We are thankful to have such warm, supportive individuals who cheer us on and share the highs and lows of the writing and illustrating journey. Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!
Francine, Annie, Kelly and Amanda
|24 Carrot Writing||
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and our last-minute preparation lists grow from one or two quickly scribbled Post-its into full-fledged Gantt charts, 24 Carrot Writing would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for joining us on the creative journey—for sharing the twists and turns of the creative life on a road scattered with goals and carrots! This week, may you claim snatched moments of solitude amidst family, friends and feasts in order to pamper yourself, write or sketch a little something just for fun, or maybe just have a quiet chat with a family member you see all too infrequently (and who might have an interesting story to tell if asked the right questions!).
We are thankful to have such warm, supportive individuals who cheer us on and share the highs and lows of the writing and illustrating journey. Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!
Francine, Annie, Kelly and Amanda
Guest Blog by Susan Lubner
Please welcome picture book and middle grade novel author Susan Lubner to the 24 Carrot Writing blog. We are excited that Susan is joining us as a guest blogger to share the process that brought her latest middle grade novel, Lizzy & the Good Luck Girl (Running Press Kids, 2018) from idea, to completed manuscript, to its launch onto bookshelves this month.
A funny thing happened to me after I sold my middle grade novel Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl. After I posted the good news on Facebook in July 2017, a writer friend congratulated me and said, “Boy, you work fast!” A little more than a year had passed since we had taken the same eight-week writing workshop together. I explained to her that I had started the book before the workshop. I didn’t mention that at one point I wondered if I’d ever finish it. But her comment got me thinking… how long had it actually taken me? And what were some of the strategies I used that finally got me to the end?
The first saved document for “Lizzy” was dated October 2014. It included a whole bunch of vague notes and a character with a name I now don’t recognize. By October 2015 I had the start of a disjointed meandering story. In November 2015, I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. I was scared to death.
Turns out that November was a month of firsts for me. NaNoWriMo of course, and I bought an egg timer in earnest. I set limits for breaks. And timed uninterrupted writing sessions. Never before had I given myself a deadline to write anything. And here I committed myself to completing a first draft in a month. I wished November had 31 days.
Thanks to fortitude and my ticking timer, I completed NaNoWriMo. Now I had a much longer disjointed, meandering story that had no ending. Still, I was elated I had something to work with. My main character was nicely developed, an arc was rising. Sub plots had been added. I was excited to dig in and start rewriting. Without a doubt I would find my elusive ending.
By May 2016, with trusty egg timer keeping me focused, and my equally trusty critique partners providing feedback, my manuscript was chugging along. I signed up for that eight week writing workshop. Week six was all about endings and I still needed one. I spent most of the summer using the wonderful info I culled from the workshop; chopping, tightening, and polishing. But when summer ended, my story still had not.
In September 2016, I headed to Sequim, an area in Washington State for a five day retreat with my agency. They dubbed it camp ECLA (Emerald City Literary Agency). Although I am a fourth generation “Maniac”, being from Maine did not negate the fact that I hated summer camp. That four-letter word brought back fearful flashbacks of my eleven-year-old self as a reluctant camper: dark woods; nervous to make friends; being forced to jump into a freezing cold lake; cabins with spiders and flimsy doors that didn’t lock (what if a bear came in?).
Turns out for me adult writing camp is a whole lot better than summer camp in the 70s. My agency-mates who I met for the first time were so friendly and beyond awesome! The cabins had doors with locks (and a kitchen…and a gorgeous view of the lake which I wasn’t forced to jump into!). And the whole time I was there I only saw one spider, and it was pretty small.
One by one I checked off each little box on my get-over-your-idiotic-fears-Susan list I was keeping inside my head. I had one box left to check. I still needed to find my ending.
On an evening just before sunset, my agent and I, each sipping adult-camp drinks, sat outside and discussed my unfinished novel.
“What’s at the heart of your story?” Linda asked me. “What does Lizzy want?”
“A sign that everything will be OK,” I answered.
“What does she really want?” she pressed.
“To feel safe,” I said.
Linda asked for more.
I answered again.
But she wanted more. Deeper and deeper I dug inside my character’s heart.
Until she asked, “What do you want? What’s inside your heart?”
I stopped to think. I always dug deep inside my character to get to the want. I don’t remember ever having to dig inside myself. Sure there were pieces of me in the stories I’d written over the years. My Maine settings, my love for animals. But my stories were only slightly salted with my truths. This was Lizzy’s story, not mine! As the sun was setting and my fear of being in the dark woods was rising, I realized that I couldn’t write that ending until I figured out exactly what Lizzy wanted. The heart of my story was missing. Was it somewhere I hadn’t looked? Inside of me as Linda suspected?
On the flight back to Boston, I thought about the loss I had experienced when I was Lizzy’s age—when my dad passed away. It was different from her experience of losing an unborn sibling. But like Lizzy, during that difficult time, I too had looked to the universe for a sign that everything would turn out okay. It was a way to cope. A way to feel hopeful.
And there it was.
Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl is a story about family, love, friendship, and at its heart, the power of hope. It’s my fifth published book out of dozens unpublished. But writing this book, I learned that sometimes it’s important to step out of my comfort zone to get where I need to go: challenging myself with NaNoWriMo; setting a strict regimen of timed writing periods; attending a retreat that at first gave me pause and taking a hard look inside myself rather than my character to find the heart of a story. All of these were firsts for me. All of them crucial to creating this book.
By early 2017, I had a polished manuscript ready to send off to my agent. I decided to wait until February 14, to submit it to her. Valentine’s Day might be a good sign that she and the right editor would love it.
I wasn’t disappointed.
To purchase Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl go to Barnes and Noble at www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lizzy-and-the-good-luck-girl-susan-lubner/1128113191 or visit Indie Bound at www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=lizzy+and+the+good+luck+girl .
To learn more about Susan and her other books, visit her website at www.susanlubner.com/Home.html .
~Guest blog by Jen Malone and Kristine Asselin
Thank you so much for having us as part of Trick or Treat month, a theme that matches well with the overall question we get asked most often about our co-authoring experience (spoiler alert: definitely a treat). We’re thrilled to discuss some of the nuts and bolts of our experience to help illuminate a process that many writers express interest in trying (and to offer reassurances that it’s worth doing so).
To give you an opportunity to hear from each of us without trying to determine who wrote which section (though always a fun game with co-authored anything), we decided we’d interview one another, answering some of the questions on this topic we hear from fellow authors which we haven’t seen widely addressed.
Jen: Okay, Kris, you’re up first because, well, I simply decided it would be so in this case. The question is: How do you decide who will write which parts?
Kris: Ha! If you know Jen and I, you can totally figure out who wrote which piece. I don’t want to spoil it (but scroll to the end if you want to know!)
I think for us, in this situation, it came really naturally. Our natural middle grade voices really informed who would write each piece. I don’t even think it was something we consciously talked about...we just each knew who we would write.
Kris: *rubs hands together* My turn. Jen, tell our readers what tools we used to draft and revise?
Jen: Okay, here’s where we got lazy. We both knew that Scrivener offered a feature that allows for project sharing, but neither of us could figure out how to use it cohesively and we were too darn eager to get started. So we used Google Docs. The creepiest thing with Docs is that you can both be in the manuscript at the same time and if inclined, could literally watch the other type each word into a chapter. Much as I love and trust Kris, I definitely can’t write with anyone looking over my shoulder, so I would usually compose my chapters in Scrivener and then copy and paste them into Google Docs. However, Docs worked great in most other respects—it’s very easy to leave each other notes (and even have conversations) in comment bubbles as we went, we created a folder that also held our outline along with research pictures and sources for easy reference, there was no confusion about whether we were each working in the most up-to-date version because we weren’t emailing the manuscript back and forth, and we could easily check to see if the other had added new pages. We both found it really lovely to go to bed with one word count and to wake up to thousands more words added to our story, as if by magic! Google Docs proved more exasperating during revisions because we’re both accustomed to being able to jump around our manuscripts so easily in Scrivener and all the endless scrolling frayed the nerves… but we made it work.
Kris: Just to add my $.02. I wrote my sections in Word, and then pasted into Google. Google was a little slow and got a little cumbersome, but it was AWESOME to use a live document and see it updated every few days. A great thing about working with another person is that the word count goes up exponentially!
Jen: Okay Kris, speaking of frayed nerves, what were some challenges to marrying two distinct voices and two distinct viewpoints, if any?
Kris: The way we structured this book made this easier than it could have been. Each of our characters has her own distinct character arc. You could conceivably read each character’s story by itself--this made it a bit easier for each of us to tell our own character’s story. Of course there are a few times when the girls speak to each other through the portal, and whoever was writing that dialogue had to be sure to get the voice right.
There were definitely times when Jen had suggestions for me and vice versa, and some of the best scenes came out of those suggestions to make something bigger or crazier.
Kris: Jen, maybe you can explain how we approached our agents with this idea?
Jen: Sure! We’re represented by different agents, so once we determined we wanted to go for this, we reached out to our respective agents and pitched the concept. Both were enthusiastic, so our next step was getting their take on how they wanted to divvy up the agent tasks (such as submitting to publisher(s) and managing ongoing accounting for the title). Since we planned from the start to offer this to my existing editor at Simon & Schuster, rather than going on wide submission, that task was less of an issue. We were also able to have S&S split accounting on the title in-house and issue us separate (but equal) advances and royalty statements reflecting only our individual halves of the pot. Both agents collaborated on contract points—discussing negotiation strategies and specific terms together. While mine took the lead as point person in contract communications with our editor, Kris’s agent then stepped up later in the process when we had an offer for stage rights that needed negotiating… so overall the balance was kept even. Most agencies have clients who are co-authoring and I’ve found most are quite open to working with other agents to best serve their authors’ careers. In fact, this wasn’t my first time to the co-authoring rodeo, and my lovely and accommodating agent worked with six other agents on my title Best. Night. Ever., which was co-authored by seven of us. In that instance, she suggested a structure typical of anthologies, where the project’s editor (me, in this case) is the person of record with the publishing house (with respect to name on the contract and person receiving advance/royalty statements). Then each of the other authors signed contracts (through my agent’s agency) with me directly, laying out terms of their specific contribution and indicating how monies coming in from the book would be distributed from me, via her agency. (Note: in most anthologies contributors are issued a one-time flat fee, but since our case was a different in that we were all equal participants in the storytelling, we share equally in any royalties/rights sales in perpetuity. This means I forward royalty statements I receive for the title to each author, who then passes it along to her agent for review. An extra step, yes, but hardly a logistical challenge.)
Kris: I’ll pick up from here and explain what the publication process was like… how we sold the book and how we worked with our editor on it. Our experience working with the amazing Amy Cloud was wonderful. Jen had worked with her before, but every book is different. Amy was a champion of our concept from the beginning. She brought the book to acquisitions in early September 2015 and Simon & Schuster bought it with only about 50 pages written--though we had a very thorough synopsis, so she knew the entire story from the outset. We had a very brief celebration and then had to finish the book, which ended up taking longer than we expected.
One of the most unexpected things was having turned in the final version to Amy just before the election of 2016. We’d included a minor subplot of having a female president in Hannah’s present day. It was heartbreaking for us to have to change that thread, and for a millisecond we thought about not changing it. In the end, we feel like the book is stronger for the change, alluding to more work still to come in changing hearts and minds about women’s roles in leadership.
Jen: Okay, we’re getting wordy here, so before we write a tome posing as a blog post, let’s wrap up by each listing our least favorite and our favorite part about co-authoring. I’ll start:
Least favorite: Worries about not pulling equal weight at all times. I went through some life events right around our book’s release and wasn’t quite feeling in full-on extroverted promotion mode. It was a source of guilt (but also such a blessing) to have a co-author who picked up any slack with grace and care.
Favorite: Having another deeply invested person (even better because it’s a friend) to ride the ups and downs with and to share the excitement with (oh, and also the workload), especially when you balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Least favorite: When Jen had fabulous ideas that resulted in more work for me! LOL. Not really, but case in point. The soccer match that Maggie plays was not part of the original story. In writing a believable soccer game, I did a lot of research and even consulted with an expert to get it right. I’m so glad I did, but man, it was hard. (And now you know which character is mine!)
Favorite: Having someone to share the success with--I love the things we’ve been able to do together, like go on a Girl Scout trip to Newport to visit the mansion with girls. I’m so proud of this book, and working with Jen made it so much better than doing it alone!
Thank you again for hosting us here. We hope this helped demystify the process of co-writing a bit and that we convinced you to give it a try yourselves!
Click here for a review of THE ART OF THE SWAP in Book Picks.
Kristine Asselin is the author of several works of children’s nonfiction as well as the YA novel Any Way You Slice It. She loves being a Girl Scout leader and volunteering with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a sucker for a good love song (preferably from the 80s), and can’t resist an invitation for Chinese food or ice cream (but not at the same time!). She lives in Central Massachusetts with her teen daughter and husband, and spends part of everyday looking for a TARDIS to borrow. You can learn more about Kris at www.kristineasselin.com.
Jen Malone writes young adult novels with HarperCollins and middle grade adventures with Simon & Schuster. Jen’s published titles include The Art of the Swap (with Kristine Asselin), Changes in Latitudes, Best Night Ever, The Sleepover, the You’re Invited series (with Gail Nall), At Your Service, Map to the Stars, Wanderlost, and Follow Your Art (a collaboration with Dreamworks Animation and Penguin Random House on a companion story to the animated film Trolls). Her next YA, The Arrival of Someday, releases in Summer 2019. Jen once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star's tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. You can learn more about Jen and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @jenmalonewrites.
Guest Post by Lori Mortensen
24 Carrot Writing is pleased to welcome Lori Mortensen, award-winning children’s author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles.
If you’re like me, one of the favorite parts of a picture book is the little surprise at the end. After following the intriguing story page by page, I’m always looking forward to see how the author will wrap it up. Will the ending be ho-hum predictable, or will the author create a wonderful ending that’s often described as “unexpected, yet inevitable”? Exceptional endings not only satisfy the story problem, but they fulfill it in a surprising and unexpected way.
At first, simply solving the story problem might seem like the obvious way to bring a story to a satisfying close. For example, if Sally wants a pet, she gets a pet. If Sam loses his kite, he gets it back, etc. But exceptional stories take that extra step.
In my rhyming picture book, Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg that became one of Amazon’s Best Picture Books of 2013, Clyde wants to catch his dog for a bath. So, the obvious ending would be Clyde catching his ol’ dirty dawg and giving him a bath, right? However, as I wrote the story, I knew that predictable ending wouldn’t feel satisfying. There had to be more than Clyde just getting his way. As I wrote, I became excited about where the story could lead. With each successive page turn, I showed Clyde trying to catch his dog, each attempt more comical and disastrous than the last. I told myself, Clyde would get so frustrated he would …. What would he do? I wondered.
I was delighted when I instantly realized things would get so bad, Cowpoke Clyde would scrap the whole idea. Oh, no! I thought. How is Clyde going to bathe his dirty dog now? I was just as eager to find out what would happen as I hoped future readers would be. Moments later, I knew what my ending with a twist would be. Instead of Clyde actually catching his dog, he’d scrap the whole idea, then take the bath himself. Whoa! I didn’t see that coming, but it felt absolutely perfect. As Cowpoke Clyde scrubbed and crooned in the tub, Dirty Dawg joined him with a tremendous SPLASH! At this point, I realized the story wasn’t about Clyde checking off a laundry list of chores. It was about them---Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. Once Clyde stopped trying to finagle his dog into the tub, the duo discovered that taking a bath was something they both enjoyed. I avoided a didactic ending where Cowpoke Clyde showed Dawg who was boss and turned it into a satisfying friendship story that drew Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg together. I was just as pleased with this unexpected ending as I knew the reader would be.
Another example is my counting picture book, Mousequerade Ball, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. In my original story, mice arrive at a ball in ascending numbers from one to 10. At the climax, a cat shows up and scares them away in descending order back to one. A fun idea, but after several rejections, I knew it needed a more satisfying ending with an unexpected twist.
I decided the solution rested with the cat. Instead of arriving as a threat, the cat shows up only wanting to dance. This unexpected twist gave the story a new meaning and level of satisfaction. It wasn’t simply a book that counted mice up and down. It became a story about friendship and inclusion.
One of my favorite picture book endings with a twist is Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham. In this story, Zebra directs alphabetical characters to their correct place on the page and Moose can’t wait to be featured with the letter “M.” However, when “M” comes along, Mouse gets the coveted spot, much to Moose’s dismay. As the alphabet continues, Moose becomes more and more distraught when it looks as if he’s never going to get a chance to fit in. Then, Kelly dazzles the reader with her own special brand of “unexpected, yet inevitable” magic. When the reader finally gets to “Z,” it reads, “Z is for Zebra’s friend, Moose.” Awww! This unexpected ending not only fulfilled Moose’s desire to be in the alphabet, but it cemented Zebra’s and Moose’s friendship in a surprising and touching way.
This year, my picture book If Wendell Had a Walrus hit the bookshelves. In this story, a boy named Wendell wants a walrus. Of course, the obvious ending would be Wendell getting a walrus. However, as I wrote along, a different ending came to mind. As soon as I wrote it, I knew it was the perfect ending with a whale of a twist.
Would Wendell get a walrus?
What do you think?
So, the next time you’re puzzling over a manuscript, think about your favorite picture book endings and why they work. Did they have an “unexpected, yet inevitable” ending with a twist? Then play around. You may not find the right ending right away. It may take time to sort through all the options that spring to mind at first. But keep at it. If you do, one day an author may be writing a blog about your book and its wonderful “unexpected, yet inevitable” ending with a twist.
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include If Wendell Had a Walrus, illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Matt Phelan (Henry Holt), Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury), illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion), a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. For more information about her books, teacher activities, critique service, events, and upcoming releases, visit her website at www.lorimortensen.com.
Guest Blog by Casey W. Robinson
I had the pleasure of meeting Casey at the NE-SCBWI conference as she was preparing for the release of her debut picture book, Iver & Ellsworth (Ripple Grove Press, 2018). Since then I’ve been to her launch and watched the buzz of her picture book grow. We are thrilled to have Casey join us to share the lessons she learned as she introduced her debut book to the world.
My debut picture book, Iver & Ellsworth (Ripple Grove Press), came out in May and I held two debut events to celebrate: a morning reading at the Harvard Coop Bookstore in Cambridge, MA followed by an afternoon book launch party at the Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, MA.
As exhilarating as it was to celebrate, I found the process of planning and anticipating these events to be a little daunting! For those of you who are looking forward to, or are in the midst of, planning your debut launch, I share some lessons learned.
I’M GLAD I …
I WISH I HAD …
When it was all over, I asked my daughters to tell me their favorite part of the weekend. I expected them to say “Cookies!” They said it was seeing me so happy. “You had your really big smile on all day long, mom.”
Don’t forget your book, your story, your day will also be special and significant to others who get to be a part of it. Whatever the format, whatever the size, mark this moment in time and celebrate together. HAVE FUN. You only get one debut!
24 Carrot Writing is beyond excited to announce that our blogging partner and co-founder, Annie Cronin Romano, will launch her debut picture book, Before You Sleep: A Bedtime Book of Gratitude, this Sunday, October 14, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. at the Silver Unicorn in Acton, MA.
We’ve been on the writing and publishing journey with Annie for over six years—none of us really knows when we came together, but it was long before 24 Carrot Writing was a thing. Since we convened as a writing support and goal-setting group, we have revised numerous drafts of picture books, magazine articles and MG and YA novels. We’ve deleted a few labors of love along the way, killed off a handful of darlings, and critiqued each other’s many drafts that appeared to us in rough or polished form—and everything in between. The four of us have amassed dozens of rejections individually and hundreds collectively.
Through all of this, Annie has been the model of persistence. Even though writing is the job of her heart, it is her second job. Despite a demanding day-job and juggling three teenagers’ schedules, Annie never stops writing. Her focus is laser-like when we have writing retreat days, and she continues to crank out at least one picture book manuscript a month. Her commitment to writing speaks of true passion.
Annie is also the Goddess of Boomeranging—that noble art of sending out a query quickly on the heels of rejection. On the rare occasion when Annie would be wounded by rejection and we worried she would cash in her chips, push back from the poker table and declare loudly and publicly that she had bet enough of her life’s time and energy on snagging the elusive publishing contract, she would find a ray of hope, cling to a hint of encouragement, tackle another revision, and fling another query out into the universe. Annie’s querying is relentless, and she does not wallow in despair. She painstakingly researches appropriate agents and editors and steadily sends out queries each month. And you won’t find a more organized submitter. Her tracking spreadsheets and detail of publisher data would put Sheldon Cooper’s string theory notes to shame.
If you were to take the time to go through the thread of Annie’s blogs on our website, you’ll find her journey…slogging through the emotionally-draining query trenches; balancing writing with social media when she was trying to establish her web presence; turning harsh critique into positive feedback; being happy and joyful about other people’s successes, but still wondering when her break might come; taking control of her goals, but then giving herself the gift of compassion when she couldn’t hit all the pedals from the demands of life, day-job , and writing.
It is because of all of those qualities that we find ourselves where we are today—announcing Annie’s debut picture book! (Before You Sleep is this week’s Book Pick.)
But over and above those wonderful attributes, Annie is our friend. So, yes—Yes!—we celebrate her publishing success and debut book, but we also raise a glass to honor what we love most about Annie—her bravery, her perseverance, her compassion, her kindness, her sense of humor, and her pluck.
From all of us at 24 Carrot Writing –
Francine, Kelly and Amanda
To celebrate October, and to whip our writing efforts into a productive fourth quarter frenzy, you are cordially invited to join us on
the 24 Carrot Writing Facebook page for our :
3rd Annual 24 Carrot
Writing Trick or Book Treat Party
Join the Writing Trick or Book Treat Party by sharing your favorite writing trick or tip, or treating your fellow writers to a book recommendation. Share your writing tip, or a recent children’s book that you have loved and/or used as a mentor text on our Facebook page.
When you share, we will enter you in our October 31 drawing for signed copies of children's literature. We are keeping most of our titles masked! But our picture book prizes include a signed copy of Alison Goldberg's I Love You For Miles and Miles and Jannie Ho's Bear and Chicken and our middle grade prize is a signed copy of Erin Dionne's Lights, Camera, Disaster!
You don’t need a costume, but you do need to be a part of our 24 Carrot Facebook group. If you haven't joined yet, what are you waiting for? You'll get a weekly Facebook update every time we post a new blog or book pick! To join, just click the green "Join Our Facebook Group" button on your right. Or you can find us on Facebook at 24 Carrot Writing.
Come join our Writing Trick or Book Treat Party!
Hosted by Kelly Carey
We are thrilled to welcome author Traci Sorell to 24 Carrot Writing. Traci’s debut picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA (Charlesbridge, 2018) received a starred review from Kirkus who called the book a “gracious, warm, and loving celebration of community and gratitude”. And more picture books are coming with AT THE MOUNTAIN BASE (Penguin/Kokila) in the fall of 2019 and POWWOW DAY (Charlesbridge) in the spring of 2020.
Join us as we talk with Traci about her path to publication, her debut picture book, the story of how she found her agent, and how her ancestry as a member of the Cherokee Nation and her search for accurate books about her heritage fueled her writing journey.
Welcome to 24 Carrot Writing, Traci!
Congratulations on your debut non-fiction picture book WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA (Charlesbridge, Fall 2018)! Writers find inspiration and motivation to write from a variety of places. You have commented that you were motivated to write your book because you were struggling to find contemporary and culturally accurate books about Cherokee and indigenous people to share with your son. Can you talk about how this search turned into a desire to become an author?
Wado (wah-doe)! “Thank you” in Cherokee. I am beyond thrilled for the publication of this book.
I have an extensive picture book collection with many featuring Native American Nations, their cultures and traditional stories. After I had read those to my son, I thought why aren’t there more books showing Cherokee and other indigenous people in modern life. I found some, but a small amount compared to those centering life pre-1900.
As a Native American Studies major in college, I most enjoyed studying history, law and politics of post-1900 life as experienced by Native Nations in the United States. After researching that there was plenty not told in children’s books (or textbooks for that matter), I realized I could be busy the rest of my life writing books and recruiting other Native creators to do the same.
Your first foray into writing began as the author of legal codes, testimony for Congressional hearings, federal budget requests and grants. Once you decided to write a contemporary Cherokee story, what helped you find your picture book voice and what skills did you borrow from your grant writing days?
I’m grateful for all the editing I received in my undergraduate, graduate and legal education. It helped my professional writing immensely. Writing starts out solitary, but ultimately it’s a collaborative process once it is to be shared with the world. The more trained eyes on a grant application, graduate thesis, legal code or brief and books for children, the better. I do a lot of self-editing before I give it to others to read, but my work always improves when great editors (critique partners, my agent, book editor) read it.
Also, I read a lot of picture books written in the last few years to learn what the market wanted. That helped me shape and edit my own voice to write sparse, lyrical text that sell in the marketplace. I benefitted from reading Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books and connecting with published authors in my local KS-MO chapter of SCBWI who provided solid critiques and guided to me beneficial workshops to further develop my voice and craft.
You have credited friends from graduate school and SCBWI for helping you find success in your writing journey. What is your networking advice to fellow authors?
Networking is critical in this business. I’m a firm believer in doing homework and research on your genre(s), who publishes what you write, who else writes what you write and, if appropriate, who illustrates what you write. Then follow those folks on social media. If there’s an opportunity to meet them in person, introduce yourself, ask about their work, and strike up a conversation.
It’s important to take time to make an authentic connection. There are so many generous people in this industry who will share their knowledge if you just ask. But don’t pester. Be respectful of their time and person. I would not be here without the support of others who have already established themselves in this industry. They helped me get the foundation I needed. Then I branched out from there to meet other creators across the nation.
You were blessed with multiple offers for representation and with multiple offers for your book. How did you decide which offers to accept?
I sold We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga to Charlesbridge from the slush pile, which means I submitted it unagented and unsolicited. Three of the ten publishers I submitted to in December 2015 expressed interest. One of them was waiting for my answer when Karen Boss, Associate Editor at Charlesbridge, called. Their intern had read my manuscript and put in on her desk in March 2016.
I had hoped that I would hear from them because they published Itse Selu: Cherokee Harvest Festival over twenty years ago. That picture book features Cherokee and English words in the text like my manuscript, and including the language is important to the story and to me personally. Charlesbridge still has that picture book in print, which also impressed me. I want We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga to have that kind of longevity and publisher support.
As for getting an agent, that process took longer. When I initially tried to query agents before and after that sale, I kept hearing, “Well, if you also want to write middle grade, get back in touch after you have a novel done.” I wanted someone to be enthusiastic about what stories I had ready to submit, which were all picture books, and not after my middle grade novel was ready. So I took a little time off. At the end of summer, I queried a few more agents. The universe must have shifted in the meantime as I received two offers of representation on the same day!
When I spoke with Emily Mitchell, Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency, I knew that we would be a good fit. Her prior background as a senior editor and contracts manager at Charlesbridge met my preferred criteria of a having an editorial agent. She reps fiction and nonfiction across all genres. Exactly what I was looking for! In October 2013, I heard Emily present at the Oklahoma SCBWI conference—the first writing conference I ever attended. I wasn’t ready though at that time to be the client she was looking for; but, by the time I queried her three years later, I felt that I was. We’re a good team, both of us know our roles in this partnership. I’m very grateful.
What do you wish to accomplish with WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA?
I have a couple of hopes. First, I hope that Cherokee children will enjoy seeing their contemporary culture reflected in the book and want to learn and do all the things featured in the book, including speaking our language (if they don’t already). For other children, I hope it provides them a window into a culture they may not be too familiar with because the Cherokee and other tribal nations are mostly invisible in modern U.S. culture. We’re still here, yet most children aren’t taught that we exist after 1900—either in their own homes or at school. I hope the book helps all children think about their cultures and teachings, whether that be about gratitude or some other value, and how cultivating those could be helpful to them in navigating daily life.
What is your dream for yourself as an author?
I have many dreams. First, I want to continue improving and deepening my craft in every book. I would like to publish a board book, a novel-in-verse, and a graphic novel in addition to my other current projects. I like the challenge of figuring out the puzzle—what is the best word, structure, or format to use. There are so many stories untold that I’ll be busy the rest of my life, working on these.
I also want to ensure that Native and other marginalized children in this country are no longer invisible and accurately represented in children’s literature. There are books published in this industry every year that have not done the work necessary to get it right. That needs to stop. It is incumbent upon everyone – writer, illustrator, editor, art director, sales, marketing, management – to examine what they are putting out in the world and asking if it is accurate, will this harm young readers, etc.
With my graduate and legal training, I’m used to having my work critically examined. I always consult experts and have sources for why I’ve written what I have, why the world was constructed, or characters formed this way, etc. regardless of whether it is fiction or nonfiction. My dream is to help raise awareness in this industry for other creators to have that same approach to both fiction and nonfiction works for children.
As a debut author, what have you found most rewarding and surprising about the experience?
So many things have been rewarding and surprising. It’s all new to me because I don’t have any professional writers in my family. I’ve been most surprised by how generous people have been in the industry. Several friends who write for adults tell me their side of the industry generally isn’t as supportive as it is in children’s literature. I’m glad I’m where I am.
Another rewarding aspect has been meeting fellow Native creators – writers and illustrators. It nourishes my soul. There really is a push to get more accurate books in the hands of children and teens, so I’m doing my part to recruit talented Native folks to work in the industry. I attend Kweli’s annual Color of Children’s Literature conference in New York City each spring. The conference brings together Native and POC writers and illustrators with agents and editors. Every year, the number of Native writers and illustrators attending grows. Most of us are from different tribal nations across the continent, so it’s great to get together. Usually it’s the only time many of us are in the same place. It’s magical.
How have you approached marketing your debut book? What lessons have you already learned?
I am grateful to be part of Epic Eighteen, a group of debut picture book authors and illustrators with books published in 2018. We have shared marketing tips, best deals for designing/purchasing book swag, and how to handle the logistics of marketing (soliciting interviews if necessary, referring each other to bloggers, etc.) when our main focus has been on our writing. This group has relieved a lot of my anxiety. I know there are also groups for debut novelists too. I would recommend being a part of such a group.
While it’s not always possible (financially or logistically), one of the things I did and highly recommend is to visit the publisher’s office in person. I went to Charlesbridge’s office in early April. I sat down separately with the marketing and the sales staff. We talked about what they were doing, what I should be doing, and I found I had a lot of information about potential sources for press release distribution or locations for sales that are pertinent to a Native American focused book that they did not have on their list. We also established a closer working relationship because we spent that time together.
I’d recommend at least trying to video conference with the staff so that you make that human connection. You’re all in the same community, working to make your book as marketable and successful as possible. So putting faces, names and personalities together is always a plus in my book. Ultimately though, you will be responsible for doing most of the legwork around marketing your book through social media, being interviewed on blogs, via radio, etc.
At 24 Carrot Writing we are big on goal setting. Do you set detailed writing goals, broad yearly goals or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I do set writing goals. I don’t have a daily word count or anything like that. But I do keep a list of projects that I’m working on with a timeline of when I want each completed and moving on the next phase, i.e., what needs to be drafted, what is being revised and what is on submission. Then, I also keep a list of what I want to write further down the road. Sometimes I want to write something, but my knowledge base or skill set isn’t there yet to tackle the genre. So those projects go on that last list.
I also have yearly goals. I’m learning to be gentler with myself because life intervenes a lot. I’m in the sandwich generation right now. My husband and I have a young son, and we also have parents that are needing more of our help. All of them are the priority over our careers. 2018 has been a particularly challenging year so far. I’m hopeful this upcoming book launch season will be a celebratory time, but I’ll also have time to get a few more projects out the door. Regardless of whether I hit my goals or not, the key for me is to keep the faith and create.
October is 24 Carrot Writing’s Trick or Book Treat Party. Would you like to celebrate with us by sharing your favorite writing trick or tip or treating your fellow writers to a book recommendation?
There are many books I would love to recommend, but Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams is one of my favorite picture books in 2018. The narrator is a Mixteco indigenous man from Mexico who comes to the United States after his father dies. He stays with his uncle and sends money back to his mother and siblings. I LOVE that this shows that so many undocumented people here are actually indigenous folks from elsewhere on the American continents! I haven’t seen that reality reflected in other picture books. Duncan tells a very accessible story for children about this man through the context of his workplace where he and his coworkers are exploited, his personal life and his growing empowerment to address the injustice. I just love it! Plus, the story is told via the Mixtec code format in an accordion style layout and concludes with a powerful Author’s Note. So beautiful. Get to your bookstore or library and check it out now.
What is up next for you?
With this debut book launch, I’ve got a lot of travel for book signings and school visits coming up this fall. I’m looking forward to spending time with children and sharing the book with them. This is what I’ve been looking forward to since I wrote the story.
On the publication front, since I’ve signed with Emily, we’ve sold two picture books and some shorter works (poems, chapters, short stories) in anthologies. In fall 2019, my first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva), will be published by Kokila, the newest imprint of Penguin Random House. Then in the spring of 2020, my second one, Powwow Day, illustrated by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee Creek) will be published by Charlesbridge. I’ve got several other projects in the works that I’m eager to share with the world when I can.
To learn more about Traci visit her website at www.tracisorell.com.
To purchase a copy of WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA click on the button below:
24 Carrot Writing is pleased to host Andrew Jenrich, Director of the Taft Public Library in Mendon, MA. All four of us have benefited from Andrew's comprehensive knowledge of the publishing industry, as well as his ability to place "just the right book" into our hands (as well as the many library patrons' hands!). We hope you'll find his perspective on what he's acquiring, and what he hopes to acquire in the future, helpful in your writing process.
Guest Post by Andrew Jenrich
As Director at the Taft Public Library one of the most rewarding tasks I have is developing the library’s book collection for children and young adults. That’s not to say it isn’t a daunting job, especially since so many new titles release weekly. If there is any frustration in the collection development work I do, it stems from the nagging feeling that I’ll forever be chasing the publishing game and will never quite catch up.
We are a smaller library and, since the shelf space in our library is limited, I realized long ago that I would need to be particularly selective about what winds up on our shelves. So, what determines the choices I ultimately make for our library? What catches my eye and peaks my interest enough to convince me to part with the library’s dollar? Those are interesting questions. I do know the criteria I use for evaluating a board book vs. a chapter book vs. upper-level juvenile fiction for purchase are different. There is no one method I employ. And there probably shouldn’t be. Audiences for each format vary and publishers have become very savvy about what appeals to different age groups. The challenge for me is in anticipating what our patrons will want of what does get published.
Some of the selection process is straightforward – series books for characters like Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, Pete the Cat, and Dog Man always circulate and they, along with series like Wimpy Kid, I Survived, and Spirit Animals take up a fair bit of space on the shelves. Add in books by renowned authors – your Rick Riordans, Mo Willemses, J.K. Rowlings, and Kate DiCamillos – and that’s a significant portion of the collection. But having those titles does not mean every interest of our library patrons has been met. There is still plenty of room for diversifying, for growing the collection beyond the core popular titles. Below is a synopsis of what I look for when selecting titles for the Children’s and Young Adult collections at our library. I’ve broken it down roughly by age group and, within each entry, I’ve tried to highlight some of the current trends I’m seeing and, where possible, pointed out the genres, subject matter, and storylines that seem too prevalent in some of these categories.
Board Books and Picture Books
I’m a fairly visual person so I admit that the first thing that draws me to a board or picture book are the illustrations. They don’t need to be a certain style. In fact the good news in publishing for the very young is that there are many styles illustrators can employ that work effectively. Sure there’s a bit of mimicry here and there, but there are plenty of illustrators whose style is unique and distinct. So, yes, I’m drawn to the illustrations. That said, there’s nothing more disappointing than a picture book which delivers on the illustrations but is weak on storyline and content. The words do matter. When I was a Children’s Librarian and hosted storytimes I have to say I gravitated to titles with less text (kids can only sit still for so long). The books I liked most in those situations were the ones that “brought the silly.” Mo Willems, Jules Feiffer, Jon Agee, and Jan Thomas were always a hit. If a book could bring the silly and convey a lesson, well, all the better. Some books with more text did work during storytimes (Tomie DePaolo’s Strega Nona and Michelle Knudsen’s Library Lion worked far better than I imagined, Marla Frazee’s books were great too), but those instances were rare.
What have I seen too much of in storybooks the last few years? Dragons, dinosaurs, princesses, penguins, mice, and bears. Don’t get me wrong, we still purchase titles with all of the above precisely because they circulate, but there’s entirely too much of it. And I do like anthropomorphism (Valeri Gorbachev and Peter Brown’s humanized animals are favorites of mine), but give me characters, animal or otherwise, I don’t normally see. Give me Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast, and Crayons that quit. I’ll likely take notice.
Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books
Some authors like Jan Thomas and Mo Willems have successfully moved into easy reader territory and we carry their titles. What’s nice is they continue to do work that isn’t text-heavy. I’ve found that text-heavy easy readers have a very limited appeal. If a child is looking for more text often they just move up to early chapter books like Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty series or Doreen Cronin’s Chicken Squad books. Illustrations still matter in easy readers and early chapter books. In fact more and more books from both these categories seem to be taking a cue from graphic novels incorporating full page panel layouts, word and thought bubbles and other comic book devices. Scholastics’ line of early chapter books called Branches does this very well. They’re intended as a bridge between leveled readers and regular chapter books. Kung Pow Chicken, Monkey and Me, and Owl Diaries are all Branches titles that kids gravitate to here at the library. There’s plenty of text, it’s just that it’s often presented in comic book format with splashy engaging illustrations.
What would I like to see more of in easy readers and early chapter books? I’d like to see more nonfiction easy readers and rebus readers where pictures occasionally take the place of common nouns throughout the story. Based on patron requests there’s a demand for both. I’d also like to see early chapter books with a bit more heft and content to them. The great thing about series like J.C Greenburg’s Andrew Lost or Osborne’s Magic Tree House is that you learn something in the process.
With Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and the Dork Diaries series you’re seeing hand-drawn diary and graphic novel techniques infiltrating juvenile (chapter book) fiction too. It’s clear publishers think kid culture is much more visual now and, based on readership of those series and others, it’s hard to argue they’re not right. We purchase all of the above and countless other series. Realistic fiction titles (school stories, family stories) seem to be on the increase due to the popularity of the Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries books. Most juvenile fiction series (and, believe me, publishers are obsessed with making everything into a series now) fall into the fantasy and adventure categories though. I loved the Harry Potter series but so many publishers started to roll out fantasy series during and after Harry hoping to “catch lightning in a bottle” that the result was a fair bit of forgettable fiction, though authors like Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull, and Pseudonymous Bosch capitalized. Bosch’s Secret series and Mull’s Fablehaven books are both very worthy and most everyone knows what a hit Percy Jackson has been with younger readers.
What’s lacking in juvenile fiction? I don’t think there are enough mystery and compelling historical fiction titles written for preteens. Every so often a series like I Survived stokes the imagination of young readers, but it doesn’t happen enough. More sports novels for girls would be helpful too. Mike Lupica, Tim Green, and John Feinstein write excellent sports novels, but they feature boy protagonists in male-dominated sports.
Young Adult Fiction
In my twelve years at the library no one area has grown so much as young adult fiction. The number of titles has grown and the category itself has matured. I think YA fiction suffered under the assumption that much of it was bleak and focused on hyper-dysfunctional families and relationships. There is a percentage of it that still does (and dysfunction provides drama), but I see authors taking more chances with genre now. Yes, YA literature had its vampire and werewolf phase (thanks Twilight) and it still clings desperately to its Hunger Games-inspired dystopias. Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds, and Neal Shusterman’s Arc of the Scythe series all mine this territory and do it fairly well. But I like when an author takes an even bigger chance like Ryan Graudin does in Wolf by Wolf and its sequel Blood for Blood, novels that take place in Nazi Germany and feature a girl protagonist who is also a shape-shifter intent on assassinating Hitler. It sounds like a lot to swallow, and it is, but Graudin pulls it off beautifully. If an author is going to imagine an alternate world I like it when they go all in. Thankfully more of that is happening.
There is still plenty of room, of course, for realistic and topical teen fiction. I’ve been happy to see more teen mystery and suspense titles recently and it’s nice when historical fiction series like Laurie Halse Anderson Seeds of America books receive recognition and a devoted readership. I’ve also been particularly pleased that recent multicultural titles like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone have found a wider audience.
In truth there is so much good stuff out there now for children and teens to enjoy. Some of the best work being done right now across the juvenile and teen book landscape is in graphic novels. Shaun Tan, Gene Luen Yang, Raina Telgemeier, Noelle Stevenson – I could go on ad nauseum about the brilliant work they’re doing. Perhaps another time.
Right now I have orders to place, so if I could kindly ask that publishers sit back and take a short break? I really need to catch up!
The Taft Public Library is located at 29 North Avenue in Mendon, MA.
By Anna Crowley Redding
My fourth-grade science classroom is burned into my memory. If I close my eyes, I can still see the glass aquariums in the back of the room that held soon-to-be-hatched snake eggs, turtles, and mice. Adorning the perimeter of the room? The steps to the scientific method. On the board? A parade of brainy topics from the Sputnik to Dr. Jarvik and the artificial heart. The highlight of the year? Walking into the classroom to find the desks have been pushed together, are covered with trash bags and newsprint to accommodate what our teacher picked up from the butcher: a set of bonafide cow lungs. We will all take turns blowing into them to investigate how this organ works in humans. (Tip: If you blow into the wind pipe to inflate the lungs, close your mouth quickly ‘cus what goes in the lung, comes out––only with a new lung-y taste and smell.) It was a time of wonder and first touch with meaningful scientific inquiry. It was an amazing experience.
What I don’t remember from that time? Our textbooks or any science-based picture books. And for good reason. All of the joy of hands-on learning, the pull of a magnetic intellectual journey died in our books. And this was no fault of my marvelous teacher. By and large most nonfiction texts of that day were boring, caught in the trap of regurgitating facts.
Luckily, that is no longer the case and thank goodness! Today’s nonfiction books are at turns poignant, jubilant, and fascinating––written with a hook that leaves the reader wanting to go deeper into any topic, whether science, history, social studies, math, art, etc. Not only is this an obvious win for students and young readers but this is a win for writers, too, freed from outdated misconceptions of what nonfiction must look like. Yay!
So, as a nonfiction writer where do you begin? Here’s some advice that people have given me along the way that’s made all the difference.
When I was a TV news intern in Boston, a more seasoned reporter said to me, "When you are going around in life or learning about something, and you have that thought: ‘OH! I never knew that!’––train yourself to listen to that thought, because you are not alone."
That’s tip #1 – If you hear these thoughts-- “Oh, that’s cool!” or “Gee, I never knew that.” STOP what you are doing, write it down. Write down that cool thing. NOW, look at your paper. You have a story idea! Woohoo.
Well, I learned how to answer ‘Now what?’ from one of my college professors. I took his class as an elective, because I wanted to understand how public policy was made, so that as a reporter, I would recognize flaws. That professor was none other than Governor Michael Dukakis. To this day, he is one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to (and one of the most committed to helping young people learn and become public servants).
Listening to his process, I realized it applied not only to public policy, but also to reporting and storytelling. Let’s run through it. Tip #2 is Do as Dukakis Does!
Step 1 – Take out three sheets of paper. Label the first one “history and background.” So, you have your idea. Put on your investigative hat and start jotting down bullet points that go deeper. Is your story idea about Albert Einstein’s childhood? Find out the important dates. What else was happening in the world then? What were other kids of the day like?
Is your topic cannibalistic insects? List them. When were they discovered? What are the facts, as you dive in, that still have you saying “oh, I never knew that!” List them.
Fill your page with facts!
Step 2 – Grab your second sheet of paper. Label it “Key People/Sources.” Now you are going to list off all the people you and the Google search engine can think of, who might be an expert on your topic or be able to point you to an expert. I say ‘people’ but it can also be museums, websites, books. If your story is about crop-killing bugs, you’ll want to make sure you have farmers on the list. If your story is about the Titanic, you’ll want to read first-hand accounts from survivors. If you are writing about Mars, NASA’s website might be helpful. Brainstorm who you need to talk to, places you need to visit, websites to read, books to check out, etc. Fill the page!
Step 3 – Grab that last sheet of paper and write “Connect.” Working from your “Key People/Sources” page, list all the people or places you are going to call, visit, e-mail. This is a working list so you can check them off as you go along. And as they suggest other important contacts or sources, you can keep adding to the lists.
Wait, that’s a lot of work. What’s the point?
It helps you get your arms around your story idea and research quickly and comprehensively, adding structure to the process.
So, you have a ton of information. Now, what?!
Tip #3 – Find Your Hook
Now, you need to think about your hook! In that mountain of research, what really got your attention? What do you find yourself thinking back on over and over again? When I was in journalism school, this little sentence was offered as an exercise to find the hook. Here’s the cleaned-up version:
“HOLY MOLY! I just found out that . . . !”
When you complete that sentence, you know what your hook is.
Sometimes your first paragraph is centered around your hook. But sometimes you need to set it up. To understand which group your story idea fits in to, break your story down into moments. If your story is about a person, typically the moments of their life start with 1) potential 2) effort 3) setback 4) growth 5) another setback and repeats like this until 6) Eureka! Breakthrough. This is a similar story arc to fictional stories.
If your topic is about science or math, it may too have this arc, or you might be organizing ideas together in a way that tells a story.
Tip #4- Play story time leader!
But imagine this, you are sitting in a rocking chair at story time, and you begin to talk to the wide-eyed, riveted children seated at your feet. They want to hear all about your book. Using your very best story time voice, where do you naturally begin? Full disclosure: This particular author is not above grabbing stuffed animals and acting out this scenario. It helps.
Even when you are writing for middle schoolers and young adults, you still have to tell a story.
Wait! I just realized . . . you came up with a story idea, researched it, and figured out where to start and what your hook is! I guess we better end here so you can get busy writing, because we want to read your book!
In the meantime, I am hoping in my time machine to drop off some books to my fourth-grade classroom. I think I’ll take …
Terrific Tongues by Maria Gianferri, Volcano Dreams: A Story of Yellowstone by Janet Fox, Two Truths and a Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson.
Before diving into the deep end of writing for children, Anna Crowley Redding was as an Emmy-award winning investigative reporter, TV anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Anna now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for younger readers―which, as it turns out, is her true passion. Her book, Google It: A History of Google, is available now in a bookstore near you.
To learn more, visit Anna's website at https://annacrowleyredding.com/
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