Archive for the ‘Author Interview’ category

Author, Runner: Kim Chaffee’s Story

May 16, 2019

Kim Chaffee headshotToday I’m interviewing my friend, critique partner, and author extraordinaire, Kim Chaffee. She is the author of Her Fearless Run:  Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon – a book that received two starred reviews. Ellen Rooney is the talented illustrator whose colorful illustrations and attention to detail are done in a combination of digital media and mixed media collage using paint, paper, and pencil. The book is a perfect collaboration between author and illustrator.

Kim Chaffee’s biography of Kathrine Switzer tells of switserKathrine’s love of running from an early age. Back in the late 1950’s girls weren’t supposed to run. They were “too weak, too fragile, for sports.” That’s not what Kathrine thought. She kept on running. While in college, the men’s coach at Syracuse University saw Kathrine run. He invited her to practice with the team. That’s where she met the volunteer team manager, Arnie Briggs. When he mentioned to Kathrine that women weren’t up to running the distance of the Boston Marathon, she disagreed with him and took his challenge. She applied for her official number by registering as K. V. Switzer. No one knew K. V. Switzer was a woman—not a man. On April 19, 1967, Kathrine Switzer made history by running the entire Boston Marathon with an official number. Her feat opened doors for women to compete in future marathons.

Welcome, Kim. I’m so excited to have you here today.

Why did you decide to write about Kathrine Switzer? And did you have any reservations about writing a biography of a well-known living person?

Thanks so much for having me on the blog today, Cathy! When I started writing, I wasn’t really thinking of ever tackling a biography. I mostly write fiction. But I was home writing one Monday in April 2016 with the Boston Marathon on TV and within view. Kathrine was on, talking about her Boston run in 1967. I was completely pulled into her story and was shocked that as a runner, I had never heard it before. I immediately felt compelled to share her story. In hindsight, I probably should have had some reservations about writing a biography of a well-known living person, but I didn’t while I was writing it. I just kept thinking that I had to do her story justice.

Kim, you’re a Wonder Woman. You’ve run in many races before, but this year you ran the most famous of all marathons – The Boston Marathon. Did writing about Kathrine Switzer have anything to do with your decision to run?  

My goodness! I don’t know about Wonder Woman! But I do love to run and have the best running friends that keep me motivated and push me to challenge myself. Writing about Kathrine had everything to do with my decision to run Boston. I was thinking about it a lot while I was researching and writing the book but that tiny voice of doubt and fear kept creeping in telling me I was crazy. After finishing and selling the book, I just couldn’t shake the thought of needing to run Boston- needing to silence that tiny voice in my head. Kathrine helped me find my fearless and believe in myself.

Can you tell us a bit about how you trained for this long and difficult run?

There are a lot of different marathon training plans out there and I had trouble choosing one so I meshed two together, typed up monthly calendars with motivational quotes, and put one foot in front of the other. My training started in December with three runs/week and two cross-training days. Long runs were done on the weekends and by mid-March, I was feeling a little physically and emotionally drained. Marathon training is no joke. Some runs felt great, others worried me that I had gotten myself into something I wasn’t going to be able to complete. But when I ran my 20-mile long run, a race from Maine, through the Seacoast of NH, and into Massachusetts, I felt ready.

I watched the interview with Kathrine Switzer that took place during the running of the Boston Marathon. She spoke very highly of you and your book. What was it like to meet Kathrine?

I was so surprised when I found out she was talking about the book while I was running! Talk about motivation to keep going! Meeting Kathrine was surreal. We had talked several times and emailed even more before we actually met to do an event together on the Friday before the Marathon so I kind of felt like we were old friends already. She is just as amazing as you would imagine…so genuine and inspiring!

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Lisa Hughes, WBZ-TV News Anchor, Boston

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Lisa Hughes, Shalane Flanagan, Olympian and Boston Marathon Runner, Kathrine Switzer

You also ran with the global nonprofit 261 Fearless, Inc. Can you tell us more about that and what 261 stands for?

Yes! I was honored to run for 261 Fearless, Inc. which is the nonprofit organization founded by Kathrine in 2015. It’s a women’s social running network that aims to support and empower women all around the globe. Amazing things are happening in these clubs! Women in Mumbai, Goma, all over the United States and Europe are finding their strength and self-esteem through running, and we are all united under Kathrine’s iconic bib number from her 1967 run, 261.

Do you and Kathrine have any plans to see each other again?

Yes! We are currently scheduled to do a book event together at a bookstore called Rough Draft in Kingston, New York on July 1!

How was your run on the day of the marathon? Feelings? Emotions?

How much time do we have here? Haha! It was quite a day and I feel like I could go on and on about it. I’ll start by saying it was hard. Not a shocker, I know. But it was harder than I had expected and I think that’s because the day didn’t go as planned. As a runner, you do your best to adapt and overcome obstacles that pop up at any point in a race, be it the night before when your daughter gets sick in your bed, or at mile 17 when your stomach feels queasy (both of these things happened). My goal was simple: cross the finish line. And I got to do that with my son which still brings me to tears when I think about it.

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Kim and her son, Colin

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Kim and her medal

Would you run the marathon again?

 I won’t say no but I don’t have plans to any time soon.

You sponsor an annual 5K Run. Tell us more.

When my brother-in-law was diagnosed with thyroid cancer several years ago, I felt so helpless. I wanted to do something to make a difference but wasn’t sure what. One of my best friends suggested we start a team for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. The 5K race started as one of our team fundraisers and then shifted into a stand-alone event that now raises money to support local families afflicted by cancer. This will be our 8th year hosting the Fight 2 Finish Cancer Family Fun Run/Walk 5K in Windham, NH! This year’s event will be on Sunday, June 2nd and we are hoping it will be our biggest year yet. If you are local and would like to join us you can register at www.lightboxreg.com

Now that your training isn’t taking up so much time in your life, what’s next for you with your writing career?

I’ve been doing a bunch of school visits, which as a former second-grade teacher, makes my heart so happy! I definitely have more time to write! Hooray! And I’m still running but not nearly as much. Also, my second book, Nothing Wee About Me, a fiction story about a little girl who uses her grandmother’s magical ladle to go on an adventure and save the day, will be hitting shelves on November 12, so I’m starting to prep for that.

What is some advice you can give to writers about achieving their goals?

Don’t give up. Ever. Even when it gets really hard, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it to the finish line.

As always, it’s fabulous being with you, Kim! Thank you so much for doing this interview.

Don’t forget to check out Kim’s forthcoming book.

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Learn more about Kim Chaffee here.

Website:  www.kimchaffee.com

Follow on Twitter:  @Kim_Chaffee

Follow on FB: Kim Chaffee, Children’s Author

Follow on Instagram:  kchaffeebooks

 

 

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An Interview with Vivian Kirkfield

April 25, 2019

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Today I have the great privilege of interviewing the fabulous Vivian Kirkfield. Vivian is an extremely talented author who is always there to inspire, support, and mentor the community of kidlit writers. Her newest picture Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor, is a biography of Sarah E. Goode, a former slave and one of the first African American woman to receive a patent for her invention of the cabinet bed. This is a beautiful story of the dreams and determination of a young woman as she works to achieve her goals.

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Welcome, Vivian! I’m thrilled to have you here on my blog today. 

In the past, women have been overlooked when it comes to calling attention to their many accomplishments in our nation’s history. How did you learn about Sarah E. Goode’s story and what was it that motivated you to tell it?

I had just taken a class in writing nonfiction picture books and the instructor had recommended we check online for lists of the ‘first person to do this or that’. And, being an obedient student, I followed her advice and plugged in ‘First Woman to do…” into Google. And a list of women came up and Sarah E. Goode was on that list as the first African American woman to receive a U.S. patent in 1885. WOW, I thought…in 1885, women couldn’t vote and, in many states, they couldn’t even own property. And for an African American woman to do that, just 20 years after the abolition of slavery, that was amazing! I knew I had to write that story.

 Great choice!

In order to keep a nonfiction story accurate, research is required. How did you approach researching the life of Sarah?

One of the problems with research is that if the person is not well known, there probably isn’t much written up about them. And this was certainly true for Sarah Goode. There was almost NOTHING online…just two sentences (the same two sentences) on several Black History websites. And NOTHING in print. So, I reached out to my local librarian who reached out to librarians at some of the major libraries…but even they didn’t have much. One sent some photos of the street where Sarah’s store had been located in downtown Chicago. Another sent an advertisement from a local newspaper of the era showing a listing for Sarah’s store. And I checked the census records for Chicago in 1870 when Sarah’s family first lived there and she was 15 years old and then in 1880 when she was already a married woman with a child. In addition, I reached out to the cemetery where Sarah and her family are buried and the cemetery records person sent me a list of the people who are buried in Sarah’s family plot. You need to be persistent and proactive with your research…and most important of all, you need to be precise and keep accurate accounts of where you find all of your information BECAUSE, when your manuscript is bought, the editor and fact-checkers may want to see your documentation.

Mentor texts are valuable in that they are helpful in studying various techniques, strategies, and formats an author uses in his/her writing. Did you use any mentor texts before you began writing the story of Sarah? If you did, please share with us?

I love mentor texts…and always recommend them when I do critiques and give feedback to other writers. For Sweet Dreams, Sarah, I used many including:

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone

After studying the mentor texts, did you have a specific plan in mind as to how you wanted your story to unfold? Story structure? Theme? Craft elements? Tell us how you went about writing your story.

I knew I wanted to grab the reader’s attention immediately…for me, the opening lines are a key element in picture book writing. It’s my way into the story…and the style of the opening lines is kind of how I want the story to unfold. So, as a lover of the element of three, I started the story with three lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up!

            Eyes down!

                        Don’t speak!

Slaves were property—like a cow or plow or the cotton that grew in the master’s fields.

And then I continued that format on the next page:

But every day Sarah dreamed of a different life.

A husband.

            A family.

                        A job that she loved.

Her father was a carpenter. With a hammer in his hands, he could build anything. Sarah thought she could, too.

Can you feel the rhythm of each spread? The element of three is very powerful…that’s why you can always hear it in speeches by politicians…for example: LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Three is a magical number…it sounds good to the ear and it feels good to the heart.

 And the ending has the same element of three:

This time a thick envelope arrived from the U.S. Government Patent Office.

Sarah took a slow deep breath.

            She slid out the papers.

                        She read out loud:

 S.E. Goode

Cabinet Bed

No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history. She had built more than a piece of furniture. She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

 I love how you circled back to the beginning and used the element of three at the end. 

Input from other writers and critique partners is an important part of the writing process. Were comments and suggestions from your writing colleagues helpful as you continued to revise your story? Did they make a difference in your final draft?

Yes! Yes! And Yes! I love my critique buddies…they are my support, my encouragement, and I embrace their feedback and suggestions. I don’t always do everything they advise…and sometimes I keep something if I am very passionate about it. For instance, the instructor of that nonfiction picture book writing class had advised I change the beginning. She felt it needed more action and so I placed Sarah in the furniture store right off the bat, turning pages in a catalog and deciding that the furniture that was being sold was too boxy, too bulky, too big. But that didn’t feel right to me…I felt the story needed the powerful picture of slavery in the beginning so that readers could go on the journey with Sarah…from being owned to being the owner of a patent. And so, after several months of playing with the new beginning, I brought back the one I’d had originally.

How many revisions did you make before you were satisfied with your work?

Dozens and dozens…a hundred or more maybe? I sent it into Rate Your Story a month after I wrote it…and it got an ‘8’…on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst. So, I worked on it with my critique buddies…and sent it in again several months later…and it got a ‘3’. And then revised and polished some more and sent it to the Rate Your Story annual contest and it won second place for nonfiction picture books. YAY! And so, I knew I had a strong story and I began submitting that one, pretty much exclusively, whenever I had an opportunity to send a manuscript to an agent or editor. And it paid off because I got four agents who were interested…and, when I finally decided I would go with Essie White, she sent it out right away and we had a book deal with Creston Books within two months.

That’s amazing, Vivian! What can your fans expect next from you?

Thank you so much for asking, Cathy. I have two books in the pipeline for 2020…Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves illustrated by Marilyn Gilbert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). I’m truly excited about both of these books because the Ella/Marilyn manuscript was loved by so many editors but their sales and marketing teams said no…but it’s a wonderful story about the moment when the lives of these two icons intersected and they helped each other. And the Invention book is actually a compilation book of NINE full length, fully illustrated picture book stories, each capturing the AHA moment of that visionary who invented something that changed the landscape of the world. Both are filled with STEM components…the Ella/Marilyn with rich back matter and the Invention book with sidebar info.

And of course, my agent has several manuscripts out on submission and I am currently working on other stories. My only problem is that there are only 24 hours in the day…and I need many more than that to write all of the stories that are in my head and on my heart. Of course, I might have more time if I wasn’t as active on social media, but I do love connecting with the kidlit community and working with other writers and helping them follow their dreams. I truly believe that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it…and I’m thrilled to be living my dream.

Thank you so much for having me, Cathy! It’s a joy to chat with you!

The pleasure is all mine, Vivian. 

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Vivian Kirkfield holding Sweet Dreams, Sarah at the Creston Books/Lerner Books booth at the Bologna Book Fair in Italy.

Other picture books by Vivian Kirkfield not to be missed.

Pippa’s Passover PlatePippa must find her Passover plate before the Seder begins.

Four Otters Toboggan An animal counting book that has an environmental theme.

Find out more about Vivian Kirkfield here.

A. LaFaye Giveaway Winner!

January 17, 2019

I thank all of you who responded to my interview with Alexandria LaFaye. I wish everyone could win in this grand giveaway by Alexandria, but there can be only one lucky winner.

Congratulations to

Janie Reinart!

I will contact you with further information.

 

Thought for the Day

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Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy.  It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.  ~Henri Nouwen

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Alexandria LaFaye and Her Grand Giveaway!

January 10, 2019

img_4621Today I am privileged to interview the award-winning author, Alexandria LaFaye. Known as A. LaFaye by her readers, she is a prolific writer of fantasy books, picture books, and historical fiction. She has won numerous awards for her writing and her newest picture book, FOLLOW ME DOWN TO NICODEMUS TOWN: Based on the History of the African American Pioneer Settlement received a starred review. Readers will be delighted by Alexandria’s lively lyrical language and Nicole Tadgell’s beautiful illustrations rendered in pencil and soft watercolors. The story is about young Dede and her family who have dreams of leaving sharecropping and owning their own piece of land. To make their dreams come true, each member of the family works hard. Besides working in the fields from “sun-climb to sun-slide,” Papa makes furniture, Dede shines shoes, and Mama sews fine dresses. When Dede sees a notice offering land for colored folk in Kansas, they work even harder. This is a story about a family working together to achieve their dreams. It’s a story of pride, hope, and feeling blessed for their neighbors and friends in their new town. It’s a story that will touch your heart.

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Alexandria also has a paperback version of WALKING HOME TO ROSIE LEE that was released the same day as FOLLOW ME DOWN TO NICODEMUS TOWN that tells the story of Dede’s father searching for her grandmother after the end of the Civil War.

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I’m so happy to have you as my guest today, Alexandria. First of all, I’d like to say Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town is a beautiful book, and I’m extremely happy to have it as part of my picture book collection.

I’m so honored to hear you say that. Thank you!

The topic of this book is a part of our American history that many people may not be familiar. What made you decide to write a picture book based on the African-American land rush of the 1870s?

If each person commits to building a society focused on social justice, equity, and cross-cultural understanding, and the power of art to transform lives, then we will all be a part of building the future we want to see—the future I long to see is one where every voice is heard, every story is told, and no chapter of history is unknown. For these reasons, I love to uncover little known elements of history—the forced removal of the Aleutian Indians (see Hesse’s Aleutian Sparrow), the amazing efforts of African-American families to reunify before and after the Emancipation Proclamation (see my book which debuts in paperback Jan. 1—Walking Home to Rosie Lee) and the story of the Exodusters who joined the land rush. Since I started the research for FOLLOW ME DOWN TO NICODEMUS TOWN, nearly every person I’ve asked about Exodusters has never even heard of them and, in my opinion, they should be well known. I want to be a small part of revealing their story.

I like your thinking.

As a writer of historical fiction, how do you keep readers engaged in the story while still being informative?

Historical fiction comes alive when we draw people into the life of a compelling character who could realistically have lived in that time. If I can bring that character’s story to life in a way that makes readers feel as if they are right alongside that character—struggling and yearning and growing, then they want to keep turning the pages. Or at least, I hope they do! It’s also important to show the historical world through the eyes of the character because they provide a unique, historically-grounded worldview that creates a literary version of time travel for the reader.

What are some of the things you do to motivate contemporary readers to embrace historical fiction in a picture book?

My primary goal is to create a character who has goals, emotions, and challenges that still resonate with contemporary readers in the hopes that kids of today realize they have something in common with the people who lived before them. As I draw readers into the character’s life, I want to introduce things readers may not have ever known or thought about before and that expands their worldview, ignites their curiosity, and inspires them to want to know more about the past, various cultures (past and present), and themselves.

Why is this genre special to you?

I’ve always loved history—the people of the past who have been such a large part of building the future I currently live in. I want to bring that fascination alive for young readers. 

In order to keep historical fiction stories accurate, research is needed. How do you approach researching an idea?

There is no single approach to research that I’ve found to be a sure-fire way to find the most accurate information, but some approaches I have used in the past—diaries, newspaper articles, academic articles by academic historians, museum collections, historical archives, first-hand accounts, national park resources, to name a few.

In 1996, President Clinton declared five historic buildings in Nicodemus part of the National Park System and made Nicodemus, Kansas a National Historic Site. Did you have the opportunity to visit Nicodemus, Kansas?  

I so wish I had. To be honest, I regret that I haven’t been able to go, but I did watch documentaries, pour over photographs, read all of the primary and secondary sources I could find about the town and the people who started the community. I’m so fortunate that the illustrator, Nicole Tadgell was able to go to Nicodemus to get the visual details just right.

What was your first impression after seeing the final illustrated version of this book?

Gratitude. I’m so grateful to Ms. Tadgell for her amazing talent. The illustrations are so full of life, historical accuracy, and beauty, I couldn’t be happier!

I agree with you. Your words and her illustrations make a fabulous story! 

Out of curiosity, why did you decide to use A. LaFaye as your author name rather than your entire first name?

Well, when you have a five syllable first name like I do, there’s a good chance that someone is going to miss a part of it. In fact, my name was misspelled as “Alexandra” on my first galley! Not only is it really tough to misspell “A,” but it’s also gender neutral and it raises a question that draws people in…what does the “A” stand for?

What can your picture book fans hope to see from you next?

I’m thrilled to say that my next project is a collaboration with the talented Lea Lyon, we’ve created a book together called Ready to Fly with illustrations by Jessica Gibson. This book is about Sylvia Townsend, an amazing African American ballet dancer and dance school founder and instructor who was denied access to dance classes as a child in 1950s California who taught herself and others how to dance ballet using books from the bookmobile. Talk about perseverance, talent, and ingenuity, she’s amazing and her story should be told and shared. The book will be published by HarperCollins in 2020. 

It sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it. 

It has been wonderful learning more about you and your writing, Alexandria. Thank you for being a part of my blog. 

And now for Alexandria’s Great Giveaway. This talented author has agreed to give away to one lucky winner his/her choice of a free picture book critique, an autographed book, or a Skype visit. For a chance to win, leave a comment about the post below. Please note:  You must be a resident of the U.S. and at least 18 years of age to enter. The giveaway ends on Wednesday, January 16th at midnight EST. The winner will be randomly picked and announced on my blog post on Thursday, January 17th.

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You can learn more about Alexandria LaFaye at:

Website:  https://www.alafaye.com

YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0rs916zLi2y7tMAKb2aDeQ

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/alafayeauthor

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/artlafaye

 Buy A. LaFaye’s books at:

IndieBound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

An Interview with Pat Zietlow Miller

February 22, 2018

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Pat Zietlow Miller is an author of renown. Her picture books have received starred reviews and multiple awards. Pat has an innate talent to create books children love. She is an amazing writer and gives the most incredible presentations. She is the author of eight published picture books and counting. The most recent is BE KIND. Pat is upbeat, clever, and funny, and I’m honored to call her my friend.  

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Welcome, Pat!

BE KIND is such a timely book in that we need to be reminded how a simple act of kindness can make a huge difference in our everyday lives. How did you come up with this idea? 

Well, I can’t take credit for the initial idea. Connie Hsu, my editor at Roaring Brook Press, came up with the book’s title and asked me to write it – for which I am so, so grateful.

But, I did come up with how the idea was executed. I remembered being a shy, quiet, nervous kid who wanted to do the right thing but sometimes did nothing because I was scared it would be taken the wrong way. It took me a while to learn how to step in and speak up and – I hope – be as kind on the outside as I wanted to be on the inside.

That’s why I wrote the book about a child who tries to be kind and then has to rethink things when it doesn’t go well and ask: What does it mean to be kind?

You’ve sold thirteen books and have received numerous awards and starred reviews. Amazing! Besides being a very talented author, what do you think you did right at the beginning of your writing career in order to have editors take notice of your manuscripts?

Well, editors didn’t notice for a while. I got 126 rejections before I sold my first book. I’d like to think that it was my focus on writing well and learning the craft of picture book creation that helped me out the most. I wanted to write the very best stories possible, and I focused on doing that, rather than jumping into chasing publication the first time I had a halfway decent draft.

Having said that, I’ll also say that some of the early stories I sent out were, indeed, awful. I didn’t know that at the time, though. I had written and rewritten and revised and reworked and I thought they were good to go.

I was wrong.

What type of writer are you? Do you always know the beginning, middle, and end of your story, or do just go with the flow of an idea?

I’m more of a go-with-the-flow person. I usually have the first sentence of my story when I start writing and an idea of how things will end. Then, I have to connect them in an engaging and plausible way. Which is not easy.

Do you ever give up on a manuscript you’ve been writing, and is there any part of writing you find particularly challenging?

Absolutely. Not all stories work right away and some don’t ever work. And you can’t know which is which until you try. Most of the stories I’ve given up on are ones that I know aren’t working, so I don’t feel bad about it. But there are one or two I’m quite fond of that have not yet found an editor who feels the same.

In terms of what I find challenging, I sometimes struggle with plot. I’m very good at lining up the words in an order that sounds good and flows well. But, I often have to go back and make sure the structure is there to support them.

You work full time. How do you eke out time for writing and everything else that comes with being a published author?

I’m perpetually exhausted? There is a lot to balance, and the only way I can do it is by focusing on whatever task is in front of me until it’s done and then moving on to the next thing. I do my writing at nights and on weekends and try to take care of the emails and requests as they come in so they don’t build up.

You have a wonderful agent. How did you go about finding the right person to represent you? And do you have any advice for those looking for representation?

I stumbled upon my agent, which isn’t necessarily a technique I recommend, although it certainly worked out well for me.

I sold my first book through the slush pile. After I got the offer, fellow writer Jessica Vitalis said to me: “You’re going to get an agent, right?” I said: “Oh, no. They only want picture book writers if they illustrate too, and I don’t.”

Jessica said: “You at least have to TRY!”

So, mostly to tell her I had tried, I emailed the book and the offer to Ammi-Joan Paquette, an agent I’d heard speak at a writing conference. She emailed me back asking what else I had. I sent her five other stories, we talked on the phone and then she signed me.

I later found out she’s part of one of the best-regarded literary agencies in the country and that she’s generally awesome, but it’s not like I did any research to find that out beforehand. So I got very lucky. I’d recommend that other writers do research.

How do you go about promoting your books?

I do a lot on social media. I truly enjoy Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, so I use them to talk about my books, to talk about other people’s books and to share photos of my kids and cats – which I don’t think increases sales, but makes me happy nonetheless.

I also blog at www.picturebookbuilders.com with several other children’s authors and illustrators. We feature picture books we love and talk about what makes them work.

What’s next? Any new books coming out?

LORETTA’S GIFT comes out in August from Little Bee Books. It tells the story of Loretta and her new baby cousin. She wants to get him the perfect gift, but what could that be?

Thanks, Pat. It has been such fun interviewing you. Best of luck with your upcoming books.

You can find more about Pat here:   www.patzietlowmiller.com

You can find BE KIND here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound 

Books A Million

See my review of BE KIND here.

 

 

 

 

Harvesting a Great Book with Pat Zietlow Miller

August 8, 2013

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It’s August. The garden is overflowing with ripe tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, and squash. It’s time to harvest the crop. In among those tasty treats, there might be a seed of a great story. Pat Zietlow Miller discovered a creative seed in a butternut squash and let it grow into a story beyond compare.

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Sophie’s Squash is Pat Zietlow Miller’s debut picture book. When Sophie’s mom purchases a butternut squash at the farmer’s market, it doesn’t become dinner as she expected. Sophie draws a face on the squash, names it Bernice, and the two become inseparable friends. No matter how hard her parents try, they can’t convince Sophie to give up Bernice. When the squash begins to rot, Sophie realizes Bernice will not last forever. Sophie does what she needs to do with Bernice and is rewarded with a delightful surprise come spring. Anne Wilsdorf’s charming ink and watercolor illustrations and playful end pages combine with Miller’s appealing story to produce a book worth adding to your collection.

Pat Zietlow Miller is a very talented writer and has worked diligently to achieve her goals. She was gracious enough to “Humor Me” and answer some burning questions I had for her.

Pat, Sophie’s Squash is your debut picture book. You’ve received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Can you share some of your emotions after seeing these fabulous reviews?

I was a mixture of thrilled and stunned. Thrilled, because I’d always hoped other people would like Sophie and think she was worthy of attention. And, stunned, because it’s a way more positive response than I ever anticipated.

I’ve wanted to be an author for so long that just having the book out and looking as lovely as it does would have been enough. That was always my goal. I never really thought about what would happen after that. So getting the stars and nice comments and seeing which parts the reviewers especially liked was something happy I hadn’t expected.

It’s also been a little humbling because there are many books I adore that haven’t gotten starred reviews, so I know how subjective the process is. I feel disproportionately fortunate.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

When my youngest daughter was small, I took her grocery shopping and put a butternut squash in the cart. By the time we got to the checkout, she was rocking it in her arms, like a baby. When we got home, she drew a face on it and carried it everywhere.

I took that idea, expanded it greatly, and there was the beginning the book.

Have you always wanted to write for children?

Yes. I wrote my first draft of a children’s story when I was in college. But I had no idea what to do with it and hung on to it for years, thinking, “Someday, I’ll pursue this.” But jobs and life got in the way, and I didn’t seriously think about writing for children again until I was 39. That’s when I realized two things:

  1. If I didn’t at least try to become a published author, I was going to regret it when I was 80.
  2. That no editor from New York was ever going to call me and ask me to write a children’s book. If I wanted to be an author, I was going to have to sit down and actually … you know … write a manuscript.

Once I realized those two things, my next steps became pretty obvious. (And, yes, I still have that manuscript draft from college.)

Who are some of your favorite children’s authors and illustrators?

There are so many that making a list could get me into trouble, but I adore picture book writers Kari Best, Dori Chaconas, Kelly DiPucchio, Jill Esbaum, Candace Fleming, Mem Fox, Kevin Henkes, Mary Lyn Ray, Jacqui Robbins, Liz Garton Scanlon and Judith Viorst. Outside the picture book realm, I also love anything by Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, John Green, David Levithan, Ellen Raskin and Gary Schmidt. Oh, and I should mention J.K. Rowling, because I am a total Harry Potter geek. And Ann Brashares, because I love The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

And, I admire all illustrators because I can’t draw at all. Anne Wilsdorf did a spectacular job bringing Sophie and Bernice to life and Jill McElmurry and Eliza Wheeler, who are working on future books of mine, are amazingly talented, as well.

Has any particular book influenced you and your writing career?

No one book has influenced me, but authors who have are Erma Bombeck, Nora Ephron and Judith Viorst. That probably sounds like an odd mix, but I read them all when I was a middle schooler, and I remember just being floored by how well they used words. Sometimes I’d honestly be so overwhelmed by how well they shared a thought or turned a phrase that I’d have to put the book down for a moment and just regroup.

They showed me what was possible, and I spent lots of time trying to write like they did. And, ultimately, that helped me figure out how to sound like myself.

You have three more picture books coming out, Sharing the Bread with Schwartz & Wade in Fall of 2015, The Quickest Kid in Clarksville with Chronicle in 2015, and Wherever You Go with Little, Brown in 2015. Besides writing, you also have a full-time job, a husband, and two children. How do you balance everything?

I run after whatever fire is most out of control at the moment. Once I stomp out those flames, I move on to the next.

But really, I’m fairly good at concentrating on whatever task I’m handling at the moment. When I’m at work, I’m working. When I’m writing, I’m writing. And some things I’ve just given up on. My house is not clean, my garden is overgrown, I watch very little TV and I don’t have much of a social life. But that’s OK, because usually I’d rather be writing.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

  1. Dedicate time to achieving your goal. You can spend that time reading, or analyzing why books you like worked, or writing your next book. As I learned, merely wishing won’t get you anywhere.
  2. Expect your book to need a ridiculous amount of editing and revising before it’s ready to submit. Expect it to need even more once it sells. Realize that even when you think your book is absolutely, positively done, in all likelihood, it isn’t I’ve been amazed at how much better my books have gotten long after I thought they were complete.
  3. Don’t over-react to rejection. It’s just part of the process, and it’s not personal. Even my books that sold were rejected many, many times. Just hang in there, always be open to making your book better, and move forward.

What’s next for you, Pat?

I have editing to do on one my picture books that sold, and I have two others out on submission. Plus, I’m working on a very rough first draft to see if it has the potential to turn into something more. And, I have a list of new books that I can’t wait to read.

Congratulations, Pat, on your charming book and thank you for sharing your time and providing some great writing advice for all of us.

You can find Pat at her blog, READ, WRITE, REPEAT http://www.patzietlowmiller.com   and on Twitter:  @PatZMiller

If you’re in the Madison, WI area on Saturday, August 17 at 1:00 p.m., don’t miss the book launch party for Sophie’s Squash at:

Barnes and Noble

7433 Mineral Point Road

Madison, WI

(Near West Towne Mall)

There will be crafts, a prize drawing, snacks, and Pat will be reading and signing her book!

Below are some excerpts from the starred reviews Sophie’s Squash has received.

Kirkus: “From her bouncy braids to her red shoes, Sophie’s vibrant, determined nature shines forth charmingly.”

Publishers Weekly:  “Debut author Miller takes the idea of playing with one’s food to another level in this sensitive but funny story about a girl’s affection for a squash.”

School Library Journal:  “With lessons on life, love, and vegetable gardening, this tale will be cherished by children, and their parents will be happy to read it to them often.”

Booklist:  “In a perfect blend of story and art, the humorous watercolor-and-ink illustrations are bursting with color and energy on every page …”

An Interview with Amy Recob

March 12, 2010

Meet Amy Recob. She’s a marketing communications professional, a mom, a food safety advocate, and the author of The BugaBees: friends with food allergies. Amy has written a charming book with a very important message. Using lyrical rhymes and eye-catching illustrations, Amy introduces us to the BugaBees, eight friends who have eight different food allergies. The BugaBees show children who are allergic to certain foods how to stay safe and healthy and still have fun with their friends. At the end of the story, there are activities that encourage children to talk about food allergies and learn more about safety and prevention.

It’s heartwarming to know that a portion of the proceeds from Amy’s book will help fund programs dedicated to food allergy research, treatment, and prevention.     

Here’s Amy to share more about The Bugabees.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I wrote the book for my daughter, Mollie, who was diagnosed with severe peanut and tree nut allergies at 18 months of age. As she got older and began to participate in more social activities, it became clear that there were real emotional consequences in addition to the physical ones. More times than not, she was unable to enjoy the special treats all of her friends could and it made her feel sad and excluded. So I wanted to write the book as a way to help her cope with those feelings, and to remember that missing out on certain types of food doesn’t mean missing out on all the fun.

I love the title. How did you come up with it?

When I was developing the characters for the story, I wanted to choose something loosely representative of Mollie, so I began to look for ideas about what that might be. At the time, one of Mollie’s favorite toys was a little plush bug that wiggled when you pulled its string. And one of her grandmas used to call her a little “Bugaboo” when she was a baby, so I just thought to modify that to rhyme with “allergies” and came up with the BugaBees!

What type of research did you do to get ready for writing your book?

Most of the research was based on my own personal experiences living with a child with food allergies, but I did have some medical consultants review my writing and provide feedback as well. 

Can you share some interesting tidbits you learned while doing research?

While some people with peanut allergies can have a reaction simply through smell or touch, I learned that people with shellfish allergies have to actually ingest the food to have an allergic reaction. My initial draft of Butterfly at the beach had her just “touching” a shellfish, but after medical review, we changed it to just “tasting” one.

I also learned through personal experience that food allergens can be hidden anywhere! We went to one restaurant that apparently made their pancakes with peanut oil. Those kinds of encounters are what inspired me to create the activity pages in the back and teach kids to always “ask and tell” about their food allergy. You can never assume a food is safe, so I wanted to give examples of that as well. 

What was your favorite part about writing this book?

I loved every part, but if I had to pick one, I would say it was Mollie’s enthusiasm for the story. I initially had never intended to have it published, but when she would ask to hear it over and over again, I realized there were a lot of other kids out there just like her that could benefit from its message.

The illustrations are bright and fun. Tell us about them.

The illustrations were one of the toughest parts of the book creation – simply because I was very particular about what the characters looked like. We went through three other designers before we found Laura and Eric Ovresat (who make up 64 Colors). I really love their visual interpretation of the BugaBees and am so happy with what they developed for the book. 

Is there any advice you’d like to give parents and teachers about food allergies?

That’s a complicated question because some teachers and parents are extremely thoughtful and supportive of kids with food allergies, and others quite frankly are not. I guess the best overall advice I can give is to remember you’re dealing with innocent children — young souls who didn’t ask for this, but are trying their best to manage it at a very young age. As parents and teachers, it’s our job to make them feel safe and cared for, and with a little extra effort on our part, that’s a fairly easy thing to do. 

Are you working on anything new? What can we look forward to in the future?

I have a follow-up book to The BugaBees currently in the works, as well as some possible merchandising ideas for Cricket and the gang …lots of fun stuff to look forward to if I can manage to keep up with it all! 

Are there other books about food allergies that you’d like to recommend?

I just discovered a series of books called the “No Biggie Bunch” which I really like. The overall message is similar to that of the BugaBees — if you remain optimistic and informed, you can overcome any challenges brought about by food allergies. 

I know food allergies are serious, but is there a humorous anecdote that you’d like to share?

The most humorous things probably come from all the school visits I do. After we read the book, there are always the kids who love to loudly exclaim “BARF” and “PUKE” when I ask if they remember any potential symptoms of an allergic reaction. I also get a lot of long, elaborate stories about their friend’s mother’s cousin who is allergic to something … I’ve heard a wide variety of random things like chicken, Pop Rocks (the candy) and even paper! Now THAT would be a difficult allergy to have. 

What is your contact information for those who are interested in having you do a presentation?

The best way to contact me is via email at amy@thebugabees.com!

Thank you, Amy Recob!

 


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