Thursday, March 29, 2012

Phyllis stops by on her World Tour plus she gives me an interview!

Phyllis made a stop in the mountains of North Central Washington on her World Tour! It was a chilly 29 degrees Fahrenheit when she arrived at our house in Washington State. But it's been a long, cold winter and once you've been in temperatures hovering in the single digits for a while, 29 degrees can seem pretty darn warm. So my youngest and I decided to not even wear coats when we took her out on a walk to see something spooky!
The Ghost Town of Molson. Okay, it's not really scary. I mean, we were almost there and look at that smile!

When we arrived the first thing my little guy had to show Phyllis was how to use the grinding wheel. It spins really fast. Luckily Phyllis didn't fall into the mud, but it was a close call!
Then he showed her the Sheriff's Office. The sign on the building says "Law & Order of the Highlands 1898-1972"! Really, 1972 wasn't that long ago!

Phyllis just had to check out the old printing press that's on display in the bank...

...and this cool thing called a typewriter. Phyllis thought that it must have been much harder to be a writer back then since there was no backspace or cut and paste. I have to say that I definitely agree.

There was this fancy window where the bank teller stood.

We had to show her the bullet hole in the glass. Yikes! Bet that was a scary day in the wild west when that happened.
My little guy was hoping that since Phyllis is so clever, she'd be just what he needed to finally crack the safe. They were both certain that there must be some sort of treasure hiding in there, but no such luck. That thing is locked tight.

So they went outside to check out all the weird and dangerous looking farm machinery.

The ore cart in front of the Assayer's Office was pretty cool. It was even on a track.
But this sign was the best!

Phyllis was sure to sign the guest book before she left. Now everyone that visits will know that a world famous groundhog has been to Molson on her World Tour!

Here in Molson we're holding a little Ice-Off contest. All the residents have sealed up their guess of the date and time that the ice will melt off Molson Lake. The winner gets the glory of being right. The loser has to buy all the meat to barbecue at the celebratory potluck at Lefty's which is a local, very cool, cave. Ha! Anyway, Phyllis thinks our guess of April 4th is a pretty good one! 

While Phyllis was here she was kind enough to answer a few questions too! So here's my interview with Punxsutawney Phyllis:

Phyllis, why do you think you’re so good at predicting the weather?

I come from a long line of weather predictors, so I guess part of it is in my genes :) But also I pay attention to things. I look and listen carefully. And I try not to jump to conclusions. Just because we usually have 6 more weeks of winter after Groundhog Day, for example, doesn't mean it's going to happen every year!

How can people be more like you and use their instincts to make weather predictions?

People are at a disadvantage. Their senses just aren't as keen as a groundhog's. They should probably just ask me :)

-Well, then you'd better be in some more books then, we're going to need you! You'd should have a chat with Susanna about that!

How did you feel when everyone in your family thought that your blizzard warning was a bad joke?
I like jokes as much as the next groundhog. As you can see from April Fool, Phyllis, I played a joke right back on them! I was just worried because the other groundhogs thought I was fooling and didn't take me seriously, so I was afraid someone might get lost in the blizzard! And honestly, Phil Junior and Pete always think they're funnier than they are. My joke was much better!

What is your favorite weather word? (Mine is cumulonimbus!)

My favorite weather word is Anemometer because it is fun to say :) (And if you don't know what that is, it measures wind speed!)

The treasure hunt had some tough hints. How did you get so good at figuring out clues?
Well, I love puzzles. And I know that Uncle Phil, who makes up the treasure hunts, likes to make them fun and not obvious. So when we reached the first treasure chest and found the April Fool clue, I figured it out pretty quick!

I absolutely love pure maple syrup! How can sap from a tree taste so good?

I love maple syrup too! And not all sap tastes good, in case you're wondering. Maple sap tastes good even before you turn it into syrup - it has a sweet flavor and smell, but it's much more watery before it's cooked down. Oak sap (which there isn't much of) tastes terrible no matter what and it doesn't smell good either! There's an Algonquian Legend that maple syrup was discovered when Woksis, a chief, pulled his tomahawk out of a tree where he had left it the night before. The weather that day warmed while he was out hunting. The sap flowed and landed in a vessel that just happened to be underneath. When his wife went to fetch water for dinner, she saw the vessel full of clear sap. She tasted it and found it sweet. Thinking it would save her a trip to the river, and not wanting to waste anything, she used the sap to cook her venison. When the chief came home, he smelled the delicious maple aroma, and tasted the sweet gravy, and that is how maple syrup was discovered. The Algonquians called it "Sinzibuckwud" meaning sweet water.

Wow, you sure know a lot about sap. So,  can you tell us why there is a sap line strung from maple tree to maple tree?

Back in the old days, sap was collected by buckets hung on spigots on maple trees. The buckets were heavy and sloshed easily, and it was a lot of hard work to collect the sap. Someone figured out you could run a sap line (like a tiny hose) from tree to tree and collect all the sap at once into one place. Much easier! And a good thing for us that it was there so we could find out way back to the sugar house!

You can learn more about Phyllis in her books:

Many thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill for letting Phyllis stop by!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Unread - Interview with Julie Hedlund

It's been a long time since I've done any Unread interviews, but I enjoy them so much and have missed them! I mean hey, I love asking writers questions plus it's so fun to watch writers go from unread to read! Mike Jung, Ame Dyckman, and Tara Lazar will all be published this year. Woohoo! Now we can look back at their interviews and see what they thought way back when before they were published.

For the first interview in my Unread revival I am delighted to have Julie Hedlund as my guest. She is the creative host of the popular 12x12 in 2012 Picture Book Writing Challenge that has brought many wonderful picture book writers together and she's just back from what I'm certain was a fabulous trip to SCBWI Bologna! Even with all she has going on in her busy life, Julie was kind enough to take some time out and talk to me about her writing. But Julie is just nice like that!

So Julie, how did you come up with 12x12 in 2012?

After PiBoIdMo in 2010, I had 30 shiny new PB ideas, but I only wrote one manuscript based on those ideas (although I was still working on others). I decided I needed to dramatically increase my writing output. I am very deadline-driven, so I came up with 12 x 12 as a way to make sure I wrote at least one new story a month. Then I decided to invite others to join in for additional accountability.

Why do you think it’s important for unpublished writers to promote themselves?

I don’t think promotion is important so much as building a network and an online presence. It takes a while to learn the skills associated with all things social media – blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc. It’s better to experiment and move through your learning curve with a couple dozen followers versus hundreds.

In addition, you want to build a network organically and authentically, and that doesn’t happen overnight. So I think it’s best to start early so you have a strong foundation once your book is published.

Has anything amazing happened because of 12x12 so far?

Yes! The 12 x 12, and another post on my blog, caught Katie Davis’ attention. She invited me to come on her podcast at the beginning of the year and then to be a monthly contributor on the show.

I hope I’ll start hearing lots of 12 x 12 success stories from other participants as the challenge proceeds.

Why did you decide you focus on writing for children, and on picture books in particular?

I didn’t really decide. Like many mothers, I was inspired by my kids and the books I was reading to them. I found I had a lot of my own stories I wanted to tell. I fell in love with the picture book genre and the rest, as they say, is history. BUT, I do plan to write in other genres down the road.

What types of stories do you write?

I write primarily in rhyme, but I’ve been experimenting more with prose. I’ve written completely original stories, fractured fairy tales, and take-offs on common legends. I’d say one common theme to my stories is humor. I like funny and “punny” stories.

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

The hardest part is deciding that something is “finished” and ready for submission. I’m not sure there is an easiest part – LOL! If I had to choose something I’d say writing a first draft because there is no pressure to make it great (yet).

Do you belong to a critique group? How has it helped you?

I belong to two critique groups – one online and one in-person. Getting critiques from other writers is essential for everyone. You simply cannot be as objective as you need to be about your own work.

You plan to write 12 complete picture book drafts this year as part of your 12x12 challenge. How is it going so far?

So far, so good. I’m writing this post in February, and I have 2 drafts completed. I hope by the time this interview goes live I’ll have my March draft finished too!

What do you do with your completed manuscripts? Do you have a submission strategy?

My goal this year is to submit a minimum of 5 queries a month for my picture books. I didn’t meet that goal in January, but I did in February. I’m sure I’m not alone in that I hate querying, but there’s no way to sell a book without sending queries!

With all that’s involved with holding an even like 12x12 in 2012, how are you managing to find the time to write and submit?

This year I set concrete writing and submission goals. I keep them open on my desktop and check them off. Even though the 12 x 12 challenge is a lot of work, it’s also a huge motivator. What would it look like if the organizer didn’t “win” her own challenge? :-)

You post some of your work on your blog. Have you ever gotten any interest that way?

Not yet, but a girl can hope! :-)

And the question I always want to know the answer to, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Fun question! I guess I’d have to say Middle Earth because Aragorn is one of my biggest literary crushes. I would love to have been one of the members of the “Fellowship.”

You can learn lots more about Julie at her blog: Write Up My Life. You can also follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook where she's recently shared lots of great tips from her SCBWI Bologna trip!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Summer Reading aka Librarians Love Kid's Books!

I love the Summer Reading Program at the library. I've been a part of it in some way whether bringing my children, ordering in books, planning crafts, or reading books at storytime, for the past 12 years<--eek, that makes me feel oldish!

As a librarian I'm lucky enough to be asked to attend my regional library's Summer Reading Training, but did you know they love it when volunteers come and take part in training too? They do at my library system at least. If you're a children's book writer and have the time, volunteering to help with the Summer Reading Program is a great opportunity! I seriously learned the most about books the summer I read to the kids at storytime once a week. It was purely evident which books worked in a group reading session and which ones didn't. YA and MG writers, you could check with your library for Summer Reading opportunities too. My library has a teen group that is always in need of more adult help.

But, back to the training--if you want to be inspired as a writer, all it takes is to be amongst a group of librarians gushing over books. Each librarian at my training worked hard to create crafts based on picture books within the theme and write book talks for books from picture book to young adult. Oh, and when they gave the talks they were so expressive! I just sat there thinking wow, these people are so excited about children's books and they don't even write them (as far as I know anyway). Think about it, as an author, you never know, someone just might be talking about your book, or even creating a craft to go along with it. That is super exciting!
I see so much enthusiasm about children's books on a daily basis from within the kidlit writing community I think I can sometimes forget how enthusiastic non-writers are as well, especially when my husband asks me things like, "why did you check out that board book" as he eyes the faeries on the cover suspiciously. I suppose it's a fair question since we have no board book aged kids, and definitely none that are into fairies. But to me the answer is obvious. I want to read it. Yes, he rolled his eyes. Ha!

This year's Summer Reading Program theme is Dream Big, Read! I love love love putting together books with a theme. I know I'll find a lot (more--I already have a big stack) of books to go with that one. But, if you have any suggestions please do leave them in the comments. I'm certain there are lots of stories I don't know about. Plus I love to hear about (and read) new picture books!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


My husband and I have a small cherry and apple orchard down in the valley that we're managing. The other day I learned how to prune. I don't think I did a very good job. It was so hard!

There were so many branches. Which ones to cut? Which would create the best shaped tree that will ultimately bring forth the fruit in the best way possible? "Try to imagine the sun coming in and where it will hit when the leaves have all come in on the tree," my husband told me. But it was hard to see in my mind what the end result would be. There are no leaves, no fruit. Just bare branches. A lot of them.

So I trimmed. Here and there. I stood back and looked, trimmed some more. Just a little at a time. I didn't really have a plan. I think there is a lot more that needs to get cut back on the poor tree that I was pruning.

All that cutting made me realize how much easier it is for me to cut pieces out of my manuscripts than it is for me to cut live pieces from a tree. That seems weird because cutting a manuscript can be really hard. I think that perhaps cutting gets easier the longer you write. At least it has for me. I know when I write that not everything is going to work. And I never seem to have a fully formed plan when I sit down to write. I know that I just have to get it down on paper first. I do have some stories that carry over into years, but they have just been sitting, not growing. Maybe that's why they are easier to cut than a tree. I don't know. But I do know the pruning will make the trees better. They'll produce higher quality fruit. Of course, the cutting needs to be done correctly. So I'm going to have to practice.

One thing I have learned with my writing is that sometimes you can cut practically the entire story and take off in a completely new and unexpected direction and the story comes out even better than it was before. You can rethink your characters, change up your storyline, and by golly, take out those weak lines. You just might be surprised what you come up with. You'll never know until you make that cut! And, of course, you can keep a back up of the previous version in case the cutting doesn't work. I wish I could do that with trees!

Do you do a lot of cutting on your manuscripts? Do you find it hard? Do you have any tree pruning tips? Let me know!