book birthday, children's books, children's writing, Clear Fork Publishing, Dear Rainbow Baby, hope, National Rainbow Baby Day, picture book authors, picture book illustrators, picture books, remembering, Samantha Gassman, Spork, support an author, Timothy Lange, writing journey

DEAR RAINBOW BABY

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.

Dear Rainbow Baby is available for purchase @ https://linktr.ee/sgassmanbooks

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!

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Amal, author interview, Author/Illustrators, books, children's books, children's writing, Clavis Publishing, illustration, Key Colors Competition, picture book author, picture book illustrators, picture books, support an author

MY KEY

I’ve been away from my blog for awhile, but I’m very happy to be back at it, especially because today I’m posting to share the news of a good friend’s well earned success. Below is the cover of her newest picture book which won the Gold Medal in the Key Colors Competition hosted by Clavis Publishing, Inc.

Book description:
When two ordinary objects land on a city sidewalk a little girl’s dull day becomes an odyssey of new places and unusual faces. Led to the library on a dragon boat she spies erudite elephants who open her eyes to the beauty of books, faraway lands, and a group of bats with hidden musical ambitions—who need her assistance.

My Key is available through these two sites as well in most bookstores:


Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1605376892/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=publiweekl05-20

Link to Indie books stores:https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781605376899?aff=PublishersWeekly

Author/Illustrator Bio:

Amal’s work covers a spectrum of books, magazines, posters and cover art. Her work is influenced by a lifelong interest in multi-culturalism and any excuse to research a good story.
Her fascination with various materials stems from her studies in the conservation of art on paper and is often incorporated into her work. Amal’s art has been featured in museums that include pieces now held in private collections. She received her MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco and is the 2020 Gold Medal Winner of Clavis Publishing’s Key Colors Competition. Her work in children’s books has been recently shortlisted for a regional IBBY Award. To learn more about Amal check out her website and Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/amalillustration/
Amalillustration.com

As I thought many readers would be interested in Amal’s creative process along with the book journey of MY KEY, Amal very generously agreed to an interview as well.

Interview:


 Do you remember what drew you to illustration initially? And later on, what made you choose a career as an author/illustrator?


I’d an older sister with a unique method of babysitting: She’d leave me either in the local Baltimore library or Walters Art Museum where, in both places, I was most attracted to large books. Those in the museum were under glass because of their delicate pictures while those in library seemed to cry out for any picture at all. I felt I had at least one task in life…

Do you write/illustrate every day?
I draw just about every day but it doesn’t necessarily translate into an illustration. And I write every morning.

Do you have a special place that you prefer to write, or to illustrate? How do you break up the two creative tasks or do you combine them? Would you be comfortable with providing a photo of that place?

I’ve taken over what we never called a living room and created a studio for writing and illustration in the same spot, more or less. I write on one side of the room then swivel around to my drafting table to swap jobs.
For the most part the day is split between writing in the morning and drawing/painting in the afternoon.

Do you flesh out the setting of your stories completely before sitting down to write or to illustrate? Do you have any techniques that you use to help you see your character’s world view?


The setting is often the place that helps prompt the story so it’s often there already, but a physical loose outline, where I can insert pages as needed and some sort of map—literally a map that moves the character from point to point—is incredibly useful.
Before getting into an illustration though I go over the text several times, then close my eyes to all distractions. Something always appears, eventually, but no real special technique for world view other than experience and observation. There are probably better ways to go about it but these are tools already at out fingertips.


Do you handwrite your first drafts or go straight to the computer? Similarly, what is your illustration process?


I do hand write the ideas because I use the computer as little as possible—my eyes hurt. Illustration is usually totally done with traditional materials: paper, pencil, charcoal, canvas, paints… When visual adjustments need to be made I try and do this by hand as well unless there are spots within the composition where I’d like to add layers and for these I do some stitching in either Photoshop or Procreate to do it.

How many drafts on average does it take for you to feel comfortable that you have a finished piece?


Two billion?

How has your writing/ your illustration changed over the years?


In both cases I started off doing a lot of work for educational publishes with tight parameters that at first you think, well,  there’s no way I can get anything interesting out of what feels like a myriad of rules, but then you do and quickly realize the benefits of limitations. The danger happens when the shackles are off—I now apply my own limits or rules which frees me up from a lot of potential confusion and, weirdly, gives space I didn’t before feel I had to both the writing and the art.

Where did you get the idea for My Key from?


It was the memory of a day when I was so bored I thought I’d split in two and I wondered how I’d go about making an illustration that depicted boredom. Redrawing from original sketches I got to a place that felt right and the story took off from there.

Are you presently working on another project?


I’m working on a rather hefty illustrated middle-grade novel.


 Is there any genre that you’d like to try that you haven’t, as yet?

Loads. I really haven’t worked in a wide variety of genres and if were up to me it would be mysteries all the way!

Is there anything you would suggest to those who are beginning their careers in writing or illustrating?


Don’t bother to procrastinate, don’t even clean the dishes, you’ll just get them dirty again. Start a routine where you begin your work soon after waking up rather than worrying about making time to work and not actually getting to it. Stop at the same time too.

Is there anything you would like to share with those who might be wondering if they should persevere?

If you feel queasy when you’re not doing it then your only option is to move forward. 

amwriting, book giveaways, brainstorming, children's books, children's writing, creativity, imagination, picture book author, picture book illustrators, picture book manuscripts, picture books, Storystorm, Tara Lazar, writing journey

STORYSTORM 2021!

storystorm21participant.jpg (420×420)

The StoryStorm challenge created by Tara Lazar and found on her blog Writing for Kids While Raising Them, https://taralazar.com/2021/01/16/storystorm-2021-day-16/ is a fantastic way to generate ideas for potential picture books. Specifically, the challenge is to come up with a picture book idea for every day of January.

This being January 18th means that those participating are a little more than half way to reaching their goal. Are you participating? Is this your first year, or are you a returning challenger? If you are a returning challenger, have you always made it to the end of the month?

The median point of the month has notoriously been the time when work responsibilities gets the better of my attention (Special Education Annual Review Time), and my consistency with following the daily StoryStorm blog posts and brainstorming an idea a day peters out. In fact, I found a calendar template for last year’s StoryStorm and I’d made it until the 16th, so I’m already doing better than last year, and that’s definitely a plus.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

This year, I’m determined. I’m going to do it. I’m going to make it all the way to the end of January. The featured guest bloggers for StoryStorm have been funny, inspirational, validating; the list of encouraging adjectives could go on and on. It’s amazing how many different ways there are to come up with ideas. Many of the guest bloggers recommend mentor texts which is another great source for inspiration and idea creation. One of my favorite posts was about process over product, written by Kirsten Pendreigh https://taralazar.com/2021/01/10/storystorm-2021-day-10/. Has there been a blog post that spoke to you more than others?

I don’t know if I will come up with a picture book that goes to contract this year from the ideas generated, but it’s more likely that I might, if I keep my word and the challenge. Have you had a picture book come from one of the ideas you came up with in past StoryStorms? If you have, please share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it and I bet other’s would too.

children's books, Chris Van Allsburg, creativity, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, illustration, imagination, picture book illustrators, story starters

Images for Inspiration

After reading my post about creativity and my mention of The Imaginaries-Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin, :Donna@https://writersideup.com recommended the picture book THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK by Chris Van Allsburg, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1984 and a book of short stories THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK, again published by Houghton Mifflin, this time in 2011.

The picture book came about from 14 images each with titles and captions, which Mr. Harris Burdick had given to Mr. Peter Wenders to consider for publication.

A Strange Day In July- He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.

Mr. Wenders liked the artwork and was interested in reading Mr. Burdick’s stories. Mr. Burdick was to return with the stories the following day, but he never returned.

Years later, Chris Van Allsburg told Mr. Wenders that it was difficult to look at the images without making up a story at which point Mr. Wenders brought out a cardboard box containing dozens of stories inspired by the images, which had been written by Mr. Wenders children and their friends.

The book of short stories was written by 14 well known writers: Sherman Alexie, Linda Sue Park, Stephen King and Gregory Maguire to name a few, and the tales tell the stories those authors thought of after viewing the pictures.

The House on Maple Street-It was a perfect lift-off.

I hadn’t looked at the book of short stories until after I tried my hand at a timed story starter writing exercise (ten minutes) afterwards I read what Jules Feiffer wrote after looking at the same image. It was a fun exercise to try and equally enjoyable to read Mr. Feiffer’s full story. Below is what I wrote within my ten minute practice exercise after looking at this image and reading its title and caption.

Uninvited Guests-His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn.

Malcolm was sure he heard laughter. But how could he have? No one was home and they wouldn’t be for hours. It was just he and Mrs. Murphy, his grandmother’s cat who was sound asleep on the back of the couch. There it was again. Malcolm moved slowly, quietly to see if he could pinpoint where the giggles were coming from. As he passed the basement door he heard a soft shushing. He opened the door a crack and peeked. He didn’t like the basement. It was full of forgotten things. Things that had once been useful, but now were left to gather dust. He flicked on the light, swallowed hard and took a step down. Right foot, left, right foot, left, he was more than halfway down when he noticed a small wooden door painted yellow. It came barely above his ankle. Why was there door there-and so small? Had it always been there?

The timer rang, and that’s where I stopped. It was a fun exercise, and I’d recommend trying it. I’d suggest getting both the picture book and the short stories and having a go at a timed practice. See what you come up with and read what short stories were created from the images. If you try it, please share what you created. I’d love to read and post your tales.

Thank you :Donna for the great recommendations!

Alison Hawkins, Angela Shante', back to school, children's books, children's writing, illustration, learning, picture book author, picture book illustrators, picture books, pre-school classroom, re-mote learning, re-mote teaching, teacher, teaching, West Margin Press

Teaching Creatively=Learning Fun!

Learning is the end goal any teacher wants their students to achieve. How a teacher gets a student there is in their lesson plans, their creativity and engaging ideas.

In The Noisy Classroom, written by Angela Shante’, illustrated by Alison Hawkins and published by West Margin Press, the main character is a little girl who is concerned about her upcoming year in third grade and the possibility that her classroom might be the noisy classroom. The noisy classroom doesn’t have the familiar structure or rules she had been used to. She’s so concerned she thinks she ought to pack up and move to Antarctica.

When it happens that she does get enrolled in Ms. Johnson’s noisy classroom she finds she’s having fun, but she’s not so sure she’s learning. The week flies by and she’s learned about: skip-counting by threes, writing a story from an ant’s point of view, playing math ball, writing calculations on her desk with dry erase markers, appreciating a poem written by Nikki Giovanni and freeze dancing her way to lunch.

Waiting to get a drink from the water fountain, she is standing behind two quiet rows of 2nd graders and realizes learning in Ms. Johnson’s noisy classroom is way better than any other class and way, way better than Antarctica.

I appreciated this book from both a student’s point of view and a teacher’s point of view. Going into a new class and meeting a teacher who teaches and manages the classroom differently than a student is used to is understandably anxiety inducing. But seeing the creativity and joy of learning presented in the persona of Ms. Johnson and her noisy classroom was validating for me as a teacher.

I’m a teacher for visually impaired and blind pre-school students. I adapt my lessons and materials dependent on an individual child’s usable vision, and try my hardest to tap into what’s fun for each child.

If I can hone in on what’s important to my student and have the lesson include whatever that might be, be it: car emblems, construction trucks, tools, happy faces, characters from TV or from movies, etc., I know I’m heading toward engaging my student’s interest in learning. When it all comes together and I see their faces light up with smiles and laughter, it’s the best!

Sometimes, it’s hard to get there. Sometimes, the thing that really engages a small child can make it difficult for them to transition onto the next task. When that happens the if . . . then scenario has to be put into action, if you do this . . . then you’ll get to do that. It’s not optimal because if the child digs his or her heels in, it takes a good amount of creative brainstorming to figure out how best to change the dynamic. And if you add on that the student is learning remotely, well you have to enlist the parents, more so than ever, to team up with you to make their child’s learning successful.

Whether you’re a parent, a student or a teacher or all three, I hope your week is full of noisy, fun creativity because that equals a whole bunch of learning!