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. 

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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.

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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.


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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:, 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:






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:, 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:

imgres 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, 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.


Filed under Uncategorized

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!








Filed under Uncategorized

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!


Filed under Book Launch, Editor, Interviews

Unexpected Connections

Tamara Smith’s Another Kind of Hurricane is the story of two kids, Henry and Zavion, separated by geography, who connect in an unexpected way. So to welcome this book into the world, we’re sharing our stories of unexpected connections today.

Another Kind of Hurricane cover

Penny Parker Klostermann

It was Fall 2010. I was dreaming about getting a picture book published. I knew it would be challenging, but I also knew I needed to get with it if I was serious. We were headed to my in-laws for Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law called us while we were driving. There was a little chit-chat about the traffic, then this:

My mother-in-law: “Tell Penny that there’s going to be a guy joining our Thanksgiving get-together that writes children’s’ books.”
Me: “What’s his name?”
My mother-in-law: “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Bev (my husband’s sister).”

All this plus inspiration

All this plus inspiration

It turns out it was Peter Brown! Yep! I couldn’t believe I was sitting across from someone who was doing what I wanted to do. (Well, the writing part. I’m NO illustrator.) I shyly said that I had written a few stories. He responded politely and appropriately, but I’m sure he was thinking, “How many times have I heard this??? Everybody wants to write a children’s book!” I can’t say I was brave enough to take the conversation further. I just listened as he told some others at the table about his writing. But, meeting him was the connection I needed to move forward in pursuit of publication.

Maria Gianferrari

I have the perfect connection for Tam’s launch—my connection with Tam! As I’m writing this, we have not yet met in person, but we’ll be meeting at my own book launch. Another planned meeting at her parents’ farm was foiled by heavy rain, luckily not a hurricane, and yet it feels like we have some kind of otherly bond, one in which I feel like I’ve somehow known her for a long time, connected by common threads, strange as it may sound. Who knows—maybe we were sisters in a past life, and now we’re Emu-sisters. I look forward to the day when we can hang out together!


Tamara Ellis Smith. And we’re happy to report that Tam and Maria have finally met in person at Maria’s book launch party last week.

Carole Gerber

When my daughter Jess was a college student at Elon University in North Carolina she drove back to our home in Ohio during holidays and summer break. She always stopped for gas and a snack in Beckley, West Virginia, which had a large tourist stop with multiple pumps, restrooms, and fast food outlets. While waiting in line for an ice cream, she saw old family friends we’d lost touch with – except for annual Christmas cards –  when they moved out-of-state. Later that year, while waiting to run a half-marathon in Washington, D.C., she saw them and two of their children who were also participating. Since then, my husband and I have also re-connected with our old friends and visit back and forth a couple of times a year.

I think I know that person

I think I know that person

Megan Morrison

I’ve been really lucky on the Internet. Through the power of shared interest in books, I’ve connected with people who have turned out to be my best friends, my writing colleagues – and even my husband. That’s got to be the best unexpected connection I’ve made. I met him because he posted something funny and snarky on a Harry Potter message board. It was a sentiment I wanted to express, but as a moderator I was trying to set a good example. Privately, I messaged him to tell him I appreciated his comment – and he messaged back some very complimentary things about my writing (fan fiction, at the time). His own writing was excellent. The man knew how to spell and punctuate. What’s more, it turned out that we lived in neighboring boroughs of New York City: me in Manhattan, him in Brooklyn. We got together that very weekend, and when we parted at the subway entrance later that evening, I had a very, very funny feeling. My gut was not wrong. On July 30th of this year, we will have been together for ten years.

I've got a good feeling about this

I’ve got a good feeling about this

What about you?

Share your unexpected connections below or comment on any of the posts this week to be entered to win a signed copy of Another Kind of Hurricane.

Purchase a copy of Tamara’s book through Indiebound, Powell’sBarnes & Noble, or Amazon.


Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations

The Things We Carry

23395689This week we are thrilled to celebrate the launch of Tamara Ellis Smith’s incredible novel, ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE:

“A hurricane, a tragic death, two boys, one marble. How they intertwine is at the heart of this beautiful, poignant book. When ten-year-old Zavion loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, he and his father are forced to flee to Baton Rouge. And when Henry, a ten-year-old boy in northern Vermont, tragically loses his best friend, Wayne, he flees to ravaged New Orleans to help with hurricane relief efforts—and to search for a marble that was in the pocket of a pair of jeans donated to the Red Cross.

“Rich with imagery and crackling with hope, this is the unforgettable story of how lives connect in unexpected, even magical, ways.”

Central to Tamara’s story is one small marble, an object with strong emotional ties for Henry. Several of the authors here at EMU’s Debuts have objects that are dear to their hearts, and were willing to share their stories.

Janet Fox: “I wear a bracelet that my mother-in-law wore constantly; since she gave it up, it hasn’t been off my wrist. It reminds me of her (she passed away two years ago), and when I first put it on it was a talisman for my son’s success, too. I actually have such a superstition about it that it never comes off. Especially since things have been looking up from the moment I put it on.”

Shark Tooth

Elaine’s beautiful and fierce pendant

Elaine Vickers: “I have a necklace with a shark tooth pendant my grandmother gave me before she passed away. I still miss her every day and try to follow her example of kindness–but she could also be tough when she needed to be! Whenever I’m facing a situation that scares me a little, I wear the shark tooth necklace to help me be fierce and fearless.”

Maria Gianferrari: “I have two objects that hold special meaning, and they’re both from my paternal grandmother, my Nonna, who was born in Italy . The first is her pasta maker. I haven’t used it in such a long time, but I have fond memories of cranking the handle, and as it clicked and clicked, watching the dough ooze through the molds in wide-shaped noodles. She also used to roll the dough flat in it, and let me cut it into rows with her pasta wheel, then squares for making tortellini. The second one goes with it—it’s her cheese grater, with its wooden bottom for catching the shavings of delicious parmigiano-reggiano cheese!”

Megan Morrison:I really had to think about this. I have more objects than I need, but when I tried to think of one that has genuine emotional significance, I was stumped. FinRingsally, I realized that the only object I would grieve if it were lost is the one I have on my person at all times: my wedding ring. My mother gave me the engagement ring as a 25th-birthday gift, and my husband knew it was the only one I wanted to wear forever, so he put a diamond in it and proposed. My sister’s godfather, a jeweler, crafted a thin wedding band to fit around the square setting, and soldered them together. It’s special to me not only because it represents my marriage, but because so much love and care went into it.”

Christine Hayes: “My mom’s parents divorced when she was about five years old. She was never close with her dad, Mom Baby Shoesespecially after she and my grandmother moved across the country from New York, eventually settling in California. I met my Grandpa Max only once, when I was 19. He was a mystery to me, very formal, and not much of a people person. He just didn’t know how to be a grandpa–or a dad, I guess. But I’m glad I got to meet him, because it helped me to understand my mom better, to see her in a new light. Max took us to see an old family cemetery in upstate New York, hidden away in a grove of trees. It was beautiful. I hope to go back someday, if I can ever find it again. When my mom passed away in 2010, she didn’t have many possessions–certainly nothing of great monetary value. But her grandmother had bronzed a pair of Mom’s baby shoes and mounted them on a plaque with a photo of Mom with her father. I keep it in a place of honor in my office. It reminds me that family is precious, and to never, ever take it for granted.”

phonographPenny Parker Klostermann: “[This is an] Edison phonograph with cylinder records. My dad helped a neighbor restore it. My dad was in 2nd grade. The neighbor gave him the phonograph with 52 cylinder records so it’s been in our family for a while.”

Rose Rock

Mylisa’s rose rock is the stuff of legends

Mylisa Larsen: “I have a big, old rock that I still move from house to house because it reminds me of my grandpa. He lived out on a ranch and when I was about ten, my cousins and I hiked out to this dry reservoir bed that all the grownups had talked about but that sort of had a tinge of legend about it—did it really exist? We walked and walked and walked and decided that they’d made it up but then went over one more hill and there it was.  We were mucking about turning over rocks and found a red rock that had a swirl of white rock in it that looked like a rose. We took turns lugging the thing all the way back to our grandparents house. When we got there, all sweaty and hot but excited about our momentous excursion and carrying the proof that we had really been there, my grandpa treated us like adventurers and admired our rock with proper awe and put it in a special place in his flowerbed so we could see it whenever we visited. The rest of the adults were kind of like, ‘Ho hum, a rock, that’s nice dear.’ But Grandpa got it. So I keep the rock but it’s not really about the rock, it’s about how my grandpa make me feel.”

What objects hold special meaning for you? Leave a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE, plus a lucky marble keepsake!


Purchase a copy of Tamara’s book through Indiebound, Powell’sBarnes & Noble, or Amazon.


We’re also excited to announce the winners from last week’s celebration of Maria Gianferrari’s PENNY & JELLY! Our book winner is Carrie Charley Brown, and our swag winner is PJ McIlvaine. Congrats!!!


Filed under Book Giveaway, Celebrations

Straight from the Editor: Penny & Jelly!

For the grand finale of our week-long celebration of Maria Gianferrari’s sublime Penny & Jelly, we’ve got a special treat: an interview with Maria’s editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cynthia Platt. While we are all woof-ing it up for this delightful picture book, Cynthia was the editor who first saw and fell it love with it way back when, and here she shares her wisdom regarding the process of acquiring Maria’s AMAZING book and of guiding it through through preparation until it arrived, this week, to the world. Without further ado, say hello to Cynthia Platt!

What about PENNY & JELLY hooked you–and how did you know you wanted to publish this book?

I’m always saying that I want young, funny, character-driven picture books–and there in my inbox was just that. Also, from the start, I loved the DIY and crafting aspects of the story. And Penny and Jelly’s relationship is so wonderful. I could keep going….

What process did you and Maria follow after the offer had been made and accepted? Anything particularly interesting happen along the way?

After the initial email introductions, we got to work editing with lot of back and forth, sifting through the small details–of which there are always so many of when it comes to picture books. We were also lucky in that Maria lived in Massachusetts at the time so we got to sit down and spend an afternoon together talking about the book and getting acquainted.

What inspires you most about a picture book?

I’ve always been a die-hard reader, and I can easily trace the books that have both meant the most to me and inspired me to love reading even more. Those special books, for me, go back to the picture books I loved as a girl. So, as an editor, it’s a real gift to be able to assist in the creation of a picture book. Part of me always hopes that each picture book that makes its way into the world might be that special one for a young reader.

If you had to use three adjectives to describe PENNY & JELLY, they would be:

Warm, funny, and smart–then again, I’d describe Maria that way, too!

What qualities do you admire most in a writer?

Not to sound like a politician, but that’s a really interesting question to answer–because I think I’d answer differently as an editor and as a reader. As a reader, you just are looking for someone who writes a good book–someone whose worlds and characters you find engaging. As an editor, though, the writer isn’t some distant figure. It’s someone with whom you not only work closely, but with whom you work with on something near and dear to their hearts. So, you hope to work with writers who not only inspire you creatively, but also with whom you can relate on some level.

As a book is launched, what do you most hope will happen for it?

That someone picks it up and reads it. That lots and lots of someones do. And not only that they read it, but that they love it and find something in it that speaks to them.

Do you have a favorite book or a favorite quote or both? :)

Without a moment’s hesitation: Middlemarch. I love many books, but this one has become my bedrock.

What surprised you about publishing when you first got into this work?

As a sometimes overly-passionate reader who grew up pre-internet, it wasn’t always been easy to find people who shared that level of enthusiasm. Then I went into publishing and found this rich world of book people. It was a “these are my people” kind of experience.

What part of PENNY & JELLY do you love most (if you HAD to pick just one moment in the beautiful book)?

Well, if I HAVE to pick one, I love the moment when Penny begins to despair that she really doesn’t have anything she’s truly good at, and that she and Jelly solve the problem together–and that what she’s best at is being Jelly’s friend. Every time I get to the end of the book when they’ve been declared “Best Friends,” I smile. And believe me, I’ve read the book a lot of times at this point!

Thanks for sharing your ideas, wisdom, and all your love for Penny & Jelly with us! And readers, remember that by leaving a comment below, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of the book and also some serious swag from Maria. To order your copy of the book today, visit Happy Reading!!!


Filed under Celebrations, Editing and Revising, Writing and Life