It’s the mid-way point of Storystorm 2023! And so far, so good, I’ve been keeping up with this month long picture book brainstorming challenge created by Tara Lazar.
To me, brainstorming is like like taking a journey with a somewhat vague destination in mind, but no set directions for getting there. Since I’m a big LOTR nerd, that idea connects me immediately to Bilbo Baggins’ warning to Frodo about embarking on a journey, “If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Storystorm, in order to encourage participants creativity, provides daily blog posts written by a multitude of picture book creators.
One of the posts that captured my attention, this Storystorm, was written by Kathleen Doherty. Her post was about intertextuality. Though I had never heard it called by that title before, I was familiar with its theory which says that whatever you create is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen or read before.
Kathleen embraced intertextuality in each of her picture books. Her first, Don’t Feed the Bear, came from her memories of watching Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith’s cartoon high jinx.
It’s a super fun read that demonstrates the power of written communication and it definitely tickles the funny bone.
Kathleen described her second picture book, THE THiNGiTY-JiG, as a reworked version of The Little Red Hen with a dash of creative BFG word-play added to the mix. I think it’s so much more!
The THiNGiTY-JiG has a pleasant repetitive refrain that gets the story going and keeps its transitions flowing. The prose is active, full of onomatopoeia. Each attempt of the main character to achieve what he has set out to do, cleverly builds upon the one before it. Lastly, it has a very satisfying ending. I’d recommend this book to children, as well as to picture book writers in search of mentor books.
There is more Storystorming left to do in the remaining weeks of January, and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll let you know how my efforts pan out at the start of February.
On this the first week of 2023, I’m excited to share with you my interview with debut picture book author, Emma Pearl.
The questions I posed Emma, to a one, revolved around the kindling of the imaginative spark. I felt this focus was just the thing to accompany the sense of possibility and new opportunities that the new year brings.
InterviewQ&Awith author Emma Pearl
Emma, after finishing a project do you ever feel lost as to what project you’ll do next?
No, I don’t really find this a problem. I write for all ages and have far more ideas/projects/WIPs on the go than I could ever hope to complete in a lifetime! I’m usually drawn to the next one naturally when I finish something, but if I’m ever in doubt I just read through my endless files, lists and notes until something shouts ‘WRITE ME!’
I currently have a YA novel about to go out on submission in the new year so I’ve just finished final revisions on that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of my next novel – a YA with similar themes/synergy – so will be tidying that up before sending it to my agent. And I have a sequel for that one planned too, which may or may not be the next one I write. I’d like to get an MG novel out on submission next year too – I have one completed that needs a rewrite and several more that I’m keen to work on – I’ll be discussing with my agent which one to focus on.
I have quite a lot of picture book texts ready to submit and am waiting on my agent to look at them all (I intend to keep her quite busy next year!). I love writing PBs because they require such a different skill set to novels and completion can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, so I often work on them in between novels or when I get stuck in the middle of a novel.
It sounds like you are super busy!
Do you have any brainstorming techniques to get your ideas flowing?
I’ve gathered so many ideas over the years that I don’t actively need to look for them any more. But I do make sure to write them down when I get them – ideas usually come from reading other books, watching movies or conversations. There will be a nugget of something that I find fascinating and then ideas will spin off from that. Also, I constantly mine my childhood memories – what were the things that made me feel the biggest emotions? Even the most ordinary events, habits or people can be turned into amazing stories if you can identify and connect the emotions associated with them.
I agree, Storystorm is a great way to kick off the year with ideas and inspiration!
Emma, Do you have any routines that encourage your writing process?
Not really. I write as often and as much as I can, which is most days, but there’s not a strict routine (life tends to get in the way of that!), and there’s a lot of time spent on things that are essential to my writing career (which is still very much fledgling) that are not writing per se – admin, marketing and promotion, networking, learning, mentoring, critiquing… etc. I am most productive in the mornings from about 9 to 12 so try to maximize writing time then whenever possible.
What have you found to be the best writing advice you ever received?
I’m not sure which one of these is the best, but all of the following have been invaluable:
– first drafts are supposed to be rubbish! I spent many years not getting anywhere with my writing because I was scared of writing rubbish. But a very important lesson was learning to write anyway. You can improve a badly written story but a blank page is worth nothing.
– there is no set of rules, no one way of doing anything, no set path to follow. There are a huge number of amazing resources available, and many of them are free. Find whatever works for you and don’t be distracted by anyone else… but also:
– connect with other writers whenever possible, they will be your greatest comfort/support/cheerleaders/learning… etc.
Thank you Emma, for sharing your excellent suggestions and links to helpful resources!
There was one last question I asked Emma. It was in regards to her great uncle, Roald Dahl.
Emma, I read that Roald Dahl dedicated The Twits to you and I wondered if it was your favorite book of his, or was there a different one that was your favorite?
Great question on the Roald Dahl books! Of course I loved The Twits. It was so very exciting to have a book dedicated to me – I was a real bookworm as a kid and it was just about the best thing ever. It’s a wonderful story of oppression, courage and just desserts, and I’ve loved monkeys ever since! But in all honesty, I think I loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more. I read that countless times, over and over from a very young age (well before The Twits was published). I also loved Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny (I used to play in the gypsy caravan that inspired the story). But my favorite now, as an adult, is Matilda. I think I was 13 or 14 when that came out so it wasn’t part of my childhood as such. But I have a suspicion (that might be completely ill-founded) that there is the tiniest part of Matilda that was in some small way inspired by me. Roald was very close to all three of his sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, and I was the first grandchild to be born to any of them, so I was a little bit spoiled and doted on by them all! I was a huge bookworm and reading long before I started school (not War and Peace, mind you!). Also, a little later on I had a very scary teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Miss Trunchbull (my teacher was also an ex-Olympian shot-putter!). So even if just a tenuous link, I’ve always felt a connection with the character of Matilda, who is one of my favorite females in all of children’s literature and always fills me (and countless others) with inspiration.
I’ve attached a link to 10 year old Emma’s (she’s the little girl at the center of the photo) interview of Roald Dahl. It brought a smile to my face and I hope it does the same for you.
Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.
In my last post I wrote about my idea to create a story for one of my students that would be based on Karma Wilson’s Bear Wants More.
I like to give holiday gifts for each of my students and this student in particular loves that picture book. I’m hoping she’ll be excited to see herself interacting with her favorite characters.
Unfortunately she came down with the flu, so she’s been out this week and on top of that one of her classmates came down with Covid. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my mask on in hopes that the whole class is feeling better in time for the holidays.
I thought I’d share with you the text I have so far. I’ve changed the name of the main character for confidentiality. I can’t wait to add my student’s photos to the book along with the images of her favorite characters.
Audra Wants More!
Audra wakes up. She’s hungry for words.
She blinks her eyes open,
she peers all around.
She spies, through her glasses, some books in a mound.
She’s eager to read them till the last page is turned,
but Audra wants . . . more!
Mouse scampers by with a book in his pail.
“Come along ” Mouse squeaks,
“Let’s read a nice tale!”
So up Mouse hops
onto Audra’s wheelchair,
they whiz down the hall
to read a book about a Bear.
The pages are many and they flip, flip, flip,
but Audra wants . . . more!
The noon sun glows, when along hops Hare.
“Good day, friend Audra.
Is that book about Bear?”
“Yeah,” says Audra.
Hare says “Follow me!”
There’s a nice stack of books
by my cup of sweet tea.
They turn page after page
with a plip, plip, plip.
And Audra still wants . . . more!
Badger shuffles by
with another Bear book.
“Let’s read this one
in my cozy reading nook.”
They head to Badger’s den.
He gives them a tour.
Audra reads the book
and she still wants more!
Meanwhile . . .
back in her room,
wait raven and wren.
When all of a sudden they hear a loud, Boom!
Books have arrived.
They’ve been plopped on the porch.
It’s a big book bounty
for their best bookish friend.
Audra looks toward the door,
wearing a smile so wide,
full of joy she can’t hide.
And she still wants . . . more.
She’s wheeled to the porch,
she follows her nose.
Her friends yell, “Surprise!”
And her happiness grows.
Everything is in a book uproar.
Audra reads and reads, one book, then two, then two times four.
I’m a big fan ofPoetry Unbound. If you haven’t heard of it, I’d recommend checking it out.
Every week a different poem is shared aloud by Pádraig Ó Tuama. He not only reads the poem, but also offers his perceptions on what the poem or the poet is speaking of.
This week I listened to “Transformation” written by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh. It’s vivid imagery and the way in which the poet expresses his dutiful search for his elusive creative spark struck a chord in me.
I haven’t written a single poem in months.
I’ve lived humbly,
reading the paper,
pondering the riddle of power and the reasons for obedience.
I’ve watched sunsets (crimson, anxious),
I’ve heard the birds grow quiet
and night’s muteness.
I’ve seen sunflowers dangling
their heads at dusk,
as if a careless hangman had gone strolling through the gardens.
September’s sweet dust gathered
on the windowsill and lizards
hid in the bends of walls.
I’ve taken long walks,
craving one thing only:
Listening to the poem and Pádraig’s critique of it got me thinking about my creative focus. By day I’m a teacher for the visually impaired and blind and by night a writer of children’s books.
My writing takes second place in my daily list of to do’s. It has to. But my creative connection is not so much lost, as the poet’s was.
It can at times feel that way, especially if afternoon or evening obligations eat into my opportunity to write. The tasks I want to get to sometimes get pushed back for days in a row and that can leave me feeling at a creative loss. Where was I? What was I trying to do? These are some of the questions I ask myself when I’ve been away from writing for too long. Don’t worry, my family thinks I’m talking to the dog. Thankfully, she’s usually close by.
I have also recognized this feeling when I’ve finalized a draft I’ve been working on for awhile. What will I do next? I wonder. Where will I find a creative spark for a new story?
Have you ever lost or misplaced your creative connection? Or have had to place it on hold? What have you done to get it back or engage it again?
Today on National Rainbow Baby Day, recognized annually on August 22nd, it is my pleasure to celebrate the book birthday of Dear Rainbow Baby, written by Samantha Gassman, illustrated by Timothy Lange and published by Spork, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.
Samantha Gassman, the author, is an Air Force veteran, military spouse, and mom to two kids and two cats. Her debut picture book DEAR RAINBOW BABY arrives on August 22, which is also happens to be the birthday of her own rainbow baby. Her next book PEANUT AND BUTTER CUP is slated for publication in 2024.
Samantha very graciously agreed to an interview to discuss her writing and the very personal and emotional journey that led to the creation of Dear Rainbow Baby.
In regard to your book’s journey, I read that Dear Rainbow Baby came about as you processed your grief over your miscarriage. How were you able to step away from the rawness of your emotions to realize that your written expression of them could become a book which might have the potential to inspire hope among others going through a similar loss?
I wanted to let other parents know they are not alone in going through it. Pregnancy is an emotional experience at the best of times. But following a loss, those emotions can be overwhelming and no one should deal with it by themselves. I hope that the book will humanize the experience and that people will see themselves within the story.
I wrote through all the stages of grief following the miscarriage. Writing down my emotions was a great way for me to work through them. As I wrote, the words “Dear Rainbow Baby” appeared, and I started writing a letter to a baby we didn’t even know we could have. This letter helped me look forward with hope and start the healing process.
When I switched gears and looked at the letter as picture book manuscript, I realized the benefit the text could have on others who had been through a similar experience. That’s when I knew I had to try and get it out there.
Even though my own rainbow baby is now a grown self-sufficient woman, I still remember the loss and the overwhelming sense of being alone after I miscarried during the second trimester of my first pregnancy. Do you have any suggestions for mothers who are grieving a loss of a child, or pregnancy?
I would encourage them to reach out to their family and friends or a support group. It’s so important to have people to lean on. I held my husband Ryan and our son Jake very closely during that time, and both of them helped me get through it.
I would also encourage mothers to allow themselves to feel all the emotions that come with a loss like this, rather than bottling it up. It’s okay to feel however they feel. Find a way to memorialize the loss in some way. My husband and I have the first and only ultrasound picture framed with the baby’s name and dates.
Because the creation of Dear Rainbow Baby was so extremely emotional for you, did that make hearing and addressing critiques of its manuscript that much more difficult?
I was very fortunate to have my rainbow baby just before the book was acquired, which made going through the revisions easier.
What has been harder more recently (even though my baby is now an independent, sassy 2-year-old), is the notes I get from people sharing their experiences with me.
Their stories bring me back to the emotional turmoil I went through and several of them have had me in tears. One lady said that she is comforted by the thought of our angel babies playing together in heaven, which was such a beautiful sentiment.
In another blog I read that reading to your son fostered your desire to write for children. What steps did you take to make that desire a reality? How long did it take you?
First, I wrote some really terrible picture book manuscripts and shot them off to agents without learning the industry! Then, I got smarter and joined SCBWI and a critique group, and wrote and read a lot more picture books.
After dozens of rejections, I landed my first agent, who only signed me for one project. That project was rejected by 30 publishers and my contract with her ended.
I pitched DEAR RAINBOW BABY and PEANUT AND BUTTER CUP during #PitMad on Twitter and was lucky enough to land another agent, Erica Christensen. We’ve been together for two years and we’ve sold both of those original manuscripts. Now, we’re out on submission with newer projects and I have my fingers crossed those are acquired too.
I understand that your writing time comes pretty much at the end of a full day of work and child care. Is there a special nook that you like to go to gather your thoughts, or to get your creative juices flowing?
Haha, I wish! Since we move so often with the military, I’m lucky if the house we live in has an office for my full-time job! In our current house, I usually write at our kitchen table, which is normally covered with crumbs or other morsels left over from the kids throwing their dinner around.
I noticed that besides for your full-time jobs you’re also a freelance writer. First of all . . . wow, second of all . . . wow and third of all, what drew you to take up writing? At what age? Did you ever think you’d be an author growing up? What was your first published piece? What was the first piece you earned any money off of?
Thank you, thank you! My son drew me to writing when I had him at 31. I loved how his face lit up when we read picture books together. I have so many treasured memories that involve books, and I want to help create special moments for other parents and their kids.
Growing up, I never thought I would be an author. I was always a decent writer, but I was mostly focused on academic papers, not creative writing.
My first published piece was a story I wrote about an open house at our local fire station in Dixon, CA. I sent it to the local paper, the Dixon Independent. My first paid writing gig was my work for hire contract with Benchmark Education. They bought my debut book on the educational market HONOR FLIGHT, available for classes and libraries now!
Samantha, you’ve had several successes with two stories that went nationwide. Would you share with us what you’ve learned as you sought to publicize and market your work?
Even if you sign a contract with a “big 5” publisher, a lot of the responsibility for marketing and publicity will be on you the author. Here are my top tips to help you market your book:
Know your audience and figure out where they are: for Dear Rainbow Baby, I knew that parents and expecting parents of rainbow babies were my audience. Fortunately, there are several organizations that address pregnancy after loss and miscarriage support, so I reached out to individuals there to help spread the word about the book.
Pitch your local paper (and anywhere you have a tie-in): Think about: your school magazine or newsletter, church newsletter, local radio and TV stations, etc. and send them your pitch!
Post authentically and post often on social media. No, you’re not talking about your book too much. Share the story behind the idea, the revision process, the inspiration, writing tips, etc… with your social media audience. This helps your book stay top of mind and can help you build a fan base.
Are there any suggestions you could pass on to readers who might also want to become a picture book writer?
The only difference between an unpublished author and a published author is the latter never gave up. So, don’t give up!
Thank you, for sharing your and Dear Rainbow Baby’s journey, Samantha. I wish you all the best and to your daughter, a very happy birthday!