Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Skiing Taught Me About Writing

With the mounds of snow right outside my door, I've been doing a lot of cross country skiing lately. It's peaceful, shushing through the silent hills. There's no houses. No people. I do keep an eye out for cougars but usually only see mouse and rabbit tracks or an occasional coyote or deer trail.

The thing about cross country skiing is, if you want to go down hill, you have to go uphill. That's right, ski uphill. There's a slight downhill trail I take from my house but it's only a matter of time before I have to make my way back up again. It's hard work. Sometimes you slide backwards. Sometimes shoulders ache from all the pushing, your legs tire from the strain.

I started out skiing as a baby in a backpack my mom wore when she downhill skiied. (Yes, that sounds horrifyingly dangerous but I survived.) Anyhow, suffice it to say that I love going downhill so I'm willing to put the work in to get up that hill for a quick ride back down.

When I'm going uphill, I rarely look up at my destination. It's too steep. Too far. I'll tell myself that I'll never make it. If I keep my eyes on the path ahead of me and keep moving forward, little by little, I can surprise myself with how quickly I make it to my destination.

Cross country skiing is a lot like writing in a way. Writing a picture book is enough of a mountain to ski up. I find it overwhelming to think that I have to write around 50,000 words to complete this young adult novel I'm working on. Then there's the revising. The editing. I may as well try to ski up Mt. Everest.

Fortunately, cross country skiing has taught me something. If I just to keep my head down, worry about the next word, the next sentence ahead. If I just keep moving, I can get a lot further than I think.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Unread Takes a Vacation

Due to holidays and illnesses and that sort of thing, The Unread is going to take a December break but will return on January 20th. Woohoo!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Christmas List

Christmas books are so fun to read throughout the month of December. Kid's minds are already swirling with possibilities of what is and what could be. There are lots of great Christmas books to choose from. Here's are some of the ones I read over and over again every season:

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SPACE CASE by James Marshall. This book was published in 1986(Dial BFYR) and it's just as fun today as it ever was. Buddy McGee's friend from outer space is coming to visit for Christmas, but if Space Case doesn't get there in time things could get ugly with the spoiled rotten Goober twins from next door. I want to tell you my favorite part of this story but I don't want to give it away so you'll just have to read it yourself. Suffice it to say, my boys absolutely love this book!

AUNTIE CLAUS by Elise Primavera is a newer classic--geez, it was published in 1999(Harcourt, Inc.). Time has apparently whizzed by me with this one. I remember when it came out! Okay, enough about me getting old. So, if you don't know, Santa Claus has a fabulous sister who lives in New York. Every year she goes on a mysterious business trip from Halloween until Valentine's Day. Sophie decides she is going to find out exactly what sort of business Auntie Claus is in, so she sneaks into Auntie Claus' luggage. Sophie has quite an adventure in the North Pole and when she finally meets up with Auntie Claus again she is able to figure out the meaning of Christmas. Yes, those Kringle kids are a little bit spoiled.

I'm sure I don't even need to tell you about HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS by Dr. Seuss(Random House, 1957). I will tell you that the Grinch is pretty scary to my littlest person, and he really doesn't like that the Grinch is so mean to his dog. But since the Grinch redeems himself at the end, it's an emotional roller coaster my little one likes to ride.

SANTA'S FAVORITE STORY by Hisako Aoki and Ivan Gantschev (Neugebauer Press USA, 1982) is a sweet story about the reason for the season. The animals find Santa in the forest and when they are afraid there won't be a Christmas, Santa tells them the story of a child born long ago in Bethlehem. The animals realize they were silly to think that Christmas was only about presents and they all go to Santa's to help him get ready to deliver presents because Santa is reminded of how fun his job really is. The illustrations in this book are absolutely gorgeous!

SNOWMEN AT CHRISTMAS written by Caralyn Bueher, illustrated by Mark Bueher (Dial BFYR, 2005) is a fun story about snowmen sneaking off to have a spectacular Christmas party in the park on Christmas Eve. It's fun to imagine all the snowpeople in town getting together to have a party and Mark Bueher's illustrations really bring the snow party to life.

I've saved my favorite book for last. I find this book to be pretty much perfect. PETER CLAUS AND THE NAUGHTY LIST is written by Lawrence David and illustrated by Delphine Durand (Doubleday BFYR, 2001). Peter is Santa's kid and he is on the naughty list--again. He feels bad for all the kids on the naughty list because he knows how it feels to have no presents under the tree on Christmas morning, so he decides to do something about it. Peter sneaks out with the reindeer and collects all the naughty kids because he thinks Santa needs to find out why they did naughty things before he decides they get no presents. The reasons the kids share for being on the naughty list are humorous. The things they say they will do to make up for the naughty thing they did are sweet. The illustrations are quirky and adorable. And there are some great lines in this book including, "I don't remember being bad this year." The answer,"Nobody ever does." Peter manages to save Christmas for the naughty kids and himself while making his dad, Santa, quite proud. Like Santa says, "All people do naughty things once in a while. It can't be helped."

What are your favorite holiday books? I want to know so I can check them out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A New Adventure...

A class of third graders read my book, Chocolate, A Library Adventure, and wrote a sequel of their own. Isn't that cool! It's great to know that my book inspired kids to come up with stories of their own. Click here to see the newspaper article.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I took part in Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month in November. The challenge was to come up with thirty picture book ideas in thirty days. Sure, I can come up with picture book ideas but many times... I ignore them. Hey, I'm busy. I have other books I'm writing. I don't have to write every idea down. (Yes, I have lots of excuses.)

But wait, writing as many ideas down as possible is a great idea! This month I took my notebook with me everywhere I went. Whenever and wherever an idea started to form, I wrote it down. I realized that I get a lot of ideas when I'm driving by myself in the car. These ideas usually get forgotten by the time I get home, but not this month. I stopped for every idea, got my notebook out, and wrote it down. (This is pretty easy for me since I live on a dirt road where I don't even have to pull over since there's nobody else around.)

So yeah, I came up with 32 picture book ideas. I'm sure most of them stink, but since I was just writing down snippets of story instead of trying to write an entire thing I didn't feel pressured. I was just in it for the ideas this month while I worked on my YA, and it was fun!

I also got another feature idea for my blog that I'll hopefully find the time to fit in in 2010, (as you may have noticed I've been neglecting this poor blog a bit lately. I've been putting all my spare time into my YA.) and two YA sequel idea outlines written up during all my idea pondering. I don't know that I'll ever need those, but it's nice to know that I can come up with some ideas to flesh out.

Picture Book Idea Month taught me that if I diligently keep a notebook with me at all times I can get more things written whether they be titles, ideas, pieces of conversation, names, or playlists for my characters. (Another added bonus of my PiBoIdMo dedication this year, my YA characters have playlists and I wrote down lots of conversation I came up with while in the car.)

So, HIP HIP HOORAY! for Tara Lazar and Picture Book Idea Month!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Retold Tales

Retold Tales are fun! Most of us are familiar with classic stories and nursery rhymes, but even if we're not, new twists and retelling can be great reads. I especially love them for storytime. I went searching for retold tales on my library shelves. Here's what I found and put on display:

Hush Little Dragon written by Boni Ashburn and Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. A mother dragon soothes her baby by singing him a rhyme. A fiendishly fun play on the Hush Little Baby lullaby, this mama dragon sings about snacks of the royal kind.

Young MacDonald by David Milgram in which Young MacDonald creates all sorts of mixed-up animals on the farm while the Old MacDonalds are away. He's got to set thing straight before the Old MacDonalds, aka his parents, get home.

Goldie and the Three Bears written and illustrated by Diane Stanley. Goldie can't seem to find a friend that is just right, until she happens upon Bear's house. Both the illustrations and the story are very sweet.

The Famous Adventures of a Bird-Brained Hen is written and illustrated by Jessica Souhami. It's a simple retelling of Henny Penny's story with colorful collage illustrations.

The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey. This book takes a couple of characters from the classic nursery rhyme. It's great fun. The Dish and the Spoon run away together and become vaudeville stars, of course, there is some trouble along the way.

Tom Thumb retold and illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson is a beautiful book. Mr. Watson's amazing illustrations alone make it a must read. There is so much detail! I actually have a signed copy of this book from when Mr. Watson visited our library. In it he drew a big beautiful lion for my son(amazingly quickly I might add). It's a book that we treasure.

Bubba the Cowboy Prince: A Fractured Texas Tale by Helen Ketteman and illustrated by James Warhola. Bubba is the "Cinderella" of this tale. He's the stepson of a wicked rancher and has some really mean stepbrothers and the fairy godmother is a cow. This is one of my absolute favorite stories. The voice is spot on. It'll have you talking like a cowboy in no time.

I'd love to know what your favorite retold tales are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Lisha Cauthen

This month I used my wonder twin powers to transform Lisha Cauthen into a person who would let me ask her tons of questions and take an actual real life picture of herself so it could be posted on my blog. Didn't you know? Lisha is my twin. But watch out she's my evil twin and things may get, well, evil. Luckily she's evil in a Doofensmirtz kind of way. What? You don't know who Heinz Doofensmirtz is? Shame on you. He does evil stuff like try to move Big Ben to the Tri-State area so he doesn't have to go shopping for a wrist watch. Yup, that's the kind of evil twin I have. Here, see for yourself:

Okay Lisha, how long have you been writing, and why in the world would you want to do such a thing?

Really? Does anybody give a rat’s patootie how long I’ve been writing? The pathetic answer is: I wrote, illustrated and submitted a picture book when I was 12, which was (mumble) years ago. That’s when we literally banged our words out on manual typewriters--the ones where you had to slap the carriage back with your bare hand. And we used carbon paper. Yes my dears, dinosaurs roamed the land, and the Earth’s crust wasn’t quite solid yet.

Would you believe several of those editors answered me? I wish I still had those letters. I made half-hearted stabs at writing over the years as I raised my kids and did all the stuff you’ve got to do in life. But when the nest began to empty and I started to have time to think about what I wanted to do, I ran across a flyer for an SCBWI conference. I figured after years of supporting everybody else’s dreams, it was my turn, baby. (Cue inspirational, slightly defiant music. Mike Jung could probably help us out here.)

What kinds of stories do you write?

Heh. You kind of caught me. If you go to my blog or read The Sunflower Scoop or read my article on the ICL website or articles in the In The Wind KSCBWI newsletter or follow me on Twitter or meet me in a bar, you might assume I write humor. I don’t.

I write older YA. Geez, let’s not argue about whether “older” YA is a genre. I write “edgy” YA for boys that girls like to read too. With an unflinching point of view. I am not gratuitous, but I am honest. If the story needs a naughty word, one will be provided for you. If sex is called for, it will happen. But it will not be porn. Violence where conditions warrant. I belong to several excellent critique groups, and they have helped me see that a lot of the stuff you think you read in my WIP isn’t really on the page. It’s only hinted at—you make the rest up in your head.

Good job.

Of course, there’s some humor in my writing, just like there’s humor in every-day life. If there wasn’t, I doubt you’d make it to the last page in one piece.

Do you want to tell us what you’re working on now?

Tell me, has anyone said “no” to this question? What would you do, if they did? Leave a big blank space? Or has anyone misunderstood the question, and said, “Well, Heather, I’m painting my toenails a lovely shade of periwinkle.” Or maybe you’ve had a real smart aleck who said, “Working on right now? These questions!” I bet Mike Jung said that. Because I was really tempted to say that.

I am about to wrap up an urban paranormal YA I’ve got going. Boy point of view. I think this is the one. I have some interest generated from first page critiques at our KSCBWI conference. My critique buddies think this MS is light-years ahead of what I’ve done before, and I agree.

(Okay smartypants, Mike Jung, he knew what I was talking about because he's one of my peeps. Anyway, I'm just trying to toughen you all up for the real world of ambiguous questions when you get famous.)

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What part of writing do you enjoy most?

The hardest part about writing is getting off Twitter. No question. Second hardest: convincing all non-writers that I AM WORKING WHEN I AM WRITING. THIS IS MY JOB. MY JOB IS AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR JOB.

I love writing when you are totally in the zone, and you are living the story, and everything else falls away. It’s like channeling, I suppose. Your fingers tippity-type away at the vision while you live it in real-time. Then you kind of “come to” and it’s been 3 hours.

Now that’s writing.

So, how many manuscripts have you written and what have you done with them? Do you have a submission strategy?

OMG. This is like True Confessions of the Shamefully Unpublished. Fine, Heather, just…. Fine.

This will be my fourth finished MS. The first was a woefully painful picture book manuscript, a hilariously awful rhyming little ditty about a boy who redecorates his room. (Please! No more rubber hose, Heather! I’ve told you everything I know!)

The second was a first-love, love story. A genre that I am wholly unsuited to write. But I must say I am still fond of those characters. It was the first novel I wrote, and it was a great accomplishment to put together a coherent story and finish it. I boxed it up with all its permutations and there it stays. I heartily recommend that everybody start with such a book, and go so over-the-top you get a nosebleed. When you speak of it, and you will, you will remember your first writing attempt with kindness.

The third was a fantasy YA that I submitted to about 20 agents and got some good feedback. It has its flaws, however. I have withdrawn it from consideration, and have several ideas for revision. I intend to totally revamp it after marketing my current MS. That’s the thing about writing. You’re always getting better, if you’re doing it right.

I saw Kate DiCamillo this summer, and she said she never read her own books after they were published, because she found too many things she wanted to go back and fix!

(Thank you. I will put away the hose now.)

I know you’re daring. How far would you go to get your book published?

Did you all see how she slipped that little “I know you’re daring” thing in there? Goading me to be outrageous, just to sell blogs?

Well, it worked.

I would take candy from a baby.
I would eat green eggs and ham.
I would marry Edward. No, wait a minute. Some things even I won’t do. Jacob. I’d marry Jacob.
I would spend an inordinate time trying to overthrow #mikesempire @lishacauthen on Twitter.
I would perform a haunting rendition of “Proud Mary” on the nose whistle.
I would bungee jump, if I retained all foreign rights.

(You are soooo easy.)

You are the editor of the very informative Kansas Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (KSCBWI) weekly newsletter: Sunflower Scoop. How do you manage to keep so on top of the writing world?

I could tell you, but then there would be this big tornado, you would age 30 years, and you would become the new Guardian of the Sunflower Scoop. Is that really what you want? I don’t think so.

It’s just a lot easier to subscribe. Free to any SCBWI member, $5 a YEAR if you’re not.

You’re also on the KSCBWI Advisory Committee, how has being such a big part of your local SCBWI chapter helped you?

Okay, I’ll try to get through this part without sobbing like a baby.

Believe it or not, I am by nature a shy person.


I had to go to two conferences before I had the nerve to go to a smaller gathering where I would have to (gasp!) talk to someone. At a workshop Sue Ford, the Kansas regional advisor, announced that they were looking for someone to do the weekly e-letter. Having working in PTA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, I know that the way to get to know people is VOLUNTEER TO DO SOMETHING. So I raised my trembling hand.

Sue very kindly showed me how to do all the technical stuff and set me up for success.

Doing the newsletter put me on The Committee.

Which means I met people.

And I have made some dear, dear friends.


All these friends are writers, who talk about writing. One of us might come across a tidbit about an agent that will help someone else market a MS. Or we help each other work out plot points, or even role-play dialogue. You can’t do this stuff with normal people. I remember one day Sue Ford, Jenn Bailey and I sat around for 15 minutes discussing the sound a dryer would make if you stood on it and the metal depressed, then you got off and the metal sprang back. Who else talks about stuff like this?

There are perks that come with being behind the scenes. When you put together conferences, you are naturally going to have more time with the editors and agents who come to those conferences. Who do you think drives them to and from the airport and their hotels? Takes them to dinner?

I have made a few presentations, one of which was in front of Bruce Coville! The other presentation turned into my ICL article.

I could go on and on, but I think I already have. SCBWI, Rah! Sue Ford, Regional Advisor, Maximus.

(I have tears.)

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. You’re also a member of Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens as well as several other critique groups! Are you superwoman? Do you ever sleep?

Hey. I can’t live by your rules, man.

Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens is a group whose roots go back to 1967. It is a loose consortium of kidlit writers.

The main critique group meets Wednesday mornings, which is how I got involved. Lots of books coming out of that group. (Elizabeth C. Bunce…A Curse Dark as Gold, anyone?) (And by the way, she is delightful, self-effacing, and talks pretty much the way she writes.)

I also head a monthly YA critique group that we had to close to new members…you get to a saturation point. It’s an interesting mix of newbies to on-the-vergers. But don’t ever turn your nose up at a newbie, writers. They may tell you three things about your MS that make you nod politely, but the fourth thing might knock you right on your ass. New does not = dumb.

I bow to your complete dedication to the kidlit writing lifestyle. Do you have any advice for those of us who aren’t such a big part of the publishing world as you?

Ummm…. maybe you aren’t as weak-willed as I am. I’ve got to surround myself with motivation, or I start to wilt and feel like publication is an impossible goal, attained only by the lottery winners of the literary world.

If you are a fellow-wilter, one way to stay motivated is to read books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Get connected online at The Blue Boards. It’s a very knowledgeable and supportive community.

If there’s any way you can finagle it, a critique group makes a huge difference in how fast your writing will improve.

All right, I have to know, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Wowzer. This is a toughie. Do I get editing privileges? And can I choose which character I am? Because if you’re in Gone With the Wind, it’s a hell of a lot cooler to be the often-married and land-on-her-feet Katie Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler than the pale, doomed, Melanie Hamilton Wilkes.

Alex, I’m going to have to go with Swiss Family Robinson. Does anybody read this book anymore? I know it’s rather stilted for today’s readers, but God, I loved this book. I probably read it three dozen times when I was a kid. Shipwrecked! Tigers! Pirates! My fantasy writer’s cottage is still a treehouse.

But then, you knew it would be something weird like that, didn’t you?

Yes I did.

Thank you Lisha for letting me torture you today. It was quite enjoyable. Besides all the amazing things Lisha does, she has a blog too, The Imaginal Realm. We should all go over there and give her a hard time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Things

Today my first ever guest blog post is up over at Tara Lazar's blog. It's a little something about finding inspiration for Picture Book Idea Month. You can pop over there if you want to take a peek.

As far as my progress goes for PiBoIdMo, I've got nineteen little outlines/titles/ideas so far. I'm learning how to be more disciplined about writing my ideas down. Usually I'll have an idea and WANT to write it down. I'll really MEAN to write it down. Then, other things happen and I get distracted. By the time I get around to finding a piece of paper and a pen and a moment to think, the idea is long gone no matter how hard I wrack my brain trying to remember it. This month I haven't gone anywhere without my notebook and pen. I've even stopped on the road to write ideas down. (I can do that because it's a dirt road and like nobody ever drives on it. Convenient.) I'm writing things down right when I think of them. Then I still have them when I have time to work on them in earnest. Imagine that!

A little something else, Wendy Martin posted a great interview with Bonnie Adamson. She's illustrating Bedtime Monster. Our book comes out next year. It was fun to read about her process and to hear a tiny bit of news about our book. She says she's finishing up the illustrations. Yippee!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'm a Cool Dork

I split my shift at work the other day so I could go to my little guy's award ceremony at school. Of course, I jumped out of my car and raced into school to make sure I wasn't late. It was snowing that day, so I had my scarf wrapped around my neck.

My little guy's class came down the hall. I met my guy and walked into the gym with him and we sat down. We were talking while we were waiting for things to begin, and I took off my scarf.

Suddenly he looked embarrassed. When I asked him what was wrong he pointed to my name tag which I had forgotten to take off. "It's okay," I said, "I'm cool. I work at the library."

"I know," he said. But he still wanted me to take off the name tag.

It's good to know my little guy thinks librarians are cool. Name tags, though, are way dorky.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How I Write--sorry trees

When I write a story I always write it out longhand first. More times than not a story starts as a scribble on the back of a receipt, a napkin, or random piece of paper I happen to find laying around. Later I write the story out onto some honest to goodness lined paper (or the back of another manuscript, which can get confusing.) After I've written and crossed out and drawn little doodles all over the handwritten story and can barely decipher it anymore I finally break down and type it up.

Of course, I'm not finished yet. I'm not a writer with the super human ability to write things once and be done with them. Not by a long shot. I print the story out. Then come more lines and scribbles and lots of arrows, and circles, and, unfortunately, more doodles(doodles mean I'm procrastinating.) Once the manuscript gets too messy, again, I type up the edits. This process can go on indefinitely depending on how the story is working and how incessantly picky I am.

And do I throw any of these doodled up papers away once they're typed up? Of course not! You never know, I might need something I wrote on one of the pages(you did see that I write new stories on the back of old manuscripts, didn't you?) Inevitably I end up with a huge amount of papers for each story which I file away in my trusty filing cabinet named Ralph--you never know, he could throw up a good idea at any time--bah dump dum.

Now that I'm working on my YA I'm feeling like I need to do something different. I'm still writing longhand for the most part. I'm still printing things out after I revise and am re-revising them over and over again. I am still still writing other things on the backs of my manuscript pages. *sigh.

I don't think I can possibly keep all these pages. Ralph will have to get a new friend just to hold all the copies.(I could name him Chuck. I'll have to put him up on Ralph.) Or maybe this is a time to start doing things differently. Do I really need all those old pages after I've revised them?

Today I started a notebook just for my YA. I don't ever do this(Maybe I was inspired my the shiny new notebook I wrote PiBoIdMo on. I've only written a few non-picture book ideas in that one.) My notebooks tend to be a free for all with whatever idea I have at any given moment mingling with old stories and ideas. Instead of writing random thoughts on the manuscript pages I'm going to put them in the notebook. Okay, I might still put them on the manuscript while I'm working, but I'll transfer them to the notebook. Really. I will!

I've also made some documents on my computer to save the scenes I cut. I think I can be organized and not have to go through reams of paper to find some thought I had way back on printout number 23. I've got pages, and chapters, and am experiencing new printer problems I've never had to deal with. I've written other longish works, but this one dares to plan on being the longest to date. It definitely is going to take a new plan, and unfortunately, quite a bit of paper. I will have to plant a tree just for this story.

So I'm wondering, how do you deal with your manuscripts? You're probably much more organized than I am.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No No Nano

I was tempted, like I am every year, to do NaNoWriMo. It was especially tempting this year as I'm finally writing my YA novel in earnest. I could get it all done. Get those words out on the page. That's what NaNoWriMo is all about. Write now, edit later. Blah blah bladitty blah blah.<---Yes, that is what I would have to show for my month long stressful writing frenzy. It just doesn't seem worth it. Besides, I found something that I can really get into: PiBoIdMo.

Yes, I'm writing a YA, but I'm really a picture book writer at heart. I've even been missing my picture book writing as I plug away at this very long book in which I wonder if I even know what I'm doing. Picture Book Idea Month is perfect. Thrity new picture book ideas in thrity days. I can write my novel and keep coming up with new picture books ideas. For some reason I had separated the two in my mind; I'm working on my novel, I have to miss my picture books. No more!

I've got a shiny new notebook and a spunky green pen. I'm going to fill that notebook with picture book ideas. No title is too daring. No concept is too silly. No line is too whacked. I find inspiration everywhere, but this month I've got my eyes open just a little wider. I'm thinking about ideas just a little more. Maybe I'll veer from my YA path here and there, but it was bound to happen anyway. I told ya, I'm a picture book writer.

It's not too late! You can do PiBoWriMo too. Make it your own. The "rules" are flexible. Frolic on over to Tara Lazar's blog for a month full of inspiration and tips. I'll even be doing my first guest blog post ever later in the month. Yahoo!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween Favorites!

Halloween gives us all a chance to dress up and be something else. Picture books create a world of their own full of imagery whisking us away to a different place. Picture books and Halloween seem to just go together. There are some great Halloween books that I love, and read every year. Here's the books I've been reading, over and over again, all month.

John Pig's Halloween written by Jan L. Waldron, illustrated by David McPhail is about poor little John Pig being too scared to go out to trick-or-treat with the rest of the piggies, so, he stays home. He expects a sad and lonely night, until a witch shows up at the door and shows John how to really party on Halloween. She sets him straight right quick. She doesn't want candy! John, the witch, and her cat, whip up some monstrously good food just in time for a crowd of monsters to arrive and party down. The story is written in rhyme and has such sweet illustrations. I love that real monsters don't eat candy, and the book has provided me with one of my favorite quotes, "You need savory snacks that real monsters can eat." I love it!

Bella Legrossi is messy. Boris Kleanitoff is extremely tidy. They don't make for good neighbors. They don't even like each other... until they dance. This is a great story about giving people a chance, even though they are different than ourselves. As we all know, opposites attract.

I so wish I had clothes like Boris and Bella wear so my husband and I could be them every year. I've always wanted green hair, and I am quite like Bella, so I could be messy all day and have an excuse! Boris and Bella is written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by Gris Grimly.

A Creepy Countdown is simply lovely. It's a fun little counting book, with a funny twist. Pus, it's a counting book that I can actually get my little guy to read with me. He has the best learning radar I've ever experienced. If there is any teaching whatsoever involved in a book, he's out. A Creepy Countdown isn't teach-y. Charlotte Huck has written the story so that it's just fun that happens to have numbers in it. It's the black ink on scratchboard illustrations done by Jos. A. Smith that I adore. They're just beautiful. The art in this book has inspired a story or two that I've written.

In Big Pumpkin, witch has grown a pumpkin so big she can't even get it off the vine. She seems to want the pumpkin all to herself because when others offer to help she's a bit resistant, witchy even. She tells them all,"It's big and it's mine but it's stuck on the vine." But, she wants pumpkin pie so bad, she reluctantly lets some others help. Funny how the smallest guy has the best idea. It's all about teamwork! Warning: me and my little guy played "It's big and it's mine but it's stuck on the vine," at the pumpkin patch. He pulled the pumpkin, I pulled him, he bopped me in the jaw, I saw stars. Luckily it works out alot better in the book. They even get pumpkin pie. Hey! I didn't get any pumpkin pie! Not fair. Big Pumpkin is written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by S.D. Schindler.

This is Simon Lester Henry Strauss, he's not afraid of this haunted house, and he's funny! There's loads of spooky stuff in this book, but Simon Lester Henry Strauss isn't afraid of any of it. He's so darn brave, which makes the ending all the more hilarious. My little guy laughs every time. This may be the book that inspired him to eat a spider, actually, but hey, he was fine. Everyone should try eating a spider once I suppose. Everyone... except me. I'm Not Afraid of This Haunted House is written by Laurie Friedman and illustrated by Teresa Murfin.

Snitched! This 800-year-old man's pumpkin has been snitched! Who would do such a thing to such an old man? There's some snarky characters in this book, The Vanishing Pumpkin, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. It's pretty darn funny. I love the rapscallion. I love the sassy old man. I love pumpkin pie--this is my third book on the list that has pumpkin pie in it. Think I can talk the kids into eating pumpkin pie instead of candy this Halloween? No, didn't think so.

Hic! Skeleton has the hic! hiccups. There's only one hic! thing that can hic! scare his hiccups away. Can you hic! guess what it is? Hic! Skeleton Hiccups is written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by S.D. Schindler.

My little guy absolutely loves this book by Dave Horowitz, about the poor, Ugly Pumpkin. It's sad when the others treat the ugly pumpkin mean and we do feel very sorry for him, especially when he cries, "I am the Ugly Pumpkin!" in huge letters that cover the entire page. But, oh my gosh! The Ugly Pumpkin discovers he's something else, and takes us on into Thanksgiving.

What are your Halloween favorites? I'm always looking for more stories to add to my favorite reading list!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Ame Dyckman

<----See this chick in the photo here? That's Ame Dyckman. Isn't she adorable! Well, not only is she as cute as can be, Ame Dyckman is a picture book lover and writer, plus she blogs about peanut butter. Ame is knee deep in PB and is here to tell us about her writing, of course, but also a little about her agent. She's my first Unread interviewee who's represented. All right, all right, everyone stop drooling. Ame has been snatched up by Scott Treimel at S©ott Treimel NY. I know you want an agent too, but I told you people, stop drooling! You're going to ruin your computer! We'd better hurry up and get on to the interview.

Ame, when did you start writing and why in the world would you want to do such a thing?

I started 2 1/2 years ago. But for ages before that, a squeaky little voice in my head constantly pestered, “Ame! Go write children’s books! Ame! Go write children’s books!” I finally gave in so it would just shut up.

What is your writing schedule like?

I usually write in the mornings after MonkeyKid gets on the school bus and Mad Scientist Husband Guy leaves for the lab, and it’s just me and the menagerie (two mutant cats, two hermit crabs, a handicapped fish, and a part-time squirrel.) When I really must finish something without distractions, I pack up for “my” cubicle at the library. But I jot all day long, everywhere, on anything jot-able.

MONKEYKID: Mommy, why are there words on your jeans?”

ME: It’s the latest Mommy-fashion.

MONKEYKID: Can I do it?

ME: No.

What kinds of stories do you like to write?

Short and quirky picture books where the protagonists are different or have a different, innocent way of looking at the world. (With a little weirdness sprinkled on top.) And I love boy-energy stories!

So, how many manuscripts have you written and what have you done with them?

I have several terrible manuscripts keeping each other company in a padlocked trunk buried somewhere on my property. Super Agent Scott (Scott Treimel, S©ott Treimel NY) has submitted two of my good manuscripts, Boy and Bot and The Runaway Goldfish, to editors.

What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing two “sequel” Boy and Bot stories (tales of a boy who befriends a robot) for a marvelous editor who liked the original. And I’m doing revisions on a brand-new PB manuscript, Dragon Cake, which opens with a little boy hoarding meat in his closet.

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What’s the easiest?

The hardest part has been convincing my 9-to-5 neighbors that I’m not just sitting around in my jammies. (The easiest part is that while I’m writing, I get to sit around in my jammies!)

Seriously, the hardest part is always being “on” to act on a shining idea whenever it smacks you in the head, before it dims away to “Now, what was that thought I had earlier?” The easiest part? Anything I do now is “research,” so I can get away with doing a lot of goofy stuff!

HUSBAND GUY: Ame, why is there a wading pool full of cereal in the front yard?

ME: It’s research.

HUSBAND GUY: Uh, okay. When’s dinner?

ME: Now. Grab a spoon. I’ll meet you in the yard.

You have a fabulous agent, I know it was talent, but how did you get so lucky?

I owe it all to NJ SCBWI. (New Jersey chapter, Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) Over the past year or so, I took Boy and Bot to various NJ SCBWI events (First Page Sessions, Mentoring Workshops, etc.). The suggestions I received were pure gold. The agent pitching tips I received were pure gold. The camaraderie and support I received were (you guessed it) pure gold. At the NJ SCBWI Annual Conference last June, I pitched the revised Boy and Bot to Scott, and he liked it! So… (climbs nearby mountain, grabs megaphone): “JOIN YOUR LOCAL SCBWI CHAPTER! IT WORKS!”

How has your writing life changed since you got an agent?

It’s fantastically improved! Scott has made my work a gazillion times better than before. (Five seconds into our first brainstorming session, he had a genius suggestion. He’s still having them.) Plus, he knows just about everyone in the business, he’s worked with just about everyone in the business, and I’m saving a fortune because I’m no longer buying fancy paperclips and eye-catching stamps. (Y’all know what I’m talking about. You know you do.) Bonus: he’s a great excuse for getting out of housework.

ME: Scott called! He wants revisions ASAP. Can you do the dishes?

(Sometimes, when I say this, Scott actually called.)

How far would you go to get your book published?

I’d wrestle a shark. Or Christopher Walken. (I’m equally afraid of them both.) I might even wrestle Christopher Walken while he’s riding a shark. (Shaking a little now.)

You have a great peanut butter-centric blog. Why peanut butter? (And what’s your favorite kind? I only eat Adams!)

Peanut butter is the quintessential kid food. (I mean, food that kids eat. Not food made out of kids. That would be gross.) It just goes with picture books. (Sometimes, in them. Sorry, librarians!) Voila! “PB Planet: Picture Books with a Side of Peanut Butter.”

My favorite kind? Reduced Fat Jif Creamy. (I think they replace the removed fat with sugar. It’s my vroom! fuel.) And, I like the kind inside mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but everybody gets annoyed when I gut them.

HUSBAND GUY: Who sucked the insides out of this candy?

ME: I dunno.

MONKEYKID: Daddy, she’s hiding the straw behind her back!

Oh. I just Googled Adams PB. Organic. All-Natural. Very healthy. Lo, I am shamed!

If you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Where the Wild Things Are. I’d love to live in a world where I could wild-rumpus all day long, and I’d never have to shave my legs.

So, what have we all learned today? That we desperately need agents so we can get out of housework, pants make a good paper replacement, and it is possible to suck peanut butter through a straw. Good stuff to know! You can visit Ame anytime over in her world a.k.a PB Planet. You can also follow her on twitter where she's bound to make you laugh. I would bet a barrel of peanut butter that Ame's picture books are going to be fun to read. Hopefully we'll find out soon!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I had never really thought about it before--my book, Bedtime Monster, being influenced by another book. As I was listening to a talk about Where the Wild Things Are on NPR I remembered how I'd read Sendak's classic over and over as a kid. I loved that book. I never thought it was scary. People have said it's a scary book, that the monsters are based on Maurice Sendak's family. I just never saw the book that way. I didn't know the monsters were based on real people. I just thought it was an exciting book with lovely drawings.

Maybe Where the Wild Things Are did influence Bedtime Monster. Bedtime Monster is about a boy who has a huge tantrum. It's so monstrous, in fact, that he turns into a monster, tail and all. And dad has a monstrous secret himself. In Bedtime Monster I was showing that everyone has a little bit of monster in themselves, and it's okay. We can get angry and still be good people. I'm sure monsters have been used many time throughout literature to represent human acts and emotions. I'm not saying that Bedtime Monster is scary, just that it's a given fact that people can act monstrously, and running away to a fun place for a while has a certain appeal.

The bigger question? Did Where the Wild Things Are influence my life? Max dresses up--becomes someone else--and runs away to an exciting new land. I changed from a child to a grown up, basically became a new person, and ran off a on mountain adventure. I have yet to return from it. I believe that when I do go back home, dinner will still be hot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ghosts in the House!

I've found a new Halloween favorite to put on my annual Halloween reading list--my favorite annual reading list, but really, it's a good book for any time of year. Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara is just about as cute as can be. A little girl and her cat move into a house, there is only one problem, you guessed it--there are ghosts in the house! Luckily this little girl isn't your average little girl, she's a witch. She has no problem rounding up ghosts. She even hopes for more. Did you know how how useful ghosts are after you wash them and hang them up to dry? They're amazing. You can make curtains, tablecloths, and blankets, and they have these sweet little faces on them.

Kazuna Kohara's art in this book is fantastic. The black on orange illustrations are perfect, and the ghosts float right over the top of everthing. You can see through them, just like you should. They are ghosts after all.

Ghosts in the House! written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara, is published by Roaring Brook Press. (Sorry I couldn't get the cover photo any bigger. I'm graphically challenged.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

On My Way Home

I've been driving the kids back and forth to school. Every day. It's not that far as miles go, but my road makes the trip long... and interesting. I took some pictures so you could have a peek into a piece of my life. It's likely a bit different than your drive to the store.

This is a huge drop off. See how high we are above the trees? Only one lane. Very exciting.

I love this valley. It's on the shortcut. Only one little used lane.

And some more shortcut photos. It's pretty.

Nice ruts, huh?

Back on the "good" road.

That's it, it all kind of looks the same I suppose, but there's lots of great little nooks and crannies. I try to pay attention and not get lulled into the everyday driving routine. Plus I've gotta be on the lookout for cows and rocks and the like. If I'm lucky I see something really cool like a rattlesnake or a bear or a bobcat. It's definitely not your average drive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

STAR OF THE SHOW - Della Ross Ferreri talks about her new book!

I love to feature writers and make them the star of my blog. How fitting it is that today I have Della Ross Ferreri, author of the new book, STAR OF THE SHOW. Della is the author of two beginning readers and her picture book, HOW WILL I EVER SLEEP IN THIS BED? was popular enough that Sterling Publishing reprinted it in board book format. Della has frolicked over today to talk about her brand new book and, of course, writing.

Congratulations on your book release, Della! What is STAR OF THE SHOW about?

STAR OF THE SHOW tells the story of a bossy big sister, Francine, and her tag-along brother, Max. When Max has the idea of putting on a circus, Francine immediately appoints herself the star of the show, and designates Max the assistant. Max gets fed up with Francine always getting the best part. This time, he wants the spotlight, too. But can Francine give up center stage? Through argument, compromise and imaginative play, they finally come together to present a wildly successful circus! It’s a fun story of sibling rivalry that kids can relate to, and, from what I hear, parents and teachers appreciate how the characters they end up working things out. I’ve received great feedback on the ending!

What inspired you to write this story?

My kids are the inspiration for most of my writing. My oldest daughter went through a bossy phase and took it out on her little sister. Whether it was dancing, playing school, or putting on a show, daughter #1 always took the lead role. In STAR OF THE SHOW, I exaggerated this personality trait. My character Francine is waaaaay more obnoxious than my daughter ever was. lol

What do your kids think about being the inspiration for this book?

They think it’s funny! They have fun remembering their playtimes together!

Which of the characters in STAR OF THE SHOW are you like, Francine or Max?

Hmmm, I guess I’m a little of both. Sometimes I take charge and run the show, but other times I don’t mind sitting back and letting someone else be in the spotlight.

What was your road to publication like for STAR OF THE SHOW?

In one word – LONG. We’re talking two to three years of submitting and revising. If you want the full story, here you go. The original version of STAR OF THE SHOW started out as an assignment for the Institute of Children's Literature. I sent it around and it went through a couple revision requests w/an editor, but ultimately was passed on. The story became stronger, though, so I am grateful for the editor’s time. Thank you, Shari. Then I shared the revision w/my Sterling editor and she thought it was funny and brought it to acquisitions. But Sterling already had a circus themed book (Tightrope Poppy) and a book with a similarly bossy, selfish character (Mine, Mine, Mine.) They also offered some helpful revision suggestions that I followed. Thank you, Heather, and folks at Sterling!

Then, STAR got critiqued at the Rutgers one-on-one conference and that helped tremendously, too. One problem that needed work was that Francine didn’t have a strong reason/motivation to change her mind and let Max participate in the show. I took my mentor’s advice and had Max get so fed up that he walks out, leaving Francine to struggle and feel the pain of failing to be able to put on a circus by herself. Thank you for that, Alexandra!

Then, after rounds of tightening and suggestions from my critique groups, (Thank you, Sparks and Pearls and my local ‘Soup Group!’) I came across somewhere on Verla Kay’s Blueboard, a mention of the Children’s Book Council list of publishers. That’s where I discovered Shenanigan Books. I submitted STAR OF THE SHOW in September 2007, and got a ‘we’re interested’ email a couple months later. Once the illustrator was finalized, I was offered a contract. Fast forward two years, and here we are, fall 2009 and Ta da! STAR OF THE SHOW is out! Thank you, Shenanigan Books!

Do you have a submission strategy?

Yes, I’m very persistent! I leave no stone unturned, and I’m willing to rewrite and reformat if a piece isn’t working in its present form. STAR OF THE SHOW went through dozens of rewrites. One of my other books, HEY! YOU’RE EATING MY HOMEWORK started out as a 900-word picture book, and I whittled it down to a 300 –word beginning reader that was eventually accepted at Bebop Books. My other book, HOW WILL I EVER SLEEP IN THIS BED? started out as a short poem that grew into a story with beginning, middle, end and a conflict for the main character to solve. It grew from three stanzas into a full-fledged picture book. So you see, I believe it’s important to be open-minded to the possibilities of what direction to take your stories.

What are you working on now? What are your plans for the future as far as your writing career goes?

I’m working on a sequel to STAR OF THE SHOW. I also have a few manuscripts making the rounds. One rhyming story is under consideration at a major house, so fingers crossed on that! I’ve had a couple deals fall through over the past couple years so it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Since I’m back to teaching, and keeping busy juggling my kids’ sports schedules and activities, sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in the writing.

You have been a part of Verla Kay’s online children’s writer’s community for a while now. How has being part of an online writer’s community helped you?

I love the Blueboard! It offers camaraderie and support, and I’ve made some wonderful connections and friends. Verla is the most generous and caring person of all. She even helped critique STAR OF THE SHOW in its earlier stage. Thank you, Verla!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a ton of books in the genre you wish to write. Join a critique group. Be patient. Let your stories simmer before sending them out. Be open to taking your stories in different directions.

What is it about writing picture books that appeals to you?

I love to think visually and picture the scenes as I write. Plus, picture book readers are at such a great age. I love their fresh view of the world and their developing sense of logic. I’m probably a 6 year old at heart!

This is the question I love to ask everyone. If you could live in any book, which one would it be, and why?

Two of my little guy’s favorite night time books lately are KISS GOOD NIGHT and YOU CAN DO IT, SAM by Amy Hest, illustrated by Anita Jeram. In the midst of all the nuttiness of teaching, writing, and juggling my family’s sports and activities, I would love to take a break and settle into the simple, cozy life portrayed in these gorgeously illustrated picture books.

What are you doing to support the publication of STAR OF THE SHOW?

I’m trying to get the word out as much as possible. I have a series of events lined up for this fall…story times, writing classes, and other bookstore and library events. The photograph I sent along was taken at Millbrook Community Day. My friend, Jackie, aka BeeBee the Clown, came out to entertain the kids and help promote my book. She took an ordinary event and truly made it extraordinary! Thank you, BeeBee! I sold a bunch of books that day, sponsored by my wonderful local independent book store, Merritt Books. Next stop is Barnes and Noble in Poughkeepsie for Educator Appreciation Day on October 10, and then a Charity Event on October 23 at the Putnam Hospital Center. Folks can check out my website for the dates and locations of events in NY:

STAR OF THE SHOW is illustrated by Tony Weinstock and published by Shenanigan Books.