by Molly Ruttan

Hi Tara! Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank you for having me on your incredible blog! I am a big fan of yours—it’s such a pleasure to be here!

The roots for my new picture book SOMETHING WILD (Feb 28, 2023, Nancy Paulsen Books), which is about overcoming stage fright, go back to my childhood. When I was in second grade, my mother signed me up for violin lessons. I loved playing, but the stress of performing was too much for me—I ended up quitting the orchestra and sadly giving up the instrument altogether.

Fortunately, stage fright didn’t stop me from loving music and performing, and I’ve enjoyed being the drummer, back-up singer or both in many rock bands over the years. But the days leading up to performances were always (and still are) full of anxiety for me. What finally helped me manage was when I realized that I could rely on my muscle memory and my discipline to pull me through, in spite of my mind, which was busy panicking. This awareness has given me a great sense of comfort. It especially has helped once I am on stage—even to the extent that I actually can enjoy being there!

Here I am with The BumbleBeez, a kids rock band, circa mid 90s. Even though we performed for kids, I would still have anxiety on the days leading up to performances. I was the drummer and backup singer, (but not the original one; I recorded some singles, but I’m not on the albums) with Leanne Sterling (l) & David Scheffler (m). You can find the music on Apple Music & Spotify.

 

When it was time to create the final art for Something Wild, I began listening to a lot of violin music to get into the flow. I became totally inspired to pick up where I left off as a kid, and start playing again! I had a viola that had belonged to my mother, so I started taking lessons. I’ve been learning for about two months now. Here I am, playing the violin as a kid, and playing the viola now.

The book itself started to take form when I was pre-published and taking a class with Marla Frazee. She had given us the task of illustrating a sequence, and since I was performing a lot at that time, I was inspired to try and illustrate how stage fright felt for me. I painted a short narrative about a girl who was afraid to perform, but when she took the stage and remembered how much she loved to play, the world around her transformed into something wild and beautiful. It felt like the beginning of a book, but I couldn’t figure out what came next.

Several years later when I was working on my author/illustrator debut THE STRAY (2020, Nancy Paulsen Books), an SCBWI regional mingle coordinator asked me if I would present my “Path to Publication”. I said yes, but I was terrified. My stage fright kicked in, and I had many sleepless nights leading up to the event. To calm myself, I decided to use the strong emotion I was feeling to try to generate a new book. I started writing down how I was feeling, and all of a sudden I remembered my illustrations. The sequence I had drawn was the end of a story, not the beginning! I feel forever grateful for that presentation experience, which caused me so much anxiety—without it I would not have discovered the beginning of this book.

Presenting my “Path to Publication” at the SCBWI Regional mingle, 2018.

 

Some of the members in my Illustration Collective The Mullberries at a book-signing for Marla Frazee’s book Little Brown (2018, Beach Lane Books). Left to right: Helen Yoon, Judy Faulkner, Gail Buschman, myself, Annelouise Mahoney, Joy Dabby and April Zufelt. Not pictured: Jackie Huang, Danielle Heitmuller, Heidi Aubrey and Tricia Candemeres.

I spent the next several months working out the details with the help of a group of fantastic, talented friends. (We are now an Artist’s Collective called The Mulberries.) I am so grateful for them, and for my agent, Rachel Orr, for supporting me all along the way. And of course I am deeply thankful to Nancy Paulsen, for publishing it! Her wonderful expertise along with my brilliant art director Cecilia Yung—and the whole amazing team at Penguin—brought it to life! I hope that Hannah’s story will provide a comforting and entertaining journey for other anxious kids (and adults) to embrace, and an inspiration for them to try allowing something wild happen for them, too!

Interior spreads from SOMETHING WILD written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House ©2023.

Thank you for sharing your wild journey with us, Molly!

I think many introverted writers can relate to the SOMETHING WILD story.

Blog readers, Molly is giving away a delightful prize pack: a book, a sticker sheet, a round sticker & a bookmark. Just leave one comment below to enter and a random winner will be selected next month. (How about telling us if you get stage fright?)

Good luck!


Molly Ruttan grew up making art and music in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and earned a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art. Molly now lives in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles. She played violin as a child, plays drums, sings in a community choir and has just started learning the viola. She loves exploring all kinds of fine art and illustration mediums, including making her own animated book trailers. Her life is full of art, music, family, friends and all kinds of pets and urban animals.

Molly’s titles include her author/illustrator debut, THE STRAY, (Nancy Paulsen Books); I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner, (North South Books); and VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS: A Gluten-Free Adventure by Abigail Rayner (North South Books). SOMETHING WILD is Molly’s second author/illustrated book and has received a starred Kirkus review. She has two additional books forthcoming.

Molly is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency. To contact Molly, purchase books & view her book trailers, go to Linktr.ee/mollyruttan.

by Ann D. Kofsky

Back in the day when my kids were all shorter than me, they kept me on my toes. I recall vividly not having time to sit down. A nice meal sitting at a table? Nuh-uh. Not happening. We were lucky if there were plates at all!

The exception to this was Shabbat and holiday meals. We’d pull out a tablecloth, set the table, and start singing the traditional songs…

And swoop!

One by one, when they each had had enough, they would slide down under the table.

They’d still participate: Songs would float up from the floor. They’d pop up to eat, and then slip back down.

It made me wonder: what was so fun under that table? What adventures were they having down there?

Fast forward many years, when I’m trying to brainstorm a Passover book, the phrase that started circling around my head was a classic variation of a key Passover seder refrain, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” Except in my head, it was swirling around as, “How can my Passover book be different from all other Passover Books?”

The answer came when I recalled those many under-the table celebrations.  Perhaps other kids do that too? And of course, as I looked into it, and spoke with other parents—there were quite a lot of kids out there who found sitting at the table for the entire seder meal nearly impossible. Kids who think differently, who are neurodiverse, just don’t have the capacity to sit and sit while the rituals wander by. They can’t focus-so swoop!- under the table they go.

That’s what Miri, my main character is like. She’s having trouble focusing, so she spins in her chair, plays drums with the silverware, and finally slips under the table. There, her imagination leads her to host her own under the sea seder, complete with 3 matzahas, and three colorful seamonsters, too. She creates her own meaning of the holiday, and when she pops back up again, is able to bring that joy with her, and celebrate with her family on dry land, too.

I was inspired by some other adventurous characters who took similar journey’s through their imagination; WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the classic  by Maurice Sendak and JOURNEY by Aaron Becker both displayed the beautiful landscapes and fertile ground of kid’s imaginations, and I tried to bring that same sense of wonder to UNDER THE SEA SEDER as well.

Thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes story of UNDER THE SEA SEDER, Ann.

Blog readers, UNDER THE SEA SEDER will be released by Apples & Honey Press later this month, on March 27. Happy Book Birthday, Ann!


Ann D. Koffsky is the award-winning author and illustrator of more than 35 books, including What’s in Tuli’s Box?, Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor, Noah’s Swimathon (a Sydney Taylor Notable book), and the Kayla & Kugel series. She lives in West Hempstead, New York, but you can visit her online at AnnKoffsky.com.

 

It’s that time, finally!

Here are the Grand Prize winners and the agents with whom they’ve been paired:

  • Anne C. Bromley: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Debbie Meyer: Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
  • R.G. Spaulding: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
  • Melissa Koch: Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency
  • Mikadventures (Mikki): Jennifer March Soloway, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • Nicole Loos Miller: Stacey Glick, Vice President, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC

CONGRATULATIONS!

I will be emailing to connect you with your agent, to whom you’ll be able to send five of your best ideas. You’ll receive feedback in return so you know which ideas are the best to pursue (and which may need tweaking). This is a fabulous opportunity to put your best page forward!

Thank you to Urania Smith for assisting with prize distribution.

Next up, the daily prizes! Stay tuned!

JENA BENTON has won the Grand Prize “Ask Me Anything” Session with agent Miranda Paul of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Congratulations, Jena! Expect an email from me shortly.

More Grand Prizes to come soon!

 

First, gather ’round your ideas.

Once you have ideas that you like, start fleshing them out. If you’re a Grand Prize winner, you’ll have the opportunity to share your BEST FIVE IDEAS with a kidlit agent. They’ll respond with feedback recommending which ideas may be best to pursue as manuscripts. (Saves time writing stories that won’t be marketable!) To present your ideas in the best light, I recommend writing them out like jacket flap…you know, that marketing copy on the inside cover of a picture book. Here’s jacket flap for my September 2023 release, FLAT CAT:

 

Flat Cat was born flat. He wasn’t squashed by an out-of-control ice cream truck, or smushed in a waffle iron. He was just flat. This slick, sly cat could stray and roam anywhere he pleased, keen and unseen. And wouldn’t you know it, Flat Cat liked it just like that.

That is until one day, when Flat Cat accidentally fell splish-splosh right in the wash. And when he emerged from the dryer, Flat Cat wasn’t flat at all. He was adorably puffy and downright fluffy!

From Tara Lazar and brought to life by New York Times bestselling illustrator Pete Oswald, this is a hilariously quirky and irreverent story that is sure to appeal to fans of Pete the Cat!

 

Go to your local library and read as many jacket flaps as you can to get a feel for them. Then start writing your own for your upcoming masterpieces!

Grand Prize Winners will be chosen next week, to be paired with these amazing kidlit agents:

Plus there’s one more special prize from Miranda Paul of Erin Murphy Literary Agency: an “Ask Me Anything” video call to occur before the end of February.

So spend this weekend getting ready! Prize distribution will begin next week!

And remember…

by Jen Fier Jasinski

Thanks, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for MY PIANO, my debut picture book. You’ve been a steady source of insight, support, and comic relief on my writing journey.

These are the pedals, pressed down to the ground,
under the soundboard where bridges are bound
fixed to the frame enclosed in the case
that lies on the legs with wheels at their base,
to pillar and prop my piano.

I don’t play the piano. I don’t even know how to read music. Honestly, I can’t tell you whether a piece is by Beethoven or Chopin.

So how is it my debut picture book explores the workings of a grand piano through the eyes of a young musician as she prepares for and performs her first recital? Fabulous question.

My husband is a pianist, composer, and piano teacher. Our grand piano replaced our couch and is often called our “fifth family member”. It fills our home with music and joy, occupying a full room and many hours.

Despite the time and space the instrument takes up, years passed before I did more than listen. Then one day I had a friendly chat with our piano tuner. She opened our piano and I glanced inside. Whoa! What was all that? I was quickly fascinated by her tools, her skill, and how the parts interconnect and together create resounding music. I wondered to myself, “If I can spend so much time around a piano without ever exploring its parts, maybe others are missing out, too?”

I had read manuscript wishlist after wishlist searching for stories with a STEAM connection. I had also experienced plenty of second-hand anxiety for my husband’s students at their recitals (Hello, social-emotional layer). And my critique group happened to be completing a challenge to write in cumulative structure.  I put the three together and just like that (Kidding… 20+ drafts and four versions later,) MY PIANO hit just the right note!

I am thrilled this story found a home with Gnome Road Publishing and I am blown away by the spirit and artistry Anita Bagdi brought to it. Our hope is it will be a musical treat for kids and adults and help at least one child through their first piano recital.

MY PIANO is now available for preorder where most books are sold, for a September 19, 2023 release.

To celebrate her debut cover reveal, Jen is offering a giveaway of one fiction (non-rhyming) picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month!

Good luck!


Jen Fier Jasinski grew up outside of Washington, D.C. and spent most of her childhood exploring creeks and reading books. Jen taught special education for more than ten years, where her favorite part of the school day was always Story Time. She enjoys spending time with her spouse and kids, reading, and playing outside. Jen’s favorite days are when she gets to do all three. Her extra-favorite days include cake.

Connect with Jen at JenFierJasinski.com and on Twitter and Instagram @jenfierjasinski.

The STORYSTORM PLEDGE is now closed.

 

If you’ve been participating in Storystorm all month, you’ve been generating oodles of ideas!

Luckily you don’t need oodles to “win” the Storystorm challenge. You just need 30 of them!

I wanted this GIF to be “oodles of Doodles” but I could only find oodles of Corgis.

When you have 30 ideas, you can qualify to win one of the AMAZING Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best 5 picture book ideas from a kidlit agent! (List to be announced.) This year there will be at least 5 grand prizes, and hopefully more!

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below.

If you have 30 ideas, put your right hand on a picture book and repeat after me:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the Storystorm 30-ideas-in-January challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

Now I’m not saying all 30 ideas have to be good. Some may just be titles, some may be character quirks. Some may be problems and some may create problems when you sit down to write. Some may be high-concept and some barely a concept. But…they’re yours, all yours!

You have until February 7th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.

PLEASE COMMENT ONLY ONCE.

The name you left on the registration post and the name you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs info that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry if they’re not exact.

Again, please COMMENT ONLY ONCE. If you make a mistake, contact me instead of leaving a second comment.

Remember, this is an honor system pledge. You don’t have to send in your ideas to prove you’ve got 30 of them. If you say so, I’ll believe you! Honestly, it’s that simple. (Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were that straightforward.)

Before you sign, you can also pick up your Winner’s Badge!

There are winner’s mugs, T-shirts and tote bags you can purchase at cafepress.com/storystorm (always visit via this link/URL…if you search the main site instead, we don’t receive the full proceeds). All proceeds ($4 per item) go to Save the Children Ukraine Fund. If there’s other SWAG you want, I can add it to the shop…just ask!

Now…are you ready to sign?

Then GO FOR IT! Let’s see your name below!

And, CONGRATULATIONS!

The Storystorm Pledge will posted later today for you to sign!

Use this time to ensure that you have your 30 ideas!

by Tammi Sauer

What is my favorite part about January?

The cold? Nope.

The snow? Nope.

A month-long storm?! ABSOLUTELY.

Storystorm is just the push I need to generate a pile of picture book ideas. Most of my ideas will be terrible, but THAT’S OKAY. If I manage to come up with even one Really Good Idea, I call that a success.

One way to come up with a potentially Really Good Idea is to start with a character.

A character can be just about anything. A child. A toaster. A yeti named Bob.

Once you have a character in mind, gently ask that character The Question:

“Hey, pal. What’s bothering you?”

Many of my books star characters who are bothered by something. I think kids like these books and the characters in them because being bothered by something is a pretty relatable experience.

KNOCK KNOCK Cover: Sidesplitting Story Fun! Bear in pajamas, sleeping cap and eye mask looking startled awake.

In KNOCK KNOCK, illustrated by Guy Francis, a bear named Harry is bothered by the fact his friends keep interrupting his attempt at hibernation.

NO BUNNIES HERE Cover: full of bunnies in a field/wood, popping out everywhere, from behind letters, in trees, in holes, EVERYWHERE!

In NO BUNNIES HERE!, illustrated by Ross Burach, the main bunny is bothered by the worry a wolf wants to gobble him and his bunny friends all up.

MAKING A FRIEND Cover: Beaver in plaid coat and scarf rolling a large snowball.

In MAKING A FRIEND, illustrated by Alison Friend, Beaver is bothered by the fact he has difficulty making a friend.

NOT NOW COW Cover - a winter scene with a chicken and falling snow with Cow in summer attire and sunglasses

In NOT NOW, COW, illustrated by Troy Cummings, Rooster is bothered by the fact Cow cannot get on board with the seasons.

***Keep in mind that not all main characters will have a problem or a want, but many do.***

Now, since January and Storystorm are coming to a close, you might already have a ridiculously big pile of ideas. Gold star for you! Even so, I want to challenge you to add just a few more to the mix. Maybe one of these will end up being a Really Good Idea.

Homework:

  • Jot down a list of three characters.
  • Ask each of these characters The Question.

Extra Credit:

Grab a fresh batch of books from the bookstore or library. Pay attention to the main character. Are any of these main characters dealing with a problem or wanting something? Jot down that problem or want. Maybe someone wants a pet squash. Maybe someone is a zombie who’s looking for love. Maybe someone is an avocado having an existential crisis. Keep in mind that reading—and analyzing!—other people’s books are two great ways to inspire you to write books of your own.

 


Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is a full-time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the country. She has 35 published picture books, including her two latest, MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and THE UNDERPANTS. Tammi’s books have received awards, earned starred reviews, made lists, been developed into musicals, and been translated into many different languages. Most importantly, kids really like her books! To learn more about Tammi and her books, please visit TammiSauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi and Instagram at @tammisauer.

Tammi is offering THREE things! She’s so nice!

THE UNDERPANTS Cover - many animals tucked into one large pair of white briefs MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN Cover - Mary is black with dark pigtails, holding a broom and with a barrel filled with gardening items, standing between two trees

  • Thing 1: a copy of THE UNDERPANTS (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Joren Cull
  • Thing 2: a copy of MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN (Union Square Kids), illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
  • Thing 3: a picture book critique

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.


BONUS! READ TAMMI’S STORYSTORM TIPS FROM YEARS PAST!

* Tara has invited Tammi to post every year because Tammi was the first author to say “yes” to guest posting when PiBoIdMo/Storystorm began a dozen years ago (when Tara was unpublished and many people did not return her emails then). Tara owes Tammi BIG TIME.

by Corey Finkle

I wrote my first PB manuscript in 1999, and got my first publishing deal a mere twenty years later. I spent those two decades writing, attending critique groups, going to conferences, the whole shebang. And every time I interacted with a published author, I looked on them with a kind of awe. Somehow, these people were able to rise above it all. Were they better than I was, or did they know a secret to getting published that I hadn’t figured out yet?

Now that I’m on the other side, I can report that the answer to the above question is yes, there IS a secret to getting published. In fact, there’s an entire checklist of things you can absolutely do, right now, to propel yourself forward on the path to publication. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, at some point along that path, you need to get a lucky break. There’s no two ways about it.

Literally every author you know or have ever heard of, from Doctor Seuss to Mo Willems, had a moment in their lives when someone looked on their work in the right way, at the right time. I’m no exception. Here’s mine:

In 2015, I was having a great year. By July, I had five agents and a publisher considering my work, which had gotten into their hands through querying, paid critiques at writers’ conferences, and even a Twitter event. But by Thanksgiving, every single one of them had passed. I was so despondent by this that I vowed to take six months off querying so I could focus on my writing full-time. That led me to sign up for the Whispering Pines writers retreat, where at the first dinner I sat (entirely by accident) next to one of the VIP speakers. He was a senior editor for a major publishing house, and we soon discovered that we had also graduated from the same college one year apart, and had over thirty friends in common, despite having never met ourselves. At his request, after the event I sent him a manuscript (that I had developed from a Storystorm idea), and one week after he read it, I had three offers of representation (though my first sale wouldn’t come for another three years after that). Pretty lucky, right?

I am 100% positive that every published writer has a story like this, even if they don’t know it. They might not have recognized their lucky break when it happened (or shook hands with it like in my case), but at some point in their past, someone took a chance on them when they didn’t have to. It’s not as romantic as “meant to be,” but it’s the truth.

But here’s the trick: “getting lucky” is not entirely about luck.

Park View Middle School sign: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"

Years ago, I got a job offer out of the blue. When I told my aunt (a career counselor with her own published book!) about it, I marveled about how lucky this had been. She pushed back that, instead of luck, I should think of it as “planned happenstance.” In other words, meeting the man who offered me that job was luck, for sure, but I had been READY for that moment, due to my education and experience to that point.

My having personal ties to a publisher was absolutely a singular moment that propelled my writing career forward, but consider this: I had been writing picture books for over fifteen years, participating in critique groups, attending conferences, getting professional assessments of my work, even being part of events like #PBPitch, 12×12, and Storystorm. If I had met that publisher even a year before, it might have been just another setback to add to the list. Instead, I was ready, and good things happened.

Getting published is a journey, and for most of us, it can be brutal and disheartening at times (it’s the only field I’ve ever heard of where we celebrate when our rejections are worded nicely). But please PLEASE take my word for this: if you’re reading this right now, you are absolutely doing exactly what you need to be doing on your writing journey. You’re generating ideas, finding a tribe of supporters (this is also the only field I’ve ever heard of where we all truly celebrate one another’s success at every step), participating in events, and above all, you’re writing. Even if it feels impossibly long sometimes, I promise you that this is the path you need to follow, and by embracing it, you’re further along than you realize.

Don’t give up, don’t get discouraged, and learn from every triumph and mistake. If you do, then one day when that lucky break does occur, whatever happens next will have nothing whatsoever to do with luck. Or, to put it another way:

 


Corey Finkle wrote his first picture book manuscript as a senior project in college, spent ten years tinkering with and pitching it, and finally put it aside after realizing it wasn’t actually very good at all. He got his lucky break selling his first book, YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT, almost 20 years to the day after completing that senior project. His second published book, POP’S PERFECT PRESENT, comes out this May. When not working on his next manuscript, Corey spends his time writing business-y words for companies, playing board games, spending time with his wife and two kids, or collecting t-shirts from unusual or lesser-known sports teams. Visit him at CoreyFinkle.com and follow him on Twitter @cefinkle.

Corey Finkle is giving away two prizes to two people: one copy of YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT, and one manuscript review and/or Zoom career consultation.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

Like this site? Please order one of my books! It supports me & my work!

Thank you! You can now check your email to confirm your subscription.

My Books

Blog Topics

Archives

Twitter Updates