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.
Like many of you, not only do I write a blog, I follow blogs. One of them is Vivian Kirkfield’s blog, Vivian Kirkfield-Writer for Children, Picture Books Help Kids Soar blog on wordpress at http://www.viviankirkfield.com.
After reading Vivian’s blog about the debut picture book Mending the Moon, written by Emma Pearl, and illustrated by Sara Ugolotti, I entered a giveaway to win either a copy of the picture book, or a manuscript critique by the author. I won!
As I had already purchased Mending the Moon, I chose the picture book critique as my prize.
Emma provided me with an insightful and thoughtful review of the present state of one of my manuscripts. She acknowledged its strengths, pointed out its weaknesses and shared thoughts on how it could be improved. She’s even offered to reread it after I complete my revisions!
While in email contact with Emma, I asked if she would allow me to interview her. Emma graciously obliged.
As it’s easier to give attention to shorter posts, at this time of the year, I decided to devote this post to Emma’s beautiful debut book and will follow up with a post that shares Emma’s writing insights.
Mending the Moon, is a lovely tale of inter-connections. It shares the story of a child’s relationship to her grandfather, and their relationship to and with the natural world and its inhabitants.
When the full moon falls from the night sky, Luna wakes her grandfather to help her fix it. Together with the animals of the mountain, from the biggest to the smallest, they search for its broken shards. And when faced with the difficulty of putting the moon back together, the insect world lends its talents to the task. Finally, it takes all the world’s birds to hoist the moon into its proper space and make the world feel right.
MENDING THE MOON’SBOOK JOURNEY as shared by Emma Pearl
I have always loved reading and writing. Something about the magic of immersing yourself in a brand new world, whether it’s of your own creation or somebody else’s, never fails to get me tingling with excitement. It’s the anticipation of what might happen, all those possibilities. Stories are the ultimate human experience, allowing us to live through all kinds of extraordinary events and emotions that may or may not happen in our real lives. They allow us to learn, to believe in magic and to imagine.
I think I was three or four years old when I wrote my first story, a fully illustrated tale about a kind frog who befriended a lonely tree. I never really stopped after that. I’ve written countless stories, plenty of poetry and even a novel in my 20s. But it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I began to think about writing for young people, and it wasn’t until they had both started school that I had the time or the brain capacity to start getting serious about it. So in 2017 at the grand old age of 44, I set about learning how to write properly.
There’s such a wealth of information and resources available online for aspiring writers, and I quickly became immersed in the writing community. I was constantly amazed by the kindness and generosity of other writers – so many people at all levels of experience willing to give their time and knowledge freely to anyone who needed it. And I definitely needed it!
In that first year of learning, I flitted between novel writing and picture book writing. This particular story started with a silly question – what if the moon fell out of the sky? From that start point, out tumbled four whole stories about Luna – a feisty, kind, brave little girl with a grandfather who guided and supported, allowed her to find answers but never took over. Together, they solved all kinds of natural mysteries and problems, helping to put the world back to how it should be. I knew instantly that the world I was creating filled me with excitement and wonder, but I never dreamed I would even share these stories with anyone else, let alone that Mending the Moon would end up being my publishing debut.
I wrote the four stories over a couple of days in 2017 and then forgot about them. I wrote a couple of novels and many more picture book texts. I began to enter online pitch contests with my PBs, not because I ever expected anything to come from them but because I enjoyed it and it was a great way to connect with other writers.
In 2020 I applied for the WriteMentor summer program with my MG novel and was surprised and delighted to be accepted for a 4-month mentorship with UK author Lu Hersey. It was a wonderful experience and an enormous boost to my confidence as well as my craft. In October that year I entered #PBPitch with several picture books. Again, I did it for the interaction. I didn’t truly believe that anyone got agent likes from those things. Well, I didn’t get an agent like but I got something even better – an editor like! Kayla Tostevin from Page Street Kids had seen my pitch and liked it. I could hardly believe it.
I sent her my manuscript, which in hindsight was still in need of some serious revising, and a week later she replied, saying she had some feedback and would love to see a revised version. We went backwards and forwards a few times. Revisions were hard, but Kayla’s vision was superb and I knew I was making the story stronger with her guidance. She had a quiet confidence that we could get it to a point where it could make it through acquisitions, but even if we didn’t manage to, the manuscript would be in great shape to submit elsewhere. And then, just before Christmas, I received the official offer of publication – a perfect way to finish a year that had otherwise been fairly horrendous on a global scale.
It’s a long path from contract to publication, but the whole process has been an absolute delight and I’m thrilled with how the book has turned out. Sara Ugolotti’s illustrations are out of this world and beyond anything I could have imagined. And best of all, one of the other Luna and Poppa stories, Saving the Sun, has also been contracted and will be out next Fall. It’s a dream come true.
A Litttle About Emma Pearl:
Emma 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.
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!
CVI, or cortical visual impairment, is a brain-based visual impairment that is caused due to damage within the brain or the visual pathways.
Literacy is widely defined as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.” (UNESCO 2004)http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001362/13
Dr. Christine Roman Lantzy, a leader in the field of CVI assessment and education, has stated that “Literacy begins when they look.” When a child with CVI can visually fixate on a target and interpret it, the child is working to build a visual memory of the target that they can later refer to when the target is presented in different contexts.
As a teacher for the visually impaired and a children’s writer, I love the challenge of creating a meaningful book for a student whether their visual impairment is ocular or brain-based. It is incredibly gratifying to create something that opens the door to literacy for a student.
I have some good news to share in this week’s post. A fellow writer, Ritu Anand, who I had the good fortune to meet online while we were both participating in Renee M LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab course, is welcoming a new book into the world.
Kara’s Dreams is about a little tree, Kara, who dreams of standing as tall and as strong as Utsa, an elder tree, who’d been standing for more than 200 years. Kara fears that she won’t be able to make her dreams come true.
Kara seeks out Utsa for guidance. The elder tree gives Kara the strength to overcome her fears, and to believe thatshe will reach her dreams.
Ritu graciously agreed to share a little bit about herself, and her book journey with us.
About the author:
Ritu Anand started writing when she could hold a pencil, but life kept getting in the way. For the past four years, she has chosen writing as her career. She draws her inspiration from nature and her scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahibjee.
Ritu lives in Sarasota Florida with her loving husband. Her interests include reading, writing, singing Indian classical music, dancing to Bollywood music, traveling and playing golf.
Do you write every day?
Yes, I write every day, before the world starts chatting with me. I jot story ideas while watching kids dig the white sand, on Siesta beach.
When did you start writing? What drew you to writing?
I started writing when I could hold a pencil.As a young girl, I used to write on newspapers, inside old books, new ones, on walls and even furniture. My muse made me do it.
At a very young age, I was drawn to words on a page. Words moved me. They seeped through me, made me happy, sad or thoughtful. Secretly, I thanked authors for giving me the privilege to belong to their world.
What was the first piece you published?
The first piece I published was a literary translation of an excerpt of a speech in Punjabi. My grandfather delivered a riveting message about the concept of Universal Brotherhood of Man. A Sikh Journal published my article and it was distributed to all the Sikh temples.
Do you have a special place where you prefer to write?
My preferred spot at home is the big chair in the corner of my living room.
Do you have a critique group?
Yes, I belong to more than one critique group. When I attended the Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Academy, I befriended Heidi Yates, Lakshmi Thamizhmani, Connie Dow and Adrienne Pankey. They were my first critique group. Their critiquing of Kara’s Dreams was beyond helpful and I gained tremendous strength from their words of encouragement.
Meera Sriram, award winner author of Dumpling Day, A Gift for Amma, The Yellow Suitcase and other books, guided me as a developmental editor. I feel privileged to be able to reach out to her and view her as my mentor.
As I am working on writing a middle grade novel, I joined another group formed by Mindy Weiss of the Florida SCBWI.
Without the help of critique partners, I wouldn’t be able to improve my writing.
How has your writing changed over the years?
I feel passionate about writing and bring my heart to it. I just have to feel my own writing. When I first started writing, I had a hard time recognizing myself in my writing. I didn’t know how to connect with the world through my writing. Once I decided to focus on the immediate, the tangible, I found a way to communicate with the world. I have a broad view of the world we live in. I always see the forest first, then the trees. But once I started seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting the immediate, I started to recognize ‘me’ in my little world and that led me to expand my view to the bigger outer world.
Do you have any writing advice that has helped you?
Read, read and read. In my imagination, I love living in the fictitious world of my characters, talking to them, and riding the waves of enchanting discoveries. Unleash your imaginative power. Observe sounds in nature. Watch an iguana project his tongue forward and retract it inside his body. Compare him to the way humans project their tongues forward to lick dripping ice cream, and slurp it in their mouths.
Thank you, Ritu, for sharing your writing journey and your good news about Kara’s Dreams.