January 2, 2015
Here it is, already the 2nd day of the new year! I have my my never-ending list of things-to-do in front of me. Mostly it’s a continuation from 2014. I made some mental new year’s resolutions, but now I really need to get them down on paper! It’s always more permanent when you write it down. So, here goes.
Resolution—Read more for pleasure: one adult book and one children’s book each month. I get so caught up in ‘getting things done’ sometimes that I don’t take the time to read just because I love to read! And also as a writer, this is so important. I’m on top of that one already. I finished one of my new books last night, a mystery/suspense. And I have the next ones on the lamp table, ready to pick up and start reading.
Resolution—Write one hour a day (on manuscripts), five days a week. Ok, this doesn’t sound like much, but it gets me into the chair. And I know that once I sit down to write I’ll be there much longer than one hour. Plus, on those days when my schedule is determined by things other than myself, I’ll figure out a way to take at least an hour to work on my writing—eg: take it with me, or stay up an hour later.
Resolution—Revise current manuscripts: complete one every 2 months. Complete! Finished! Ready to send out.
Resolution—Work on new manuscripts: one completed draft every 2 months. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Resolution—Follow up on manuscripts that are out to editors and agents more consistently. The newest trend at publishing houses seems to be ‘if you don’t hear from us in three months, assume we are not interested.’ However, if I’ve met someone at a conference who accepts submissions from attendees, I would expect to hear from them. I have two submissions from conferences that I need to follow up on, now. My resolution is to do that within the next week. As for other submissions, my plan is to follow up with a letter after 3 to 4 months.
Resolution—Be a more consistent blogger: twice a month, and more often if I can. I‘d love to do this every week, but I really think I can do it 2 times a month. Anything over that will be a bonus.
Resolution—Learn how to tweet! I signed up for an account on twitter long ago, but never learned how to tweet, re-tweet, or what a hashtag is! If I don’t get it before then, I’ve signed up for a program through Missouri SCBWI on Marketing and Social Media in March.
This is my plan, for my writing, in 2015. I made a separate plan, on how to keep my resolutions.
1—I try to make resolutions that I really think I can keep.
2—I try to make my resolutions specific. For example, read two books a month, instead of read every month. Revise ‘one manuscript every two months,’ instead of just ‘revise my manuscripts.’
3—I plan to re-evaluate my resolutions from time to time, probably every three months. Have I set them high enough? Too high?
Ok, my new year’s resolutions are ‘on paper’ so there’s no backing down now! Take the plunge, and get yours written down, too, before January slips away!
December 31, 2014
Today is the last day of the year—2014. Looking back, it was a pretty good year as far as writing goes.
Early in the year I had two board books accepted by Highlights for their new Let’s Grow series! The Let’s Grow series is developed by the creators of Highlights High Five magazine for preschoolers and Highlights Hello magazine for babies and toddlers. My books, A DAY AT THE ZOO and WHEELS GO ‘ROUND are board books written in verse for the 0 to 2 age group. You can click the link here to find out more about the Highlights Let’s Grow subscription.
This was another ‘first’ for me as a children’s writer. A DAY AT THE ZOO and WHEELS GO ‘ROUND will be my first board books published, and also my first books written in verse. It was also my first work-for-hire. I worked with a consulting editor for Highlights, who had contacted me late the year before after reading my poems for babies in my picture book FROM DAWN TO DREAMS, POEMS FOR BUSY BABIES, published by Candlewick.
Working on these books was pretty much my main writing focus the first four months of the year. It reinforced my belief that, Yes! I can write a story for young ‘readers’ in 28 lines or less! And Yes! I can re-write to make my rhyme perfect, no matter how impossible that seems!
Writing poetry with good rhyme and rhythm takes a lot of effort. And children deserve that effort. There were times that I wondered if I would ever come up with just the right word! When that happens, you can do one of three things—
You can give up and quit.
You can ‘settle’ for less than perfect.
Or you can keep trying until you get it just right. Because you believe you can do it, and maybe because someone else believes in you, too.
In March I had another writing first. The education editor at Scholastic Canada wrote to me asking permission to use one of my poems in a poetry collection for grade 3 students. My poem Bandit, from NAME THAT DOG, will be included in that collection, my first poem to be included in an anthology!
That month I also attended a local Missouri SCBWI program on the Common Core and School Visits.
In April I attended the Indiana SCBWI Spring conference and met an editor from FSG who requested that I submit my non-fiction/poetry manuscript, WHAT GREAT TEETH YOU HAVE. Still waiting…
My favorite thing to do as an author is to talk to kids about books and writing, and to talk with the kids who read my books! I spoke to second grade students at Lakeview Elementary school in April, and visited my granddaughter’s Kindergarten class at Providence Christian Academy to read and talk about books. I also joined other Missouri SCBWI children’s authors and illustrators at the MASL (Missouri Association of School Librarians) convention to sign copies of our books.
In May I did a workshop on writing poetry for students in grades 5 to 8 at the Ozark Writing Project (OWP) Youth Conference in Springfield, MO. I saw so much talent in those students!
In June I gave a workshop on writing picture books for the Saturday Writers in St. Peters, MO, and met more great writers.
In September I attended the Missouri SCBWI Fall conference where I helped wherever I was needed. It was a great conference, perfect especially for those of us who write picture books. I was thrilled to present the certificates to those Missouri PAL (published and listed) authors who had books published in 2014. And led a great critique group with picture book writers and illustrators, and learned from them as well.
I submitted TOAD IN THE ROAD, a picture book in verse, to an agent that I met at the conference who was interested in my work. Still waiting…
In October I met author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen at the Spencer Library branch in St. Charles where they gave a presentation to patrons.
November brought the Local Author Night to the Middendorf-Kredell (MK) Library here in O’Fallon where I met up with a friend, and schmoozed with friends who were signing their books. I met some other authors there as well.
December was a big month for Scholastic Book Fair sales. I met teachers, librarians, parents and young readers at book fairs in Columbia, Fenton and St. Charles in Missouri and autographed copies of my picture book, NAME THAT DOG, which is carried by the Scholastic Book Club and Book Fairs.
Writing for children is a lot of things. It’s writing, learning as we go, and sharing what we’ve learned along the way. It takes a lot of patience, and perseverance.
Yes, 2014 was a good year for ‘writing.’ Now it’s time to look ahead to 2015. Happy New Year, Happy Reading and Writing, to all of you!
December 22, 2014
I've got my Christmas cd's out and even some old Christmas tapes, and the radio station in our car is tuned in to the Christmas channel. I stopped to think when I heard Kenny Chesney sing “Thank God for Kids,” which was originally done by the Oak Ridge Boys. There are many Christmas songs that wouldn’t have been written if it weren’t for kids.
See if you can guess the names of the following Christmas songs.
1—a song that might inspire a child to be good before Christmas.
2—a song about a chilly winter creation who magically comes to life
3—a song about a child who asks for something that will help him wish everyone a Merry Christmas
4—a song about a child who was naughty all year
5—a song about a baby born in an unusual crib in a barn
6—a song about a boy who gives the Baby Jesus the gift of music
7—a song about the leader of Santa’s team
8—a song about someone who took over when the leader of Santa’s team was sick (think country music)
9—a song about a magical place filled with what children hope to get on Christmas morning
10—a song about a child whispering to Santa what he and his friends want for Christmas
There are Christmas stories all around us at this time of year. If you celebrate the season in a different way, similar inspiration is sure to surround you.
Ok, here are the answers to the songs listed above:
1—Santa Claus is Coming to Town
2—Frosty the Snowman
3—All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth
4—I’m Getting Nothin’ For Christmas
5—Away in a Manger
6—Little Drummer Boy
7—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
8—Leroy the Redneck Reindeer
10—Jolly Old St. Nicholas
Happy Holidays to all who celebrate the season!
And a very Merry Christmas to all, from my blog to your home!
December 21, 2014
A big Thank You goes out to Scholastic Book Fair coordinators Lisa Clouse, Holly Phillips and Jessica Kunderman for inviting me to autograph copies of NAME THAT DOG! at their Scholastic Book Fair sales in Fenton, St. Charles, and Columbia in Missouri this month! I loved meeting and talking to all those who came in to browse and purchase books. Thank you for all the planning and for showcasing my picture book, NAME THAT DOG! NAME THAT DOG! is originally published by Dial Books for Young Readers, and is also sold by Scholastic Book Clubs and Book Fairs.
December 15, 2014
I love discovering new holiday picture books, and Little Lamb Finds Christmas is a wonderful choice for young children this Christmas.
Today I’d like to welcome my friend and children’s author, Cathy Gilmore to my blog. Cathy’s first picture book, Easter Bunny's Amazing Day, was co-authored with her sister, Carol Benoit and was self-published. It was later picked up and published by Ligouri Publications. Her newest picture book, Little Lamb Finds Christmas, was released by Ligouri Publications this year, just in time for Christmas!
Thank you so much for joining us here today, Cathy.
Can you tell us where you got the idea for Little Lamb Finds Christmas?
Little Lamb Finds Christmas was born out of a desire I have to communicate rich spiritual truths to young children and to the child in the heart of readers of any age. This grew from my experience as a catechist with the Montessori based children's faith formation program called, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In CGS, children discover the essence of Christian faith in a very personal way. Ideas like: God loves what is little and the Good Shepherd knows my name and I belong to Him, are shared in CGS through hands-on materials and deep reflection.
Setting up a CGS program is a large labor of love and typically only 12-15 children are in a class at a time. I wanted so many more children to know Jesus in that kind of way and wondered, "Could a picture book be the hands-on material that a child could reflect with at home?" In Little Lamb Finds Christmas, I had an opportunity to weave the love of the Good Shepherd, the drama of the Peaceable Kingdom and the joy of Christmas together in a wonderful holiday parable.
In Little Lamb Finds Christmas, Lemi, the lamb who always gets lost, makes his way to the Bethlehem stable on Christmas Eve and finds more than the Christ Child there. A lion comes to bow at the manger and Lemi discovers that with the special little child, even a lion and lamb can be friends. Lemi's story teaches children that Jesus is our forever shepherd and king who brings peace in our hearts and among us all.
The illustrations are so lovely! Did you work with the illustrator at all?
When my publisher, Liguori Publications, entered into a contract with me for the project, I asked if I could help seek out artist possibilities through my connections with SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) and they actually said, "Yes!" It’s very unusual for publishers to do that. I researched several SCBWI illustrators whose style I thought might be a good fit, and after further consideration (and a bit of cheer leading from me), Liguori chose Missouri artist, Kim Wilson. She has given the book an extraordinary blend of near photo realism within painterly warmth and beauty.
What is your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you revise a lot?
When I get an idea, I flesh it out, revise it numerous times and then I think it's wonderful and done. I take what I consider a completed manuscript to my writing critique group (that I affectionately call the "shredder") and they rip it to pieces...in a very nice way. They use nice words and speak gently but the result sends me back to the drawing board for what is one of the best parts of the process. I sift though the critiques and determine what are the most valuable edits to make. Their input is supremely valuable and I believe keeps me humble and grounded.
What inspires you to write for children? What books inspired you as a child or as a writer?
As a child, my favorite book was, A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was inspired by, and found hope, pretending to be the little girl who found joy in the midst of suffering. Later, when I was a young mom, I hunted for the most beautiful and engaging stories to read to my daughters.
The one that seems to have influenced me the most as an author is the book, The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the BIG HUNGRY BEAR, by Don And Audrey Wood. The way the story is a conversation with the reader captivates me, and the humor inherent in it makes me smile even thinking about it. Now I see both of these earlier writers influencing my stories as my main characters engage the reader directly, while also helping the child pretend to be the little animal who has a special encounter with Jesus.
What encouragement did you get along the way to being published?
When I graduated from college over 25 years ago, I wanted to be a children's author—‘when I grew up’! But I was totally intimidated by the publishing process. Years later, when my husband changed careers and took a tremendous drop in salary, I was doing any job possible to earn extra money. My sister wanted to help me out, and she knew about my dream to be a published author. She had a story idea and asked me to help develop it into a book that we could publish as co-authors, together. So, Easter Bunny's Amazing Day, the story how a little bunny became the first Easter Bunny because of a loving encounter with Jesus on the first Easter, was published. Together we navigated the publishing process which was just as convoluted as I always feared. With the help and support on my sister, we not only released a successful story that sold about 10,000 copies in just 4 Easter selling cycles, but I began a career that I had dreamed of for decades.
Do you have an agent? How did you get your manuscript seen by an editor?
I do not have an agent. I was fortunate to do some networking at an educator convention and had an opportunity for an acquisitions editor to see Easter Bunny's Amazing Day. That opened the door for Little Lamb Finds Christmas at Ligouri.
However, having successful titles does not guarantee a permanent home with a publisher. Liguori has since changed their publishing emphasis and so my other titles are now "not a good fit" there. So I am submitting my other animal stories about Jesus, that I hope will be published as a series, to other Christian publishers.
What are you working on now, Cathy?
My other picture book projects include a dove that learns to fly on Pentecost, a Sardine named Sal who talks to Jesus as he walks on the water, a caterpillar who befriends Jesus as a child, and more. I also have a series of young adult novels that are percolating in my head but they have a while yet to cook.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers who want to write for the children's religious market?
Don't be afraid to use your spiritual imagination! So much of the children's religious market is populated by re-tellings of Bible and saint stories. Our spiritual life is far richer and deeper. Our world desperately needs to know the love of a God to whom we matter deeply and personally. Have the courage to tell imaginative stories that connect children with HIM! And then be patient and persistent as the publishers get the courage to go beyond standard paradigms too.
Also, realize that publishers in the religious market typically have a limited ability to provide marketing support. It is up to you to engage in the marketing process and to apply as much creativity to the promotion of your book as you put into the writing of it. For example, you can take a look at my website. Everything that is presented there I created myself. I learned how to create the website, how to produce blogs, how to create each classroom/family extension activity and how to upload audio and video. Even with the wonderful advertising and promotional staff at Liguori working very hard, I made the arrangements for many of the interviews and events posted there myself. Creating the story and selling it to a publisher is only the start of the author's work. And as an inspirational author, I'm happy to do it. I feel honored to be part of the process of feeding souls, old and young, with the love of God in the pages of a picture book.
My greatest JOY this Christmas is being able to share my lamb, whose story of Christmas Peace seems so timely this year, with children in Ferguson, MO. Letting them know that as we come closer to Jesus, His love brings us closer to each other, and that with baby Jesus even lions and lambs can be friends. This is why I'm an author, and why I thank God for the privilege of being one.
Thank you for taking the time to give us some insight into your writing life and your books, Cathy!
Born and raised in St Louis, Cathy currently lives in Ellisville MO. She and her husband have three children.
You can find out more about Cathy and her books on her author website.
Or visit the Ligouri website to find her books.
Little Lamb Finds Christmas, illustrated by Kim Wilson
Easter Bunny's Amazing Day, co-authored with Carol Benoist, illustrated by Jonathan Sundy
December 5, 2014
I’d like to welcome my friend and children’s author, Margo Dill, to my blog today. She is the author of picture books (pb) as well as books for middle grade readers (MG) and young adults (YA). Her picture book—MAGGIE MAE, DETECTIVE EXTRAORDINAIRE—The Case of the Missing Cookies, was released earlier this year by Guardian Angel Publishing. Inc
Besides writing for children, Margo is a mother, and a columnist, contributing editor, and instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. She writes weekly book reviews and articles for a local newspaper, teaches an on-line class about writing for children, has her own freelance editing business at Editor 911, is an editor of MG and YA books at High Hill Press, maintains an author blog, and is the webmaster for Missouri SCBWI—Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators.
I’m so glad to have you here on my blog today, Margo!
MAGGIE MAE, DETECTIVE EXTRAORDINAIRE, is your first picture book. Can you tell us a little bit about your book, and how you came to write it?
Margo: It’s based on a true story about my grandma baking cookies one day, and some disappeared. She blamed my grandpa, but he claimed he didn’t do it. So there was a real life mystery there. It turns out that her beagle, Toby, was to blame. I wanted to write a book about this story because I thought it was really cute. I also loved mysteries (Trixie Belden books) when I was younger and wanted to be a detective—loved to play Charlie’s Angels with my friends. So, I combined my love of my grandma’s story with my love for mysteries and wrote Maggie Mae.
What can you tell us about your path to being published in children’s books? What encouragement helped you along your way?
I listened to the industry experts about my manuscripts when I got feedback from them. For example, with my first book, Finding My Place, I went to a conference, and I volunteered to be a speaker shepherd. I was able to pick up a literary agent from the airport and take her to dinner. When the weekend was over, she invited me to send in my manuscript, which I did, and she offered me written feedback—a whole letter’s worth. She said my history was in the way of my characterization, and she was right. So I went back and revised. Now it’s a published book. I think going to conferences and meeting professionals really helps your career along and gives you opportunities you would not have from your living room.
You write picture books as well as books for MG and YA readers. Is there one genre that you enjoy writing best?
Margo: NO! That’s why I’m all over the place. I currently have a middle-grade and picture book that are almost done, and I’ve been working on a young adult for NaNoWriMo, which is not done, but I have a big chunk of it down on paper finally.
When you have an idea for a book, how do you go about writing it? Do you use an outline? Is there any research involved? Is your process different with different genres?
Margo: I always have an idea and some notes—they are not an outline or a full character sketch, but some ideas that I want to put in the novel or picture book and some details about the character. Then I start writing. I try to get a draft down without editing myself too much. Then I go back and revise, revise, revise. This seems to be the part I get stuck on—when is it done and ready to send out? My critique group is currently using the Snowflake Method (Google it and you’ll find it) quite a bit for planning a novel. We are hoping by planning more than we ever have before that when it comes to the revision process, it won’t be quite so time-consuming.
What draws you to write for children?
Margo: I think it was my love for teaching kids—I used to teach elementary school and preschool. I also loved to read when I was a kid and would follow certain authors, like Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, until I read all of their books. Now I have a daughter and stepson, so I am around a lot of children’s books and reading picture books every day. I just think that’s what I’m into right now, and it’s what comes out when I sit down and write.
What other books or authors do you feel have influenced your writing?
Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned here, I tend to like funny picture books and ones that have a twist at the end. So, I love Mo Willems’s pigeon books, Officer Buckle and Gloria or Amelia Bedelia books. As for novels in the historical fiction area, I love Little House on the Prairie, and for young adult, I recently read The Fault in our Stars, and think John Green is an amazing author.
What kind of networking do you do as an author, and how much time to you devote to that?
Too much! No, just kidding. I love networking, especially on social media, but you can really get sucked in. The same is true if you wind up going to too many conferences or serving on too many writing group boards. When I’m asked to volunteer or go to an event, I look at my goals as a writer to see if this request fits in the goals. If it does and I can manage it along with being a parent, then I do it. If not, then I turn it down. As for social media, I try to do it mostly on my phone, like while in waiting rooms, in bed at night when putting my daughter to sleep, etc. Multitasking is the key!
How does your work as an editor help you in your own writing?
I think instead of my work as an editor helping me, it’s more being a member of my critique group. When I am writing something, I can hear their voices saying, “No, you need to do this. . .” I do think that being an editor helps because you get an eye for mistakes and also you read a lot of different writing and genres. So you develop a sense for voice that you might not have if you didn’t read so much.
Can you tell us a little bit about your editing service, Editor 911?
I mostly edit people’s novels or memoirs for content consistency, such as characterization, tension, plot points, setting details, etc. I also do some proofreading work for people who want to self-publish and need a proofreader before they send it to the publisher.
You must be a very organized person, Margo! How do you balance writing, editing, teaching, volunteering for SCBWI and family life?
I don’t sleep much! I prioritize what needs to be done, and I schedule my writing time, like I would schedule anything else. I ask for help. If I have a deadline or project, I ask my parents to babysit. I tell my husband, and we work out when I can go and work at Starbucks to get more done.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?
Don’t give up. Continue to improve your craft and to learn about publishing, and you will be successful!
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
The same as above. It’s not an easy profession, but it is rewarding. So, don’t give up!
Thank you so much for giving us a peek into your writing life today, Margo. You can find out more about Margo and her books on her website
Margo is currently having a holiday sale on all three books! She includes some goodies, gift wraps her books, and will personalize them for the kiddos in your life. Check that out here! Any purchase of one of her books enters you into a drawing to win a $10 Amazon gift card. Drawing on December 18, 2014.
MAGGIE MAE, DETECTIVE EXTRAORDINAIRE, ISBN: 9 781616 335267 51095
December 3, 2014
The St. Charles Library system sponsors ‘Meet the Author’ events with individual authors throughout the year. They may be authors from out of the area, or authors from around St. Louis. But every November our local library, the Middendorf-Kredell branch in O’Fallon, Missouri, hosts a Local Author Night where patrons can meet the authors from their own neighborhood.
This year 60 authors of books of all genres, from children’s books to books for adults, gathered throughout the library to showcase and autograph their books. It was a wonderful opportunity for both authors and library patrons.
This time I attended as a patron rather than as an author. I came with my friend Sharon, who writes and also illustrates books for children. Some of the authors signing books were new to me, and others were friends. I met the author of a series of mystery novels with a medical background, which caught my interest since my background is in nursing. I also met a couple authors of picture books.
I connected with an old friend that I hadn’t seen for many years. I had met Louis Launer long ago at a writers’ retreat in Illinois, when I still lived in Indiana. He was signing copies of his new Young Adult mystery novel, Rurals and Townies.
I also spent some time talking with children’s author, Margo Dill, whose picture book Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire and the Case of the Missing Cookies was recently released by Guardian Angel Publishing. Margo and I met just after I moved here from Indiana to Missouri.
Whether you came to browse, to purchase an autographed book for yourself or as a gift, or just to schmmoze with the authors, it was a good way to spend an evening. I hope to see you there next year!
December 2, 2014
December 1, 2014
Thank you, Diana Jenkins, for selecting my blog for the One Lovely Blog Award. You are so sweet, and a blessing to me also!
Here are 7 things that people might not know about me:
1. I play yahtzee with my husband when we take a lunch break.
2. I do Sudoku while I’m watching TV (which is probably why I never know what’s going on!)
3. The TV show, The Middle, is based on my family—ok, not really, but some of the things in that show could be!
4. I do not like the cold weather in winter but my favorite winter thing to do when I was a kid was to go ice skating!
5. I once had so many tomatoes in my garden that I made catsup—it tasted good! But it took so long to make that I never did it again.
6. My favorite vacations are going places where we can get outside and walk or hike and enjoy nature.
7. My favorite nursing job was working as a school nurse—I still remember those kids!
I am passing on the One Lovely Blog Award to the following bloggers. Please check out their ‘lovely’ blogs!
Peggy Reiff Miller
Judith L. Roth
Sharon Biggs Waller
Here are the rules for accepting this award:
• Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
• Add the One Lovely Blog logo to your post.
• Share 7 things about yourself.
• Nominate up to 15 bloggers you admire and inform the nominees by commenting on their blog.
November 28, 2014
This coming Saturday, November 29th, is Small Business Saturday. Small Business Saturday is a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, encouraging people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. It was first observed in 2010 when it was conceived by American Express. In 2013 it was also observed in the UK.
When my husband and I moved from Indiana to the St. Louis area 3½ years ago, one of my first contacts in the writing community was Vicki Erwin at Main Street Books. There is nothing that compares to the atmosphere of an indie (independent) bookstore! I have warm memories of this cozy bookstore with friendly faces who welcomed many local authors. I was lucky to be invited to sign copies of my books there as well. In February of this year Main Street Books switched hands to new owners, Emily, Ellen and Andy Hall, who keep that same friendly atmosphere, hosting book events and local authors. Click the link above to see who will be there this Saturday.
We’re fortunate to have several Independent Bookstores in the St. Louis area. For information on these indie bookstores and events, visit the St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance website.
Stop in and say hello, and shop your local indie bookstore this year on Small Business Saturday! (Tell them I sent you).