Posted on: September 5, 2017
by Rachel Hamby
One of the first SCBWI events I attended was led by Amber at a library in Beaverton, Oregon. It was a few years back and I was just testing the kidlit waters, but Amber’s workshop made a lasting impression. At our upcoming conference in Spokane on September 16th, Amber will lead 2 small group sessions in addition to giving the keynote address. Amber’s Table Talks on edgy YA and writing for a diverse audience might set you on a brand new course.
Hi Amber, thanks for answering a few questions on our blog! As you know, our theme for the conference is all about the journey. How did you get started on your journey as a writer for kids and young adults?
I probably have one of the weirder origin stories.
My first children’s book, Paddle My Own Canoe, began as a eulogy. I wrote the text to honor my grandmother, Esther Keyser, who was a huge inspiration in my life. During the 1930s, she was a wilderness canoe guide in Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. The rustic cabin that she built there as the base for her guiding business is the one I still return to every summer. I named my first child after her, and her wisdom is in every single page of my novel The Way Back from Broken.
When she passed away, I wrote a poem that was intended to transport listeners into the backcountry alongside my grandmother. I read it at her memorial service, and as it happened, the publisher of my grandmother's memoir Paddling My Own Canoe was in the audience. She approached me about pairing my poem with illustrations and making it into a children’s book. So that is what we did!
I’m proud to say that both my grandmother’s book and my book are still in print. All proceeds from both books go to benefit Algonquin Provincial Park. At last tally, they’d raised over $100,000 to preserve my favorite place in the whole world. Paddle My Own Canoe is definitely my most successful title.
It sounds like kismet! A unique way to begin a publishing journey, but we can see your poem came from the heart and that’s always a great place to start. It's inspiring to see your success in different genres. Do you have any advice for writers published in one area that want to explore something new?
I write in lots of different genres because I get curious about lots of different things. I like it because I can alternate between the emotional heavy-lifting of my YA fiction and the in-depth research of nonfiction. There’s also a lot of wonderful synergy across projects. For example, there are many crossovers between my nonfiction anthology The V-Word and my novel Pointe, Claw. Another advantage is that I can sell more books in a single year because my nonfiction and my fiction fall into different markets.
But it’s worth noting that there are some downsides to writing in many genres. It’s harder to present a coherent image of yourself online and thus harder to publicize your work. Writing in different markets also means twice the work on the marketing side because you have to build an audience in both places. It’s also worth remembering that not all agents are willing to represent across genres. Some really encourage their clients to specialize because it makes them easier to sell.
Those are good things to consider, thanks Amber. In your novels, you aren't afraid to tackle subjects and issues that other writers may shy away from for a variety of reasons. You'll be delving into this more during your Table Talks, but maybe you can tell us what your readers say about books that shine a light on difficult subjects and social issues?
My books seem to evoke a lot of strong responses. You know how brilliant librarians are at finding the right book for the right reader? My books are like that. A reader either connects or really doesn’t connect.
When someone who is grieving stumbles about The Way Back from Broken, they respond pretty deeply. They tell me that appreciate the harsh honesty of the book. On the other hand, I’ve been criticized (mostly by adults) for putting too much heavy reality on the shoulders of young people.
The V-Word has also riled up lots of adults. There have been library and school challenges across the country. But many other adults tell me that they wish they had had The V-Word when they were younger. Teens themselves don’t say much about The V-Word directly, but librarians report whispered discussions about the book and parents tell me it keeps disappearing from their shelves.
Thanks for sharing, and cheers to librarians for helping kids find the books they need. In 2018 you have 2 YA nonfiction books coming out from Twenty-First Century Books, TYING THE KNOT: A WORLD HISTORY OF MARRIAGE and UNDERNEATH IT ALL: A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S UNDERWEAR. Could you share something surprising that you learned during your research?
Just one? Both books were fascinating to research~
I guess the most shocking thing I learned is that forced child marriage is a huge problem worldwide. It occurs in many countries, including the US and Canada, and in all religious traditions. Over 14 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage every year.
Child marriage is legal in all US states. More than half the states do not have a minimum age of consent. That means twelve-year-olds could be married, and there has been intense resistance to changing these laws in the US.
Just this year, seventeen-year-old Girl Scout Cassandra Levesque campaigned in New Hampshire to raise the minimum age of consent from 13 to 18. Republican David Bates refused to sponsor the bill, saying that the law as written seems to work fine.
It makes me furious, and I expect that you’ll see child marriage turn up in one of my next novels.
Hopefully more young women and men will be inspired to join Cassandra’s campaign after reading your book. You're coming to Spokane from Bend, Oregon. I know you enjoy spending time in a canoe. Do you have a favorite paddling spot? We hope you can return to the Inland Northwest sometime to enjoy our lakes and rivers.
Canoes, rafts, kayaks, paddleboards — I love it all! Obviously Algonquin Park is my favorite place to canoe, but I grew up whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River in Oregon, and now I escape to the high mountain lakes in Bend for paddle boarding with my dog whenever I can!
I was lucky enough to spend some time in Spokane in June. (Thanks, Mary!) I love your town and would be delighted to go paddling! Maybe we could hold my workshops on the water????
I can’t wait to see everyone! Thanks for having me!
A workshop on the water, definitely something to consider! Thanks for giving our members an introduction to you and your books. We’re looking forward to learning from your publishing journey in person on September 16th.
Amber J. Keyser is a former ballerina and evolutionary biologist who writes both fiction and nonfiction for tweens and teens. Her young adult novels include POINTE, CLAW (Carolrhoda Lab, 2017), an explosive story about two girls claiming the territory of their own bodies, and THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a heart-wrenching novel of loss and survival (and a finalist for the Oregon Book Award). She is the co-author with Kiersi Burkhart of the middle grade series QUARTZ CREEK RANCH (Darby Creek, 2017).
Her nonfiction titles include THE V-WORD (Beyond Words/SimonTeen, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences (Rainbow List, Amelia Bloomer list, New York Public Library Best Book for Teens and Chicago Public Library Best Nonfiction for Teens) and SNEAKER CENTURY: A HISTORY OF ATHLETIC SHOES (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015), among numerous other titles.
Her forthcoming books include TYING THE KNOT: A WORLD HISTORY OF MARRIAGE (Twenty-First Century Books, 2018) and UNDERNEATH IT ALL: A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S UNDERWEAR (Twenty-First Century Books, 2018).
Posted on: August 18, 2017
by Rachel Hamby
To get everyone sufficiently jazzed about our September 16th conference, we're highlighting some faculty members on the INW blog. A few weeks ago we featured Stephanie Oakes. Today Nonfiction Picture Book author, Annette Bay Pimentel has stopped by to answer a few questions. Thanks for joining us, Annette!
Your first book was recently awarded the Carter G. Woodson Award. Could you tell us a bit about the book and the award?
My book Mountain Chef; How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service tells the story of a Chinese American trail chef who helped lobby for the passage of the National Park Service Act in 1915.
The National Council of Social Studies–an organization of social studies teachers—just gave the book the Carter G. Woodson Award for the best elementary book depicting the real life of an ethnic or racial minority in America. I’m thrilled that they would consider a definitely un-famous life for the award and am delighted that my book can be part of showing kids that the America we love was built by a diverse set of people.
Congratulations! A wonderful, well-deserved award. Next year, you have a new picture book coming out titled Girl Running. Bobbi Gibb is an inspiring woman. Tell us about Bobbi and what drew you to her story?
I’m always bugging my family for book ideas, and my husband sent me a link to the famous video of Kathleen Switzer getting thrown out of the 1967 Boston Marathon. I was shocked to realize how much our assumptions about women’s capabilities have changed over the past 50 years.
As I read about Switzer, though, I learned that she had been inspired by Bobbi Gibb, who ran the marathon the year before, in 1966. I read Gibb’s autobiography and was inspired by the joy she found in running and by her quiet determination to prove what women can do. I thought kids would respond to her story even more strongly than to Switzer’s. It was fun to dig into contemporary news stories and eventually to talk to Bobbi Gibb herself. The book, with beautiful collage art by Micha Archer, comes out February 6, 2018.
We'll look forward to celebrating the release of your next book in 2018! I noticed on your blog that you participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Could you tell us about this and how interested folks can get involved?
Sure! Reading deeply in my genre is an important part of my writing life, and the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is a big part of that.
The Challenge is in its sixth year. It encourages adult readers to set a reading goal related to nonfiction picture books, perhaps to read a certain number of books or to read books on a certain topic or in a certain format (for example, nonfiction books in verse). Every Wednesday the Kid Lit Frenzy blog publishes a post about a nonfiction picture book and other bloggers can link to their own nonfiction picture book posts in the comments section. We tweet about the books we read with the hashtag #nfpb2017, and there’s also a GoodReads page for the Challenge. We’d love to have any interested SCBWI members join us!
That's great advice, Annette. Reading books in the genre you write gives great insight into craft and the market. I really enjoyed visiting your website and blog in preparation for this interview. What are your top 3 tips on the subject of websites and blogs?
Awww. Thank you, Rachel!
- Better regular than often.
The internet is littered with blogs that burst into life and then sputter to a stop. When I first started my blog I posted multiple times a week. I soon found, though, that I was devoting more time to writing and revising blogposts than to writing and revising books.I decided to cut down to one post a week, but my rule is that I must post every week. My readers know I don’t post daily, but it’s still worth coming to my blog because I regularly add new content.
- Make your blog help you, not distract you.
Writing books, not a blog, is my main goal. So I set up my blog to meet my book goals: I want to know industry trends, so I only review new books; I want to write histories and biographies, so that’s what I review.
- Small is worth it, too.
Three years ago when I started my blog I imagined having an enormous audience. That hasn’t happened! But something just as good did happen. My few readers share my passion for nonfiction picture books and together, we’ve created an online community around a topic we all love.
Thanks for the tips! What other writing projects do you have in the works? Any news you can share with us?
In 2019 Nancy Paulsen Books will publish my book Ann Brooks Goes West (with her piano), the story of a pioneer who dragged her grand piano across the plains in a covered wagon. The illustrator hit the road this summer on a research trip to make sure his illustrations for the book are just right. I can’t wait to see them!
She sounds like another great person to introduce to young readers. Thanks again for taking time to answer a few questions, Annette. We look forward to hearing from you at the September conference. Picture book writers, Annette will sit down with you one-on-one to discuss your manuscript. Sign up here for the conference. If you've already registered but would like to add a manuscript consultation with Annette, please send an email to inlandnw at scbwi.org.
Annette Bay Pimentel lives in Moscow, Idaho, where she writes true stories about real people. Her first book, Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service, won the Carter G. Woodson award, a Eureka! Nonfiction Honor, and was named a Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Notable Book. She is represented by Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Website and blog: http://www.annettebaypimentel.com/
Facebook: Annette Bay Pimentel
Posted on: August 1, 2017
Stephanie has a new book coming out this month, and she's presenting at our September conference. We've asked Stephanie to answer a few questions about her books and her breakout sessions. At the end, Stephanie has a party invitation for you!
Your first book, The Secret Lies of Minnow Bly was an SCBWI Golden Kite Honor book. This year, you were one of the judges for that award. Could you tell us a bit about the award and the judging process?
Judging was a lot of fun! I was paired with two other amazing judges, Gary Schmidt and Ellen Hopkins. Needless to say, I was fairly starstruck to be working alongside such legends! We got boxes and boxes of books to read over the course of about six months. That was the best part–coming home to find a new box of books on my doorstep. In the end, we discussed which books we responded to the most. From the start, we were all totally in love with our winner, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which made our job really easy!
Molly's dad is on death row and her mother has disappeared. When Molly gets a clue that leads her to Pepper, a Kuwaiti immigrant boy who has to spend his summer writing essays or else flunk out of school, she believes solving the mystery will lead to her mother. Molly and Pepper embark on a journey to solve a decades-long mystery: Who killed Ava Dreyman, a teenage girl who was killed at the hands of the East German secret police just before the fall of the Berlin Wall? The answer will take them across the globe, into the past, and will change their lives forever.
Thanks! That sounds like a page-turner! At our September 16th conference, you’ll be leading two small group sessions. One is titled, Submission Basics. I heard you talk about your agent search, and I was impressed with your sticktoitiveness. Could you tell us how you found your agent?
I was in the query trenches for a couple of years before I landed my agent. I started out with a frankly terrible draft of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (although at the time I thought it was pretty good!) and a few agents were generous enough to give me some feedback alongside their rejections. I revised it a few times, and eventually landed on the version that nabbed me my agent (This version was still very different to the version that ended up in the final, published book). I tell aspiring authors that the best quality to have when pursuing publishing is perseverance. Rejection happens to everyone, but eventually, you'll find the project and the agent who are meant to be.
Wonderful advice, I'm sure our attendees will come away with some great tips about submitting their manuscript if they choose your breakout session. You’ll also be doing some manuscript consultations at the conference. It sounds like you'd be a great match for someone writing high-concept YA. What other genres do you enjoy reading?
I hop around pretty much every genre in my reading. That's one of my favorite things about YA, how authors have the freedom to explore multiple genres in their careers–and even in the same book.
And last but not least, your book launch party for The Arsonist is coming up in August. Can you share the details?
It's on Saturday August 26 at 7:00 at Auntie's Bookstore. Some member of our local SCBWI came to my last book launch, and that was so much fun! This one should also be a fun time with food and drink, and hopefully some interesting stories about the behind-the-scenes of how The Arsonist was made. Everyone is invited!
Thanks so much, Stephanie! We're looking forward to hearing more from you at the conference and picking up our signed copies of The Arsonist later this month. I'll be listening to the audiobook, myself. If anyone else loves audiobooks, Minnow Bly and The Arsonist are both available (or soon to be) in audio.
Stephanie Oakes lives in Spokane, Washington, and works as a library media teacher at a combined elementary and middle school. She has an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. Her first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, was a Morris Award finalist and a Golden Kite Honor book.
Posted on: July 13, 2017
Interview with Picture Book Author, Jason Gallaher
by Rachel Hamby
During a short break at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, Kary Lee and I ran into Jason Gallaher. Kary has known Jason for some time, so she introduced us. Jason is coming to Spokane to celebrate the launch of his first picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER OWL DETECTIVE. I wanted to hear all about his journey to publication, but there wasn't enough time to chat. Luckily, he agreed to answer a few questions by email for our INW SCBWI blog. Jason's book launch event is at Auntie's on Tuesday, July 18th from 7-8 PM. Come join the fun, and don't forget the kiddos!
1. Why did you choose Auntie's Bookstore to celebrate the launch of your first picture book?
When thinking about where to have a launch, I immediately thought of Auntie's. Spokane is my hometown (I graduated from Riverside High School), and my whole family is up there. Literally, all my aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and grandparents live in Spokane with the exception of me and one other family member. So I knew I had to go up to Spokaloo to ring in this occasion with the whole Gallaher crew. I've always felt such support and love from them, and from Spokanites in general. Since moving away from Spokane more than 10 years ago, I've always felt such good energy from people who know of Spokane and from other Spokanites I've met along the way. In fact, it was a fellow Spokanite who introduced me to my fiancé! So I really want to share this moment with the people from the town that I still hold close to my heart.
2. Our local conference is coming up in September. The theme is “Plot Your Course." Could you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
I would absolutely not be here at this moment of publication if it weren't for SCBWI. I used to live in Los Angeles, and it was at the Central California chapter's Writer's Day that I had a critique of an early draft of WHOBERT WHOVER. The woman who critiqued my manuscript was Annie Nybo of Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster. She gave me some fantastic pointers and included a message at the end that if I chose to revise I should send her my manuscript. I revised the draft, and my agent then sent it to Annie a couple months after our meeting at SCBWI. A couple months after that, we got the news that Annie was acquiring WHOBERT! So whenever anyone asks what they should do if they want to get into children's literature, I always say join SCBWI. If they're already members, I always tell them to get their work critiqued!
3. Tell us about the people that helped you on your journey. Who are they? How did they help?
I have to give another huge shoutout to my family members who have supported me in every single endeavor. I'm always so surprised when people begrudgingly say they have to go to a big family event. Huge family events are my life source!
My agent, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, is a monumental source of support in my writing journey. When I think we are going to have a twenty minute chat, they typically end up being two and a half hours. We can talk about anything and everything, she so wholeheartedly supports my manuscripts, and she gives me genuine feedback if she ever thinks something needs to change in my work. She typically knows what I'm trying to say in my writing before I do, and when I finally get there, she'll always take a moment to celebrate with me!
And the person who has completely made my life as a writer possible is my partner, Jerry. He has supported me from the second I said I wanted to be a writer. At each milestone in this process, he tells every person we know, and I can truly feel how proud he is of these accomplishments. We're getting married the week after the book launches, so July is so crazy and hectic in the best way, but even with how crammed our schedule has become, Jerry has made sure that the fun and joy and celebration of this book launch doesn't get overlooked.
4. Do you have other book projects in the works?
I do (how's that for a transition from an answer in which I talk about marriage?)! There is a picture book that will be coming out that is as yet unannounced, so as soon as I can talk about that I will shout it from the rooftops! In the meantime, I've been writing like crazy, and I'm on submission with a few picture books manuscripts, as well as some middle grade fantasy-adventure.
5. Can our members catch you anywhere else in Eastern Washington this month?
Spokane will be my only Eastern Washington stop in July, but I will definitely be back soon! I also have a book signing at BookPeople in Austin, Texas (where I now live) on July 22 if anyone happens to be down in that neck of the woods. I'm also always eager to do school visits, so if anybody in the area is in need of a goofy picture book author to visit their classrooms, please let me know! You can reach out to me at www.jasongallaher.com, or take a gander at my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/c/JasonGallaher.
Jason Gallaher is a children's book writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly wacky with the slightly dark. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas, with his Pomeranian, Pom Brokaw. He loves dinosaurs, unicorns, dinosaurs riding unicorns, and anything magical that takes you to a different world or time. Also, Anjelica Huston. Jason is a tried and true Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. Visit him online at www.youtube.com/c/JasonGallaher or www.jasongallaher.com.
Auntie's Bookstore: 402 W Main Ave, Spokane, WA 99201
Posted on: January 12, 2017
On January 28, Author/Illustrator Jessixa Bagley, will present as part of our webinar series, From Bright Idea to the Final Page Turn. Jessixa (pronounced Jessica–"The x is decorative") took home the Washington State Book Award this past October for her 2015 picture book, Boats for Papa. She was also kind enough to create the adorable artwork we're using to promote our event. We asked Jessica about her writing and art below. Join us on the 28th for her webinar on style and voice.
1. In addition to writing and illustration picture books, you're a cartoonist. Do you feel these two art forms share some common ground? And how do you feel your experience in one affects the other?
Jessixa: Making comics and making picture books share a lot in common. They are both the perfect synthesis of text and pictures- each one is designed to support the other equally. If done well, they both tell a side of the story and come together to ultimately tell one. Between their use of composition and pacing, they achieve the same effects of pulling the reader into a world and through a story. The space that the art and text create (or a lack of text in wordless versions) provides opportunity for subtext and subtle nuances to happen that allow the reader to interpret the story. I learned so much about making books from making comics for so long.
Jessixa: It varies. I don't have an exact formula that I follow in the beginning. Sometimes I get an idea for a story and start writing right away (I'll write in my phone notes, sketchbook, type on the computer), sometimes I draw a character a bunch of times and come up with a story for them after getting to know them for a while, sometimes I make bullet point statements or dialog then I move around to assemble into a story. If I start writing first then I start making thumbnails pretty soon after I put the story down on paper. (Thumbnails are key for me, they help me figure out pacing of the story and rough composition.)The two sides of picture books are so linked for me, I can't write for too long without getting anxious to draw and if I draw anything first, I get anxious that the story needs to come out!
3. Looking at the covers of your books, we see similarities and differences. We recognize your signature style, but we also get a sense of the feelings each story will evoke. Could you tell us about one or two artistic techniques you used to set the mood for one of your books?
Jessixa: Well I'm creating a world in a sense. I picture all of my characters from my various books living in different corners of the same Woodland world, so I want them all to feel like their paths could cross in some way. My two biggest techniques are my line work and my painting. My line work is created with very tiny/fine pens. I want to create textures and definition but as delicately as possible. I do my painting with watercolor that I let bleed and pool-up (I think it's technically called "blooming" in the watercolor circuit) and move across the paper to create an organic non-uniform texture. I achieve this by painting with fine brushes and an ink dropper instead of big washes of watercolor. For me, this creates a richer and sometimes somber feel which I think gives an added emotional depth to the story. My style directly comes from how I make fine art drawings and paintings-my illustrations are just a more controlled version.
Jessixa: Vincent Comes Home (Roaring Brook Press,Spring 2018) is a collaboration with my husband. I would love nothing more than to make more books with Aaron! We've made art collaboratively since we first started dating in 2004. It's always been a part of our relationship, so making books together feels very natural. I hope we can keep coming up with great stories to tell together!
Jessixa Bagley is a Seattle based artist and children's book author/illustrator. She has been a professionally practicing fine artist, comics creator, and illustrator since 2002. She has a BFA in painting and printmaking. Jessixa loves drawing anthropomorphic woodland critters- something that is inspired by her growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Her first picture book, Boats for Papa (June 2015) has won numerous awards accolades including the 2016 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for best picture book text and the 2016 Washington State Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award. Jessixa has several other picture books out or soon to be published: Before I Leave (February 2016), Laundry Day (February 2017), and Vincent Comes Home (Winter 2018). Vincent Comes Home is collaboration with her husband, Aaron Bagley. All of her books are Neal Porter Books published by Roaring Brook Press. You can check out her blog and follow her on twitter @JessixaBagley
Posted on: December 17, 2016
The Inland Northwest Region is fairly small, but we're bringing you some BIG names during our webinar series, From Bright Idea to the Final Page Turn. Our next interview is with Linda Ashman. Linda will be our final presenter on February 11th. Here's an introduction to a few of Linda's picture books, the blog she congributes to, and her craft book for writers. Her agent even pops in wwith some info on the industry. Thanks, Linda and Jennifer!
Question 1: You have written over thirty books for children. Wow! Could you tell us how you got started?
A: My career began about 20 years ago when I was turned down for a job I really wanted. When I got the news, I blurted out to my husband, “All I ever wanted to do is write children’s books!”—a big surprise to both of us. I hadn’t read a children's book in years, had no clue how to write one, and knew nothing about the publishing business—but I quit my job anyway and plunged in. This was back in the dark ages, before we had so many resources online, so I bought a few books about writing for kids, joined SCBWI, and promptly started stacking up the rejections—two years’ worth before I sold my first manuscript.
Question 2: Do you have any advice on building a career in this business? A few tips for writers and illustrators that may have one or two books on the shelves?
A: The best advice, of course, is to keep writing and/or illustrating. If your first book happens to be a blockbuster (like, say, Fancy Nancy or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie), you might build your career writing sequels (nice!). But most books don’t reach those sorts of stratospheric sales levels, and aren’t likely to stay in print forever, so it’s important to get new work into the publishing pipeline.
Question 5: What's coming up in 2017? Do you have any book news yu can share, or upcoming picture books by others that you're excited about?
A: I’ve got two new books coming out next year that I’m very excited about. First, Ella WHO?, illustrated by Sara Sanchez, comes out in April with Sterling. It’s about a young girl who discovers a baby elephant in her new house on moving day, but the rest of her family is too distracted (and clueless) to notice. Then Will’s Winter Nap, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in October. It’s about a boy whose bedtime is repeatedly interrupted by a succession of animals looking for a warm and cozy place to sleep. As for books by other authors, I always look forward to new releases from my blog mates, and to discovering more new books through our blog.
Question 6: Your book, The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books is a great resource for writers at every level. Could you tell us about this book and where we can find it?
A: The book came out of a series of classes and workshops I taught a few years ago. It’s structured like an 8-week self-directed writing workshop, with instruction, examples, interviews with industry experts, a substantial reading and resource list, and lots of writing exercises (at least one of which led to a book sale, as Tammi Sauer describes in this post: Ooh, la, la! Mary Had a Little Glam (+ GIVEAWAY)). The guide has been used by brand-new writers as well as published authors, as a textbook by writing instructors, and a study guide for writing groups. It’s available in kindle format from Amazon, or as a PDF through my website (http://lindaashman.com/how-to-write-picture-books/).
Posted on: December 12, 2016
Picture Book author, Josh Funk, will talk about rhyme, meter, and the challenges of writing picture books that follow an added set of rules on February 4th during our webinar series, From Bright Idea to the Final Page Turn. We asked Josh a few questions about his books, his writing process, and Twitter. Get to know Josh, and don't forget to register for: To Rhyme or not to Rhyme? (Registration details can be found on the main event page.)
Question 1: Your first picture book, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, is a rhyming story about two breakfast foods racing through the fridge for the last drop of syrup. It’s quirky! Something a lot of agents and editors say they’re looking for. What’s your advice to writers that want to write quirky books?
A: It’s funny you use the word ‘quirky’ because I think that quirky is actually a modest way of saying ‘funny’ when referring to your own writing. When writing a query or submission letter, you don’t want to come across as arrogant – and using the word ‘funny’ to describe your own writing could potentially be seen that way (it also sets the expectations of the reader relatively high for humor level). But the word ‘quirky’ gets ‘funny’ across in that humble and low expectation sort of way.
So advice for writers who want to write quirky, goofy, silly, humorous, or even funny? I think one of the things that inspires me more than anything is that I’m not an illustrator – but I like to imagine things that I think will be fun to see illustrated. I know that anything I write will be drawn, painted, collaged or created in some way by an incredibly talented artist. Breakfast foods causing culinary chaos? Pirate-dinosaurs? Dragon pen pals? All of these things make me laugh just thinking about them.
So what do you want to see illustrated?
A: It’s not the most exciting of origin stories. I woke up at 2:33am on February 27th, 2013 and had the word Pirasaurs! in my head. I texted it to myself and went back to sleep. By the end of the next day I had a full first draft.
The lesson: Always keep a writing utensil (analog or digital) on your bedside table. (I find my best ideas come either while in the shower or right as I’m going to sleep and on the precipice of dreaming)
Question 3: Your characters in Dear Dragon get to know each other through a poetry pen pal project. Did you find the added constraint of telling the story through the characters’ letters more difficult, or did the structure make it easier to write?
A: To be honest, I’ve never really thought about the structure making it easier or harder to write. Dear Dragon is a non-traditional story in that it doesn’t have a conflict and rising tension explicitly defined. The story is more about the relationship between the characters – the human (George) and the dragon (Blaise) – and how it grows throughout the school year.
In many ways, it was like writing two intertwining stories in first person, one from each perspective. The main difference being the fact that when telling a story in first person, it’s usually intended to be read by some unknown reader – but in this case, each letter was intended to be read by another character in the story.
Question 4: You are an active Tweeter. Do you have a few Twitter tips for writers and illustrators that haven’t quite gotten the hang of it?
A: Twitter is like a giant cocktail party and everyone’s invited. You can jump into any conversation between anyone … or lurk in the corner and just listen in. You may get ignored, but you might make some new friends (or e-friends). Have fun with it! Share others’ good news and successes. Talk about books you love (and certainly tag the authors and illustrators). If you read articles or blogs that entertain or inspire you, share those (again, always tagging the creators). And always stay positive.
A: The sequel to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast comes out on May 2. In The Case of the Stinky Stench, Inspector Croissant (Sir French Toast’s nephew) enlists LP & SFT to help determine the cause of a mysterious odor threatening to destroy the fridge. In all honesty, I kind of like this one better than the first. I wrote it before the first came out, but I had seen sketches and illustrations of Brendan Kearney’s world and just knowing what he could do inside the refrigerator gave me so much to play with when writing this one.
And in September, my first non-rhyming book will be released: It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s about Jack … and the beanstalk, but Jack doesn’t want to climb the beanstalk (“There’s probably a giant up there!”). Or sell his cow (“Bessie’s my best friend.”). I think kids will really enjoy seeing Jack cause serious frustration with the storyteller.
Thank you for inviting me to be interviewed!
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its upcoming sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk and more!
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conference.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
Posted on: May 1, 2016
Our regional picture book workshop with Award-winning Author Bonny Becker was a huge success. The daylong event was held at the Eastern Washington University downtown Spokane campus.
Throughout the morning, Bonny focused on picture book story structure, sharing information about beginnings, middles and ends that provided insight for both novice and experienced writers.
"I've been to lots of workshops on picture books," one writer said, "But Bonnie knows the nuances of the form. This was a terrific opportunity to work with a pro. And at a great price."
Bonnie talked about the importance of starting with an idea that is both simple and profound. Picture books are sometimes rejected because they are too slight, or too long and involved. Bonny offered quick critiques on the ideas shared by attendees.
After lunch, we spent 45 minutes writing, and then people rose to read what they had written. Bonny asked the room for feedback on the stories, and gave her own critiques as well. One attendee commented, "First time I’ve heard a workshop speaker provide real, tough feedback that leads to positive change."
Later in the afternoon Bonny passed out blank ‘dummies.’ Writers wrote, illustrators sketched, and everyone looked at how their story filled 32-pages.
One writer commented, "Making the book dummy helped me realize I don't need as much text as I thought."
Bonny received top marks in evaluations following the event, indicating Bonnie encouraged attendees at every level, as well as offering inside tips she has learned through her picture book career. One attendee said she learned, "It's possible for anyone (including me) to get published."
Bonny Becker is author of the best-selling Mouse and Bear picture books, including A Visitor for Bear, winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and Amazon’s Picture Book of the Year, and The Christmas Crocodile, illustrated by David Small. She’s published 14 books for children.
The evening before the intensive, Bonny read bedtime stories to young and old at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane.
If you missed the event, Auntie's has some of Bonny's autograghed books for sale.
Posted on: November 17, 2013
Attendees critiqued excerpts of published literature, worked on exercises in character, point of view and dialogue, and shared their work aloud.
YA Author Matt de la Peña explained the difference between plot and theme. His style was to ask questions and encourage thought and discussion, as well as share his own beliefs and what he wants to accomplish in his work. One major point Matt made was the importance of keeping the reader involved in the story.
Writers applied exercises to their work-in-progress or to completely new material.
We wanted to send Matt home with a souvenir of the Inland Northwest. Having no SCBWI sweatshirts on hand, we went with second best.
Matt's visit was made possible by the cooperative efforts of SCBWI-INW and the Gonzaga University's Visiting Writers Series.