Guest Blog by: Pat Zietlow Miller
Readers who adored Pat Zeitlow Miller's debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash, will be running to the bookstore today (June 28, 2016) to pick up a copy of its sequel, Sophie's Squash Go To School.
Writers who adore Pat's work will enjoy this behind the scenes look at her path to first time publication and the sometimes scary route to a sequel.
When I first wrote and sold SOPHIE’S SQUASH, I never envisioned I would write a sequel.
Well, SOPHIE’S SQUASH was the very first book I had sold, and I was thrilled just to have that happen. And I knew that most books by debut authors glow quietly rather than burn brightly.
My hope was that SOPHIE would sell enough copies to earn back the advance I’d received and to ensure Schwartz & Wade wasn’t sorry they’d taken a chance on an unknown author.
Also, while I know some authors write a book and already have future sequels mapped out in their head, I didn’t. I had no other adventures planned for SOPHIE, as charming and quirky as I thought she was.
But then, then … SOPHIE’S SQUASH started doing better than anyone had expected. It never reached bestseller status, but it did fine. More than fine. Quite well indeed. It got four starred reviews, won or was a runner-up for several very nice awards and became something of a book darling.
I started getting pictures from parents of their children holding butternut squash. Schools read the book and planned units around squash. One school even added a butternut squash as an honorary classmate. The squash had a name, a nap mat and several outfits and accompanied the class everywhere.
I heard from parents whose children planted their squash and grew new squash plants and from several people who read the book to their elderly parents suffering from dementia and found it calmed them.
Interestingly enough, when the book first was published, I worried that it would be too quiet and not stand out enough to make an impact. I remember asking myself, “But what’s its hook?” I didn’t realize the squash itself would become the hook.
So when Schwartz & Wade asked if I had any sequel ideas, I said I didn’t, but I would think about options. That ended up being a lot harder than I anticipated.
The first SOPHIE’S SQUASH had – if you’ll pardon the gardening pun – grown organically from my youngest daughter’s real-life infatuation with a butternut squash. All the pieces of the story were there. I just had to take some literary license to put them together.
My youngest daughter is, if I do say so myself, a very funny kid who has had a dry, offbeat way of looking at life from the very start. So I went back through our favorite family stories about her looking for another gem – and found it.
When she was in preschool, she came home very distraught because of a little boy who repeatedly tried to hug her and told her he was going to marry her. Three-year-old Sonia wanted no part of this plan and described to me everything she’d do to prevent a wedding from happening.
I knew I couldn’t write a picture book about preschoolers’ marriage plans. But what if the annoying classmate just wanted to be friends, but Sophie felt that she already had all the friends she needed with her two squash, Bonnie and Baxter and had no interest?
That might work.
First, I had the story set around Valentine’s Day, but it quickly became apparent that a first-day-of-school angle worked much better.
While I’m extremely happy with how the final book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, turned out, it was much harder to write than the first.
First, I was writing on a deadline with not as much of a fully formed idea as the first time.
Second, there was pressure. When I wrote SOPHIE’S SQUASH, I was unpublished and not sure I ever would be. When I wrote SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, the first book had done well and I felt an obligation to not let Sophie’s fans, Schwartz & Wade or myself down.
There were times I wasn’t sure I would pull it off. But, fortunately, I loved Sophie and her family. I knew them. And getting back inside their world and remembering all the great things about it made it possible for me to write a story I like as much as the first one.
Whether others feel the same way remains to be seen, but I hope they do.
Pat Zietlow MIller has also published The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Sharing the Bread, and Wherever You Go. To learn more about Pat, her new projects and upcoming publications please visit her website http://www.patzietlowmiller.com/my-books by clicking the link below.
A big 24 Carrot Writing thank you to Pat for being a guest blogger and sharing her wonderful insight.
I'm off to my independent bookseller to pick up my copy of Sophie's Squash Go To School!
Dolce Far Niente
by Francine Puckly
I sit and write this blog, iced tea in hand, on the summer solstice. Another sacred season of idleness is ushered in with a rare Strawberry Moon to boot! My love for this season’s promise of idleness dates back to my carefree youth and the endless and languid summer days. I spent warm, breezy afternoons roaming the vast countryside and exploring my parents’ Pennsylvania farm, biking from house to house with bells dinging and streamers flying in the wind, and lying on the lawn, the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass intoxicating me as I gazed at the clouds passing by.
Unfortunately, the past several summers have lacked this lackadaisical nature for me. I long for dolce far niente, an old Italian expression that translates literally to ‘sweet doing nothing.’ This summer I’m determined to take a break from crashing hard drives, unnecessary appointments, and requests on my time that can be ignored, or at the very least, postponed.
We recently hosted my daughter’s high school graduation party. Seven hours of friends, family, laughter, tears and love. My phone had been set aside and I realized at the end of the party that I hadn’t taken one picture. It was, to be perfectly frank, refreshing. For the first time in weeks, I had lived in the moment without thought of recording, sharing or learning from it.
All of us balance stress, juggle multiple demands, and manage tight schedules, and sometimes these rigid schedules help our writing. We are driven and focused, and we are extremely efficient with our creative time. But sometimes our normal pace puts a stranglehold on imagination. And that’s where idleness comes in handy. The astonishing thing about the recent graduation party is that the details flood to me with astounding clarity: word-for-word conversations and jokes are vivid, and moments when friends hugged me or held my hand are as if captured on a video in my mind. These crystal clear experiences are what bring my writing alive. It is through living and soaking in the moments of human interaction that we writers and illustrators fill the well and rediscover our hearts. It is only then we are capable of telling the story.
So as the heat and humidity climb these next few weeks, shelve your to-do list. Be. Take time to welcome a sunrise, be cleansed by a warm rain, read a captivating book, share meaningful conversations with loved ones, or split a chilled bottle of wine while gazing at the Milky Way. Watch the clouds, lie in a hammock, and soak in the sun and details around you. We’ll be doing ourselves, and our readers, a great service!
HOOK ‘EM INTO YOUR BOOK
By Annie Cronin Romano
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”
“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.
As you probably know, the above excerpt is the opening of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, a classic in children’s literature. When I was a child, it was one of my favorite books. When I read the first page and realized those cute little piglets could be in danger, I kept reading. Fern’s concern about a threat to the piglets is established right away, and I had to find out if and how Fern could stop this horror from occurring. I was hooked. The same goes for picture books I love. I’m compelled to read past the first page in picture books whose openings create a strong curiosity about a situation:
On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town,
where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow
or the black of soot from chimneys,
Annabelle found a box filled with yard of every color.
In these first lines of Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn (illustrated by Jon Klassen), I was pulled in by my wonder of how this colorful yarn was going to affect the plain little town.
Although both these examples of opening lines grabbed me quickly, others may need to read further to know a book is a keeper. In novels, authors have some time to lure the reader in. A writer of longer works can take a few paragraphs to set the tone, or even a few pages to a chapter or so to bait the reader into the character’s voice or world. But in picture books, you have the first page. You’ve got to hook ‘em fast and come out swinging. It’s vital to the life of your story. Be it picture books or novels, if the author doesn’t capture the reader early on, the chance of losing the reader increases. A lot.
But what elements make a strong hook? What is it that pulls the reader in? To help you with examining your openings, I am going to give you an assignment. Don’t worry. There’s no exam at the end. I’ll use the honor system!
This exercise can help clarify what makes a strong hook and what doesn’t. Study the first pages of other works to help make your book’s opening the strongest and sharpest hook it can be. Then reel ‘em in!
Happy June Year's Eve!
by Kelly Carey
It's June and so it is time to assess how your annual writing goals are progressing. Use June Year's Eve to take stock of your accomplishments, reinvest in those goals that need more attention, and set yourself up for success in 2016.
To that end, I am re-posting a blog from June of 2015 and wishing you a Happy June Year's Eve!
In January, bubbly with champagne excitement and intoxicated by the shimmering crystal ball in Time’s Square, we all set down our writing goals for the year. Since writers are ambitious dreamers, we probably set very lofty goals. To that I say, good for us! That drive and stamina to succeed will get our manuscripts published.
But did you over promise? Did some unforeseen event steal time and attention from your writing? Did your January va-va-voom sput-sput-sputter somewhere in March? Then I would like to be the first to wish you a Happy June Year’s Eve!
June marks the mid-year point and is an excellent time to track our progress and make sure we are well positioned for writing success. In June, writing goals and resolutions everywhere can be given a solid scrubbing, and REVISED for success. You set New Year’s resolutions, now is the time for June Year’s resolutions.
As writers, we are not only intimately aware of the power of revision, but we are also experts at revising. It is time to apply that skill not to our manuscripts, but to our writing goals. Read through your goals, keep what is working and toss those goals that just don’t fit or make sense anymore. Maybe that middle grade novel whispered to you on a cold day in March (which frankly could have been any day in March since they were all cold) and you put aside your picture book plans. Perhaps you had a light bulb moment while attending a conference, reading a blog, or while brushing your teeth (true story, just ask Amanda!). Great! Time to make your writing goals match that reality.
Just reminding yourself of the promises you made and the plans you had will refocus your energy for the next six months. This is not a bash session. Do not beat yourself up over missed goals. You are not giving up, you are revising. What writer would forsake revision?
I’d like to clink a glass with you on New Year’s Eve in celebration of hitting our writing goals. The best way to make this happen is with a serious mid-year goal revision.
Happy June Year’s Eve and happy goal revising!
I took a peek at my 2016 writing goals and was thrilled to see that I am ahead on some of my benchmarks. For example, I've already hit my target goal for the number of workshops and conferences I had hoped to attend this year. Cue the big smile, the feeling of accomplishment, and the internal "you go girl". Then I noted some areas that I hadn't even realized were being neglected. I am way behind on writing query letters, and - what do you know - I had set a goal of revising a middle grade novel in progress. I had totally forgotten about that lofty goal. Lucky for me I celebrate June Year's Eve and can use the fizzy euphoria of this wonderful holiday to reinvest in my goals for the next six months of the year.
Pop some champagne and set yourself yp for writing success this year!
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