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In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mike Damone counsels Rat on how to pick up girls with his fool-proof 5-point plan. Part of the plan is to be relaxed and cool at all times. “Wherever you are, that’s the place to be.” Damone leans back casually and shrugs. “Isn’t this GREAT?”

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That’s exactly how I feel about NORMAL NORMAN‘s blog tour. Every stop has been the place to be!

NN Tour Schedule - Sized for Twitter

This is my first real blog tour. I say “real” because I never organized an official one before–I just asked blogs I knew if I could do a guest post. I didn’t schedule them, I just did it when I could. Yeah, I’m not much of a planner.

My publisher organized this tour, and I’ve discovered many great new blogs that you might want to check out, too.

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There’s so much more that just tickles me purple. I’m extremely thankful to those who are participating in the #NormalNormanBlogTour and to Sterling for putting it all together. Many giveaways are still going on now, so check the blog schedule above and go win a copy of Norman!

If you’re doing a blog tour, I recommend keeping all due dates and posting dates in a spreadsheet, even though I feel dizzy at the sight of all those columns and rows! Think Spicoli in Mr. Hand’s class. Time to order a pizza! (I’m sure Norman will want pepperoni.)

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Stuffed Norman by dollsforfriends.com!

A four-foot-tall stuffed NORMAL NORMAN sits in my house and my 12-year-old forgets he’s here, so she jumps upon spotting him, not unlike Gloria’s reaction to dog-butler Barkley on Modern Family. OH DIOS MIO!

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It’s exciting and shocking to see your character come to life. Although, truth be told, Norman is not really MY character. If you were participating in PiBoIdMo this past November, you discovered that I didn’t know what kind of animal Norman was. I left the art note blank in my manuscript. Editor Meredith Mundy asked me what Norman was but I refused to name his species—I thought an illustrator would do a much better job. So Norman, he really belongs to S.britt. Only Stephan could have created a purple orangutan with handsome-nerd glasses and such emotional expressions. But it did take a while to find the real Norman. The first few attempts didn’t feel quite right. But we all knew it when the true Normal Norman revealed himself. On a unicycle.

Normal Norman stripe sketch   Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

Normal Norman unicycle

So if I didn’t imagine Norman, how did he come to life?

I began with his name, the title: Normal Norman. That’s all I had. But I knew there was no way Norman could actually BE normal. No siree. He had to revolt at all I threw at him. By making my character act in unexpected ways, I conveyed a message to readers that I didn’t necessarily intend, but which worked out perfectly: there’s really no such thing as “normal.” We are all different in our own special—sometimes zany—ways. And that’s something that should be celebrated.

I’ll be celebrating the release of Normal Norman in just a few days, on March 1st! Sterling Children’s Books is giving away five copies via GoodReads—please click below to enter and add Norman to your want-to-read list!

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If you’d like to pre-order a signed copy, please call my good friends at The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ at 908-766-4599. I’ll dash over there to personalize and sign it.

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A couple of places I’m not dashing are London and Bologna for the international book fairs. But guess who is? Yep, you’ve guessed it: Norman. He’s on a world tour! I hope they don’t serve bananas in first class.

Meanwhile, the author will be on a virtual tour. Be sure to stop by these entertaining blogs for all kinds of uncommon fun and giveaways. But sorry, we’re not giving away stuffed Norman. After all, he’s got a jet-set schedule. Lucky dude!

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Meredith Mundy headshotby Meredith Mundy

I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary as a children’s book editor. (Still loving it as much as ever!) One of the questions I am still asked most often is why an author and illustrator so rarely collaborate directly. Why WOULDN’T it be a great thing for the two creative parents to discuss and brainstorm? Why don’t I encourage lengthy Skype chats about their amazing book-to-be? What’s up with those control-freak publishers anyway?!

Most people assume the worst: surely author and illustrator are kept apart so the publishers can hold all the cards, hoard all the power. But I am here to tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth! The reason editors and art directors keep the wordsmith separate from the artist is to allow for maximum inspiration and creative freedom on BOTH sides. Authors needn’t weigh down their manuscripts with descriptions of scenery or characters, and illustrators are allowed unencumbered freedom to conjure with paintbrush or pixels the story’s characters and surroundings without trying to match an author’s vision of them.

I’d like to share three very recent examples of how well it can work out when an author trusts an illustrator and refuses to define how a character should look or how a plot should unfold visually:

  1. When Tara Lazar sent in her hilarious picture book manuscript for NORMAL NORMAN, in which a scientist attempts to pin down a definition for the word “normal,” I needled her to tell me more. Who exactly is this scientist? And who—or what—is Norman?? But Tara could not be persuaded—she had complete faith that illustrator Stephan Britt (AKA S.britt) would know exactly what to do with the scientist narrator and his or her mysterious test subject. It was fascinating to see Stephan experiment.
    .
    First Norman looked a bit like a lion.Normal Norman stripe sketch

    Then he looked more like a friendly monster.

    Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

    Finally Stephan found exactly the right Norman.

    Normal Norman unicycle

    Who knew he would be a purple orangutan in square-frame glasses?!

    And much to our surprise, the scientist turned out to be a young Latina girl in black Mary Janes and a stylish bob. This certainly would NOT have been the case had Tara (or art director Merideth Harte or I) attempted to sway Stephan in some definite direction.

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  2. Tammi Sauer is another author who very rarely includes illustration notes in her manuscripts. When I acquired YOUR ALIEN, I asked Tammi what the lost extraterrestrial in her story might look like, and all she would say is that she hoped it would be so adorable that readers everywhere would wish for an alien to crash land in THEIR front yards.

    youralien
    By giving illustrator Goro Fujita complete carte blanche to imagine the cutest alien in the whole universe, Tammi got exactly what she’d hoped for. See for yourself!Your Alien interior-endpaper
  3. My final example of an author bravely allowing an illustrator’s inspiration to take the driver’s seat is Kim Norman and her charming THIS OLD VAN, sung to the tune of “This Old Man.”
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    This Old Van book coverNot only did she boldly leave wide open what exactly the characters should look like . . . she also left the entire ending up for grabs! In this rollicking picture book road trip, a pair of hippie grandparents receive a very important invitation from their grandson. Soon they are zipping cross-country in their trusty old van, which must deliver them to their destination in time for The Big Event. But WHAT IS THAT EVENT?, I kept asking Kim. She assured me that illustrator Carolyn Conahan would come up with something PERFECT, but I was too anxious. Surely an illustrator would want some guidance from the author on something as crucial as the ending, wouldn’t she?? Reluctantly, at my insistence, Kim brainstormed a few ideas—perhaps the grandson was starring in the school play or had a big solo in a recital? Carolyn wisely ignored the illustration notes and surprised us with a grand finale so clever that any alternative is unthinkable now: of course the grandson is racing his own miniature version of the old van in the Downhill Derby!

    This Old Van interior - right side of spread

For those of you writing picture books, I challenge you to leave 50% of the inspiration to an illustrator. You are not alone and by no means have to do all the heavy lifting. Write the story and then step away. And for those of you illustrating picture books, I challenge you to ignore any illustration notes that don’t inspire you! Trust one another from afar, inspire one another at a distance, and then get together AFTER the book is printed to celebrate what your wonderful, individual, untainted visions brought into the world.


Meredith Mundy, Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books, has always had a passion for character-centered picture books with heart, but she is also seeking everything from funny, original board books to unforgettable middle grade novels to gripping contemporary YA fiction. While she enjoys editing lively nonfiction, she wouldn’t be the right editor for poetry collections or projects geared primarily toward the school and library market.

Meredith is very proud to be blogging alongside such a wonderful group of people, including five stellar Sterling authors/illustrators whose picture books are among her very favorites: Josh Funk, Tara Lazar, Kim Norman, Tammi Sauer, and Liza Woodruff.

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Want to give the slush pile the slip? Want to know what advice a seasoned picture book editor would give you? Now’s your chance! Meredith is giving away a free picture book critique.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

Oh boy, I didn’t realize how far behind I was in picking winners to various giveaways. I would say “my bad” but I don’t like that phrase.”My laziness” is more like it!

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Well, things have been BUSY, though. I’ve got three–soon to be four–manuscripts under submission. And I’ve been editing others on their way to the printer. NORMAL NORMAN, out next March, just got a cover! Isn’t he (and his junior scientist pal) adorable???

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There’s supposed to be a giveaway for LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD on Goodreads, but it hit some snafu and I’m trying to get it snafuless. Un-snafued? And don’t even get me started on Facebook ads! I’ve been getting emails “Your ad has been approved” and then ten minutes later, “Your ad has been disapproved” and then “That was a mistake, you are approved” in an endless loop.

Finally, I’ve been firming up the schedule for this year’s PiBoIdMo. I’m almost ready to go with the guest blogging calendar, agent-prizes, 2015 logo and participant badges (all by Troy Cummings). You’ll definitely want to meet our new friend “Bulby”! Please be sure to join our PiBoIdMo Facebook discussion group for all the latest/greatest.

I’m also making PDF hand-outs for PiBoIdMo Kick-Off parties if your SCBWI chapter wants to host a picture book schmooze-fest in late October or early November. I’m available to Skype into your party, too. As usual, I’ll be in my pajamas.

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Just email me at tarakidlit at gmail for details. (And dance moves.)

Anyway, here are all the WINNAHS from recent (and not-so-recent) contests. I’ll be emailing y’all shortly! Congratulations!

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FIRST GRADE DROPOUT Winner:

KAREN LAWLER!

HI RES BATS & FROGS cover

IT’S RAINING BATS & FROGS Winner:

FRANNYB!

therewasanolddragon

THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON Winner:

SANDY PERLIC!

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FRACTURED FAIRY TALE SKYPE Winners:

KATRINA MOORE
KORBY SAUNDERS
JEN GARRETT
AMY BANSAK
HELENA DRENNAN

Thanks everyone!

Hmmm…I need a clever ending to this post. I always do a clever ending!

Oh, I got nuthin’. Kermit, take over for me, will ya?

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It’s my birthday, but I’d rather not be reminded, because I’m slipping ever so closer to eligibility for the “AARP Junior” card, as my father likes to josh. (Thanks, Pops.)

Last year on my birthday, something fun happened—my agent and I announced the acquisition of LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD by Heidi Kilgras at Random House Children’s. And this year, Meredith Mundy and Merideth Harte of Sterling have stepped up to the birthday cake. They have acquired NORMAL NORMAN, a story that began with just the quirky title. (Always have pen and paper on you, folks. I jotted it down on the grocery check-out line.)

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Many thanks again to Ammi-Joan Paquette for brokering the deal. Here’s the full scoop:

Who here has yet to pay a visit to THE MONSTORE? It’s okay, we’ll wait. (You won’t regret it!)

Once you’ve stopped off to visit Tara Lazar’s deliciously quirky debut picture book, you will of course want to know what else she has on the horizon. And the answer is: much, much more! The next book to drop will be I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, coming from Aladdin in summer 2015.

And today, I’ve got still more good news—which is really the reason we’re here today. Tara Lazar’s brand new picture book, NORMAL NORMAN, tells the story of Norman, a little creature who does not want to do all the normal things that creatures do. He wants to be different! Unique! Unexpected! Not everyone likes this plan… not at all. What is a think-outside-the-box creature to do?

I’m delighted to say that NORMAL NORMAN has been acquired by Meredith Mundy and Merideth Harte at Sterling, and that an illustrator is already on board: the talented Stephan Britt. Congratulations, Tara—and here’s to Norman!

–Joan

What’s interesting about Norman is that I never specify what kind of animal he is in the text nor the art notes. I leave it completely to S.Britt. So I’m excited to see what animal he chooses–if Norman’s even a real animal at all!

That’s why it’s fun to keep yourself open to possibilities in your manuscript and never dictate too much in the art notes. Norman being an amorphous being leaves plenty of room for the illustrator to go wild! This kind of freedom will no doubt lend an extra layer of fun to the book.

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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COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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