sandrapuppy

Sandra’s puppy, Hailey

by Sandra Nickel

Last year was a little crazy. We brought home a new puppy. We had more guests than we’d had in the previous ten years combined. And, my daughter started a new school. By the end of October, I was desperate for some solid writing time on my new novel!

The problem: November and December looked like they were going to be just as crazy as the rest of the year. Then, my friend Lyn Miller-Lachman posted that she was joining in PiBoIdMo. I took one look at Tara’s smiley light bulb and knew I had my answer! Even if I didn’t have time to work on my novel, I could brainstorm picture book ideas. What a fabulous and inspiring way to be creative! I could do that while walking the puppy. I could do that while cooking for guests. I could do that driving back and forth to my daughter’s new school. I came straight to this blog and joined the 7th Annual PiBoIdMo. My first ever!

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Like many of us, I find picture book ideas almost floating in the air. They seem to be everywhere. Ah, that would make a great story! Oooo, what a delicious picture book that would be! Oh, I’ve got to write that down! And, I did write the ideas down. However, as the month progressed, PiBoIdMo made me more…how do I say this? It made me more inventive. I went from being ‘passively’ inspired by life’s events to actively searching out things that are part of every child’s life. Like what? Like sneezing.

In fact, these ‘part of every child’s life’ ideas became my favorites. When PiBoIdMo came to an end and it was my turn to share with my picture book critique group, I turned to these. My sneezing idea turned into A PROUD FAMILY OF SNEEZERS, and it seemed to be loved by everyone who read it. Oh, it needed to be revised, and revised again and again, like any good story. But, it continued to get such fabulous responses that I started to think, Hmm, could I…dare I submit it for the Katherine Paterson Prize? I mean, it’s not a story about changing the world. It’s a story about a melting-pot American family of World Champion Sneezers whose newest member, baby Snookie, is—have you guessed?—not a sneezer.

Well, I dared. I sent in A PROUD FAMILY OF SNEEZERS. And then, I immediately put it out of my mind and dove into turning another ‘part of every child’s life’ idea into a story. Fast forward a few months. I open my email and surprise—jaw-dropping delight!—A PROUD FAMILY OF SNEEZERS won the picture book category for the Katherine Paterson Prize. So, thank you, Tara. And, thank you PiBoIdMo for inspiring me to be creative in a whole new way. I’ll definitely be joining the 8th Annual PiBoIdMo this November—and I hope to see you all there!

sandranotesThanks for sharing your success story, Sandra! Congratulations!

The registration for the 8th annual PiBoIdMo will begin in late October. Follow this blog and you won’t miss it! We also have a year-round discussion group on Facebook.

You can follow Sandra on Twitter at  @senickel and check out her website at WhatWasOn.com.

I awoke this morning and thought, “What a fine day for a new blog post.” Of course, I also thought, “What a fine day to go swimming” and “What a fine day to finish reading that book.” Sensing that I have packed today’s schedule, I decided that said blog post would have to be ultra-short. (I would have said “uber” short, but that word has been bogarted by some taxi service.)

So here I have pieced together quick quotes and sage snippets from the SCBWI events I attended in the spring—New England SCBWI and New Jersey SCBWI.

I hope you enjoy while I do the backstroke with a soggy book.

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“A picture book is an amazing thing, a world unto itself. You can do anything in those 32 pages and that is the thing I love about it.” ~David Wiesner

“As I create, I am continually asking myself ‘why is this happening?’ You know you are desperate when you go to the ‘magic button’ solution.” ~David Wiesner

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“Be nice. Be resilient. Set goals. Adapt & learn. Your biggest achievement is just around the corner.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

“Don’t do a $50 job like a $50 job, you’ll get $50 jobs your whole life. Do it like a $500 job and you’ll start getting those.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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“It’s not necessarily ‘write what you know.’ Write what you want to know ABOUT. The passion for that subject will come through.” ~Wendy Mass

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“When it comes to the nitty gritty marketing of your book, always remember, something is better than nothing.” ~Laurie Wallmark

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“A postcard is the best way to get our attention. I get 60 emails a day…it’s too much. I like the tactile nature of a postcard. I love feeling them and looking at them…if they hit anything in me, I keep them.” ~Laurie Brennan, Associate Art Director, Viking

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“Characters who make interesting mistakes are inherently interesting. The kind of mistakes your character makes defines her. How a character acts in the wake of a mistake should be unique and personal to her. Failure is fertilizer: a world of things can grow from the mistakes your character makes. Someone who is always right is BORING.” ~Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

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“I wanted to write a book where my daughter could see herself—that’s me!” ~Suzy Ismail

“Writing from a multicultural perspective is no different than writing. All writing is about crossing boundaries.” ~Suzy Ismail quotes Debby Dahl Edwardson

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And, finally, my favorite quote…which is still making me think long and hard:

“How are you creating a literary world besides being a literary creator?” ~Donalyn Miller

 

Sylvia Liusylvialiu is co-founder of the comprehensive children’s literature resource Kidlit411 and a picture book author whose debut A MORNING WITH GRANDPA (illustrated by Christina Forshay) won Lee & Low’s prestigious New Voices Award. 

One of the most important and inspiring movements in kidlit today is diversity, so I’ve asked Sylvia to talk to us today about creating authentic stories with relatable, diverse characters. Get those pencils ready because you will want to write after you read this interview!

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Sylvia, what does the movement “We Need Diverse Books” mean to you?

For me, We Need Diverse Books means that every child can easily find stories and books that are mirrors and windows. Mirrors that reflect their own stories and circumstances and windows that show other people’s stories. This means that previously underrepresented groups need to be better represented at every level of children’s books. On the supply side, we need more diverse creators and more diverse gatekeepers (agents, editors, booksellers, librarians, reviewers). On the demand side, we need a reading public that buys and demands more diverse books. To achieve these isn’t a matter of wishful thinking or good intentions, because the societal inequalities that created the lack of supply and demand ultimately need to be addressed. For example, publishing and the creative arts are professions that are still very much based in apprenticeships—i.e., you need to have enough money to take unpaid internships when you’re starting out, or to take creative risks.

What led to you entering Lee & Low’s “New Voices” contest?

I have known about the New Voices Award ever since it began in 2000 because I have been following Lee & Low for over twenty years (my college and law school friend is related to the company’s founder). Over the last five or six years that I’ve been writing picture books seriously, I have always had the award in the back of my mind. Most of my stories are not specifically geared towards multicultural or diverse topics, so I didn’t submit any until 2013, when I wrote A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. After I wrote it, I thought it would be a good fit because it told a universal story about a grandparent and grandchild’s fun and funny relationship but with specific cultural references.

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“When writing a diverse story, you should not just insert a character of a certain ethnicity or race. It is about so much more.” Can you expand upon this concept?

You’re right. It’s about telling a story from deep within a point of view or culture that requires intimate knowledge or experience to that culture. It’s more than changing a name to Maria or Mei Mei. It’s inhabiting that character’s world and showing and sharing the details of that world that make it specific to the culture, ethnicity, or world view. I do believe authors are capable of writing from different perspectives and cultures other than their own, but if they do, they need to approach the story with respect and research.

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Going forward, what are your hopes for diversity in children’s publishing?

In the ideal world, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We would have all different kinds of stories written by all different kinds of people, reflecting the multiplicity of experiences–social, cultural, racial, ethnic, economic, gender, ability, and more. But in the short term, as I mentioned before, I hope that gatekeepers (editors, agents, reviewers, book sellers, librarians, parents) take seriously the emerging commitment to diversity–promoting and giving voice to people of color, LGBTQ people, and other underrepresented people in the industry through hiring, contracts, reviews, and book sales.

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Sylvia, any final thoughts?

Remember that only you–a specific person on this planet with a particular worldview, background, culture, family, sense of humor, and self–can tell your stories. Don’t be afraid to share your stories with your truths and perspectives, and don’t deprive the world of them.

What an inspiring statement, Sylvia! I hope this sparks new ideas for our blog readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your “new voice” with us…and for having Lee & Low share your “New Voices” picture book!

One copy will be given away within the next two weeks. Just leave one comment below to enter. (US addresses only, please.)

Good luck!

Say hello to Maria Gianferrari & Becca! (And their bookshelves! Impressive!)

I have known Maria for years now–first as a reader of this blog, then as a jewelry customer (I make earrings and necklaces in my spare time) and now as a fellow author and agent-sister! Maria has one of these rip-roaring breakout careers where she has sold umpteen books in no time and has even landed her first picture book series, PENNY & JELLY! Wow!

To celebrate the release of Maria’s second book in the PENNY & JELLY series, SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS, I asked editor Cynthia Platt and Maria a few questions—and they gave me three books to give away!

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Cynthia, many writers dream of landing a picture book series. As an editor, what do you look for in a story that gives it series potential?

I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily on the lookout for picture book series as a general rule, but I am always pleased when something calls out for more than a single book. For me, the strength of the picture book character is everything in terms of determining whether there might be series potential. It has to be someone I want to spend a lot of time with—and about whom I think kids will feel similarly. Humor also plays a huge role. No one wants a dreary picture book series (at least I don’t). With Penny & Jelly, I was immediately drawn to Penny’s personality and also to the very warm, very loving relationship between girl and dog. I also loved—from the moment I read the first draft of the first book—the creativity Penny possesses. She’s got such a can-do attitude, and she makes things happen for herself (even if she has to work through a few lists and a lot of craft supplies to do it). So, the story hit a lot of sweet spots for me as an editor.

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Was PENNY & JELLY originally pitched as a series, or was it something you decided would be made into a series?

It wasn’t pitched as a series. After reading Penny & Jelly: The School Show, we approached Maria and her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, about doing more than one book. Then Maria came up with the brilliant idea of a Slumber Under the Stars theme for the second book.

Maria, did you envision Penny & Jelly as a series when you first wrote it? 

I didn’t initially envision it as a series, but I was thrilled that Cynthia and HMH presented me with a two-book deal because they felt that Penny & Jelly were lovable characters with a special bond that they could envision as a series.

Did you imagine what Penny & Jelly looked like? Did you have a role in helping to pick Thyra Heder as the illustrator?

I had a very vague sense of what Penny & Jelly might look like. Since Penny & Jelly were characters inspired by my daughter, Anya, and her canine BFF, Becca, it was hard to picture them any other way than this, my favorite photo of the two besties.

I didn’t have a direct role in selecting Thyra, but Cynthia presented her work to me and asked for my input. Of course, I loved it. I could tell right away she was a dog lover like me when I saw these early Jellys, and I knew she was just a perfect fit to illustrate the Penny & Jelly books!

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How adorable! I love her doggy design sense! (Is the middle pup available for adoption?)

Cynthia & Maria, thank you for stopping by on the PENNY & JELLY SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS blog tour. And thank you for the three-book giveaway!

Leave a comment below to enter, US residents only, please. Winners will be chosen by the end of the month.

GOOD LUCK!

Before I recap the SCBWI conferences I’ve attended the last two months, there’s a pressing topic that requires outing…a little quirk I have witnessed at every kidlit conference from the dawn of time (or, in my case, since 2008).

FOMO.

Maybe you don’t have a teen in your household and you’re shrugging right now. What the heck is FOMO?

Well, let’s describe the scene.

See the new-to-kidlit conference attendee, nervous yet determined, marching around the event carrying a stuffed animal based on their story’s character so people will inquire about it, talking to anyone who will listen to the pitch…which, unfortunately, the attendee hasn’t quite figured out yet.

Witness the cornering of an agent or editor in a hallway, a conference room, the buffet line, or heaven forbid, the restroom stall, being asked if they will read the manuscript, listen to the pitch or “peek” at other work.

See the attendee making conversation about the story and only the story, never asking anyone what they’re writing or even about their family, where they scored that awesome vintage dress, what they do for fun, where they’ve traveled, or anything unrelated to WORK.

You see, the new kidlit conference attendee is gripped by FOMO:

FEAR
OF
MISSING
OUT

whataboutme

FOMO makes us jumpy, anxious, pushy and, dare I say it, annoying. The person-with-the-manuscript thinks this conference is THE ONE CHANCE to break through, to get the manuscript not only read, but read and LOVED, contracts thrust forward with gusto. They envision a bidding war breaking out right at lunch table 10, pitting Viking against Sterling, swords thrust forward with gusto.

It’s an unflattering portrait I’ve painted, and I apologize. But you see, I too was afflicted by FOMO. I know it so well because I lived it. (I am the first person above with the stuffed animal, just so you know.)

It took me a couple years, and some serious coaching by professional authors, to calm down at conferences, to realize that the lunch table duel just DOES NOT HAPPEN. Yes, an agent or editor may fall in love with your project, but more frequently they fall in I-think-I-like, ask for revisions, and begin a relationship with you. The opportunities happen AFTER the conference.

And remember, relationships can start with something other than A MANUSCRIPT.

Editors and agents are real people, too. They are not these mystical beings who float away to enchanted realms after a conference ends. They are wives and husbands, fiancés, mothers and fathers, lacrosse coaches, knitters, ukelele players, cycling enthusiasts, City Harvest volunteers, Rick Springfield fans and even former accountants who love spreadsheets (these people mystify me). They are multi-faceted, shimmering personalities. They like to sip a glass of wine at cocktail hour and talk about anything other than the books sitting on their desks. Honestly, an editor will remember the person with whom they share a passion for the Amazon rainforest and try to forget the pleading, desperate person who repeatedly asked if they had five minutes to hear a pitch.

FOMO. It can ruin your judgment. It can make you forget how to forge friendships.

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Do not fall victim to conference FOMO. Because if you are clamoring, praying, hoping for JUST ONE book deal, I have to warn you—this is not true! Because once that book deal happens, the satisfaction may indeed last a lifetime, but the longing for a NEW book deal circles back again and you think: JUST ONE MORE book deal. The ideas never end. The storytelling never ends. If you are a writer, a creative being, you are hopefully in this for life. Getting published does not change the mission—to pour your innermost being out on paper. Getting published does not fundamentally change your life (unless you get a 7-figure debut deal). Yes, you have accomplished something few people ever do, you worked hard for it, but you are still you. You will want to do it again. You will want to ride this crazy rollercoaster of rejection and self-doubt and discovery over and over.

So the FOMO you feel? It actually never goes away once you are published. The trick is to learn to control it.

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Do not let that BAD FOMO MOJO zap you of your creative energy, your imagination, your unique perspective, your force to do good in the universe. Don’t let FOMO make you a BOZO.

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If you are new to kidlit conferences, RELAX. Listen. Learn. Just be you. Don’t fixate on selling the manuscript in your tote bag. Getting published takes years and it is not a race. It’s a marathon, an insanely strenuous yet joyous journey. Sit back and enjoy the run! You are not missing out on anything. You are in the thick of it.

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Let me introduce you to one of the hardest working illustrators in kidlit. I have known Wendy Martin for years, and during that time she has been drawing everything in sight and refining her style. Her diverse range spans from mandala coloring books to art nouveau maidens to the bright watercolors of her illustrative picture book debut, THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. This charming bi-lingual tale features a determined group of students who discover the power of story.

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Wendy, were there any unique challenges to illustrating a bi-lingual picture book?

I received the manuscript in English only. According to the paperwork from the publisher, the text would be translated later. Piñata Books has a fairly standard format for their picture books. Both languages of text on one side of the spread with the English and Spanish separated by a vignette, but the art notes I received wanted art to run across the border. In most cases, when I’m doing my thumbnail sketches, I leave room for text while designing each spread. In this book’s case, I had to allow for a bit more than twice the space of the English copy, because Spanish usually has more words. 
It’s a good thing the text is very short, since my illustrations take up a lot of space.

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How have you gone about marketing and promoting this book as an illustrator rather than an author?

THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS is a wonderful book for classroom usage. But with the release date being May 30, schools have been closed for weeks already here in Missouri. I plan to use the summer months to create a contact list of school resource librarians about coming to area schools to talk about what an illustrator does and how a book is illustrated. I already do this kind of appearance via Skype school visits around the world. The author, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, is an accomplished speaker and teacher. She is promoting the book in Texas at book fairs and local children’s events. She says she is pretty uninvolved in the digital arena, so that’s where I’m focusing my marketing efforts for now. This blog tour is part of that.

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Why are picture books with diverse characters important?

I remember as a child always feeling like an outsider at story time, mainly because the characters in the books were never like me. It’s difficult to be a minority, whether it’s by culture or because of skin tone. The United States is a melting pot, where there are many, many cultures, skin tones, religions, lifestyles, what have you. No child should be made to feel as if their families, their cultures or their race are “less than” any other. If they don’t see kids like themselves, in books, doing the things that they do, in the way they do it, it is harmful to them, as well as to the children outside of that group of people. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with Piñata Books is precisely because their editorial focus is inclusive of many cultures. They do tend to lean toward the population breakdown of the Houston, Texas public school area, but since they are located there, that’s understandable.

I have kids of multiple ethnicities in my made up classroom. I loved giving each one of them a personality. I do that a lot. My characters all have backstory (in my head) as to who they are, and how they’ll act in all my books. They become “real” to me, for the length of the time it takes me to create the book. It’s always a little bit sad when I send them out into the world. Just like a mom sending any of her children off on their own.

storycirclerainThank you, Wendy, for sharing your new book–and for giving away a copy to one of our blog readers! 

Leave one comment below to be entered in the random drawing for THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. A winner will be selected in approximately two weeks.

Good luck and happy reading!

dtdparty1guest post by Megan E. Bryant

DUMP TRUCK DUCK, my first picture book, is about a crew of construction ducks who build a park. But what most people don’t know is that it’s also the book that built a bridge for me to become the kind of writer I’ve always aspired to be.

When I started writing DUMP TRUCK DUCK, I’d already been fortunate to publish several board books. Conventional wisdom says that it’s hard to sell board books without illustrations attached, but for me, brainstorming and writing board books was fun, it was easy, it was safe. The secret to selling a board book without art is to have a fantastic idea that is tailored to the format—something that can’t just as easily be a picture book; something that a publisher simply can’t resist. It also helps to have series potential or an angle for table placement—seasonal and holiday can be a tough sell for high-priced picture books due to their shorter selling seasons, but lower-cost, eye-catching board books are a natural fit.

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Board books came easily to me, but what about the pages of ideas I had—for picture books, middle-grade series, and YA novels? There were so many other stories I wanted to tell. What was keeping me from pursuing them?

One word: myself.

To make these book dreams a reality would involve several things that scared me: taking big risks with my writing, surviving setbacks, and ultimately facing failure (and lots of it!). When my longing to tell these stories grew even louder than my fear, I realized that it was time to try. I started writing and writing and writing—writing my heart out—and revising until the drafts of various manuscripts numbered into the hundreds. I started querying agents, too, which led to several months of rejection. During this process, I had the idea for DUMP TRUCK DUCK; when I asked my then-three-year-old daughter what she thought about it, she laughed with enthusiasm and replied, “Write that book, Mommy. Write it right now!”

How could I resist?

It took about three months to have a strong, polished draft of DUMP TRUCK DUCK. Since I was compelled to write it in rhyme, I knew that every syllable had to be perfect. Nothing will torpedo a rhyming manuscript faster than uneven rhythm or forced rhymes. All that work paid off; Dump Truck Duck was the manuscript that brought in several offers from agents, including one from Jamie Weiss Chilton, who has been an amazing agent and even better friend for five years now. Jamie loved Dump Truck Duck and couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about it. When we went on submission, I was giddy with excitement.

Then the rejections started rolling in—for four long years.

It sounds egocentric, but I have to admit I was surprised. Weren’t trucks an evergreen topic, beloved by boys and girls? Didn’t the ducks add a unique angle? Wasn’t the rhyme just right? Jamie wasn’t ready to give up, but in my heart I wondered if it was time to face the sad truth that maybe some manuscripts, no matter how hard you’ve worked or how much you’ve believed in them, are not meant to become books.

Then, it happened: The editorial director at Albert Whitman loved DUMP TRUCK DUCK as much as Jamie did; as much as my daughter did. After the offer came in, I walked around in a state of disbelief for weeks. Astonishingly, that was just the start of a period of extraordinarily good news. In four months, we received offers on seven other books, including a chapter book series, a board book series, and my YA debut. Of course, the only reason we were able to sell so many books in such a short period of time is because I never stopped writing. Even during the darkest times, when I was so discouraged it was hard to walk into bookstores; even when I wondered if I’d ever sell another book again. The gift of all those rejections was learning a fundamental truth about myself: I would always write, no matter what. And that is one reason why I didn’t give up, even when common sense would dictate it was time to move on.

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To watch my manuscript for DUMP TRUCK DUCK transform into a book with adorable illustrations by Jo de Ruiter was a joy that defies description. I’m so grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make this book, from Jamie and Jo to the talented team at Albert Whitman. I’ve tried to do my part to promote it by setting up readings and events for children, along with my very first blog tour. This has been a book truly worth celebrating—and celebrate we did, with a fabulous construction-themed launch party!

Children grow faster than books; I was never able to present my preschool-aged daughter with the copy of DUMP TRUCK DUCK she so eagerly anticipated. She’s a big girl now—eight years old and reading independently—and there’s a new preschooler in our lives: my son, who loves nothing more than when his sister reads DUMP TRUCK DUCK to him. Hearing my words spoken in her sweet voice truly makes it worth the wait.

Thank you, Megan! What an inspiring story. And so many more books to come. Congratulations!

Megan is generously giving away a copy of DUMP TRUCK DUCK. A winner will be selected by random at the conclusion of her blog tour. Just leave a comment below to enter and good luck!

DTD blog tour graphic (1)

 

 

The winner of the GOOD NIGHT, BADDIES giveaway is:

LILLIAN HECKINGER!

Congratulations, Lillian. I will be emailing you shortly.

Thanks for entering and I hope everyone will pick up a copy!

Bella and Me Salina fix deborahUby guest blogger & singer Deborah Underwood

I’ve been a singer for even longer than I’ve been a writer. But when it became too hard to juggle rehearsals and concerts with my writing work, I regretfully resigned from the chamber choir I’d sung with for nearly two decades.

But I really missed making music. So I had an idea: I’d write and record a lullaby to go along with GOOD NIGHT, BADDIES, my new picture book about all the supposedly-bad fairy tale creatures clocking out and going home to spend a lovely evening together.

Baddies Cover hi-res

Easy-peasy, right?

Here’s what I learned about the similarities between writing a picture book and recording a song.

They both seem simple at first, then completely impossible. But if you keep moving forward, they get done.

My first picture books were total messes. One had six main characters. One had nothing resembling a plot. It took a while for me to understand just how difficult it is to write a good picture book, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know!

Recording was the same way. I naively asked a recording artist friend what I needed to do, and learned I’d need a team of professionals, a recording studio, a bunch of knowledge I didn’t have, and a whole lot of money.

I almost threw in the towel, but decided to ask around first. Did anyone know a sound engineer? Did anyone know of a studio? Or a guitarist, since I’d cleverly written a guitar part I was unable to play?

Luckily, one of the folks I asked was Gunnar Madsen, founding member of The Bobs and a former critique group member. It turned out he has a home studio, he could do the engineering, and he knew a guitarist, Jules Leyhe, I could hire.

Ta-da! Most of the obstacles disappeared—after I did a bunch of research and reached out to people who might help. It was still a hefty expense, but not as much as my friend had predicted.

Both are learning experiences.

Every picture book I’ve written has been instructive—especially the ones I wrote in the beginning. (I don’t write books with six main characters anymore.)

Likewise, I learned a lot making this recording. For example: the guitarist and I were recording in the same room, so if either one of us made a mistake, we had to redo both our parts. A recording studio with separate booths for each musician could have made the process speedier.

Nothing’s perfect.

It’s hard not to want to go back and change things in my published books. But I’ve come to realize that with every book, I do the best I can. If my present best is better than my past best, that’s only a good thing: it means I’ve grown.

That was a hard-won lesson for this recovering perfectionist, and I’m happy it transferred to this new venture. The recording isn’t perfect, but neither am I. We could have spent hours in post-production trying to make every note flawless, but Gunnar and I agreed that the result would be less appealing; I wanted to sound like a human being, not a robot. Who wants to be sung to sleep by a robot? (Hmm, I may have a new picture book idea…)

All in all, it was a great experience. I’d dreamed of recording a song for ages, and it was a thrill to combine, rather than need to choose between, my love of singing and my love of writing.

The song is a free download at deborahunderwood.bandcamp.com. Listen here:

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I hope you enjoy it! And please look for GOOD NIGHT, BADDIES. Juli Kangas’s art for the book is gorgeous, rich, funny, and heartwarming—I am one lucky writer! You can get a sneak preview of some of the beautiful illustrations in the trailer, which you’ll find at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com.

Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your beautiful voice and original composition. It’s BAD! (That’s Michael Jackson BAD, not bad BAD.)

GOOD NIGHT, BADDIES releases TOMORROW but you can win a copy TODAY! You have until MIDNIGHT PST tonight to enter by leaving a comment below.

For years I mistakenly thought that writing was just about words. About particularly poignant sentences. Flourishes of the language. Creating a passage so magnificent, it makes the reader stop and ponder the meaning of life.

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Of course, it isn’t just about words. It’s about all the words, together. It’s about the story.

So in pursuit of the best story this week, I had to kill darlings. We’ve all heard the phrase before, but what does it actually mean? What are we bludgeoning to death?

In short, “darlings” are pieces of writing that do not further your story. They are superfluous lines only there because you want to admire their shine and glow. Ooh, sparkly!

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The reader should not be jolted out of the story by the beauty of your words. The point is to draw the reader further in, not shove them out.

So what do these little darlings look like?

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Sorry, not Kristy McNichol.

These darlings may drag a scene on too long. The point has already been made, but you stick it to the reader one last time in such a witty way. Sorry, kill it.

Sometimes we get so caught up in fun devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and onomatopoeia that we end up with gobbledygook rather than glory. Sorry, kill it.

On occasion, we write jokes that fall flat. Sure, we laugh hysterically but to everyone else they go SPLAT, right in the kisser. Sorry, kill it.

You know that character who magically appears, says one important thing and then leaves? Why? Where’d she go? Is she ever coming back? No? Well then, murder must be committed.

And if we’re writing a story based upon real events, we can feel inclined to include things that actually happened, even if they don’t necessarily add anything but word count. Kill, kill, kill.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Single Effect” theory suggests that everything in a short story should contribute to an overall emotional theme. Everything you put into the story, he said, should be carefully selected to elicit the desired effect.

And since we’re writing what can be considered super-short stories, we need to be even more diligent about leading the reader down a specific path. Veering off means higher word count—which can kill the story’s publication potential. Sacrifice some darlings and save the whole village!

Super-short shorts.

Super-short shorts may have killed WHAM!

Finally, don’t be sad about killing your darlings. When you have to kill one or two, just refer to these gifs. They’ll make you feel better. (I know they helped me.)

catkid

balloonpop

blowcandle

 

Follow Me on Pinterest As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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