of these books. I’m a big believer in using visualization to achieve goals, but I was surprised at how much the two stacks resembled each other.

I’ve seen so many writing dreams come true  in 2014. This past year has been filled with book contracts and book releases and speaking engagements. All of it fun, although sometimes exhausting. Sometimes the sign hanging behind me at this reading was definitely a reality.

8_reading  One of my long-term goals was signing at BEA, and I not only got to do that, but I got to watch friends and a CP sign too. And that was one of the highlights of the year — seeing so many friends and acquaintances making their dreams come true.

And 2015 is promising more of the same. Several CPs have signed book deals, and I know more will follow. I’m looking forward to what this year will bring. And wishing all of you a move up to the next rungs of the ladder to your dreams.