View from the private terrace off my room. La Bella Notte a Firenza.

View from the private terrace off my room. La Bella Notte a Firenza.

I am watching a sorbet sun sink into the Arno directly from the bed of my hotel room in Florence, having successfully completed the the second annual Writer’s Renaissance. Made new lifelong friends and connected with old ones (as in time, not age :-)), so it is impossible to feel anything but deep gratitude, albeit with just a touch of sadness that it has to come to an end. But every ending is also a beginning, and I look forward to greeting spring back in Boulder.

I have only one gratitude quote for you today, which sums up the week perfectly.

“The world is made up of five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and the Florentines.” — Pope Alexander VI

“A vero,” as the Italians say. “It’s true.”

Gratitude list for the week ending April 12

  1. Enzo and Maria Ferrara, for bringing me once again into the Porcellino family and feeding me so exquisitely (and so often)!
  2. Jackie, Suzanne, Teri, Mary, and Jane – my Renaissance writers of 2014. Buona fortuna mi amici e ci vediamo a presto

    "Last Supper" in Florence. Ciao Bellas!

    “Last Supper” in Florence. Ciao Bellas!. It was a great pleasure to share “my” Florence with you, and I was honored to write with you and to hear your stories. Keep writing. Keep creating. Keep living. KEEP IN TOUCH!!

  3. Mary Hoffman, for returning once again to share her intimate knowledge of Florence and its history and her writerly wisdom. AND for putting up with a bit of tardiness from yours truly.
  4. Sarah Towle, for bringing us nose to nose with the Florence of the Medicis and “turning history on” for us.
  5. To Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Brunelleschi, and Fra Filippo Lippi for sending your ghosts to the gazebo in the form of a very
    Taglietteli con sugo di Cinghiale from Osteria del Porcellino

    Taglietteli con sugo di Cinghiale from Osteria del Porcellino

    unique play.

  6. Gelato, gelato, gelato! Nocciola, Pistachio, Bacio, Noce, Mandorla, etc. etc.
  7. To Riccardo for making me my own piece of Florentine paper and for always making such gorgeous notebooks
  8. Andrea Gagnesi for once again teaching a cooking course that was unforgettable in every way
  9. To my family, for tolerating my absence and supporting me while I run this event, which I’m sure most people think is crazy at best.
  10. SO MUCH MORE! TOO MUCH TO INCLUDE IN ONE POST! Grazie Mille Firenze!

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Authors, Cooking, Creativity, Florence, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, Italy, Travel, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Cecilia ClarkToday I am delighted to begin the 2014 “Tuesday 12 x 12″ series, where we feature one pre-published author who shares his or her writing journey (so far) for the edification and inspiration of us all. We often hear from published authors after they’ve achieved some level of success, but I think it is just as important and absolutely as inspiring to learn from those in the deepest part of the trenches. The ones who’ve made the brave decision to make their creative lives a priority.

So it seems fitting to begin with Cecilia Clark, who has taken the writing challenge world by storm in the one year since she made the commitment to herself to follow her dream. Like me, she took the risk of leaving her day job and its familiarity behind her. I recognize the mix of terror and elation she describes here, but given all she has accomplished already, I have no doubt her dream is well within reach. Please welcome Cecilia!

Prior to February 2013 my only writing was 25 word or less competition entries and the occasional desultory blog post once a year and once upon a long time ago I wrote a novel that was rejected three times. At the start of last year I was exhausted and burnt out and facing the first of three surgeries and I was thinking I had lost my chance at ever achieving the dreams I had had since I was a child. Finally, I took a deep breath and made the risky decision to quit my day job. Life had taken some convoluted twists and turns but I was determined that I would somehow turn my life around.

January 2014 I joined 12 x 12 as an investment in my future. I had been hearing of it ever since I made the decision in February 2013 to pursue a writing career. From the moment of that decision I joined every challenge I could find and started networking with many of the people I encountered. First I went for campNaNoWriMo last April and wrote 57,000 words of a novel. Then I stumbled across the chapter book challenge(ChaBooCha) and missed it by the nth degree but I did submit stories and art to an anthology Becky Fyfe was coordinating. I joined organisations and began to look at what they offered in supporting me to my goals such as SCBWI and RWA as well as National writing organisations. I began submitting work to anthologies everywhere I could find them.

To date I have not made one red cent from my writing. Most of the anthologies fund the next year’s edition, several had funds directed to charity, one funded a film and key speaker, one sent the stories to soldiers in a war zone and one is funding a library. I submitted to online flash fiction opportunities and entered flash fiction competitions. I did NaNoWriMo and the Romance Writers of Australia 50k challenge and PiBoIdMo and SkaDaMo, all in November. I gained swollen ankles, fuzzy eyesight, neck strain, 104,000 words, 32 illustrations, 45 PB ideas and a huge bubble of excitement inside me. I went on to the HohoDooDa and the Holiday writing Competition in December and in January missed out on membership of RYS by the skin of my teeth and budgeting tightly in my newly unemployed state I  joined 12 x 12.  I have completed one novel from the crazy November and sent my first ever query to an agent in March. I have three PB drafts so far this year and another 28 ideas from February’s PB marathon and learning how to blog PB reviews in 14:14.. Now ChaBooCha, art every week to the 52 week challenge on FB. I revise with ReviMo and Started the Year Off Write and know I have so much more to learn. 12 x 12 is giving me an anchor or a hub to connect me into all the other things I can try and do. I am meeting new people, joined two critique groups, I have peers to bounce ideas off and to support and encourage. I have goals and I am crazy enough to be a writer. 12 x 12 represents for me the wonderful, generous, kind and caring community that is the kidlit world. For the first time in my life I feel like I belong and for the first time in my life I am introducing myself as a writer and illustrator. My past history which includes 23 years as a foster parent is now relegated to the basket marked – fodder for writing ideas.

My youngest son noticed I was grumpy the other day and he said “Mum have you done any writing today?”

It was a risk worth taking.

Cecilia is a member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FWA), Romance Writer’s Australia(RWA) and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Australia and New Zealand.

Cecilia can be followed on any given day rambling along on her blog sharing her art and writing journey  http://ceciliaaclark.blogspot.com.au

Cecilia can be found on her Goodreads author profile https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7245110.Cecilia_Clark

Her Amazon author profile http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00FUXSGWG

Facebook      https://www.facebook.com/cecilia.clark.336

Twitter         https://twitter.com/cc_lark

email            ceciliaAclark@gmail.com

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerWe’ve got a prize to give out – no foolin’! Our fantastic March Featured Author Deborah Underwood is graciously awarding one 12×12 member signed copies of Here Comes the Easter Cat and Bad Bye, Good Bye! And the lucky winner is….

Carrie Finison!

Congrats! Please contact Kelli at kelli (at) juliehedlund (dot) com to claim your prize.

Didn’t win? No worries. We’re just getting started!

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Books, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , ,

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Laura Purdie Salas on www.juliehedlund.com

In honor of April being National Poetry Month, I thought who better to be our featured author than the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor winner for picture book text in 2013? That’s right! Today we welcome Laura Purdie Salas, award-winning author of A LEAF CAN BE and (get this) more than 100 other books for children!  

If you look at the photo of Laura, you’ll probably think she looks sweet and kind. And she is — unless somebody treads on one of her peeps! Last year at the SCBWI-LA conference, I was lucky enough to have Laura take me under her wing as it was my first time on faculty. Whenever anybody gave me smack talk (yes it did happen) or was monopolizing my time, there was Laura to my rescue! I told her I want to pack her into my suitcase for all of my speaking engagements!

Laura is a phenomenal writer, a huge supporter of fellow writers, a mentor, and an amazing friend. What more could you ask for? A post about poetry you ask? Well, she did that too! Please welcome Laura!

10 Thoughts About Poetry
Hi, 12×12-ers! It’s great to visit this super energetic community! I miss everyone’s enthusiasm:>) I’m honored to be the April Guest Author, and, since my true love is poetry, I’m sharing some thoughts/tips on the writing, marketing, and sharing or poetry. I hope you like it.

The Difficult Truth
1. It’s hard to sell a poetry collection to an editor. This is not good news. But poetry books tend not to make much money (see #2), and even editors who love poetry often aren’t free to acquire it. I have at least four poetry collections that my agent has submitted around that I think are stronger than any of my published collections. No sale.

2. Even once you sell to an editor, it’s hard to sell to the public. My first trade poetry book (meaning a book I wrote and sold to a publisher, rather than writing on assignment from a publisher) sold, at last count, fewer than 2,000 copies. It just went out of print. It was a Finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and got another couple of nice honors, but they didn’t translate into nearly enough sales to keep the book in print.
So, what can you do? Make your work the best it can be!

Immerse Yourself in Poetry
3. Join the Poetry Friday gang. The best way to improve your poems is to read a ton of them. And there’s no better company to do that in than with the Poetry Friday blogosphere celebration every week. It’s easy. You go to Mary Lee Hahn’s blog, A YEAR OF READING, and look at the Poetry Friday schedule in the right sidebar. Click on the link for this week’s host. Then go visit their Poetry Friday Roundup, in which they will post links to all of the participating bloggers. You’ll see lots of single poem posts (people post their own poems as well as poems by others) and reviews of poetry books and interviews with poets. Lots of the poetry is for kids; some is for adults. If you go through the posts each week, reading the ones that seem appealing, you will start to get a picture of children’s poetry. Read. Enjoy. Learn. Comment. Even if you don’t have a blog, you can start to build relationships as the weeks go on. I have made some wonderful poetry friends through this community, and I have also been invited to participate in several anthologies by folks I met online this way. And to speak at conventions and such. Plus, we’re generally just a really nice, cool group of people! You will have lots of fun while absorbing a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, and what you like and don’t like. Water Can Be...by Laura Purdie Salas

4. Write for the fun of it. Knowing and accepting that the majority of my poetry will never be shared in book form is a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because…well, that’s pretty obvious, right? But it’s a blessing because it means I write it because I love it. I can’t help writing poetry–it’s the most fun writing I get to do. And if you want to write poetry for kids, I hope the same is true for you! I’m generally very goal-oriented, so I don’t, for instance, sit and write nonfiction pieces that I know will very likely never be published or even seen by other people. But there’s a freedom that comes with knowing I’m doing something totally inefficient and ineffective as a career strategy. It brings a sense of wild freedom that is wonderful. So write lots of poetry to stretch yourself. Most of it will stink. And that’s good! It means you’re reaching past your abilities. Keep doing that, over and over, and eventually your abilities will improve. And you’ll discover what kinds of poems you’re really good at!

5. Read a TON of poetry! In addition to the Poetry Friday posts, you want to be reading all the poetry books being published in your specific poetry genre (picture books, novels in verse, upper elementary collections, etc.). And you need to read what is being published NOW, not what was hot when you were a kid. Sylvia Vardell, anthologist, teacher educator, children’s poetry fanatic, and blogger, publishes a sneak peek of upcoming poetry books at the start of each year. Here are links for the past couple of years to get you started on your reading.
2014
2013
2012

6. Share your work online. A lot of people are hesitant to share their work online, but it’s the best way to make connections—of the heart, not of the business kind (though that is a benefit as well). For me, I have found that an attitude of abundance helps me. There will always be another poem. That’s my mantra. I don’t share poems that I write specifically with publication in mind, but I do share occasional poems that I think MIGHT be publishable. I also share a super rough first draft every Thursday on my 15 Words or Less Poems post, where I post a photo and share a very short poem draft inspired by it. Then other people join in and share their first drafts based on the same photo. It’s amazing to see the variety! (There are other poetry prompts out there, too, of course.) And for National Poetry Month, I’m posting a riddle-ku (a riddle haiku) every day. It can be very lonely to be writing lots of poems and not getting published. Even though publishing is my overall goal, I enjoy sharing my work and connecting with other poets on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to think about how you can share your work online. Don’t blog? Maybe you’re on Facebook or Twitter, both awesome for sharing poems. Or if you don’t do any of those, you might just share your poems on other peoples’ blogs in response to poetry prompts they post. Hoarding your poems, in my experience, just doesn’t lead anywhere. Yes, every once in a while, I’ve seen a call for poems and wished I hadn’t shared a certain poem online (because many journals and book markets do consider a poem published if it has appeared online). But those twinges of regret have been far and few between and have been greatly outweighed by being an active member of an encouraging, rowdy poetry crowd.

BookspeakImprove Your Craft
7. Learn meter and rhyme. This is the number one weakness I see in poems and rhyming picture books that I critique. There are some good websites and books on this topic, and you should use them. Poor meter is THE number one problem I see in beginners’ poetry. But the ability to use meter well CAN be learned. It’s just that it’s hard and time-consuming. But it’s worth it. One book I recommend is poet Mary Oliver’s Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse. A few more resources are:
• Lane Fredrickson’s Rhyme Weaver website
Interactive scanning tool at For Better or Verse, from the University of Virginia
“Have You Got Rhythm?” by Jan Fields at the ICL site
“Rhymer’s Workshop” (a chat transcript) with Shelly Becker at the ICL site
• Examples of good rhyming books on my Pinterest Boards: Rhyming Nonfiction Picture Books and Fun Rhyming Picture Books

8. For rhyming picture books, make sure you have a story. With a plot. Stories in verse can be lots of fun, but lots of writers forget that story is a crucial element. Often, writers get so caught up in the fun of the rhyme and the wordplay that they leave small elements like conflict and obstacles and resolution out. A great way to test your rhyming story is to write it out in prose. Does it have a beginning and an end? A conflict? Events that cause other events? An ending that feels satisfying? If it’s missing any of those elements, you don’t have enough there for a story, rhyming or not. I’ve been there. It hurts. But it’s better to figure that out now than to have an editor point it out to you:>) (Concept rhyming books and nonfiction rhyming books have other important elements instead of or in addition to a plot.)

9. Create a collection with a super special hook in either topic or form. Or both. I can’t count the number of times an editor has said, “I love this collection of state poems. But there’s already a book of state poetry.” And there is. One. Published 10-15 years ago. I have heard this response on other topics too. Because poetry doesn’t sell well, editors hate it when there’s already a competing book. Most libraries with dwindling budgets will not buy another bug (for example) poetry collection if they already have one. So that means you have to be extra imaginative! Think outside the box. Your topic or poetic form (or both) should be something not already done a lot. Take a peek at Marilyn Singer’s Mirror Mirror and Follow Follow and Bob Raczka’s Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word for examples of unique forms. For unique topics, look at Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems (J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian), Cowboys (David Harrison), Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole (Bob Raczka again), and This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness (Joyce Sidman). For most writers and most large mainstream publishers, an animal poetry collection is much too general. But Joyce has a poetry book coming out all about how animals survive very cold temps. So, one thing you can do is take the topic you’re interested in and narrow it down, give it a twist, approach it from a different direction. Do something that hasn’t been seen before. That is your best chance of actually hooking an editor.

10. Read my Poetic Pursuits:>) From 2007 to 2009, I wrote a series of monthly (sorta) columns for my website on all different parts of writing poetry for kids, from getting ideas to scanning meter to writing in different forms. They’re all on my site and are just as relevant today as when I wrote them. The only difference is that my examples are 6-7 years old. If you’re interested in writing poems for kids, though, I think/hope you’ll find a lot of good info there to inspire you!

Bonus! Two exercises for you to try:
As an 8th-grade English teacher, one class project we did was work in small groups to create ballads by taking the lyrics to a t.v. theme song (like Gilligan’s Island) and telling a myth or a history story by doing a song parody. Same meter, same rhyme scheme as the original theme song, but a totally different topic. I still do this kind of thing today to stretch myself beyond my comfortable poetry forms and meters. So I challenge you to do the same thing! You can see a blog post I wrote about this where I shared my own imitation of a Rebecca Kai Dotlich poem here.

And if you’re interested in giving rhyming nonfiction a try, I’ll lead you through a quick exercise here.
I know this was lots of information, but I figured some of you might be brand new to poetry and thinking about giving it a try. Others of you might be further along in working in poetry and be looking for a few more advanced tips. So…I tried to give a variety. I hope you found something useful here, and I hope you’ll give poetry a try! Happy National Poetry Month!

GIVEAWAY:
Laura is giving away a prize to one lucky 12 x 12 participant. Take your pick between these two items:
Choice 1: A selection of five of Laura’s poetry and/or rhyming nonfiction books, personalized.
Choice 2: A one-hour on-the-spot poetry critique session with Mentors for Rent via Skype.

Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 120 books for kids and teens, including the brand new WATER CAN BE… (starred reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly—holy cow! , A LEAF CAN BE… (Bank Street Best Books, IRA Teachers’ Choice, Riverby Award for Nature Books for Young Readers, and more), and BOOKSPEAK! POEMS ABOUT BOOKS (Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notable, Bank Street Best Book, Eureka! Gold Medal, and more). Poetry is her very favorite thing to write! See more about Laura and her work at www.laurasalas.com. Laura and her Mentors for Rent partner Lisa Bullard do hourly coaching and critiquing for kids’ writers.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Giveaway, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new banner

I am having a difficult time believing it’s spring since there was snow in my yard just two days ago. But I CAN report some good news from March. I revised like ca-razy — major revisions on at least three different manuscripts. And I did write a new draft, albeit not one that will be suitable for future publication because it’s already been published on my blog. It’s a little ditty I created in honor of Jane Yolen after spending a magnificent weekend at her master picture book writing boot camp. How Does Jane Yolen Say Goodnight? I’m counting it because it would be a book if Jane had written it, and not every draft will be one that ends up on bookstore shelves. This draft came straight from the heart too. If only all my manuscripts would! :-)

How about you my 12 x 12 friends? Are your manuscripts roaring like a lion? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter. Also, thank you once again to the wonderful Deborah Underwood, March’s featured author, who showed up how to succeed in difficult genres. Be sure to stop back tomorrow to meet our April author!

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win signed copies of Here Comes the Easter Cat and Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood:

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Signed copies of Here Comes the Easter Cat and Bad Bye, Good Bye” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Deborah’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Deborah’s blog post. Commenting on Deborah’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in March. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in March. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in March. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on April 1st to enter your results. Rafflecopter will draw a winner and I’ll announce it on the blog on April 2nd.

Three months down, nine to go!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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This year 12 x 12 Little GOLDen Book members will be able to choose one of two agents to submit their manuscript to each month. John Cusick from Greenhouse Literary will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members April 1-15. Ginger Harris from Liza Royce Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members April 16-30. John’s profile appears first, followed by Ginger’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

 

John CusickJOHN CUSICK

John was a featured agent in 2013. You can find our extensive profile post on him here. More recent interviews and resources appear at the end of this profile update.

I’m so delighted to have John back for his second 12 x 12 “tour of duty.” He is so enthusiastic about the program and a real sport for taking this on immediately after the Bologna Book Fair. I sang his praises in last year’s post, so definitely give that a read too.

The most up-to-date interviews with John:

 

GINGER HARRIS

I had the pleasure of meeting Ginger at the NJ-SCBWI conference, both to pitch to her and to sit with her at lunch. I was impressed by her knowledge of and passion for picture books. She gave me phenomenal feedback on my pitches and I learned more in that one lunch than I could have done in a month of reading blog posts on writing picture books! The fact that she and her partner Liza BOTH wanted to participate in 12 x 12 (Liza as one of March’s agents) speaks volumes about their love of picture books specifically and children’s literature in general. Many thanks to Ginger for joining us this year!!

Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig

Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris from the Liza Royce Agency

“Ginger Harris-Dontzin, with her partner Liza Fleissig, opened the Liza Royce Agency (LRA) in early 2011. A graduate of Boston University with a BA 1984 and Nova Southeaster University, Shepard Broad Law Center Law School with a JD, Ginger brings 20 years of litigation and negotiating experience to the field.

On the children’s side of publishing, being a mother to a preschooler boy, she is interested in everything from picture books, to middle grade and young adult. LRA also has a large adult based clientele from both established authors to writers in the earlier stages of their development. Although they lean towards suspense/thriller, commercial woman’s fiction and comedy, they are open to anything that speaks to them, in the past to include historical fiction, true crime and memoirs.”

Ginger works closely with her partner Liza Fleissig, who was one of March’s featured authors, so we recommend you read her profile post too.

Articles featuring Ginger Harris:

Full submission guidelines for John and Ginger are posted in the Membership Forum. Please note Little GOLDen Book Members may only submit to ONE of these agents. Please choose the agent who is the best fit for you and your manuscript.

Submissions will only be accepted for John Cusick from April 1st – April 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Ginger Harris from April 16th – April 30th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Good Luck!
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Author Entrepreneur FB BannerI know. I know. The topic of authors (and illustrators) as entrepreneurs doesn’t sound sexy. It sounds like WORK. Not nearly as exciting as how to get an agent or a book published.

But it IS just as important if you eventually want to earn a living from your writing and writing-related activities. We are lucky because today, authors have more ways than ever to build audiences for their work. AND, the business side of writing does NOT need to be a horrible, sleazy, back-breaking, time-sucking black hole that will prevent you from ever writing another book again. I promise.

I am speaking on this very topic at an upcoming webinar sponsored by SCBWI-MI, and they have very generously offered to give away one free registration for the webinar (or refund your fee if you’ve already signed up). To enter, just share about the webinar in any of the ways provided in the Rafflecopter below by 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, March 28th. While the Facebook and blog shares are one-time, you can earn a point each day with a tweet!

Good luck and hope to see you there!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: Authors, Children's Books, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Social Media, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Hostesses with the Mostesses - Jane and Heidi

Hostesses with the Mostesses – Jane and Heidi

I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve managed a Gratitude Sunday post, but since what I am most grateful for these past few weeks was the opportunity to spend four days writing with and learning from my favorite children’s author of all time — Jane Yolen.

Jane held a picture book boot camp master class over a four-day period. I was ecstatic to have been accepted, but terrified all at the same time.

It was more than a little nerve-racking to share some of my work with a woman who has written more than 300 books spanning a 50-year career (so far) and who’s won almost every children’s book award that’s available to win. Here’s little me with my one published book crossing the threshold of one of my heroes.

I’m sure Jane won’t mind me saying that I discovered she’s not a hero. Not in the sense of capes and magical powers and superhuman strength. The kind who flies in and out, doing deeds for recognition and glory.

Jane is a hero of a quieter kind. One who works impossibly hard and creates her own success. She does not hoard her literary riches, but instead reaches back to those behind her, gives them a strong hand to grasp.

One of the words that kept coming up throughout the weekend was “collegial,” which is exactly how Jane made us feel. As if we were equals, colleagues. By the end I think we understood that we ARE her colleagues. We are because we too are hardworking, serious about the craft, willing to weather the whims and tides of the business.

Still, I remain overwhelmed by her generosity in sharing her home, her food, her books, her libraries, her DAUGHTER, and her immense wisdom with people who came as strangers and left as family.

So when my friend Stacy Jensen, upon my arrival home, asked me: “How does Jane Yolen say goodnight?”

Well, that was just too juicy of a writing prompt. Here is my answer. Bless you Jane and Heidi for what will go down in my personal history as one of the most amazing experiences of my life!

How Does Jane Yolen Say Goodnight?


How does Jane Yolen

say good night

as we circle together,

in the rising moon light?


Does she creep

with sharp claws,

shredding our stories?


Dashing our dreams

of publishing glories?


Does Jane Yolen

flail her arms in the air

commanding we put

our butts in our chairs?


Does Jane Yolen … GLARE?


How does Jane Yolen

say good night

when we’re trying our best

to write our words right?


Does she stomp on our stanzas

and pummel our prose,

snicker and snort at the

words that we chose?


Does she scream,

Does she bash

Does she roar,

Does she slash?


Does she crumple our drafts

to toss in the trash?


No, Jane Yolen doesn’t.

She’s pure kindness and heart.


Jane examines each piece

of our blossoming art,

she gives reassurance,

we’ve made a great start.


She asks her wee Heidi

to bring us sweet treats,

and spins splendid tales

of publishing feats.


She tells us,

“Remember the child you once were.

Forget all the critics.

Just write for her.”


Jane sprinkles hope

on the crown of our heads,

wishes sweet dreams

as we slide into beds.


Our hearts give a whisper,

as Jane slips from sight.


Good night, Jane Yolen. Good night.

Categories: Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Friendship, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Travel, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerIt’s Oscar Sunday! While we don’t have a golden statue to hand out, we do have something better. A critique from our amazing February Featured Author – Wendi Silvano! And the lucky winner is….

Laurel Neme!

Congrats! Please contact me at JulieFHedlund (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize.

Didn’t win? No worries. We have 10 months to go! Now, go get your March draft started!

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Deborah UnderwoodI am so honored to introduce you to Deborah Underwood, our March featured author for 12 x 12. I, like many others, came to Deborah’s work first through THE QUIET BOOK. I loved it so much that one night when my mom came over for dinner, I read it to her and said, “THIS is why I love picture books and THIS is why I want to write them.” 

THE QUIET BOOK is one where, after you read it, you smack your forehead and say, “Of COURSE! What a great idea. I SO wish I’d written that book.” Yet, writing a book with the word quiet in the title at a time when agents and editors reject manuscripts all the time on the basis of their being “too quiet” takes courage. A trait Deborah carries in spades. So instead of asking her to write a post on one topic, I (selfishly) sent her a series of questions so we could dig deeper into the choices she’s made in her career and her writing. I was beyond inspired by her answers, and I’m sure you will be too. Please welcome Deborah!

1. As if picture books weren’t hard enough to sell, you’ve been published in two nichesThe Quiet Book that are especially difficult to break into — concept books (The Quiet Book) and and holiday books (The Easter Cat). Agents and editors often advise authors to shy away from writing these types of books, but many of us (myself included!) still do. What is your NUMBER ONE piece of advice to authors attempting to break into these niches?

It would be the same as the number one piece of advice I’d give to authors trying to break into any area of kids’ publishing: write to please yourself, not the market.

It’s funny you mention those two books, because they were the two manuscripts that might have seemed the most hopeless in terms of marketing. If I’d been focusing on marketability, I certainly wouldn’t have written a book called THE QUIET BOOK when so many manuscripts are rejected for being too quiet. And I wouldn’t have written an 80-page picture book, or drawn my own rough illustrations for HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT–talk about breaking rules!

I think both of those books turned out well because I was writing them for myself: because *I* was fascinated by the idea of different types of quiet, because *I* was snickering on my bed as I scribbled out the conversation between Cat and the narrator. And I hasten to add that it is not easy for me to ignore the lure of trying to write for the market; I have to continually check myself and steer back on course if I’ve veered in that direction.

2. Authors are also told not to pitch manuscripts to agents or editors as potential series. Did you pitch THE QUIET BOOK as a series or were THE LOUD BOOK and THE CHRISTMAS QUIET book only suggested after the success of the first?EasterCat_CVR_lo

Nope, I didn’t pitch it as a series. After we finished work on QUIET, my editor suggested LOUD, so we were working on that even before QUIET came out. Then after QUIET pubbed, I suggested CHRISTMAS QUIET, and she said yes.

3. Did you feel pressure for THE LOUD BOOK to be as beloved as THE QUIET BOOK? What advice would you give authors who are writing a second or even third book and beyond following a popular title?

Oh, absolutely. Honestly, the time before LOUD came out was one of the most stressful periods I’ve had as a writer. There’s *so* much self-inflicted pressure to live up to a previous success. (I want to be clear that this pressure wasn’t coming from my editor at all; it was all my own doing.)

And on top of that, it feels churlish to complain: “Boo hoo! Poor me! I’ve had a successful book and I’m worried about the next one!” Before I’d sold a book, if one of my friends had whined about the burden of doing a sequel to her bestseller, I would have wanted to whap her. So the difficulty is magnified because you don’t have your usual support system.

My advice would be what a well-known author told me when I asked her for advice: do your best to keep the publisher from rushing you. I think a lot of the sequel-fail incidents come about because the author just doesn’t have enough time, and when a publisher is pushing you, it’s hard to push back. And sometimes you can’t.  But you can, as always, try to focus on the work itself and not all the external pressures.

4. I feel a kinship with you because, like me, you wrote a storybook app. The app is called SPATTER AND SPARK, is fully-interactive, adorable (we own it), and was published by Polk Street Press. How did you get involved with that project? Did you find your writing process was different for the app versus your picture books?

I’m so glad you like it! I’m really proud of it. I was approached by the Polk Street founder, who happens to live in my city. We had tea and it felt like a good fit, so I pitched some ideas, she chose the one she liked best, and we took it from there.

The process was different in some ways. Since apps were so new to me, it was hard to wrap my head around the possibilities at first. It was really important to me that the interactivity be part of the story; I didn’t want just goofy things to poke and swipe that didn’t advance the plot. So it was fun to stretch that way. And the speed with which it came together–partly because of the incredibly quick yet fabulous work by the illustrator, Luciana Navarro Powell–was mind-boggling, since I’m used to glacial picture book timeframes.

But of course I also wanted to make sure there was a strong story, just as there would be in a traditional picture book. So in that way the writing process was the same.

5. Do you foresee more digital publishing projects in your future? Do you recommend authors and illustrators explore digital publishing as a means of publishing more of their work?

I’d love to do more app work, and I have a lot of ideas. But it seems like confusing territory right now. I think everyone’s wrestling with the how-do-we-make-money-on-apps question. I’m hoping things settle down so there’s a clearer path for those of us who want to get involved.

Digital book publishing is also a murky area for me. For now, focusing on traditional makes sense for me, and probably makes sense for people who don’t have the inclination to do all their own marketing. Plus I think there’s nothing like a physical picture book in the hands of a child, and I want to help get those books out there.

Bad Bye Good Bye6. Your book EASTER CAT was released earlier this year and BAD BYE releases April 1st. Can you tell us a bit about BAD BYE and what it’s like to have two books released so close together?

BAD BYE, GOOD BYE pairs a very spare rhyming text with wonderful illustrations by Jonathan Bean. It’s a child’s emotional journey as he moves from one town to another. It was my first rhyming manuscript to sell, and I was particularly excited because I got to work with my fabulous QUIET BOOK editor again. It started out as a few words that I scribbled on a page, then abandoned in my “ideas” file for ages. I’m fairly sure I pulled it out again because I had a critique meeting coming up and nothing to bring–critique meetings are great motivational tools!

There will be about two months between EASTER CAT and BAD BYE releases, but the pub dates still feel pretty close. It is tricky trying to juggle promotion for two books at once, especially since I’m also writing the third book in the Cat series now as well as working on some educational projects.

But my first three picture books were released within two months of each other, so it could be worse!

7. How involved are you in the marketing and promotion of your books? Do you advise authors to establish a platform before publishing?

Every author I know struggles with this. I do some things–bookstore appearances, guest blogs, etc.–but I don’t take months off to promote the way some folks do. I’ve been a bit more involved than usual in CAT marketing: I drafted a letter that went out to booksellers about it pre-publication, and I’m doing the same for HERE COMES SANTA CAT, and I’m doing more interviews/guest posts than usual.

I’m sure a platform is a great idea for some folks, but I don’t think I could manage that and write. I advise people to do what feels comfortable to them PLUS a few stretch things. For example, I love Facebook and am very comfortable there, but that feels less like promotion and more like just being part of a community. But Twitter is tricky for me, so I’m making more of an effort to have a presence there–that’s one of my marketing-stretch things for this year.

One lucky 12 x 12 participant will received signed copies of both HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT and BAD BYE, GOOD BYE from Deborah. Plus, I am throwing in a copy of THE QUIET BOOK from me (not signed). In addition to being fabulous books to simply read and enjoy, they make excellent mentor texts for writing spare rhyme, holiday themes and concept books. Are your fingers in position over those keyboards? Good – because I’m sure you’ll want to write and revise this month to improve your chance of winning this trove of books.

Deborah Underwood’s books include Here Comes the Easter Cat; Bad Bye, Good Bye; A Balloon for Isabel; Pirate Mom; and the New York Times bestsellers The Quiet Book and The Loud Book! She co-wrote the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter book series, and she has written over 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing. Her magazine credits include National Geographic Kids, Ladybug, Spider, and Highlights. Please visit her online at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Apps, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Picture Books, Publishing, Rhyming, Social Media, Storybook Apps, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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