Publishing industry

Author Lisa Gerin on Writing About Unsung Heroes- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome my friend who was once my agency sister, the talented Lisa Gerin! I witnessed her landing a new agent, subbing her work, and then signing a contract. Here she is, discussing her new book Rosalind Looked Closer: An Unsung Hero of Molecular Science illustrated by Chiara Fedele and published by Beaming Books.

BUT first- YAY! Lisa is generously giving away a FREE PB critique (non-rhyming, <1000 words). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends June 17, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for Rosalind Looked Closer: An Unsung Hero of Molecular Science.

The book’s first draft was written back in 2018. I queried agents with it and my agent Rena Rossner of DHLA signed me with it in early 2019. She sent it out on sub quickly after that.  We sold it to Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books about a year later. Then COVID hit and my 2021 release date was put off by a year.  So, it will be four years from first writing it to its release this summer of 2022!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

I’m always looking for unsung heroes in history and science to write about. I was surprised to see that there were no American children’s picture book bios about Rosalind’s life story. She overcame so many obstacles and I felt it was time kids knew her inspiring STEM story.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I mostly write biography, so I get started by collecting my research facts. Usually I start off with an inspiring quote by the person I’m writing about. What about their life makes him/her kid-friendly and relatable? I’m playing around recently with the format of the bio, writing in verse; using sidebars on the page. These days you have to be very creative to sell certain picture book genres.

But I always want to have great backmatter for teachers, librarians and kids who want to read further and learn more about the subject I’ve written about.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Rosalind mixed and measured as she studied chemistry. She poured bright blue liquids into glass beakers. She computed difficult math problems, balanced equations, and never gave up until she had the solution. Rosalind always took a closer look.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I am currently out on sub with a creative nonfiction picture book about animals and plants of the Sonoran Desert, where I live!  I’m also working on revising another creative nonfiction book in hopes of sending it to an editor soon!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.

I love the picture book biographies written by Jen Bryant, Tanya Lee Stone. Kirsten Larson’s WOOD, WIRE, WINGS about a woman engineer/inventor is a current bio I love.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

REVISE, REVISE, REVISE!! And then, REVISE SOME MORE!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

I have two cats, so I’m going to say cat. Life is sweet when you are a feline; you are basically the boss of your humans. You can give and get unconditional love from a cat.

BIO

Lisa Gerin is a former elementary librarian and high school teacher with a Masters’ degree in Education. She had a satisfying career working with children, teaching reading and writing to grades PreK through 12 in New York and New Jersey. She writes creative nonfiction and especially loves writing biography. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, but was raised in New York City. Lisa loves animals and nature, especially her rescue kittens, Thor and Cleo.

LINKS
www.lisagerin.com
@LisaGerin1

Author Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan on Plotting- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the fabulous author and one of my dear CPs, Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan! We both share the same agent (Miranda Paul) so I was excited to chat with her about her new nonfiction book, Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research, published by Chicago Review Press.

BUT first- YAY! Elizabeth is generously giving away a FREE critique for a nonfiction or WFH project. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends May 27, 2022.

Where did you draw the inspiration for your book, Animal Allies?

First, I love animals. I’ve had all kinds of pets throughout my life. Second, and maybe most important, awhile back, a hashtag on Twitter caught my eye. The hashtag was #DistractinglySexy. It was being used by people who identify as female to respond to some terrible comment by a male scientist who said women don’t belong in science because they distract real scientists from their work. I knew I wanted to help share the stories of amazing scientists.

Do you have a personal connection to animals?

Yes, I love animals. And I’m lucky my parents do, too, because I brought home ALL KINDS OF PETS as a kid. Hamsters, fish, birds, turtles, ducks and chickens. In college I had a hamster and a lizard. We had hermit crabs, but we don’t support hermit crabs as pets anymore. Once I rescued a cat from a storm even though I’m highly allergic. We’ve had lots of dogs, and my mom even had a rabbit.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I’m a proud plotter. I love an outstanding outline. I like to know my general path (maybe because I’m a runner and map out my routes in advance?) but I welcome the serendipitous discoveries along the way. So, for this particular book, I had a narrative structure for each chapter that I had developed based around a consistent set of questions. But I always made room for the unique and surprising stories these scientists shared with me!

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

           During her research, Corina set up video cameras to watch the nests. She had videos of eggs hatching, parents feeding, the wind shaking the grasses that hold the sturdy structures.

She also set up camera traps in the nearby area. Camera traps are motion-triggered. They turn on when something moves by them, like a hungry raccoon or rice rat.

           Sometimes the videos were difficult to watch. Corina has observed the struggles of sparrows. She’s seen rice rats take chicks. And she’s watched new dangers arrive. Rising water lev- els flood more nests and bring new predators, like fish, to prey on chicks. One loss of a chick caught on video was especially hard for her.

           “I cried. My heart was broken,” says Corina. “These birds are declining in number. Every nesting success for these birds means so much. I imagined what that chick was feeling, but also thought about the larger population. Because of climate change, nest flooding will keep happening. Chicks are going to drown. Plus, now there are new predators.”

           Despite her heartbreak, Corina knew this video was important.

           “No one would have know it happened without the scientists doing this research. I felt honored to offer this perspective. I did the work to get this up-close look to provide important info about protecting them. It gave me purpose.”

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I am working on a historical fiction about a woman who was not a scientist but contributed immensely to the environmental conservation movement in the U.S. I like the fact that she wasn’t a trained expert or professional, but she took action. I think her story can inspire others. 

Please share your favorite nonfiction middle grade books that have inspired you.

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

Habibi, Naomi Shihab Nye

Bomb and Undefeated, both by Steve Sheinkin

The River Between Us, Richard Peck

Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers? (I it)

Write the kind of story you love to read.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

A red-tailed hawk! I did a flight simulator that made it feel like I was a soaring bird and I loved it! Also, raptors are awesome.

BIO

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan is an author and teacher from Pittsburgh, PA. She loves exploring history and science and has written over a dozen fiction and nonfiction books and graphic novels. Her books include Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research and The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci. Elizabeth lives with her family and pet schnoodle and loves board games, birding, and baking. She’s a lifelong runner and community volunteer.

LINKS

Links to pre-order the book here: https://elizabethpagelhogan.com/nonfiction/animal-allies-15-amazing-women-in-wildlife-science/

https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethPagelHoganAuthor

https://www.instagram.com/elizpagelhoganauthor/

Kim-Hoa, A Fall Writing Frenzy Success Story!!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an awesome author-illustrator who will no doubt create amazing work- Kim-Hoa. Oh, and did I mention this is a Fall Writing Frenzy competition success story?! Plus, Kim-Hoa is the kindest person, AND she’s my agency sister at EMLA! For more information on the competition that Kaitlyn Sanchez, literary agent at Context Literary Agency, and I co-host, click HERE. And if you participated in the competition yourself, feel free to comment below and share with us.

Kim-Hoa, can you please share your journey during the Fall Writing Frenzy competition that lead to a published book?

I joined the kidlit community during Fall of 2020. I often saw writing competitions, but I felt shy to participate. After seeing writing samples from friends who competed, I was inspired to try. Scrolling through the photos posted on the competition page, I found one that clicked with me – The Moon Festival. I am thankful to my critique partners who helped me with revisions and encouragement.

I was so shocked when I saw the list of winners. I was even more surprised to find out that Erin Siu selected me. I sent her my dummy and we had an online meeting. I was busy taking notes, trying to remember everything, when Erin said that she would love to work with me even though I wasn’t agented yet. I was so happy and will always be grateful for Erin for believing in my story.

I am thankful for Fall Writing Frenzy because it gave me the opportunity to meet Erin and get a book deal. Around the same time, I also received a heart from Miranda Paul of EMLA during PBPitch hosted by Debra Shumaker and PJ McIlvaine. I am lucky to have Miranda as my agent and Erin as my first editor. Things just fell into place at the right time for me during that autumn season. So, thank you, Lydia and Kaitlyn for everything!     

How long have you been participating in kidlit competitions?

2021’s Fall Writing Frenzy was my first kidlit competition. I haven’t participated in any since. I get too nervous. Hopefully, I can be inspired to try again. Good luck, writing friends! Take advantage of all competitions out there. Those critique prizes are so helpful.

Where did you derive inspiration for A GIFT FOR NAI NAI?

The story is inspired by my grandma whom I am grateful to have been able to crochet hats for. I do not see picture books involving crochet, so this also inspired me to write one.

What is the book about?

A GIFT FOR NAI NAI celebrates the special bond between Lyn Lyn and her grandma. Lyn Lyn is determined to crochet her first hat—a special gift for a friend’s birthday—and frequently calls upon her Nai Nai for help while making it.

What would you say to other authors struggling in the querying trenches?

Querying was the most difficult part of the journey for me. It is important to have great critique partners who understand you and your vision. It is okay if you don’t agree with the notes they give you. Those ideas might generate other stories for you later on. Take advantage of all the writing competitions or the critique giveaways out there. You can win prizes that will help open doors for you. Keep writing the stories of your heart. Connect with those on Twitter who have similar interests as you. Support others and help uplift each other. Your comment or like may mean so much to someone. And when you feel down, those special people will help encourage you back. I hope your book dream comes true.  

Just for fun, if you had to pick an animal, which one would you be?

I would be a panda because it is my favorite animal. I wouldn’t mind being able to eat all day and sleep too haha…

Author Alliah L. Agostini on Listening to your Gut- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the fabulous author and one of my CPs, Alliah L. Agostini! We both share the same agent (Miranda Paul) so I was excited to chat with her about her new nonfiction picture book, The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States, published by becker&mayer! kids (Quarto) and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud.

BUT first- YAY! Alliah is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of her book(US only). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends May 13, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States.

My agent, Miranda Paul, told me becker&mayer! kids was interested in developing a book about Juneteenth’s history. The opportunity struck a chord because my grandfather was one of the founders of my hometown’s Juneteenth celebration in 1976.

I started with a rough outline, but I immersed myself in research about the history of emancipation and Juneteenth’s evolution and dove into every book, article, audio and video recording I could find— I had so much material, but still had to be decisive since picture books are only so long.

My editors helped refine the narrative, and also made sure the book went through rounds of fact-checking and sensitivity reads to make sure the research and story were consistent.

Once the text was finalized, Sawyer Cloud (the illustrator), shared her incredible magic to give this story and all of these historical moments so much life with her vibrant, touching illustrations.

It was a pretty condensed timeline of less than a year, which is fast for publishing. But if I’ve learned one thing since I’ve joined the industry, it’s that there is no typical anything in publishing.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

My inspiration came from wanting to lend my own voice and my experience to the narrative about Juneteenth. So many people think Juneteenth was, until recently, a scarcely celebrated holiday. But in some unexpected places (like Buffalo, NY) its roots run pretty deep.  I wanted to make sure to bring this to life while also putting additional historical context around the holiday’s evolution, and even some of the personal perspectives. I also thought it was important to share the diversity of thought about Juneteenth within the Black community, and even the different ways Juneteenth was celebrated by people who were formerly enslaved vs. their descendants. Early readers have mentioned the book compelled them to do more research on their own about some of the moments in the book – that fills me with so much joy.

What ideas and inspiration would you most like to impart to children?

So much, but more than anything, I want them to know that they and their lived experiences are valuable and important.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

Oh – it definitely varies by project. Sometimes it starts with a nagging seed of an idea that I plop down in Evernote or a Google Doc. I have so many ideas that I just jot down on one of those tools so I don’t forget them.

I may google around or ask my critique partners if there’s anything similar. If too similar, I may halt, but if the topic is similar but my thoughts on execution are different enough, then I’ll proceed with hashing out a draft – sometimes very quickly.

But I revise relentlessly, then share it with my critique partners, share or read it to my family and sometimes other friends. My poor kids have seen so many picture-less picture books, but they’re very honest, so I value their opinion. Sometimes they talk about manuscripts I wrote like they’re already real books, that always makes me feel so gooey inside.

Then I’ll revise more until I send up a prayer and cross my fingers and hit send to share with my agent to see if it’s something we want to shop around.

An elegant, scientific process, isn’t it? (Ha!)

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Newly freed Texans began to feel the long-delayed warmth of liberty’s glow. As the news spread, they prayed, ate, and sang in celebration, though some were still in shock. Others left right away to search for and reunite with long-lost family members from whom they had been separated by slavery.

June 19 became Jubilee Day- it was their independence day.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

Oh, I have a lot of WIPs- I have a slightly overwhelming spreadsheet with a number of manuscripts in various stages. That’s just how my brain works. There are a lot of picture books, a middle grade I’m excited about (but really need to finish!) and some others.

I fortunately some fun things in the pipeline, but only one other I can technically mention right now. It’s called BIG TUNE.

This is the book that was originally going to be my very first, but I still consider it my first book baby! It’s a fiction book in verse full of Jamerican black boy joy, set in Brooklyn in the early 1990’s.

It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to share the final with everyone! The illustrator, Shamar Knight Justice, is on fire, and his illustrations are so creative.

Please share your favorite books from 2021 that have inspired you.

Born on the Water – Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson are brilliant women and writers to begin with, but I’m so glad they used their lyricism to reframe our (Black America’s) origin story for children. I wish I had had this book growing up, but I’m glad my children do.

Misfits by Michaela Coel – Michael Coel is the creative force behind television shows I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum, and the book originated from a lecture she gave in 2018. As a fellow Black female creative I just found the story of her journey to be inspiring, relatable, and honest. Making your true voice heard while working through channels owned and controlled by people whose lived experiences are largely unlike your own has its own set of challenges.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Have the courage to listen to your gut.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

I would be a lioness, but with a lion’s mane (But how come they get to have the better hair? No fair!) Perhaps I’m drawn to lions since I’m a Leo, but as I get older, I feel myself getting more courageous and I see them as courageous animals.

BIO

Alliah L. Agostini grew up celebrating Juneteenth in Buffalo, NY; Her grandfather was one of the co-founders of the Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo. Founded in 1976, grew to become the third-largest Juneteenth celebration in the world.

A trained marketer with a passion for children’s literature, Alliah writes with a commitment  to spread joy, truth, and to help more children see themselves on the page. Alliah is a member of SCBWI, KidLit in Color, Black Creators HQ, and the PB Sunrays, and she has both an A.B. and an M.B.A from Harvard.

LINKS

Website: www.alliahagostini.com

Handles: @alliago – twitter and Instagram

Purchase: ​​https://bookshop.org/books/the-juneteenth-story-celebrating-the-end-of-slavery-in-the-united-states/9780760375143

Andrew Hacket, A Fall Writing Frenzy Success Story!!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an emerging author who will no doubt create amazing work- Andrew Hacket. Oh, and did I mention this is a Fall Writing Frenzy competition success story?! For more information on the competition that Kaitlyn Sanchez, literary agent at Context Literary Agency, and I co-host, click HERE. And if you participated in the competition yourself, feel free to comment below and tell us your favorite part, and share your success stories too.

Andrew, can you please share your journey during the Fall Writing Frenzy competition that lead to an agent and a published book?

I joined the kidlit community and began pursuing my dream of becoming an author in the spring of 2020. The implications of Covid were just beginning to show themselves and as a family we decided it would be best for me to take a leave of absence from my teaching position in order to be home with our three young children. I decided if I were ever going to attempt this dream, now was the time. Though I wasn’t any less busy than when I was working full time, I now had the head space and energy to dedicate towards writing.

Fast forward to fall 2020. I was relatively new to the Twitter kidlit community and lurking in the shadows, apprehensive of how to get involved, questioning if I even had a place in it, and still uncertain of my voice as an author. Then I heard of Fall Writing Frenzy. This was the first competition I ever entered and it changed everything.

I had perused the available images, unsure whether or not I would participate. Then one night after my family had gone to bed, my piece poured out of me. I loved my story, but I had no idea if it was any good. Luckily, the Twitter community was abuzz with offers from writers to critique and support one another. Sheepishly, I dipped my toes into those waters and as a result connected with my first critique partners. I fell in love with giving and receiving critiques and am so fortunate to still be connected with those authors I met through FWF. I am a 100% better writer as a result of the amazing critique partners I have made.

Now back to FWF… Having entered the contest with zero expectations, seeing my name on the winner’s list was a shock. It was also so affirming and confidence boosting. That win made me feel like I had a place in this writing world. But even without the win, the most amazing part of this experience was becoming part of the community that surrounds this event and that you and Kaitlyn have fostered. I went from writing in isolation to having a network of like-minded, fellow creatives as a result of FWF.

Following FWF I was paired with Wendi Gu and received a wonderfully, thoughtful critique of what is now my forthcoming debut, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). And what’s more, the piece I wrote for FWF is the story that landed me my incredible agent, Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary Agency.

I will be forever grateful for the growth, confidence, and community I gained as a result of participating in FWF.

Great story! How long have you been participating in kidlit competitions?

I’ve been participating in kitlit competitions since my first Fall Writing Frenzy in 2020.

How do you deal with rejection?

For me rejection is all about managing expectations. Coming off of my FWF win I soon received an honorable mention in the Halloweensie contest. I was riding high and feeling a growing momentum with my place in the writing community. Unfortunately, this led to expectations of continued success, which was very deflating when I did not place in subsequent competitions.

Now I accept and am prepared for the role rejection plays in this industry. The kidlit community is full of such talent and I understand and respect that at times, their yeses could mean my nos. I also better recognize now what a huge part timing and luck play in publishing.  Receiving a pass does not automatically mean your work is not ready. So much comes down to querying or subbing to the right person at the right time and unfortunately aspects of that are out of your control as a writer. I choose to control what I can, trust in the process, and know that if I persevere my manuscripts will find the right person at the right time.

What would you say to other authors struggling in the querying trenches?

I was very fortunate to have only a small stint in the querying trenches. That being said, I have had plenty of rejection and waiting while being on submission. My advice to authors would be to keep creating. I find with each new piece I write I am discovering new and different parts of my voice and of what I want to say as an author. And for querying authors, this means new pieces to curate your perfect submissions package when your request for more manuscripts comes.

Who are some of your mentors when it comes to kidlit authors, and why?

Where to even begin?! As a teacher, I think I am first drawn to books that excite and entertain kids. Those that make great read alouds that will be requested again and again. As a writer I love these stories for their cleverness and creativity. Authors such as Jory John, Ryan T. Higgins, and Ame Dyckman fill this category for me.

I also love picture books aimed at older readers. Books by Chris Van Allsburg, Eve Bunting, and Jane Yolen all fit into this category and continue to inspire me as a writer.

Just for fun, if you had to pick an animal, which one would you be?

While there are so many choices, I have to pick a great blue heron. Hanging by ponds and marshes all day fishing sounds like a peaceful way to spend my days. And who hasn’t dreamed of being able to fly?

Lydia, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my FWF success story.

Author Amanda West Lewis on Mapping out YA- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author I met in the flesh at an SCBWI conference in Montreal a few years back, Amanda West Lewis. I was immediately drawn to her and her eloquence with words, and since knowing her, have been blown away by her expertise with so many different genres. Here she is, discussing her new YA novel These Are Not the Words, published by Groundwood books.

BUT first- YAY! Amanda is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of These Are Not the Words (US and Canada). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends April 22, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for These Are Not the Words.

These Are Not the Words began as a prompt in a writing class at Vermont College of Fine Arts. An initial exploration of a memory led to my mapping out a story about a girl’s relationship to her increasingly absent and erratic father. It started as a series of poems, which gradually became prose poetry and vignettes.

The manuscript had great responses from my beta readers, so I sent it out to editors and agents and got great rejection letters! Over the course of a year, I gathered comments until I could see a pattern to the responses. I needed to go into the story more deeply. I shifted from writing in third person to writing in first. It took another couple of years of writing (and a lot of tears) before I was ready to send it out again.

The story is set in New York City, and I had assumed that I needed to find an American publisher. However, when I discussed it with Shelley Tanaka at Groundwood Books, she questioned that assumption. “We publish books that take place all over the world.” I sent it to Groundwood and was thrilled when it was accepted.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

As I mentioned, the initial writing had come from a prompt to write something based on an early memory from childhood. The idea was to get us to go deeply into a sense memory and explore that as a jumping point. It was not about the story so much as it was about the vividness of textures, tastes, sounds and smells in childhood.  The prompt took me to a memory that I had of a moment with my father. I have very few memories of my father, so this one stuck out. As I started working with it more memories started to surface. That’s what memories do. They breed other memories.

So the book was “inspired” by moments, feelings and sensations in my childhood. But in order to build it into a story, I used family lore and photographs. Also, my mother wrote a creative memoir called “Love and All that Jazz.” It provided me with several jumping off points.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I love research, so I do a lot of research before I start any project. In fact, I usually get to a place where it is hard to move from research to writing. But at some point, I kick myself out of the nest. If I am writing fiction, that means writing a first scene or chapter. I don’t outline a first draft. I let it go where it is going to go. After I know what the story is going to be, I go back and write an outline. Not very efficient, I grant you, but it allows me to tell the story to myself and to be surprised at where it goes.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to non-fiction. Non-fiction requires careful outlines and structure. Non-fiction requires a different writing brain.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Double Life World

Most mornings, Pops wears a gray suit, carries a briefcase and his Hasselblad camera to go to work in the office of Pepsi-Cola Corp. He’s editor-in-chief of the magazine, Pepsi-Cola World.

Some mornings, Pops works at home, spreads contact sheets of photographs on the table. He marks them in red with a sticky grease pencil, chooses the image and writes up the stories for Pepsi-Cola World.

Most nights, Pops wears a black sweater and carries his drumsticks out the door to clubs in basements where jazz lives in Harlem. In Harlem, no one knows Pepsi-Cola World.

Some nights, Pops doesn’t come home. He swallows some pills to keep him awake and stays at the clubs till the dark turns to dawn, stays at the clubs till Ira brings him home, stays in the music.

Mom calls it Double Life World.

Many consider writing YA to be challenging, in terms of high word count, but also, in terms of story arc. Do you have any tips on how authors can keep their thoughts organized without getting overwhelmed by the process?

Well, I’d have to say that if “high word count” intimidates you, then perhaps you shouldn’t be trying to write YA. Your writing might be best suited for MG or high-low. To embrace the scale of YA, you do need ways of seeing the whole world you are creating. You will need maps and charts for the unexplored territory. You need to allow yourself to head down wrong alleys and take wrong turns. You need to give yourself time. But it does help to put some things in place to ground you on the journey.

I keep a sketchbook where I make charts, draw pictures, paste collages, write timelines, notes and dialogues. Personally, I like to do this by hand because it slows me down. I keep going back to the sketchbook to help me to stay connected to the original impulse for the story.

As things develop, along about the third or fourth draft, I chart the story arc in the sketchbook. I look at where and when things happen. I do that for the book as a whole and for each chapter. I ask myself “What happens in this chapter, on this page, in this sentence? Does it need to be here? Why?”

So perhaps my answer on how not to get overwhelmed is to use broad strokes to paint the woods, and then to start looking at individual trees. But I also believe in a bit of chaos and happenstance. I want to be surprised. For me, process is something to be celebrated. In the initial stages, I don’t want to stop myself from going down rabbit holes. You never know what you’ll find.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

Yes! I have a number of things that I am working on. I have finished a YA that features my protagonist from These Are Not the Words. Missy is five years older and rapidly becoming an activist, fighting against the Vietnam War. It is a book about draft dodgers, deserters, political refugees and commitment to societal change. It is scheduled for the fall of 2023 (Groundwood Books).

I have a picture book of poems about the planets (Kids Can Press 2024), where each planet is explored through a different poetic form. You learn about the planets and about poetry!

I’m really excited about my first graphic novel (Kids Can Press 2025) about the Polish pediatrician and children’s book author Janus Korczak.

So I have a several years of editing ahead of me!

Please share your favorite books from 2021 that have inspired you.

Fix, by J. Albert Mann is a YA written prose and poetry that is a raw, unsentimental, and incredibly sensitive view into “internalized ableism.” It both moved me and helped me to see the world in a different way.

Aperigon, by Colum McCann was a very important novel for me to read. The ability to present two diametrically opposed viewpoints –– Israeli and Palestinian –– with compassion and sensitivity is an incredible feat.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes, by Fredric Backman is a delight of language and character. Playful, heartbreaking and exquisitely written. It broke my heart.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Embrace discipline. Ensure that your writing time is time free of distractions. If you write on a computer turn off your email programs! Disconnect from the internet! Get off social media! The only way to write is to do it, with all of your brain cells, in a space where you won’t be distracted by other people or ideas. Do whatever you can to build that space, and then claim it for your own.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

I’d be a horse, living wild and free on Sable Island. I want to feel the freedom of running with my whole body. I want to jump and roll on the sand. I want to feel the wind streaming through my mane. At the end of the day, I want to flare my nostrils and smell the surf.

BIO

AMANDA WEST LEWIS is a writer, theatre creator, calligrapher and teaching artist who grew up in New York City and Toronto. She has published eight books for young readers and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the founder and Artistic Director of the Ottawa Children’s Theatre, where she teaches and runs drama programs for children and youth. Her new novel These Are Not the Words has just been published by Groundwood Books. 

LINKS

www.amandawestlewis.com
https://www.facebook.com/amandawest.lewis
https://twitter.com/AmandaWestLewis
https://www.instagram.com/amandawestlewis/

LINKS TO PURCHASE BOOK:

PURCHASE FROM YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE

PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=u_2esMqHLiU&feature=youtu.be

Author Laura Purdie Salas on Finding the Right Structure- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author extraordinaire, Laura Purdie Salas. Not only is she one of my mentors, but I’m lucky enough to count her as one of my friends too. What I love about her is that she’s able to straddle both the worlds of fiction and nonfiction so effortlessly. I also love the depth behind her words. Here she is, discussing her new picture book We Belong, published by Carolrhoda Books / Lerner, and illustrated by Carlos Vélez Aguilera.

BUT first- YAY! Laura is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of Be Belong (US only). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends April 1, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for WE BELONG.

Well, this book is kind of a journey of pairs—besides the opposite pairs in the book. Editor Carol Hinz invited me (in 2018) to write a picture book on one topic. I slid sideways and wrote a picture book on a related topic. She rejected that book, but she loved one little snippet of it. She asked me to expand that book that snippet into an entire book of affirmations. Oh, maybe that’s a three. The manuscript I never wrote. The related manuscript I actually wrote (and still hope to sell). And then WE BELONG.

Another pair was the concept of specific versus broad. It was a real challenge, but also satisfying, to illuminate broad concepts like loud and quiet or black and white, through specific, concrete images. Other pairs included two wonderful editors, Carol Hinz and Shaina Olmanson; two different illustrators (so happy with Carlos Vélez Aguilera’s vibrant art!); and two pub dates, since the pandemic pushed back publication of this book. 

WE BELONG touches on the themes of celebrating how unique we each are, as well as honoring diversity in our world. What inspired you to write this?

I’m not sure I would have tackled this topic without an invitation. As a middle-class white woman in the United States, writing a book that includes various diversity issues feels a bit scary, honestly, like I have no right to talk about it. But the need for belonging is universal, and that’s the core of this book. I have felt that I didn’t belong so many times throughout my life, and I tried to hold that closely and examine what brings me comfort in those times.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Maybe you’re happy.

A fun magic trick.

A sprinkler rainbow.

A kitten’s rough lick.

Maybe you’re sad.

A cloud.

A small cave.

Maybe you’re trying

your best to be brave.

Sometimes we’d like to make sadness extinct,

but teardrops and smiles are joined—

they are linked.

Each feeling’s a gift

that helps us connect

to the world,

to our family,

to the friends we collect.

You have a massive body of work. Can you please share some marketing secrets with readers? Which strategies have proven most successful?

[Laughing] Oh, how I wish I had the secret sauce to share with you. I am an introvert and not very inventive with social media. Because my picture books involve a lot of poetry and nonfiction, teachers and librarians are often the ones buying my books. So for me, connecting with educators, creating extension materials for my books, and putting myself out there at educator conferences have probably been the most helpful. But really, I believe this maxim: The best way to market your current book is to write your next book. I am trying to focus less on marketing and more on writing, because marketing tasks are like a dangerous gas—they expand to fill a whole room and leave little space for other things.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I do! Next year will be FINDING FAMILY, with Lerner. It’s a lyrical nonfiction book about an interspecies adoption event from a few years ago. And SUPERHERO TRYOUTS: POEMS FROM EYEGLASSES, WHEELCHAIRS, AND OTHER HELPERS will come out from Wordsong. After that, the next two are ZAP! CLAP! BOOM!, rhyming nonfiction from Bloomsbury USA, and OSKAR’S VOYAGE, from Minnesota Historical Society Press. That last one came out of my Great Lakes voyage in 2019 on the biggest freighter on the Lakes. I’m so excited to see what the illustrators do with all four of these books! I only have one or two other titles after that, and I sure would like to sell a trade manuscript or two this year!

Please share your favorite books from 2021 that inspired you.

What a lovely question! I thought this would be easy to answer, but my Goodreads lists show I loved many children’s books last year. So here are a few that I not only loved, but that inspired me in either my personal life or my writing life. They are LUBNA AND PEBBLE; PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL!; I AM EVERY GOOD THING; GREEN ON GREEN; OUTSIDE, INSIDE; THE STUFF BETWEEN THE STARS; and WONDER WALKERS. (Not all of those came out in 2021—that’s just when I read them.)

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers when it comes to revision?

Don’t put the cart (fun, beautiful words) before the horse (strong structure or plot). Nobody cares how pretty that broken-down cart is when it’s not going anywhere. 

That’s the lesson I have to learn over and over. I’m always so excited about the individual words, but writing my way into the right structure has to happen first. 

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could have dinner with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?

Nope. Nuh uh. An introvert like me would be EXTREMELY uncomfortable in this situation. I don’t want to meet musicians I like nor authors I admire—and I’m always afraid I’d like their work less if I really met them. However, I would love to be a fly on the wall of some favorite authors. I’m going to say Madeleine L’Engle for this one. Just me, sipping a Coke Zero and eavesdropping on her life—I would’ve jumped at that chance!

BIO

Laura Purdie Salas has written more than 130 books for kids, including If You Want to Knit Some Mittens, Lion of the Sky, Water Can Be…, and BookSpeak! Her books have earned the Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notables, starred reviews, and more. She offers resources for children’s writers at https://www.laurasalas.com/writing-for-children/ and has a Facebook Group where she connects with her Patreon supporters. She enjoys teaching and speaking at writing conferences around the country. laurasalas.com

LINKS

site: https://laurasalas.com/

blog: https://www.laurasalas.com/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraPSalas

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LauraPSalas/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laurapsalas/

Newsletter for educators: https://tinyurl.com/5a9ycnta

Patreon community for kidlit writers: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas

Author Baptiste Paul Climbs On- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome Baptiste Paul, an author I truly respect because he writes deep, meaningful work that reflects his introspective soul. I got to chat with him about his newest book, CLIMB ON, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara and published by North South. Check out his journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Baptiste is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of Climb On (US only). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends March 25, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for Climb On.

The simplest way to answer this question is to say that ideas are everywhere. When my family and I hiked Gros Piton in St. Lucia,  I was not a full time author at the time.  I was happily living in the moment. The idea to capture the experiences of that day came years later —seven to be exact.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

The inspiration behind Climb On was based on a family hiking trip climbing the Pitons in St.Lucia. It was a few years ago and both of my children were really young at the time. Our goal that day was to hike the three plus hours to the summit. Unfortunately, my daughter and I did not make it to the summit.

She was pre-asthmatic at the time. The higher we climbed, the harder it was for her to breathe. She was frustrated that she couldn’t complete the hike.

Two years later, we tried hiking the Pitons again. This time, she pushed passed the pain of not being able to breathe and made it to the summit.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Step.

Breathe.

Sweat.

Burn.

Are we there yet?

You sometimes co-author books such as I am Farmer and Peace with your wife, Miranda Paul. What is your process of collaboration?

Once we know what we are going to write about, we make a plan, and divide the work load. We set realistic deadlines for ourselves and work hard to achieve it. Sometimes, we work late into the night and even the wee hours of the morning.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I am always working on a new book. I wish I could share all the details but since they are under contract and have not been announced yet, I can’t say. Just stay tuned, I promise my future projects are going to move you physically and mentally.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers struggling during the pandemic?

Be you — live purposefully! 

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any food, what would you be and why?

Hmmm, that’s an interesting question. I would be decaying organic matter.  Almost every living thing on this planet requires the nutrition from decaying organic matter for survival.

BIO

Baptiste Paul is the award-winning author of The Field, To Carnival!, and I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon. His works have garnered many starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal, and several titles have been translated into multiple languages. He loves writing stories inspired by his childhood in Saint Lucia, and featuring words from his native language, Creole. Baptiste is also a mentor for We Need Diverse Books and the co-author of several works with Miranda Paul, including their newest collaboration, Peace. He lives in Wisconsin with his family. More at baptistepaul.net.

LINKS

Website. www.baptistepaul.com

Twitter @baptistepaul

Facebook Authors page www.facebook.com/BaptistePaulAuthor/

Instagram @baptistepaul77

Indie bookstores

Online retailers

Author Karen M. Greenwald on Facing Challenges- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome Karen M. Greenwald, an author who writes stellar nonfiction and also co-founded the #SunWriteFun Twitter kidlit contest. Here she is, chatting about her new book A VOTE FOR SUSANNA, illustrated by Sian James and published by Albert Whitman. Check out her journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Karen is generously giving away a free picture book critique. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends March 25, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for A VOTE FOR SUSANNA.

I researched for two and a half years. It began with virtual work “at” Kansas State University’s library. The next week when I called back, I found out the library had burned to the ground. Thankfully, nobody was injured. I did wonder to myself if it was a sign?! (It wasn’t!) There were great many hurdles not easily surmounted, but I had a deep desire to tell this story. It was strong enough to push past the challenges and get the information I felt necessary. 

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

Thanks to my work background, I understood the mechanics of politics—but Susanna Salter’s city election rules were fascinatingly different. I had to tell this story! Although it happened in the Nineteenth Century, the themes and challenges are also contemporary. These include bullying, gender discrimination, party politics, community unity, and the like. Newspaper articles from 1887 eerily felt current, as well. They discussed the physicality of the first woman mayor, her seamstress abilities, even her dishwashing skill. They delved into her motherhood and housekeeping. How disappointing that after 130 plus years, we still read the same types of things about women leaders today. I wanted to shine a light on all of this and get conversations started.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I approach all projects, whether art or writing, the same way. I visualize and map them out first. By the time I start typing, I’ve spent a good amount of time strategizing.

How do you research nonfiction? How did you find primary resources?

I start with a macro view of the topic and then work my way in. The process changes depending on the subject matter—for instance, time period plays a major factor. I like to use primary sources as much as possible. For A VOTE FOR SUSANNA, I was fortunate enough to have copies of personal letters she wrote. It is incredible to learn how someone felt or what they thought by reading their own handwritten words…and cursive is the key—I can’t stress this enough. I won’t get on my soapbox too much, but this is a big concern of mine. If schools don’t teach cursive, how will future generations ever be able to read or understand first person documents? It will leave the presentation and preservation of history up to a small few who do know how to read it.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention? I have a passion for uncovering untold stories. I can’t say anything else at the moment (wink wink!)…

Please share your favorite books from 2021 that have inspired you.

This is like asking me if I prefer chocolate cake or chocolate chip cookies…too hard to answer1 So many have touched my heart—each for a different reason.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Ignore the noise. Ignore the hurdles. Ignore your inbox. Write what you were meant to write.  

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

It is a toss-up between an elephant and a penguin. I would choose an elephant because I respect so many of their qualities—they’re loving, kind, protective, family-oriented, and intelligent. Why a penguin? They’re beloved, form bonds with other penguins, and are always fashionably dressed!

BIO

Karen M. Greenwald, author of A Vote for Susanna, The First Woman Mayor (Albert Whitman), has won international awards for STEM creative, writing, video, rebranding, and self-promotion. Bylined credits include online, print magazines, and The Washington Post. Recently, Greenwald joined women mayors at two Read Across America (RAA) events where A Vote For Susanna was celebrated. Thanks to a partnership between Mayor Treva Hodges and Ivy Tech Community College (Charlestown, IN), 110 copies of the book were given to students/libraries at four RAA events. School Library Journal and Kirkus gave A Vote For Susanna excellent reviews and A Mighty Girl included it in their “2021 Books of the Year list.” Greenwald and her book have been featured on NBC affiliate’s Good Day, Kansas!, in Bethesda Magazine, at National Women’s History Museum events, and at Wichita’s Kansas Day statewide celebration. Greenwald co-founded #SunWriteFun—a writing contest that raises money for “kidlit” charities. She is a member of SCBWI and 12×12. Before launching her strategic branding boutique, Greenwald worked as an attorney on international environmental compliance issues. She is a double Hoya.

LINKS

http://www.karengreenwald.com

Twitter/IG: @karenmgreenwald

Agent: Liza Fleissig

The book can be purchased on Amazon or the Kansas State Historical Society (and other indies)!

https://store.kshs.org/SelectSKU.aspx?skuid=1007804

Dazzle Ng, A Fall Writing Frenzy Success Story!!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an emerging author who will no doubt create amazing work- Dazzle Ng. Oh, and did I mention this is a Fall Writing Frenzy competition success story?! For more information on the competition that Kaitlyn Sanchez, literary agent at Context Literary Agency, and I co-host, click HERE. And if you participated in the competition yourself, feel free to comment below and tell us your favorite part, and share your success stories too.

Dazzle, can you please share your journey during the Fall Writing Frenzy competition that lead to a published book?

Joining #FallWritingFrenzy 2020: I’d just finished a webinar tackling word choice, and FWF came along as the perfect opportunity to explore what I’d learned given the 200-word limit. And the prizes were very enticing.

Scrolling through the prompts, what stood out was the image of evergreen trees standing proud amidst ones that already bore the colors of fall. They looked so stubborn and defiant. But I also wondered what a young evergreen would be feeling—watching every other tree around it change, waiting for a turn that’ll never come. I thought it would make for a great story both about (the frustration that comes with) waiting and embracing one’s uniqueness. So I wrote and submitted Needle, the Evergreen.

I’m a #FallWritingFrenzy 2020 winner! I’d joined contests before and didn’t expect to win, especially after going through many other FWF entries that made me go WOW. I hoped hard though; and was floored when I saw my name in the winners list!

I am forever thankful to Kaitlyn, Ameerah, and Lydia for selecting my story and for pairing me with Ishta. So much happened from that one amazing win. FWF 2020 was a key moment in my publishing journey.

First, it was the first time that I felt I had a place in the #kidlit community. This is completely unfounded, as this community is made up of the kindest, nicest, most welcoming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in the same industry with. But that’s how I felt nonetheless; after the query rejections and many unsuccessful pitch contest attempts.

Second, Ishta’s critique. I sent her what I felt was my strongest manuscript: When an Elephant Hears NO. Her comments were on a level of critiquing I hadn’t had access to before; and that email from her helped shape my PB writing from then on. She gave me a very important note on picture books being a partnership between author and illustrator. Her words too, about this manuscript finding its perfect home one day, kept me going through the NOs I received.

Lastly, Kaitlyn hosted a learning circle on her blog, where we got to analyze the winning entries! What a way to learn and engage with fellow kidlit creators.

Path to publication: Half a year later, I signed with my brilliant agent, Lisa Amstutz. When an Elephant Hears NO is the first manuscript we’ve sold; to be published by Page Street Kids in 2024. I’m thrilled that Estrela Lourenço said YES to bringing Elephant’s world to life through her wildly wonderful illustrations.  

Great story! How long have you been participating in kidlit competitions?

Since early 2020. That’s when I joined Spring Fling and submitted to PBParty. I’ve also joined Valentiny and received an honorable mention (kid appeal) for my 50 Precious Words story!

Where did you derive inspiration for When an Elephant Hears NO?

From a rushed NO to my son at bedtime. I wished I could have explained it (but, bedtime). I realized then, how many times kids hear this word each day and how it can sometimes feel like a wall. This manuscript is meant to be a window in that wall. I wrote it that very night!

What is the book about?

It’s about the tiny word that can set off elephant-sized tantrums—the many ways it’s used, said; the meanings and motivations behind the NOs kids encounter.

What would you say to other authors struggling in the querying trenches?

Persevere—but know when to pause. Take those breaks to recover from the rejections that sting a little extra; to hone your craft and have fun doing just that; to make new connections in the community; to find inspiration and not rush turning those ideas into drafts; to make your own luck by seizing the opportunities that come your way.

Even if it isn’t a prize, you always get something out of joining kidlit competitions like FWF and the emotional rollercoasters known as pitch contests. You just have to know where to look (and where not to).

Just for fun, if you had to pick an animal, which one would you be?

I’d love to be a butterfly, so I could see colors our human eyes can’t perceive. But really, my personality is closer to a panda’s!