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Peggy's Pages Blog 

Margo Dill, Picture Book Author Extraordinaire!

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.

Amazon link
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Author Interview: Kathryn Page Camp

Kathryn Page Camp is the author of Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal, a book for authors about anything and everything to do with legal issues for writers. Her first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, is also non-fiction for adults. Kathryn is a licensed attorney and lives in northwest Indiana with her husband.

Kathryn, I’m so happy to welcome you here! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Like many writers, I started young. My first attempts to get published came in high school. I had some (unpaid) success with poetry but none with the short stories I sent out. Then I put it aside while I pursued a legal career that, fortunately, involved a lot of writing. I started writing for publication again about ten years ago and have been doing it full-time since I retired from my salaried legal position at the end of 2009. When I’m not writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and sailing Lake Michigan with my husband of thirty-four years. We have two children and a son-in-law.

Writers in Wonderland is written in such a way that makes it easy for someone with no legal background to read and understand. What was the inspiration behind this book, and why did you feel a need to write it?

As a lawyer who is also a writer, I have long been interested in the legal issues that writers face. Through the years other writers have asked me legal questions that I was happy to answer or, in many cases, to research and then answer. Encouragement from my fellow writers became the primary motivation for writing the book.

What kind of research did you do to write your book?

I’m one of those geeks who enjoys research, and I believe in being thorough. That means I read a lot of court cases involving writers. I also read the federal laws on copyright and trademark.

I love the theme that runs through your book, which is based on Alice in Wonderland and other works by Lewis Carroll. How did you arrive at this title/theme for your book?

I’m not quite sure. I don’t remember why, but I used phrases from Alice in Wonderland for the chapter titles in one section. Someone from my writers’ critique group said they sounded out of place and I should either eliminate the references or expand them to the entire book. I had been looking for a way to make the book more interesting, so I chose the “expand” option. I’m glad I did, because finding passages that worked was half the fun of writing the book.

Did you face any challenges when writing this book?

Finding the right Lewis Carroll quotes was challenging but also fun. The hardest task was choosing which cases to use. If I had tried to read everything, I would still be reading. So I narrowed it down to three categories: (1) Supreme Court cases that every writer should know about, (2) cases that tell interesting stories, and (3) cases about celebrities. Of course, I also picked cases that make an important legal point.

What encouragement has helped you along your way?

Good critique partners were my best encouragement. That means the Highland Writers’ Group and my online critique partner, Celeste Charlene. My husband was supportive, too.

You are a licensed attorney. How does that experience inform, inspire, and affect your writing?

It’s both a blessing and a curse. On the blessings side, my legal training and experience have taught me to love research and to do it well. It also gives me something to write about: both of my published books involve legal issues. On the curse side, I have spent years trying to learn how NOT to write like a lawyer. I hope that Writers in Wonderland proves I’ve been successful.

Your current book is NF for adults, but you also write for children. Can you tell us a little about your writing life? Do you prefer writing NF over Fiction?

I prefer writing fiction, but it’s a lot harder to do right. The same is true of children’s books. I wrote two early chapter books intended to begin a series, but a couple of very helpful rejection letters made me realize how hard it is to age children’s books correctly. The books were too advanced for the level I was aiming at but too short for the next level up. My adult fiction hasn’t found a publisher yet, either, but I keep trying.

What projects are you currently working on?

My current project is contemporary women’s fiction, but I am also researching ideas for a middle grade historical novel.

Where do you turn for instruction and inspiration?

I attend at least one major writers’ conference every year. I also attend events sponsored by the Indiana Writers’ Consortium, the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

What books have most influenced your life? What are you reading now?

In 100,000 words or less? While it’s hard to narrow it down, the greatest influence probably came from those authors I read vociferously as a child and during my high school and college years. The childhood favorites include Lucy Maude Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kate Douglas Wiggin, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. High school and college saw me reading Grace Livingston Hill, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, and William Shakesphere. I also read a lot of mysteries in high school, including those by Ellery Queeen and Rex Stout. I later discovered Agatha Christie, who is my favorite mystery author.

More recently, I have been enjoying middle grade and young adult fiction. I just finished Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Other recent books are Below by Meg McKinlay and The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone. And I loved, loved, loved The Life of Pi.

Kathryn, you and I met through the Indiana Writers Consortium (IWC) several years ago. How have you been involved in this organization for Indiana writers?

I am currently Secretary, web master, and blog master. I was President the previous two years and Secretary/Treasurer before that.

Do you have any advice for new or aspiring writers?

Read, read, and read some more, especially in the genre you are trying to write. The other important piece of advice is to learn your craft. It’s amazing how many beginning writers think that good grammar is all it takes. They don’t realize that you have to write sentences and paragraphs and chapters and books that keep the reader interested, and that requires understanding the craft. Attend writers’ conferences. Read books about writing. Get input from a critique group that points out the weaknesses as well as the strengths.

Are you interested in speaking to groups? If so, how can interested parties contact you?

I enjoy speaking to groups. More information can be found on my website at www.kathrynpagecamp.com, or contact me at kcamp@kathrynpagecamp.com.

Kathryn, it was a pleasure to interview you on my blog! Thank you so much for sharing your insight and your books with readers here.

You can find more about Kathryn and her writing at her website, or visit her blog at http://kathrynpagecamp.blogspot.com.

Kathryn’s books are available at Amazon and other online retailers and can be ordered from your favorite brick and mortar bookstore.

Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal
KP/PK Publishing 2013, ISBN-10: 0989250415, ISBN-13: 978-0989250412

In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect organized Religion, Faithwalk Publishing 2006, ISBN-10: 1932902600, ISBN-13: 978-1932902600  Read More 
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Wednesday Interview with Donna M. Bateman, Children's Author!

Children’s author Donna M. Bateman’s rhyming text combines with interesting facts to create wonderful non-fiction for children. Her first book, Deep in the Swamp, won the Southern Independent Book Alliance award. Out on the Prairie is her second picture book published by Charlesbridge, and is a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. Donna is a former high school language teacher. She lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two children.

Welcome, Donna! I’m so happy to talk to you here during Poetry Month.

I love the language in your books, as well as your rhythm and rhyme. Are there any books or authors that have influenced your writing?

A: My two favorite rhyming writers are Lisa Wheeler and Karma Wilson. Both are so clever in their use of language and rhyme, with stories that surprise and delight.

Favorite rhyming picture books are The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Another favorite book, non-rhyming, is Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root—so fun to read aloud with an appropriate hillbilly accent. I have many other favorites among the 200 or so picture books that I own.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book, Out on the Prairie? What was the inspiration for writing this book?

A: After the success of Deep in the Swamp, which earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, teachers were asking for more books in the same format. After considering possible biomes, I chose the prairie as one that interested me. Missouri is a prairie state, although there is not much prairie left. As with SWAMP, I chose a specific setting. SWAMP is set in the Okefenokee Swamp and PRAIRIE is set in the badlands of South Dakota. Both books include a variety of animal types—mammals, birds, reptiles, even a grasshopper and a crayfish!

I know that you don’t consider your text poetry, but rather a story in verse. What do you feel is the difference between poetry and a story in verse? Which for you is more difficult to write?

A: For me, poetry is more about evoking a feeling, usually in shorthand rather than coming right out and saying “you should feel happy now,” or “you should feel angry now.” And although we tend to expect poems to rhyme, prose poems are also possible. A rhyming story has all the requirements of any other good story. The rhyming component just makes it a little more difficult to write, but I have found that some of my stories cry out for rhyme, while others definitely need to be written in prose. I have written a few poems, rhyming and otherwise, but poetry is not my forte.

Your books are counting books about nature and animals. The last sections in your books give interesting facts about the animals and plant life in your books. What kind of research do you do before writing your books?

A: For Deep in the Swamp I did book research and online research. I also contacted experts, including at the St. Louis Zoo, for answers to specific questions. In addition to turning to books, online information and experts in my research for Out on the Prairie, I was able to visit the Badlands of South Dakota to experience the prairie first hand. I was so excited to actually see four of the animals included in my book—bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs and a Western Meadowlark.

How awesome to be able to see first-hand where your book takes place! Do you have any input on the illustrations for your books?

A: No, the editor and art director choose the illustrator. I do see the art at various stages and can point out any mistakes based on my research, although the illustrators do their own research so they know what the animals and plants look like.

The illustrations for both of your books compliment the text very well, but they have very different styles. What do you feel the illustrators have brought to your stories?

A: The art definitely gives the book shelf appeal. The books would be less appealing without the beautiful illustrations to complement the text. My editor wanted the illustrations to be realistic yet whimsical. I think both illustrators—Brian Lies (SWAMP) and Susan Swan (PRAIRIE)--succeeded wonderfully!

Your first two books are non-fiction for children. Do you have any interest in writing fiction for children? What about writing for adults?

A: Actually, SWAMP and PRAIRIE are my only non-fiction works. I have well over a dozen other picture book stories on my computer, all of which are fiction.

When I first conceived of Deep in the Swamp, it didn't occur to me that the story would be non-fiction. I had read the original rhyme, Over in the Meadow, to my children and I thought it would be interesting to write a similar rhyme set in a specific biome. I chose the swamp as an interesting setting for my rhyme. Of course, I was not satisfied with just writing a rhyme willy-nilly, as it were. For me, everything had to be true and correct—each animal mother must have an appropriate number of babies, each animal must behave appropriately for the time of day (both books show a story arc starting in the morning, through the afternoon, and into the evening/night), the setting must show plants that are found in each area of the swamp or prairie. Once I decided to add the back matter to SWAMP—flora and fauna facts—it dawned on me that I had written a rhyming, non-fiction picture book.

I have no desire to write for adults. I seldom even read adult fiction. Middle grade and young adult novels are so wonderfully written, so cleverly conceived, so rich, that whenever I read adult novels, I find myself comparing them unfavorably to the children's literature I read.

When my children were small, I read a plethora of picture books to them and fell in love with the genre. In the writing world, picture books are my first love. Perhaps I'll try to pen a novel for children or teens at some point, but my brain is so geared toward picture books that I'm sure I would find it quite difficult.

What current projects are you working on now?

A: I am currently working on a story about a short Sasquatch.

Where do you turn for writing instruction and inspiration?

A: I have quite a few “how to write for children” books that I'll turn to from time to time for instruction. Of course for specific help with my stories, I turn to my fabulous critique group. For inspiration, it's all around, although my children have been the catalyst for several stories. Just a word or two can spark a story idea or a story title that I'll develop a story around. But I have never written a story about my children and I never will. I write fiction and no matter how cute or funny I think my children are, their real life activities or adventures do not make for good picture book stories.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

A: In order to learn the craft of writing for children, I suggest that beginners read as many “how to write for children” books as possible. Your local library is a good source for these books. Read, read, read books of the type you wish to write—PB, MG or YA. Once you have a handle on how to write for children, write! Or revise stories you may have already written.

Join SCBWI and take advantage of all the SCBWI has to offer. You may be able to find a critique group, either online or in person, through SCBWI. A critique group is an important tool for any writer, especially for beginners who would greatly benefit from the guidance of more seasoned writers. Attending conferences allows you to learn, network and possibly receive feedback from a published author, editor or agent. Although a beginner may be tempted to jump right to this step, bypassing some of the others, I strongly suggest you wait until you have a good idea of what you are doing through reading and learning your craft before attending your first conference. I believe you will get more from the experience if you have the basics of writing for children under your belt first.

Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: I don't have a website so the best place to find out about my books would be the Charlesbridge Publishing website. If you Google the books, you might find the reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. Both books received stars from all three publications. Some of the reviews are also included on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your insight and your books with everyone here, Donna!

You can find out more about Donna and her books on the Charlesbridge website.

DEEP IN THE SWAMP, illustrated by Brian Lies
ISBN: 978-1-57091-596-3
OUT ON THE PRAIRIE, illustrated by Susan Swan
ISBN: 978-1-58089-377-0
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Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 18th

“Throughout history, poems have been stowed in pockets in a variety of ways, from the commonplace books of the Renaissance to the pocket-sized publications for Army soldiers in World War II.

A Heads up! This Thursday, April 18th, is National Poem in your Pocket Day!
In 2002 the city of New York initiated Poem in Your Pocket Day as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008 the Academy of American Poets took the idea nationwide.

“The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.” –from the Academy of American Poets website.

Visit the Academy’s website above to see some ideas for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day!

You can celebrate by leaving the title and author of your favorite poem in the comments here on my blog on Thursday. Plus, anyone who leaves a comment on my blog during poetry month will be entered to win one of my children's poetry books, NAME THAT DOG!, and FROM DAWN TO DREAMS, on April 30th! See guidelines for the “book giveaway” on the left side of this blog.

Don’t forget to come back this Wednesday, April 17th, when I’ll be posting an interview with children’s author and poet, Judith L. Roth! Judy’s middle grade novel-in-verse, SERENDIPITY & ME, was released from Viking in February.

Oh, and if you’d like to read an interview with me, go to Judy’s website. Thanks Judy!  Read More 
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A Visit with Amy Sklansky, Children's Author and Poet

Amy Sklansky is an award winning author of children’s picture books and poetry.

Her picture book, OUT OF THIS WORLD (Alfred A. Knopf 2012), is a collection of poems and facts about space. Publishers Weekly calls it “an evocative mix of the whimsical and the scientific.” OUT OF THIS WORLD was selected as an "Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2013" by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council, and as one of "Our Favorite Children's Books of 2012" by Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine. It was #4 on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers List.

Amy’s newest book, YOU ARE MY LITTLE PUMPKIN PIE, will be released from Little, Brown this fall. It is a follow-up to YOU ARE MY LITTLE CUPCAKE.

Welcome, Amy! Thank you for celebrating Poetry Month with us here on my blog.

Your picture book, OUT OF THIS WORLD: Poems and Facts About Space, was just nominated for the Utah State Beehive award. Congratulations, Amy! I enjoyed the different poetic forms and the interesting facts about space and space travel.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?
A: Space is one of our last true frontiers. I loved exploring what is known about space and learning what is still unknown. I think kids feel the same way. And there is so much to write about.

And your book makes learning about space a lot of fun! What kind of research went into working on this project?
A: My library card got some heavy use as I read both in the children’s and adult sections about any of the topics I was interested in writing about – the moon missions, what stars are, how astronauts prepare to live and work in space, etc. The NASA.gov website is a fantastic resource and one I made good use of as well. Ultimately, my editor showed the manuscript and sketches to an astronomy professor just to make sure all my scientific facts were correct. I refined what I knew with each research step.

The illustrations and placement of your words on the page add so much to this book. Did you include notes for the illustrator with your text?
A: A great illustrator knows her stuff, and Stacey Schuett is a great illustrator! There were some poems in which I had roughly laid out how I thought the text should be placed, where verses should be placed, etc. “Black Hole” is one example of this. But as far as illustrations go, that was all Stacey. I like the way she combined traditional and digital art.

Did you have any input regarding the illustrations or who the illustrator would be?
A: As is common practice, the publisher chooses the illustrator. Lucky me that Knopf chose so well. I looked at sketches and had some minor comments and occasionally rethought the placement of text on the page once I’d seen a sketch (because sometimes she had a better idea), but that’s it. I leave the art directing to the publisher and the illustrator.

You’ve written other poetry collections and rhyming picture books. When did you begin to write poetry?
A: I have a copy of a short poem I wrote back in 3rd grade, so I’ve been writing at least that long. I published my first book in 2002. It was a poetry collection called “From the Doghouse: Poems to Chew On.”

Do your poems come easy for you, or do you spend a lot of time writing a poem?
A: I probably revise each poem anywhere from 7 – 12 times before it is completely and forever finished. The same is true for prose. The thing I find most helpful is some distance, coming back to my writing a few days later and looking at it with fresh eyes.

Are there any books or authors that have influenced you as a children’s writer?
A: Some of my favorite children’s poets writing today are Joyce Sidman, Kristine O’Connell George, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Douglas Florian.

Your newest book, YOU ARE MY LITTLE PUMPKIN PIE, is a board book for toddlers. Can you tell us a little bit about this book?
A: This sweet (pun intended) book is a celebration of parents’ love for their child. I love the way Talitha Shipman illustrates a variety of parents in terms of race, setting, and sex. Everyone who loves their child should be able to see themselves and their child in this book.

Board books for toddlers are very short, and that can make them look easy to write. I know this can be deceiving. Is this a difficult genre to write for?
A: Being a parent of two wonderful children myself, I find it fairly easy to write for this genre. However, as in any poem, each word has to be carefully weighed and balanced. There are so few words in a board book, and each one is important. I also like to read board books aloud and make sure they are successful when enjoyed this way.

Do you have any other projects that are currently in the works?
A: I’m attempting my first chapter book – a whole new challenge for me. I’m also researching a nonfiction project – a story I plan to tell with poetry.

Besides writing, you also do author visits to schools. How should someone contact you about doing an author visit?
A: I love visiting schools in person or virtually via Skype or videoconference. Information about some of my typical programs, photos of me at schools, a map of schools I’ve visited, etc can be found on my website: www.amysklansky.com. Anyone can email me from there for further information.

Thank you for sharing a bit of your writing life with us here, Amy!

Readers can find more information about Amy and her books on her website.

OUT OF THIS WORLD: (illustrated by Stacey Schuett)
ISBN-10: 0375864598
ISBN-13: 978-0375864599
YOU ARE MY LITTLE PUMPKIN PIE: (illustrated by Talitha Shipman)
ISBN-10: 0316207144
ISBN-13: 978-0316207140
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A Visit with Children's Author Heidi Bee Roemer!

Heidi Bee Roemer is an award winning author of children’s picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in many poetry anthologies, and she has sold nearly 400 poems, stories, and articles to various children’s magazines. Formerly an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, Heidi also served SCBWI-Illinois in various capacities, most recently as Assistant Regional Advisor.

Heidi’s upcoming publications include several poems in Highlights Hello! and High Five magazines, some of which will appear under her pen name, Rikki B. Romerez. Her poems also appear in The Poetry Friday Anthology, Grades K-5 and The Poetry Friday Anthology, Grades 6-8, edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell.

Welcome, Heidi! Thank you for being a part of poetry month here on my blog. You are such an amazing poet, and an inspiration to me as a children’s poet.

Are there any authors that have helped or influenced you as a children’s poet?
Thanks for inviting me to be one of your guests, Peggy! My first encounter with a published poet was the 1998 Butler University Conference. Rebecca Kai Dotlich, one of the speakers, had recently published Lemonade Sun. Rebecca graciously critiqued several poems for me and patiently answered my newbie writer’s questions. At another conference Rebecca introduced me to master poet and anthologist, Lee Bennett Hopkins. I was overjoyed when Lee later accepted several poems for his anthologies. (BTW, Lee was recently honored by Guinness as “the world’s most prolific anthologist of children’s poetry, with 113 titles to his credit.” Way to go, Lee!)

There were others. Author Esther Hershenhorn nudged me toward my first works-for-hire poetry job, and Patricia Rae Wolf gave me one of the best tips ever when she encouraged me to write for magazines. And, Peggy, you and I have critiqued, commiserated, and celebrated together, too! Without Rebecca, Lee, Pat, Esther, Peggy, and other generous authors, I might not have stayed the course.

Are there any books that have influenced you as a children’s poet?
Early on, I fell in love with Kristen O’Connell George’s Old Elm Speaks—pure magic! From Verla Kay’s Orphan Train I learned about terse verse and succinct writing. School Supplies, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, taught me that even a poetry collection must have a beginning, middle, and end. For example, the opening poem describes the arrival of the morning bus. A lunchtime poem is positioned midway, and the final poem is about homework. Doodle Dandies by J. Patrick Lewis and Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham, inspired me to write my own “picture poems”. Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems, was a 2004 Monarch Award nominee.

Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas abound! But your mind has to be open to recognize them. An idea may land smack-dab on your nose, but if your thoughts are preoccupied elsewhere, that idea will flutter off to inspire someone who’s paying attention. To be a better writer, I must make a conscious, constant effort to be curious and observant.

When I do get stuck it’s time to “feed my brain,” so I head to the library or art museum. Sometimes a painting sparks a story. A scientific fact may jumpstart an idea for an article. (“Mature female aphids clone themselves up to 10 times a day!") I might find an unusual poetry form. (A palindrome! I wonder if could write one?) A single sentence from the newsletter once jumped out at me and resulted in a story that was published in Focus on the Family magazine. If you feel like there are no creative ideas to write about—go on a treasure hunt and goose your muse! There’s no excuse!

Do you have any advice that you can offer to aspiring poets who want to write for children?
• Read—no, study!—good children’s poetry. Stake out a corner at your local library or bookstore regularly.

• Type up poems you especially like. Observe language, imagery, wordplay, sounds, rhythm, rhyme, form, etc.

• Try new poetry forms. Most new poets never go beyond the standard couplet or quatrain. There are so many other forms to explore!

• Seek magazines that offer theme lists and chose a topic to write about. When your poem is finished, you already know where to send it!

• Study how-to-write poetry books such a Pass the Poetry, Please! by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Easy Poetry Lessons that Dazzle and Delight by Bernice Cullinan and David Harrison, and For the Good of the Earth and Sun: Teaching Poetry by Georgia Heard.

Many writers have been published as a result of your ABC’s of Poetry workshop. Are you still teaching your poetry correspondence course?
I accept students on a case-by-case basis. Most of my students live in the U.S., though a growing number hail from Canada. A former Canadian student, Carol-Ann Hoyte, and I recently produced an anthology called, And the Crowd Goes Wild!: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems.

Yes, I know! Your latest venture in children’s poetry has been as an editor for And the Crowd Goes Wild!,! Can you tell us what that was like?
Carol-Ann invited me to join her on an adventure—to create a children’s anthology of sports poems. I’m a fitness fan and a poetry freak, so I eagerly jumped on board. In July, 2011, Carol-Ann issued a world-wide call for poetry submissions. Though thousands of mile apart, thanks to the internet, we worked together to log in over 300 poems from around world, communicating through email, and—to this date—only twice by phone.

What were your responsibilities?
Selecting the poems was a shared labor of love, though the arduous task of contacting poets with rejection and acceptance notices fell to Carol-Ann. I worked with most of the poets on revisions. Once we made our final selection, I assembled the 50 poems in logical sequence. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of organizing the poems, creating the book’s “beginning, middle, and end,” and making the topics flow smoothly from one to the next.

I'm sure the hardest part was choosing just the right poems. How did you ultimately decide which poems would make the cut?
The poems fell into three groups. Group A was easy. These stellar poems yelled, “Pick me!” Group C was also easy. They moaned, “Not me!” Group B was the trickiest; many poems were in nose-to-nose competition. We scrutinized the writing quality, topic, age appropriateness, and emotional content. We also wanted to feature as many varied poetry forms as possible. In addition, we wanted a global perspective, so the poet’s residence became a factor.

Interestingly, sometimes Carol-Ann felt strongly about a poem I thought was so-so, and other times the reverse was true. Upon reviewing our own guidelines, it became easier to decide whether the poem in question was a keeper or not.

Who is your audience for this book?
Though targeted for ages 6-12, I believe the stellar poems in this collection will also appeal greatly to parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, poetry lovers, ringside judges, umpires, referees, coaches, and—Rah! Rah! Rah!— sports enthusiasts and poets around the world!

What can readers look forward to if they buy your book?
Name a sport! Very likely it’s included in this grand-slam poetry anthology. Written by 50 poets from 10 countries, And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, is jam-packed with sport and sport-related poems. Nearly 30 different poetry forms are presented as well as identified, making this collection a great resource for teachers.

Congratulations! I understand that And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, is the winner of The Moonbeam Award, 2012, Children’s Poetry division. How has the book promotion been going?
Thanks, Peggy. We’re thrilled to have the Moonbeam Award seal on our book. Carol-Ann and I have done book launches in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, several Illinois contributors and I banded together to form the Olympic Poetry Team U.S.A. Our “Poetry + Sports = Fun” message has been enthusiastically received by packed-out crowds. The Olympic Poetry Team U.S.A. offers educational and inspirational poetry presentations in the Chicagoland area.

What other types of presentations do you offer for school and library visits?
As a writer-in-residence for several Chicago Public Schools, I share my passion for poetry with students on a weekly or monthly basis. I also offer presentations based on my nature books, What Kinds of Seeds are These? and Whose Nest is This? Volunteers roll a coconut like a bowling ball, toss maple seeds into the air, and compare the hummingbird’s walnut-size nest to the sea turtle’s 10-foot nest. Students interested in the publishing process are surprised when I display my towering stack of rejection letters; it weighs as much as a medium deep-dish pizza! Whatever age my audience is, I’m always happy to share poetry and a “never give up your dream” message.

Click here to see five poets (from Australia, Ireland, Africa, Canada, and the U.S.) read their poems from And the Crowd Goes Wild.

Click hereto watch Heidi read her poem, "Food Fest" from The Poetry Friday Anthology, Grades 6-8. (Both links will take you to Renee LaTulippe’s blogsite, No Water River.)

Click here to find out more about author/poet Heidi Bee Roemer.

And the Crowd Goes Wild: ISBN-10: 1770979530; ISBN-13: 978-1770979536

Many thanks, Heidi, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life!  Read More 
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Interview with Karen Kulinski, Author of THE CABOOSEMAN'S GARDEN

Children’s author, Karen Kulinski, has had a lifelong interest in trains and railroading. Her father was a railroad man, and for many years Karen has been curator of the Griffith Historical Park & Depot Museum in her hometown of Griffith, Indiana, where at one time more than 180 trains passed each day. She has many train stories to tell, and THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN is her first published book for children.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen about her book. Here is what she had to say.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book, THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN, and what inspired you to write it?

While children, and some adults, still love trains today, most people have no idea of what an important part they played in people’s lives in days gone by. This is particularly true for those living in the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. And it’s this time frame in which The Cabooseman is set.

What I hope this story does is to convey the real connection that the crews on many of the freight trains had with the families living along the rail lines. Children never failed to wave at passing engineers and then wave again at the conductor and brakemen who rode in the caboose. These children felt they got to “know” the crews, and it was frequently the same for the men on the trains.

You come from a ‘train’ family, and you also have your own background related to trains. Can you tell us about that?

I was one of those kids who waved at the men in the locomotives and in the cabooses. But more than that, I came from a railroading family. My father was a railroad man, albeit one who wore a suit and tie and worked in the administrative end of railroading.

In his job, he traveled quite a bit, on trains, of course, and always brought home souvenirs to me. Decks of playing cards with different railroad company logos immediately come to mind. But my favorite railroad souvenir was the yearly calendar the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad put out every year featuring Chessie, the company’s mascot kitten, which hung proudly in our kitchen all year.

From the time I was born, I rode trains. Not the freights like the one in The Cabooseman,
but passenger trains. Because my father worked for the railroads, we rode free so we traveled frequently. My favorite memories were sleeping in Pullman bedrooms – we had to pay some for this luxury – and eating in dining cars. I even remember the evenings spent in “club cars,” at the end of the train that featured plush chairs and couches, drinks and snacks, conversation with other travelers and even music sometimes.

Heady experiences for an impressionable child, and one that prepared me, for sure, for the stories I write. And for my work with the Museum.

THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN is published by CreateSpace. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and why you decided to publish your book there?

THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN doesn’t fit the parameters that today’s publishing firms require. It is much too long for a picture book and much too short for a novel. But it was a story close to my heart and a part of railroading that that I feel would’ve died with me and been lost forever.

So, I turned to Amazon’s CreateSpace, which allows writers to publish books of any and all lengths for free, or a nominal fee. It’s a do-it-yourself program, which leads you through each step and answers questions as you go along. Professional help with covers, editing, and other facets of publication is available for a fee, but having done newsletters for years, I didn’t feel the need to use these services. It took work, but I am extremely pleased with the way the book turned out.

Will I sell a lot of copies of THE CABOOSEMAN’S GARDEN? Not at all, since marketing independently published books is still a major hurdle. But the story that was close to my heart will now live on after me.

What can you tell us about yourself? Did you always want to be an author? What other interests do you have besides writing?

I was always a reader, which was a blessing since I was an only child and my railroad man father moved us more than a half a dozen times before my high school years, and once during them. I could always count on books while I was making new friends and losing old ones.

But it was a high school teacher who convinced me that I could be a writer and I never looked back from that moment. I majored in Journalism in college because I knew it led to a paying job and, in fact, worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for several years until I had my first two sons.

It was then that I tried my hand at other types of writing, four years as a humor columnist for our local daily newspaper, and ten years writing and editing a monthly employee publication for a local manufacturing facility. Jobs that fed my creativity and that could be worked around the lives of my four sons.

I came late to writing for children, but it’s what I’ve done for the past 15 years or so, and will do until the day I die.

What other books are you working on now?

Oddly enough, the book I’m now revising for the umpteenth time, a middle grade novel entitled Haunting Mom, has nothing to do with railroads. It’s about a boy whose life is changed forever when he meets a young girl ghost who inhabits the attic of the house his mother has just inherited. Determined to rid himself of both the house and the ghost, the boy discovers through the course of the book that in the right place at the right time with the right person, or ghost, change can be a good thing.

I do have a couple of railroading books that are finished and making the rounds to editors. Railroadin’ Harry is a picture book about a rabbit that is saved by a conductor and comes to live aboard a caboose with him. Rescuing Ivy tells the story of a girl who loves an elephant and must risk everything to save the innocent animal when it is condemned to death for killing a man and only the girl knows the truth. She teams up with a young circus boy, two hoboes and her older brother to spirit the elephant away to safety.

What tips or advice do you have for aspiring children’s writers?

Keep on writing. But know that children’s publishing, in fact all of publishing, is a tough business right now because the whole industry is in flux. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) and go to their conferences and events. And, above all, try to join a writer’s group – local SCBWI chapters can often help with this – because the feedback you get from your critique partners will be invaluable in your growth as a writer.

Is there someplace on the web where readers can learn more about you and your book?

I am in the process of building a website, but you can check me out on my agent’s website: Alp Arts.

Karen Kulinski, author, Eileen De Sando, illustrator
CreateSpace, May 2012
ISBN—10: 1470087073
ISBN—13: 978-1470087074

Amazon: The Cabooseman's Garden
CreateSpace: The Cabooseman's Garden.
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