Posted tagged ‘Writing’

Thought for Thursday

May 10, 2018

Oscar+Wilde+Quote+on+Writing

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An Interview with Pat Zietlow Miller

February 22, 2018

Me_Books

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.

 

 

 

 

In the Beginning – Thoughts on Writing

October 15, 2015

As a writer, I find the first page of a picture book to be the most challenging to write. The words you choose to put there are critical. You want to hook your readers immediately and keep them turning the pages. In a picture book, every single word counts. Waste not, want not.

Below are a few examples of beginnings from picture books that kept me turning the pages.

CLICK, CLACK, MOO COWS THAT TYPE written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

“Farmer Brown has a problem.

His cows like to type.

All day long he hears

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.

Clickety, clack, moo.”

My thoughts:  Right away the reader knows the farmer has a problem – cows that type. How? Why? Turn the page to find out.

THE BOSS BABY written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, Beach Lane Books.

“From the moment the baby arrived, it was obvious that he was the boss.”

My thoughts:  A baby that’s the boss. I like that! The beginning sentence and Frazee’s humorous illustrations entice the reader to turn the page and read more.

THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS written by Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton and illustrated by Christine Davenier, Little, Brown and Company.

“Hi! I’m Geraldine.

I’m a fairy princess.

You may not believe me, but I can tell you that I AM.”

My thoughts:  I like this character. She’s upbeat and bold. I want to see why she says she’s a fairy princess. Turn the page.

TOUGH CHICKS written by Cece Meng and illustrated by Melissa Suber, Clarion Books.

“From the moment Mama Hen’s eggs burst open, she knew she was dealing with some pretty tough chicks.”

My thoughts:  Little chicks chip away at their shells, they don’t burst out. What mischief are these tough chicks up to? Turn the page to find out.

The combination of the right words and the creativity of the illustrator can result in a fabulous picture book.

Do you have favorite beginnings that you’d like to share?

Food for Thought

June 18, 2015

As I ponder on how to proceed with my writing career, I came across this from Jamie Swenson, an energetic author and early literacy storyteller/library associate. Her words are food for thought.

Deep Thoughts: For years I’ve been told that it is not talent, but perseverance that defines a published vs. non-published writer. Without perseverance, they say – none would succeed in this industry. But perseverance alone is not the key. In my mind, the key is willingness to grow, be flexible, reinvent yourself, and expand your vision of what a successful career as an author/illustrator means. Those who simply persevere – they may carry the same exact story around for years – they may not quit – but it’s unlikely they will succeed. In this world, you must be open and willing to revise – but more than revision – it’s personal growth. You must be willing to throw the story away and start anew. To look at your work and ask yourself the hard questions. This is, in so many ways, more difficult than simply not quitting. I raise my glass to those of you who know what I’m talking about – and continue to produce the very best for the world. *Raises Glass – CLINK* That is all … you may go on with your day …  ~Jamie Swenson

What are your thoughts?

Jamie’s Books:

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Procrastination

December 4, 2014

Procrastination is a terrifying word. It can suck you into a dark hole and leave you grappling to get out. It robs you of quality time and prevents you from achieving your goals.

I’m stuck in the State of Procrastination. I’m ready to finish writing the last chapter of my book. I know exactly how it will end, but my fingers won’t type the words. To give me a kick-start, I turned to quotes by well-known authors for inspiration. (another excellent way to procrastinate)

Neil Gaiman said, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

I’ve got it. Don’t drag my feet or fingers. Get to it. Put one word after another. It’s Neil Gaiman’s last sentence that puts me in a panic.

Writing is HARD. So here I sit, thinking of all the things I could do besides type that first word. The dead spider in the honeycomb blind should be removed. That crooked picture on the wall is driving me crazy. I wonder who’s on Facebook. Maybe I should tweet something.

Snap out of it. I tell myself. No more procrastinating.

Louis L’Amour said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Right. Turn on the faucet.

But Bill Watterson said, “You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.”

Don’t confuse me! My mood is growing dark, and I’m already in a panic. I need to finish my last chapter. I’m going to turn on all the faucets in the house and let them flow. Maybe something will trickle into my brain and my fingers will begin to type one word after another – or maybe the house will flood.

The Story of Our House

July 10, 2014

We’re building a house. It’s stressful – especially when it’s in a state halfway across the country. We have chosen a lot, made decisions about flooring, light fixtures, paint, doorknobs, etc., and have revised and tweaked our house plans many times. We’re downsizing, but you’d never know it from the cost of things. Two movies come to mind as my husband and I go through this rollercoaster experience – “The Money Pit,” starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long and a classic old movie, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. We could be the main characters in either of these movies!

When I take a step back and look at our current lives, I see similarities between writing and building a house. A story and a house should have a solid structure. Standout characters and an interesting setting are a must. In the story of our house, we have standout characters (Us!) and a beautiful New England setting.

In a spellbinding story, the plot includes a problem that has roadblocks and conflicts which are overcome or resolved at the end. Building a new home has its share of problems and roadblocks. Start date postponed several times (Just dig the hole!), windows in the wrong places (Oops!), and cost overruns (Yikes!) are just a few of the things that can cause conflict and tension.

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A Hole Is To Dig

In a mesmerizing story, there’s a climax just before the problem is solved and the roadblocks are removed. If all of these elements are well done, readers are left begging for more.

My husband and I are nowhere near the climax or conclusion of our building story. Like a good book, we’d like things to move along at a good pace. Then we’d like to deviate from the other elements of a satisfying story. We don’t want any more roadblocks, tension, or conflicts I’d rather leave those for a good book!

Building a house or building a story involves creativity, hard work, attention to detail, and revising. Whatever you choose to do, give it your best and go for it!

Picture Book Month – Biographies

November 21, 2013

Picture book biographies shine. They offer readers an easy way to learn about well-known people as compared to reading a longer biography that may be too daunting for them.

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Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball written by John Coy and illustrated by Joe Morse is a picture book biography that shines. In 1891 in Springfield, MA, James Naismith took over a gym class that no one else wanted to teach. In desperation, he created a game that required skill and rules that had to be followed if the players wanted to remain playing. His game piqued the interest of the boys, and basketball became a hit. Coy provides concise information about how James Naismith invented the game of basketball and how it became a national pastime. The graphic illustrations by Joe Morse offer readers a glimpse into the time period when basketball was invented. Make sure to look at the endpapers to see Naismith’s first draft of basketball rules.

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Another picture book biography worth reading is Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Carlyn Beccia. Krull offers a slice of Louisa May Alcott’s life that played an important role in the way she ultimately looked at her own life. In 1862, Louisa traveled to Washington D.C. to help nurse the wounded and sick soldiers of the Civil War. Conditions in the makeshift hospital were horrible, and tending to the seriously wounded soldiers made Louisa come face-to-face with the reality of war. In her short time there, she saw the disparity between how white workers and black workers were treated. Three weeks into Louisa’s time in Washington, she became very ill and was eventually brought home by her father. Alcott’s experience in Washington was live-changing. Her heartfelt writing about what she saw in the hospital made editors sit up and pay attention. Her writing was suddenly in demand. Soon afterward, she was asked to write a book about girls. Little Women, set during the Civil War, was the result, and it became a best seller. Carlyn Beccia’s colorful illustrations and Kathleen Krull’s story give readers a new look into the life and writings of Louisa May Alcott. Back matter and endpapers in the book provide more information about the time period. A list of  websites related to Louisa May Alcott and a timeline of her books can also be found.


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