Category Archives: Dreams Come True

Sweet Treats to Celebrate JASMINE TOGUCHI—Plus A Giveaway!

To celebrate the arrival of the first two volumes of Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI chapter book series, I asked the EMUs to tell me about their earliest kitchen experiences. From batter-covered beaters to Easy Bake ovens, it was a sweet trip down memory lane.

Sarvinder Naberhaus recalls, “I did learn to bake as a child, motivated by (and still motivated by) the objective —  to eat the sweet treats! Cooking was a chore but baking was fun! And who wouldn’t want to use Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys and Girls with all their fun presentations of food? 

Although I’m torn between sharing our Betty Crocker recipe for Carrot Cake and the cookie dough recipe from childhood, I think I’ll stick with my mentor, Betty.

BETTY CROCKER’S (AND SARVINDER’S) CARROT CAKE

Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350. 

Ingredients:
4 eggs, beaten
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1 1/4 Crisco oil or a bit less
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 c chopped nuts, if desired
2 c grated raw carrots

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, & salt to combine. In a medium bowl, blend together sugar and oil, then add beaten eggs. Stir dry and wet mixtures together gently. Fold in nuts and carrots last.
Bake 350 for 1/2 hour or so until the middle bounces to touch. When cool, adorn with:

Frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Beat all ingredients together thoroughly until whitish and fluffy. Frost cake and serve.

“I started learning how to bake at my mom’s elbow when I was four,” recalls recent EMU Fledgling Andrea Y. Wang. Mom was a nurse-midwife and worked a lot, so baking was my special time with her. My favorite thing to bake was chocolate chip cookies, because…CHOCOLATE, but I also loved making banana bread. It was so easy and mashing up the bananas was really fun—and way easier than pounding mochi rice! I still have the Betty Crocker cookbook that we used when I was little, and you can see all the stains on the banana bread page.
I even wrote the smaller amount of milk needed (only 3/4 cup) right on the recipe, because the mashed bananas added the extra liquid. Now that my mom is gone, using her cookbook and her mixing bowls keeps her close to me.

Katie Slivensky enjoyed annual baking bonanzas as a kid. “My childhood baking was cookie-related. Classic chocolate chip cookies throughout the year, or ALL THE COOKIES
at Christmas-time. My mom would have my sister and I help out with the mixing and measuring (and in the case of Christmas—decorating!) I mostly liked to help because that meant I’d get to eat the extra batter off the beaters. I also took decorating the frosted cookies for the holidays VERY seriously.

Here’s my mom’s Frosted Cookie recipe:

KATIE’S MOM’S CREAM CHEESE COOKIES

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together:

1 cup shortening
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Then add:
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Roll dough out will lots of additional flour. Dip cookie cutters into flour before cutting so dough won’t stick.
Bake cookies 9-12 minutes or until edges start to get light brown.

Cool completely before decorating with:

Frosting (3 batches of frosting to 2 batches of cookies)
1 1/2 confectioners sugar
2 TBL butter (margarine) softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 TBL warm water

Blend ingredients until smooth. Divide frosting into smaller glass bowls and use food coloring to tint. Have fun! After decorating, allow cookies to rest overnight so frosting sets up.

Jason Gallaher says, “My mom is a marvelous baker, and I remember sitting with her in the kitchen while she made a whole slew of goodies. Turtle brownies, chocolate chip banana bread, and oatmeal butterscotch cookies were my absolute fave. I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but I can’t recall any of the *actual* steps in how to make these treats, because the only steps I ever participated in were Dipping Fingers Inside the Batter, and Licking Serving Spoons Clean. But those are steps that I highly recommend in any recipe!”

POM BROKAW THINKS JASON IS SUPER SWEET! >>>>>>>>>>>

Judging from this adorable picture, Terry Pierce was a baking prodigy. Her fondest early childhood memory was baking cupcakes with her mom. “I loved to help pour, mix and my favorite part, licking the leftover batter. My brother and I had to alternate so that one of us got the bowl and the other got the beaters. When I was around five, I got my first Easy Bake oven. I found it fascinating that a light bulb could bake those small cakes! I loved the coveted chocolate cake mix. The vanilla tasted like cardboard!

I still love to bake. In fact, just this morning, I made a chocolate- cream-filled-ganache birthday cake for my family. Yum!

Christina Uss remembers, “Early baking experiences were all about my mom and me and cookies. Her Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookies were, in my opinion, far superior to all others. My best friend Karen and I started asking to cook them on our own when we were eleven, and to make sure we got the perfect results, we followed everything my mom did exactly, down to using the same mixing bowls and measuring spoons. It worked! Why? I figured my mom passed on some sort of cooking magic to us. It took meeting my husband who loves to bake but uses his grandma’s old Sunbeam electric mixer for every recipe to realize the real secret to my mom’s awesome cookies wasn’t specific mixing bowls, measuring spoons, or magic, but creaming the butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon. It’s hard work (especially if you forget to leave the butter out to soften until you start mixing everything else, which I always did), but gives the cookies this satisfyingly chewy texture that can’t be beat. So here’s my recipe – with two caveats.

 

My thanks to the EMUs for these scrumptious stories. I think I’ll go bake some cookies now and tuck in with my copy of JASMINE TOGUCHI.


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Happiness, Launch, middle grade, Middle Grade, series, Uncategorized

Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

It’s launch week! It’s launch week! Hold onto your summer floppy hats, we have a book…well, actually two to launch into the world this week. A little bit from the publisher about our first book baby!

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

And even better? This is the first book in a series. The second book is also available this week! At the end of this post, you can enter to wind a copy!

To kick off a week of Jasmine Toguchi celebrations, I sat down with illustrator Elizabet Vukovic. Ok, technically, she was in the Netherlands and I was in Maine… but laughing all the way through our video chat, it was as if we were sitting at the same table. Elizabet is not only talented and brilliant, but she’s bubbly, fun, spunky, and there are some big surprises in her journey.  You are going to love her as much as I do. Let’s get to it.

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Elizabet knows exactly what it’s like to have a big sister who gets everything first! Reading the pages of Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, Elizabet related to Jasmine immediately. She laughed heartily as we talked about her own childhood and the misery of hand-me downs.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Elizabet lived around the corner from a bicycle store. Every summer, she looked through the shop window at the new bikes. So shiny! So new! And every summer, she watched her older sister pick out a new bike… while Elizabet got her sister’s old bike to ride. (Eventually Elizabet would get a new bike, but not until high school!)

Elizabet wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys––until one day Elizabet had enough. It happened in the toy store. The girls had begged their father to walk into the toy store, promising only to look at the toys. Finally, their father agreed. The three of them walked into the store and that’s when Elizabet saw it: a microphone. Not just any microphone, but one that echoed. Elizabet was always singing and this microphone would be the perfect accessory. She had to have it.

She asked her dad to buy it. He said no.

So Elizabet refused to leave the store––without that microphone. That’s when her father and big sister left her there and went home.

But Elizabet did not budge.

Finally, her father returned to the store. And he bought Elizabet that microphone!

As we talked about this story, Elizabet’s eyes sparkled and her grin grew wide. Tapping into these experiences, brought Jasmine to life for Elizabet. She says the illustration on page 37 of the book put in a fine point on what both girls dealt with. (And no sneak previews. The only way to see this emotional scene is to buy the book or request it at the library or win it in our book give away! Also, it’s totally worth it.) But, it’s that illustration in particular that captured both Elizabet’s experience and Jasmine’s: complete frustration and irritation. The contrast of Jasmine’s level of anger juxtaposed to the oblivious prancing around of her older sister really nails the dynamic.

Elizabet says that level of personal connection is critical to her work. You can learn anatomy, she explains, but you have to put yourself in those characters. “Show yourself in your work,” Elizabet said.

But Elizabet’s path to accomplishing that, to creating the space where that’s even possible is interesting. She is the child of immigrants from Croatia. Her parents are hard workers and always expected that of their kids. Because they had to overcome so much and accomplish so much to establish their new lives in the Netherlands, they are also very practical and pragmatic.

Elizabet was interested in drawing as a very small child. Her kindergarten teacher used to say to her parents, “You have a real Picasso on your hands.” Even in high school, a teacher mentioned that Elizabet should go into drawing.

But as a profession? That was hard for Elizabet’s parents to accept or encourage. After all, they wanted Elizabet to have a paying job, security. .. all of the things they had immigrated to the Netherlands to build.

But as effervescent and charming as Elizabet is, she also has steely determination and an unyielding drive to prove herself.

So, what could she do in that situation? First, Elizabet got a degree in optometry. That’s right, optometry. She worked full time in the field to save money for art school. She worked during the day and studied illustration at night through online coursework until she graduated from the San Francisco Art Academy.

Then, she rode her bike 45 minutes to work every day, put in her hours, rode her bike home––which was another 45 minutes, climbed into her studio chair and began working on her illustration portfolio. Every night.

But Elizabet swears that something magical happened in those late hours. It was like her illustration time was protected. Because she had a full time job, she could really give herself permission to go for it at night. Permission to take risks, to enjoy her passion. Her artwork was not burdened with the responsibility of having to make money.

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Once her portfolio was ready, Elizabet prepared herself mentally for the process. She was ready for the rejections, the long, hard, and difficult path to an agent and publication.

She started by picking her top three agencies. Then one morning, she submitted her work by e-mail. She had an offer by that afternoon. She ran around her room screaming. Elizabet doesn’t remember much of her call with her agent Justin Rucker, just that he said he loved her work. “I was so high on emotion and he talked a lot and I kept thinking is this real? Oh my God!” she remembers.

And Elizabet brings all of that to these illustrations. You’ll see it immediately, the joy and spunk…. the struggle and conflict. They flow out of her pen onto the page. These masterful illustrations are a treasure for readers and an invitation to all of us to show ourselves in our work.

Enjoy!

Anna Crowley Redding

P.S. Elizabet and her older sister are close friends today !

P.P.S. Keep reading, there’s a book give away at the bottom of this post!

Also available this week: Book 2 in this delicious, unforgettable series:

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2)

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Day―a Japanese holiday honoring women and girls―with her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie. When Linnie comes over to plan for the Girl’s Day celebration, Jasmine’s neighbor lets them play dress up in her garage. But the garage is dark, which is kind of scary. And Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. And Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can fix things and make sure the Girl’s Day celebration happens!

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

Enter to win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Enter by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Character Development, Dreams Come True, Families, Illustrating, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, process, Uncategorized

Embracing the Imperfect

Our lives are set up around milestones: memorable, noteworthy events that we mark with rituals and celebrations. In my own life, I can recall events that mark those big occasions: important birthdays, graduations, weddings, my godson’s baptism. There was a set moment for each of those, a moment that I can look back at and say, “Oh, yeah. I’ll never forget where I was and what I felt when that happened.”

For many writers, the journey to publication is marked with the same joyful celebratory dinners, champagne toasts, and group hugs as any of the more traditional life milestones. I love hearing friends’ stories of getting that agent phone call and bursting into tears, their families beaming with pride beside them. Their stories are beautiful, and my own heart bursts with happiness to cheer and celebrate all of that magic. But what if your own journey looks different?

Through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, my own first book milestones have been bittersweet. That heart-stopping call from my agent? I was on my way to work, and my husband was 3000 miles away on a business trip. He happened to fall asleep that night without charging his phone, so I carried my bottled-up joy to work with me. I finally couldn’t keep it in anymore, so I eagerly spilled the beans to my ten-year-old student, who could not have been any less impressed or interested. Humbling, to say the least.

A few weeks later my deal announcement appeared in the trades; seeing my photo and name in there made everything feel so real, and it meant I was finally free to share the news publicly.  However, just minutes after I saw the announcement, my husband called to tell me that his dad had been diagnosed with cancer. As our family worked together to help my father-in-law navigate the complicated world of cancer treatment, celebration couldn’t have been further from our minds. And now that he has successfully completed chemotherapy, his improved health and happiness feels like a much more special milestone for our family to mark.

I am incredibly lucky to have a publishing deal, and I am beyond grateful to have the chance to earn money as a writer. But, much as it pains me to admit it, when I remember these first Big Author Moments, while there is joy and gratitude in those memories, there is also loneliness, worry, and disappointment.  I have a book deal and a supportive circle of friends and family, but I still can’t help but wish that those first moments had been a little different. And then I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for wishing that. It shouldn’t matter, I think. I am a jerk for caring about this.

Every writer I know has worked incredibly hard to get this far, and we all remember the wistful feeling of seeing other writers ahead of us, hitting those milestones. And while everything might look rosy and golden from a distance, there is no doubt that up close, everyone’s road is littered with frustrations and slights and missed opportunities.

So, and I’m saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone else, the journey toward publication is magical and thrilling and awesome and inspiring. But a lot of it can also be kind of sucky. That’s OK. Embrace the suck.  The disappointing, difficult, exhausting moments mean that all of this is actually happening. Living the Dream doesn’t mean turning your life into a dream; it means you’re turning your dream into real life. Your very own messy, imperfect, glorious life.


Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her wonderful father-in-law lives nearby. They are planning a massive celebration when the first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You’re all invited. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Guilt, Happiness, Inspiration, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

The Surreal, the Sublime, and the Journey Itself

The time has come for me to leave the Emu nest, and I’d like to end my time here with three quick vignettes:

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First, the surreal. Many Emus use their introductory post to talk about getting The Call (wherein their agent tells them they have a book deal). I decided to save my story of The Call for my farewell post, not knowing that the post would appear exactly two years after that life-changing day. So here’s my story:

On December 5, 2014, I had been on submission for almost two years with three different manuscripts, and I had convinced myself that I loved writing for writing’s sake and it was okay if I was the person who always came close but never quite got a book deal. Some days I even believed this. I had taken a full time teaching job partly because I needed to feel like I was contributing again, rather than just writing stories that would likely never find readers. On that fateful Friday, I taught my last lectures of fall semester, came home, and made myself a plate of nachos as a reward. (This is literally the first time since high school that I had eaten nachos as an after-school snack.) I had just sat down when my seven-year-old daughter came running in with my phone.

“Mom,” she said. “It says it’s..Ammi-Joan Paquette?” (She would have known who was calling if it had just said “Joan.” 🙂

I had hoped for that call for so long that the hope had faded, almost entirely away. I’d dreamed that dream so long that it seemed impossible for The Call to be anything other than a dream, an oasis on the horizon that recedes with every step. It was truly surreal. And yet, there I was, crying into my nachos. It happened, folks.

The second story is of the sublime. I had many teachers who inspired and nurtured me and helped me grow, but none more than my first grade teacher, Kathryn Ipson. She helped me write and illustrate my first story, The Big Bad Pig. She sensed that I needed a challenge and got a computer in our classroom (at a time when nobody had a computer in the classroom), taught me to type, and set me free. We stayed in touch through the years, and when I visited her as a college student and told her my plans to get a PhD and become a professor, she said, “That’s wonderful. The most important thing is to find a job where you’re helping people.” That one statement lingers with me still, and although it didn’t change my professional plans, it changed my priorities.

On October 18, my first book, Like Magic, was published. I had a launch party at our local independent bookstore, and at times the line snaked to the back of the store. The most accurate (if cliched) way to describe that night is a dream come true. But perhaps the most sublime and wonderful moment of that night was when the crowd parted and there was Mrs. Ipson, standing in line with a copy of the book. I showed her her name in the acknowledgments. We hugged and cried a little. A few days later, Mrs. Ipson found me on Facebook and said that she had finished reading and she expected my book would win the Newbery. Okay, I suspect it won’t, but to have someone who has believed since I was very small that I was capable of anything–someone who continues to believe it–well, that is incredibly meaningful.

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Mrs. Ipson finds her name in the acknowledgments of Like Magic (photo by Brooke MacNaughtan)

There have been other moments that have been almost this magical–many, in fact. Signing books in the gorgeous Salt Lake City Library, where my characters spend much of the story. Receiving my first starred review. Finding out that the book had sold in Scandinavia, and that this story was about to find its way into other lands and languages. Meeting and hearing from bright and diverse readers who have connected with the story. Beautiful, unforgettable moments.

If you’re a writer, and you don’t give up, you will have these moments too–even if it feels like you will always be stuck in the spot where you are right now. But the more I think about this whole debut experience, the more moments of joy I see in the journey itself. Evenings gathered with my critique partners. Time spent in workshops when I’m taught something that sparks an idea inside me. Moments at the computer, alone with my characters, when I struggle and struggle and finally get that scene or sentence just right.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

-Jenkin Lloyd Jones

The last few years have been unforgettable and exhausting, yet I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. Thank you, thank you, to the Emus and to all who have shared this journey with me. And for all of us, no matter what stage of the expedition, may we find joy and be truly thankful for the ride.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Advice, Book Launch, Dreams Come True, Farewell, Happiness, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized, waiting

In It Together

 

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Goodbye often feels like concrete. Hard and unforgiving.  But today, it feels like something else. Something warm and kind and filled with possibility.

On October 18th, my middle grade debut novel, Finding Perfect, found its way into the world. So today it’s my turn to say goodbye to my fellow Emu Debuts. My Emus are so much more than a group of debut authors; they’re a family. A wonderful, loving, supportive writing family. Together, we have traveled the path of publication to our first novels, shared our insecurities, our worries, our excitement and our joy. Together we have learned the power and the gift of the written word. Together we have learned the true mean of dreams come true.  I am beyond grateful for all of their book love and author cheers along the way. I am truly honored to have shared this journey with each and every one of them.

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I will miss my Emus, but know in my heart of hearts that they will remain a part of my life. We will continue to share the next steps together. Not in the enclave of the nest, but in our retreats, our pages, and our friendships. So, as my time as an Emu Debut is ending, something else is beginning.  I have faith that this something else will be filled with wonderful reads, amazing friendships, gracious educators, and incredible students. I am excited to see what adventures come next.

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Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendships, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. She happily 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, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.

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Filed under Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Writing and Life

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Last week, Facebook reminded me of a memory. On September 29, six whole years ago, I posted that I had just finished a first draft of a chapter book.

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Less than a year from now, on July 11, that chapter book, Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, will be published by FSG. Not only that, but a second book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, will also be released at the same time. AND, there are two more books in the series.

When I finished that first draft, I had no clue how long it would take me to revise and then sell that book. I accumulated many many rejections over the years. I share details of that journey here: The Long Bumpy Road. It’s more than a dream come true to have a series!

Since signing the contract with FSG, I’ve been working with my editor, the fabulous Grace Kendall. Let me tell you, it was well worth the wait to partner with Grace because not only does she love and understand Jasmine, Grace makes me a better writer.

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This journey has been heady, exciting, and thrilling with so many pinch-me moments. Since spring of 2015:

  • Received editorial letter and completed revisions with Grace
  • Found out that the talented Elizabet Vukovic is the series illustrator
  • Viewed rough sketches of Jasmine and her family
  • Completed copyedits of Mochi Queen
  • Viewed spot illustrations of Mochi Queen
  • Received draft of the cover art of Mochi Queen (kudos to designer Kristie Radwilowicz who did an amazing job)

I’m still in awe. I sometimes can’t believe that any of these things are happening. In fact, I’ve welled up with tears of joy at each and every step. I can’t wait to share illustrations and the cover art. I love Elizabet’s drawings of Jasmine and her family. As a not-very-visual writer, I had a vague idea of what Jasmine looked like. It wasn’t until I saw Elizabet’s illustrations that I knew what Jasmine looked like. Does that make sense? Now I can see Jasmine and her family and friends in my head.

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As soon as I’m able, I will share illustrations/cover art here!

I’m currently waiting to see the spot illustrations and cover art for book 2. I’m giddy! And soon I’ll be revising books 3 and 4 with Grace’s fabulous and wise feedback. I am seriously loving each and every step of this journey. I might sound a bit “Pollyanna” about this process, but believe me, prior to making this sale, I had plenty of doubts, plenty of bad days, plenty of down days. I’m truly grateful to be where I am now. I am looking forward to the next steps on this path!


web_edit6xx8t3624Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her rabbit, Aki, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux on July 11, 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books.

Before she started writing as her career, Debbi worked at a pet store, volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator, interned as a zookeeper’s aide, taught fifth grade, and was the Associate Curator of Education for a zoo.

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Editing and Revising, Faith, joy, Thankfulness

What Success Looks Like: Lessons from Little League

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This spring, it felt like my life had been taken over by little league. I had a daughter playing softball and a son playing baseball and between the two of them, we seemed to do little else. (Practice, games, driving, washing uniforms, packing snacks, Gatorade runs, etc.)

Things got significantly more exciting at the end of the season, because,

1. My daughter’s team won the championship, and

2. My son finally got a chance to pitch.

Each of these gave me a picture of what success looks like that I’ve been pondering ever since. As long as we’re writing, we’ll be judging our writing and determining its success. Sometimes by valid measures, sometimes not. Sometimes by internal measures, sometimes external. Each of us has a picture of what success would look like–a finished manuscript, an agent, a book deal, a bestseller, a movie deal, a starred review, a National Book Award. The picture changes as we move forward, and sometimes the finish line seems to recede on the horizon. When can we truly count ourselves successful?

Here’s what I learned from each of these little league experiences.

Lesson #1: As I mentioned, my daughter’s team won the championship. I think the magnitude of this is best illustrated by a conversation I had with my husband the night before the tournament started.

Me: Do you think we need to keep Wednesday clear on the schedule?

Husband: [laughs] No.

Me: Yeah. You’re right. At this point, there is a 0% chance they’ll be in the championship game.

Yes, I said those actual words. I wasn’t being cruel or pessimistic, just as realistic as possible. The team had lost almost all of their games. They were having fun, and we absolutely considered it a successful season, but 0% seemed like an honest assessment of their chances of winning their first two games and making it to the championship. But, of course, they did, and we scrambled to get her to that championship game, which her team won soundly. This is how happy she was:

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So what’s the lesson in this? You may be far closer to success than you think. Even if you’re being absolutely practical (or even pessimistic) about your chances of success and determine the odds to be near zero, success may find you anyway. The key is to keep working. Show up for the game and do your best. That’s it.

Lesson #2: Ever since the Giants won the World Series in 2014 almost entirely on the pitching of Madison Bumgarner, my son has wanted to be a pitcher. And not in that “I want to be a pitcher and now I’m going to play video games” kind of way. He has pitched to his dad and his grandpa and his coaches and friends, and when nobody was there to catch the ball, he pitched to the back fence. He practiced almost every day, but for most of the season, there were better pitchers on the team and he played second base. But still, he pitched to people and walls and threw invisible baseballs in the kitchen.

And then his time came. He got to pitch a couple of innings. He walked the first batter, then pulled it together and shut down the next two innings, including four strikeouts. The next game, his coach let him pitch until he’d reached the league maximum pitch count. His coach later described the game as “by far the best pitching performance we’ve seen all season.”

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This one was a strike for sure. 🙂

Again, the lesson: You may be far closer to success than you think. Even if all your hard work seems to have gotten you nowhere, your big break (pun intended) may be in the very next inning. The key is to keep working. Show up for the game and do your best. That’s it.

His team didn’t win the championship. She practiced and never got to throw a pitch in a game. Neither reached every goal they set out to accomplish. But do all three of us consider these little league seasons successful? Absolutely. Because success depends on showing up and working hard and, yes, achievement, but it’s about perspective too. We have to allow ourselves to celebrate. We have to create room in our hearts to recognize the successes, and to set things aside to shoot for next season.

I believe in you, readers. Whatever your picture of success looks like, I would not put your odds at 0%, and clearly it wouldn’t matter if I did. If you show up and work hard, good things will happen, often when you least expect them. In the words of my wonderful grandmother, who never once wished me good luck:

“Luck has nothing to do with it. You’re ready! I wish you success!”

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profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Inspiration, rejection and success, Satisfaction

Purposeful Patience

We each see the world through our own very particular lens and use our inclinations and experiences to help us make sense of life. Most people, I find, have distilled these influences into a sort of personal metaphor, something that can be held up for comparison  to everything else.

I have two such metaphors. I can make anything connect in a logical, natural way to either:

Horses    

Baby horse gif

or Childbirth

Dumbo gif

Today’s a childbirth kind of day.

When the idea for a book is…um… conceived by a writer, all things seems wonderfully possible. The future book is soft-focused, as if seen through a dusting of talcum powder and hope. It’s a maybe-baby. chinchilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

But unless the writer has the remarkable talent and good fortune to be an author-illustrator, a picture book cannot be born until it has complementary artwork made by someone else — an illustrator who will create a visual counterpart to the text and bring the whole into glorious being.

In other words, the writer’s adorable book-baby is going to have another parent.Bird gif

I think embracing this truth is one of the first steps to becoming a serious picture book writer. The sooner you understand that both the process and the end result are a shared enterprise, the better. No matter how much time you have put into crafting your (under 500 word) story, when it’s bought by a publisher, it’s only halfway finished.

Illustrations can take — I’m just going to say it — years. That can feel like a long time to wait. Breathless gif

It’s critical to remember that the chosen illustrator has only just begun to nurture the manuscript. To them, it’s still a maybe-baby and needs a lot of time and attention to come to full fruition.

Some things are worth the wait. Like babies. And picture books. As I wait for BABYMOON, I trust the process. Everyone who has taken an interest in my manuscript has its best prospects at heart. I will be purposefully patient. I will keep working. I will wait in talcum powder hope for a happy book-birthday. It will arrive when it’s ready, and I’ll be waiting with open arms.

Book heart gif

Enjoy the day!

Hayley


 

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Advice, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Editor, Faith, Illustrators, Inspiration, Patience, Picture books, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized, waiting, Writing and Life

When is it okay to call yourself a writer?

You hear authors say “I’ve been writing all my life” or “I’ve been writing since I was a little kid.” But for many of us I think the moment we actually label ourselves a “writer” can represent a significant step in this journey we’re on. This was true for me. In one of my early journals I wrote the following –

IMG_0152I couldn’t spell (thank the gods for spell check), but I obviously knew I wanted to write. I wrote all through high school, won a statewide poetry award, but then life got in the way. I wasn’t confident that I could make a living writing. I got interested in environmental issues and went a more scientific path. Even so the sneaky writing muse was watching out for me. I didn’t end up in a lab, I became a planner and project manager with significant responsibilities in, you guessed it, technical writing. But the writing I do for work is as far from creative writing as you can get while still using words.

For years I thought I couldn’t write creatively and do the technical work I was making my living at – then after a while (and I mean a decade or two) my thinking shifted. I give huge credit to my parents, they always remembered I was a writer when I forgot, and this helped me admit that since there were always four or five stories gamboling about in my head, I might as well write them down.

For a while it was my little secret. I didn’t tell family or friends. Then over time when people asked “what’s new” I would shyly admit that I was doing some writing on the side. It was well into my second full manuscript, that I realized two fundamental truths. First – if I called myself a writer, not only would others take me more seriously, but I would feel more grounded in the responsibility of putting butt in chair and getting the work done. Second, I’d been hesitant to call myself a writer because I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t published, but in fact I was a writer. I was putting the words down, reading, honing my craft skills, and becoming active in this amazing world of other writers doing the same thing. So, if you are in that place between “doing some writing” and “being a writer” I urge you to take that leap. Honor your skills and the hard work you’re doing by calling yourself what you are. Print up business cards. Put it on your Face Book page. Then enjoy the journey.

P.S. if you want more in this vein, run don’t walk to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC. Empowering – I promise.

DarceyHighResDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in spring of 2017. KEY TO HEAVEN, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

Find her on Facebook or Twitter @Darcey_r

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Filed under craft~writing, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Happiness, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

Of Cracked Ribs and Dreams Come True

It was a Saturday in July when I got “the call”.

Actually, missed “the call”.

Actually…*coughs* ignored “the call”.

I was recovering from pneumonia (brought on by severely overworking myself at my day job) and at my biweekly kidlit critique group meeting. One of my crit partners had driven me, because I was in no shape to drive myself. I faded in and oheyarnoldsickut over the three hour meeting, clutching my pirate pillow that I was using to brace my ribs. I’d coughed so hard over the two weeks prior that I’d fractured them. At one point, my phone buzzed and I saw a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it.

See, I’d been on sub for a while with the manuscript that got me my wonderful agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. She’d mentioned that someone was expressing interest and might take it to an acquisitions meeting that week, but my head was too full of fog to ever think that this could mean I’d get an offer. We’d been close before. We’d been on sub for what felt like forever. I had a new manuscript turned in that we were prepping to take out next, with the unspoken understanding that it meant shelving the old one for the time being. And there was the whole…103 degree fever for a week straight thing. The ol’ synapses were not exactly firing properly.

I fell asleep for a good chunk of my critique group meeting. I was in a haze as I was driven back to my apartment. So when I looked at my email, squashed in the front seat with my pillow wrapped securely around me, at first I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

It was an email from Joan. Asking if I was around to talk. She said she’d tried to get in touch with me, but was overseas and using a number I wouldn’t recognize.

My friend Tara was driving, with my other friend Annie in the backseat. Both published authors themselves, I immediately asked them what they thought of the cryptic message. I don’t think either of them thought it was cryptic–neither would come out and say that it probably meant I had an offer, but the implication was there.

…That’s when it hit me. The reality of what might be happening.

bugsbunnycrazyIt was the oddest sensation. I had zero energy, but I still flooded head to toe with adrenaline. Imagine being buried in sand with a caffeine IV drip buried next to you, pouring into your veins.

I wrote Joan back and told her (probably fairly incoherently, given my mental state) that she could call at anytime. Seriously. Any. Time. However, she’d made it clear in her first email that she was likely going to be busy the rest of the day. I was shaking, and not from a fever anymore.

My friends dropped me off, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I was too sick to go out and distract myself with anything, so I put in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and watched that.

Until my phone rang at 5pm.

I. Had. An. Offer! It was official! Joan (seriously, bless her) called me from Europe to tell me I had a two book offer from HarperCollins Children’s. Erica Sussman wanted to be my editor.

All I could say was, “Ohrdomigosh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!”–followed by intense periods of ugly coughing/hacking. I wanted to run. Jump. Scream. Dance. But all my body could manage was this odd sort of speed-shuffle around my apartment with my pirate pillow in tow. Both my cats flew around like maniacs, clearly knowing something was up. I called my parents. I cried.

A book deal! My lifelong dream come true, with cracked ribs.

Joan and I got back in touch when she returned to the States that following week, and we formally accepted. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.

I’ve recovered from the pneumonia and the fractures, thankfully.

…Still working on recovering from the shock.


 

Katie Slkatiemarsivensky’s debut Middle Grade novel (title TBD) tells the story of a 13 year-old robotics whiz who is thrilled to be chosen to train for an international mission to Mars, but soon finds herself and her fellow cadets in a situation far more dire and deadly than any of them could have imagined. Publication is set for Summer 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. With an academic background in paleontology and zoology, she only began dabbling in astronomy when she joined the Museum in 2009. It soon became a major passion, and spilled straight over into her writing life.

Katie lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Visit Katie on Twitter (@paleopaws) or on her personal blog, Discoverific.

 

 

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Happiness, Introduction, Thankfulness, The Call, Uncategorized