Q & A with author PJ McIlvaine & Critique Giveaway

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome my friend and talented author PJ McIlvaine. Her new book LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE just came out. I was grateful she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

And by the way, PJ has generously offered a query and first five pages critique as a giveaway. Click HERE to enter the contest.


Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I wrote LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE when I was in a big writing tear. I’d signed with a new agent, and I wanted to show her how prolific I was and committed.  That partnership didn’t pan out, but I kept working on Lena. Months passed. I heard about a small publishing company that was open to submissions. I sent it off to Maria Ashworth, the publisher and editor, expecting not to hear anything for months, but she wrote me back right away. She’d fallen in love with Lena immediately, or at least fallen in love with the promise and premise of Lena. She made suggestions, some of which were the kind that made me slap myself upside the head and go uhh, why didn’t I think of that! In this instance, another pair of eyes was most welcome. We traded hot drafts back and forth for a couple of days but she had made it clear right off the bat that she was going to offer me a contract once we had Lena exactly where we wanted it to be. And she did and soon we were off to the races.  In record time Maria found a wonderful illustrator, Leila Nabih, who has done an amazing job bringing Lena and her zany family to life. And all this in a little over a year! We all know that the publishing journey can be long and painful, but Lena was surprisingly fast.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
My brother Mikey and I sat at the little kid’s table in our house for holiday meals or when there were too many people at the “big table”.  Sometimes our cousins joined us at the table, and when they were around, Mikey reigned in his, uh, more wilder impulses. But when it was just us two, and not just at the little kid’s table, he tormented me. Eating with his mouth open, burping and farting at will, making rude comments, throwing food around, grabbing food off of my plate, you name it, he did it. Years later, I see the humour in it, but back then, I was mortified. Tragically, Mikey passed away several years ago, and I miss him dearly. What I wouldn’t give to have him at our dinner table now, burps, farts, and all.

Please share some of your writing process.
Mentally, I’m always writing even when I’m not physically writing. I try to maintain a schedule of writing every day, even if it’s only a sentence or a paragraph. If life gets in the way and I don’t write for a day or two, I get anxious and antsy. Writing is like every other discipline: the more you do it, the better you get at it. At the same time, I look for ideas and inspiration in every corner, and I jot those nuggets down for future reference. Writing is like panning for gold, sometimes you hit the jackpot, and other days it’s a true grind. But I keep at it through the highs and lows, and when I’m in the zone, it’s like I’m writing on autopilot. I revise as I go along and I always have. I see everything in my head, like a movie, and the characters talk to me. Sometimes I even talk back!

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’d say very early on.  There would be flirtations with other careers: nurse, doctor, lawyer, the usual things kids say. My brother and I did a little neighborhood newspaper, he’d draw the pictures and I’d write the text. Then when I was in the sixth grade, I wrote a Gothic horror story that garnered attention in our school district, and that story ended up being put in the time capsule of our school dedication. I think that was the first time I realized I loved to write and could be good at it. On summer vacation, I read books non-stop, and I wanted to write books like the ones I read.  I honestly believe that writers are born; yes, technically, you can learn the skill set, but without that creativity, that spark, passion, whatever you want to call it, that voice that sets you apart, that story only you can tell in your own unique way—you can be good, but not great. It’s not easy. But then again, it’s not supposed to be.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I just want to write my passion, characters that take me over and lead me to unexpected places. Of course I’d like to be published, all writers do, but the only thing I can control is the writing.  I have a ton of projects in the picture book, middle-grade, and young adult worlds in various stages. Currently, my main focus is revising my Victorian England middle-grade mystery adventure for an agent who loves this character and story as much as I do. So far the revise is going remarkably well, maybe too well!  At the same time, I have a contemporary MG fantasy/coming of age swimming in the back of my head.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
Just two? No fair. Well, under threat of torture and gratuitous pain, as a child and later as a tween, I was enormously influenced by book series like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and The Bobbsey Twins. But later on, the science fiction classic Stranger In a Strange Land made a huge impression on me as a teenager, probably because of my brother because he read it first and then told me he wonderful it was. I was flattered, because we were at the age where he really didn’t want to have anything to do with me, but we still shared a love of books.  In the picture book world, there are too many to mention.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Writing is a life-long marathon, not a one-minute sprint.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?


PJ McIlvaine is a prolific kid lit writer/author/screenwriter/writer/journalist. In other words, she was born with a pen in her hand.  Her debut picture book LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE (Big Belly Book Co.), with illustrations by Leila Nabih, is about a determined little girl who learns the hard way that being at the big table isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. PJ also has DRAGON ROAR, a picture book about a lonely, sick dragon, publication to be determined, to MacLaren-Cochrane.  PJ is also a co-host of #PBPitch, the premiere Twitter pitch party for picture book creators. She’s been published in numerous outlets and is a regular contributor to the Children’s Book Insider newsletter, writing about the path to publication and featuring interviews with established and debut kid lit authors. And her Showtime original family film MY HORRIBLE YEAR was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.

My personal author website: https://pjmacwriter.com

Twitter: @pjmcilvaine

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pj.mcilvaine

Big Belly Book Co. site (to purchase Little Lena) http://www.bigbellybookco.com/activities.html

The book is currently available for pre-order.

35 thoughts on “Q & A with author PJ McIlvaine & Critique Giveaway

    Rachel Funez said:
    June 17, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Great interview! I love hearing about your journey to publication. Each one is unique!

    Liked by 1 person

    evelynchristensen said:
    June 16, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    Congratulations, PJ! It was fun to read your interview. Best wishes on all your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      June 16, 2019 at 7:15 pm

      Evelyn, thanks for stopping by! Your website and WFH tips have been very helpful to me over the years 🙂


    Katherine Rothstein said:
    June 15, 2019 at 9:49 am

    Great interview! Thank you for sharing your writing inspiration and your story behind the story. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who gets antsy if I don’t get my writing time.

    Liked by 1 person

    nataliecohn0258 said:
    June 14, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    This looks like a good book to read it reminds me when at holidays we always got stuck at the kid’s table. Sometimes it was the fun table but other times I had this fascination about sitting at the big table with the adults. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    Laura Clement said:
    June 14, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    I’m excited to read the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    Sarah Floyd said:
    June 14, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Congrats, PJ! Fantastic concept and wonderful interview!!
    I remember graduating to the grownups’ table–it was a very big deal! : )

    Liked by 1 person

    Pamela Courtney said:
    June 13, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    Isn’t it interesting how childhood frustrations can become that perfect nugget for stories. Think we all know a Mikey. Never heard of Stranger In a Strange Land. Will have to pick that one up. Thanks. Loved reading all your behind the scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

      Pamela Courtney said:
      June 13, 2019 at 11:03 pm

      Oh yeah, and major congratulations on your Daytime Emmy. And that Victorian mystery intrigues!

      Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      June 15, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Our lives and experiences provide endless inspiration…


    Linda KulpTrout said:
    June 13, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    I loved reading your interview and can’t wait to read your book!

    Liked by 1 person

    Aileen Stewart said:
    June 13, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Great interview, and I like vanilla icecream too. I put chocolate syrup and peanut butter on top!

    Liked by 1 person

    Linda Hofke said:
    June 13, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    “It’s not easy. But then again, it’s not supposed to be.”
    I like that and will remind myself each time I start a new story. Because no matter how often you write or how successful you may be, each story is a new challenge to discover, write, and revise.

    Congrats on Little Lena and the Big Table and thanks for sharing your journey to publication (and more).

    Liked by 2 people

    Cathy Ogren said:
    June 13, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    I loved reading your interview and background story that inspired your book. Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

    Vijaya Bodach said:
    June 13, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    What a wonderful interview!!! I teared up reading that Mikey is no longer on earth. What wonderful memories you have. Congratulations, PJ!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Angela Hawkins said:
    June 13, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    I 💛 the kiddie table! Congratulations PJ!

    Liked by 1 person

    Jilanne Hoffmann said:
    June 13, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Ah, the kids’ table. Fond (and not so fond) memories. Congrats on finding a home for Little Lena!

    Liked by 1 person

    Jay said:
    June 13, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    I love to read background inspiration to a new book. This evokes a wonderful memory of childhood. Congratulations PJ and thank you Lydia.

    Liked by 1 person

    Lorraine Bonzelet said:
    June 13, 2019 at 11:59 am

    I remember when my kids sat at the kiddie table — and the first time we went out with friends to dinner and allowed all the tweens to sit at their own table beside us. What a wonderful “grown-up” moment it was for them. Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories.

    Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      June 13, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      I’m loving all the connections others are making to this story!


    Kathy Halsey said:
    June 13, 2019 at 11:57 am

    We all know what it’s like to be at the little table. Congrats, Pj. Thrilled for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez said:
    June 13, 2019 at 10:16 am

    “My brother and I did a little neighborhood newspaper, he’d draw the pictures and I’d write the text.” Love this! It pulls me back to my childhood, right back to summers in the backyard with the tent as our makeshift playground of school classrooms, tv broadcasting stations, writer’s quarters lol. 😍

    Thanks for this fun interview, ladies!

    Liked by 1 person

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