Interview Alert: Me

I have interviewed many authors and illustrators over the past eight years for my Interview Alert feature here on Frog on a Blog. Most recently, I posed questions to author and artist Abraham Schroeder, who didn’t disappoint with his candid and detailed responses.

Today, Abraham has turned the tables on me, becoming the interviewer, and I, the interviewee. But instead of appearing on his site, the interview is right here. I have to admit, I’m a bit more comfortable asking the questions than answering them, but I had fun. Have a look! Perhaps you’ll learn a little something new about me. Take it away, Abraham!

AS) You have interviewed almost 30 authors and illustrators for your blog over the years, and it is inspiring to read so much about their different backgrounds and journeys. You also recently interviewed me, thank you, and I thought it would be fun if you were interviewed for your blog too. Then I realized this is my first time interviewing anyone, so for ideas I did some careful combing through your interviews, ones you conducted, and other people interviewing you.

 

AS) What have you learned from interviewing so many people? Have you been surprised by anything in particular?

LF) I’ve learned that children’s book authors and illustrators, besides being incredibly talented, are also some of the nicest people you could meet, so generous with their time and always willing to share their knowledge with those aspiring to be where they are, that is, published. I’ve also learned that those who write or illustrate for children are, each one of us, on our own path. So we should do ourselves a favor and not compare our journeys to other’s.

AS) You have talked about how, as a librarian, you see a lot of new books. Do you have input on what kinds of books are acquired by your library?

LF) I should clarify that I am not a librarian, rather a library assistant. More specifically, I’m a processing assistant, which means I catalog all of the new materials my library acquires. So just about every new book, DVD, music CD, and etc. that the library receives, goes past me before going out to the public. The best part of my job is being one of the first people to read the brand-new picture books. I don’t have a lot of input on what books the library acquires, but I do make occasional requests. (The images below show part of my cataloging process at the library, including a cart of new books waiting to be cataloged, my computer screen, and my own book’s back cover and spine when I cataloged it in 2015.)

AS) Going to the library with small kids in tow, I often find myself with limited time to flip through the stacks, and sometimes I’m literally grabbing randomly. “Here’s a handful, let’s go!” Sometimes we find amazing books that way, some of our favorites, and sometimes we get a bag full of duds. How do you help people who visit the library find great books?

LF) I’m happy to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed, but usually I refer patrons to the children’s librarian. Librarians really know their stuff and are more than willing to help.

AS) Do you see any trends in what kinds of books are popular these days? What are your thoughts about what you see being published, or at least what crosses your desk?

LF) In picture books, though I wouldn’t call it a trend exactly, based on my observations, the most popular amongst my library’s young patrons are the superhero, Star Wars, television series, and Disney tie-ins. It’s the sad truth, but at least they’re reading!

As far as trends in what’s being published, I’m pleased to report that picture books are all over the place in terms of word count, illustration style, and type of story (humorous, lyrical, thought-provoking, whimsical, concept, rhyme, prose, interactive, nonfiction, etc.). Any writers out there reading this, don’t write to perceived trends. Just write your best stories.

AS) Why do you think picture books are important? Why do you spend so much time working with, reading, writing, and sharing them?

LF) I love that picture books are both mirrors, for kids to see themselves in, and windows, for kids to learn about the world and to develop empathy for others. But even before I gave much thought to that spot-on analogy, I was a fan. Where else can you find a story and page after page of incredible art packaged up so perfectly and ready to transport readers or listeners of all ages to amazing places?

I also believe that literacy is an important milestone to success in life. If children are introduced to books and reading early on and throughout their growing-up years, they will become strong readers. The best way to start is by reading picture books. I encourage all of you to read picture books with the kids in your lives often.

AS) You’ve said in other interviews that you have dozens of stories written and many more ideas. What is your process for turning those ideas into finished stories?

LF) I wish I could say I had a process. Usually, my ideas sit for weeks before my mind generates enough substance to start formulating an actual story. The ideas that “speak” the loudest are the ones most likely to become finished stories. I have tons of ideas; many will never be stories because after that first spark, they never speak again. On the flipside, I sometimes get ideas that come to me as fully formed stories, ready to be written down. Sadly, that doesn’t happen too often.

AS) Do you work on one story at a time or several at once?

LF) I definitely work on several at once. If I’m stuck on one, I work on another. I have many in various stages of development.

AS) Do you think about vocabulary and age range when you write?

LF) I’ve read so many picture books that I think those things are ingrained in me at this point. I just concentrate on writing the best story I can.

AS) In one interview, kids asked if you were rich and famous now that you have a book out. I’m sure many adults also assume you’ve hit the big time now. When you’re not too busy counting your money and going on shopping sprees, how do you spread the word about your books? What sort of personal outreach and publicity do you do?

LF) I can’t answer this question right now because I’m off to do some shopping in Paris. Okay, I’m back. Seriously though, I don’t talk about this much, but I’m struggling with a chronic illness that makes it difficult for me to do as much promotion as I would like, outside of social media and local book signings. I experience severe fatigue on a daily basis and have trouble with walking and balance. With some possible new treatments coming up, I hope to feel better in the near future.

Some ways that I have promoted my book include, sending copies to reviewers, interviews, local book signings, donating copies to literacy organizations, features in local newspapers, blogging, tweeting, etc.

Java and MeAS) When you’re not living, breathing, and thinking picture books, what do you like to do?

LF) Spending time with my dog is at the top of the list. I like teaching him new tricks. Also, my husband and I watch a lot of movies together, all kinds. I enjoy Japanese anime too.

AS) Is there anything else you’d like to share?

LF) I just want to say thank you to fans of my picture book The Peddler’s Bed, followers of Frog on a Blog, and all of my supportive family and friends. I appreciate you all!

And thank you, Abraham, for the interview! You’re a pro at this now! (Those were some tough questions.) 😊

Kids Ask The Best Questions!

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I love answering questions asked by kids about my book! Recently, I was interviewed by several enthusiastic second graders from Redwood Elementary School in Fort Bragg, California. The interview has been posted to Jeanette Stickel’s blog SpeakWell, ReadWell. Jeanette is a licensed speech-language pathologist who works closely with these students. SpeakWell, ReadWell is a speech therapy and kid-lit blog that explores language, literacy, and literature, and I’m honored to be featured there. Thank you, Jeanette and kids! 🙂

To read the interview, click HERE.

If you are a teacher, librarian, or parent, and have kids who’d like to ask me questions about my book, The Peddler’s Bed, or about being an author, please contact me by clicking HERE. I’m more than happy to answer!

Interview Alert: MaryAnn Sundby

 

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Please help me welcome author MaryAnn Sundby to Frog on a Blog! She’s the newest member of the Ripple Grove Press family. Her debut picture book Monday Is Wash Day, which was illustrated by Tessa Blackham, is available now. Let’s get to know MaryAnn a little bit. Read on!

maryann-sundbyMaryAnn, what inspired you to write your debut picture book Monday Is Wash Day? Do you have a personal connection to the message of the story?

People often say “write about what you know”. Monday is Wash Day is based on my experience growing up on a farm where I helped do the wash. I wanted children of today to understand that in years gone by, children helped do family chores. It was a wonderful part of family life.

How did you hear about Ripple Grove Press and why did you decide to submit to them?

The 2013 summer bulletin of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (a writer’s group I have joined) mentioned that Ripple Grove Press was accepting submissions for children’s picture books. I immediately mailed in Monday Is Wash Day for consideration. I was excited, knowing my manuscript would be read, as publishers often don’t have open submissions.

What’s your favorite illustration in Monday is Wash Day?

Tessa Blackham’s illustrations are fun and detailed. I especially like the pages of the children carrying the buckets of water to the porch; the family dog is helping!

Have you always wanted to be an author?

During the last several years, I pursued writing as an alternative to watching TV, which is too passive for me. Writing has been a positive avenue to learn about people and our world and to share ideas and memories.

What do you believe makes picture books special?

Picture books are special when carefully chosen words are braided into a captivating story enhanced with illustrations. With the wonderful mix of good words, a good story and good illustrations, a child’s understanding of the world grows. Consider the stories of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan. Children are drawn to these classics, especially with compelling illustrations to highlight the drama.

Besides writing, what are some of your favorite things to do? Do you have favorite places you like to visit?

I enjoy being with family and friends. I enjoy traveling and learning about history all around me. I enjoy good food. I live near the mountains in Colorado where I see beautiful sunrises and sunsets nearly every day.

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Are you working on more books?

Yes! I am writing about Maria, who leaves the family’s failing homestead to work in a boarding house kitchen. She doesn’t know what the future holds but she is content knowing she’s helping those she loves.

Where can fans connect with you online?

I welcome email messages from readers. They can reach me at: msundby@q.com

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes. Reading good books is part of a good life!

So true, MaryAnn! Thank you so much for joining us on Frog on a Blog. May you experience much success with Monday Is Wash Day!

Splashing In The Reading Tub

reading-tubI’m extremely pleased to share that I’ve been interviewed by Terry Doherty at The Reading Tub. The Reading Tub is a volunteer-run, non-profit literacy organization. 

“The Reading Tub collects and distributes books to at-risk readers, whether it is a child with no books at home or a teacher building a classroom library for her struggling students.”

Please click HERE to read my Author Showcase interview. And to read a special bonus interview that’s been posted to The Reading Tub’s Family Bookshelf blog, click HERE. I had such fun doing both interviews! I hope you enjoy them! 🙂 

Interview Alert: Megan Maynor

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Megan Maynor

One of my favorite picture books of 2016 thus far is Ella and Penguin Stick Together by Megan Maynor and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet. The cover alone is striking. It made me excited about reading the book.

Have you ever been attracted to a cover, eager to discover what’s inside, only to be disappointed by a lackluster story and illustrations that don’t live up to the cover’s awesomeness? That’s not the case with Ella and Penguin Stick Together!

This book has endearing characters, an engaging story, beautiful illustrations, and tons of sweetness and fun. Well done Megan, Rosalinde, and Harper Publishing!

I’m pleased to welcome Megan Maynor today in the Interview Alert spotlight!


Interview Alert: Megan Maynor


1. I love, love, love your debut picture book Ella and Penguin Stick Together! When did you decide that writing children’s picture books was what you wanted to do?

Thank you! It’s funny, a friend of mine recently reminded me that I talked about writing a children’s book in high school, so I guess it’s been in the back of my mind for a long time. But I began writing picture books in earnest, with the aim of selling a book for publication, when my children were small and I was transitioning from full-time ad agency work to freelance copywriting and being at home with the kids.

Or, measured another way, I started writing about ten years before I sold my first book.

2. Both Ella and Penguin are sweet characters, but Penguin is also very silly. Is he modeled after anyone in particular?

The idea for Penguin came from goofing around with my kids when they were little. Like when I’d offer to help them put on their shoes, then put the shoe on my head. Or say, “We need some milk. Better go to the library!” Or, “Have fun in the pool. Don’t get wet!”

You know, real high brow stuff.

But those things are funny to kids. It’s funny to see an adult be wrong. And it’s fun for them to be the expert. I started thinking about how to employ that in a story—where someone is mixed-up and the child character, as well as the child reader, gets to be the expert. And that led me to Penguin who is kind, and a good friend, but also confused about some things. As we would say in our house, “He’s still learning.”

3. Glow-in-the-dark stickers are so fun! How did you come up with the idea to write a story that included stickers?

I got a handle on these characters pretty quickly, but it took me ages (read: MANY drafts) to figure out what they should be DOING in the story. What was the plot? I’m not sure what made stickers pop into my mind, though I did have a pretty serious sticker collection as a child and stuck glow-in-the-dark stickers on my bedroom ceiling—where they remain to this day. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) But glow-in-the-dark stickers presented a great story problem for Ella and Penguin. They want to see the stickers glow—but they don’t want to go into the dark.

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4. The illustrations are a perfect complement to your story. The cover alone is striking! When you saw Rosalinde Bonnet’s interpretation of your words for the first time, what did you think?

Thank you! I also ADORE Rosalinde’s work. To be honest, the first time I saw her sketches, I was completely delighted. I love how Rosalinde captures the emotion and character of both Ella and Penguin so well. And she brought so many things to the page which I couldn’t have anticipated. In Ella’s bedroom, for instance, there are such wonderful details—including these fantastic toys and stuffed animals. I’ve told Rosalinde that she should start a business on the side so these toys can exist in the real world. (She’s kind of busy making more beautiful picture books, so I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath on that one.)

5. I’m excited to hear that there’s a sequel on the way! Can you tell us a bit about it?

Sure! In the next book, ELLA AND PENGUIN: A PERFECT MATCH, Ella and Penguin decide that they should match, because they are friends, and friends match! So they do everything the same—wear the same outfit, eat the same snack, and so on, but only one half of the pair is actually enjoying everything. Then Penguin starts to worry. If they don’t really match, can they still be friends?

Again, in this book, Rosalinde really brings out the emotions and captures the highs and lows of this friendship.

It comes out January 2017!

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6. Why do you feel picture books are important?

Gosh. We could talk about this for a couple hours, but here’s one answer: In a picture book, a child is learning about the world with an adult who matters to them—through a beautiful work of art created just for them.

Because picture books are read aloud, they’re a shared experience. So there is room to laugh together (some of my favorite books!), to anticipate and be surprised together, and room for the child to wonder aloud, and the adult to expand on what’s presented in the book.

And then read it again!

7. Do you have any favorite picture book authors or illustrators? Favorite picture books?

Another question that’s hard to answer, but I’ll give it a go. Here are some picture books I am always happy to pull from the shelf—I could never read these too many times:

Blueberries for Sal, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Extra Yarn, Rattletrap Car, Library Lion, Big Red Lollipop, Once Upon an Alphabet, George and Martha, The Best Pet of All, Moo!, Cowboy and Octopus, Punk Skunks, Big Momma Makes the World, I Want My Hat Back, Officer Buckle and Gloria, Owl Babies, Kitten’s First Full Moon, Wolfie the Bunny… I’ll stop there for today.

There are so many fabulous new books every season—it’s really another golden age for picture books. Here are a couple of places I go to keep up:

allthewonders.com
kidlit411.com
nerdybookclub.wordpress.com

8. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your books?

Website: meganmaynor.com
Twitter: @megan_maynor
Instagram: megan_maynor

Thank you, Megan! It was so great getting to know more about you! 🙂

 

 

 

My First Picture Book: A Q&A With Karlin Gray

ThePeddlersBed_cover

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of answering some questions about my debut book experience for Karlin Gray, author of Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, which was published June 7, 2016 by HMH. Karlin says, “Since I am new to the picture-book world, I wanted to learn from other writers. What inspired their stories? How did they go about crafting their first book? What did they do when they finally received that offer?” Those are just a few of the fun questions Karlin asks on her blog.

Click Here to read my responses to Karlin’s questions.

Look for my review of Karlin’s debut book, Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, this fall.

Interview Alert: Wendy BooydeGraaff

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I’m excited to welcome fellow Ripple Grove Press author Wendy BooydeGraaff to Frog on a Blog! Wendy’s debut picture book Salad Pie, which is illustrated by Bryan Langdo, officially releases March 1, but is available for pre-order now! I’ve ordered mine and cannot wait to read it! 

I have a special affinity for Ripple Grove Press authors and illustrators and plan to make interviews with these talented people a regular feature here on The Frog. Please enjoy learning more about Wendy BooydeGraaff!

Interview Alert: Wendy BooydeGraaff

 
1. What inspired you to write your debut picture book Salad Pie?
Salad Pie was inspired by my oldest daughter, playing at the park. That’s where she said those words, “salad” and “pie” together, and I thought they sounded so unique and creative that I repeated them over and over on our walk home so I wouldn’t forget. Then she went for a nap and I started scribbling out a story. She gave me the title and the setting (thank you M!); I supplied the storyline.

2. How did you hear about Ripple Grove Press and why did you decide to submit to them?
Way in the back of SCBWI’s The Bulletin, there was a note in the publisher’s corner about Ripple Grove Press. They were about to launch their first list, so there wasn’t a lot of information about them. I like to do a lot of research before I submit, but I took a deep breath and risked it. After all, they were SCBWI members. I liked their mission statement at the time, which was something about creating the new classic picture books. Now their statement is to create books that are “fun, imaginative, and timeless”—perfect.

 
3. How long had you been writing with the intent to get published before you received your first contract?
I’ve been writing since I finished college, always with the hope to be published someday.

Box of Salad Pie

Box of Salad Pie

4. What’s the first thing you did after you received your box of author copies?
When the box of Salad Pie copies arrived on my doorstep, I waited for about an hour until my kids got home from school and we opened it together. Then we sat on the floor and everyone read a copy. I might’ve had some champagne. I left the books in a high traffic area where I could give them a little pat every time I passed by, and finally, I stacked them on a bookshelf where I can see the pile shrink as I host giveaways and send out review copies.

stack o' Salad Pie

Stack o’ Salad Pie

5. What do you like best about the picture book genre?
Picture books are often read aloud, so there’s this wonderful interaction between reader and audience. The format itself is a sort of conversation: the words inform the illustrations and then the illustrations inform the words in this nice, complicated circle of meaning so that once it’s done, a picture book can’t be separated into words vs. pictures anymore. A picture book IS its words and pictures, together. I love that.

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Wendy’s signed Newbery

6. What’s your favorite picture book from childhood? What’s your favorite recent picture book?As a kid, I loved Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now by Dr. Seuss and The Nose Book by Al Perkins and illustrated by Roy McKie. I loved Marvin’s stubbornness, but I couldn’t understand why he chose to walk when all of those great modes of transportation were available. And I spent a long time supposing I had no nose, like The Nose Book suggests.

My favorite picture books now are The Dark by Lemony Snickett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, A Nation’s Hope by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and of course Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, which won the Newbery and a Caldecott Honor this year. Can I list more? Because I also love Pool by JiHyeon Lee, The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi, Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies, and Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Ooh, I almost forgot Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt. All of them have stellar illustrations and the perfect words (except Pool, which is wordless, but it’s perfectly wordless).

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The Nose Book

7. Where can fans connect with you online?
Visit me at wendybooydegraaff.com where I have a contact form or you can ask a question that I’ll answer on the site. You can also find me on Pinterest and Goodreads (There’s a giveaway running until February 16).

Maggie and Herbert on Monroe Center (GR, Mich)

Maggie and Herbert on Monroe Center

8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Frog on a Blog readers?
• There are lots of great new authors and illustrators debuting in 2016. Find out about all of us at On the Scene in 2016, a picture book debut blog.
• Ripple Grove Press makes beautiful books. Check out their catalog here.
Thank you, Lauri. You’re a great host!
~Wendy

Thank you, Wendy, for joining us on Frog on a Blog! It was so great getting to know you better! We wish you much success with Salad Pie! 🙂

Interview Alert: Deirdre Gill

Author/Illustrator Deirdre Gill

I am excited to welcome author/illustrator Deirdre Gill to Frog on a Blog. Her beautiful debut picture book Outside is one of those magical, wintertime books I adore so much. The story is about a small boy whose imagination soars when he goes to play outside in the snow. The text is sparse, but the pacing in perfect and the oil paint illustrations are stunning. After coming across Outside at my local library, I knew I would soon own my own copy. And I knew I wanted to learn more about its creator, Deirdre Gill. Please enjoy the interview!

Q. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in children’s books.

DG. I majored in illustration in college and knew that I wanted to illustrate books for children when I graduated. I started off doing illustrations for children’s magazines and textbooks. I also worked at Books of Wonder in New York City right out of college. Many of my co-workers were people who were very passionate about children’s books and also went on to be authors and illustrators, including my husband, Jason Chin.

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Q. I am so captivated by your picture book Outside. Please tell us a bit about your process, both writing and illustrating, when you created Outside.

DG. From initial idea to publication, Outside was five years in the making. I was actively working on the book for about 2.5 of those years. It started with first a written draft, that very sparse text. Then I created the images and put together the first dummy.  When I was offered a contract for the book, I set about revising the story and of course the pictures as well. The story evolved quite a bit, and went through some 30 or so drafts. (I stopped counting after 27.) I estimate that I drew well over 5,000 sketches while working out the story and pictures. Once my editor and I were settled on the story and sketches, I drew more detailed and full-size finished sketches. I then transferred these sketches to my painting paper. I then begin to paint and cross my fingers that it comes out okay! I work in water-mixable oils. 

Character Sketches from Outside

Character Sketches from Outside

Q. Your vivid imagination really shines through in your artwork. How would you describe your artistic style?

DG. I would say that I aim to create images that are representational, but I try to never be a slave to reference photos. I search for a ton of images to inspire me then I mostly draw from my own imagination. I love color and try to imbue my paintings with both vibrant colors as well as more subtle tones. I am heavily inspired by illustrators who achieve a sort of dreamy “sfumato” look in their art. Peter McCarty, Chris Sheban, Renata Liwska and Quint Buchholz are among a few of my favorites. Although I don’t come close to achieving that in my oil paintings, I always aim to create a similar mysterious and dreamy sort of feeling.

Q. I love picture books that are set in winter; there’s just something magical about them. How did you decide to set Outside in winter rather than another season?

DG. My initial idea for Outside was not exactly a story, but rather a vague series of images I had in my mind of a child going outside to play in the snow, and becoming totally engrossed in the magic of playing outside. This idea was inspired by my own love of being outdoors, especially on a perfect, snowy winter’s day, and how wonderful it is to sink deeper and deeper into one’s own imagination. There is a kind of magic that comes over us when we are outside in the snow. We become our best, happiest selves. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in a place where there is snow know what it feels like to wake up and look out the window to see a pristine blanket of freshly fallen snow covering the ground. And to feel that sense of anticipation that coaxes us from our warm cozy homes outside into the cold. We feel the deep, fluffy snow crunch under our boots and know that our adventure has begun. Our heads clear, our senses sharpen, we become more open to all the beauty and wonder that is around us. Being outside in the snow sparks our creativity; suddenly we have a million ideas of what to make, and our ideas multiply as we go, each new idea more awesome than the one before. Our resilience strengthened, we trudge on through the cold with frozen toes and wet mittens because we are aware of the temporary nature of that just right, snowball-making snow and we know this moment, right now, is our chance to create the perfect snowman or snow castle. We are cooperative with our fellow snow explorers because there is so much snow to move and sculpt and we must work together to make our visions come to life. And when our efforts fail, for we are building with the imperfect medium of snow, after all, we find another way or allow new ideas to spring to life. I think that this magic can happen in any season, but there is just something to special about how the world seems transformed when it snows.

Spread from Outside

Spread from Outside

Q. What projects are you currently working on?

DG. Currently I am illustrating a rhyming picture book about trains. It’s a lovely text, written by Andria Rosenbaum. I am very excited about it, as the mother to one four-year old train fanatic and another blossoming 1-year old train enthusiast.

Q. Why do you think picture books are important?

DG. Oh, let me count the ways! Picture books are so important because they are a child’s first introduction to stories. And stories are our greatest tool in processing the world around us. Not only do they teach children a healthy vocabulary, they also help them make important associations, give them words to go with their emotions, and introduce them to the world outside of their own home. Just as important as the words and pictures in a story, are all the words and pictures that are necessarily left out of a 32-page book. Unlike a movie that does all the work for you of showing every action scene by scene, the picture book makes the brain do a lot of the work in filling in the missing pieces. I also love that a book allows readers to go at their own pace, and will often reward readers who return over and over to their favorite books with little details that they might have missed during the first read. And, of course, there is nothing better than curling up on the couch with someone who loves you and sharing a book. 

Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?

DG. They can go to my website: www.deirdregill.com, visit me on Facebook at Deirdre Gill Studio, or follow me on Twitter @deirdrekgill.

Q. Any closing thoughts?

DG. Thanks so much for allowing me to share Outside with you and your readers!

Suzanne Bloom Is A Foolish Optimist

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Author/Illustrator Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne's Newest Book

Suzanne’s Newest Book

Welcome author/illustrator Suzanne Bloom for the final post of our four-part series. If you are a new or aspiring children’s picture book author (or illustrator), I hope you have found some inspiration and encouragement in the last three posts, and I hope that continues today. This week I ask Suzanne about quiet stories, writer’s block, and how to keep from getting discouraged.

I discovered I have something in common with Suzanne, besides our love for picture books. We have both been told by editors that our work is quiet. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant the first time I heard it. Is that good? Bad? What? Since the editor who told me that my story was quiet didn’t seem interested in acquiring it, I surmised that quiet must be bad. And if that’s the case, then my story must be bad, and my writing style must be bad, and maybe I’m not cut out to be a picture book writer. See how easily that self-doubt creeps in?      

What I have learned since then is that quiet doesn’t equal bad. It is a certain style of writing, and a lot of my work is written in that style, but it’s not bad, it’s just harder to sell to today’s publishers, who seem to want quirky, funny, quick-paced, action-packed stories. That being said, quiet books are still being published, just not as much. And if you truly want to, you can rework your story into something a little less quiet.

Suzanne, what does an editor mean when he/she says a story is quiet? And how do you feel about quiet stories?

Is it quiet because nothing happens? Do your characters have a problem to solve? Is there a beginning, middle and ending? Have you left space for the reader to make discoveries? What distinguishes your story from the mile-high pile of other manuscripts?

A formidable editor said, in a tone I couldn’t pin down, “You write quiet stories.” Was she kindly dismissing me? Maybe. But, being the foolish optimist, I chose to interpret it as a definition. Yes, indeed! I write quiet stories. My stories are about the little bumps on the road of friendship. They are about friends working things out. They hold moments of emotional truth for the listener and the reader. Think about The Quiet Book (by Deborah Underwood). Deborah Underwood’s “list” text coupled with Renata Liwska’s illustrations is absolutely delicious. It’s sly and tender and true. As visual learners, children look at books more carefully than adults do. This is a boon for illustrators who can amp up the level of detail suggested by the text.

Thank goodness for editors. We need them as surely as they need us. A manuscript needs a champion to shepherd it though the gauntlet of financial decisions, list requirements and the multitude of other manuscripts.

Yay, there is a place for quiet picture books in the world! Now, for those of you who get writer’s block, you’re not alone. We will all be afflicted with it from time to time. And we all deal with it in our own ways. Personally, I tend to wait it out for a while. I will often read and reread everything I have written for that story up to that point over and over again until I get unstuck. If that doesn’t work, then I’m usually done for the day. Let’s see what Suzanne recommends.

Suzanne, how do you combat writer’s (or illustrator’s) block? 

Is it inertia or page fright? No matter. Cook something, clean something, completely reorganize your kitchen cupboards, wax the car, weed the garden, walk the dog, conduct a search for the best carrot cake in a four state area, read every writer’s blog you can find, think about starting a blog, open the fridge 8 or 9 times to see if anyone made you something yummy.
Fill your days with Productive Procrastination Projects until you can no longer stand the avoidance, and think maybe that little opus on your desk or PC looks like a better option. Write around the block – scribble, doodle, sketch until that shaky, snaky line looks like an idea.
Alas, that idea may have a mind of its own. More than once the story I started gets elbowed aside by one that’s more insistent or fully formed. In the schoolyard that is my brain, my stories do not stand in a straight line. Oh no, they jostle and shove and argue over who is the line leader, except for that pouty one in the back who refuses to say a word.

Great advice, Suzanne! Now, how do you keep from getting discouraged in the highly competitive world of children’s picture book publishing?

On this emotional and professional roller coaster, there’s a nasty twist called the Spiral of Second Guessing followed by the Plummet of Self Worth. It seems to last forever but is over pretty quickly. Ride it out.
At the beginning of every project and sometimes again in the middle it becomes clear that I’ve forgotten how to draw and write. This story stinks and why would anyone ever read it? And it doesn’t even matter because who cares, anyway!
We are so hard on ourselves.
When I get discouraged, I call someone who loves my work and is not a family member. I call a treasured writer friend. We commiserate and whinge a little but then as good friends do, we remind each other of our successes, dedication, and how we are so much more suited to this than being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or any other of many, many options.

If you are a writer, illustrator, or both, thank you for working to put something beautiful into the hands of children.

Thank you, Suzanne, that last line sums it up perfectly. That’s really what it all comes down to, if writing children’s picture books is in your blood, if it’s a part of you that you can’t imagine being without, and you long to put something beautiful into the hands of children (and there’s nothing more beautiful than a picture book), then don’t give up, don’t quit, don’t get discouraged, your dream can come true. You can be published. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep improving, and keep the faith. Believe me, I know! 

Suzanne Bloom was born mid-century in Portland, Oregon, which accounts for her love of overcast days. She moved to Queens, New York in time to finish kindergarten. Her first book We Keep a Pig in the Parlor was published in 1988. She has authored and illustrated many more books since then including The Bus for Us (2000) and the popular Goose & Bear series, which includes A Splendid Friend Indeed, Treasure, What About Bear, Oh! What A Surprise!, Fox Forgets, and her latest, Alone Together. She has been given a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award and has been selected for the Texas 2×2 list of 20 best picture books (twice). She currently lives in upstate, New York with her husband in the house they built 34 years ago, down a dirt road and on a hillside. She has two grown sons, one cat, and one dog. To learn more about Suzanne, please read the interview I did with her back in 2010, or check out her website: www.suzannebloom.com.

 

{Suzanne's First Drawing, Age 3} I confess.  It’s true.  Before I wrote, I drew! An artist at three, marking the page  – my dad and I were circles with little circle eyes. We looked like a jellyfish family.

{Suzanne’s First Drawing, Age 3} I confess. It’s true. Before I wrote, I drew!
An artist at three, marking the page –
my dad and I were circles with little circle eyes.
We looked like a jellyfish family.

We all are artists, first. Little by little other activities catch our interest and we move on. But not always. I found more success drawing and painting than adding and multiplying, or dancing or playing sports. According to report cards from elementary school, I was a pleasure to have in class, though not working up to potential. Indeed, who among us works up to potential? I remember learning to read. Sprawled out on the ugly rug in the living room, looking at the funny papers spread before me, I watched in amazement as the squiggly lines shaped up into a word. The word was “Scamp”, son of Lady and the Tramp. And with that, the funny papers became my magic carpet. My gateway books were Goldens. So Big!, Animal Babies, and Mr. Dog still sit and stay on my book shelf to remind me that my collection began even before I was reading on my own.