-

Writing

Author Brandon Marie Miller on Crafting YA Biographies- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome Brandon Marie Miller, an author who writes extraordinary YA. Check out her new YA biography Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth, published by Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill & Kane, and see her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Brandon is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends June 18, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth.
I had written for editor Carolyn Yoder years ago, and through another author, I heard she was interested in a bio of Lee. I spent a few months working up a proposal (book overview, annotated outline, market analysis, competing titles, author bio, proposed bibliography, and sample chapter) and they offered a contract based on the proposal. Then the real work started! A note here: Lee did not follow the project described in my book proposal. The finished book went from MG 40,000 words, 8 chapters to YA 70,000 plus words, 20 chapters. It truly is a journey!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Robert E. Lee is one of the most mythologized men in American history. I hoped this book might help young people question what myths we are taught as history. For instance, some people today believe firmly that Lee did not own slaves, he did not believe in white supremacy, and that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. But all of these things are true. Having Lee in the news as I researched and wrote the book put extra pressure on me. I needed to give my readers context for Lee’s time that helps us understand our own. I needed to use Lee’s own words to help readers discover the real man, and not just the symbol that was too-good-to-be-true. That was my inspiration.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My books are MG or YA history and biography, so I pretty much follow the same process for each. I start with research because you cannot write what you don’t know! I put together a list of books and articles (tip: scour the bibliographies in other books to find great resources) and search for documents, images, and other sources online. I begin with general books and articles on the subject and then narrow my focus onto different aspects of my topic. Most importantly, as well as secondary sources, I use primary sources like period letters, diaries, newspapers, photographs, etc. If possible, I visit places and soak up details. And I talk to experts. But before you travel or talk to someone have enough research under your belt to make it meaningful. When I feel I have a firm grasp on my subject, I start writing.

I break things down into “scenes”. I love incorporating quotes from my primary sources—these add intimacy, immediacy, and sensory details to the story. My favorite part of the process is revision where I take my first drafts and make a mess of things. A large part of this is done not on the computer, but old-fashioned brain, to hand, to paper, with a row of sharpened pencils and a pink eraser. Also, keep careful track of your sources. It’s miserable when you need to find where a quote came from, and you don’t have it written down.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Set up: Lee has just surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865
“Lee left the house and mounted Traveller. Union officers in the yard raised their hats as a show of respect as he rode by. Word of his surrender spread like an electric current through the ranks on both sides. When he reached his camp, hundreds of ragged, loyal men broke their lines and engulfed Traveller, reaching out to touch Lee, touch his horse. Tears streamed down Lee’s cheeks and men cried at this, the end, the loss. But there was also a numb sense of relief that the blood and carnage was over. Lee tried to speak but failed, so overcome with emotion.”

How long does it take you to research and craft YA nonfiction?
It takes me at least a year once the contract is signed and a few times I’ve had to ask for more time. I also do the photo research for my books which is time consuming finding images and applying for permissions. After I’ve turned in my manuscript there are still months of work ahead with editorial and copy editor notes and questions. And there are also source notes, the bibliography, index, timeline and other back matter to create.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Right now I am switching things up working on a couple YA historical novels based on previous research. Will these manuscripts ever find a publishing home? I have no idea, but for a nonfiction writer it is fun and freeing to MAKE STUFF UP!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
There are so many wonderful writers tackling history and biography for young people. Some of my favorites include MG and YA books by Deborah Heiligman, Candace Fleming, Gail Jarrow, Steve Sheinkin, and PB by Carole Boston Weatherford, Don Tate, and Lesa-Cline Ransome.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find the little gems in your primary sources for insights, details, and the emotion to carry you and your reader through to the end.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Long ago I had a horse and I’d love to experience the power of running free with your ears flat, the wind tossing your mane, and the rhythmic tattoo of your hooves on the ground!

BIO

Brandon Marie Miller writes award-winning history and biography for young people. She writes about famous people and common folk, about great events and everday life. Her newest book, ROBERT E. LEE, THE MAN, THE SOLDIER, THE MYTH earned a starred review from Booklist and was named a National Council for the Social Studies/Children’s Book Council Notable Book, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, and an Illinois Reads Title. Her books have also been honored by the International Reading Association, the New York and Chicago Public Libraries, and YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association/American Library Association), among others. A long time ago she earned her degree in American History at Purdue University and lives in Cincinnati OH where she drinks tea and eats dark chocolate.

Social media links:

www.brandonmariemiller.com
www.hands-on-books.blogspot.com
Twitter: @brandonmariemil

Author Tara Lazar on Finding your Strengths as a Writer

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who writes stellar fiction and manages to make me (and pretty much everyone else, kids and adults alike), laugh out loud. Check out her new book BLOOP, illustrated by Mike Boldt, and published by HarperCollins, and see her journey below…

Please describe the journey to publication for BLOOP. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I’m not great at parties. I’m the one in a separate room, petting the family dogs. I think dogs are lucky—they can sleep all day, people feed them, walk them, pet them, even pick up their poop. Dogs have no worries in life.
“If an alien visited earth,” I told a friend at a party, “they’d think the dogs were in charge.”
“Tara,” she replied, “that should be your next book!”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
There’s a lot of thinking involved. My ideas usually come in the form of titles (ha, except this one), so I have to discover the story to fit that title. Who is the main character? What is their problem? And above all—WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? I have to be firm with all those details before I begin to write a single word. Weeks or months will pass between forming an idea and sitting down to write it.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
The emperor summoned Bloop.
“Mission accomplished, Bloop. Return to Planet XYZ ASAP. Your kingdom awaits.”

You write hilarious books, and you seem like a naturally funny person. For the writers who struggle with infusing their stories with humor, do you have any bits of advice?
Much humor comes from surprise, the unexpected. Misdirection, incongruity. Fitting things together in a unique way is key.
Then again, I don’t necessarily think that humor can be taught. Go with your strengths. I can’t write sweet and lyrical. It just comes out sappy, syrupy and laden with purple prose. Therefore, I don’t write sweet and lyrical books. I write humor instead.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Oh wow, I have a bunch of things under submission, but of course, this year has been slow in publishing. I remain hopeful that I’ll get some of my silliest stories out there. A third book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series called TIME FLIES: DOWN TO THE LAST MINUTE will release next year, of course with Ross MacDonald illustrating again.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I don’t believe in using mentor texts. Perhaps it’s great as you’re learning how to construct a story, but I don’t want someone else’s voice or ideas to inadvertently seep into my writing.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Keep writing new stories to discover your own process and what works best for you. Lots of people will give you advice, but you shouldn’t necessarily take it as gospel. Find who you are as a writer.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Well, that’s easy! A dog, of course!

taraflowerscircleStreet magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been.

Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books where anything is possible.

My Twitter is @taralazar and my Instagram is @taralaser

Her picture books available now are:

Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on TeachingBooks.net. She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).

Author Debra Shumaker on how to Publish Expository Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who defines perseverance, Debra Shumaker. Check out her new nonfiction book Freaky, Funky Fish, illustrated by Claire Powell, and published by Running Press Kids, and see her cosmic journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Debra is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends May 21, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Freaky, Funky Fish.
Surprisingly, this book came about quite quickly! I wrote the first draft for FREAKY, FUNKY FISH during Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee the first week of May, 2018. By July, I had started sending it out to my various critique groups. After revisions, I sent it to my then-agent in September. She asked for some tweaks to the ending and we went out on submission at the end of October. In December, one editor emailed that she was taking it to acquisitions and we had an offer on January 15th! Eight months from conception to book offer floored me—usually it takes me years from idea to submission-ready.FreakyFunky-jkt_3P.indd

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The funny thing is that this book is inspired by one of those older, unsold books that I wrote. Back in 2013, I wrote a humorous fiction picture book called NOT A GOLDFISH. I had several close calls with it but it never sold.
In April 2018, I had been focusing much of my time on writing picture book biographies. My agent encouraged me to try something different and after reading a stack of rhyming picture books about bugs, squirrels, water, etc. I decided I wanted to try writing a rhyming nonfiction picture book. As I brainstormed a topic to tackle, I remembered all the fish I discovered while researching for NOT A GOLDFISH. So the old became new!

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
“Fish have fins and gills and tails. All fish swim and most have scales. But. . .”
You have to turn the page to discover what comes next—but. . . not all fish look or act alike! Some fish dance, some “sing”, and some coat themselves with snot! Fish have adapted to live in their environments in so many unique and cool ways. I hope kids who read this book realize our natural world is AMAZING!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
As varied as my projects are, my writing process is pretty much the same. After an idea strikes, if it needs research, I start gathering information from websites and books—both kid and adult. When I’m ready to start writing, I handwrite my first draft—my thought process is more “freeing” with pen on paper. That first draft is awful—a bunch of incomplete sentences and scribbles that I can barely read. After letting it sit for a few days, I type up the rough draft. From then on, I work on my computer. . .though when I’m digging in deep with my revisions, I do print it out and scribble and scratch all over it. After several rounds of revision, I bring it to my various critique groups—I’m in four. When it’s as far as I can take it, I send it to my agent.

I’ve been following your career for a while now, and I’ve seen how hard you worked to get to where you are. What were some of the elements that helped you secure an agent?
Being open—being open to joining writing challenges for motivation, being open to studying craft, being open to feedback on my work, and being open to revising. But probably most importantly, being open to setting a book aside and starting something new. As I shared in my previous blog posts with you, it was my 11th polished PB that landed an agent, but that book never sold. The 5th project that we subbed together finally sold—a year and a half after I signed with that agent. Will any of those first 10 or 15 other PBs become published? While one is, the others likely not. But they were not a waste of time. I learned something about writing from every single one of them. (Patience and perseverance are VERY important elements, too.)

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m thrilled to say I have more picture books coming!
TELL SOMEONE—a picture book that encourages kids to talk about things, both the easy stuff and the hard stuff–comes out in October with Albert Whitman. It is illustrated by the amazing Tristan Yuvienco.
A companion book to FREAKY, FUNKY FISH is in the works with Running Press Kids—PECULIAR PRIMATES will be hitting bookshelves Fall 2022. Thankfully Claire Powell signed on to illustrate it. I’ve recently seen the cover and it is adorable!
A fourth, unannounced picture book is slated for Fall of 2024—a lyrical, nature one. I am so excited and grateful to be in the place I am in my career. I’m savoring every moment.

Please share your favorite 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?
For the classics, when my boys were young, we checked out a series of seasonal, alphabet acrostic picture books by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans. They were gorgeous. The simple and lyrical acrostic poems with linoleum-cut illustrations made me FEEL each season. Those books inspired me to become a picture book writer.
For contemporary, Miranda Paul’s WATER IS WATER. I love how that book’s gorgeous text explains the water cycle in such a unique and fun way. And it rhymes! Perfection.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a critique group in your genre. By having other writers read your stories and provide feedback, your stories will improve. You don’t have to make every change suggested, but be open to making revisions. And by critiquing other writers, you’re writing will also improve. I would not be a published author without my critique groups.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why??
I have to go with the barreleye fish. Not that I want to BE one, but it is probably my favorite fish from my book. A see-through head?! How cool is that? How can you not want to know more about that fish! I realize it’s probably terrible of me to have a favorite from my book, but when I stumbled on the video of the barreleye fish, I KNEW I had to have it in my book. Thankfully I found a rhyming word for head that worked!

DebraShumaker5157_YankaPhotogrpahyBIO

My bio: Debra Kempf Shumaker loves weird and fascinating facts. When she isn’t reading or writing, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, and watching Jeopardy. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband, three sons, and two cats who miss the days the youngest son owned an aquarium full of fish. FREAKY, FUNKY FISH is her debut picture book. She is also the author of the upcoming TELL SOMEONE (October 1, 2021), and PECULIAR PRIMATES (Fall 2022).

Social media links:

Author Miranda Paul on Writing Commercial Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an award winning author who’s not only talented, but one of the kindest people I have ever met, and my own dream agent, Miranda Paul. Check out her new lyrical nonfiction book Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space, illustrated by Sija Hong, and published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing, and see her cosmic journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Miranda is generously giving away a free copy of her book (US continental only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends May 4, 2021.

CapturePlease describe the journey to publication for Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space.
Sometimes I work on books for so long, the journey becomes a blur. I think it was in 2014 or 2015 when a scientist friend and I dreamed up a book for kids that captured the wonder of places in outer space—including exoplanets—that most kids’ books at the time didn’t yet cover. (Most books seemed to cover the solar system only.) We were originally going to co-author a book, but his plans changed course, and so I continued tinkering with the idea that turned into a book of interstellar space poetry. Beyond sold in 2019 and published in 2021. So many breakthroughs in astronomy came out from the day I “finished it” until it published, which was a wild ride for my editor and me in deciding when last-minute editing and additions would have to stop.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
When I was in fourth grade, we were learning about the solar system. Every model we made had Pluto as the outermost planet. But a teeny-tiny footnote in our textbook (that no one read except me) read that from February 1979 to 1999, Neptune was actually further away from the Sun because of elliptical orbits. At that time, our models were WRONG! It got me wondering what other little details about space weren’t being taught or talked about? And as a grown up, I’m flabbergasted at just how many stars—and planets orbiting those stars—there are in our cosmos. We’ve learned so much, and kids’ books didn’t seem to be catching up fast enough.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
I’ll share with you one of the most important aspects of the book—something I already knew, but the Cosmologist and Astronomers at LaunchPad Astronomy reinforced again and again—that if there are just a few things to understand about outer space, it’s the sheer size of it and the fact that so much of it is comprised of dark matter, which we know little about. We often focus on all the things (planets, stars, gases) that we can see or detect, but it’s important for kids to realize how much of space is a giant, dark, unknown. So here’s a part of the poem that’s also printed on the back of the jacketflap.

THE FARTHER YOU GO, THE CLOSER SOMETHING BECOMES:

DARKNESS.

THE VAST DISTANCES AND POWERFUL EMPTINESS ARE SO COMMON OUT HERE,
EVERY OTHER ACTUAL THING
BECOMES RARE.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process often looks like thinking, dreaming, or doodling for months or years before I get a solid draft down. It really depends on the project, though. I want to let writers know not to beat themselves up if their process is messy or varied from book to book. Especially women who are writing “in the cracks of life,” as my friend Susan Manzke once told me. The real world doesn’t always embrace a steady, routine process—and if it did maybe we’d all be churning out the same book one after the other. Who wants that?

An open-ended question- what are some of the characteristics of commercial nonfiction?
I think of commercial nonfiction as having a hook that pulls in a wide range of readers. I don’t think of myself as a lover of history or social studies, but I’ll grab a book with a great premise or exceptional writing. Reaching audiences who wouldn’t normally gravitate toward a book about XYZ, or making something academic or curricular seem relevant and entertaining to kids today are some of the best “ways in” to turning true stories into compelling ones that do well in trade markets.

How do you balance writing and agenting?
To be honest, a lot of writers have full time jobs and already play a balancing game. That’s how I began as a writer—I was a teacher and a writer. So now that I’m not teaching in the classroom everyday, I play a similar balancing game between writing and agenting. But I use a lot of the same skill sets for both, so there is definitely overlap. I suppose it’s not all that different from writers or illustrate who also freelance or work other jobs. Not to mention a lot of writers I know are also parents and we’re used to wearing multiple hats.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
“Beware of being only a writer.” Sometimes, I hear from people who want publication so badly, it’s as if they’ve forgotten that it’s the living and acting upon what we care about that informs our emotions and our knowledge. Getting consumed by the business of publishing might cause a person to overlook all the other beautiful aspects of who you are and the roles you play that inform your writing.Headshot_miranda_new_hires_closer

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why??
A dolphin! I love these animals. They’re both playful and intelligent. A second runner up would be any of my spoiled cats. They’re living the good life!

 

BIO
MIRANDA PAUL is the award-winning author of several science and nature themed books for children, including One Plastic Bag, Water Is Water, and I Am Farmer. While finishing Beyond, she was able to visit the Wyoming Infrared Observatory during nighttime data collection. Miranda lives in Wisconsin with her family. And yes, it’s true—Miranda is also the name of one of the moons of Uranus. Learn more about her books and resources for teachers at www.mirandapaul.com.

Link to Buy: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-miranda-paul/1137154662

Author Kim Zachman on How to Craft Proposals- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome yet another talented nonfiction writer: Kim Zachman. Here she is, discussing her book There’s No Ham in Hamburger, a middle grade nonfiction book illustrated by Peter Donnelly and published by Running Press Kids. I was interested to hear what she said about crafting compelling nonfiction proposals, so read below for more information.

BUT first- YAY! Kim is generously giving away a free copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 30, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for There’s No Ham in Hamburger.
After twelve years of writing for magazines and newspapers, I finally gave in to my secret desire to be a children’s author. In 2010, I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and started learning everything I could about kids’ lit. The idea for this book came when I wondered why there wasn’t any ham in hamburgers. What I thought would be a quick internet search, turned into a year-long binge on food history and a proposal for a middle grade nonfiction book. I started querying agents and collected a sizable batch of rejections until John Rudolph of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret offered me representation. He gave me suggestions to revise the proposal, which I did, and then he sent it out on submission. A few months later, we got an offer from Running Press Kids. From concept to publication was a total of eight years.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
As I researched the origin stories of our favorite foods, it became clear that there was much more to tell than just who invented what and when. Societal changes had a big influence, specifically immigration, but science, technology, and religion also impacted our favorite foods. For example, the hydrogenation of peanut butter made an occasional treat into a pantry staple.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I used to work for Scholastic Book Fairs and didn’t get much writing done during the busy months when the schools were in session. So, I crammed most of my writing work into the summer break. Since the Pandemic has put me on permanent break, I try to be at my computer each afternoon for three to four hours. More than that, if I’m on a deadline. I don’t know how to quantify my research time because I’m almost always reading something that pertains to my current project or possible future project.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“We can’t talk about the history of ice cream without talking about the history of ice. About four thousand years ago, people discovered that ice helped keep foods from spoiling. However, getting ice was a problem. People knew how to build a fire and boil water, but only Mother Nature could freeze it.”

Can you give us some strategies on how to write a compelling MG nonfiction proposal?
I think the most important thing is that the proposal starts with a hook that is written with the same voice and style that you plan on using for the book. The second most important thing is to show the publisher why your book will be successful for them. Who is the target audience? How will it stand out? A strong market analysis with comparative titles is a must.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I plan on continuing with more nonfiction titles that are based on the social sciences. I’m researching a couple of topics right now, but I hesitate to mention them until after my agent has approved. I would also like to publish MG fiction. I have two first drafts completed, but they are NOT ready for anyone to read.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
When I read How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg and Poop Happened: A History of the World From the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee, I knew that I wanted a similar format and humorous tone for my book. They were both so much fun to read and packed with great information.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There’s no RIGHT way to write. There are, however, lots of wrong ways. Learn to avoid the wrong ways.”

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A river otter. I love how playful and curious they are. But, I don’t like cold water, so maybe that’s not the best choice. I can be reptilian about my need for heat.

BIO
Kim Zachman is an author and freelance writer with more than a decade of experience contributing to regional and national publications. There’s No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods is her debut children’s book.

LINKS
Author webpage:   www.kimzachman.com
Blog:  www.nohaminhamburgers.com
Both have links to purchase.

Author Cynthia Levinson on Social Justice- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome yet another talented nonfiction writer: Cynthia Levinson. Here she is, discussing her book The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art, illustrated by Evan Turk and published by Abrams. The title alone captures the hook of the story, and I encourage you all to read it.

BUT first- YAY! Cynthia is generously giving away a free critique of of the first 1000 words of a nonfiction picture book. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 16, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art.
As with all of my books, the journey was long and circuitous. I am deeply grateful to my critique partners in both Austin and Boston as well as to veteran picture book author Chris Barton for helping me focus the story and hone the arc. From the beginning, which was way back in 2016, the manuscript (I’m too superstitious to call anything I’m working on a “book” until a publisher buys it) concentrated on Shahn as a story-teller. This approach allowed me to show how he bucked artistic conventions of the time by displaying real life instead of the pastoral scenes his teachers advocated. However, the early drafts read too much like a magazine article rather than a picture book. They were about Shahn’s life but not through his eyes. The book is layered—merging art and politics—and it took me a while to work out how to do that without having text that was dense.COVER

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Since all of my books so far deal with social justice in some way, you would think that I would have figured out more quickly that fairness and justice, which compelled Shahn’s life work, would form the backbone of my approach! Once I realized his concerns for immigrants, working people, civil rights, voting rights, basic human rights, anti-war activism, and other causes needed to be the core, I, too, felt inspired.
In addition, I’ve known about Shahn for many years because of his installations in synagogues, his Passover Haggadah, incorporation of Hebrew lettering, and other Jewish-related themes. He stood for tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repair the world.”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wish my process had evolved over time! But, regardless of the project, I always do too much research. Then, I write multiple versions from different perspectives, throw them at my very patient and perceptive critique groups, slow-walk them past my agent, and, finally, after literally years and multiple drafts, hope to land with an editor who will really show me how to write the book.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
The final spread includes the line, “Ben drew until the end of his life, handing down his stories of justice from generation to generation.” But, what’s really compelling his Evan Turk’s art.

Many say the market for PB bios is saturated at the moment, do you have any tips on how to create fresh bios that capture the editor’s attention?
First, write the stories to which you feel and can show a personal connection. Secondly, consider writing historical fiction.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have no idea where my career is headed! Two books are under contract. One, which I think of as a biography of a place in free verse, is about the Highlander Folk School. The other is—surprise!—a historical fiction picture book about a Supreme Court case. Other WIPs remain manuscripts not books!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
For picture books, I strive but have so far failed to write with the economy and poetry of Patricia MacLachlan, Barb Rosenstock, Deborah Freedman, Barb Kerley, and Candace Fleming. Candy’s middle grade books, along with those of Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Steve Sheinkin, Deborah Heiligman, and Ann Bausum, whose research and story-telling skills are exemplary, guide me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
Listen to your book. Let it tell you what it needs to be.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
An elephant because they’re so empathetic.Ms favorite IMG_2810ac

BIO
Cynthia Levinson writes (mostly) nonfiction for (mostly) young readers, focusing on social justice. Her books have won a number of awards including the Jane Addams Book Award, SCBWI Golden Kite and NCTE Orbis Pictus Honors, NAACP Image Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild and Parents’ Choice selections, and the ILA Social Justice Award. She and her husband live in both Austin and Boston.

LINKS
Free virtual event on April 28: https://www.bookpeople.com/event/virtual-event-cynthia-levinson-evan-turk-peoples-painter
Website: https://cynthialevinson.com/
Facebook: Cynthia Levinson
Twitter: @cylev
Instagram: cylevinson

Author Lisa Amstutz on Connecting Kids with Nature- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a talented NF writer who’s a mentor to me, and who also just became an agent at Storm Literary, Lisa Amstutz. After writing over 150 books, she still had time to release another: Mammal Mania, middle grade nonfiction, published by Chicago Review Press. Check out her book journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Lisa is generously giving away a free critique of a PB or up to 10 pages of a longer ms (double-spaced). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 6, 2021.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for Mammal Mania.
I had previously written a book for Chicago Review Press’s Young Naturalists series called Amazing Amphibians. CRP was wonderful to work with, so my agent and I pitched some more ideas and this was the one my editor chose. My background is in ecology, so both of these books were right up my alley and fun to research and write.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Connecting kids with nature has always been one of my passions. Like the others in this series, this book is aimed at helping kids discover nature through engaging text, photos, and hands-on activities.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It definitely varies by the project. The two books I wrote for this series were very research-heavy, so I would take one topic at a time, research it, and then figure out a good way to share that information in a kid-friendly way. Some of my others, like Applesauce Day and Finding a Dove for Gramps, were more like writing poetry – a spark of inspiration that flowed out onto the page—followed, of course, by lots of revisions.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Imagine that you took a beaver and a duck and mixed them together—you might come out with something like a platypus. In fact, when European scientists first saw a platy­pus specimen, they thought it had to be a fake! But they were eventually convinced that this odd-looking mammal was real.”

You’re skilled at writing nonfiction, what are some effective strategies to engage young readers while disseminating information?
Writing nonfiction is really no different from writing fiction, except that you can’t make stuff up. The same rules of good writing apply – use strong nouns, active verbs, metaphors/similes, wordplay, a compelling story arc (if writing narrative NF) – in other words, general good writing techniques.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Because this was part of a series, I used previous books in the series as mentor texts. Others that have inspired me in terms of engaging middle grade nonfiction include Some Writer by Melissa Sweet, All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat, Something Rotten by Heather Montgomery, Astronaut-Aquanaut by Jen Swanson, and many more.

You recently became an agent at Storm Literary, how do you balance writing and agenting?
Well, my pace has slowed a bit, but I’ve always had to fit my own writing in around freelance client work (writing, editing, etc.), so this doesn’t feel much different. Like anyone else with a day job or other full-time responsibilities, I write in my spare time – evenings, weekends, etc.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
When an opportunity presents itself, don’t let fear and ‘what if’s’ stop you. Say yes—then go figure out how to do it. My writing mentor gave me this piece of advice early on, and it has served me well, even though it often stretches me out of my comfort zone.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Hmm. Maybe a cat—judging by my own three, it’s a pretty luxurious life!

BIO
Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. She spent eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors as well as corporate publishers. She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. Lisa recently joined Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent.
Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. A former outdoor educator, she specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. She lives on a small farm with her family.

LINKS
Website: www.LisaAmstutz.com
Twitter: @LJAmstutz
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LJAmstutz
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lisaamstutz.author/
Mammal Mania is available anywhere books are sold.
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mammal-Mania-Activities-Observations-Naturalists/dp/1641604360/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mammal-mania-lisa-j-amstutz/1137370629?ean=9781641604369
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781641604369

Author Barb Rosenstock on How to Craft NF Bios- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who needs no introduction, and who landed a Caldecott Honor in 2015 among many other awards: Barb Rosenstock. Read below to see her journey creating Mornings with Monet, a nonfiction picture book, illustrated by Mary Grandpré and published by Knopf / Penguin Random House. It’s fascinating how she sifted through various facts during her research phase, and focused on what she felt a personal connection to, and what had kid-appeal.

BUT first- YAY! Barb is generously giving away a free copy of Mornings with Monet (U.S. shipping only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 29, 2021.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for Mornings with Monet.
I grew up in Chicago and have loved the Monet and his artist friends since first seeing their work in the Impressionist Wing at The Art Institute as a child. It’s easy art to love, colorful and for the most part gentle subject matter. Mary Grandpré and I have done 3 art books together: The Noisy Paint Box, Vincent Can’t Sleep and Through the Window. I kind of wanted to round it to an even number of four books. I first started looking into female Impressionist, Mary Cassatt. After a bit of research, I just wasn’t drawn to the subject. I decided to try to tackle the most famous Impressionist, the first Impressionist, Claude Monet.  I thought I’d be writing about Monet and his garden, or Monet and the first Impressionist exhibition, or his Haystack series paintings, which were all big topics. But books do what they need to do, and this one needed to be a very small story.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I would typically attempt to start a book in a subject’s childhood, but Monet’s young years were not all that compelling. Also, as I began researching, there was a lot about Monet the man that I found unappealing. In spite of his many character flaws, his glorious art kept calling me. I decided to look into specifically how he created his art, his process. I wasn’t originally aware that at times Monet actually painted from a boat. I liked that boat more than anything else in his whole life, and so I thought I’d set myself the challenge of building an entire picture book biography that takes place in about a roughly 4-hour painting session on the boat. It worked, thanks to Mary Grandpré’s stunning art!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m never sure enough of myself as a writer that I’m at all clear on what my “writing process” is anyhow. I sit down and write, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not, that is the process.  Every book takes the time and energy it needs and each time I sit down to do a book, I’m not sure how (or if) it’s going to work out. Basically, I just keep asking questions, first of the research and later of my own words. Questions like:  So what? What does that mean? Is that what you’re trying to say really? Is that logical? What does it feel like? Will kids find this interesting? For me the process is answering my own questions. After a decade at it, it’s just a process of trusting that my curiosity will eventually shape itself onto the page.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Wow, maybe you should tell ME which parts are compelling. But here goes, at least this is my favorite part, drawn from my own life (as well as Monet’s):
“Anyone who creates understands—that art is not magic. It is work…and work…and work, and then…it is magic.”

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
I have always liked true stories ever since my maternal grandfather told me “true” (or mostly true J) family stories. I liked historical fiction and history-based nonfiction the most as a child and read a ton of it at my public and school libraries. I still like true or “based on truth” movies better than anything fictional. I think the idea that a story is real makes is MUCH more compelling than anything made up.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have a book on citizen science and monarch butterflies coming out next year with illustrator Erika Meza from Knopf. And I’m excited to be working with Katherine Roy again on a book about the Sargasso Sea from Norton.  It was great to take a step away from history for a bit, but I’ll get back to it I’m sure. There’s a few more titles in the works, but no use talking about them so early, you know how long picture books take!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
The picture books that started me writing are still mentors: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and my all-time favorite, Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. Favorite picture book authors include: Jen Bryant, Carole Weatherford, and Candace Fleming. I have been obsessed with every single thing Cynthia Rylant ever put down on paper for almost 30 years. I have favorite illustrators too other than the ones I’ve worked with: Elisha Cooper, Kadir Nelson, Emily Sutton, Floyd Cooper, Eliza Wheeler, The Fan Brothers, Jason Chin, Brendan Wenzel, Frank Morrison, Hadley Hooper, and the late Mordicai Gerstein.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Get the actions right and the feelings right, and the rest will follow.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A dog, because…DOGS! They are curious, loyal, loving, understanding, people feed them and they can take naps virtually any time they want.

 

BIO
Barb Rosenstock likes true stories best. She is the author of eighteen nonfiction and historical fiction picture books that combine deep research with playful language. Her book, The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpré, received a Caldecott Honor in 2015. Other awards include the SCBWI Golden Kite, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Sydney Taylor Honor, and the South Asia Book Award, as well as numerous national and state recognitions. Barb loves sharing stories and inspiring students in schools and libraries across the country. She lives with her family north of Chicago.

LINKS
www.barbrosenstock.com
Twitter: @barbrosenstock
Instagram: @brosenstock
Mornings with Monet can be purchased from:
https://bookshop.org/books/mornings-with-monet-9780525708186/9780525708179

Author Patricia Newman on Getting Through Rough Drafts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author an award winning author I admire greatly for her skilled NF writing, Patrician Newman. Read below to see her journey creating Planet Ocean, middle grade NF, with the lovely photographs of Annie Crawley, published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing.

BUT first- YAY! Patricia is generously giving away a free manuscript critique (max. 10 pages) or a 20-minute virtual school visit. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 19, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Planet Ocean.
I first met Annie via telephone in 2010 or 2011. I had cold-called her to see if she’d like to be the photographer for a book I was proposing called Plastic, Ahoy! Annnie had been on the ship with the scientists and had the only photos available. She was thrilled someone else wanted to “talk trash” and jumped at the opportunity. We became friends and looked for other opportunities to work together.
In 2016, Annie and I were driving through a Colorado blizzard to visit a black-footed ferret conservation center that we featured in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. During the long drive, we began discussing our next book – because well, I guess we’re over achievers. Annie’s underwater photography and her advocacy for the ocean seemed a natural fit for an ocean book.
While the ocean book idea percolated, I researched and wrote Eavesdropping on Elephants. And finally, in 2018 the timing was right to begin working together again. In November 2018, we submitted a proposal to Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press who had published our Plastic, Ahoy! and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue collaborations. By February 2019, we had an offer.
Then the fun began. I traveled to Annie’s hometown in Seattle where we interviewed several people for our Salish Sea chapter. Annie traveled to Indonesia and Utquiaġvik, Alaska for the Coral Triangle and Arctic chapters. In between trips, I interviewed Annie. We shared information via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook, text message, and phone.
In the meantime, I wrote. Fast and furiously. Our contract stipulated a September 2019 manuscript delivery deadline. While Carol and I revised the text, Annie and I began work on the videos for the QR codes. I wrote drafts of the scripts and Annie narrated and produced the videos.
When COVID-19 pushed our fall 2020 release date to spring 2021, we took the extra time to meticulously select photos for every page of Planet Ocean – even the QR code icons. Millbrook Press finalized the layout and sent the book to the printer in late 2020.
Throughout every step, Annie and I worked as a team, sharing ideas and more than a few laughs. Planet Ocean is our heart book.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Our ocean itself. The ocean makes me happy and I have several ocean memories that helped fuel this project. Scientists are just beginning to understand that the ocean soothes us and boosts our creativity.
Annie Crawley was another inspiration. She feels at home underwater and has gathered a staggering amount of ocean knowledge on her expeditions with scientists and explorers.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wouldn’t wish my process on anyone. It’s messy, especially at the beginning. I agonize throughout the first draft but find my stride during revision. Usually, I stop tinkering when Carol says the book must go to the printer.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
For the Salish Sea chapter of Planet Ocean, Annie and I interviewed Dana Wilson, a Lummi elder fisherman. I love this passage because it shows Dana’s deep connection to the sea.

While science marches on, members of the Lummi Nation mourn the lack of salmon. For centuries these Coast Salish people have called themselves the Salmon People because of their dependence on salmon fishing.

“We lived our lives around salmon,” says Dana. “We migrated with them. Salmon are who we are—our economy, our trade, our songs and dances. It’s how we always sustained ourselves.” According to Lummi culture, the salmon’s migration symbolizes the struggle that makes life worthwhile. The annual Lummi salmon ceremony used to give thanks for the abundance of salmon.

“At the ceremony I attended,” Annie says, “the Lummi prayed for the salmon’s return. For the first time in his life, Dana is not fishing for salmon because not enough of them are returning.”

How can aspiring NF writers make their writing more trade oriented and engage writers on a universal level?
Nonfiction writing is more than just the facts. Successful nonfiction authors start every project with a personal connection that comes from the heart. For narrative nonfiction, we tell stories that connect readers to their world in ways that resonate with them. You have only to read Planet Ocean to discover how invested Annie and I are with the ocean’s story as our story.
In expository nonfiction, we organize facts according to some unifying focus unique to us. For an example, Melissa Stewart’s Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs morphed into an anti-bullying book. In a blog post Melissa says, “I’d have to revisit some painful parts of my childhood” to write this book.
I suggest budding nonfiction authors read Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep for inspiration. The book, edited by Melissa, features craft essays from fifty award-winning nonfiction authors.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Plastic, Ahoy! was my first foray into environmental nonfiction for children, and I think I’m going to say here. There are so many stories left to tell.
My next book releases in the fall of 2022. Illustrated by the talented Natasha Donovan, it tells a happy conservation story about a river.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I always have trouble with this question because I love so many books. Most recently, I used Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon and Ashley Spire’s The Most Magnificent Thing as mentor texts for two different projects I’m working on.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a personal connection to your writing project. Your prose will be richer, and ideas will flow from your heart.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
An elephant. Who wouldn’t want to have a trunk?

BIO

Patricia Newman’s books show young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, Patricia’s books have received starred reviews, ALA Notable recognition, Green Earth Book Awards, an Outstanding Science Trade Book Award, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.
One Texas librarian recently wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.”
Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Her presentations are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.”

LINKS

Link to a 4-min video Patricia and Annie made about why your library needs Planet Ocean: https://youtu.be/OWMoEcABvL0
Support independent booksellers and buy Planet Ocean at Bookshop.org.
Website: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/
LitLinks – a blog series that highlights connections between STEM and language arts
Twitter: @PatriciaNewman
Facebook: Patricia Newman, Author & Literacy Advocate
Pinterest: Patricia Newman, Children’s Book Author

Author Andrea Wang on Using Mentor Texts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author and EMLA agency sister Andrea Wang, here to chat about her newest picture book, Watercress, illustrated by none other than Jason Chin, published by Holiday House/Neal Porter Books. Check out her author journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Andrea is generously giving away a copy of her book (signed by her and Jason Chin)! All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 8, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Watercress?.
When I wrote down my memory of picking watercress for the first time, it was in the form of a personal essay. I had taken a course in writing personal essays during my MFA program and thought it would be a good form to use. But I didn’t know how to end the essay, so after some time, I rewrote it as a fictional picture book. That worked better, but the ending still wasn’t right. I shoved it into the proverbial drawer and didn’t look at it again for about seven or eight years. I was inspired to take it out after reading A Different Pond (written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui) and rewrote it again, entirely from scratch. It was a long journey just to revise the manuscript, but I needed those years to find the heart of the story.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I was inspired by a childhood memory of being forced to pick watercress by the side of the road. It was a memory that haunted me. I had to write the book in order to understand why I couldn’t let this memory go and what it really meant to me. I also wanted to honor my parents and their experience as immigrants from China.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
Mom and Dad press me to try some.
“It is fresh,” Dad says.
“It is free,” Mom says.
I shake my head.

Free is bad.
Free is
hand-me-down clothes and
roadside trash-heap furniture and
now,
dinner from a ditch.

This excerpt shows the depth of misunderstanding and miscommunication between the main character and her immigrant parents. The gap feels insurmountable, until the mom shares a story from her past.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My process does vary depending on the project and whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Most of the time I start by writing down ideas and notes in a notebook and then progress to doing a lot of research and making more notes. I’ll jot down phrases or sentences that might work for the story, and once I feel ready, I’ll write a very rough draft on the computer. I’ll revise it numerous times, often based on feedback from critique partners, and then I’ll either share it with my agent and editor if it feels submittable, or shelve it until I find my way into the story and can rewrite it again, as I did with Watercress. I find that I need to let most of my stories marinate in the back of my mind for a while before I can move forward with writing them.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m super excited to have my debut middle grade novel releasing this August from Kokila. It’s a contemporary coming-of-age story called The Many Meanings of Meilan, about a Chinese American girl whose sense of self fragments after her extended family has a falling-out. I have another picture book coming out next year, also from Neal Porter Books, that is called Luli and the Language of Tea. It’s about a young girl who bridges a language gap through a shared love for tea. I’m also working on another contemporary MG as well as two nonfiction picture books. As for my career, I’d love to keep writing books that explore identity or have to do with food – preferably both at the same time.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
As I mentioned above, A Different Pond was a huge inspiration for me and also served as a mentor text for Watercress. There are so many brilliant PBs that it’s impossible to pick favorites, but I rely on the works of Chris Barton, Hayley Barrett, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Maria Gianferrari, Minh Le, Theresa Robeson, Lisa Robinson, Barb Rosenstock, and Carole Boston Weatherford. For MG, I’m especially inspired by J. Anderson Coats, Debbi Michiko Florence, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Lisa Yee.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Don’t be afraid to write from a place of vulnerability. Embrace what you don’t know and write until you understand it. Readers deserve complete emotional honesty.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Can I be a plant instead? I’m borderline obsessed with ginkgo trees and would love to be one. They’re long-lived, scrub pollution out of the air, are possibly fire-retardant, have medicinal seeds, and are graceful (something I am not!).

BIO
Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster (APALA Honor, PW starred review) and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (Freeman Book Award Honor, Sakura Medal, JLG Selection, SLJ starred review). She has two books releasing in 2021: Watercress (JLG Gold Standard Selection, multiple starred reviews); and The Many Meanings of Meilan, her debut middle grade novel. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. She is also the author of seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in the Denver area with her family.

LINKS
Website: https://andreaywang.com
Twitter: @AndreaYWang
Instagram: @AndreaWhyWang
Linktree (including buy links): https://linktr.ee/AndreaYWang

%d bloggers like this: