Kristin is the author of YA novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO (Elephant Rock Productions, September 2016). The book was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and chosen for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Kristin’s success led to lots of speaking engagements and a flurry of activity as the book gained popularity. But what’s a newly-minted author to do when the process of promoting a book zaps your energy and leaves you feeling unable to write anything new? Kristin answers this important questions and more in this fabulous post that provides an honest perspective. Hope you enjoy it!
Happy March to one and all! It’s been way more lion than lamb around here today that’s for sure. So to help brighten up an otherwise gloomy day, I have two exciting announcements to share:
First, the MADNESS is on again! I’m not talking basketball, I’m talking POETRY. Ed DeCaria’s March Madness Poetry competition returns this year, and yours truly is once again an “authlete.” I’m excited to be part of the fun! The competition begins Sunday, March 5 when the first words are revealed. I’m hoping for tons of support from my blog and Twitter followers as well as my Facebook friends! Learn how you and/or your class can get involved by clicking below:
Second, (which really happened first) my first nonfiction picture book for kids, ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING (Red Line Editorial/North Star Editions) was released in late January! It’s part of a series on Cutting Edge Technology and is available for purchase from Amazon.com (just click on the picture for more information).
Thanks to all of you for your continued support of my writing journey. It means so much to have you along for the ride!
Sensibility- Renewing commitments on a regular basis helps maintain focus and keep dreams alive!
Sense- March is a great time to recommit to those writing goals you set in January. Check your list and take stock of where you are and where you want to go.
Have you met any personal writing goals since January? Share them here!
Happy Friday everyone! I’m so excited to welcome my friend and newly-minted children’s author, Jodi McKay to Sensibility and Sense! Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman and Company, December 2016), illustrated by Denise Holmes, is a fun and funny look at the ellusive world of the punctuation mark! When a period, an exclamation point and a question mark get together to write their own story, they find that something very important is missing. . .the WORDS! Enter some wise quotation marks, an opinionated parenthesis and a colon with a long list of ideas, and you’ve got an endearing tale that introduces kids to the important work end marks and their com padres do. And now, without further delay, here’s Jodi. . .
When a period, an exclamation point and a question mark get together to write their own story, they find that something very important is missing. . .the WORDS! Enter some wise quotation marks, an opinionated parenthesis and a colon with a long list of ideas, and you’ve got an endearing tale that introduces kids to the important work end marks and their com padres do. And now, without further delay, here’s Jodi. . .
Patti: Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer. When did you first get the “bug” and how did you nurture the dream along the way?
Jodi: I’ve been a creative type my whole life, drawing, writing, playing music so I guess I was born with bugs-Ewwww. Regardless of what I was doing in life I always found time to draw or write. I honed my skills during mind numbing high school and college classes (some of my best doodles came from a statistics course), painted while I was supposed to be working, found a way to include writing in my job, and now I shut the door to my office and ignore reality so I can dive deep into the weird abyss of my creative process. Hmm, I’m making myself sound like a slacker. I promise I got things done, just with the occasional creativity break.
Patti: If you’re like me, you’ve been writing ever since you can remember. But some of us had other careers before we settled on writing. What did you do before you became a wordsmith?
Jodi: I have a graduate degree in Psychology and worked at an eating disorder center in South Florida as an aftercare manager/counselor for some time. I stayed home after I had my son and then we moved back to Michigan. I know what you’re thinking, that I’m crazy for leaving the tropics for the frozen tundra. You may be right.
I didn’t start writing until my son went to kindergarten and I felt like I had enough time to breathe let alone write.
Patti: Many people go to college or graduate school to study writing for children. How has your education, whether writing based or not, informed the work you’re doing today?
Jodi: Honestly, I don’t think much at all. It’s been said that people go into Psychology because they have their own issues and I guess if I tried to make a link between my education and my writing then I would say that my issues make me odd enough to think of the quirky, humorous stories that I like to write.
Patti: Now, let’s talk about WHERE ARE THE WORDS? It’s such a unique and special book. Punctuation marks trying to write a story!!! So perfect! Can you tell us where the idea came from?
Jodi: Thanks! It’s bizarre right? I mean, who thinks of talking punctuation marks? The concept came out of a bad case of writer’s block. I sat at my computer, questioning my ability as a writer and flat out asked my computer, “Where the !@#& are the words?” That was the spark I needed to then ask, “What if someone wants to write a story (me), but literally can’t find words for it?” Once I had the idea I knew I had to present it in a different way and that’s when those sneaky little punctuation marks elbowed their way into the picture. The rest flowed out and was quite fun to create.
Patti: How did your early drafts differ from the final product?
Jodi: I always had the punctuation marks speaking as they act in a sentence, but the way they went about finding the words changed. I think it’s funnier now, especially with Exclamation Point’s role. I also experimented with dialogue tags and some narration, but it just didn’t work.
Patti: Writers love to hear about other writers’ success stories! Can you talk about your journey to publication? How did you connect with your editor and agent, and how did the contract ultimately come together?
Jodi: I say it all the time, the planets aligned (which happens roughly every 500 years) and I was offered a book deal. It goes like this, I won a critique from an author who read my story, offered some feedback, and asked if I would send it to her editor. I sent it and waited 2 ½ months with only one email upfront to say that the editor had received it. Figuring that it was a no I started querying it and then wouldn’t you know it, I opened my email and there was an offer from Albert Whitman! I reached out to the agents I had queried to let them know about the recent development and Linda Epstein emailed me back asking for more work. I was lucky enough to sign with her and she went right to work negotiating the contract with Albert Whitman. I’m very grateful for all of her help in that process.
Patti: We all need great resources to help us along on our writing journey. What are some of your favorite resources- groups, classes, website, blogs- and how do they continue to help you now?
Jodi:SCBWI is probably the greatest resource out there for children’s book writers and illustrators. They are a one-stop shop for finding what you need to write for kids and I would not be the writer I am today if I had not joined. Other online resources I found to be helpful was 12×12 which is open for registration now, Kidlit College offers some great webinars as does Children’s Book Academy, and Facebook groups such as Kidlit 411, Sub it Club, ReFoReMo, StoryStorm, and Agent/Editor Discussion are great for connecting with your peers and having any questions answered. I think continuing education is key to writing for today and tomorrow’s market. What kids need and want evolves so it’s always good to be on top of that and these resources are the best place to stay up to date.
Patti: I like to leave my readers with a nugget or two to think about at the end of each post- a little Sensibility and Sense for the road if you will:) What two pieces of advice would you give to other writers no matter where they are on the path to publication?
Sensibility-Jodi says. . .Let your emotions out. I say this with two scenarios in mind: 1. When writing, access your feelings and use them in your story’s voice or your character’s personality. This will make it feel authentic, a story that only you can write. 2. Writing and submitting can be awfully frustrating. Let yourself be angry, sad, anxious because that’s part of the journey. Go outside and chuck ice cubes at a wall (not a window!), scream into a pillow, ugly cry for a bit and then pick yourself back up and keep writing. Don’t keep those emotions in or they may hold you back from experiencing how rewarding writing is.
Sense- Jodi says. . .Connect with other writers. No one else will understand what you are doing better than people who are doing the same thing. The kid lit community is filled with the most enthusiastic, empathetic, supportive people that I have ever come across and the collective wisdom of the group is invaluable. If being part of a large group is not your thing, then find a small group. By this I mean, join a critique group either in person or online. You should not send a manuscript to an agent or editor without having it looked at by at least three people who can offer feedback. A critique group will provide you with that, but more importantly they will become your champions and friends. At least mine did :0)
Patti- That’s some great writing wisdom, Jodi! It’s been a privilege to be part of your journey. Now, did you want to say something about a FREE critique?
Jodi- I am happy to offer a FREE critique for a picture book manuscript of less than 700 words. Looking forward to reading your work!
Patti: Wow, that’s a generous offer! Let’s do it this way. . .the first 10 picture book writers to comment on this post will get your name in a drawing for a FREE picture book critique from Jodi! Please include your name and the words…I WANT THAT CRITIQUE… in your comment to be eligible!
And don’t forget, I’m offering a BOGO Picture Book Critique Special through the end of January! That means today you have TWO great chances to polish your work and get it ready to submit! So start those comments rolling and check out my offer by clicking the PGWRites Critiques tab above.
Thanks again, Jodi! And be sure to get your copy of WHERE ARE THE WORDS at your local independent bookseller or on Amazon today!
Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you and your families well and off to a great start to 2017. Wow, 2017! Seems odd to see that number in print, but here we are. It’s time for setting both goals and boundaries as we each dive into projects that make our hearts sing! So, in the spirit of this brand-spanking New Year, I want to offer a brand-spanking-new picture book critique special.
For the entire month of January (OK, I’m a little behind since one week has already passed! LOL) I’m offering two PGWRites picture book critiques for the price of one! That’s right…it’s a buy-one-get-one-free opportunity that typically only happens once each year.
So, if you’re ready to start this writing year off with a bang, save those last few changes on that manuscript you’ve been working on and send it in! Then, when you’re ready, you can send in another picture book manuscript for a second critique absolutely free (a $50.00 value)!
Just visit the PGWRites Critiques page and follow the instructions for payment and submitting your manuscript. It’s that easy! Hope to see lots of amazing stories in my inbox very soon!
Here’s to the best writing year ever!
Sensibility– New years are for new beginnings. Dream big and take that important first step.
Sense– Set goals you can reach in a reasonable amount of time. Biting off too much in the first few weeks of the New Year can set you up for failure!
On deck for next week. . . an interview with newly-minted picture book author, Jodi McCay. She’s stopping by to tell us all about her new book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS. And she’s also offering a MS critique (double bonus!). You won’t want to miss it!
So I hit a bit of a milestone last week- OK, I don’t know when I actually hit it, but let’s say I noticed it last week. After a little more than five years with one particular company, I’ve written 161,468 words. Wow! That’s a pretty big number! At any given moment, though, I’m working for at least three companies at a time, so the actual number of words I’ve written in the past five years is most-likely three to four times that number; and that’s just my work-for-hire writing. And what did I get for reaching that milestone you might ask? (Begin drumroll) A water bottle with the name of the company printed on the side. Yep! A water bottle! But hey, in an occupation where even an “atta-girl” is difficult to come by, I’ll take it, and proudly drink from it.
But here’s the thing. . . when I saw that number, I immediately began beating myself up, and the misery lasted for almost 24 hours.
Here’s a sample of the voice in my head (steady, she can be brutal at times):
That’s almost three middle-grade novels. Can you believe that? That’s 161 picture books. How many chapter books did you leave unwritten and for what? You’re so behind all the other writers you know. No wonder an agent hasn’t picked you up yet. You’re 50, and you’ve only sold one book. That’s pathetic.
My husband was finally able to break into my internal dialogue (he’s one of my biggest cheerleaders) and said, “Yes, but think of all those words PLUS everything else you’ve written! Since you started, you’ve written two novels, one chapter book, a poetry collection and who knows how many picture books. And that’s on top of all those other words.”
Hearing that helped a little, but we writers are hard on ourselves by nature. So it wasn’t until breakfast at the end of my 24-hour beat-me-up marathon, that it hit me. Those 161,000-plus words represent piano lessons, violin lessons, trumpet lessons and cello lessons for three kids. They mean bills got paid and music trips to New York and Chicago happened, and field trips happened, and homecoming dances and proms happened and yearbooks happened and college tests and all the other little things that are very big things happened. And all because of words (and the strength from God to write them). When I looked at my youngest daughter across the table, now 17 and heading to college in a year, I realized again what those words had helped to accomplish, and I was thankful. So thankful. . .
So here’s to words, and the things they make happen that are the real stuff of life. They’ve let me be part of the three best stories I’ll ever help to write, and those are Wesley, Julia and Olivia. I love you guys! My three big kids!
Sensibility-Look at your writing in honest ways and celebrate all that you’ve accomplished since you got started. Then eat something chocolate. Chocolate is always good.
Sense- Even when you feel sidetracked by life’s responsibilities, be they writing or otherwise, find a few minutes each day to write something you love (like a blog post;).
What have your words helped you accomplish in the past few years?
Last year was a year of celebration at our house. It started with my youngest child’s 16th birthday. Wow, just writing that makes me feel, um, well-seasoned! That was January…fast forward to May and we had one college graduation, one high school graduation, one graduation party complete with tent, chicken salad sandwiches and a string quartet (thanks to my daughter and her friends). Then my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and that was June.
In July we took a road trip to Disney at my high-school graduate’s request. It was so HOT, but there was lots of laughter and great memories made along the way. August rolled around and it was time to pack my middle kid off to college for the first time. But just two weeks before she left, we decided to add a puppy to our family- enter Barnabas (Gracie and Willow still haven’t quite forgiven me). Crazy right? We said our goodbyes to our girl standing on the sidewalk after holding hands and praying, and my emotional roller coaster was in full swing. Fast forward to October, and I was dancing to “Don’t It Feel Good,” with my son at his wedding. Wow, what a year!
Now it’s January, and I’m finally getting around to my first post of the year. I don’t want to make excuses, but after reading that last paragraph, you have to admit I’ve needed a little time to catch my breath. Joy, while the best stuff of life, can be exhausting!
So here we are in a brand-spanking new year and you’re probably wondering what’s on my calendar now? Absolutely nothing. Now that didn’t sound quite right, did it? What I mean is, absolutely nothing big. You might be thinking that’s a bit of a let down after last year, but seriously, my essentially-empty calendar is such a beautiful thing to me at present. Why? Because it gives me room. . .
Room to think and create and write and revise. Room to commit to getting a major overhaul done on my novel. Room to look at my work with fresh, new eyes. And hey, even room to exercise (kind of fell off the wagon those last couple of months). And yes, room to breathe.
Do you have room to breathe in your life? Or are your margins crammed so full you can barely make it from one task to the next? Even in this crazy broken world filled with technology and the next new thing all of the time, that’s no way to live my friend.
So raise a glass with me (a few weeks late) to margins. May they be ever empty of busyness and filled with all the joy and grace and sweetness we can hold! Happy New Year everyone!
Sensibility-Margins give us time to recharge and reflect. Be wise in how you use them.
Sense- Get your new writing year off right by saying “No” to things that eat into your writing time. If it isn’t essential, let it go.
What are some ways you protect your writing time and the margins in your life?
With just 16 days left until Christmas, it’s time to pull out all the shopping stops and check those wished for items off your list! At our house, no Christmas is complete without books! Even my almost grown-up kids still love getting that perfect book from mom. And watching them open a shiny new read in front of the Christmas tree is one of my favorite things.
So, to help you get going on those last minute book purchases, I’ve compiled a list of some of my all-time favorite Christmas books. Hope one or all of these bring joy to your family’s life this year!
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, by Dr. Suess (Random House Books for Young Readers, First Edition October 1957)
No Christmas would be complete without a visit to Whoville! Cindy Lou Who and the rest of her Who neighbors show the curmudgeonly Grinch the true spirit of Christmas in this holiday classic.
THE SWEET SMELL OF CHRISTMAS, by Patricia M. Scarry, Illustrated by J.P. Miller (Golden Books, September 2003)
In this scratch and sniff story, Little Bear can smell Christmas coming– and so can you! From bringing home the tree to hot cocoa and candy canes, Little Bear knows Christmas is just around the corner. Your little ones will enjoy scratching and sniffing the piney Christmas tree, apple pie, big, juicy orange and other sweet smells in this one-of-a-kind Christmas book.
ROOM FOR A LITTLE ONE: A CHRISTMAS TALE, by Martin Waddell, Illustrated by Jason Crockcroft (Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2006)
When kind Ox invites his friends to seek shelter for the night—Old Dog, Stray Cat and Small Mouse—they are surprised when Kind Donkey brings two new visitors to the stable: Mary and Joseph. As the unlikely friends wait for morning together, they are happy to welcome the last and most important visitor of all, the baby Jesus! A perfect Christmas Eve story for little ones learning about the birth of Christ.
BEAR STAYS UP FOR CHRISTMAS (THE BEAR BOOKS), by Karma Wilson, Illustrated by Jane Chapman (Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2008)
It’s almost Christmas and Bear is sleepy! His friends try everything, from searching for the perfect Christmas tree to baking cookies and singing Christmas songs, to keep him awake. But learning that giving is one of the best Christmas gifts of all is the thing that helps Bear’s sleepy eyes stay open!
HERE COMES SANTA CAT, by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Claudia Rueda (Dial Book, October 2014)
Cat has a feeling he might be on Santa’s naughty list this year. He tries to be good, but soon realises his idea of gift-giving isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea. But if he plays his cards just right, he may just get to meet the Big Guy himself and get a holiday surprise of his very own. From the writer/illustrator team of Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda who brought readers HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT, this feline Christmas story is sure to please!
THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, by Barabara Robinson (HarperCollins, November 1972)
When the Herdmans decide to audition for this year’s Christmas pageant at church (because they heard there would be food), the congregation and the town will never be the same. Gladys Herdman as the Angel of the Lord and an entire Christmas cast made up of all Herdman’s is just about more than anyone can stand. But the Herdman’s take on the birth of Jesus is just what this town needs to find the true meaning of this very old and very special story. This is one of my personal favorites and a yearly Christmas read at our house.
THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISE MAN, Henry VanDyke (Harper and Brothers, 1923)
When Artaban sets out to join his three friends on their journey to see the long-awaited newborn king, he takes three precious gifts as offerings. But he must choose to stop and help others and use those gifts to save lives along the way, even though it may cost him the deepest desire of his heart. An amazing story of a lifelong search for Christ and the unlikely ways God appears to us if we are just looking. Another one of my personal favorites and a great read for middle school and up!
Sensibility-Reading books that entertain as well as inspire at Christmas time and throughout the year help children learn valuable life lessons.
Sense-Take time to read Christmas books with your kids each year. It’s a family tradition they will always remember.
What are some of your favorite Christmas or holiday stories?
The holiday season got off to a bang at our house this past weekend with Thanksgiving and then Christmas Tree Day! It’s beginning to look a lot like my favorite holiday around here, and I wanted to bring some of the Spirit of Christmas to Sensibility and Sense!
That’s why I’m excited to introduce children’s author, Stephanie Burkhart and her new picture book, JOSEPH’S CRADLE!
Here’s a little bit about the book. . .
“The Christmas story about the birth of Jesus is one of the most popular and well known stories around the world. We can only imagine how anxious Joseph and Mary were when they arrived in Bethlehem. Throughout the story, Mary carries herself with dignity and grace. Joseph is steadfast and loyal. Becoming a parent isn’t easy and both Mary and Joseph have to find their own way.”
What a compelling story! And now, let’s meet the author. . .
Stephanie Burkhart was born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, but now calls California her home. She currently works for the LAPD as a 911 Dispatcher. Stephanie has been writing since she was five, when she crafted homemade comic books on the kitchen table. Her previous books with 4RV Publishing include: THE GIVING MEADOW, and FIRST FLAG OF NEW HAMPSHIRE. Stephanie enjoys coffee, adores chocolate and is currently the Den Leader for her son’s Cub Scout Den.
SS: Mary and Baby Jesus are often themes for Christmas books. What inspired you to write this story from Joseph’s perspective?
STEPHANIE: I wanted to write the Christmas story from the view of being expectant parents. I wanted to show how Joseph grew into fatherhood. I think these are all aspects of life we all can identify with.
SS: How long did it take you to write JOSEPH’S CRADLE?
STEPHANIE: The story took about a day to write. After editing, I’d say it took about a week.
SS: The pictures in the book are lovely! Did you pick the illustrator?
STEPHANIE: No, I did not. 4RV Publishing selected the illustrator. I think Matthew Hughes did a fantastic job with the illustrations. They have a very soft-hearted feel and compliment the story well.
SS: With so many Christmas book out there, what makes JOSEPH’S CRADLE special?
STEPHANIE: It’s a look at the Christmas story from a different perspective.
SS: How long have you been writing children’s books?
STEPHANIE: About 5 years now. My first children’s book, THE GIVING MEADOW was published with 4RV Publishing in 2010. It has a great message about sharing and caring for young children as well as telling about Caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. It’s perfect for Easter as it helps young children understand Jesus’ story.
I’ve never been to Paris. It’s been on my list of “Places to Visit,” for as long as I can remember. In the past few days, we’ve all seen Paris and her people in a way we’ll never forget- as victims in the seemingly never-ending war on terror. So today, in honor of those who’ve fallen and those who are left to mourn, here are a few quotes about this city that fascinates the world. . .
“Paris is always a good idea” –Audrey Hepburn
Taken from the film Sabrina, 1954
“America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” – Gertrude Stein
“The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café
The last time I saw Paris, her trees were dressed for spring,
And lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.”
— Oscar Hammerstein II, 1940
“They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris.” — Oscar Wilde From the novel A Picture of Dorian Gray.
“I love Paris when it sizzles” –Cole Porter
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Ilsa: But what about us? Rick: We’ll always have Paris — Casablanca
“To err is human. To loaf is Parisian.” – Victor Hugo
“The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American.”
— F Scott Fitzgerald
“…the whole of Paris is a vast university of Art, Literature and Music…it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in Everything.”—James Thurber
“What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world!” –Charles Dickens
“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”– Thomas Jefferson
“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful after all”
From Collected Poems 1909-1962 –T.S. Eliot
My prayers are with you Paris, France and with all those who’ve suffered so much at the hands of those who place so little value on life. God bless you as you heal.
Sensibility-Pausing to remember beauty and gentleness eases pain and reduces fear during times of great loss.
Sense- Use your writing today in some tangible way that shows love. Write a letter to a friend or loved one, a poem to your significant other or a note to your children. It will be a treasure they cherish always.