12 x 12 Member Kelly Lenihan

I have a huge amount of admiration for anyone who, like today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Kelly Lenihan, can make up stories on the spot. I’ve never been good at that; I always freeze up (perfectionist much?). A few weeks ago at the LA-SCBWI conference, Tomie dePaola said that courage is what artists need most if they want to have a sustainable career. Kelly’s story reminded me of that, since she not only had the courage to create those stories in her head, but to write them down, and eventually even to self-publish one of them. Please welcome Kelly!

I’m a book lover, both to read and to write. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who designated a room in the house as the “den” — reserving one wall, floor to ceiling, for books — and in so doing gifted me with a love of books that has stayed with me my entire life.

I grew up with a pen in my hand.

As a child – pretty much all the way through college – I was forever making up stories. The imagination is a wondrous thing and I was often lost in mine, my head filled with fanciful characters’ adventures in magical lands. I’m not sure when I started writing things down, but once I discovered that writing provided me a creative outlet for the abundance of daydreams swirling around in my head, I knew what my purpose was!

A shy child, the pen gave me a mighty voice.

Over the years, as I turned to other interests, my writing evolved into essays on multicultural arts and crafts or exploring gardening and nature through science and art, including hands-on projects. These days, tapping into my background as an avowed foodie, I have been sharing original recipes on my food blog: In the Kitchen With Kelly. Sadly, my childhood stories were long-forgotten, both on paper and in my imagination. Until I had children.

Reading aloud to my two sons every night at bedtime reminded me of my own childhood delight in the power of stories. As a stalling tactic, once we finished a bedtime book, my younger son would beg for “one more story”. He’d look at me, his big brown eyes filled with hope, placing his tiny hand on mine – how could I refuse? So I started making up stories right there, in the moment. Some of these stories delighted my son so much, he would have me tell them again, night after night, especially the ones he starred in. Thankfully, I was smart enough to write some of these stories down.

The Skipping Stone – a self-published children’s picture book – was one of these stories. Even though it took me a few years to publish it (my son is now grown), it remains a beloved family favorite. I am extremely proud – if not a little awestruck – to finally be sharing my precious story with children everywhere.

This year, I joined the online community, 12×12, providing me access to the motivation and accountability to get 12 picture book drafts finished in one year, all with the support of the friendliest writing community on earth. Although I’ve written a lot over the years, until now—much of it has remained unpublished. I’m ecstatic to be working on changing that, one book at a time. I’ve actually managed to write three more picture books and outlined ideas for four more since joining 12×12. Yippee!

As a child, Kelly Lenihan was forever dreaming up fantastical stories, inventing make-believe worlds replete with colorful characters engaging in wondrous adventures. By the end of her teens, she’d written countless short stories. Never losing her penchant for writing; she’s been published in various magazines and enjoyed her own newspaper column for several years. To this day, she is an avid blogger and has several full-length books in the works. When she’s not reading or writing, you might find her outdoors with her camera, enjoying the beautiful northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. A bit of a word nerd, Kelly has been known to read the dictionary for fun. And you probably don’t want to play Scrabble with her! You can find Kelly at http://www.kellylenihanbooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Teresa Schaefer

I think after you read this post, you’ll agree that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Teresa Schaefer, does an outstanding job of SHOWING us that she is a picture book writer (rather than telling). Get ready for a few belly laughs along with the standard-issue inspiration! Also, I DARE you to not to have a huge craving for pie after reading this. For me? I’m kind of dying for tart-cherry right now. Or perhaps rhubarb… :-) Please welcome Teresa!

Writing, Pies, and Balance

I began writing when I was eight. But being a bit of a late-bloomer, I have only recently pursued it with any great intent. Two years ago, I sought out a close friend who happens to be a published author and told her, “I want to pursue publishing books.”

“That’s exciting,” she said. “What do you want to write?”

My reply,

“Picture books for children – the ones the adults also like to read and re-read and keep forever to read to their grandchildren; the ones they recommend to friends and give as gifts – that’s what I want to write.”

Our conversation went on for about an hour and after many encouraging words she said, “You know, it’s a bunny eat bunny world – the picture book world.”

bunny eat bunny

I have since heard that quote several times. But, rub on my lucky rabbit’s foot – no, not really, I don’t have one. I saw one when I was eight and touched it, but I don’t have one. So, knock on wood, this has NOT been my experience.

Instead, it’s been much more like being at a pie smorgasbord.

cartoon pie

Forgive me, I’m on a diet.

That’s not to suggest that I believe writing for children is as ‘easy as pie’.

Nope, writing for children is definitely NOT as easy as pie. In my working hard to write publishable PBs life, I think Mem Fox nailed it: “Writing a picture book is like writing ‘War and Peace’ in Haiku.”

Writing for children is a craft, an art-form, a community, a business. And, while the business world of writing is competitive, there is a community of writers, authors, agents, editors, and publishers who make the bunny saying – well, balderdash.

The 12×12 community hosted by Julie Hedlund with her amazing elves is one of these communities. There are many more: PiBoIdMo, ReviMo, Summer Sparks, RYS, and these are just a few samplings at the pie smorgasbord. There are books on the craft, blogs galore, classes from beginner to advanced, conferences, societies, chapters, digests, whipped cream, ice cream, coconut cream….

WOOT! So many ‘pies,’ yet so little time.

As I bellied up to the 12×12 smorgasbord, I was mesmerized. Instantly, I knew why Laurie Halse Anderson said, “Pie makes everybody happy.” — The Impossible Knife of Memory

I earned badges and points. I pushed send and submitted my First 250. I read about pitches and practiced pitching. I read query letters and tried writing a couple. I’ve read many great First 250s and wanted to finish the story. I’ve written a draft a month and revised many more. I’ve been inspired and tried to inspire. I participated in show vs. tell. I’ve offered critiques and joined a critique group. I’ve made many friends and stayed up late chatting.

I dove in and became so pie-eyed that I had to push back from the table and take a breath.

I was full to the gills and like a wobbling washer with a heavy, wet rug in its belly, I was out of balance. I had overindulged in the 12×12 smorgasbord. Important aspects of my life and writing had been left idle; but life requires its own sustenance.

And, keeping all those pies in the air requires lots of balance.

Pie spinning

So, I made a pie chart (of course).

pie chart
I divided my time into slices: one for 12×12, one for family, one for work, one for chores, a slice for sleep, a slice for leisure, one for platform building; and,

lest I forget why I showed up to the smorgasbord in the first place –

a slice for writing –

I want to write picture books for children – the ones the adults also like to read and re-read and keep forever to read to their grandchildren; the ones they recommend to friends and give as gifts – that’s what I want to eat write.

Teresa M.I. Schaefer is a new writer seeking to become a great writer. Not much of a cook, she does enjoy baking pies. Books and libraries have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. As an elementary student, she helped the school librarian re-shelve books, wrote her first story at age eight, joined what she now knows was a critique group at age 10, and has continued dabbling with stories ever since. Professionally trained as a licensed psychologist, it is not uncommon for her stories to have a psychological bent. She is the proud mother of two very outstanding young adults, a clumsy bull-dog, an old cat, and a cat that thinks she is a dog. Feel free to friend her on Facebook, visit her website at http://tschaefer.wix.com/twrites, or send her a tweet @TMISchaefer. She hopes you are finding balance in writing and life and would love to hear about your smorgasbord experience.
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Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Vanessa Hatley-OwenToday’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Vanessa Hatley-Owen, joined 12 x 12 for the same reason I created it – to get and stay motivated. I love that I help others while also helping myself. :-) I know I can say that I write much more due to the existence of 12 x 12, but nothing pleases me more to hear that the challenge works the same magic for participants too. And a participant on the other side of the world no less! Please welcome Vanessa!

One word sprang to mind when I first heard about, and looked into, the wonderful 12×12 challenge; motivation. You see, like most writers (Most? A lot? Some? A few of us?) I have a big problem with motivation. Story ideas I have lots of. Time to write can be found fairly easily if I ignore the pile of washing. A space of my own to write in? Yep, did that by squeezing a wee desk into the corner. What else? Crowd of supportive family and friends – yes absolutely, and I appreciate them deeply. Awesome critique group? You betcha!

Motivation? Er…. Um… Sometimes.

Sometimes I can say to myself “Right, today I’m going to write” and I do. Slowly at first and then away I go; typing away and hunching closer and closer to the screen as my thoughts fly faster than my fingers. I love it when those days happen.

More often, in fact far too often, I say to myself “Right, today I’m going to write” and I don’t. I sit myself down and… ooooo look…. FaceBook…. oooooo look… Buzzfeed… oooooo look… cute/funny/sentimental video. By the time I actually open the current WIP it’s too late; the motivation has long gone. And besides, the kids will be home soon/have to get dinner soon (insert convenient excuse here) so there’s no point starting now. Or worse; a truthful admission that I really can’t be bothered now (I’m hanging my head in shame…) Yup. What I need, is a kick up the ‘you-know-what’ to get me motivated!

Cue the 12×12 challenge. I can’t remember where I first saw it mentioned, but I’m so glad I did!

One story a month for twelve months – I can do that. I need to do that. And even though I’m not going to get rapped over the knuckles or told off for not completing a story each month, just knowing that I should, and that the ‘deadline’ is coming up, gets me moving. Gets the old brain ticking and the conscience nagging. Bingo! There’s my motivation!

Now I find myself snatching moments to get writing and can be found scribbling away while waiting for my daughter’s hockey game because I know that I have to get started. Sure, I may still leave it to the almost last minute but that almost last minute works wonders; it seems to get my brain going and helps me to focus, which doesn’t seem to happen at the start of the month. Diamonds are created under pressure and there’s nothing like the red flashing alarm of a looming deadline to ramp things up; a technique that also worked for me all through high school (but don’t tell my kids that…). True, some of these are diamonds in their roughest form and need a lot of cutting and polishing, but I have now got five new stories – and that’s five more stories than I would have had. And I’m thrilled.

It’s also been great to test out your new work in the forum. Thanks to the feedback from the wonderful 12×12 folk, I’ve tweaked some of my stories already and have them lined up, ready to send out to publishers. I’ve still got some work to do on other stories and of course six more to write to meet those ‘deadlines’ but it will be done, and who knows, I may just surprise myself by getting some in before the end of the month!

Vanessa lives way down at the bottom of the world in Auckland, New Zealand; with her husband, their three awesome girls and a very greedy, crazy Beagle. She grew up with her nose in a book and still loves to read, read, read – there have been occasions where dinner was late because she was too caught up in her book! When she isn’t working or ‘being Mom’, she writes stories for children – which gives her a great excuse to read even more! So far she has had a Middle Grade novel shortlisted for a New Zealand award for children’s writing, and two Elementary pieces published for schools. Her most recent success was having a picture book manuscript shortlisted for an award. While as yet unpublished, she has many rejection letters to her name; each one bringing her closer to her goal of being a published children’s author. As well as picture books, she is working on a YA novel and Middle Grade chapter book series.
Together with a writer friend, Vanessa contributes to KidsWriters, a blog for other children’s writers and she also contributes book reviews for The Library Adventure blog.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Laura GehlThis is an especially fun “How I Got My Agent” post for me to share because Laura Gehl not only got her agent through the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, but she signed with MY agent, Erzsi Deak! That makes us fellow chicks in the Hen & Ink “coop.” When you read Laura’s story and see how hard she works and how accomplished she is with her writing, you won’t be surprised she landed an agent. AND, I’m very excited that she’s getting started building her platform with a brand new website and blog. Recently, she blogged about her writing process at Hen & Inkblots, our agency blog.

If all that weren’t enough, her first picture book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, releases next month – the SAME DAY as my book release!! So get ready for a party on September 9th! In the meantime, please welcome Laura.

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

I’ve been writing for about ten years…but mostly magazine articles, not books. Once I decided to look into publishing picture books, I could see that I would have a lot more options if I found an agent. I did get my first two picture book contracts without an agent, though…it is not impossible!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I read everything I could find on-line. And I do mean everything.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?

I’ve never counted! I did send out a large number of queries before finding an agent. The agents who took the time to write a personal response helped me keep going. I started by querying only with rhyming manuscripts, and I think I would have found an agent much sooner if I had dropped the rhymes. However, my first two picture books (ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR/Beach Lane, fall 2014; AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP/Kar-Ben, spring 2015) are in rhyme. So if you love writing in rhyme, don’t give up.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

I did feel daunted by the number of great agents who said they only wanted to represent author-illustrators. And I felt particularly worried when one agent said she loved my picture books but only wanted to sign me if I had a submission-ready middle-grade text in addition (she explained that picture books are just too hard to sell). In the end, though, several agents ended up expressing interest in my picture book texts.

How did you know your agent was “the one”?

I read an interview with Erzsi Deak, who is now my agent. In the interview, Erzsi said that she tries to make sure all of her writers and illustrators feel attended to, or coddled (she probably put it better than that). I am NOT patient and definitely couldn’t go weeks without hearing from my agent, so I thought Erzsi’s style would be perfect for me. Sure enough, if Erzsi ever gets impatient with my constant emails, she hides it well! ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you :-) )

12 x 12 provided me with the chance to submit to Erzsi and encouraged me to develop picture book texts, two of which are now under contract (PEEP AND EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING/FSG, spring 2016; HARE AND TOROISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL/Kar-Ben, spring 2015). Equally important, 12 x 12 set me up with my fantastic critique group. I cannot imagine how I ever wrote anything without them! When we started, no one in the group had an agent. Since then, three of us have found agents, and I know the others are getting very close.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Not really. I try to get my manuscripts into the best possible shape before sending them to Erzsi. Which means my mom and my husband read a manuscript (and say “This is great!”), and then my critique partners read the manuscript (and say, “This is great…but here are 28 things to change”). Only after I fix those 28 things, and probably 27 more things that are wrong with the next few drafts, do I send the manuscript along to Erzsi.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

I agree with the frequent advice that you should research agents in advance and submit only your best work. On the other hand, I think it is important to get your work out there. At some point, you need to stop researching, stop revising, and just submit. Also: have a list of agents ready before you submit to even one. That way, if you get a rejection, you can just move on to the next agent on your list, which will limit your moping (eating chocolate while moping briefly is still definitely allowed). Lastly: keep a file of any positive words you get from agents. Literally cut and paste JUST the positive words from a rejection and put them in that file. Then read through your positive words file when you start getting discouraged.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

In my case, no. I am currently working on a website, in advance of my first book coming out in September, 2014. I’m also trying to figure out how to use social media without it becoming a black hole that sucks up all of my writing time.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point :-) )

Riding a tandem bicycle. I can’t wait to have my husband do all the work while we zoom uphill.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

I am always working on a gazillion projects at once. Right now I am working on several picture books, an early reader, three fiction chapter books, a nonfiction chapter book, and a middle grade novel. I’m also excited to announce my new website is up! Come and find me at www.lauragehl.com.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Dani Duck

I need to begin today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 post from Dani Duck by making a correction. Dani is not, as she described herself, unpublished. She is PRE-published. This is an important distinction we make because for someone like Dani, working hard on her craft and actively engaging in communities like 12 x 12, publication becomes a “when” not an “if.”

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll allow you to be inspired and encouraged by how Dani has taken ownership of her identity and path as a children’s picture book author/illustrator. Her contributions to 12 x 12 have been many, and you can bet that we will be there cheering her on WHEN her first book is published. Welcome Dani!

My name is Dani Duck and I’m an unpublished Writer/Illustrator. It feels like an admission at an AA meeting. It’s not that I’m trying to quit, but actually the opposite. I’m finally admitting to myself, and more importantly others, that I am a Writer and Illustrator.

I’ve struggled most of my life with identity issues. I’ve always wanted to be this great _____. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was creative. My whole life I’ve fought discovering myself by doing things that weren’t suited to me.

I never had that eureka moment (at least not just once)! I picture my path coming at me like a hammer. This hammer followed me around smacking me upside the head. I’d feel it connect, and then worry about everything else over the big bump on my head.

I don’t know what made me ignore that nail being smacked. As a Freshman in high school I had to create a picture book and mine was the best in class. *Wham* Second year I was the most invested writer in my English Class. *Wham* In University my favourite books were kidlit. *Wham* I attended a Grad. Level Picture Book Illustration Course, created my first submission package, and loved it! *Wham* *Wham* *Wham*

It wasn’t until I had my son David (January 2011) that I had no doubts about my path in life. It wasn’t just that I decided my path, but also I became passionate and focused creatively. I don’t know if this was a result of having almost no time to work, but it seems that way.

2012 brought my first SCBWI conference. I brought a terrible portfolio, but got great tips in the conference for improvement. I joined later that year, all ready to become a great Picture Book Writer/Illustrator. I was still missing a bit of motivation, but mostly opportunity. That opportunity came with the 12×12. The fly swatter by 12 x 12 illustrator Dani Duck

Last year I joined the 12×12 for the first time. I wanted it to be the best year ever, so I joined at the gold level (without having a polished manuscript). I knew that this was something I needed to do for my career. Then I shot myself in the foot – figuratively speaking. I took on too many responsibilities and my focus was not on picture books. Sure, I wrote a few books, but soon ran out of ideas. The stories I wrote never got farther than a first draft despite having a wonderful critique group.

I don’t regret joining the 12×12 last year even though I didn’t submit anything. Because of the 12×12 I was able to make concrete(ish) plans for achieving success. My first step was making blog posts of my goals. I also decided to have a smaller critique group, and to work on a full dummy submission. Two events last year helped me out: The first being Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo so now I have no excuses for not having enough ideas! The second was in Jamie Morrow and Erin L. Funk’s “What’s Up Wednesday!” which keeps me scheduling my time and motivates me weekly. I also can’t forget Meg Miller (who was actually in my critique group last year) started ReviMo this year. ReviMo helped me with revising my neglected stories. It all sounds like a lot of non-12×12 things, but if it weren’t for the 12×12 I wouldn’t have known about these events. I certainly wouldn’t have found the motivation to continue my craft.

I feel like the 12×12 is helping me with my final exam of getting published. All the members are like my graduating class. I love that we are all here motivating and helping each other. I have a long way to go before I’m published, I know. When I do finally get that first book published I’ll have Julie Hedlund and everyone involved with the 12×12 to thank!

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Born in Ohio, Dani now resides in the outer, outer reaches of the greater Vancouver area. She lives in constant fun and loving chaos with my husband, Peter, & three year old son, David. Dani blogs several times a week at http://daniduckart.blogspot.ca/ where she has artwork, updates, interviews with writer’s/illustrators and anything else she can think to post. You can find her website is: www.daniduck.com. You can connect with Dani on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/duckgal and Twitter at: https://twitter.com/DaniDuck. Any mistakes you see in this post are imaginary.

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

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12 x 12 Member Susan Schade

Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Susan Schade, reminds us that at one time or another, all of us have been (or should be) inspired by the children we write for. In many cases, those children are our own. Susan’s story of how she is following her passion and the impact that is having on her children is immensely inspiring. We sometimes forget that watching others in the act of following their dreams encourages children to do the same – another wonderful byproduct of this writing life. Please welcome Susan!

“If You Write It, They Will Come.”

My passion for writing children’s books began when I became a mother. I would tell my toddler stories just to watch his eyes widen with excitement and little body shake with giggles. He continued to ask to hear the same stories over and over. And like many children, would correct me when I got the details wrong. It was my husband that first suggested that I write my ideas down on paper.

After having two more children and filling notebooks with my writing, I decided to learn more about the industry by attending SCBWI events. At the recommendation of an illustrator friend, I joined the 12 x 12 group in 2013. I renewed my membership this year, setting more goals for myself. Being connected with other writers is motivating and inspiring. The amount of information shared is invaluable.

It is said that writers should write stories for themselves. As much as I believe this advice, I also find myself pursuing new ideas and building storylines for some hard critics, my kids. After closing myself into my creative office, I will emerge announcing, “Who’s ready to hear my new book?” These seven words will initiate the trampling sound of six little legs running towards my voice. I anticipate their reactions and predict the moments of surprise and bursts of laughter. But the stories don’t always deliver. My kids are brutally honest. They will tell me what doesn’t make sense to them, what doesn’t sound right and they aren’t afraid to crush my seemingly perfect ending.

But sometimes, there is magic in the room. As the words flow from my tongue, I glance off the paper to see my three boys sitting on the edge of their chairs, hanging on every word. As I finish the last sentence, someone mutters the phrase I hoped for, “what happens next?”

Some manuscripts I love, while others have not turned out as I expected. However, for each self-rejected story, I am often led to my next new idea.

It was just last month that I was having a particularly discouraging week when I received three rejections of three different manuscripts. With the chaos of life and family, I wondered if perhaps my focus should shift away from writing for the time being.

That night, as I tucked my five year old into bed, we were discussing jobs, something they had talked about in school. He was describing our family. He and the boys have the job of going to school. Daddy’s job was to be at his office all day.

“Do I work?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “You take care of us.”

“Is that my job?”

He looked at me and said without hesitation, “Your job is writing books.”

It took a five year old to remind me to keep working, keep perfecting, and continue to love writing.

As a mother and a writer, I struggle to find a balance of time. As with most things worthwhile, it takes much patience and devotion to become a published author. It hasn’t happened yet. But I believe, if you write it, they will come.

Susan Schade enjoys writing quirky picture books about topics such as spinach, socks and quarreling sandwiches. Her background includes media buying, marketing, advertising and writing articles about pregnancy and parenting for the women’s health website, EmpowHer.com. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona with her husband, three young boys and corgy/ jack russell mix puppy, Jedi. This is her second year as a 12 x 12 member.

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Kristen LarsonI would like to say my most favorite thing about Kirsten Larson is that she always has a corkscrew in case of emergencies, but that’s not true. ;-) Having had the pleasure of meeting (and wining and dining) with her on more than one occasion, I can say without a doubt the best thing about Kirsten is her enthusiasm for everything kidlit related. I’ve learned more about the opportunities in nonfiction from her than anyone else. She is single-handedly responsible for convincing me that writing nonfiction can be fun! It has been amazing to watch Kirsten grow as a writer while accumulating success after success over the past 2.5 years. I think, once you read her post, you’ll “catch” her enthusiasm too. Please welcome Kirsten!

I almost can remember the exact moment it started – August 2011. I was retired from journalism, public relations, fundraising, grant writing, and pretty much everything else but feeding and entertaining two boys, aged three and five. We had spent our days with science experiments, playgroups, field trips, and of course reading dozens of books.

During a play date, a recently-returned-to-work-mom asked me about my plans for when the youngest started preschool in the fall. I thought about how much fun it was to watch the kids learn, their eyes lighting up with discovery. I thought about our library visits, with the boys racing through the juvenile nonfiction stacks, pulling everything off the shelves. And then I thought I’d return to writing, but this time for children.Using the Scientific Method by Kristen Larson

I checked out WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR DUMMIES and the most recent edition of the WRITER’S MARKET I could find. And I started writing the most hideous article about a capybara on the loose in California. I tried to sell it to JACK & JILL, which had the good sense to reject it. I sent recipes to HIGH FIVE and science activities to HIGHLIGHTS. Reject, reject, reject. That took most of the fall.

Somehow in January, I heard about Julie’s 12 x 12 in 2012 on Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books. It was destiny. I wrote a half dozen nonfiction picture books. I joined the world’s best critique group. I submitted a few manuscripts to Rate Your Story. They got good reviews, so I subbed them … to crickets. I started writing for an online science and literacy curriculum. I joined SCBWI and went to the annual conference in Los Angeles. I was spinning my wheels.

In January 2013 I regrouped. I signed up for 12 x 12 again, but only as a bronze member. I wrote … wait for it … one picture book manuscript the whole year. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. But 2013 was THE YEAR I became a children’s writer. You see, I had a goal: to break into the children’s magazine market followed by the school and library market.

Science Fair Succes by Kristen LarsonI submitted dozens of magazine queries. Once I had a couple of acceptances, I sent clips and resumes to a bazillion school and library publishers. I networked. I got my first book contracts thanks to my contacts. I took classes and went to conferences. All that work paid off. My first magazine article appeared in December 2013. And Fall 2014 will see my first two science titles, Science Fair Success! and Using the Scientific Method, from Rourke Educational Media.

In January 2014, I joined 12 x 12 for the third time with renewed gusto. This time I was going for gold. I completely revised two nonfiction PBs from 2012 and 2013 and turned them into ficinformational picture books. To date, I’ve written three more manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction. And I’ve started subbing to agents.

I am a children’s writer, thanks in large part to 12×12 and its networking opportunities. This group introduced me to:

• Julie (ok, that’s a given), everybody loves our fearless leader
• Susanna Leonard Hill and her Making Picture Book Magic Class.
Meg Miller’s ReViMo, which forced me to completely overhaul a couple of manuscripts.
• Miranda Paul and her fantastic Rate Your Story service
• Laura Salas and WRITING FOR THE EDUCATIONAL MARKET, the best book ever on breaking into the field
• My critique groups (you rock!)
WriteOnCon, which helped me connect with my mentor in the school and library market
• I’m sure I’m leaving out others, but you get the idea. Pretty much every blog I read, craft book I buy, etc. is thanks to 12x.

When it comes down to it, the ability to submit to agents outside of the slush is nice. But the best part of 12×12 is the camaraderie and the connections you’ll make. They helped me land the best job in the world.

Kirsten W. Larson is freelance children’s science writer and book author. Her work appears in Boys’ Quest, ASK, ODYSSEY and AppleSeeds. Kirsten spent six years working for NASA and frequently writes about space for kids. She has four forthcoming science titles for children in grades two through six. SCIENCE FAIR SUCCESS and USING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD are now available for presale here and here.

Categories: 12 x 12, Books, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Recipes, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Kathleen PelleyI wanted to bring back this wonderful featured author post from our first year of 12 x 12. Kathleen Pelley is a marvel to listen to. Which is great because she speaks here about the importance of read-aloud-ability in picture books. Enjoy this #throwback thursday post. :-)

Today’s post is a special treat. The topic our February 12 x 12 featured author, Kathleen Pelley, is going to address is read-aloud-ability in picture books. It didn’t seem to make sense to use only words in a post about how to make a great read aloud, so Kathleen and I recorded a series of videos that demonstrate the qualities Kathleen believes make both adults and children want to read a story over and over again. So it only seemed appropriate that I would do a video introduction of Kathleen instead of a written one. Here it is!



And now for Kathleen… If you are able to take your laptop by the fire for this post, I highly recommend you do so. :-)

As soon as Julie suggested “read-aloud-ability” for my topic on her post, my creative juices began to flow – profusely. Of course, I’ve always loved to wax poetic about the power of stories in general, but it is the spoken word in particular, that has inspired me most of all, as a writer, a reader, a listener, and a teller of tales.

My love of language stemmed from growing up in a Scots/Irish culture, where stories were sacred. Before I could read or write, I had fallen in love with stories by listening to them on the radio with the BBC Children’s Story Hour. Later, when we acquired a television, I watched a program called, Jackanory, which featured children’s authors reading aloud from their books. So I spent many a happy afternoon with Roald Dahl reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to me. Yes, really!

When I came to America in 1992, not only did I begin to write my own stories (as a way of dealing with my homesickness), but I also continued to indulge my love of storytelling by: becoming a lector at our church, recording books on tape for the blind at the CTBL (Colorado Talking Books Library), and reading fairytales and folktales at an inner city school to grades K-6. So, you could say that I have really been nurturing my storytelling roots from the tender age of 3!

What makes a great read-aloud Picture Book?

(Presupposing, of course, that all the other hallmarks of any great story, regardless of genre, are in place – i.e. excellent plot, characters to cheer for, and a satisfying ending.)

RICH, LIVELY, FRESH LANGUAGE

Many adults mistakenly assume that Picture Books should only contain words that are part of the average 4 or 5 year old’s vocabulary. But Picture Books are MEANT to be READ ALOUD by an ADULT to a child. It shouldn’t matter a whit, if the child does not understand every single word. As long as the adult knows how to read a story well with great love and vim and vigor, then the child will eventually come, quite naturally, to understand any unfamiliar words. (There is a trend nowadays, though, that defies this notion, and I have had to struggle mightily with some editors over word choice.)

What exactly is a “rich” word? Have a look at “Amos and Boris” by William Steig, and you will see these “rich” words studded on every page – words like: phosphorescent, frazzle, delicacy, radiance, grandeur. Roll them around your tongue. What do they feel like? Majestic? Full-bodied? Plump and juicy? Perhaps Frank McCourt described it best when he wrote about encountering the words of Shakespeare for the first time as having “jewels in my mouth.”

What about “lively” words? We already know that language is a living thing that constantly evolves and adapts to our ever-changing world. So, “lively” language refers to those words that enable the listener to see and hear, taste and touch and smell the world that the writer has created. It is a language that literally breathes LIFE into the story. When we talk about stories that “inspire” us, we are using a word that comes from the Latin word, “inspirare,” meaning “TO BREATHE LIFE INTO!” When we talk about a story that has a great “voice,” we mean that the writer has BREATHED HER LIFE INTO the words and made the story come alive.

FRESH – Editors love “fresh”– fresh plots, fresh ideas, fresh voices, and especially fresh language.



And of course, such rich, lively, fresh language will naturally incorporate all those rhetorical devices that children adore – onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, and maybe even some puns peppered here and there.

RHYTHM and CADENCE

The first sound we humans hear from the womb is the beat of our mother’s heart. So, no wonder that we are all naturally soothed by cadence and rhythm. That’s why we expose our little ones to lullabies, nursery rhymes, and playground chants (although, I don’t know that children use these much nowadays – all the pity)

Even if we do not write our Picture Books in verse (and if we do write in verse, it must be pitch-perfect), we still need to pay attention to our story’s rhythm, as it helps set the “mood” we want to convey. So, a jolly, whimsical tale will match well with a rollicking, rousing beat, rather like a jaunty jig. Whereas, a wiser folktale type story will be more serious and sedate, flowing slowly and gently, like a summer’s breeze or a willowy waltz.



SPACE

As picture book writers, we know already that we must leave space for the illustrator – we should not “over-describe,” or there will not be any room for the pictures.

We also need to be aware of leaving “space” as a way of pacing the story. At the end of each page, there should be some soupçon of excitement, hope, or even anxiety, that has the listeners at the edge of their seats, holding their breath, with saucer eyes and mouths agog. Literally, they are “hanging” on every word. (Suspense is from the Latin word –suspendere – to hang up)

As well as building suspense though, we also need spaces, at page turns and scattered here and there throughout the story, that give the reader/listener a moment to “pause and ponder,” -somewhat counter-cultural in our frenzied, busy world. When Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, she talked about “space” as being one of the most important things for any aspiring writer, and posed the question, “Have you found a space? Into that space, which is form of listening, the ideas will come.” Surely, great picture book read-alouds are perfect “spaces” for children to begin this listening process.



Emotional/Universal Truth

Any editor will tell you that a common weakness of many picture book manuscripts is that it is “too trite.” In other words, it will not withstand multiple readings, because it is too one dimensional and lacks a universal, emotional truth.

What is an emotional truth?

It is NOT a lesson, a moral, or a message! Rather it is a simple truth, woven seamlessly throughout the story -some truth about love, hope, pain, joy, or home that a child can understand and connect with. I like to think of it as that whiff of wonder, that bolt of beauty which lingers with you, long after the last page is turned or the final word uttered.



Why should this universal truth matter so much to the read-aloud quality of a picture book?

“The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.” Doris Lessing

Truth connects us to one another, to our ancestors, and to the world around us. Good books and stories are all about connections. When we read a story aloud to a child – a story that truly touches us at the very core of our being with its beauty and its truth, then, we will naturally breathe our own life and love into those words as we read them aloud. (Notice how life and spirit, breath and voice are all connected ). And, in turn, those words will seep into the little listener’s heart, making her or him feel brave or bold, calm or kind, happy or hopeful.

“Adult books maintain lives; children’s books change lives.” Yolen

So, how do you inject a universal truth into your picture book?

Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish poet, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996, said in her acceptance speech, that “a poet if she is genuine, must begin every poem with the words, I do not know.” (rather counter-cultural in this age of “google.”) But I think the same is true, to some extent of picture book writers, for surely, this “not knowing,” is simply a kind of wonder. It has been said that “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” And E.B. White maintained, “All I want to say in books, all I ever wanted to say, is, I love the world.” So, when we write from this place of wonder and love, from this place of “not knowing,” with language that is rich and lively, full of cadence and rhythm, then that universal truth will flow quite naturally through the words we weave, and a great story will be born – a story that will make a child plead “READ IT AGAIN! READ IT AGAIN!”

WAYS TO NOURISH YOUR STORYTELLING ROOTS

READ – not just lots and lots of picture books, but lots and lots of picture books that YOU love.

READ those books ALOUD to real live people- big and little.

READ poetry every day – ALOUD.

MEMORIZE chunks of poetry and snippets from your favorite read-aloud picture book.

CHANT those chunks and snippets aloud – as you walk, drive, cook, wait in line at the post office, before you fall asleep – IMMERSE yourself in language you love. BASK in the beauty of words. Hold them like “jewels in your mouth.”

READ Mem Fox’s book, READING MAGIC, and learn (if you do not know already) how to read aloud WELL to a child.

PLAY with words- magnetic poetry kits provide an excellent way to do this, also doing “poem sketches” as described in “Writing Poetry from the inside out” by Sandford Lyne.

Here is a list of my own favorite read-alouds.

And, remember, while you are waiting for that first picture book contract (or, like me, simply, your next book contract), that living a rich storytelling life will help us to find the glimmer of hope or chink of joy that simmer beneath the sometimes sad surfaces of our lives…will help us to see, in the words of Browning, that,

“All of earth is crammed with heaven…”

Or, as Emerson said,

“In the muck and scum of things, there something always, always sings.”



In order to make this a complete lesson, Kathleen is graciously giving one lucky 12 x 12 participant a copy of Mem Fox’s Reading Magic AND signed copies of the three of her books she used in this post — Inventor McGregor, Raj the Bookstore Tiger and Magnus Maximus, a Marvelous Measurer.

Please help me give a HUGE thanks to Kathleen for putting together this outstanding lesson on how to write picture books that will get read aloud over and over again. For it is a lesson, and not just a post. Kathleen spent almost two hours with me doing these recordings, and that was in addition to writing the gorgeous post to accompany the videos. Luckily for us, Kathleen will now be an honorary 12 x 12 member, so hopefully she will pop into the Forum and participate in the community.

Kathleen Pelley was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but spent most of her childhood summers playing on her grandparents’ farm in Ireland. Her passion for stories stemmed from listening to them on the BBC radio during the children’s story hour. Later, her gentle Irish father fanned the flame even more by feeding her his tales of fairies, leprechauns, and banshees.

So much did Kathleen love stories, that off she went to Edinburgh University and earned a degree in HiSTORY. She didn’t much care for all the facts and dates and numbers, but how she loved the stories of Rasputin, Napoleon, and Bonnie Prince Charlie! One character in particular captured Kathleen’s imagination—Florence Nightingale. After completing her degree, Kathleen studied to become a children’s nurse, but it was a brief and disastrous dalliance. For much as Kathleen loved children, she did not like to see them sick and suffering. However, decades later, Kathleen now sees herself as a kind of a nurse, because she believes that stories can heal the hurts in our hearts.

As a former elementary teacher, Kathleen enjoys sharing her passion with people of all ages. She is the author of five picture books: The Giant King, 2003, Child Welfare League of America (CD narrated by author – NAPPA storytelling award), Inventor McGregor 2006, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bank Street Best Book and Colorado Book Award Winner), Magnus Maximus, a Marvelous Measurer, 2010 Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bank Street Best Book, Colorado Book Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Anne Izard Storytelling Award), Raj the Bookstore Tiger, 2011, Charlesbridge (Colorado Authors League Award winner, Colorado Book Award finalist, Bank Street Best Book, and Cardoza Award finalist) and The Sandal Artist, 2012, Pelican Publishing.

List of Titles mentioned in this post:

 

Categories: Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Reagan ChestnutWow! To think that 12 x 12 could illuminate a path back to reading and writing is both humbling and amazing. Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Reagan Chestnut, has a unique story of struggle that I’m sure will inspire those of you with the strongest of writer’s block. Needless to say, I am so pleased Reagan found her way into our community and that we’re helping her fan the flames of creativity once more. Please welcome Reagan!

How Picture Books Taught Me to Read and Write…Again.

Up until about two years ago, I was a professional academic. I went from a BA program to a Masters program to a PhD program. During breaks, I took workshops and went to conferences. In my spare time, I read every play and every book on theatre criticism I could get my hands on. And I wrote. Boy, did I write. I wrote poems, plays, restaurant reviews, blog posts, and started novels-a-plenty.

And then I hit a wall. After hours each day of staring at computer screens and academic journals, I just didn’t want to look at words anymore. I stopped all writing that wasn’t involved with my thesis. Then I stopped all recreational reading. Then I came to a screeching halt.

I started listening to audiobooks exclusively. Even with my academic journals, I used text-to-speech on my computer to read the information to me. Finally, when I became pregnant with my son, I gave up the PhD dream and moved back to the States with my husband to be with my family. Though I bought baby books with every intention of being the best prepared mother I could be, I could never bring myself to pick one up. The thought of reading a chapter of anything filled me with anxiety and exhaustion, an idea I would have found baffling a few years ago. I promised myself, and my husband, that I would keep a pregnancy journal and update the baby book, but when the moments came to write, the anxiety and exhaustion returned, as the blank baby book on my bookshelf will atest. It wasn’t that I didn’t love story anymore – I listened to 2-3 hours of audiobooks every day. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say – I filed away thoughts, reflections, and fragments of conversations all the time. For some reason, the written word became an impossibility for me.

When I was 8 months pregnant, I went into my parents’ basement to mine through childhood boxes. As I searched, I came across childhood books that I hadn’t seen in decades: The Happy Prince, Good Families Don’t, Annie and the Animals, Blueberries for Sal. So in an unfurnished room surrounded by half-unpacked boxes, I sat down with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and read my first book in years.

I was arrested with the simple perfection of the writing. I picked up another picture book, then another. By the time I was done, I had read through a stack of old favorites. The stories immediately returned to me, like old friends, and a few days later, I found myself staring at a Word document, piecing together my first children’s book.

It has been a struggle to keep the flame growing over the past two years. I still mostly listen to audiobooks, I still have to tug at my will to get me to write anything. Heck, this blog post has been sitting in my head for months. I can say with absolute confidence that the one thing keeping me on track is the 12×12 challenge. I have a purpose, a goal, deadlines. I have connected with critique partners who ask how I’m doing, ask for revisions, and send me contests and opportunities to keep my writing going. 12×12 is slowly but surely bringing my flame to an inferno. I can feel the growth and the heat of it.

This is Reagan Chesnut’s first year as a 12×12 participant. She is an active member of SCBWI and contributes to two critique groups. She holds an M.Phil. in Theatre with an emphasis in Playwriting from Trinity College, Dublin. Her plays “Kyrie”, “Twilight in Hamburg”, and “Aqua Man” have been produced in both the United States and Ireland as part of the Connecting Creativity initiative by Dublin-based theatre company The Break Away Project. She is currently based in Michigan working.. You can find Reagan on her website http://www.reaganchesnut.com and on Twitter: @ReaganChesnut

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Rebecca SheratonSo often we hear teachers say that being a teacher has made them better writers, but I love how today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Rebecca Sheraton, says that being a children’s book writer has also made her a better teacher. That would seem obvious, but it’s an insight I haven’t heard expressed before. Wonderful for the children of Brisbane Australia lucky enough to have her! We too in 12 x 12 are fortunate that Rebecca’s participation has enriched our community. Please give her a warm welcome!

I remember briefly saying a few years ago, I’d love work with children and write children’s books. It’s like a prophetic word that I spoke out into the universe. Well those very words came true. After volunteering in an orphanage project in China in 2008 for one year working with underprivileged children, it really changed my life and perspective on how blessed I am. I returned to Australia, quit my office job and enrolled at university again to become a primary school teacher. One year later I was working full-time as a registered teacher.

Then two years ago, I started thinking about writing for children again. I did some research online and attended a one day writing workshop. Well, I found my purpose on that day! I left that workshop with feedback on two picture book manuscripts, a whole lot of references and I started the online course.

Since then I have been setting writing goals. At that workshop, I decided to attend my first writing conference, which I did last year. In fact, I attended three and did manuscript pitches. I joined a children’s writing critique group, which changed my life. I met like-minded people who spurred me on and gave me invaluable feedback. Shout out to Write Links – Brisbane Children’s Writers Group. I joined writing organisations, like SCBWI and other local ones in Australia, which have provided so many networking opportunities. Now I bump into people from that first workshop all the time at writing events in my area.

Last year, I set two goals for 2014. My first goal was to do 12 x 12 and be ready to submit as a Gold member. So far this year, I have written a new picture book manuscript each month and submitted to one agent. I’m revising and editing many more. The most valuable part has been the participation in the online groups, particularly on Facebook with 12 x 12 and Sub Six. That is where I formed my online critique group and I’m getting to know writers and illustrators from all over the world. Another supportive environment all at my fingertips. I’ve learned so much on these online platforms and I’m grateful for how everyone generously shares their knowledge on children’s literature. It really is social media!

Well, my second goal came while having hot chocolate with my writing friend. We made a pact and are going to our first SCBWI conference in Sydney in July. I can’t wait to go!

Now I’m so immersed in the children’s writing community, I can’t remember what my life was like before. Imagination and hard work, but all have brought so much satisfaction and joy in my life. I have my down times, but that’s when my writing friends email or Facebook me to get behind me.

Some highlights from the last two years—sharing my published short story with my nephew before bedtime, getting my students excited about authors and their books and imparting what I’ve learned about writing with my students. Being a children’s writer has made me a better teacher.

Can’t wait to see where I am in 2015.

Rebecca Sheraton is a children’s writer and a primary school teacher. She lives in Brisbane and loves coming home to write and let her imagination overtake. Playing with her nephews lets her be a kid again, and they inspire many funny stories. Find out more on her website and Facebook page.

Categories: 12 x 12, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Volunteer/Community, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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