-

science

Author Debra Kempf Shumaker on the Art of Perseverance

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!

Welcome to my Blissfully Bookish book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Debra Kempf Shumaker. I’ve known her for some time, and was always amazing at her patience and level of perseverance. In November 2019, she posted about her upcoming book deal (FREAKY FUNKY FISH, published by Running Kids Press in 2021) in the KidLit411 Facebook group. Here’s what she said, which may inspire many of you.

But first, exciting news- Debra is generously giving away a FREE PB critique! It could be fiction or nonfiction, and/or rhyming. Simply comment below. Contest ends May 4, 2020. Good luck!

When I signed with my agent in July of 2017, I shared in this group that I had been subbing for about 7 or 8 years, had subbed 11 different PBs, and had about 160 rejections before I got that first YES. Well, I finally had my second YES:
My debut PB was announced last night. BUT, this was the 13th or 14th (maybe 15th) PB that I had written and revised enough to feel it sub-worthy. (I won’t count the rough drafts that I wrote that I never went back to.) AND, it’s the 5th PB that my agent went on sub with. Two others had gone to acquisitions a few times but didn’t sell.
Bottom line: Don’t give up. Be willing to revise, revise, revise. And work on craft. BUT—also be willing to move on and write new things. When I first started, I spent 2 or 3 years revising the same 2 stories over and over again, thinking I just needed to tweak them and they would sell. Sometimes, some stories are just practice and that’s OK.
For those of you who are pre-published, hang in there! I hope that my story and my long journey to two “YESes” encourages you to keep pushing forward!
PS: The first thing I should have said is that I owe a million thanks to my critique groups and various CPs! None of my stories would have been ready without all of them!

During your many years of writing, editing, and receiving slews of rejections, what kept you going? (And how did you stay sane with all the waiting?)
Math. I knew I had a 100% chance of failure if I stopped writing. The only way to get a book deal was to keep writing. I knew that my writing would get better if I kept reading and analyzing picture books, being open to feedback, and being willing to revise. My critique partners were crucial as cheerleaders and for helpful input into my stories.

Was there a turning point or an “aha” moment, or was the process of learning your craft slow and steady?
Actually, it was a combination of the two. My “aha” moment came during a local SCBWI conference early in my writing career. In a Q&A session, someone asked an editor, “After you submit your story, how long do you wait to hear back?” He replied, “You don’t. You forget about it and write something new.” That’s when it hit me. I had been rewriting and revising the same two PBs for over a year. Those two were my “big ideas.” Where was I going to get more ideas? I was depressed and thought about quitting.
Thankfully, the next day, somewhere online, I read about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month, now known as StoryStorm) which was starting within a few days. From there I found Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 (a challenge where you attempt to write 12 rough drafts in 12 months) and those two groups changed the way I approached my writing. From there, it was a slow and steady journey, dotted with many peaks and valleys. It was at least 6 or 7 years after that “aha” moment before I signed with my agent.

What are your top 3 pieces of advice for querying authors?
One: Develop thick skin and do not take rejection personally. Agents and editors are not rejecting YOU, they are rejecting the story you have written.
Two: The odds are high your first story won’t sell. Or your second. The 11th story I subbed caught my agent’s eye in 2017. And we never sold that story. It was the fifth story we went on sub with that finally sold. (That doesn’t include the dozens of rough drafts I’ve ever written.)
Three: Write something new. When you send one story off, write another one immediately. Fresh new projects help me to forget about the waiting.

How long did it take you to get your agent? What was that process like?
It took seven or eight years after my first query. In that time, I took several “query sabbaticals” when I realized my stories weren’t up to par and I needed to revise or write new stories. Though I had several close calls with both agents and editors in 2014 and 2015, I didn’t sign with my agent until July 2017. And it was January 2019 before we sold a book. This submitting process is not for the faint of heart!

Please share a few details about your forthcoming book.
FREAKY FUNKY FISH is a rhyming NF PB with Running Kids Press. From zapping, stinging, even singing, to playing dead or a see-through head, discover the funky, even freaky, ways fish look or act to survive in the rivers, lakes, and oceans they live in. It is scheduled for publication in Spring 2021.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Hopefully lots more published picture books! I love picture books so much and can’t imagine writing anything else! I write both fiction and nonfiction and we are out on submission with a few manuscripts. Hopefully I’ll have news to share again soon!

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?
I’m going to cheat a bit and instead give you authors that inspire me. I love science related NF PBs and three authors’ books that I study over and over again are Laura Purdie Salas, Melissa Stewart, and April Pulley Sayre. Their words flow off the page and seem effortless, though I know that every word was chosen carefully and probably with blood, sweat, and tears!
For a classic, when my teens were little, we read seasonal alphabet acrostic books written by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Leslie Evans. The pairing of the poems and art just spoke to me and I decided I wanted to write words that would inspire art like that!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Type up the text of picture books you love, especially if they’ve been published in the last 3 years. You’ll learn so much about pacing and word choice. Seeing the words separated from the art give you a better idea on what editors read and love when they buy books.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Mint chocolate chip. Mint, because it’s refreshing, and chocolate because you cannot get through rejections without chocolate.

BIO
I write both picture books and magazine articles. My magazine articles have been published in Spider, Fun For Kidz, and Boys’ Quest. I also cohost #PBPitch, a Twitter pitch party for picture books held three times each year. I am repped by Natascha Morris with BookEnds Literary.

Social Media
https://debrashumaker.com/
https://twitter.com/ShumakerDebra
https://www.instagram.com/debrakshumaker/

Author Tara Lazar: How to Work on your Craft

Posted on

Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome an award winning author who’s one of my mentors (and who’s hilariously funny): Tara Lazar. We recently had an interesting conversation via Twitter and I wanted to share some of it here because it was it was fascinating. And oh, did you know she just released yet another picture book? It’s Three Ways to Trap a Leprechaun published by HarperCollins, you should definitely check it out.

.What is your writing process, and does it change depending on the project?
 My process begins with collecting ideas and then sorting through them, often with the help of my agent, and deciding which is the most exciting concept to work on. Then there’s a lot of THINKING. I like to call it “marinating”. The idea is working itself through my brain while I grind through my daily…umm, grind. Somehow the idea announces that it’s ready—I get this full-body creative squirm that forces me to sit down and write it out.

What do you do when you get stuck in a manuscript?
I work on something else. Or I do laundry. Or take a shower. Something rote and mundane lets the creative gears spin in the background. There is always the question of “why” popping up—why does this character act this way? The story has to use logic as it moves along. There is action and reaction, and it has to make sense, even in that pretend world.
I like to write flash fiction short stories for adults, too, and I find that genre helps me whittle things down to only the most important details, and that’s a skill essential to picture books as well.

Tara and I had an interesting discussion a few months ago about how writers need to keep writing and practicing. Some manuscripts never get published, but each project is another stepping stone on the road to publication. All that practice pays off and you may one day write a story that comes out smoothly because of it. Tara, how many times has this happened to you?
It’s just how I have approached the business. Not everything you write will get published, so you must accept that some projects get shelved. Maybe you can turn back after some time and examine it with fresh eyes, more experienced eyes, and make changes that propel it onward. Or sometimes, you see why a story was not destined to get out there. Writing is never wasted time. Baseball players have batting practice—they never stop trying to improve. Not every hit will be a home run. But taking many swings is what matters.

Once you get to that magical place where things flow more organically, does the experience repeat itself or is it always different?
Every story is different. Things gel for me a little more quickly than they did in the past, but still, not every story is a winner. There are many variables that you cannot control in this business. What you can control is writing as many stories as you can.
It reminds me of that Picasso fable. Someone asked Picasso to draw something on a cocktail napkin for them. Picasso drew it, handed it to them and said, “That will be $1 million.” And the person scoffed, “A million? But that took you a few seconds to draw.” Picasso replied…”Yes, because it took 30 years of work for me to draw that in a few seconds.”
You should look that up because I just paraphrased it—but that is essentially the story! You put in years of work to work more efficiently, to work more successfully.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Write, read, network. Never stop learning and growing.

 And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Pistachio. It’s my favorite. I could lick my fingers when I’m hungry!

Who’s Tara?

Street 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.

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).

For more information: https://taralazar.com/

Author Laurie Wallmark on Female STEM Pioneers

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!

Welcome to my Blissfully Bookish book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Laurie Wallmark. I really enjoy her nonfcition books that tend to focus on women and STEM, topics that are dear to my heart. Here she is discussing her new book, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Mathematician illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg and published by Creston Books.

Book quote:

“As the only woman in her classes, Sophie rarely spoke up. One day, while the professor was lecturing, she spotted a mistake on the blackboard. With a pounding heart, she walked to the front of the room.”

  1. Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?

I love math and wanted to share this love with children. Although two of the women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in my picture book biographies have been mathematicians, they were known more for their contributions to computer science. I thought it was time to give a mathematician her due.

  1. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

Once I knew I wanted to write about a mathematician, I had to choose which one. I thought about the women mathematicians I knew about and looked through lists to find about ones I didn’t. I chose Sophie for two reasons. Her major mathematical accomplishment, the rotation of solid bodies, has real world applications that children can understand. Second, she solved the problem known as the mathematical mermaid. Who would ever think that those two words would appear in the same sentence?

  1. What is your writing process like, and does it change depending on the project?

For my picture book biographies, my writing process starts with lots and lots of research. Along the way, I make a list of the possible scenes I might include. This helps me figure out the perspective and focus of the book. Then it’s the usual–write, revise, repeat–occasionally doing more research. For fiction, I still might have only to do a little bit of research, but the rest of the process is the same.

  1. What differentiates your book from others with similar content currently on the market?

Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics is the first biography of this important mathematician. She’s so important, that every year the Association of Women in Mathematics celebrates a Sonia Kowalevky Day. (To find out why this is a slightly different name, look in my book’s back matter that explains transliteration from the Russian alphabet.

6. Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I have another woman in STEM book coming out next year. In addition, I have three fiction picture books on the way. I can’t be more specific than that except for the one book that’s already been announced–Dino Pajama Party. I’m currently working on several more picture books and a novel in verse.

  1. Please share your favourite 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?

I don’t have a good answer to this question (a common one asked during school visits). It’s too hard to narrow the field. There are so many excellent books out there. I will say that in general what moves me about books is the use of language and the way the story unfolds.

  1. What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 

Keep on keeping on.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

I’d be vanilla, because it’s my favorite ice cream flavor. But I’d hang out with all the other flavors, because what’s life without the great diversity of ice cream flavors (or people for that matter) in the world?

BIO
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in fields ranging from computer science to mathematics to astronomy. Her books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, AAAS/Subaru Prize Longlist, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor.

Social Media
Website: https://www.lauriewallmark.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
Twitter: @lauriewallmark

To Buy
Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781939547637
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Numbers-Motion-Sophie-Kowalevski-Mathematics/dp/1939547636/

Author Kirsten Larson: From NASA to STEM Kidlit

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author (and my friend) Kirsten W. Larson. Trust me, this woman is going to make her mark in the world of kidlit. Jois us as she discusses her new book, WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE published by Calkins Creek. 

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I first researched and wrote WOOD, WIRE, WINGS in March 2014 as part of Susanna Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class, so it took almost six years from first draft to published book. For two years, I revised with my critique group and in response to agent and editor feedback at conferences and from queries. In February 2016, I queried agents with the book and signed with my agent, Lara Perkins of ABLA, soon thereafter. This was the first manuscript we sent out. My editor, Carolyn Yoder, asked for an R&R (revise and resubmit) before offering in February 2017. After that, there were still two more rounds of revision. So my takeaway: The publishing process, especially for picture books, is slow.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The book Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts inspired this book. The name of Lilian Todd and a note that she was the first female airplane designer appeared in one of David’s illustrations. Though I’d lived and worked around airplanes my whole life, I’d never heard of Lilian. Neither had my husband, who’s a test pilot and aviation history buff. I knew Lilian’s story was one I needed to tell.

Please share some of your writing process.
My writing process has evolved quite a bit since WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, but for each book my research process is similar. I start with secondary sources and read widely about the person and/or time period I’m tackling. Secondary sources provide needed context for primary sources and also point the way to primary sources through endnotes and bibliographies. I typically have both a file box for books, copies of print sources, and drafts. But I also create a file in Evernote for electronic sources. I use the Evernote web clipper to clip journal and newspaper articles, online letters and diary entries, etc.

When I feel like I’m starting to see the same information over and over again, it’s time to write. Normally I start with a timeline or what I call my “kitchen sink draft,” which has all the names, dates, and details that probably won’t appear in the final draft. Then I can let all specifics go and be more creative with my structure, storytelling, and voice. I also carefully consider what must be said with words and what can appear in the illustrations.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always been a writer in some fashion, and my interest and experience has mostly been nonfiction, specifically journalism. I wrote a newsletter filled with articles about  my family when I was in high school. It included breaking news about birthday parties and trips to the dentist. In college I was a reporter and editor at the college newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, and wrote for two different newspapers in my hometown. I also interned at NASA as a college student, working in the public relations department. (We call it Public Affairs at government agencies). That’s the career field I eventually went into. I didn’t turn to writing picture books until I had two children who devoured nonfiction children’s books about space, weather, and everything else imaginable. Reading those books, I realized I could write them and would probably have a blast doing it.

How did working at NASA influence your writing?
Working at NASA Public Affairs, I considered myself a translator for technical information. My job was to work with the news media providing the information they needed to inform the general public about NASA’s work. That often involved “translating” technical talk and engineer-speak into everyday language when writing press releases and newsletter articles, for example. This was great practice for writing STEM-based picture books where I often read journals and talk with experts. Working at NASA also influenced the subject matter of my first two picture books, which focus on women in aviation and astronomy.

Why do you write nonfiction?
I write primarily to satisfy my own curiosity. Whenever I tackle a new subject, it’s an excuse to become an expert in that field. If I can write a children’s book about the topic, then I know I truly understand the material myself.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have two more forthcoming nonfiction picture books, only one of which is announced. THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of, is being illustrated by Katherine Roy and will be published by Chronicle Books. I continue to research and write nonfiction picture books but have also tackled graphic novels, another favorite genre. I’m revising a Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales-type graphic novel that marries history with fictional elements.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
I’m a huge fan of mentor texts, and the books I use are tailored to each project. For WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I had Debbie Levy’s I DISSENT (illus. Elizabeth Baddeley, Simon & Schuster, 2016) by my side. That book really showed me how to provide just enough historical context in an interesting way. One of my favorites from childhood was THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, a Little Golden Book featuring Grover, by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin (1971). It’s such a perfect example of strong page turns propelling the story forward and a surprising ending. I still have a copy.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Because of the nature of publishing, I think the best thing we can do for our work is to enjoy the journey. We must make sure each book is the story we want to tell, even if it never sells. Finally, there are always people who can help us tell the story better, whether it’s a critique partner, an agent, an editor or an illustrator. Being able to really revise and reimagine a story in response feedback is perhaps the greatest skill a creator can have.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
I’m a big fan of pistachio gelato, which I learned to make in Italy.

BIO
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020) and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Her house is filled with LEGOs, laughter, and lots of books!

Social Media
Website: www.kirsten –w-larson.com
Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest: @KirstenWLarson
Facebook: @KirstenLarsonWrites

%d bloggers like this: