Our last featured author post of 12 x 12 in 2012 will be a bit personal, which I suppose is appropriate. Please bear with me as it will also be a bit longer as a result (I’m nothing if not wordy!).

I met Eileen Spinelli at the Highlights Foundation poetry workshop I attended this past May. Of course I knew she was on the faculty, but I could not know then how meeting her would be so  significant in my writing life.

I checked in and received my folder of information, only to discover that I had a one-on-one consultation with Eileen the following day. Nerves set in. I do not consider myself a poet in the least, which is why I was taking the workshop in the first place. When asked to submit a piece for critique and comment by the faculty, I pulled out a poem/picture book I’d written three years ago that had gotten ripped to shreds at a former conference I’d attended. It was the only real “poem” I had, and I figured I might as well get another opinion, seeing as how I hadn’t even looked at it in two years.

I was feeling far less sure knowing that THE Eileen Spinelli had not only read it, but was going to give me feedback. You see, I was well acquainted with Eileen’s work before writing for children had even become a twinkle in my eye. So many of her books seemed to have been written just for me (and no, I haven’t forgotten that she writes for children).

I’ve always been in love with the moon and felt a special bond with it, and no book has captured my feeling as truly as Rise the Moon. The book that helped me survive leaving my three-month old daughter to go back to work full time in the banking industry was When Mama Comes Home Tonight. Mama was my touchstone with my daughter every single night for two full years – a fact I tearfully confessed to Eileen after dinner one night at Highlights (with the assistance of a couple glasses of wine). Later, when I started writing books of my own, I studied hers in an effort to discover how to strike the heart in such a precise way. In particular, Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch helped me understand endings, and Sophie’s Masterpiece taught me everything there is to know about poignancy in picture books (except, unfortunately, how to execute it so well).

Here’s what happened in my meeting with Eileen: she saw my heart in that poem. More than that, she showed it to me and convinced me that, despite having ignored it for three years, it was still there. Receiving affirmation of the value of that work was the very last thing I expected to come out of that meeting. Thus I had to re-learn the most important writer’s lesson — this business is subjective. Rejection is not defeat. Giving up is defeat.

With Eileen at the Highlights Workshop

I will admit right now that I still haven’t had the courage to submit that poem/picture book even though I’ve made more revisions and it’s ready. But when I do (and it is when and not if), it will be because Eileen restored my faith, not just in that one piece of writing, but in the fact that what I have to say is important. That my voice should be heard. That is a gift that goes far beyond any one critique.

Which is why I am SO pleased to tell you that one lucky 12 x 12 participant will receive a handwritten note of encouragement from Eileen every month in 2013. That’s right! Once a month, Eileen will write to you personally to cheer you on, keep you going and praise your effort. Having been the recipient of a few such notes from her this year, I can assure you that whoever wins this prize will find it to be an invaluable writing boost. Now, I have gone on for a very long time, so let’s get to my interview with Eileen. Many of these questions derived from discussions we had at Highlights, so I’ve included some explanation to each question.

During our meeting about my poem/picture book, Eileen asked me where/who I had submitted it to. My answer? “Umm… nobody?” She told me, in the nicest possible way, that in order to get an acceptance you have to submit, and that the more you submit, the greater your chances of finding someone who will accept the work. It’s both true and logical, and yet so difficult to do. So I asked her to elaborate.

Eileen, you told me at the Highlights conference not to be so particular about who to submit to. This goes against advice writers often hear that they should only send their manuscripts to those editors and/or agents who might be a good fit for their work. Can you explain why you think writers should take a broader approach?

It isn’t that I think it’s a bad idea to find an agent or editor who might be the right fit for one’s work. I’m just not sure that can be planned out so easily. If I waited until I knew a particular manuscript would be a perfect fit for an editor I might still be waiting. Obviously if an editor tells me he/she does not care for rhymed stories…then I won’t send a rhymed piece to that particular editor.  But for the most part I trust in serendipity–hoping an editor will be happily surprised by my story–even if the editor hadn’t been looking for such a piece. As a writer I try to keep the focus on the writing itself as much as possible….and not get bogged down in trying to figure out the marketing. This is my way…I’m not suggesting that other ways can’t be effective too.

I never seem to know when I manuscript is “finished,” so I asked Eileen how she knows.

How do you evaluate whether one of your manuscripts is “ready” for submission? Any advice for writers on how to do that?

When I read a manuscript and something in me goes, “ahhhh”…then I know it’s ‘ready’. I’ve been writing for so many years that I have developed a sense of when something is good enough to send in. It took a long time to develop that sense though. I confess I still cringe at some of my early efforts. But I learned from those –especially when a kind editor commented. I encourage writers to read their work aloud. Even better–have someone read it aloud to you. There is something magical and useful about hearing the words.

I highly recommend the exercise of visualizing yourself as a child before you begin to write. Eileen gave us many prompts to do just that at the workshop, so I decided to turn it around on her and ask her how that exercise works for her own writing.

Also at the Highlights conference, you gave us exercises to dig into our childhood memories and mine them for writing inspiration. Can you share one of your childhood memories that later became a picture book?

A childhood memory that found its way into a picture book: I’ve folded a lot of childhood memories into my latest book COLD SNAP. I made snow angels and went sledding down the hill behind the school. I made snowmen with my friends. I loved going home when I was cold and wet to get into my flannel nightie (in the book I say pajamas)…and to sip hot chocolate. I remember we had a coal furnace that sometimes went out during the night. Brrrr. And I remember hot-water bottles and hot maple syrup poured over snow. All these things are in the book.

Curiosity question: Since you do both, do you prefer writing in rhyme or prose?

My very favorite thing to write is lyrical prose. I have fun writing rhymed verse–but it’s a lot more difficult.

In today’s tough picture book market, what encouragement would you give to the downtrodden PB writer who’s afraid s/he might never break in?

The situation with picture books can feel quite discouraging. If I were starting out I would write what I loved to write. If I loved writing picture book manuscripts Iwould write those–even in a tough market. I would try to think out of the box. Come up with a new approach or format. I would also write short pieces and poems for magazines…to keep my spirits up…to make kids happy…to put my name out there.

Eileen Spinelli is the bestselling author of more than 50 books for children, including picture books, poetry collections and chapter books. Many of her books, including Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch, When Mama Comes Home Tonight, Here Comes the Year, Sophie’s Masterpiece, and Do You Have a Hat? have won numerous awards. In addition to her own writing, Eileen Spinelli enjoys conducting writing workshops for both children and adults. Her favorite writer is her husband, Jerry Spinelli, and her favorite beverage while writing is tea. Eileen and Jerry have 6 children, 16 grandchildren and live in West Chester Pennsylvania.

Participants – to enter to win a monthly handwritten note each month from Eileen in 2013, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of December for one point. On December 31st, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in December, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point. I will draw a winner using Random.org and announce on January 3rd (allowing a couple of extra days for the holiday).

Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Creativity, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Winter, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. That has to be one of the most awesome prizes — no, “prize” doesn’t seem the right word — GIFTS an established writer could offer an aspiring writer. Wow. To read what Eileen has done for you, Julie, is a gift in itself. Thank you so much for this post, and for the gift of 12×12 which you have given us each and every day this year. You are a delight.

    • Beth, I’m so glad you are as in love with the prize/gift as I am this month. Your participation, spirit and encouragement has been a huge gift to me this year! How lucky I am to have you in this group!

  2. I met Eileen at a Highlights Institute in Chautauqua a few years ago – what an awesomely great person! She is such a generous soul – both on the page and off.

    • Could not agree more! It’s always wonderful to discover that a person you’ve admired from afar for so long is REAL with no affectations. Eileen is indeed a generous soul!

  3. Beautiful post. I can feel your admiration and affection for Eileen radiating out from your words, Julie. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful to receive her note each month. I would love that.

    And speaking of love, Julie….I love the fact that you created 12 x 12. I love the fact that you have gone to such lengths to inspire and encourage us for a whole year. I could go on and on. I am feeling sad and excited that the first 12 x 12 is coming to an end. I know we will go again in 2013…but this first experience has just been so positive that I can’t even pick a word that will do it justice!!! Thanks!!! (I know we have another month, but I just had to write what I am feeling right now on Dec. 1st!)

  4. This is truly a lovely post. It is warm, inspiring, and encouraging like a cup of hot chocolate and a warm fire on a freezing night. What a way to wrap up a year! Thank you Eileen for your time and encouragement, and thank you Julie for 12×12. So glad we met at the NJ SCBWI conference in June.

  5. Julie, I feel the love. Wonderful post. Thanks to both of you beautiful ladies for giving back. What a BODACIOUS prize. Simply superb. I’m ready for the next year! *rubs hands together* 🙂

  6. To focus on the writing and to write what you love – this is encouragement we need to hear to keep ourselves happily and hard at work! And to hear it from Eileen is a wonderful gift – thank you Eileen, and thank you Julie for your generous spirits in helping us find courage and boldness and wings, and to keep faith in our dreams and work well to live them! All best and wonderful wishes to everyone for a beautiful holiday season and a happy, healthy, productive new year! I’m looking forward to the new 12 x12!
    Janis Warren

  7. Julie! What a beautiful post. I am so inspired by your experience with Eileen and by her words of wisdom. Thank you so much for recruiting such a legend for this last post. And what an invaluable givewaway. So meaningful. Love this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This has been an amazing year. Love this group.

  8. Julie, this is the perfect — perfect! — way to end the 12×12 year. Thanks so much for all you’ve done this year, and to Eileen for her generosity.
    Carol Munro

  9. I mean, really. Amazing. WE WILL FINISH STRONG.
    Carter Higgins

  10. What a wonderful way to start December. 2012 has been such a great year. 12×12 really made a big difference in my writing. Thanks Eileen for the post and Julie for this amazing group!

  11. How neat you’ve met and been inspired by THE Eillen Spinelli! The gift of encouragement—an awesome prize!

  12. Lovely, inspiring post. Thanks Julie and Eileen.
    Tim McCanna

  13. Julie, thanks for a splendid post and interview. I share your admiration for Eileen. I met Eileen at a Chautauqua workshop. Her speech on picture books was marvelously inspirational. Here are a few of my notes (they are on post-its next to my computer)—”Picture books need evocative language.” “A picture book is full of images rather than adjectives.” “Imagine a story as a string. Tie it together—endings connect to beginnings.” “Language should be both spare and rich.” And finally, my favorite—”Every book has in it my heart and piece of my life.” All of Eileen’s books are so full of feelings–Someone Loves You, Mr. Hatch is my grandson’s favorite; Kittycat Lullaby, my granddaughter’s favorite; and Sophie’s Masterpiece, my favorite. For 365 days of inspiration, check out Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself by Eileen and Jerry Spinelli.

  14. Thanks so much, Eileen, for reminding us that in order to get an acceptance we have to submit. I need that reminder! Thanks, Julie, for helping us stay focused on our craft. Even though I didn’t complete a draft each month, I learned a tremendous amount along the way. An inspiring end to an inspiring year.

    Kim Murray

  15. Eileen-THREE PEBBLES AND A SONG is so beautiful! If I can’t remember what it’s like to put heart into a story, I pull it off the shelf and re-read. Thanks for your encouragement to everyone on our writing journeys.

  16. Eileen & Julie, thanks so much for such an inspiring interview. I cannot believe it is the last one of 2012! I especially appreciate the reminder to write what we love to write & not focus just on the dictates of the marketplace.

    Patricia Nozell

  17. Wow. This is an absolutely incredible post. I think those of us who don’t win the letters from Eileen Spinelli would do almost as well to just read this post once a month in 2013.

  18. What a wonderful, personal prize. This is so meaningful as is this post and how special your moments with Eileen were at the conference and since by mail. This sounds like such a serendipitous encounter. I appreciate that push to submit, as I am guilty of holding back! What a year!

  19. Man, I think I am about to cry! I can feel the warmth in Eileen’s words, and can only imagine the experience you had, Julie, as simply magical. Lucky, lucky you. This post is like a sugar cookie, straight from the oven! Thanks ladies!

  20. Julie, what a golden opportunity to spend time with Eileen Spinelli!

    Eileen, your inspiration is a gift to carry with us all. Thanks you!

  21. What a wonderful post and the a very useful Q & A. Perfect way to round-out 12×12 in 2012. Thanks Julie for everything! 🙂
    Darshana Khiani

  22. What a wonderful, personal gift, Eileen. You are truly generous. I really appreciate this practical advice as well in terms of submitting. I know I try to target houses that do a lot of nonfiction, but maybe there’s another house that might be pleasantly surprised by well-written nonfiction. Kirsten Larson

  23. Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch is my all-time favorite of Eileen’s books–I’m in awe of its pacing, emotion, drama, satisfaction. Eileen’s advice is a great new way to look at the submission process–hoping an editor connects with a ms is akin to a reader choosing a book and finding a delightful surprise.
    Thanks to both Eileen and Julie for the thoughtful post.
    Lisa Rogers

  24. What a lovely post about friendship, support, and the value of a mentor.

    Reading about COLD SNAP reminded me that when I was 8, all I wanted for Christmas was a deep purple snowmobile suit with faux fur trim on the hood. How Santa found EXACTLY what I wanted in the days before Amazon or online shopping, I’ll never know! I spent many happy winter afternoons playing in the snow, purple and warm!

  25. Wow! What a beautiful inspiring mentor Eileen is. How wonderful to have such a gift as this loving, and dedicated friend, Julie. Thankyou for wrapping up this year with a warm message and thankyou for what you have done for so many of us.

  26. Mrs. Spinelli is an awesome author – and person! She is very kind and I really love her books! She gave some great advice in this post, thanks Ms. Hedlund! 😀 Cold Snap is a GREAT book! 🙂
    Erik Weibel

  27. “I would also write short pieces and poems for magazines…to keep my spirits up…to make kids happy…to put my name out there.”
    This is such sweet advice. “to keep my spirits up … to make kids happy”. I love the whole idea of that.
    It’s been a rather tough year for me, and I have been disappointed in not keeping up with 12×12 as I had hoped to, but I am trying again this month. I cannot tell you what Ms. Spinelli’s letters would do for me. Thanks Julie and Ellen (I felt your passion and warmth through this interview) for this wonderful post.
    – Lynn Davidson

  28. What a generous, loving and inspiring individual. Have read a number of her books and enjoy her writing, so her insight meant a lot. Excellent post! I had one very good manuscript come out of 12×12 and it’s been throught many revisions and an editor. Sent it to an agency accepting unsolicited MS, and they asked to read my MS. In the end it wasn’t what they were looking for at this time, so I just have to keep sending it out. Rejection goes with the territory. Chin up!

  29. What a special gift your relationship is, Julie! And Eileen, “Cold Snap” is just the book for this coming season. I will be looking for it…and your many others. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Jarm Del Boccio

  30. What a special gift. Wonderful words on being ready. I grabbed several of Eileen’s books after a recent critique group meeting at the library. I have The Best Time of Day near my desk now. Thanks for this post Julie and Eileen. I’m looking forward to 2013. – Stacy S. Jensen

  31. Kathleen Cornell Berman

    How wonderful. I admire the way Eileen’s books have touched your life. Isn’t that the ultimate compliment for an author? Thanks for sharing Julie and Eileen.
    Kathy Cornell Berman

  32. Julie…you’ve provided us with a year of special gifts…organizing 12×12 in 2012 which inspired and encouraged us to follow through on ideas and write a pb draft each month…spotlighting awesome guest posters who shared sparkling gems of advice and expertise…offering MAJOR prizes that would cause any kid-lit aficionado to salivate! Thank you so very much!
    Eileen…I truly appreciate the golden nuggets that you shared…”the more you submit, the greater your chances of finding someone who will accept your work”…I thought perhaps I should wait till the New Year and not send in something during the last 2 weeks of December (this will be my first ‘real’ submission of a picture book)…but I will drag my feet no longer than that…I promise! And “visualize yourself as a child as you sit down to write”…and “have your work read aloud…you will know if it is ready to submit’…love these!

    • Oh dear…forgot to leave my name…although it is on my gravatar. 🙂
      I think everyone always knows which is my comment…just find the longest one. 🙂
      Vivian Kirkfield

  33. What a wonderful writing story, Julie and Eileen. Thanks so much for 12×12 Julie and I look forward to reading Cold Snap and your poem on the shelf one day Julie 🙂

  34. Thank you for the lovely inspiration, Eileen, and Julie, thank you for an almost-year of surprising fun. I’m looking forward to next year, and thought I’d say that now while I’m still up to date on my drafts! ; )

  35. Oh, Eileen and Julie, I feel I’ve already received that personal note of encouragement! This was a wonderfully warm post with your preliminary, Julie, and then Eileen’s interview. Julie I love your statement, “Rejection is not defeat. Giving up is defeat.” And the suggestion from Eileen to “encourage writers to read their work aloud. Even better–have someone read it aloud to you. There is something magical and useful about hearing the words.” Why have I never done that? Thanks for this post, Julie. I still have sooo much to learn, but I have grown soooo much this past year.

  36. What a great prize for the last month of 2012! Loved the interview with its wonderful advice! Thanks Julie and Eileen!

  37. What a beautiful way to start the month and end the year! I already feel inspired. I can’t wait to go track down Eileen’s books and soak them in. Thank you Julie for sharing your heart and inspiration with us. And thank you Eileen for the words of wisdom and encouragement. I feel so blessed to have been a part of 12×12 this year and can’t wait to kick off 2013. Wahoooo!
    Thank you again so much,
    Beth Thaler

  38. Thank you, Eileen and Julie. What an inspirational post and wonderful way to begin our final 12×12 month. I recently did some organizing and pulled all my picture book manuscripts into one folder. It was stunning to see them all in one place. Yes, they are in varying stages of completion, but some are a lot farther along than I thought they would be. I thought I’d be happy to just end the year with 12 rough drafts, but 12×12 has opened up so many opportunities to take these stories to the next level. It has truly been an amazing year and I feel energized to continue in 2013!

  39. Thanks, Eileen and Julie, for this heartwarming, inspiring post. I’m looking forward to finishing strong and to sending out manuscripts.
    -Jan O’Neil

  40. Thanks you Eileen, I needed to read this very much today. And thank you Julie for the past 11 months of hosting the 12 x 12 and sharing many inspirational posts.

  41. What a wonderful prize.

    Colleen Kosinski

  42. I love this interview. What a super-pro! Knowing when a piece is ready is always a tough call. I’ll have to listen for the, “Aaahhh…”

    Genevieve Petrillo

  43. Eileen was my mentor at Highlights Chautauqua, so I know how invigorating her encouragement is! I lost my way on 12 x 12 this year, but I did write and submit three manuscripts for critique at various conferences. I’m eager to rejoin, and regroup, in 2013.

  44. Thank you, Eileen and Julie for a wonderfully inspirational post!

    Julie – I’m going to take this time to thank you so much for starting the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge. I’ve recommended it to so many of my writer friends. Everyone who joined has been helpful and I’ve learned loads about writing picture books through this challenge.

  45. What a fantastically wonderful post! Thank you so much, Julie and Eileen for such great inspiration. My resolution for 2013 is to submit one of my 12 X 12 drafts (revised to completion) every few weeks. No acceptance without trying, right? 😉 Thanks again for such a perfect post!

    ~Beth Gallagher

  46. Great post! Thanks so much for everything!!!
    cynthia iannaccone

  47. What a truly inspiring post. As someone who’s felt a bit detached from writing the past few months, this post was exactly what I needed. Thanks Eileen and Julie.

    Christine Alemshah

  48. Am I too late to qualify for the prize of handwritten encouraging notes? What a great prize! I am going to suggest to my writing group that we do something along this line for each other.

    Sallie Wolf

  49. Happy New Year, Julie! I LOVE this post! it brought back SO many happy memories. I too feel blessed to have met Eileen. What a great interview.


  50. Elizabeth McBride

    What a wonderful post, Julie! Thank you for the good reminders. I especially appreciate Eileen’s advice that we can’t entirely know which agents and editors are the best fit for our work. I have obsessed over that research so heavily that I have hardly sent anything in! Like she said though, you can’t accept defeat before trying! Time to send some things out!

    Thank you to both of you,

    Elizabeth McBride

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