Category Archives: Book Promotion

MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN: interview with Terry Pierce & Carol Schwartz

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I had the privilege of meeting author Terry Pierce a couple of years ago at a retreat. Her new book is brilliantly beautiful–a dream come true for science teachers. This book has gorgeous illustrations, as well as a bit of mystery. Who is lurking? And what is the surprise? Find out in this playful rhyme.

Terry is giving away a FREE COPY!!!  Just leave a comment below to enter.

I chose to ask the same questions to both the author and illustrator, to gain two different perspectives. Terry is the author of more than a dozen books, and Carol has illustrated more than 3 dozen!

Welcome Terry and Carol. I’m honored to be able to interview the duo that created this delightful book.

🐞 What inspires you?

Terry: Nature. Most of my books have some aspect of nature in them. I’ve always been drawn to the natural world. Whether it’s the mountains, the beach, the desert or simply observing a beautiful garden, nature fascinates me. As a child, I could sit in a tree for hours! As an adult, I don’t climb trees anymore but still find myself in nature for long periods of time. It’s calming, peaceful and inspiring.

Carol: Nature, the endless wonder and beauty of it all, inspires me every day. I take great pleasure in the study and research of creatures and plants. They reveal patterns, designs, colors, texture and uniqueness. There is so much to learn and interpret through my art.

🐞 How long have you been doing your craft?

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)Terry: I started writing for children in 1999. For ten years, I attended SCBWI events and read books to develop my writing skills. Then in 2009, I began the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program, which deepened my craft knowledge tenfold. It’s an amazing program I highly recommend.

Carol: I like to say I’ve been practicing my craft all my life. My mother says that at the age of a year and a half I drew a picture of Mickey Mouse and it looked like Mickey. I started illustrating children’s books in 1989 with a local publisher in Maryland where I lived at the time. Two years later I had an agent and a Hyperion Press trade book, Sea Squares, by Joy Hulme. Now sixty books later, I am still energized with each new project. They are all so different and, fortunately, there are tools I’ve learned throughout my career that help me to navigate the challenges associated with illustrating a picture book.

🐞 What kind of medium do you use?

Terry: I always write my first draft of a picture book with pencil and notepad. I love the feel of writing by hand as the words flow from my brain through my arm to my hand, then finally onto the paper. Doing it this way also slows the process, allowing me to be more mindful of my writing. After the first (very messy) draft, I type the story onto my computer and revise on printed drafts.

carol-schwartzCarol: I work primarily in gouache, an opaque watercolor paint. The opaque or transparent quality, depending on how thick the paint is mixed, make this medium versatile. Gouache is quick drying, which means no waiting time. That comes in handy when working under a deadline, which is most of the time. I also work in Photoshop. It has become indispensable in creating final art for books. I make a high resolution scan of my traditional work and continue to paint in Photoshop. Many details I used to hand render are now finished in Photoshop. In past years I depended on an airbrush for adding large smooth backgrounds or creating smooth textures. Now I use Photoshop to do the same thing.

🐞 How did you get started in the industry?

Terry: I casually mentioned to a friend that I wanted to try writing children’s books. She told me about the SCBWI so I joined. They’re a fantastic organization for anyone who wants to learn to write for kids. They’re what got me started and pushed me in the right direction. If it weren’t for my local SCBWI chapter, I wouldn’t have had my early publication successes.

Carol: I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute, spending my senior year at Rhode Island School of Design in a mobility program. This gave me a good foundation to be an illustrator. When I decided to concentrate on illustrating picture books, I began attending every conference and workshop I could find. At a seminar in Maryland I signed up to have my portfolio critiqued by an artist’s representative. In time she became my agent and I began illustrating a long line of trade books for publishers such as Hyperion, Scholastic, Grosset & Dunlap and Sterling.

🐞 What is a good piece of advice you would give?

Terry: This is the toughest question! There’s so much good advice to give but what rings true to them all is to be persistent. Keep at it even when the going gets extraordinarily tough (and it will!). No matter what phase of writing you’re in, whether you’re developing your craft, submitting your work, or marketing your work, don’t give up! Identify your mistakes, learn from them and keep going. If you learn and persist, you’ll find success.

Carol: Believe in what you are doing. Become a mini expert in whatever the subject matter is you are illustrating or writing about. Find a way to get really excited about the subject. For me, its research that gives me inspiration and lets me know how to illustrate my subject.

🐞 Do you like gardening? Why did you choose to illustrate this book?

Terry: When I was a Montessori teacher, we had a school garden and I greatly enjoyed gardening with the children. There’s something about putting your hands in the soil, being close the earth, caring for the seedlings and watching them grow to maturity that’s amazing for kids. But that’s not what this book is really about…it’s about what happens in a garden! So why did I write it?

I had decided I wanted to write a cumulative story (where the text builds on itself). I recalled that my Montessori students LOVED Arnold Lobel’s cumulative book, THE ROSE IN MY GARDEN. I looked at that story as a mentor text. Of course, my story had to be different (his showcased flowers), so I pondered how I might keep the same setting, but change the focus, plot and characters. I knew most kids love bugs so I decided to focus on bugs and other animals that inhabit a garden. Then when I got the idea to include the surprise element of the developing chrysalis I was ready to write (which meant a lot of playing with words—my favorite part of writing!).

Carol: I am a long time gardener and much of what I know I learned by illustrating gardening articles for the Home section of The Washington Post newspaper. Much of my gardening has been in the Mid-Atlantic region but I’ve also tended gardens in the South and Midwest. Working to make plants grow and being rewarded with flowers makes me smile. What could be better that illustrating that happy feeling of growing all those beautiful flowers with my paints.

🐞 What are some of your favorite insects?

Terry: When I was a kid, I loved “wooly bears.”  fuzzy
I mean, what kid could resist picking one up one of these cute little fuzzy guys? It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out they turn into tiger moths!

As an adult, I think one of the coolest insects is the praying mantis (which also happens to be one of my favorite illustrations in the book!). Praying mantises are the rule-breakers of insects. They’re the only one that can turn their head 180 degrees (imagine the advantage that gives them), and after mating the female bites off the male’s head! And the way they hold their front legs ready to strike their prey, yeah, mantises are pretty cool.

Carol: I love how dragonflies and praying mantises look like big, alien creatures. Beetles are interesting because they come in an amazing variety of shapes sizes, colors and patterns. Who doesn’t like butterflies and moths for their many colors and patterns? I respect ants for their eusocial society but I hate coming in contact with them, especially fire ants.

🐞 As a child, what were your favorite books?

fave-books2Terry: I loved any of Dr. Seuss’s books. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White was another favorite, along with GENTLE BEN by Walt Morey and RASCAL by Sterling North. Even as a child, books with nature and/or animals appealed to me. Oh, and PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren was a girl after my own heart. Being a tomboy, I saw myself in Pippi. I probably read that book perched in a tree!

fave-booksCarol: I remember favorite childhood books as old friends, there was Charlotte’s Web, Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and Marguerite de Angeli’s Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes. I had a bookcase full of Little Golden Books and two large volumes of nature books, Children’s Guide to Knowledge. That’s where I learned of extraordinary creatures such as giant clams, flying squirrels and a strange bird with an extra long tail called a quetzal. Those books fascinated me and, I believe, were the start of my love of nonfiction.

🐞Terry is giving away a FREE signed copy of MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN. Just add a comment below to enter.

If you’d like to know more about Terri and Carol, please visit their websites:

https://terrypiercebooks.com

http://www.csillustration.com

🐞LINKS TO CRAFTS:

Bug jar:

https://momeefriendsli.com/2013/09/04/diy-bug-jar-for-kids/

Make a footprint grasshopper:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/212935888610838461/

Make a colourful paper chain caterpillar with  wobbly eyes and antennae:

http://www.peekyme.com.au/take-a-peek


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About the interviewer: Sarvinder Naberhaus is a the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her upcoming book, Blue Sky White Stars is a patriotic salute to the flag and the forces behind the forging of this great nation. Look for it June 13th, in time for the 4th of July. Illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, cover art, Illustrating, Illustrators, Interviews, Picture books, Uncategorized, Writing

Book Resources for The Nian Monster

Xingling, the main character in THE NIAN MONSTER, is a resourceful girl. When confronted by a ravenous monster, she keeps her wits about her in order to fend Nian off. She’s not afraid to ask for help, either. Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get THE NIAN MONSTER into the hands of readers. I heard over and over how everybody loves freebies. So in addition to swag like bookmarks and magnets, I decided to offer additional book-related resources. And, like Xingling, I reached out and asked for help from my community — the wonderful kidlit community.

Here are a few of the resources that were created for my book:

A Teacher’s Guide: Arguably, not every picture book needs a teacher’s guide, especially if it’s fiction. But I felt that there were enough cultural and geographical aspects to my book that a teacher, librarian, or parent might appreciate a guide with more information about Chinese New Year, curriculum-related activities, and discussion questions. I discovered that teacher’s guides can vary in length and cost. Being a debut author, I opted to hire Anna Chan Rekate, a debut teacher’s guide writer, but also a very experienced elementary school teacher. Anna did an amazing job — she even included a personal recipe for sesame noodles! You can download a copy of the teacher’s guide here.

A Book-Related Craft: I confess, I LOVE crafts. My basement is filled with boxes of craft materials and random objects that I save just in case I might need them for a craft. I did a lot of crafts with my sons when they were younger and I knew it would be great to have an activity for after my story time events. Kids love things that they can make themselves and bring home, plus it connects them to the story in a different, more tactile way. The incredibly creative Kirsten Cappy of Curious City (try saying that 3x fast!) developed an origami bookmark craft and illustrator Alina Chau drew the Nian Monster so that it looks like Nian is “eating” the corner of your page! Download the template here and make a Nian bookmark with your kids (or for yourself)! Kirsten and her intern Sophia even made an instructional video, which you can watch below or on YouTube.

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The Nian Monster bookmark will chomp on your page!

 

An Event Kit: I knew I needed to reach teachers and librarians, but I was at a loss about how to do so. Again, Kirsten Cappy came to my rescue. She has access to an extensive network of educators. Kirsten recommended creating an event kit so that educators could make story time with THE NIAN MONSTER an interactive experience. The event kit includes instructions and a template for creating a giant Nian mask. An adult can pretend to be Nian or the kids can “feed” Nian fish, noodles, and sticky rice cake just like in the book (fake fish are used — no live fish will be harmed during story time). The event kit is available at Curious City.

Here's me channeling my inner Nian Monster!

Here’s me channeling my inner Nian Monster!

Whether your book has yet to be sold or is headed for publication, it’s not too early to think about what kinds of resources you want to offer your readers. I added an Author’s Note to THE NIAN MONSTER when it was still in manuscript form, explaining the symbolism of the Chinese New Year foods in the story. If there’s an aspect of your story that you think readers would like to know more about, you might consider adding a short Author’s Note as well. And if you decide against it, there are plenty of opportunities to develop and offer educational resources after publication.

Good luck and thank you for celebrating my book launch week with me! Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post (or any EMUs Debuts post this week) to be entered into a giveaway of THE NIAN MONSTER.


andrea-wang-author-photo-2016

Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster (Albert Whitman & Co., December 2016), is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market and is working on a middle grade novel. Andrea is a former environmental consultant and now writes full-time. She recently moved from the Boston area to Denver, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and a dog that will do anything for food. That pretty much describes her family, too.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com, on Twitter under @AndreaYWang, and on Instagram as @andreawhywang.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, Education, Picture books, resources, Uncategorized

Swirling the Drain…

Last month, I had an idea for today’s post. It wasn’t a bad idea, and one I might use eventually, but when it came time to actually DO something about it (it involved other people), an uneasy feeling came over me. That little voice saying, “Are you crazy? One more project to coordinate?” Let me set the scene…

I had just finished a round of revisions for my novel. CHECK.

I finally got a messy first draft on a new picture book story down on paper that I’d been thinking about for two months. CHECK.

I had to start seriously thinking about a promotional plan for my upcoming books. CHE–. UH-Oh.

This was me…

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Book promotion???

Starting a new project that involved multiple people just wasn’t going to happen. The fact is, I feel like I’m swirling the drain every time I think about book promotion. Which seems silly. I’ve launched books before. I’m done blog tours and had signings. I’m not new to this. BUT…the last time I launched a new book was in 2008. It feels like I’m learning it all over again! Couple that with the facts that 1) I start teaching another online course in January, and 2) I have one book coming out on Jan. 31 and another on March 15, well…there you go! My brain is swirling.

One of the things I’ve come to learn about myself through the years is that when I begin to feel a sense of panic my best remedy is to act, which usually involves planning (at least that way I feel like I’m moving forward—even if I don’t know where I’m going). Maybe it’s because writing (even list-making) is a comfortable place for me but regardless, it always helps. So, I did a little research and found three resources for helping me get started with planning some promotional activities.

First, I recalled from years past that authors Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers  had a fabulous blog about marketing for introverts, Shrinking Violets Promotions. I admire these two generous ladies for their writing but also because their blog is loaded with all kinds of great ideas. Because I’m an introvert, their blog speaks to me and provides me with some great advice.

Second, I came across an article on Author Unlimited called “50 Ways to Promote Your Book.” It also has many ideas (50 + more! For both adult and children’s market authors). This helped stop my brain from swirling and got it focused on some real action—things I could implement!

dessert

Third, and best of all (because like a fabulous dessert, I save the best for last), I did some research and have initiated a conversation with Curious City,  a children’s book marketing agency. Kirsten Cappy is the heart of Curious City and a promotional dynamo. One of the things that appeals to me is that Kirsten can tailor-make a marketing plan that meets the needs of the individual author. So, for someone like me (remember, I’m an introvert!), this is very, very appealing. Just like a fabulous dessert (except Kirsten doesn’t make my mouth water!).

So, if you’re in that place where you’re starting to think about book promotion (post-deal but prior-to-launch), give these sites a look. I hope they help you on your own promotional journey!

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PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!).

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Promotion, Panic, Promotion

Uncharted Space

If you missed Donna’s eye-opening blog post last week about her To Do List sixteen days before her book launches, check it out here. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my own pre-pub-date To Do List. Even though my own book doesn’t launch until December 1st, it feels like the date is approaching at high speed. Maximum warp, in fact. In the back of my head, I can hear Captain Jean-Luc Picard exhorting me to “Engage!”

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I might not be helming the Enterprise into deep space, but I am trying to steer my book into readers’ hands. So I’m taking his directive to heart, figuring out how to engage potential readers of my book after (and even before) it releases. Here are a few of the things I’ve been doing:

 

  • Researching printers for business cards, postcards, bookmarks, and other paper swag. This involves making dozens of seemingly monumental decisions. Matte or glossy paper? (Tip: choose at least one matte side if you want to write on it later.) Square or rounded corners? (Rounded. So I can’t poke myself in the eye with it.) Stickers or bookplates or magnets? (Um, maybe.) Where is a replicator when I need one?

 

  • Setting up my SCBWI Book Blast page. This is a promotional event that will be run by SCBWI from October 10 – November 18, 2016. The templates provided made setting up my page so easy, I didn’t feel like I needed an android to help me.

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  • Teaching myself how to use iMovie. Okay, maybe I didn’t really teach myself. I watched a couple of great YouTube tutorials and then dived in. There was a lot of trial and error. The Undo button was my BFF. But over the course of a week, I was able to put together a simple book trailer. It’s not the holodeck, but I’m pretty proud of it.

 

  • Taking advantage of events organized by others, such as Trick or Reaters, a spook-tacular program to “make Halloween a day to discover stories and literature.” Run by Curious City and sponsored by EMLA, this event is less frightening than a Ferengi and way more cool.

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I’m trying to heed the advice to only do as much promotion and marketing as I’m comfortable with, but it’s hard. I want so badly for my book to engage readers and it’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough. I want to have an event kit and a teacher’s guide, but I know those things are beyond my current abilities. I’ve decided to delegate those pieces to other, more qualified people, and I trust them to “make it so.” Despite that, I’m filled with a nagging sense that there is still so much left to do. As a debut author, I often feel like I’m steering through uncharted space, never sure what is beyond the next bend (wormhole?), not confident that I can make it. But, as Capt. Picard said:

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Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, THE NIAN MONSTER (Albert Whitman, December 2016), is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. Now she sits at her desk, but she’s still happiest surrounded by piles of books. Andrea is a former environmental consultant who helped clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog. She loves trying new foods and named her dog Mochi, after one of her favorite desserts.

You can find Andrea online at her website, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

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Filed under Book Promotion, Promotion

A Chat with Agent Erin Murphy about The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

 

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The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox is a book I fell in love with on page one and could not put down until I read the very last word. I, however, was not the first to fall in love with this read-with-the-lights-on mystery. That honor goes to Janet Fox’s agent, Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA). I had the privilege of talking with Erin about her first impressions of this unforgettable story. But first, a bit about the Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.

“Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

Now, to my chat with Erin.

When you first read this novel, what was your initial impression?

Erin: Something like, “My God, this woman can write!” WWII-era England is a great sweet spot for me so far as pleasure-reading, so when Janet first queried me and described this project (then called Chatelaine), I literally wrote back, “I want to read it right this minute.” When I did read it, it didn’t just meet my expectations, it far exceeded them.

Of all the characters in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, who do you most identify with?

Erin: Kat, of course. Oh, do I identify with the need to balance left-brain and right-brain thinking—although the older I get, the more I favor the intuitive and imaginative. Plus, she’s an eldest child, always feeling responsible.

I was wonderfully surprised at Janet’s ability to seamlessly blend mystery, suspense and fantasy on the very real backdrop of WWII. How do you feel about the blended genres?

Erin: I absolutely adore them. Speaking of imaginative things, I think some of the most imaginative books I’ve read have been blended genres. There’s just something about mashups that brings out both the comfortingly familiar and the wonderfully surprising.

Finish this sentence: You must read The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle because …

Erin: …it will sweep you away to another time and place and you will be satisfied until the very last page!

Your favorite mystery as a kid?

Erin: I can’t pick just one! I was a voracious mystery reader, especially on summer vacation, when I’d devour every book by a mystery author—the Trixie Belden books, and Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys, and Agatha Christie, and Sherlock Holmes….Right now I’m exceptionally busy and stretched thin as I prepare to relocate across the country, and the reading I reach for? Mystery series. Even now, that is escapist comfort reading to me.

And since no good interview would be complete without a surprise question…What’s the oddest job you have ever had?

Erin: That’s a funny non-sequitur of a question! I guess it was the brief period when I was a Secret Diner, eating at various locations of a particular chain restaurant and turning in reports on the food quality, service, and cleanliness. But all I got paid was free meals.

Huge thanks to agent and secret diner extraordinaire, Erin Murphy, for sharing her thoughts on Janet’s wonderful story. Charmed Children of Rooksill Castle is at a bookstore or library near you. Today!

 

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IMG_9552   Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author whose debut novel, FINDING PERFECT, comes out October, 18, 2016 (FSG). FINDING PERFECT is a middle grade story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, betrayal, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. Elly lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on next, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Promotion, Writing, Writing and Life

Finding Perfect Gets a Cover!

Today is THE day.  The day the cover for my debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT, sneaks past the gate and shows itself to the world. The day I’ve been waiting for.

So. Here. It. Is.

FindingPerfect_Final

 

I am so grateful to Kristi Radwilowicz of FSG, the force behind my cover, for her thoughtful creativity, and Angie Chen, my editor, for her unending editorial wisdom, and the entire FSG team for their continued support.

When you read the book, you’ll be amazed to see how many story elements Kristi was able to weave into my cover! Now, for a bit about the book:

To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is:

  • The number four
  • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil
  • A crisp white pad of paper
  • Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are sometimes broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Poetry Slam Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with white tablecloths. Molly is sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?  

But as time passes, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

In this fresh-voiced debut novel, one girl learns there is no such thing as perfect.

Stay tuned. FINDING PERFECT hits shelves October 2016! Until then, thanks for letting me share my cover and my excitement.

 

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Elly Swartz loves writing for children, and not long after she began writing, she got a sign that, indeed, this was the right path for her. She opened a piece of Bazooka Joe gum and wrapped around the sugary, pink delight was a fortune that read, “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.”  She keeps her fortune tacked next to her desk in her office.

Elly’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT comes out on October 18th, 2016 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. FINDING PERFECT is a middle grade story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, betrayal, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two tall and loving, twenty-something sons and one-year-old beagle named Lucy.

You can visit Elly on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

 

 

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Filed under Book Promotion, Happiness, Writing

A Looney Interview with Author Luke Reynolds

I bought, read and loved Luke Reynolds’ debut book, THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT. Robert Looney reminded me of my high school government teacher, Arnold Brix – brilliant but weird. Or is that “weirdly brilliant”? Whatever! It’s a personality type guaranteed to capture the minds and hearts of adolescents. Naturally, I had some questions for the author. (Writers always do.)

You dedicate your book to Robert Looney (for faith), to John Robinson (for hope) and to your wife Jennifer Reynolds, for love. I understand that Mr. Looney and Mr. Robinson were your teachers. Could you give some more details about Mr. Looney— i.e. when he was your teacher? Did he, too, use offbeat teaching methods? How did he influence you?

These two teachers—Mr. Looney and Mr. Robinson—are two of the most remarkable people I was fortunate to know and learn from. I had Mr. Robert Looney when I was a fifth grade student at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Windsor, Connecticut. The real Mr. Looney had wild hair and endless energy, and the thing I remember most about him was when he stood on a chair during our first class session, held up the dreaded spelling textbook in his hand, and then proceeded to toss it into the trash. My friends and I were enthralled. That year, Mr. Looney led us through his self-titled FLAIR writing program, in which we crafted all kinds of stories, poems, and essays.

During college, when I was learning to be a teacher myself, Mr. John Robinson was my mentor teacher. John spoke about literature and writing with so much energy and love that I thought he would burst. His passion translated to his students and I found the two great passions of my own life: teaching and writing. I still correspond with both my inspiring teachers. The Looney Experiment exists because of their model, their passion, and their core beliefs.

I admire your use of similes! A few examples: Atticus’s teacher’s face “stretches out like she’s about to blow painful bubbles.” When she’s angry at Atticus, who’s afraid to speak in class, for not presenting his report, she looks at him “with eyes like the points of nails.” Shy, self-conscious Atticus pretends “My voice is like thunder.” His discomfort amuses the class bully: “a smirk grows like bacteria across Danny’s face, threatening to take over all the skin that remains.” Do you feel similes are particularly useful in writing for this age group? Why?

Similes feel really natural when I write. It’s the way my brain works. I love similes because I feel like they give layers of character and meaning to my book. I can only hope readers of The Looney Experiment feel similarly!

I rewrote a lot of the metaphors to try and keep them fresh and authentic. I owe MASSIVE gobs of gratitude to my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. The Looney Experiment went through many drafts and Joan offered incredible counsel and ideas for revision. She gave me expert advice on how to keep the metaphors fresh and vivid. I also thought the character of Atticus Hobart—with his wildly active imagination—would be a huge fan of writing with metaphor as a lens through which he viewed the world!

When Atticus’s imagination takes over, he has inner dialogs with various people and objects (i.e., Robert Frost, his gray baseball tights, a sports commentator, Audrey Higgins) are funny and insightful. Did you start out using this technique?

The book did start with this technique in the first draft—and through all 11 versions, it kept the dialogue of intangible objects or long-dead (or non-existent but created) people would have conversations with Atticus. This was certainly the most FUN part of writing this novel. I kind of just let Atticus do his thing.

LOVE your description of Mr. Looney, who subs when his teacher goes on maternity leave: “. . . his sagging, crinkled skin looks like it’s going to fall right off his face and go sliding down his body until it hits the floor in a big puddle of soggy, soppy, old-person flesh.” Did you imagine this physical description right away? Or did you tinker with it throughout your writing process?

This was one of the original lines of the first draft. I realized that Mr. Looney had to be old—it had to seem to 8th graders that he should be in a nursing home rather than a classroom. When I read this part aloud to people, they half-laughed and half-gagged, and I thought: that’s just about the reaction I am hoping for.

Mr. Looney doesn’t fit into Atticus’s description of the four types of teachers. (I taught middle school for a year and they rang true for me.) Please summarize those four types for those who haven’t yet read your book. Which type best describes you?

Sure! The four types that Atticus describes are: 1) the Non-nonsense teacher (tough and could pummel your heart with a pinky). 2) The “Everything is Magical Teacher” who begins with a glow of positivity but rapidly descends into chaotic attempts to take back control because everyone is going ABSOLUTELY CRAZY! 3) The nice teacher who also is stern and whose class is pretty interesting. 4) The “I don’t give a darn about you” teacher. I  hope I am in the category of the third teacher with a mix of Mr. Looney’s zaniness thrown in, but my students could answer that question much better than I can!

Atticus is also dealing with his critical and distant father moving out. As he mulls over what he, his mom, and his brother might have done to cause his dad to leave, he wonders: “I can’t figure out what’s worse: having a crappy dad who doesn’t really like you much or not having a dad at all.” This is just pitch perfect! Have you had your own students talk with you when their parents separated or divorced?

 This is a huge issue for many of my students, and many do want to write and talk about it. For whatever reason, middle school seems like a time when parents choose to separate, so these students are grappling with intense and confusing emotions. I am in a public school system, so I can’t give these students a big hug and tell them that everything is going to be okay. We don’t always know how, but it will. And I remind them that it’s always good to talk things through with people they trust, to journal about it, to ask for help. The truly courageous always ask for help.

Mr Looney tells the class the one thing he’s learned in 47 years of teaching is: “We are most afraid of ourselves.” How did you as a writer come up with this?

I think this came right up out of my own heart. When I look at the situations I’ve been in throughout my life.  I think I am most afraid of myself. Deep down, it’s not all the outward stuff and obstacles—it’s the inner stuff. I love what William Faulkner said about this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “The young man or woman writing today has forgotten about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Mr. Looney defines courage this way: “Courage is the ability to keep going no matter how hard life feels. How did you come up with such a simple, eloquent definition?

I used to admire protagonists who performed amazing acts of heroism. I thought they had the market cornered when it came to courage. But when I became a teacher, my views began to change (and that notion was positively crushed when I became a dad). I saw the students had courage when they faced really tough obstacles at home, but kept trying.  And when, for a few years, I was a stay-at-home father in England, I saw that there was certainly no glory in that enterprise. There was no fanfare for a diaper well-changed or a tantrum skirted. I thought of those who fight unsung battles everyday (far tougher than mine), and began to see courage as the choice to keep moving forward when everything within and around you just wants to stop.

Mr. Looney’s only formal assignment is that the class read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus loves the book and is thrilled to learn his mother named him after Atticus Finch. What part did Harper Lee’s book play in the development of your debut novel?

Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird epitomized quiet courage. He makes the right choice and he keeps moving forward even though everyone thinks he’s doing something crazy—looney—and pointless. I loved that idea—the notion that courage can be doing anything that others say doesn’t make sense, but you know deep down it does. For Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the stakes are pretty high. So I wanted to change the stakes and show how the same kind of courage is evidenced when, like my character Atticus Hobart, we keep moving forward—with whatever hope we can muster—in our own small worlds and in our own lives.

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Living Life Looney ~ Let’s Welcome THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT!

First order of business: To announce the winner of Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT launch-week giveaway. Congratulations Rachel, you’re the lucky winner! To claim your fabulous reward, please e-mail Penny directly at penny.klostermann@gmail.com – and do it soon, or a dragon may swallow you. 

And now, drumroll please… We’re kicking off yet another fantastic EMU debut! Last Tuesday, Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel hit the shelves – and this week, we’re celebrating!

THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT is a remarkable book. Here’s a little about it, from Luke’s web site:
LOONEY EXPERIMENT coverAtticus Hobart couldn’t feel lower. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists, he is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe—just maybe—discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.”

Mr. Looney knows – and so does Luke Reynolds – that being true to yourself takes a special kind of courage. To honor that courage, we EMUs have looked back on our own lives for moments when we have lived life “Looney” and taken personal risks in order to be true to ourselves.

Janet Fox confesses that her biggest Looney leap…

VCFA“was when I decided to go back to school for my MFA in writing (from Vermont College of Fine Arts). Why looney? I had a teenage son, a husband who traveled all over the world, and no income to pay for those two years. My sweet friend Kathi Appelt said, “Do it. The money will follow.” Well, it did: my dad, who I thought had only enough left to live on, gave me a legacy gift that covered the whole thing. Bless you, Dad. Bless you, Kathi. And – leap of faith!”

Carole Gerber lived life Looney when…

OhioState“I left a secure teaching job to return to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio State. At that time, the job market for journalists was flat. Fortunately, I received a graduate assistantship that paid my tuition, and I earned a small stipend writing press releases for the OSU Department of Communications. Thanks to the contacts I made and the experience I racked up, I was also able to find a job in my field immediately after graduating.”

 

Jason Gallaher tells his tale of a recent risk…

Brony2“The biggest risk I took to be true to myself actually happened just a few short weeks ago at our annual EMLA retreat. In front of all my writing sisters and brothers, I finally came out of the closet as a Brony—a grown man who watches My Little Pony—by wearing an adult-sized My Little Pony onesie (it was of Rainbow Dash, for those of you familiar with the show). I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, and now I can express my Brony ways with pride! Neeeeeeigh!!!!”

Penny Parker Klostermann reflects on making her Looney dream a reality…

There Was an Old Dragon cover“I think taking the leap into getting published was my Living Life Looney. I dreamt of it for years but made excuses for not being true to my dream. I know that had a lot to do with fear. Probably the biggest step I took was sending my work to my now critique group when they were searching for a new member. That was scary but it made me feel like I was taking a serious step. After being accepted I knew I’d made a commitment to other writers and not just to myself. There was no looking back!”

 

Laurie Thompson knows that going for what you want can feel pretty Looney…

ThisIBM“When I was in college, one of my best friends got an internship at IBM. When I heard about what she would be doing there, I was so jealous. I hadn’t planned on going on an internship that semester, but it sounded like the perfect job. I called directory assistance to get the manager’s home phone number, and called him–at home on a Sunday–to tell him how much I wanted the job and why I’d be the perfect candidate and to beg him to consider hiring me, too. He refused to look at my resume or check my references or anything. He said that anyone who wanted the job that badly and had that much chutzpah was an easy hire, even though he could only think of a few months’ worth of work for me at the time. Shortly after I arrived, however, one of his full-time employees had to go on extended medical leave for most of the project, and I was there to step in to some degree and help keep things on schedule in her absence. I ended up staying a full year, and it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It was also a valuable lesson in not being afraid to ask for what you want!”

Maria Gianferrari gets Looney when animal safety is at stake…

2787614567_3fbd79a560_b“Writing is probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken—rejection is scary, so I’m proud that I continued to persevere. But I can think of an incident, perhaps not the biggest risk, but another that I was proud of myself for when I was in 5thgrade. My mother had to drop something off for a church event at a classmate’s house, and two of my male classmate friends were in the yard preparing to move from shooting targets with a BB gun, to shooting some birds and squirrels. I was a shy, non-confrontational kid, but as an animal lover, I was not going to let them harm anything while I was around, so I kept shooing them away. They were so mad at me, and kept yelling, but I didn’t care.”

Finally, Tamara Ellis Smith’s wise words on Living Life Looney…

MFA“Probably one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken was deciding to go back to school.  I had two little kids at the time, so making the commitment to take two years to get my MFA in writing for children and young adults, was a big decision—for me and my whole family.  I had this deep intuition, though, that it was exactly what I needed to do, and I am forever grateful that I chose to listen to that.  (I am also forever and beyond grateful to Derek, my husband, for being so supportive of my choice too.) It felt like a big risk to spend all that time (and take out all those loans) on something I wanted so intensely.  The stakes were high, you know?  It also felt like a big risk, socially.  Until then, I had avoided situations that would place me with new people in new environments because my social anxiety was so great.  Deciding to go to grad school was one of the first times I recognized that my desire could be bigger than my fear.

The other thing that ended up being so cool, and magical—I had no idea how I would go away for two weeks every semester for the residencies. How would I find childcare so that Derek could continue to work? How would I afford that?  A few months before my first residency I re-connected with my best friend from my hometown. She was looking for a way, in essence, to restart her life. She wanted to come back to Vermont. She wanted to ground herself there. But she needed to figure out a way to get back.  She ended up coming to live with us, and she watched the kids during those two weeks over the two years I was in school.  It was amazing. She had a place in which to hunker down, my kids had the best “fake mom” ever, Derek got to know this dear friend of mine, and we got to reconnect.  She ended up living with us for over five years!

Identifying your deepest desires and taking those risks—you never know what magical things will come!”

Join the Looney ranks! Comment below and share a time when you were courageously Looney, and you’ll have a chance to win a signed copy of Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel: THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Or, if you just can’t wait for your copy (we definitely can’t!), click any of these links to purchase THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT now:

Amazon, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound

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PENNY & JELLY and the Weird, Wacky, Wonderful Talents!

Happy, happy book birthday to the inside-and-out beautiful Maria Gianferrari and her perfectly darling debut, PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW! From the Penny & Jelly web site: “This young and funny picture book showcases the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. With a little help from her dog Jelly, Penny realizes that she and Jelly have a unique talent to share – unlike any other in the show.”

9780544230149_lres

What I love most about this book is that Penny is so resilient. She can’t immediately figure out what her talent is, so she exhausts every weird, wonderful, and wacky talent she can think of – and even when those talents don’t turn out to be so hot, she never stays beaten for long! She and Jelly are a great example of how to enjoy the creative process – and each other – without getting too hung up on results.

To celebrate Penny & Jelly’s birthday, the EMUs are here to share our own weird, wonderful, and wacky talents – and it turns out that we have quite a few!

Crybaby

That’s right, kid. Laurie cancelled Firefly with her mind.

Laurie Thompson “can go right back to sleep after getting woken up in the wee (or not so wee) hours of morning (useful when mothering small children… or pets). I can force new television series off the air simply by liking them. I can apparently go entire days without doing anything useful whatsoever. And I can (mostly) disguse my overwhelming shyness, extreme introversion, and social anxiety… at least for short periods of time.”

Penny Parker Klostermann’s “weird, wonderful, wacky talent is singing opera. But only to one song. And the one song isn’t meant to be sung in opera, but it’s so much fun when it is. The song is Sad Movies (make me cry), originally sung by Sue Thompson.  I shared this song opera-style at a college social. It wasn’t a talent show like in Penny and Jelly…but I think it was a hit in a weird, wonderful, wacky sort of way.”

SewerGrate

Hey, Janet, a little help here. I dropped my wedding ring down this grate…

 Janet Fox is a Finder of Lost Things

 

Christine Hayes “is pretty good at walking into a thrift store or flea market and finding stuff worth reselling. I kind of have an eye for interesting and unusual decor pieces, and can usually judge on the spot if an item is overpriced or if there’s money to be made. Of course taste is subjective, and a lot of the stuff ends up in my house, so it’s not exactly a profitable talent. But it’s a fun one!”

 

Handwriting

This guy was probably hungry. Or a murderer.

Carole Gerber is “an amateur graphologist and can tell a lot about a person by examining his or her handwriting. Years ago, I wrote a paperback for children titled “Secrets Your Handwriting Reveals.” I got interested in the science (it actually is a science) of graphology because my dear, departed mother-in-law was a certified graphologist. She was sometimes hired by companies to analyze handwriting of potential hires to sort out those who showed undesirable traits -i.e., dishonesty, mental disorders, etc. My husband used to send her his girlfriends’ handwriting when he was in high school and college to get her “take” on what they were really like. I also showed her samples of my friends’ handwriting and was astonished at her accurate insights into people she had never met. Her skill intrigued me and I obsessively studied library books on the topic. My interest has waned over the years but I can still get a quick “read”on people by examining a few written sentences and a signature.”

Pink

Not this kind of bird.

Megan Morrison “can whistle like a bird. I don’t mean that I have a beautiful, sing-song whistle; I mean that I can whistle in such a way that it confuses people – and sometimes cats – into looking around for a bird. I do not know why or how I developed this talent, but so it is. I used to list it on my acting resume under Special Skills, and sometimes in auditions directors would call me on it. ‘Whistle like a bird,’ they would say, and then I would do it, and they would sit back and say ‘Huh,’ because by George, I had done it. Somehow, this delightful trick never landed me a Broadway role… but my 4-year-old son thinks it’s very funny that ‘a bird lives in my mouth’.”

 

MLP

Sing it, Adam.

Adam Shaughnessy’s talent is that “I sometimes have trouble remembering what I had for dinner the night before, but I have an uncanny ability to remember the theme song lyrics for almost any show or cartoon from the 1980s and can sing them upon demand. Of course, there are very few demands… possibly because “the ability to sing” does not also appear on anyone’s list of my talents.

TamPic

Tam’s husband enables her with peanut-butter Valentines.

 

Tamara Ellis Smith says that “the one talent that I have been cultivating for as long as I can remember is my ability to put peanut butter on just about any food.  I practice every day—holidays and weekends included—and I have gotten pretty darn good at it, if I don’t say so myself.  🙂  I have peanut butter mixed into my oatmeal for breakfast, on apples for a snack, in the sauce I pour over vegetables for dinner.  I like it on pancakes, bananas, celery, tofu, to name a few more foods. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.  (The top of the jar?!)  Don’t even get me started on desserts… I have worked hard to strengthen my fingers to they can reach all of the way to the bottom of the jar, and I have repeatedly scraped the inside of peanut butter containers so that I know how to get every last bit of it out.”

Finally, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman has this to say:

I was drawing a blank on what my unique talents might be, so I decided to ask my three-year-old son for his input. This is the conversation we had:

Me: What is something Mama is really good at?
Son stares out car window, thinking . . . thinking . . .
Son: Ice cream.
Me: Ice cream? I’m good at ice cream?
Son: Yes.
Silence as I ponder this. I don’t make ice cream, and it’s probably been a month since we’ve had ice cream together. I decide to try again.
Me: You know how you’re really good at playing with your trains and doing Play-Doh? What is something Mama’s good at?
Son: Ice cream.
So there you have it. That’s my weird and wacky talent straight from the source of someone who spends a lot of time with me: Ice cream. And he might be onto something because shortly after that conversation, this happened:
IceCream

Next time I’ll say that her talent is “Disneyland”.

 

All in all, the EMUs are a mob of wonderfully wacky weirdos, and just like Maria Gianferrari and her fearless protagonist Penny, we are not afraid to show it.

Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win a signed copy of PENNY & JELLY – or some PENNY & JELLY swag ! You can purchase it for yourself and everyone you know by visiting the web site and choosing the buying link that’s best for you.

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Welcome to the World, Penny & Jelly: A Talk with Illustrator Thyra Heder!

Happy Launch Week, Penny & Jelly!!

 

I have always been fascinated by art and artists. People who can draw are, to me, the world’s greatest geniuses! Art (particularly painting) was one of my first loves. Sadly, I have no talent for drawing at all. For example, this was my attempt to draw an alien rock monster:   AlienSee what I mean?   At least I have the good fortune of getting to converse with many people who can turn paper and lines and shapes and colors into something amazing. When we started planning the launch party for Maria Gianferrari’s delightful Penny & Jelly, I jumped at the chance to interview illustrator Thyra Heder.

 

Tell us a bit about how you began your career as an artist, and found your way to illustrating picture books. While I was in college, my sister needed storyboards for a short film she was making. I thought I had read enough comics as aJelly_sketches kid that I could do it, and I was sort of right. I was not great, but my drawings looked proficient enough to get another job from that production. By word of mouth, I started storyboarding other films, tv shows, and ad campaigns. Storyboarding lead to other design and illustration work, which forced me to scramble and teach myself styles, mediums and explore aesthetics. So I guess that’s how I learned my skill…though I must admit I’m still teaching myself.     PennyJelly_sketch3I got into picture books because I’ve always loved them and collected them and one day I had an idea for one. After finding an agent who would take me on and revising my book for what felt like eons I got a book deal. That book, Fraidyzoo, gave my drawings exposure that could lead to other book opportunities like Penny and Jelly. I think the reason I finally took the leap into pursuing picture books was that I was aching to make things that people actually saw. Also I’ve always felt there is nothing more special than a moment reading a book to a kid, and I wanted to be a part of that.

 

What did you love most about Penny and Jelly? I loved that she allowed me to draw action, and I loved the chance to draw a relationship between a girl and her dog. I’ve got 0209_PennyandJellyStyleboardmy own dog, Toby, in the studio with me everyday, so I was excited to draw Jelly in his many states. My favorite thing about painting her is that I find myself making her expressions.

 

Where can readers see more about you on-line? Are you working on any new projects? Well I just finished Penny and Jelly 2 which was fun to paint (proofs look great!) and I’ve got my 2nd book that I wrote and illustrated coming out in October called The Bear Report. I’m also working on a screenplay with a friend for an animation at the moment so that will be filling my brain for the rest of the summer! I’ve got a non picture book drawing blog: uniqueyounork.tumblr.com and my website: thyraheder.com. thumbs_layered_1217_06-70219Spreadwalkhome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win a copy of this heartwarming book. You can purchase it for yourself and everyone you know by going to Penny & Jelly’s website and choosing the buying link that’s best for you!  A second winner will receive some Penny & Jelly swag!    ____________________________________________________

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.

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