Friday, December 7, 2012

Winner of picture book Oh, Nuts!

Congratulations Caryn Caldwell on winning the giveaway for the picture book Oh, Nuts! by Tammi Sauer and Dan Krall!

The book is on its way to be enjoyed by you and your family!!  Hooray!!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway. If you missed the review of Oh, Nuts! on ReaderKidZ, click HERE to read it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful for Picture Books

Each Thanksgiving I'm reminded of all the wonderful things to be thankful for (family, friends, health, community) and this season is no different, but I want to add to my list this year and say I'm thankful for picture books and the joy they brought to me as a child, the joy they've brought to me as a parent/educator and the joys they've brought my children. I'm also thankful for all the writers and illustrators who work tirelessly to craft the best stories for children. Who battle self-doubt and at times sheer frustration to find the right words to tell the best story. Bravo!

To honor the joy I have for the picture book, I want to highlight two posts today. The first one is by my author/illustrator friend and critique partner Don Tate. Click HERE to read the post at PictureBookMonth and the story he uses to illustrate the importance of picture books.

Secondly, I want to highlight a joint writing post with my agent Erzsi Deàk of Hen & Ink Literary Studio as we discussed new and old picture book favorites, many which included bear characters hence the title of the post "A Bearful of Stories." Click HERE to read the post and leave a comment at Hen & Inkblots letting us know your favorite picture book and/or character. Bear vs. Mouse. Penguin vs. Chicken. It'll be fun to tally the results and see which books come out on top!

Blessings of the season to you and your family. Happy reading!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Part II - Picture Book Posts for Hen and Ink Literary

Good morning!

Click HERE for Part II of my recap from the 17th Texas Book Festival on picture book advice at Hen & inkblots. This post Language Serves the Story highlights advice from authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Candace Fleming.

I hope you enjoy! Let me know what resonates? Do you have any revision tricks up your sleeve? How many times do you revise to make art?

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Picture Book Posts for Hen & Ink Literary Studio

It's a crisp morning and the sun is shining and it's Picture Book Month! Cluck! Cluck!

In celebration of that and to pass along information I gleamed from attending the 17th Texas Book Festival in Austin this past October, I have done two posts for my agent Erzsi Deak and the agency Hen & Ink Literary Studio. Part I - How Children See the World ran yesterday and if you missed it you can click HERE to read it. Thanks, Erzsi! It was a dream reporting for Hen & inkblots and clucking about picture book panels!

Check out Hen & inkblots on Friday, November 16, 2012 for Part II - Language Serves the Story. If you missed this year's festival or couldn't attend all the incredible panels of authors/illustrators, I hope these two posts give you a flavor of the literary extravaganza Texas hosts.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Celebrate Picture Book Month

I'm celebrating Picture Book Month!! Are you?

There's a lovely post at Picture Book Month by Alma Flor Ada in where she talks about why picture books are important for children. The bond it creates between adult and child and that picture books can be enjoyed by the very young as well as the older more sophisticated child reader. Each day of the month a different picture book champion weighs in on why they think picture books are important.

The Bear in the Book (Farrar Straus Giroux, Oct. 2012) written by Kate Banks (also an agency sister with Hen & Ink Literary) and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben is a beautiful representation of storytelling between parent and child, where a little boy listens to a story being read by his mother and metaphorically speaking he's so caught up in the story that he enters the world of the bear. He identifies with the words and pictures he sees playing out over the pages. Excerpt below:

Snowflakes began to fall across the pages of the book.
The snow sat snugly in the boughs of the trees.
The boy could almost feel it.
"Snow is cold," he said. He nestled closely against his mother.
"I like snow," he said.

Winter settled like a big hush," read the boy's mother.
"And the big black bear slept."
"Shh," said the boy.

It's picture book storytelling at it's best! And the vivid artwork by Hallensleben is extraordinary like watching a painting come to life. It's a tribute to fostering a love of reading in children at least that's the conclusion I'm drawing, and I say Bravo!

I showed you one of my new favorite picture books now it's your turn. Celebrate picture book month with me by leaving a comment below listing one of your favorite picture books.

Happy Picture Book Month! Happy reading!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

ReaderKidZ Review: Pigmares & Last Laughs

Halloween is just around the corner and I've reviewed two picture books that will tickle children's funny bones and have them screaming with laughter!

Pigmares: Porcine Poems of the Silver Screen by Doug Cushman, (Charlesbridge, 2012) and Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins (Charlesbridge, 2012)

Hop on over to ReaderKidz and read my reviews HERE. Both picture books are for ages 7 and up.

ReaderKidZ is a website devoted to fostering a love of reading in kids K - 5.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: Arlo Needs Glasses by Barney Saltzberg

Arlo Needs Glasses by Barry Saltzberg (Workman Publishing, 2012)

This inventive and interactive picture book is more than just about a boy who discovers his dog needs glasses and they fit him for the perfect pair. It's about celebrating individuality and uniqueness and not being afraid to be different. Stand out. Be YOU!

Kids will love trying on the movie star, superhero, mad scientist, or "Arlo" glasses that are inside the book. They'll love Arlo and his willingness to embrace  his new look and get back to doing what he loves to do best and that's play catch.

In fact wearing glasses allows Arlo to discover there's something he likes even more than playing catch -- he loves to read.

I wish there had been a book like this when I was a child. I didn't need glasses then (reading glasses now) but I would've had fun trying on the cardboard creations in this zany book, reading the story again and again, and engaging with the interactive features. For ages 3 and up.

This week, I'll be meeting author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg as he's in town for the 2012 Texas Book Festival and good friend Marika Flatt, owner of Pr by the Book, and I will be his chauffeur this Friday evening as we attend the Texas Book Festival Children's Author, Illustrator and Moderator Welcome Party at The Writing Barn, a book lover's haven created by author friend Bethany Hegedus. Barney will be on the Lines that Make you Laugh panel with fellow Austin author Philip Yates, Rob Scotton and Tad Hills and the details are HERE.  See you there! Check out the book trailer -- it's fabulous!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Texas Book Festival 2012

Every year the Texas Book Festival and their committees work tirelessly to bring a spectacular line-up of authors and illustrators to entertain and inspire Texas families and 2012 is no different. On Saturday, October 27th and Sunday, October 28th, thousands of families will descend on downtown Austin to partake in the 17th annual literary event. The entire list of programming can be found by clicking HERE.

I have many author and illustrator friends on panels this year and I'm going to lace up my sneakers, bring a gallon of water and make it to as many of their creative presentations as I can. I also have the honor of moderating again this year and would love to see your friendly faces in the crowd at:

JUST THE WRITE WORD with authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Candace Fleming
Date: Sunday, October 28th, 2012 
Time: 12:30 - 1:30 pm
Where: Capitol Extension Room E2.010
Everyone knows writers need to choose their words carefully, but these two picture books have become instant classics by matching entrancing images with the playful power of words, Liz Garton Scanlon's Think Big is told in bite-sized, rhyming couplets and follows young kids trying on future, artistic careers. Candace Fleming's Oh, No! encourages children to read out loud as a whole cast of animals comes across a mysterious, deep hole.

If you want to narrow in on just attending the youth events at the festival click HERE to view a list compiled by author friend Greg Leitich Smith who will also be talking about his middle grade book Chronal Engine on the World Turned Upside Down panel.

And if you want a list of events aimed just at the picture book crowd click HERE. There are seven panels devoted to picture books this year! Thank you TBF organizers and supporters!!

This year's festival is lit-up with dynamic authors and illustrators, some who've traveled quite a distance to visit our city, let's give them a Texas-size welcome and support them. Can't wait to see you and your family there. Yeehaw! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Illustrator E.B. Lewis Keynote Speaker at the Austin SCBWI 2013 conference, Kick It Up A Notch

When first daughter was about four years old, we visited the Book Mark in the village of Kingsway, a charming older wealthy area in Toronto, Canada. My husband and I were in search to find a new picture book to read to daughter while we were vacationing and visiting friends. When I asked the proprietor to assist me, she eagerly led me to Down the Road by Alice Schertle, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Since that moment, I have been a huge fan of E.B.'s work. Today, we still have that book on our shelf and the watercolor illustrations E.B. painted scroll through my mind like slides on a projector. Image after gorgeous image. Hetty shopping at Mr. Birdie's Emporium, Hetty juggling her basket of eggs, and Hetty in the apple tree with Mama and Papa. I could go on and on, it's a collaboration of text and art at it's finest! If you haven't seen this book, it's a treasure worth hunting for.

Here's my favorite refrain from Down the Road:

Down the road,
One and two,
Eggs for breakfast,

Eggs for breakfast,
eggs for breakfast,
not a crack!

So needless to say when RA Debbie Gonzales confirmed that E.B. Lewis accepted our invitation to come to our Austin SCBWI Kick it Up a Notch regional conference and give the keynote address, my mind flew to that spot, where Hetty sat up high, high in the apple tree. Wheeee! People, we're in for a sweet, juicy, apple treat!

This week, Mark G. Mitchell, illustrator chair for the Austin SCBWI chapter included an old interview he'd done with E.B. Lewis on his blog post "Mary's Magic." And I'm pointing you toward it, it's worth every four minutes of your time to watch it. Click Here to read that post and hear the interview with E.B. There's also a wonderful glimpse into Mary Sullivan's latest picture book Ball (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) and it, too, is worth viewing! Her illustrations capture the emotions and actions of a dog in a way that leaves you spellbound and awestruck.

I hope to see many of you starry-eyed like me when E.B. takes to the podium at the Kick It Up a Notch ASCBWI Conference. I'm holding my breath, counting the days until Saturday, February 8th, 2013. Click Here to register.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Highlights of the Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium II

RA Debbie Gonzales Welcoming Attendees

Today, I'm excited to bring you a collaborative effort from the attendees at the Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium II highlighting the presentations of the day. The day was such a huge success that plans are already underway to launch another digital event next year. But before we look to 2013, let's highlight today's event with a recap of each presentation.

Website Liberation with WordPress

Kirsten Cappy, owner of the marketing firm Curious City and Writer, Editor and Web Designer Samantha Clark talked about the benefits of building a website with WordPress and how easy it is to set-up a website in five minutes. Having a website or blog is important for writers because it helps readers find them. The blog aspect also allows writers to communicate with readers, which helps to make them into fans. Mostly, however, Kirsten and Samantha encouraged writers to use Wordpress so they can have a joint website and blog that they can manage themselves, liberating them from expensive programmers.

The ease an author/illustrator has in adding content and customizing the development and look of the free templates is one of the wonderful things about Wordpress. And there are so many templates, that writers can make their site individual, to suit their needs and style.

Sam Clark & Kirsten Cappy

Blogging 101

Assistant Regional Advisor and writer Carmen Oliver gave attendees advice to get them started in the blogosphere by covering:

  • What a blog is and its purpose
  • Choosing blog software
  • Naming their blog
  • Who their audience was and the goals of their blog
  • Blog content and content structure
  • Copyright issues and pictures
  • Pre-blogging and blogging frequency
  • Guest blogs and tours

Marketing Your Digital Storybook

In Deanna Roy's session, attendees created a short digital book and brainstormed ideas for marketing and school visits that would tie the story into the curriculum. They also created original art and takeaway crafts that students that attended their storytime could bring home to show their parents. Check it out!

Photoshop Basics: Creating a Book Mark

Shelley Jackson, Marsha Riti, Lalena Fisher 

Shelley Ann Jackson, Marsha Riti, and Lalena Fisher, members of the Girllustrators, taught attendees about the elements to consider on their bookmarks from text to the visuals. They gave them a tutorial on Photoshop  covering the tools and techniques and quick shortcut commands and a crash course in color theory. By the end of the day, attendees came away with printer-ready bookmarks. A thank you to Kayla Marnach for sharing her newly made bookmark with us!

Erik Kuntz, Emily Kristin Anderson and attendee

Help Desk 

Erik KuntzEmily Kristen Anderson, Sam Clark, Kirsten Cappy and Carmen Oliver provided attendees with hands on help answering questions on Twitter, eBook creation, blogging, websites and all things digital throughout the day!

Joel Hickerson and Brad Graeber

Awesome Animation Techniques

Joel Hickerson & Brad Graeber tap danced their way through a smorgasbord of visual learning, animation and self promotion. They received a standing ovation at the end and were nominated for several awards from the academy!  Brad showed several book trailers he'd made for authors like Bob Shea's Dinosaur Verses.

Twitter, Blogging, and other Online Media

Emily Kristin Anderson taught us the etiquette of being a part of Social Media---from #1 Don't be a jerk to never put anything on Facebook, Twitter, etc. that you wouldn't want your grandmother to know. Okay, we're re-learning what I should have known in kindergarten, only electronically!  Emily is so knowledgeable that it is awe-inspiring! Attendee Barbara Lazar was excited to leave with new social media skills to help her promote her book Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai and here's a peek at her trailer.

Building the Children's eBook

Cartoonist, illustrator and Web Developer Erik Kuntz showed people how to use the free software iBooks to create either picture books or novels for the iPad. How to import text and illustrations to create a flip book effect. The still illustrations came to life through animation. The cost was minimal as long as you owned the hardware, a MAC. Attendee Susan Cleveland said it was very exciting and the only drawback she could see was that you could only sell the book on iBooks.

Book Trailers: Bringing Your Story to Life
PJ Hoover

PJ Hoover showed attendees sample book trailers for inspiration (bringing stories to life) and then they used worksheets to analyze the elements needed to make their own trailer. Elements like point of view, narration vs text on screen and voice-over and song lyrics. She challenged people to create content for their book trailers and first drafts were written. Even if attendees weren't published, they could create trailers to promote school visits and presentations.

Testimonials from the Day

"I'm so excited to do a bookmark in photoshop with help from the Girllustrators (Shelley Jackson, Marsha Riti and Lalena Fisher), I've got  my images on my thumbnail drive and we're going to use a template and create a printer-ready file."  Mark Mitchell

"I'm learning to tweet, tumble and blog." Barbara Lazar

"In two and half hours, Austin's fabulous Girllustrators showed me not only how to open Photoshop and use some fancy elements, but how to create an entire bookmark! Then the amazing P.J. Hoover taught me how to create a book trailer in the afternoon! So many generous tech savvy people gathered together. An amazing event!" Shelli Cornelison

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Author/illustrator Interview: Doug Cushman

I’m thrilled to be interviewing Hen & Ink coop mate, Doug Cushman about his newest book Pigmares: Porcine Poems of the Silver Screen (Charlesbridge, 2012). When I signed with the agency in the Spring, I thought “WOW” for obviously a number of reasons, but having heard many of Doug’s early reader series read-aloud by my children – I was a huge fan and excited to know we were within the same barnyard, so to speak. 

Plus, my husband and I honeymooned in Paris and toured the French countryside so anybody who lives in France has a special place in my heart. Not to mention, anyone who can draw silly pigs and make me laugh is a friend of mine.  Mais, oui?

From the Jacket Flap copy of Pigmares: Porcine Poems of theSilver Screen:

Whether it’s the lonely outcast Frankenswine, the crabby Porker form the Black Lagoon, or the sleep-loving Pigzilla, the creatures in this clever mash-up of poetry, monsters, and piggy puns are sure to curl your tail and tickle your hooves.
Author and illustrator Doug Chushman hams it up in this hog-wild homage to classic monster movies.

Bienvenue, Doug!

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a children’s author and illustrator? What were you like as a young child? How did your childhood influence the books you write and illustrate today?

I was born in Springfield, Ohio and moved to Connecticut with my family when I was 14 years old. From Day One (almost), I was drawing and writing stories, copying cartoon characters from the newspaper and inventing my own characters. While in junior high and high school, I created comic books lampooning my teachers, selling them to my classmates for a nickel a piece. So I had a commercial bent of mind from the start.

I watched some of the old westerns on TV like the Lone Ranger and Wild Bill Hitchcock and of course classic cartoon shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle. I read lots of books throughout my childhood, the usual stuff mostly like the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, Sherlock Holmes and some sci-fi. And of course comic books. All of it added to my backlog of references for my own books.

What was the inspiration behind Pigmares: PorcinePoems of the Silver Screen (Charlesbridge, 2012)?

I love old cheap B movies, the corny monster movies. Some of them actually are very well made and have heart to them. Look at Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the Creature in Frankenstein, he almost makes one cry. And of course I love drawing pigs. Such intelligence and grace. And silly. What could be better, writing and drawing pigs as classic monsters? A match made in heaven, in my opinion.

What came first the pictures or the poems? The characters or the plot?

There really isn’t a “plot” per se in Pigmares, more of a theme, classic movie monsters parodied in poetry using pigs. I never liked poetry much. One of my high school teachers shoved Rod McKuen down our throats. Awful stuff. I hated him. Never read poetry afterwards. It wasn’t until I began writing my own picture books that I discovered poetry was the perfect vehicle for a picture book text.

In a picture book text each sentence, word, each comma and period is important just as in poetry. The rhythm is paramount in both as well. But even then I hesitated because it was so hard to do. Most of what I read was rubbish and maudlin in picture books. Cute and cheap. Even today most of what I read isn’t worth the paper it’s printed upon (or the digital space it takes up in an ebook).  I was after something that could work on a number of levels, funny, some clever rhymes and a surprise twist and, with luck and a lot of work, some intelligence.

It’s important to note that this is my first, full blown, no holds barred collection of poems, written and illustrated by myself. Even though Pigmares is a humorous poetry book poking fun at classic movie monsters this was one of the most heavily researched book I’ve ever done. I watched and re-watched every movie in the book and researched each one for the Poem Source pages at the end of the book making it a good introduction to the history of each movie. In one case, for instance, I timed the actual screen appearance of the monster. Even the hand lettering on each poster was researched to give a historical sense of the movie, in most cases using the original posters as the main source.

The book took about a year to do although many of the poems were written years before. But, as the book evolved and the format of movie parody and information came together, old poems were rejected and new poems were written.

Which is harder, writing or drawing? And why?

Writing by far. The first draft of anything is always the hardest. I’ve always said that there are no such creatures as “writers”; we are all “re-writers”.  I love playing with words, moving them around, creating an image with just words. But when I can’t, my pictures come to the rescue. In a picture book the words only do part of the job, the pictures only part of the job. But when they work together it’s brilliant. But the reader has to do some of the work too. That is what makes it a satisfying experience.

Can you share one aspect of your writing or illustrating process?

The most fun I have is making a dummy for a picture book. I literally cut and paste (yes, with REAL scissors and tape) and make a collage–book of picture and words, physically moving them around throughout the dummy. The studio is a mess (well, it’s mostly a mess anyway….). But it makes for a VERY active and living process.

Where do you find your story ideas?

Everywhere. My problem isn’t so much finding story ideas as trying to settle on one I want to work on at that moment and KEEP working on. You have to love your idea for at least 3 years or so (preferably longer) because, if that book is accepted, you’ll be living with it on an almost daily basis for at least 3 years.

What’s the best experience you’ve had in publishing? What’s the worst?

I’ve been through pretty much all the experiences, cancelled contracts, rejections, bad printing, etc. I choose not to focus too much on the negative ‘cause I love my job so much. Just knowing I can get up every morning and draw some pictures and write some stories is wonderful. Cliché and maudlin, I know, but it’s the truth.

With over 120 published books, do you have a favorite or a favorite character? And why?

That’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is. And I ain’t going there! ;-)

Whose books do you admire? And why?

E.B. White was a brilliant writer and not just Charlotte’s Web. His prose is simple and clear and seemingly effortless…and hard to achieve. James Thurber is a favorite as well as Dorthy Parker. I read a lot of S.J. Perelman, another humorist from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Then Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Charles Dickens is a favorite.

Can you speak about your successes and challenges in this competitive children’s book market?

For myself, I’ve followed pretty much my own heart, or “gut” while trying to stay flexible in this always changing market. I don’t follow trends or the “genre du jour”.  I can only write and draw what feels right, trying to stay true to myself. It doesn’t always work but trying to work JUST for the marketing trends is a waste of one’s time and talent. I’ve gained a bunch of awards along the way but they really don’t mean much; you’re only as good as your last book especially in this market. The challenge is to move on and hone my craft. I still have to get up each day and try to do better. My biggest challenge is to find something new and interesting that will excite me, perhaps even reinvent myself.

The market in children’s literature is tough but not impossible. I’m not afraid of ebooks, apps and self-publishing, though I am a dedicated print guy. What concerns me the most is content. Any idiot with a computer and a rhyming dictionary can publish a book and tout him or herself as the new Dr. Seuss. But there has to be some “meat” to the story and poems, a good, strong plot line, strong characters, good, believable dialogue, etc. You know the litany. That’s why the classics are still classics, they have all of that. That and a spirit that can’t be taught but can be inspiring and can make a writer push him or herself further and higher.

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
What are you working on now? And what do you do when you’re not working?

I go out and paint en plein air here in Paris. My favorite place is the grand cemetery Pere Lachaise. I set myself up behind a tomb and throw watercolors around. Sort of a busman’s holiday, I suppose.

If you weren’t an author/illustrator, what would you be?


Tell us 3 things you can’t live without.

A blank sheet of paper, my paints and Delta blues music.

Tell us 3 things you wish were never invented.

Cell phones, screw caps on wine bottles and Abba.

Thanks, Doug!!!

Look for my review of Pigmares: Porcine Poems of the Silver Screen at ReaderKidZ on October 24, 2012.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

ReaderKidZ Review: Natalie Dias Lorenzi's Flying the Dragon

If you haven't read Natalie Dias Lorenzi's debut middle grade novel Flying the Dragon, (Charlesbridge, 2012) pop on over to ReaderKidz and read my review here.  

Sneak peek: "...a beautiful multi-layered story told in the alternating points of view by fifth graders, Skye and Hiroshi..."

The novel ties into ReaderKidz's October 2012 theme "Families in Change" as Skye and Hiroshi navigate through their new family environment and invite readers along for the journey. To learn more about Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the challenges and triumphs she encountered in writing Flying the Dragon. CLick HERE to read the interview.

 Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Debut Author Interview: Natalie Dias Lorenzi

I’m thrilled to have Natalie Dias Lorenzi with us today to talk about her debut middle grade novel Flying the Dragon (Charlesbridge, 2012). She’s a teacher, mother, wife, traveler, freelance writer and author. She writes book reviews for Biblio links, contributes to Emu’s Debuts, her agency’s author blog at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and creates teacher guides.

Jacket Flap Copy from Flying the Dragon

Skye and Hiroshi have never met. How could they, when Skye’s father hasn’t spoken to his Japanese family since before she was born? But now their grandfather is sick, and the family is coming to the United States for his treatment. Skye and Hiroshi are stuck with each other.
Now Skye doesn’t know who she is anymore; at school, she’s suddenly too Japanese, but at home she isn’t Japanese enough. And as Hiroshi struggles to improve his English, he has to contend with Skye butting in on his rokkaku kite-flying time with Grandfather–time that seems to be running out.
Welcome, Natalie and congratulations!

Thank you, Carmen. I’m happy to be here!

Can you tell us about your path to publication? Any challenges along the way? Did your kite fly right away or did it take a few tries?

My kite definitely did not find its wind right away! It actually took a few years before this manuscript took flight. Originally, this story was only from Hiroshi’s point of view, and Skye was a mean girl named Susan in his class. After signing with my agent, I did another round of revisions, lightening up Susan’s character and added more interaction between her and Hiroshi. After a string of rejections, my agent and I pulled the manuscript and started talking revision ideas. I’d mentioned to her earlier that, if this book sold, I’d love to write another book from Susan’s point of view and tell her side of the story. My agent wondered if it wasn’t time for Susan’s story to come forward now, and so we settled on a dual point of view story with both Hiroshi and Susan as main characters. Susan the mean classmate became Skye, Hiroshi’s cousin, and I love the lightness she added to the story and to Hiroshi himself. Once the story went back out on submission, it wasn’t long before Charlesbridge showed interest, and eventually made an offer.

What is the inspiration behind the book? 

I was fascinated by the sport of kite fighting after reading Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE FIGHTER. I had never heard of kite fighting before, and went on to research the sport for an article I wrote for a children’s magazine called Learning Through History. My original plan was to write a picture book about a kite-fighting boy. I took an online class on writing for children, and one of our assignments was to write a 500-word scene that showcased dialogue between the protagonist and the antagonist. I wrote a scene that took place on Hiroshi’s first day of school in America, when Hiroshi tries to make friends with a Japanese-American classmate who rebuffs him. Once I wrote the scene, I knew I wanted to explore the dynamics of this conflict, and I knew this story wasn’t a picture book; it was a novel in disguise.

There’s a powerful sense of hope, family, forgiveness and finding your place in the world woven into Flying the Dragon. When does theme emerge for you in the revision process? How do you strengthen it without beating it to a pulp?

As an ESL teacher and someone who has lived overseas both as a child and an adult, I knew from the start that the “finding your place in the world” theme would be a dominant one in the story. I also wanted to leave readers with a sense of hope, especially for a middle grade audience. But the family and forgiveness thread came much later. I’d originally had a family tie between Hiroshi and Skye, but once I made them cousins, the family connection deepened significantly.
When it comes to strengthening themes as I revise, I don’t consciously set out to do so. I think that once you know exactly what your character wants—that kernel of a heart’s true desire—and then you deny him or her that very thing, themes will emerge naturally as your character deals with the blow of not getting what he or she wants. What’s fun about themes is that they often emerge when you’re not looking and not planning for them. They emerge as your character finds his or her path on the page.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a little of both, I guess. I need to have a general idea of where the story is going, but the magic of writing, for me, comes with getting to know my characters as I create them. I think all writers are like this, even the true-blue plotters—we love the unexpected twists and turns as characters come to life on the page.  I do own a copy of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and I’ve used elements of it before, but I still leave lots of room for discovery as I write.

What author and/or book has inspired you the most in your life? 

What a difficult question! There are so many I could name, but the earliest one was Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. My fourth grade teacher read it aloud to our class, and it was the first novel I’d heard that was laugh-out-loud funny. I couldn’t get enough of Judy Blume books after that, and I credit her (and my teacher) for making me an avid reader for evermore.

Any advice for the pre-published author?

Don’t write in a vacuum. Writing is a solitary activity, but that doesn’t mean that the before and after parts need to be solitary. Brainstorming and getting feedback from others is a significant part of my writing routine.  I’ve been with my critique group now for almost seven years, and they’re such an amazing source of support and feedback. I found my group through SCBWI, but I know many writers have also connected via Verla’s Kay’s message board or local writers’ conferences. Although you may not always agree with the feedback you get, it helps to hear other writers’ opinions and listen to the questions they have about your stories.

What are you working on now?

Another middle grade novel and a picture book idea I’ve been toying with for awhile now.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

With three kids of my own, ages 6, 10 and 13, I’m usually wearing my mom hat—soccer games, taxiing kids from here to there, playing board games, and reading together. I’m also a full-time teacher—half-time ESL and half-time librarian until I finish my coursework this year to become a librarian full-time. Oh, and sometimes I sleep. ;-)

Tell us 3 things you can’t live without.

My family, books, and dark chocolate!

Tell us 3 things you wish were never invented.

Lima beans, corn and beets. (Can you sense a recurring theme??)

Thanks, Natalie!

Thank you for hosting me, Carmen!

Check out Natalie’s beautiful website built by friend and Austin SCBWI writer Samatha Clark by clicking here.

Check out Natalie’s guest post at CYNSATIONS on teacher guides and her author spotlight at Charlesbridge.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blogging Basics and The Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium II

Welcome back! As promised, today I'm going to talk today about my presentation in the upcoming Digital II Symposium: The Nuts and Bolts of Success.

Have you been shying away from entering the realm of the Blogosphere? Not sure what all this talk about Social Media is about? It's really quite simple.

Social Media is about people. Blogging is about people. Sharing information. Communicating and networking. And in essence giving back, too!

When I first started my blog, I wasn't really sure what I was doing. I fumbled and bumbled along. I studied industry professionals like New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations (a MUST read) and I asked lots of questions at SCBWI Austin meetings. I read free information I found on the Internet and it's gotten me here. But I've consumed a lot of time in the process. If a "Blogging Basics" class had been available, I would have jumped at the chance. A quick download of information with a few warning and cautionary signs thrown in for good measure would have saved me spoonfuls of time. So that's what I'm going to be doing on October 6th at St. Edward's University. Saving you some time and equipping you with knowledge to get you started in the Blogosphere.

In the morning we'll talk about things like:

  • What a blog is and its purpose
  • Blog software
  • Naming your blog
  • Blog content and content structure
  • Copyright issues and pictures
  • Pre-blogging and planning
  • Guest blogs and tours

In the afternoon, you'll get your feet wet so to speak as we create a blog post highlighting the presentations from the Digital II Symposium: The Nuts and Bolts of Success. We'll use links, write content, insert photos and publish the post. It'll be a collaborative process with lots of time to ask questions.

If you blog, people will come! So join me and the other talented ten experts for a day of digital dynamics and break down the barrier and mystique that has held you back from embracing technology. Just click HERE and we'll take good care of you.


Watch the Austin Digital Symposium II trailer below:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

When Do You Write For Children?

Are you a morning writer? Afternoon or night owl? Can you write only on weekends? What is your writing schedule like? Send me a comment. I'd love to know!

I personally love writing in the mornings when the house is dark and the only sound I hear is the humming of the air conditioner. But that peaceful zone doesn't last for long with a busy family so I have to find other hours in the day to write, too. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to write throughout the day around my family's schedule. But I'll admit evenings are the hardest for me, what about you?

Switching topics. I'm also working on my presentation "Blogging Basics" and uncovering a host of interesting facts surrounding blogging and social media. Here's one for you:

True or False?

Bloggers are morning people?

What if I told you nearly eighty percent of bloggers read in the morning and that it peaks around ten o'clock. So if you're a morning writer does that mean you should be writing your blog posts in the morning and posting them around that time frame? Yes and No.

Post your blog posts in the morning, yes. But if you're a morning person like I am, use your mornings to work on your manuscripts. When your mind is the freshest and for me the most creative. If ideas for blog posts come to you while you're working on your projects. Jot them down on a scrap of paper and get back into that manuscript. Come back to those blog ideas later and expand and write.

Oooops. Look at the time. Time to get back to my writing! But come back and visit me. I'm going to be posting about what I'll be covering in my presentation on October 6th at the Digital Symposium II: The Nuts and Bolts of Success hosted by our SCBWI Austin chapter. A sneak peek shall we say.

In closing, I'm leaving you with an interesting quote to ponder by author Erik Qualman and founder of Socialnomics, "We don't have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it."

Food for thought.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

5 Things to Consider Before Dismantling a Blog

Think blogging is taking up too much of your time?

Worried no one reads your blog?

What happens if you haven't updated your blog in months? Do you feel like you may as well take it down?

Does this sound familiar? 

If it does, you're not alone. But before you make any drastic decisions, rethink your intention.

I recently spoke with an author friend, who shall remain nameless, who decided to resume blogging after she’d taken the blog down. A decision (dismantling the blog) that she felt had been a HUGE mistake.  

So with my upcoming presentation on Blogging Basics drawing near on October 6th at the Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium II, I wanted to give you a prelude of some of the things I’ll be discussing and leave you with five things to consider before dismantling a blog.

  1. Loss of TRAFFIC. Blogs more often than not drive traffic to your website. My author friend found this out first hand. With the blog gone, the traffic to the website ground to a screeching halt.
  2. Loss of RELATIONSHIPS. No doubt you have many links to authors, illustrators, industry professionals included in your blogroll and they have links to your blog. When you dismantle your blog the links are broken. That means when people click on those links, they will receive an error message because your blog no longer exists. Those links are ties to people. To information. And it’s like shredding a HUGE address book.  People can still find you, but why make it harder for them to do so. An extra click. An extra search. Extra time that they’ll have to spend to find you. Plus, you need to recreate all those Web addresses that were stored on your blog. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?
  3. Loss of MARKETING. An ability to communicate, connect and network with like-minded people and reach your audience. When your book is published your blog serves as a tool to create virtual buzz and publishers rely heavily on authors’ skills to market themselves. Publishing marketing budgets are shrinking and authors need to be their own advocate and publicist. Your blog is an inexpensive way to reach people and market your book.
  4. Loss of REVENUE. Pretty self-explanatory, right? You never know who is going to find your blog and purchase your book based on the content you're writing. Many times, I’ve bought a book after reading an emotional and moving blog post or an articulated and informative post on craft. Don’t limit yourself. Keep doors open to opportunities. Paid speaking gigs can also materialize through contact with people through your blog. As well as publishing contracts for that next book. Or debut!
  5. And lastly, loss of AUTHORITY. When you want to guest blog for other writers or industry blogs, they'll peruse what you've written on your blog. Your blog serves as a resume. A resource and sample of your skills and voice. But if your blog isn't there, you'll lose credibility and authority within your niche and/or market place. It'll make it 5x harder to get those guest post gigs.
In closing, I’d like to encourage you:
  • Don't give up.
  • Don't walk away.
  • Do write 3 - 4 blog posts.
  • Make time in your busy schedule to craft posts on topics you're passionate about and whenever possible tie it to what you're writing and creating.
  • Consider pitching ideas to guest blog for other writers or industry professionals on their blogs. Good content is always welcome. Be professional and courteous. 
  • Join me at the Digital Symposium II, where you’ll find support for your blogging woes and eleven experts will be on hand to equip you with skills as it relates to book trailers, tweeting, photoshopping, websites, YouTube, social media and so much more. Register  HERE.