Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Surprises, Successes and Disappointments

Our surprise addition to our menagerie. Her favorite place to sit is on me while I type.
What an amazing month or two. Busy yes, who isn't, but we managed to travel home and spend much needed time with family. We had my entire extended family (except one niece who's currently overseas) in one room at one time. Watching my kids connect and reconnect with cousins and second cousins was magical. 

Once all the dust resettled, I did manage to sign up for Julie Hedlund's 12 days of Christmas program--12 days of inspirational exercises for writers. 

Day two's exercise included writing our surprises for the last year. On day three, we wrote about our successes, with the added prompt to blog about them--a thought I loved. So, here are my surprises and successes for 2015:


  • Had three separate agents express interest in pitches and queries
  • Had an agent ask me to write an article for a blog she's involved with
  • Realized how much I like the agents I meet and want to be friends with them all
  • Understood an entire conversation in basic Spanish
  • Received an honorable mention for my Halloweensie story
  • Realized I really like writing for older children as well
  • Adopted a kitten my husband found in the gutter


  • Narrowed down three strong picture book manuscripts
  • Wrestled my historical-fiction middle grade novel into a revisable edition
  • Wrote a picture book draft every month
  • Revised picture book drafts every month
  • Jotted down an idea for a new middle grade fantasy novel

Then came day four: Write your disappointments for 2015 (max at five), then make a big inner critic judgement about them, followed by a sound judgement. Whew, here are my five:


  • Twitter pitch got favorited, but MS rejected: I can write a pitch but not a story: If I can write an interesting pitch, I can write an interesting story.
  • Manuscript requested based on query, but MS ultimately rejected: This story is never going to work: If I can write a query, I can find a way to rewrite my MS.
  • Haven't found the right fix for the middle section of my middle grade novel: I just can't write: I have a good beginning and an interesting ending, which means I will find a middle.
  • Wasted too much time on social media: I have no discipline: I made valuable connections, which helped me learn more about the craft of writing.
  • Had too many days where I wondered why I was still writing when so many better writers are out there: I just don't have what it takes: Who cares, I am writing the stories only I can write.
There you have it. Perhaps if any of you are stuck in a similar place, these exercise might help. Give it a shot and good luck. And a very Happy New Year to all.

P.S. An excellent video to start off your new year: 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Susanna Hill's Holiday Writing Contest


Susanna Hill is holding her annual holiday writing contest. The rules: 
Write a children's story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) beginning with any version of "Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop."  You may use that actual opening, or you may change it to any similar version "[Verb of your choice]ing [any preposition you choose] the [any item you choose] [any preposition you choose] the [venue of your choice]."

And it has to be 350 words or less. Sadly, I won't be able to pull one together this year, but the rest of you have until the 11th to post one up on her site. See here for the details:


Lots of fabulous entries already!

Have a great week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Agent Panel Insights

I attended a writer's conference in Boston over the weekend. Chuck Sambuchino was the keynote speaker. He did a great job of plowing through writing advice from author platform to how to write a solid query (the video above is how to do an in-person pitch), but the highlight of the event for me was the "Writer's Got Talent" session. 

About seven of the literary agents who attended made up a panel to critique first pages of anonymously submitted novel manuscripts. Chuck read the page until three agents held up their hands, then he stopped and let the agents explain why they would stop reading at that point. 

They were blessedly candid. One agent even confessed that certain words turn her off. She said she knew it seemed shallow to stop reading a manuscript at the word "shapely," for example, but when you're pouring through 200 plus pages a day, you are looking for a reason to say no.

I found their instantaneous critiques fascinating and enlightening. I also learned loads from the pages they commented on as to what worked and what didn't. Over-descriptive language was a sure sign of an author trying too hard. Verb tense shifts were another problem, and info dumping was a common error as well. And they didn't always agree with each other, which goes to show that the industry is subjective. 

I walked away from that session feeling less distant from the querying process. I also found I was often agreeing with the agents' assessments, which gave me confidence that I'm arriving at an understanding of what works well and what does not. And as you know, any confidence boost a writer can get is a welcome one. 

I also enjoyed the in-person pitches I had with agents. Both sessions went well and I walked away with two requests for manuscripts and loads of information on how to make my queries even better.

The conference was worth all the logistics that went into getting me there. 

Have a great week.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cromidon: The Invasion

Original art for the Cromidon Invasion.

I’ve been prepping for a conference I’m attending soon. I wanted to have 10 mostly sub-ready stories with their corresponding queries. I almost made it. I took out two—just not ready—and I am happy to say that I have six picture book queries, one chapter book and one middle grade novel query ready for the query critique session. Now I'm looking forward to making them better.

My little son has been busy too, writing his own 10-chapter story called CROMIDON Invasion. It’s sort of a Jack and Annie meet Aliens spin. 

With his permission, I will share chapters one and two (original spelling and grammar mostly intact):

Chapter 1: The Invasion

Hi. My name is Billons and I want to tell you a story … that hapend to me, ok. So I signd up for the Explore Other Planets, and it turnd out seviral million people had already signd up! Now I’ll explane what the ship looked like: Jigantick! 

More that 10000,125602597 rooms. Now I got a room mate whos name was Jill. Now Jill was vey, very kind. That’s what I liked about her. Were takeing off came a vouse from the speacer. their were beeping sounds lik this: beep! beep! beep! doomp!

once we herd the doomp their was hissing nousis and the ground was shaking “What’s happaning” said Jill “Were takeing off didn’t you here? I said “Oh” said Jill. Suddenly their was a wooshhh and we saw a puf of smoke out the window and then we soomed into space.

Chapter 2: Things on the Planet

the running stoped, the beeping stoped all we saw was the deep dark depths of space “wow” said me and Jill at the same time. It was quiet. then their was booming entering hiper drive came a vouce “Oh great” I said We amedetly looked out the window We saw colors of blu, red, and shades of green and tercous and aqua 

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! We scremed. It felt like a jigantick earth quake! We fell over I hit my head on the wall Jill hit her nose on the dresser then every thing stoped I was very dizi Jill looked lik she would vomet then the voice said calling Jill Munc then a man came and toke Jill by the hand and went away I looked on the tv we were on a planet! I saw Jill on the screen then I saw a little green alien runing toward her it atact her then she ran back into the ship and a few minuts later she was back in the room.

To be continued ...

And there readers, I will leave you in suspense of what might possibly happen to Jill and Billons in the CROMIDON Invasion

Have a great weekend. I’m hoping I will. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Halloweensie Vote


Alas, I did not place in the finals, but several great stories did. Click here to vote for your favorite: http://susannahill.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-2015-halloweensie-contest-finalists.html

Have a great week.

P.S. Just got the results from the vote. I did get an honorable mention: http://susannahill.blogspot.com/2015/11/2015-halloweensie-contest-winners.html

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Halloweensie Entry: Dark's Knight


Susanna Leonard Hill's Halloweensie contest starts today. The rules: Write a 100 word or less Halloween children's story using the words costume, dark and haunt. My entry for this year is:

Dark's Knight
by Johnell DeWitt

Dark didn’t usually need a costume. He scared most kids without one. But this year, Dark wanted to trick or treat, and people always stopped handing out candy when he showed up. 

He could try something funny. But the clown nose with nothing behind it looked even scarier. 

Something sparkly? But all the glitter in the world couldn’t make Dark shine. 

He needed something solid. 

He slipped into an old house and oozed into the lighted spaces. The house looked spooky, but he couldn’t trick or treat as a haunted house. 

Then he saw it, guarding the corner…A knight!

PiBoIdMo Registration Opens!

Hi all. Quick note to tell you that Picture Book Idea a Month--PiBoIdMo--is open for registration. 


My third year running and I've loved it every year. Fantastic information, great people to meet and connect with and a chance to come up with 30 new ideas for picture books. 

Register on Tara Lazar's site here: http://taralazar.com/category/piboidmo-2015/

And stay tuned for tomorrow. My Halloweensie entry will be going up. 

Dancing a happy dance. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Artist Dates

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, encourages authors and other creative types to take themselves on an artist date every week (see video above). I love this idea. I've found some serendipitous ways to take myself on an artist's date, such as when I walked my youngest through a Virginia forest in spring a few years ago. 

Simply being more mindful of my surroundings has helped rejuvenate my creative soul. The "stop and smell the roses" line is worth heeding. 

So here's a stop and watch the sidewalk moment for any of you who may need a quick creative boost:

Have a great week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Something Weensie This Way Comes


That time of year again! Susanna Leonard Hill's Halloweensie writing contest. 

Rules: In 100 words or less, write a Halloween story using the words costumedark, and haunt. You can use variations of the word, such as haunted, but the whole word must be in it. No art notes allowed. 

I did it last year and had a blast. So get your cackle on and start writing.

Good luck.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Goal and A Plan

My new furry muse.

I had a writing routine before we picked up and moved last year. I haven't quite recovered it, what with trying to learn a new language, adapt to a different country and move things in all over again. 

We acquired a few distractions within the past year as well: a dog we rescued from an abusive home; and a kitten (pictured above) stranded in a gutter outside our house. I can't sit in my chair to write without her snuggling behind me or climbing on my lap. If I even look cross ways at my chair, she'll hop up inside and snuggle on in.

All this to say, distractions exist, but this week, I decided to take charge of them instead of them taking charge of me. I set a goal for myself, 10 submission-ready picture book manuscripts by the middle of November. Why November? I signed up for a writing conference I will get to attend in person. 

Besides the two mini-conferences I helped organized through my last writing group, this will be the second in-person writing event I've been able to attend. 

I may not get my manuscripts truly submission ready in that short of a time. I've revised "submission ready" stories many times over based on feedback from the agents who've commented on them. 

But I'm getting close to my goal already. I pulled out some promising old drafts and started revising them today. Fresh eyes on an old story are one of the best tricks to revising I've found. I can see where I've improved. I can also see the nuggets of voice I started to lose after letting too many voices dictate the tone of my story. 

It's a fine balance between taking in suggestions without twisting your story into someone else's. 

As of now, I have nine drafts I've started revising and another two in mind to add to the list. That's a lot of critiques to swap for and a lot of time making every word count. But I feel energized having a goal and a plan in place. And a deadline with an excursion attached. I'm finally getting my groove back. Now if I could just get my chair back.

Have a great week.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Plot Arc

Ideas, characters, scenes, all these things come fairly easily when I'm sitting down to write up an idea, but I struggle with plotting. Kind of problematic when you want to write a book.

I've already mentioned that I've been taking James Patterson's Master Class, finished it in fact, and my favorite section was the one on outlining. His outlines are so detailed that the book is basically done before he starts writing the novel. 

How I wish I would have have outlined the middle grade novel I've been toiling over before I ever started writing it. I'm quickly becoming an outline convert. I should have known better. After all, my background is in public relations and we usually draw up a plan before we start implementing any of the ideas. But like so much of the past, I failed to learn from it.

I've been trying to school myself on outlining and plotting. I not necessarily a perfectionist but I am competitive with myself. I don't like to have a weakness in an area that is important to me. 

I did find three short and helpful videos. The one at the top has seven little nuggets of plotting wisdom. Number seven spoke to me loudest. Basically, if at the end of your chapter, the story hasn't moved the MC's quest forward, then the chapter is a waste of space.

The one directly above is about cluster plotting. It's geared fro NaNoWriMo but still helpful all year long. I liked the "delicious bubbles" because it's a quick way to get your thoughts in an order and see them played out in one giant picture--like a storyboard for a movie. 

And the last video is about outlining in general--the why and a little of the how. 

If anyone else struggles with this, I hope something will help. If anyone else has good outlining tips also, please feel free to suggest them in the comments. And have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Am Now Less Dumb--I Hope

Confession time: I don't often read books for adults. I'm usually competing with my kids for the books they are reading, which means I'm reading picture books up to middle grade (some YA when I get a recommendation). But I heard about David McRaney's book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and popped it in my Kindle thinking I'd get to it eventually. 

I did and am 78% done, according to the little indicator in the corner. I've got over 200 bookmarks in the ruddy thing and even more highlights. Fascinating read. The author takes neuropsychology and makes it relatable, interesting and incredibly funny. I admire anyone who can take what could be a very clinical subject and make it read as easily as a novel, even more so when an author's writing can inspire me with story ideas of my own.

I keep a list of ideas for books. Some I get from my kids, but others I get from watching documentaries or other history-related reads or newscasts. I read a book about the Tudor era and got a kick out of the sumptuary laws. I wondered how you could take that idea and turn it into a kid's book. I can't say I've narrowed down the right story yet, but I love learning about all the crazy in history and other subjects. Truth is stranger than fiction and makes for good fiction.

A friend recently turned me on to a site with obscure and interesting historical tidbits: Stuff You Missed in History. One of my favorite podcasts is about the Dahomey Amazon Warriors. I'd heard of these warrior women of Benin, but enjoyed learning more details about their lives and origin. 

I discovered another story akin to the Dahomey warriors from a visit to the Jamestown Museum in Virginia. Queen Nzinga (spellings of her name vary) was a warrior queen who fought against the Portuguese during the slave trade. Her life isn't without controversy, but she's a fascinating person nonetheless. 

If you're stuck for your next great idea, hopefully something I've listed will spark your imagination. If not, you can still enjoy the video or podcasts, even better if you have some chocolate to enjoy along with them. 

Have a great week.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What a Character

My son's illustration for one of his stories. It appears I'm being hit by an airplane, or maybe an alien invasion.
I recently finished the character development chapter in James Patterson's Master Class. Writing a believable and relatable character is key in engaging the reader, whatever the age.

I find that the easiest characters for me to develop are the ones most similar to me, however, I love writing characters that I wouldn't normally relate to. In high school, I loved to play the part of the villain in our school plays.  

I think kids are like that too, characters that are a little bit, or even a lot bit, naughty are vicarious outlets for kids who feel like so much of their lives is controlled by overwhelming forces--namely parents. I think that's the appeal, in part, of Roald Dahl's characters. Pippi Longstockings is another and Curious George, to name a mere few.  

When it comes to more current children's authors, Mo Willems is one of the best in creating memorable characters with endearing foibles. We love Pigeon at our house, and we were lucky to find available tickets to the stage production of Elephant and Piggy at the Kennedy Center. My kids talked about that experience for weeks. Needless to say, I love the following videos, and I hope you'll find something of value from them too:

Have a great week!

Monday, August 31, 2015


I obviously disappeared for a while. My only excuse is the furry little critter in the picture above, not the dog, although he's plenty distracting too. About four weeks ago, my husband took our dog for a walk and came back with a mewling bundle. 

He'd found a tiny kitten abandoned in a puddle in the gutter near our road. Our neighborhood has a collection of wild cats that hide in the gutter tunnels, so we assumed she must have been washed out. She was cold, hungry and likely to be smashed by a car if my husband hadn't found her he did. He's not a cat person, so it surprised me when he walked into our room and held her out to me. 

I grabbed her, cleaned her up and tried to feed her. Long story short, we got what supplies we could from the vet and started nursing her back to health. The vet guessed she was about three weeks old. 

She's now a sassy 6-week-old and growing kitten, fittingly named Catniss, who has managed to survive against the odds. 

Needless to say, my free time got usurped and working on my stories instead of blogging became a priority in my limited time. 

I'm still not where I want to be with the revisions on my historical fiction MG novel, but I'm pleased that I've got a working draft under my belt. I haven't touched the YA novel I started last year, but it's waiting for me. I've also got a fantasy middle grade novel I've character sketched but haven't yet outlined, which I'm dying to do after taking James Patterson's Master Class and seeing how effective an outline can be.

I've also lost count at how many PB ideas I've collected, but I've drafted out about 28 of them. Two, almost three, I consider sub-ready and was able to work on those while tending the cat. I'm thinking, reluctantly, about moving a couple of my favorite PB rough drafts to chapter books since they appeal to a slightly older group and would be better told at a higher word count. 

All this to say, I've managed to get a lot done, except my blog, which I'm hoping to change to a personalized website soon. As soon as I figure Wordpress out...grrrrr. 

Here's hoping you're all doing well and plugging along with all your goals. Have a great week and enjoy some distracting video fun. Feel my pain:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Power of Language

We recently returned home to visit family. It was nice setting foot on U.S. soil again and understanding the words all around me without effort.

I’ve studied four languages so far. Only one besides English have I felt truly comfortable conversing in although I feel I'm getting close with my new one. I’ve found at some point in my language acquisition I have to stop mentally translating things into English and just take the new language as a separate, almost living, part of me. Some words just don’t translate. 

There’s a feeling to language that goes beyond the series of letters or lines. Words, even sounds, create emotion separate from the firing of the synapse that translates the symbols into recognizable meanings. 

During our visit, I had a wondrous opportunity to attend church near my in-laws home and watch sign language translators at work. Religious text and songs are already infused with passion. It’s cosmic watching it played out on the faces and hands of skilled translators as they add yet another layer of language to the mix. 

I fell in love with watching sign language during my folklore class in college. I had a classmate who came to each class with her ASL translator. His hands flew as he wove the words being said into words being seen. I remember his face more clearly than my professor's. 

In my in-laws' congregation, one gentleman walked in with his hands firmly placed on the shoulders of the person gliding slowly in front of him. It didn’t take long to realize that his vision was impaired in some fashion. I was confused, however, when he sat in the ASL section until my father-in-law explained that he was deaf and blind. 

I watched in awe again as the translator placed her hands under his and signed the words into the palms of his hands. He literally felt the “words” being spoken. The emotion cycling through his face, as the translator signed familiar hymns, showed me that his connection to the "words" went beyond mere flicks of the fingers. 

I've read books that have change me so fundamentally I'd be foolish to deny the power of those squiggles on the page. That's what I want. I want to write in a way that moves the reader beyond the words, that releases the magic off the page and into the readers' hearts. 

Wishing you all a great week.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Confluence

I've been revising my middle-grade novel. With my kids out of school, it's been tricky finding the quiet I need. On the flip side, having them around has also created otherwise missed opportunities.

We rented a cartoon for a family movie night. It was cute and the kids enjoyed it. I did to, but it wasn't one I wanted to rush out and buy or even watch again. Contrast that with Pixar films, Monster's University being my favorite, and my mind began to ping-pong between the two. I started to wonder how Pixar is able to create such solid, timeless and cross-generationally appealing scripts. 

My husband and I also rented a movie for us. It was a low-budget film to be fair but the script was a tragic missed opportunity--too many deus ex machina moments and one-dimensional characters. I loved it though because it forced me to take a hard look at my novel and see things with a more critical eye. 

I also picked up a book I thought my daughter would like--Bunnicula, by James Howe. Of course I started reading it first. I'm enjoying his whit and tight sentence structure. He wraps a lot of humor and character development in tiny, tidy sentence packages.

To top it off, I received my copy of One, by Kathryn Otoshi a few days ago. Every time I read it, I find something new to blow my mind. It reaches a level of picture book perfection that's almost impossible to achieve. Kathryn did work in the film industry so I wonder how much of her work with scripts, both good and not so good, informed her ability to craft such solid material. There is something to be said about learning from successes and mistakes.

Needless to say, all of these events crammed in a short space of time tricked my mind over some of its dead ends. Here's hoping for more.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Three Books That Changed You

In the video above, Neil Gaiman talks about three childhood books that changed his life. I've been trying to sort out what I'd say if I had to choose three. 

I was fortunate to be the youngest of five with a 15 year spread between me and my oldest brother. I sort of slipped into the world seven years after my sister who was number four in the line-up. Needless to say, I had an interesting childhood. 

My brothers all left the house for college when I was learning my three Rs. They all lived overseas at some point in their college years and brought back with them authors and stories I'd never heard of. One of my favorite discoveries was my oldest brother's stack of Asterix and Obelix comics that he'd stored in the extra room after one of his trips. 

Two of my brothers were big fantasy and sci-fi readers and I often took my cues from them. One of the first sets of books they got me hooked on was Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time series. I read everything of hers I could get my hands on. I also went through a morbid phase reading everything by Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe and as much Frank Herbert as my teenage mind could stand. Once high school English hit, I had reading lists of authors my brothers never told me about--Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Arthur Miller--and my tastes started to shift.

If I had to narrow my list of life-changing childhood books, the Narnia series would be tops, but since Neil Gaiman already mentioned that one, I'll take it as a feeble and start with:
1) A Wrinkle in Time--Madeleine L'Engle
2) Fifteen--Beverly Cleary--I still have my original, beaten-up copy that I read a thousand times at least.
3) Jane Austen--okay it's sort of cheating to use an author, but pretty much anything she wrote, I read. I'll pick Pride and Prejudice if I'm pressed into it. 
Honorable mention to The Hundred Dresses as well. I still have my first copy. And one other book I checked out multiple times from the library, Behold Your Queen, by Gladys Malvern.

Now not everything I read as a youngster inspired me. In fact there are a few books I wish I could unread, mostly the ones I was required to read in my Honors English classes. Metamorphosis comes quickly to mind. As I Lay Dying flies up right behind it. 

Your turn. What three books (childhood books) changed your life? 

Have a great week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Drawing--sometimes literally--From What You Know

Drawing my son did for his A stroll down the Rale Rode Line story.
One of the biggest rewards I've found from starting this writing journey is watching my children join in. They started by "illustrating" my manuscripts and have moved to writing and illustrating their own. 

I receive thousands of papers from school--turkeys made from palm prints, etc.--most of which end up recycled. The stories my children write, however, I file away. Like this one I just received, original misspellings intact:

A stroll down the Rale Rode Line
Once aboute when I was a baby we wer on a trane going mak one. They dont call it a bullit trane for nothing. We only went throw 6 tonels Bfore my hare was sticking up like a porkypine! In about ten mins We wer at our stop at the childrins muzeume ther are toys instead of pantings and fosels. Oh no I forgot to tell you I was three! Oh it says it on the first sentenc sory. As I was saying we wer at the childrins muzeume. I went in a tonel with toy bats wen we got out we wer at the pool for the muzeum. I went Houem after the pool and said "good by" to all of the kids and drove houem. the end.

I've heard of authors who wrote stories and kept journals from the moment they could hold a pencil. I can't say that was me, nor was I a big journal keeper. I did have one, but I usually used it to write scathing entries about how my parents or siblings wounded my feelings. Then I'd leave it conspicuously open where the offending party could see it and be overcome with remorse at their unconscionable offense against my person. 

As the video below shows, however, keeping a real journal can pay off, or at least drawing, and writing, from what you know, which is one reason I'm holding on to my children's stories. They may want them some day.

Before I sign off, Literary Rambles is host in a Q&A with Stephen Barbara of InkWell Management. If you have a question, you have until tomorrow noon (June 10, not sure on the time zone) to send your answer to Casey's email listed on her site. Only five question will be selected, so get on it if you're interested. 

Have a great week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fat Men and Girdles

Well, I've done it. I've finished a working draft of a novel I've been belaboring over for a while now. Yes, it still stinks and yes, it needs major revision, but I finally got it to a place where the need for beta readers is fast encroaching. As my former college roommate would say in moments of great relief, "I feel like a fat man with his girdle undone."

In celebration for this happy occasion, I've included a brief video about revision...just to get me inspired all over again.

Have a great week.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day and Mo Willems

Mo Willems' name fits well with Memorial Day for some reason. The video above is a short segment he did for the Today Show and it's packed with great advice for children's book writers.

And to all our military families, Blessed Memorial Day and thank you for all your sacrifices.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

When Losing is Winning and Other Fun Things

My sides hurt. The above video is a celebration of bad Gaiman story knock-offs. The stories are deliciously terrible, and even better/worse with Neil Gaiman reading them. While they are fun, they're also great lessons in tiny packages. 

But I can't leave you just with that. Well I could, but the video below is too spectacular to pass up, but it's not short. Julie Hedlund interviews John Rocco about his Caldecott Honor book, Blackout and other events in his writing/illustrating career. Such fantastic info. Grab your lunch and settle in.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Circus Train: New Release from Jennifer Cole Judd

I couldn't resist doing an interview with my friend and author, Jennifer Cole Judd. Her newest release, Circus Train, hit the shelves last week. Jen is a brilliant poet and an incredible person all around as you will see from the brief interview below: 

Your latest book, Circus Train, is a rhymer, which you do very well. How hard was it to sell and where did the idea come from? How long did it take from its creation to is ultimate publication? 

Thanks, Johnell!  The idea for Circus Train was born when (surprise, surprise) I took my young kids to the circus one day.  It was watching my then five-year-old daughter's eyes light up with wonder that brought a wave of nostalgia and excitement for me. It was like a sensory explosion, and watching her take it all in was pretty special. I really wanted to capture that magic and wonder, so I sat down that evening to write a poem about it. The poem expanded and became picture book length. This was back in 2006. I had been taking Anastasia Suen's Intensive Picture Book Workshop online at the time, so the manuscript went through some great critiquing. I was really new to children's writing back then, and was focused primarily on poetry writing, so when I subbed the story out and got a couple of rejections, I put it away for a while. Well, quite a while, actually! I pulled the manuscript out in 2012, after having spent some years working on rhythm, rhyme, and learning the craft (and after my first publication, Eyeball in My Garden had been out!). It was then that I added the train to the story. I revised it, shared it with my critique partners, and subbed it to Two Lions. I was surprised (and thrilled) when they acquired it a few months later. I know that doesn't happen a lot in the industry, so I feel extremely blessed (and lucky!) that this story was acquired that quickly...but, I think the span of six years helped! (I wish I could say all of my other stories and poems came together that magically!)

You've been doing author events already. What's been the best one you've done and what feedback are you getting? Which events seem to work best for you and what advice would you give an author preparing for a book tour?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Need for Local Literature

I'm at a point where I feel comfortable talking about that hinted-at good news. It's not an agent or a book deal, lovely as that would be, but the formation of a writing group I started shortly after moving to my new home in Central America. I wrote about it in an article for Rate Your Story (RYS), which you can click over to read if you like. (RYS is an excellent resource if you haven't heard of it.)

As stated in the RYS article, I lived in Africa for a while and saw the need for literature that spoke to the local situations with characters the children could see themselves in. Sadly, I wasn't writing then and not attuned to how I could change it. Now I am, and I'm hoping the group we are forming will change the literary landscape of the region, but the thing is, they already have great stuff to guide them. 

As so often happens in countries with economic struggles, most people don't see the incredible talent within their own borders. The grass is always greener because so often it really is. Or people in larger countries aren't often exposed to the literature from smaller countries because the gatekeepers don't know about it or don't realize that stellar literature can come from areas that make the news more for their struggles than their triumphs.

I've been impressed with the artists I've met here. I speak the language well enough to navigate a Taco Bell menu, but with kind friends to translate for me, I've been introduced to some brilliant authors, like Salarrué who wrote Cuentos de Cipotes (Stories of Children), among others.

The video above is a brilliantly crafted animation of one of his stories. It's in the dialect of a region in El Salvador, which makes it harder to understand, even for Spanish speakers. The basic idea is a group of children decide to play funeral, and they need a willing corpse so little Tanta is picked (Tanta is the feminine form of silly or dumb).

Unfortunately, Tanta doesn't stink, so the the children look all over for something to make her whiffy. Once that's done, they add the lid to the "casket." But Tanta doesn't appreciate this realistic effect and raises a ruckus. Tanta's maid hears her cries and saves her from a fate worse than a fake death and, in essence, becomes the angel who brings her back to life. 

I hope to have even more good news soon. We have a talented guest speaker scheduled to speak to us this week and I can't wait to share what I learn with you all shortly.

Have a great week.