Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nuts and Bolts by Linda Ashman

N is for The Nuts and Bolts
Guide to Writing Picture Books
More for National Poetry Month:

Linda Ashman, author and poet extraordinaire, has written a valuable book on crafting picture books, The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Available in PDF, e-book, or Kindle, her book covers character, POV, rhyme, humor, submissions, and much more. This book should be in every picture book writer's top five.

Available on Amazon

If you aren't familiar with Linda's books, drop in at your local library. A few of my favorites are pictured below. 
Illus by Susan Winter
illus by Michael Chesworth
Illus by Christian Robinson
Illus by Nadine Westcott
Illus by Claudio Munoz

Linda was kind enough to help Susanna Leonard Hill with a rhyme clinic several months ago. If you missed the opportunity, here are a few of the highlights. 
  1. Don't let rhyme trump your story. Use the rhyme to get from beginning to end, not as filler.
  2. Use natural phrasing or twist your words into awkward order just to make them rhyme.
  3. Make your meter matter. Exact rhyme and perfect meter - every time.
And Linda's advice from her guest post at Julie Hedland's 12x12:

  • Imagine your ending: Having at least a vague sense of your destination makes it easier to get there.
  • Let it flow: Don’t be nit-picky early in your writing process—just get your ideas on paper. Later, when you’ve got your story figured out, you can obsess about clarity, word choice, grammar and punctuation.
  • Brainstorm: Words beget ideas, and free-associating can stimulate creativity and lead your story in new directions.
  • Change your scenery: Being in a different environment can give you a fresh perspective.
  • Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes ideas aren’t ready to be hatched. Your drafts are likely to look bad— really bad —before they start looking good. If you can’t seem to get beyond your bad beginning, put your manuscript away for a while. Sometimes timing is everything.

You can see more about Linda in this interview with Tina Cho.
*Follow the A to Z Challenge.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Making Progress, Measuring Success

M is for Moving Forward
Did you make any creative resolutions for 2014? Is it time for a check-up? Sometimes we need to modify our aims as we move forward.

Last week we talked about easy ways to make progress on your goals. But what if you haven't made any? What if your goals no longer fit? What if it's time to add a new dimension to your vision? What if you've already achieved what you set out to do or set your goals a bit out of reach?

Here is a SMART way to 
Make progress and Measure your success.

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement; I would also recommend Sustainable goals at a Sustainable pace
  • Measurable – along with specific areas, be sure your goals are specific enough to know if you are progressing; I would also recommend Manageable & Meaningful to your current situation.
  • Attainable – within the realm of possibility; something over which you have control; Adjustable goals help you Avoid a domino affect, where each successive goal is built upon the previous one. One missed deadline can mean Annihilation of your entire schedule.
  • Relevant – is your goal worthwhile, and is this the right time to pursue it? Which results can Realistically be achieved, given available Resources; 
  • Timely – specify when the result(s) can be achieved; one way to ensure this is to work backwards from your goal, assigning deadlines to each necessary step, that way you know what you have to do and when, including when you need to start.  

Want to be even SMARTER?

Evaluate and Reevaluate. The nature of goal-setting is being flexible. Goals are there to help you improve, progress. Don't become a slave to your goals. If you find yourself needing to change direction, do it, but be SMART.

There are dozens of variations of the SMART goal system. These are the criteria that work for me.

Don't forget to

  • Write down your goals.
  • Put them in plain view.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Build a support group with regular accountability.

* Follow the A to Z Challenge.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Too Little to Look

L is for Little*
Celebrate National Poetry Month!

I am the sister of him,
     And he is my brother.
He is too little for us
     To talk to each other.

So every morning I show him
     My doll and my book;
But every morning he is still
     Too little to Look.**

Art by Henk Blokhuis
* Follow the link to the A to Z Challenge.
** Little

Sunday, April 13, 2014

K is for Kelly Murphy

K is for Kelly Murphy*
Oops! "K" should have posted yesterday. So sorry.

I hope you can still enjoy this art spotlight a day late. Thanks for your patience.

I love to browse the library and bookstore shelves for hidden gems. I confess, I still prefer to judge a book by its cover. (I'm pretty good at judging by the spine too!) Anyway, One day about 8 years ago, I spotted this little beauty. Ooooo, how that cover made me grab it from the shelf and dive between the covers.

At the Sign of the Star,
by Katherine Sturtevant.
Cover by Kelly Murphy

I loved this book. Set in England in the late 1600's, this novel follows the bookish life of 12-year old Meg. She may be a bit of a feminist, but the characters, settings, and historical details made this an engaging read.

It turned out the cover was painted by Kelly Murphy. I didn't know her back then, but you'd be hard pressed not to know her now.  Below you'll find a few of her more heralded projects.

The Miniature World of
Marvin & James,

by Elise Broach 
The Mouse With
the Question Mark Tail,

by Richard Peck
Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters,
by Jane Yolen

It is no surprise that Kelly's signature style has been honored by the Society of Illustrators, and that her books have garnered so much attention. Neither should it surprise you that she counts Edward Gorey and Shaun Tan among her heroes. Take a look at these fantastic pen and ink illustrations.
Kelly Murphy from Behind the Bookcase

Courtesy Kelly Murphy

You can hear more about Kelly's work on Mark Steensland's Behind the Bookcase.

You can find another interesting interview including her process at EMU's Debuts.

Of course, Kelly has her cuddly side too.

Mother's Day Card, by Kelly Murphy
Visit her at

*Follow the A to Z Challenge.

Friday, April 11, 2014

PPBF: Jumbo's Lullaby

J is for Jumbo*

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick helps celebrate National Poetry Month.

Jumbo's Lullaby,
 by Laura Krauss Melmed and Henri Sorensen

Jumbo's Lullaby
Written by Laura Krauss Melmed
Illustrated by Henri Sorensen
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1999
fiction, ages 2-9
word count 315

Parental love, Animals, Bedtime

Shusha, shusha, Mama's darling,
stars are twinkling up high,
flickering like little fishes
in the river of the sky.

In their midst the moon is flosting,
glowing with a gentle light,
like a pearly water lily
that has blossomed in the night.

Shusha, shusha, little Jumbo,
Mama's love will hold you tight.

This rhyming picture book begins with an elephant shushing her baby to sleep. The text follows the animals of the savannah as they sing their lullabies. But as the story progresses, the verses move from realistic to dreamy. Though the lions may dream of the day they will grow up to be hunters, the hippo dreams she has butterfly wings. Sweet, charming, and clever. This book includes one page of back matter which explains a few details about the real Jumbo.

What I Love:
This follow-up to the Melmed / Sorensen classic, I Love You As Much, may not be as perfect, but it is a great addition to any bedtime routine nonetheless. Laura Krauss Melmed's verse rarely falters. And Henri Sorensen proves he is a master illustrator of both the realistic and the fantastic. I love his gazelles which leap above the clouds.

And the last stanza makes me sigh along with the narrator:

Wrapped in shadow, hidden thicket,
misty marsh, or grassland's sweep,
those who are awake by daylight
close their eyes and welcome sleep.

Now that you are sleeping too, dear,
how I sigh with sweet relief.
Slumber peacefully, my darling,
Mama's love is wide and deep.

Courtesy Learn Create Love
1. Read this interview with Laura Krauss Melmed.
2. Discover the facts about the real-life elephantine marvel, Jumbo from the Barnum Museum.
3. Hear more African lullabies on Songs From the Baobab.
4. Visit the new African penguin exhibit at the Maryland Zoo, Baltimore.
5. Craft and ostrich with this printable.
6. Cook authentic Chicken Yassa or chin chin from Kadi's African Recipes.
7. Ready to try your hand at a little verse? Scholastic offers online workshops with Jack Prelutsky, Jean Marzollo, and Karla Kuskin.
8. Here are some other Perfect Picture Books you might enjoy.

Posted by Jennifer Rumberger
Posted by Catherine Johnson
Posted by Of Thoughts and Words

Posted by Miss Marple
One of my all-time favorites!

About P. T. Barnum and his
other elephant adventures.
Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for April 11, 2014 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's excellent blog.

*Follow the A to Z Challenge.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H Is For Homework

H is for Homework*
Conference season is upon us. Have you done your homework?

I had the unexpected opportunity to attend a mini conference last month. I had roughly three weeks to prepare, not enough time in my opinion. But I walked away feeling I had succeeded in my quest, complete with happy ending. What should you be doing to prepare for your next conference?

What you need depends on your goal. Everyone wants to walk away with a multi-book contract, but that is hardly the typical outcome of such events.

This was my first time attending a conference as a writer, so my goals were pretty straightforward -  look professional, make contacts, and discover my next step on the writer's journey.

1. Look professional. 
     Choose your best, most appropriate manuscripts. Format and print a few of each, but don't forget to bring digital copies just in case. Sum up your projects with concise pitches, because everyone will ask you, "What do you write?"
     Pack up-to-date business cards or postcards.
     Review your website and pre-post your blog. No one wants their posts to disappear just because they're out of town. No one wants to be distracted when they get home either. Don't forget, if an editor takes your contact information, the first thing they will do is check your online presence.
     Act professionally. I'm not good in social situations. For me, that means rehearsing and researching.

2. Research to be prepared. Who is on the faculty? Attending a conference is more than choosing the right workshops, it's knowing what to say when you meet the presenters. I don't mean having a slick elevator pitch (though that never hurts), I mean getting to know the editors and agents beforehand so you can ask them questions you need to know.
     Agents: Read her blog, learn her taste, and study her submission policies.
     Publishers: Study their catalog, read interviews with the editor, and search for the press's current needs.
     Magazines: Browse the magazine website, read a few back issues, and check CWIM for guidelines.

In my case, when I met each attendee, I didn't have to waste time finding out the basics.
     I was able to ask the agent to clarify her query procedure and see if she was interested in my genre, since it wasn't listed on her website. I knew which of my manuscripts she would dismiss without even reading them, so I didn't bringing those.
     I questioned the editor about the biographies her press had recently published. I learned they didn't accept slice-of-life manuscripts, and why. This was valuable, because it was the format I had chosen for my work-in-progress. I will be able to tailor my next project to their preferred format if I decide to submit there.
     When you study a magazine, you learn the flavor. You learn what they like. You don't always learn what they don't like. By noting what was missing from the magazines, I was able to propose new content. I got instant feedback from the editor on which submissions might be worthwhile.

3. A positive learning experience. I learned a lot about chapter books and easy readers, how to inject humor into my writing, how to stay grounded, how to persevere, how to query professionally, and so much more. The most important thing I learned was . . . what I don't know.

      I don't know enough about early readers. My manuscripts isn't as ready to submit as I'd hoped. My next step is to learn more about the genre before I begin revising.
     I don't know which publisher is right for my non-fiction WIP. I learned it isn't suitable for the publisher I met, and why. My next step is to find a new prospective publisher, or rewrite to different specs.
     I still don't know when I'll find the right agent, but I am armed with better questions to ask, and more qualities to examine as I continue stepping toward the goal, having an agent who is a perfect fit.

By taking a hard look at my current projects, tailoring them to the conference attendees, and asking the right questions, I found out where my work might sell, and where it won't.

As it turns out, I was able to show one of the magazine editors a sample of my work, which she offered to buy "on the spot." We laid the groundwork for future submissions. I definitely know what steps to take to pursue a mutually beneficial relationship.

I guess H is also for Hip-Hip-Hooray! and Hallelujah!
Enjoy the version below, by the Royal Choral Society.

*Follow the A to Z Challenge.