What would YOU feed a hungry dragon?

There Was an Old Dragon cover

It’s launch week here at Emu’s Debuts for Penny Parker Klostermann’s delightful picture book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight! Yesterday, Calista brought you an insightful interview with Dragon’s editor, Maria Modugno. And today, we’re bringing you… FOOD!

I asked my fellow Emus what they would offer a hungry dragon to convince it to eat that instead of them. And, let me tell you, if we Emus were all together in a mob, it would be a mighty fine feast indeed! (For added fun, try to spot the new Emus who will soon be joining the flock!)

For appetizers…

Garlic BreadLuke Reynolds would offer the dragon a full loaf of garlic bread, with extra butter melted and nuzzled within the rich, warm doughiness. The dragon would certainly have no choice but to remember how deeply satisfying melted butter is, and the soft dough would be so much more amazing than a crunchy, yucky human being!

Darcey Rosenblatt would try not only to save herself but further humankind, so she would offer a recipe for yummy roasted vegetables and engage her dragon friend in the cooking process. Never heard of a vegan dragon? Darcey is sure it happens!

I myself (Laurie Ann Thompson) would offer up some steaming crab macaroni & cheese. I just hope that old dragon knows how to share!

We have quite a few main courses for Dragon to choose from:

Sweet & Sour Pork Belly w/ pickled gingerOne of the most delicious things Megan Morrison has ever eaten is pork belly with crispy crackling skin. She was at Beppe in New York and asked the waiter for a recommendation. It sounded so gross, but oh. It was not. It was bacon on crack. She and her husband still talk about it with reverence. Surely a big slab of pork belly would be far tastier than Megan!

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman would serve the dragon the largest turkey she could find with a side of stuffing and an extra dose of tryptophan in hopes that he’d fall asleep.

Carole Gerber did her research first: Komodo dragons–the kind in zoos–eat deer, according to the fact sheet she read. The dragon first knocks the deer off its feet before killing and eating it. Carole would distract the dragon with a heap of deer toenails to confuse him as she made a quick getaway.

UntitledJason Gallaher would offer this hungry dragon a nice rare steak. Not only would it serve as a talking point about something they have in common (Jason likes his steak mooing), but the slab of meat would really save this guy a lot of trouble. He can still get his craving for meat satiated, but he doesn’t have to worry about chewing through all Jason’s clothes, his shoes, the change in his pockets, etc. Plus, deodorant. Jason applies deodorant regularly, and who in their right carnivorous mind would want to eat a creature that just lathered himself in Old Spice? Not Jason, that’s for sure.

Adam Shaughnessy would try to distract the dragon with guinea pig. Not because it’s particularly delicious (it’s fine), but because it might alleviate his guilt to share it. Adam had guinea pig while he was in Peru. It’s good to try new foods when traveling, but when he came back to the elementary school where he was working, a colleague shared Adam’s tasting adventures with a kindergarten teacher—without thinking about the fact that the teacher’s entire class was lined up behind her. They walked past Adam with looks of horror and an obvious terror that he was coming for Mr. Whiskers, their classroom pet, next.

Mmm... pulled pork with slawOne of Debbi Michiko Florence‘s favorite meals her husband makes is pulled pork–North Carolina style (vinegar-based). She would offer the dragon a giant plateful of pulled pork sandwiches piled with her husband’s cole slaw, because even a carnivorous dragon needs his greens!

Indian food is Christine Olson Hayes‘ first choice whenever they go out to eat. So many amazing flavors and textures! She’s pretty wimpy and usually orders things on the mild side, but she’s sure the dragon would appreciate a nice Indian curry, super extra hot and spicy!

And, of course, we mustn’t forget dessert!

StroopwafelMylisa Larsen would offer up stroopwafels! They’re these lovely thin waffle cookies sandwiching a layer of caramel. Best eaten warm. When her husband travels to the Netherlands, their children greet his return not with “hello” or “so glad you’re back” but with “Did you bring stroopwafels?” For Mylisa’s sake, she’d be hoping the dragon felt the same enthusiasm.

To make a hasty escape, Maria Gianferrari would douse the dragon with honey so he’d be in sticky straits. Or if he were in a friendlier mood, she’d serve him some goat cheese since it tastes so delicious when baked.

Vanilla Milkshake @ Lori's DinerHayley Barrett imagines something simple and refreshing… Something to cool a scorched palate…. Something to tame the fire in the belly…. She’s got it! A double-thick vanilla milkshake! Slurp!

If there was a dragon alert, Donna Janell Bowman would make a marshmallow vest with giant chocolate buttons and dragon fruit all over it, then she would trick the meanest bully into thinking it had invisibility powers. When the bully snatched it from her and put it on, she would say, “don’t you dare touch my super powers milkshake!” and, “Hey, back off from that graham cracker wand. Or else!”  Of course the bully would steal it, without realizing that she had lured him into the dragon’s lair. Gulp! And she wouldn’t feel guilty at all because mean bullies are not “nice humans.” Two problems solved.

Bubblegum with bubbleIf Elly Swartz were in danger of being eaten by a dragon, she would offer the dragon a tub of Bazooka bubble gum to ensure her safety. You see, not only would Sir Dragon find Bazooka gum sugary and delicious, but he’d also surely want to learn how to blow a bubble. And Elly would need all of her body parts to teach him. So, she would, of course, offer to teach him how to blow a bubble, saving herself and all her body parts in the process!

S'Mores!Janet Fox knows just what she’d give our hungry dragon: S’Mores! Sweet and tasty and so easy for a dragon to cook in an instant. Plus…chocolate. Did you hear her, Dragon? Chocolate!

Rebecca Van Slyke thinks dragons would prefer ice cream to a tough teacher like her! (Probably chocolate ice cream, but maybe a nice raspberry ripple.) Besides, if he DOES eat the ice cream, it would put out his “internal combustion” and she could get away!

Peanut ButterTamara Smith‘s great idea is peanut butter, of course! Have you seen dogs eating peanut butter? Their jaws get glued together and they make that slurpy, smacking sound as they try–for just enough time for, say, a person to get away–to open their mouths. Tam would definitely give the dragon peanut butter. Plus, it’s the most perfect food on the planet!

For her part, Penny is glad her dragon didn’t encounter the Emus Debuts before he encountered the kingdom… His story would be one of frustration instead of gluttony! And the meter would be all screwed up…

There was an old dragon who swallowed a stroopwafel.
I don’t know why he swallowed the stroopwafel.
It isn’t lawful!

There was an old dragon who swallowed raspberry ripple ice cream.
I don’t know why he swallowed the raspberry ripple ice cream.
It seems extreme!

(“See what I mean? There’s no need to go on!” –Penny) ;)

What's for lunchSo, how about YOU: What would you offer a hungry dragon to entice him to eat it instead of you?

Comment on any post this week for a chance to win your very own SIGNED copy of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight!

Or buy a copy right away. You can find one at YOUR local indie bookstore here: Indiebound

Or, you can order online through Barnes and NobleAmazonBooks-A-Million, or Powell’s.

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order fromTexas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at texasstartradingco@sbcglobal.net or call  (325) 672-9696.


Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations

Interview with Maria Modugno, editor of There Was an Old Dragon by Penny Parker Klostermann

DRAGON coverCalista: Do you remember what it was about this manuscript that made you go, “I want it,” when you read it on submission?

Maria: Not only did I think, “I want it,” I also thought, “I love it!” A huge percentage of the submissions I receive are written in rhyme. And a huge percentage of those manuscripts just don’t scan. I loved that this book would appeal to both boys and girls. After all, who doesn’t love a dragon? I also thought the burp moment was deftly handled with just enough “eewww” and humor to make me laugh out loud.

Calista: What comp titles* did you reference when you were acquiring this book? Why?

Maria: I’m personally drawn to cumulative tales. I think repetition and good rhyme are excellent traits for a picture book text, especially one that will be read aloud. And DRAGON is a text that begs to be read aloud. The other key ingredient is humor, one of the most difficult qualities to pull off in a universal way.

I actually comped this to the first book I ever signed up as an editor years ago, The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood. When I mentioned this to Penny, it was pure serendipity that she was in touch with someone trying to locate Don in order to return a piece of original art from the book. We made the connection and the oil painting is back with Don in Hawaii. I know this piece meant a lot to him because Don always said that illustrating a picture book was like having your very own personal art gallery!

Calista: How – if at all – did the text change during the making of the book?

Maria: Penny and I discussed “It’s not polite!” versus “It isn’t right!” for the key line. Perhaps because it was such an important line, I wanted to make sure we settled on the right one. Penny actually presented me with the two options. At first, I chose “It isn’t right!” but when I re-read the manuscript six months later, I knew “It’s not polite” was the one.

Calista: What’s your favorite line from this book?

Maria: That’s too hard to answer. I would say: “clippity, clippity, lippity clop.” It’s brilliant and original and adds an unexpected dimension.

* Comp title = “comparison title”. Frequently an editor will be asked to provide comp titles for a book when presenting it to the acquisitions team at the publishing house, to give the sales and marketing and publishing teams a sense of where the book will “live” in the marketplace.

Comment on any post this week for a chance to win your very own SIGNED copy of There Was an Old Dragon.

Or buy a copy right away. You can find one at YOUR local indie bookstore here: Indiebound

Or, you can order online through Barnes and NobleAmazonBooks-A-Million, or Powell’s.

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order fromTexas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at texasstartradingco@sbcglobal.net or call  (325) 672-9696.

Calista Brill is a writer and editor based in New York City. During the day she edits award-winning graphic novels, and at night she writes stories for children about pixies, pirates, princesses, and pterodactyls. Her first picture book will be published by HarperCollins in 2016.


Filed under Uncategorized

There Was an Old Dragon, and he’s HERE!


Photo from ADoseOfShipBoy on Flickr

Get out your confetti cannons and toot your horns: it’s time for another week-long Emu’s Debuts book launch party!!!

This week we’re celebrating the launch of Penny Parker Klostermann‘s There Was an Old Dragon. We’ve had dragons on the blog before, thanks to Joshua McCune’s Talker 25 and Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s Flying the Dragon, but this dragon is for the younger set (and everyone else who loves jaunty rhyming text and colorful, clever artwork!). I mean, just look at that face!

Dragon Cover High Res copy

This particular dragon is up to a bit of no good, though, as you might expect from the title.

Here’s what some early reviews had to say about it:

“No matter how many swallowed-fly titles you own, this one belongs on your shelf too.” — Kirkus

“The author has used a broad range of words—savory, shady, fattens, tassel, guzzled, bloat, quote, perchance, amass, and billow. These will add depth to the young listener’s vocabulary.” — School Library Journal

Penny has been busy pounding the virtual pavement to get the word out about this fantastic book. In addition to what we have planned for you the rest of the week, don’t miss the ongoing “There Was an Old Blog Tour.” Here are the list of places this very hungry dragon has visited or will be visiting soon:

And you can click HERE for the free downloadable activity guide From Random House!

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order from Texas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at texasstartradingco@sbcglobal.net or call  (325) 672-9696.

You can find one at YOUR local indie bookstore here: Indiebound

Or, you can order online through Barnes and NobleAmazonBooks-A-Million, or Powell’s.

Of course, you can also try your luck: Comment on any post this week for a chance to win your very own SIGNED copy of There Was an Old Dragon. And don’t forget to come back to see what’s cooking for tomorrow: it’ll be delicious!



Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations

The Debut-Author-Hero’s Journey

In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler offers the twelve common stages of plot that comprise the Hero’s Journey. I’m not the first to contend that every person, at every moment, is living his or her own hero’s journey. But, since we here on EMU’s Debuts are all about celebrating the up-and-coming author experience, I decided to experiment with what the debut author’s hero journey might look like. 

Yosemite 335

The path to publication often feels like this.

Stage One: The Ordinary World (As if there is anything ordinary about being a writer)

If you are at this stage, you are referred to by many names: apprentice, pre-published, up-and-coming, agent-editor-author stalker, dreamer. You’ve written scads of manuscripts and collected drawers of rejections. You are recognizable by the look of longing in your eyes, as you fold the laundry or clean the litter box while simultaneously reading your friend’s book. You often wear fuzzy slippers. All day. Publication begins to feel impossible.

Amount of time in this pre-published stage: Likely years.

Recommended Action: Eat chocolate, commiserate with other writers, scowl when people ask when your book will be in stores. It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

Stage Two: THE  CALL to Adventure:


Time to erase “impossible” from your vocabulary.

OMG, a publisher wants to acquire your book! They offer you money! Less than you hoped, much less than J.K. Rowling, but they like your work! You yee-haw right in the middle of the produce aisle, then apologize to the apple-stocker for your spontaneous twerking.

Recommended Action: Breathe! And do not quit your day job.

Stage Three: Refusal of THE Call:

Refusal? What, are you nuts? Move along…

IMG_0209 copyStage Four: In comes Da-Mentor. The good kind, without the ratty robes and sucky breath of Hogwarts fame.

Your agent mentor begins contract negotiations. If you’re on your own, you research standard publishing contracts and seek advice from a publishing professional until the contract verbage no longer looks like Greek confetti on the page.

Recommended action: Release the death grip on the telephone. Step away from your email. Go to a movie. Despite your best efforts, telepathy will not influence this process. I know this from experience.

Stage Five: First Threshold. Into the Publishing World

The Contract is signed. The P.M. or P.W. announcement has been made. Cue the hallelujah chorus. OMG, there is a publication date! You wonder how you can possibly wait That long to hold your book baby in your hands. You are officially a debut-author-in-waiting. Happy G-rated dance! Go ahead, tell everyone you know that your book sold! When you get your advance (probably only a portion of it), go out and celebrate.medium-woman-happy-smiling-dancing-and-waving-hands-upwards-66.6-16028 2

Average time between contract and publication: An eternity! Or one to four years.

Recommended action: Work on other manuscripts. Set a goal of selling your second book.

Stage Six: Tests and Testiness

You wait.

You receive your first revision letter from your editor. You love some of her suggestions. You disagree about some suggestions. You feel like an over-protective parent, hesitant to touch your little darling. But, you do. And your revised manuscript sparkles.

You wait.

Your second revision letter arrives. You revise again.

You wait

The third letter arrives. Rinse and repeat. Your words sparkle more and more every time, but you want to see your words as a real book on shelves. Now! People remind you that it takes a village to raise a manuscript into a book. Whatever!

Amount of time at this stage: Varies

Recommended action: Double your chocolate intake. Add a bottle of bubbly. Keep working on those other projects.

IMG_1268 copy

Stage Seven: Allies

You meet other debut-authors-in-waiting. You form supportive friendships, cheering each other on through all the stages. You revel in the fact that, when asked, you can say that your book is due to release in 248 days, 1 hours, 22 minutes, 56 seconds-55 seconds-54 seconds. Not that you’re counting. You will soon be inducted into the exclusive club of published authors. Ahhhhh! You experience the longest pre-Christmas anticipation EVER!

Your hair turns gray.

 Amount of time at this stage:  BFFs forever. Once you’ve scaled the debut journey together, you are permanently linked.

Recommended action: Polish up your website and social media platforms, create a database of contacts, populate your calendar with dates of book festivals, writer’s conferences, etc. Practice patience. Keep working on those other manuscripts.

Stage Eight: The Ordeal. Aka: the Noooooooo! stage

You announce your publication date widely. You pick out swag and reserve a venue for your launch party. Then your book is delayed.


You and your editor are both disappointed. You double your chocolate intake.

The countdown starts all over again.

Recommended action: Remember those other projects? Keep working on them. By now, you might have another book sold.

Stage Nine: A Book Cover Emerges from the Inmost Cave

Holy moly, your name is on the cover! You see art for the first time. Your eyes spring a leak.  Just a little.Evanston 334 copy

ARCs or F&G’s arrive. It’s like… a book! A real book!

Copies are sent to reviewers. You tell yourself you don’t care about reviews, because you’re proud of your baby.

Amount of time at this stage: ARCs and F&Gs often arrive 3-6 months before the book officially releases.

Recommended action: Stop eating chocolate and get back to the gym, for goodness sakes. There’s a launch to plan for. Send a mailing to people from your contact list, with postcards or business cards that include your book cover. Don’t forget press releases. Order swag for the party and author visits to come. 

IMG_7379Stage Ten: The Book Launch

It’s here, it’s here!  A box of author copies arrives on your doorstep. You cradle your books in your arms while convincing your family that, yes, you really do need photographs of your book in different poses.

Then the countdown ticks to 0. Launch party day. Friends and family gather to welcome your new family member to the world. Eager fans file into a line that reaches out the door and around the corner, all to buy your autographed book. Eureka! The great day of jubilation has arrived.

Cue the Rocky music!

Amount of time planning your book launch: That’s up to you.

Recommended action during launch event: Do not make eye contact with your loved ones, or your mentor. Doing so has been proven to worsen leaky-eye syndrome. Do have someone take photographs of the occasion.

Stage Eleven: Pursued, Just When you Get Comfortable

Just when your membership card is stamped for the published author club, you read reviews of your book. Glittery comments make you swoon. Awards make you melty. Less than glittery reviews make you want to pull the covers over your head.

Recommended action: Stop it! Ask a friend to monitor reviews for you. Stay in the glowy euphoria as long as you can.

Stage Eleven: Third threshold. Transformation

You haunt local book stores and libraries, in hopes of spotting your book in the wild. You strategically pose your book next to titles by your literary heroes. This is a fundamental requirement of all new authors.

Stage Twelve: Return to ordinary world with wisdom.

The big swoosh of signings and celebrations eventually dwindles. You spend days in your fuzzy slippers, doing laundry or cleaning the litter box. But you are changed. Your book baby is now a full-grown hardback, out in the world.  Congratulations, you survived the debut journey. You are now a sage author with experience. Just in time to start the process all over, with your next book babies.


IMG_1677a 5 x 7

Donna Janell Bowman is a debut Texas author who hasn’t actually passed stage eight of the debut-author-hero’s journey herself. Her forthcoming books are: Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low, 2016), En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree, 2018), and an as-yet-unannounced title scheduled for a 2017 release. In addition, Donna has written four books for an education publisher. Recently, she has sworn off sleep for two years while pursuing an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.  You can learn more at her website: http://www.donnajanellbowman.com, which is currently under construction.


by | July 30, 2015 · 9:29 am

On Reading Aloud to Children

“Certainly in the modern era there is something quaint about a grown-up and a child or two sitting in silence broken only by the sound of a single human voice,” writes Megan Cox Gurdon, children’s book reviewer for the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. “Yet how cozy, how impossibly lovely it is!”

Indeed! Among my many warm childhood memories is the satisfaction of my parents allowing my sister Barbara and me to each choose a Little Golden Book every week when our family shopped together for groceries. Or rather, our parents shopped while we carefully browsed the rack of inexpensive but sturdy books. Barb and I shared a bedroom and our parents would read from our big stack of Golden Books to us every night before tucking us in. As a parent, I did the same for my own two daughters, and have boxed and saved their favorite books for them to share with their children.

As Ms. Cox Gurdon points out, hearing stories read aloud fosters imagination in a way that movies cannot. She quotes a friend, a film producer who is also a mother:  “Creating that world [of the spoken word] in your head is a muscle that must be exercised. Kids now are being spoon-fed visual storytelling, so there’s no reason for them to close their eyes and imagine a world, imagine what those people would look like, the clothes and smells and landscapes.”

I don’t believe the film producer is knocking children’s books, where illustrations enhance the words to our stories. Hearing books read aloud and studying the dozen or so illustrations in a typical picture book requires active listening.  Watching “moving pictures” – whether on television or an iPad – is a passive experience that requires nothing of the child’s imagination.

Teachers, too, can foster children’s imaginations by reading aloud to them in the classroom. I hope this great pleasure has not been pushed aside by the current educational frenzy that pushes teachers into spending huge segments of time prepping students for standardized tests.  All my elementary teachers regularly read aloud to us. My favorite, Miss Miracle, (who could forget a teacher with such a name!) would have us cross our arms on our desks and put our heads down. She walked around the room giving gentle pats to our backs as she read. (Or maybe she was checking to make sure we were awake. Whatever! I loved hearing her voice and imagining pictures to go with the stories.)

As a picture book author, all those hours of being read to have served me well. I can’t draw a lick – and have tremendous admiration for illustrators of my books – but I can imagine the pictures that will flesh out my stories. Nearly always, the illustrator’s visual interpretation of my words astonishes me and fills me with gratitude. Yes!

Writers, like parents and teachers, have an essential and – in Ms. Cox Gurdon’s words, “impossibly lovely” job. Our words foster children’s imaginations and love of reading, as well as their physical attachment to books.

Years ago, a woman showed up in my old office near the OSU campus, having tracked me down through Charlesbridge Publishing. Her niece’s family, who lived in a small central Ohio town, had lost nearly everything in a house fire.  Among the losses was my picture book, Firefly Night.  The aunt was unable to find it in a bookstore because it was out of print (or as I prefer to think of it – sold out). I keep multiple copies of my books, so I signed one and gave it to her. It made me happy to think I could give this little girl back at least one of the things she had lost.

‘You can access the full article by typing “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud” by Megan Cox Gurdon as a search term. If you are a WSJ subscriber, follow this link to the online edition:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-great-gift-of-reading-aloud-1436561248






Filed under Creativity

Farewell, Secrets, Memes, Poems, Art for the Sake of Art, Be Who You Are, and Carry On!

The time has come for me to take my leave of this amazing group of debuts, since my Middle Grade debut Foot Davis Probably Is Crazy has been out in the world for several months now! I hope to someday return for a picture book debut, but that may be an impossible dream … (cue wonky music).

imageSo, as I go, I thought I’d tell some not-so-closely guarded secrets. The big one is, writing wasn’t my first love as an art form. No, seriously. It wasn’t! I wanted to paint. I really, really tried to paint. When I was five, I actually had a canvas, and kid paints, and everything, and sat down to copy a Monet, and … well, this went horribly wrong (I think my mother still has lamps with paint flecks on them). I made lots of color blobs, but never anything with a real shape. This type of art, it wasn’t my talent. So, then I took up ballet dancing, and yeah, never mind that, either.

When I did start to wrimageite, it was in third grade, and my first book was of course about horses. The second was about aliens and I still sorta like it, even if it was so totally terrible. In high school, I went through the mandatory poetry and twisty-short-story phase because I absolutely knew everything in the universe and I needed to make ART  (note the big letters, because emo).

I finally came to novel-writing, and young-adult novel writing much later in life, and I have loved it since then. And yet, imagemoments of those earlier artistic dreams sneak in. Lately, I’ve been taking photographs and using quotes from my novels to make memes/posters–not for any reason other than the fact that it makes me happy. Art, for the sake of art. It makes my soul sing. Also–ha–I’m working on a novel that involves horses…funny how that circle comes ’round. Funny, and also wonderful.

So, for all of you coming new to writing, and those of you not new to it, and those of you who are “old heads,” and those of you kind enough to read what we do, I’ll leave you with these oh-so-sage words (excuse the coughing fit as I laugh myself silly):  Come as you are, be who you are–and ART. Just, art.

And, for good measure, here’s a really emo old poem that I used in EXPOSED, in 2007:


The rains

Are coming again I can

Feel them

On my shoulders

At my back


Scrapes my cheek

A cold paintbrush


With unknown pictures

Now, carry on with your brilliance, and I’ll see you all soon!


Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught is the author of many books for young adults, such as TRIGGER, BIG FAT MANIFESTO, and FREAKS LIKE US. Her debut novel for middle-grade readers, FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, published by Simon & Schuster, hit the shelves in March, 2015. Please visit Susan at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Creativity, Farewell

Top 10 Book Launch Dos, A Few Don’ts & The Power of Roberta




Penny & Jelly



Welcome One & All!

Invite your family, friends, new and old neighbors and acquaintances from all walks of life—you never know who will come! I expected my mother, siblings and their families to be there, but I was surprised by some cousins, some of my former classmates from St. Joseph’s elementary school—even my daughter’s kindergarten and 5th grade Montessori teachers drove up from Boston!



Ms. Rubina, Maria, Ms. Jutta, Anya & cousin, Brynn.

My high school English teacher popped by too, though I didn’t have a chance to speak with him. My Emu’s sister, Tam came, as did my new writer friend Cathy and her daughter, Grace.



An old neighbor, Jennifer came, as did many of my mother’s current neighbors. But by far the most people in attendance were friends of my mother’s (see # 1 :)).


Get Happy!

This may be obvious, but it bears repeating—have fun! You’re here to celebrate your book’s birthday and your journey to becoming a published author.

Tam as a silly musician-magician and Maria as a snake charmer.




C is for Cookies!

Did you say cookies? Who doesn’t love a cookie? I had two kinds of cookies, themed sugar cookies: dog, bone and pawprint shaped, and the quintessential American classic, chocolate chip cookies. Ask your friends and family for help. My mother made one batch of chocolate chip cookies, and Karen, my sister-in-law, made a second; I made the sugar cookies. They were eaten before I could get a good picture ;).



Everyone loves Freebies!

I prepared a basket of goodie bags with postcards, a Penny & Jelly notepad, mini-pen, stickers & business cards in a drawstring organza bag.





Calling all techies!

Tech support is a must, especially if you’re technically challenged like me! My techie husband, Niko, set up the slide show for me, and cleverly slowed down the pace when I began to read too quickly. He also designed both my website as well as the Penny & Jelly website.






Delegate, delegate, delegate! Niko helped me set up tables, the screen and projector for the slideshow. I had a basket with different colored pens (thanks for this idea, Megan!), and my niece Brynn’s job was to ask people which colors they’d like to have their books signed in. She also helped with props and drew the winning raffle ticket (see #4).



Anya and nephew, Aidan, expertly took down names and numbers for the raffle tickets.  My sister,  Lee Lee handed out cookies.





Aidan (before his raffle duties began).


Grand Prize Drawing!

Along with the freebies, have some kind of prize for people who buy your book. Those who purchased a copy of Penny & Jelly were entered into a raffle for a gift basket for each book purchased. My raffle basket contained a signed copy of Penny & Jelly, a Penny & Jelly tote bag, a Penny & Jelly “best friends” mug, assorted postcards and stickers, doggy cookie cutters, a feather boa and a kazoo. Anya tied the perfect bow.




Keep it Local!

Give back by organizing a community and theme-oriented charity event tie-in. Since I love dogs, and Penny & Jelly celebrates a bond between a girl and her canine best friend, I organized a goods drive with the local animal shelter, the Monadnock Humane Society. Anya decorated a collection box for food, toys and towels, the items they most needed.




I bought a cute pawprint jar at the Dollar Store and we collected over $50.00 which was totally unexpected, and wonderful. I also offered to donate $1 per book sold (but ended up contributing more, since they ran out, see #1). The Monadnock Humane Society was happy to help advertise the event on Facebook.  Lincoln, the Toadstool Events Manager, also partnered with a local pet store, One Stop Country Pet Supply, who placed a box for in-store donations. And I felt really happy about helping local animals in a small way—win-win!  <3


Get Curious about Curious City!

Hire Kirsten Cappy—marketing guru extraordinaire! Seriously! She’s smart, savvy, creative and so down-to-earth! She designed my business cards, postcards, notepads as well as the Penny & Jelly banner for kids to “be” Penny and pose with Jelly and a variety of props from the book, featuring original art by the über-talented, Thyra Heder.












The Power of Roberta :)!

Spread the word aka—the power of Roberta, my mother, who has a ton of friends, and invited them all. Thanks, Mom!!



Roberta, in blue, among friends.

This may give you a hint, to quote her granddaughter, Brynn who ran errands with her one day, “Nonna—you know too many people.”




Better yet, hire Roberta to do some publicity for you—there’s one catch: you must come to Keene, where she knows everyone :). I don’t exactly know how many people attended, but the Toadstool had only ordered 30 books, and they sold out quickly, and many more people wanted to buy copies. I just ordered a bunch of plain bookplates that I can sign and send to the Toadstool for those unable to buy signed copies that day. They’re also useful to send to family and friends who live far away but want their owned signed copies.



Three siblings: Lee Lee, Maria & Michael.



Don’t worry, be happy :).

It’s about celebrating, not sales (see # 9 Dos).



Smile! I really dislike being the center of attention and public speaking, but once I began talking and engaging with the audience, I relaxed, and it actually became fun.




Long Presentation:

Short and sweet is key, especially when there are lots of kids in the audience. And if you’re like me, you’ll be happy when you can just chat with people one-on-one.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped out and attended, those both near and far, and thanks to my fellow Emu’s Debuts for supporting the virtual Penny & Jelly book launch! <3


Just one more thing: it’s time to announce the lucky winner of Tamara Ellis Smith’s ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE launch: LINDA MARTIN ANDERSEN!!!

Congrats, Linda!! You’ve won a signed book plus a lucky marble keepsake. Please contact us with your mailing address.


Thanks to all who stopped by last week to leave comments!

And don’t forget to join us in August when we launch Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON starting August 3rd, as well as Luke Reynolds’s THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT on August 10th!


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Photo of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.


Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  on July 7, 2015. A second book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will follow in June 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website: mariagianferrari.com, or visit Maria at Facebook.






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Celebrating ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE with Charity

9780553511932If you know Tamara Ellis Smith personally, you know she is a loving and giving person. On her website she writes, “Another Kind of Hurricane is woven with my deep empathy and respect for the people of New Orleans. What they went through with Hurricane Katrina is unfathomable. Their astounding loss—and their astounding recovery—continues to inspire me.”

Two organizations near and dear to Tamara’s heart are doing wonderful work to benefit those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:


Lowernine.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the levee breaches of 2005. To date, lowernine.org has fully rebuilt seventy-five homes, and has completed smaller repair and renovation projects on hundreds more, bringing home more Lower Ninth Ward families than any other single organization.





Big Class is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating and supporting the voices of New Orleans’ writers ages 6-18 through creative collaborations with schools and communities. Big Class offers a variety of free, innovative programs that provide under-resourced students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. They also aim to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Their services are structured with the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

You can find more information about supporting these charities on Tamara’s website or click the above links to visit each organization’s websites.

Thank you for visiting this week and helping us celebrating the launch of Another Kind of Hurricane. Remember to comment to be entered to win a signed copy and lucky marble!

You can get your own copy of ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Random House, Powell’sB&Nor Amazon.


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An Interview With Christopher Silas Neal, Book Cover Illustrator of Another Kind of Hurricane + a GIVEAWAY!!

It’s day four of our week-long launch celebrating Tamara Ellis Smith’s Another Kind of Hurricane! We’re rolling out the red carpet to welcome multi-talented artist Christopher Silas Neal. Is there anything he can’t do? I don’t think so! He creates book covers, illustrates picture books and articles for magazines, makes animated videos and exhibits his work in galleries. Today, Chris is stopping by Emu’s Debuts to tell us about his process for designing Another Kind of Hurricane’s cover, his creative processes within various artistic media, and the life of an artist.




Welcome, Chris!

You’ve illustrated so many stunning book covers. What were your first impressions of Another Kind of Hurricane? Did that lead to any immediate images or sketches?

Thank you so much for saying so. Rather than tell the story with an image, I think the goal of a cover is to give the reader an impression of how it feels to be in the story—how it feels as a reader to connect with the characters. Sometimes this is giving a since of location or time period and most importantly, to convey a feeling. In the case of Another Kind of Hurricane, there’s turmoil in the lives of the two characters—one being uprooted from his home in New Orleans, the other losing his best friend and thus changing life as he knows it. The flood is a great metaphor in the book and I thought it would be a great visual signifier for the cover. There’s the mountain, another great piece of imagery and lastly, the duality between the two boys. Oh, and the marble. The wavy and chaotic patterns found within a marble have an interesting connection to the upheaval in the boys’ lives and the wavy and chaotic storm that changed everything. I usually start with these visual signifiers and make a few rough thumbnails. After some discussion with the art director and editor, we choose a direction to take to the next step.

Here are some of Chris’s early sketches:





The varying shades of blue that you selected for the cover have a somewhat tranquil quality, and yet there is a lot of dynamism and energy in the clouds and the uneven way the title is presented. Can you tell us a little a bit about the process for arriving at this cover?


Color, for me, is sort of intuitive. The art director did mention that cover shouldn’t feel too out of control, and so the tranquil palette and sturdiness of the two faces work to temper the movement of the water. It’s a lot of trial and error to get just the right color.

Some early color sketches:




I also love how the silhouettes lend balance to the tension in the cover. Your art has a very vintage, nostalgic quality, and the silhouettes give it a timeless feel. How has your background as a designer shaped your work?


Thanks. Having worked as a designer before starting my practice as an illustrator, I often compose a drawing in the same way I might layout a page—moving around shapes and colors while trying to find balance and visual hierarchy. Some artists are masters of lighting, others are really good at expressing mood through facial expression. I tend to use shape and color and not too much rendering. Within the textures and drawing, there’s a flatness to my work.


You’re multi-talented and you work in a variety of visual media—from illustration in magazines, book covers, picture books, TV, and motion graphics. Are there any commonalities in terms of your creative process, or does it change from project to project, or in terms of the medium you’re working in?


Things like shape and color that I mentioned above are a constant, but each medium has its own rules and quirks. In a picture book, you have several pages for pacing. In magazines you’re doing less story telling and more visual twists, concepts and puns. Book jackets for adults rarely show the character, but in books for KidLit you almost always show the character. However, publishers of YA and middle grade books often come to me when they are looking for something that blurs traditional lines, for instance using silhouetted faces rather than showing facial details or doing a mostly typographic treatment rather than a character-based one. These are more commonly associated with adult fiction but I think work just as well for young readers. One thing that is constant regardless of what I’m doing—everything starts with a sketch.



Could you describe a typical work day?


I ride my bike to my studio which is located in an old pencil factory in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. I share it with 4 other amazing artists/designers. The first thing I do is make a cup of tea and check emails. Then I get to work sketching or working on art in progress. My studio mates and I usually eat lunch together around noon and talk about work and life. Then it’s back to work for the rest of the day.

A peek at Chris’s studio:



My favorite picture book as a kid was Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a story about a group of field mice who are preparing for winter by storing wheat and corn. Except for one mouse, Frederick who is storing colors and words and sunshine. It’s a quiet, poetic book. I just love it.


(One of mine, too!)









I’m a fan of your picture book illustration as well—the bold shapes, colors and folksy quality of the images in your books with Kate Messner, in Go to Sleep, Little Farm as well as Lifetime. Your debut as an author-illustrator, Everyone, is forthcoming from Candlewick in 2015. Could you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this project?


Everyone… is about a boy and his feelings. It explores how we feel, what we feel and how everyone (and everything) feels it too. We’re printing the book on a wonderful uncoated stock with 3 spot colors.




What’s your favorite thing about illustrating, or having a career in the arts?


One of my favorite things is the freedom that comes with running your own illustration studio. I choose when or when not to go to my studio and I can take or decline projects as I see fit. I get to express my personal voice through drawing, and at the end of the day, I feel good about what I put out into the world. Not all careers in the arts are like that and if I were chained to a desk 9-5 being told which projects to work on and what to draw, I’m not sure I’d get any enjoyment out of it.


What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?


Dream big!


I read that you have an orange tabby gatto named Fabrizio. Please tell us more about him.


He’s a cat of simple pleasures. He likes to eat, he likes to go outside and he loves to snuggle. If those three things happen everyday, he’s pretty happy.



Fabrizio cat-napping.


Thanks so much for joining us at Emu’s Debuts, Chris!!

Learn more about Chris at his website.

And to learn more about the lovely Tamara Ellis Smith, stop by her website, or listen to an interview on Vermont radio station, WKVT 100.3.


You know you want your very own copy of Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith! You can find it at  your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Random House, Powell’sB&Nor Amazon.


It’s Becca’s new favorite book :).




Thank you for spending time with us at Emu’s Debuts!

Be sure to leave a comment to be eligible for a chance to win a signed copy of Another Kind of Hurricane, or a lucky marble keepsake!








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Interview with ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE Editor Ann Kelly

I’m thrilled to help celebrate Tamara Ellis Smith’s middle grade debut ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE this week! For today’s post, I was so honored to interview the book’s editor, Ann Kelley of Schwartz and Wade (Random House). Here’s what she had to say about this incredible story.

Elaine Vickers: What was it about this book that made it one you had to acquire?

Ann Kelley: Oh, so many things! The fact that it’s about the emotional journey of two boys, which I just don’t see all that often in books. The beautiful, lyrical language; I found myself rereading sentences and paragraphs, and that’s rare when you’re first considering a manuscript. And when I got to the part where their journeys parallel, my heart started to race (and it did each time I read the book). And though is a stunningly-written literary novel, there’s also so much happening. It has an incredibly strong plot.

EV: I found myself lingering on beautiful lines more often than usual as I read. Do you have a favorite line from the book?

AK: I totally understand that. As I mentioned, there are so many beautiful lines. But I think my very favorites are, “He is from a mountain and I am from a hurricane” (which is quoted on the back of the book and is so perfect in its simplicity) and the final line, “They breathed in and out, a spiral of mountain and river and air, a spiral of dog and cat and bird, a spiral of boy and boy and a marble traveling between them.” Gorgeous, and still gives me chills.

EV: Zavion and Henry are both such good-hearted kids. What did you love most about each one?23395689

AK: There’s so much to adore about these two characters, but here’s what I love the most: the sweet way Zavion connects with little Osprey (Zavion and Osprey’s scene on the roof is one of my favorites, and has been since first reading) and Henry’s gift with animals (the animal characters in this book are amazing).

EV: I love the title of this book and the diversity of the characters–not only in their ethnicity, but in their backgrounds and families and the things they’ve endured. It definitely feels like a book that will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers, but who do you see as the perfect reader for this story?

AK: I agree. I think this will appeal of course to kids who have experienced loss; kids who enjoy friendship stories; fans of poignant, emotional novels; and so on. And kids who believe there’s a bit of magic that connects us and our experiences in this world.

EV: If I were to compare Another Kind of Hurricane with other middle grade books I’ve read, I might mention TROUBLE by Gary D. Schmidt or EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles. (Both of which I love!) What titles would you consider good comparisons?

AK; I always struggled to come up with comparisons for this book, but thank you for those– I’ll have to remember them. I have to say, I like that I struggle to compare ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE to other middle grade books. While I can name other great titles that deal with Hurricane Katrina or with grief, this one feels so unique to me. But I think readers who love Lisa Graff and Clare Vanderpool’s novels will love ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE.

Thank you so much, Ann! I can’t wait for this book to be out in the world and in the hands of young readers.

You can get your own copy of ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Random House, Powell’sB&Nor Amazon. Or leave a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE, plus a lucky marble keepsake!


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