Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Rewinding to Record: A Journey to Agenthood with Kirsti Call

A writing journey is like the tape recorder I used in my youth: Sometimes you fast forward, rewind, pause, and play. Other times you are eaten by the recorder, and when you eject, your tape is splayed all over the place: some stuck, some stretched, and maybe even broken.

It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to call Kirsti Call not only my writing partner since 2013, but by the title of ReFoReMo Co-Mama. Even though we are separated by hundreds of miles, we’ve been able to record large portions of each other’s journeys. Kirsti recently signed with agent Emma Sector at Prospect Literary Agency, and I KNOW we can learn a lot from her!

Hi Kirsti! Let’s put the tape recorder simile to the test.
Rewind back to the beginning of your journey. How did you begin building your foundation?

Seven years ago, I moved to the Boston area with five kids eight years old and under. I suddenly realized that I needed to pick up my pen and write again.  I joined my local critique group, Writer’s Rumpus.  Picture books were the perfect length because I was telling my kids stories that I could write down. The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall was a story I told my kids at Home Depot!  It was my second picture book manuscript and 3 months after I wrote it, Character Publishing accepted it for publication.  Wow!  What a surprise!  And what a happy miracle!

How did you know it was time to press play? 

Getting my first contract motivated me to really delve into working on my craft and learning everything I could about writing picture books.  I met Carrie on the 12x12 forum in 2013 and we started critiquing and revising each other’s work almost every day.  We helped each other with pitches, queries, and stories.  I took online classes:  Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe, Children’s Book Academy classes, Making Picture Book Magic with Susanna Hill.  After The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall came out in December of 2013, I started school visits and eventually went to Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp.  I became a Cybil’s award judge and read hundreds of YA books and picture books. 

Were you ever tempted to press eject? If so, how did you get back on track?

Over the past seven years I've felt encouraged, then discouraged, and ready to press eject, then encouraged again.  The publication of Raindrop was encouraging, but when it went out of print after 5 years, I felt disheartened.  Despite the disappointment, I submitted to publishers and within 9 months it was out in the world again with Mazo Publishing.  Huzzah!  Encouraged again!

And the cycle continued. I’d get a really good critique, or a really great champagne rejection, and feel some hope for getting my work out there.  And then I’d get a frustrating critique or a very negative rejection and feel frustrated again.  I paused several times for short spurts to re-evaluate my stories, polish them and make them shine.  

Did you find the need to rewind again?

It always helps to look back at your successes, especially when they feel few and far between.  I try to rewind and remind myself of positive steps in my writing journey; becoming an author with Raindrop, a school visit where a kid told me “you’re my favorite author,” glowing critique group feedback, connection and conversations with Jane Yolen.  These successes and others helped me continue and persevere in my writing path, and move forward with faith for the future.

Thinking back to the beginning, fast forward through your submission attempts and rejections. Would you mind summarizing your submission history record for us? What stands out to you as low and high points?

I basically submitted at least 5 times a month (and usually more) for the last 7 years.  So I submitted at least 420 times.  I had two editors interested in stories that they ultimately didn’t take.  I had several agents interested in one of my stories, but not in my other manuscripts.  The low point was when I thought I had a sale and even talked to the editor extensively about one of my picture books and then I never heard anything again.  So frustrating to hold out hope for nothing in the end!  But the high point was definitely that first contract, and holding The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall in my hands for the first time! 

And of course another VERY high point, was signing with Emma Sector!  I submitted to Rachel Orr at Prospect through the 12x12, and Rachel sent my story to her colleague, Emma.  Emma loved my rhyming 3 little pigs fractured fairy tale, and asked for more work.  After she read 4 more of my stories, she asked to read a couple chapters of my YA.  Eeeeeek!  I felt very unsure about my YA, but I forced myself to press the send button.  Emma offered representation over email, without even talking to me.  Later that week, we had a conversation and I loved her warm, positive attitude.  All of my past rejections led me to where I am now in my writing journey. 

You were able to record part of your history when you published your first book. Looking at your current collection, what do you hope to record in the future?

I hope to catalogue and record many more books in my future.  Silly, rhyming picture books, and lyrical ones.  My historical fiction YA, and my magical realism MG.  I hope that my words make a difference for at least one kid…or adult. 

As our community pauses to read this, what steps do you feel will make all the difference for them?

  1. Write and revise, and write and revise again.
  2. Always get critiques.
  3. Never stop submitting, unless you’re taking a break to hone your craft. 
  4. And most importantly: Read mentor texts, and lots of them.  Reading and studying great picture books and understanding why I liked them has made all the difference for me. 

Go ReFoReMo!!!

We sincerely wish you all the best with your personal writing goals, and we look forward to learning more from you through ReFoReMo. The best is yet to come! 

Thank you Carrie! Your support has made my writing journey magical!

Kirsti Call loves words and putting them together in ways that make people smile. She writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels. She gets inspiration from her five kids, husband, and backyard chickens. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her writing, reading with her kids, or singing with her family. And if you visit her blogsite you'll find her reviewing great books!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Just One Word-Monthly Challenge

By Janie Reinart
Embed from Getty Images 

Can you do it? Can you imagine writing a picture book using just one word?  Aaron Reynolds did it for a summer adventure.

Friends don't let friends go surfing alone in the ocean, but dude, there's a shark out there. Don't worry dude, everything will be all right.

What about using an animal sound to create the mood? 

Cow takes a joy ride in farmer's car. Watch out for the bump in the road!  Moooo! What will Cow do?

A 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book
Dog is hopeful his best girl will play ball. Then she has to leave for school. Mom, baby, and cat aren't interested. Now Dog has to play a one-sided game. What will happen next?

How do you get a little boy's attention when he is stuck on watching TV? Gorilla knows what to do with some extra tricks up his sleeve.  Gorilla shares the joy of reading. 

Now that you are imagining a one word book, how do you create your manuscript? Check out the the article by Shutta Crum for her 9 1/2 word book, Mine.  Happy writing. Let us know about your one word story in the comments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THINK QUICK with Minh Le and Dan Santat

Hi Minh and Dan!  I love how DRAWN TOGETHER is such a perfect synergy of art and words.  That's why I wanted to get both of your thoughts for this THINK QUICK interview. 

On clever titles:
Double meaning or Puns?

Minh: Double meaning. TRIPLE meaning or more if I can manage it.

Dan: Double meaning. Puns sound cheap. 

On illustrations:
Traditional media or Digital?

Minh: Whatever the illustrator prefers. ;-)

Dan: Traditional. I like a tangible finished piece although I admit I'm a mostly a digital artist who is slowly reverting back to his traditional art roots.

On visting Grandparents:
Fun or Failure?

Minh: Is "both" an option? I loved visiting my grandparents but it also always left me feeling like I was inadequate... like I was failing to fully connect.

Dan: Failure in the moment but fun when you reflect back on those moments.

On relationships with Grandparents:
Close or Distant?

Minh: Close. Despite the language gap and sometimes physical distance, I still feel connected to my grandparents (even with those who have passed).

Dan: Distant, unfortunately. My grandmother on my mother's side was the only grandparent I ever met because all the others had passed away. I only got to be with her a handful of years.

On Silence:
Comfortable or Uncomfortable?

Minh: Comfortable. Of course there are uncomfortable silences (which is a big part of our book), but as someone who is more of an introvert, I am also very comfortable with silence.

Dan: Comfortable when you're supposed to be. The best comfort is when you can be silent and it feels right. 

On communication:
Art or Story?

Minh: Art. Which may seem odd since I'm the writer not the illustrator, but I prefer stories to take place mostly through the illustrations if possible (which is possible when you're lucky enough to work with the kind of artists that I have).

Dan: Both. They are inseparable to me.

On art:
Illustration or Fine Art?

Minh: Illustration. That's an easy one because as far as I'm concerned, illustration is the finest art.

Dan:Illustration. The word, and the practice has a bad wrap for not being a legitimate form of art, while on the other hand I feel fine art can sometimes be guilty of being nothing disguised as importance. My favorite art happens to be from old pulp novel covers.

On Collaboration:
Synergy or Frustration?

Minh: Synergy. To create a successful picture book, I think it's critical for the collaboration to be based on trust and mutual respect (also critical: having a great editor who can manage that collaborative process).

Dan: Synergy. It's like a relationship. You need to give a little, take a little, and be open to the other person's ideas. There's always a beautiful middle when both sides give it their best. You can't grow if you're not open to new ideas. 

On stories:
Connecting or Confusing

Minh: Connecting. Finding a way to connect with a reader (that mysterious stranger waiting in the future) is the whole point of making books.

Dan: Connecting if it is done right. If you're confusing the reader then you're message isn't clear.

On Culture:
Bonding or Separating?

Minh: Bonding. Whether it's connecting with someone because you share a culture, or sharing your culture with someone outside that experience, it's definitely something to bond over.

Dan:Should be bonding. To respect other cultures is definitely a bonding experience. I feel like things are separating between cultures, right now which is disheartening. We need to listen more and ESPECIALLY be more forgiving of one another. 

On Books:
Drawn Together or Drawn Together?

Minh: All of the above.

Review of DRAWN TOGETHER by Kirsti Call

"Right when I gave up on talking, My grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words."

The title alone made me want to read this book. It beautifully demonstrates how a grandfather and grandson learn to connect when they can't understand each other's words. Dan Santat's stunning illustrations combine with Minh Le's sparse text to create an unforgettable story of love, tradition, culture and family. Somehow Dan manages to combine multiple styles of illustration seamlessly. And the idea of a child connecting with his grandfather through art is priceless. This is a story that will make you want to read and re-read in order to get all the nuances of the art and words. It will keep you thinking and evoke discussion about family traditions, relationships, art and story. 

Minh LĂȘ is the author of Let Me Finish! (an NPR Best Book of 2016) illustrated by Isabel Roxas and the upcoming Drawn Together illustrated by Caldecott medalist Dan Santat, both published by Disney-Hyperion. He is also writing Green Lantern: Legacy, a graphic novel for the new DC Comics middle grade imprint, DC Zoom. A member of the kidlit consortium The Niblings, Minh has written for a number of national publications, including the New York Times, HuffPost, and the Horn Book. He is currently serving as a judge for the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. Outside of spending time with his beautiful wife and sons, his favorite place to be is in the middle of a good book.

Dan Santat has illustrated over 80 books for children. He is also the author of several New York Times Best Selling and award winning titles such as After the Fall, Are We There Yet, Sidekicks, and the 2015 Caldecott Medal winning book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two kids, and an assortment of pets. Visit him at www.dantat.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mentor Text Author Study: Loren Long

By Keila V. Dawson

From a young age, Loren Long loved to draw. In school, it was something he was really good at. And he wanted to grow up to be an artist. Even when he was diagnosed with colorblindness, Loren never let go of his dream. He majored in graphic design in college, went to art school, and became a #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator and author.
After a career illustrating greeting cards and magazine covers, he designed book covers. That led him to his career in picture book illustration. And ultimately paved the way to writing and illustrating picture books.
Loren is a storyteller. Watching him present at a book event or speak on a panel with other authors and illustrators is a real treat. He is funny, insightful, and inspirational. 
Here are a few reasons why his books are so popular.

Loren Long’s stories have a timeless quality and are cherished by children and adults alike. They have what many refer to as “heart”.
In Little TreeLong delivers emotion in every spread using pictures and or words. He doesn’t say the little tree is happy or has friends; kids see bright green leaves and other trees all around him. But fall comes and other trees drop their leaves except for Little Tree. He didn't say Little Tree is afraid of change. In every season, the art and the repeated refrain “Little Tree just hugged his leaves tight.” reveal that emotion.  

Long is well-known for creating the picture book series about an endearing character named Otis highlighting themes of friendship and kindness.  In each story in the series, Long uses events from farm life that easily translate to universal values kids are introduced to at home and in school.

Otis his first book in the series, Long’s young audience learns about where Otis lives and what’s important to him in the opening. 
“There was once a friendly little tractor. His name was Otis, and every day Otis and his farmer worked together taking care of the farm they called home. Otis liked to work.”
The child understands:
·       The character is a tractor.
·       The tractor’s name is Otis.
·       Otis is a friendly tractor.
·       Every day Otis and his farmer are together.
·       Together they took care of the farm.
·       The farm is home.
·       Otis liked to work.

When developing a character, it’s important to know what makes that character appealing. In an interview, Long said he developed the character first before creating the image. The traits of Otis are reflected through his sounds, actions, and reactions to situations and other characters. Let’s look at how Long shows us what he wants us to know about Otis. 
Why do kids care about Otis?
He’s friendly. Otis has big headlight eyes, a metal nose, cute smile, two big wheels in the back, and one in the front that helps him do things tractors do. His putt puff puttedy chuff helps a scared little calf drift off to sleep. His puttering purr reveals his gentle nature.  
What are some childlike qualities Otis has?
He loves to play and have fun! He chases rabbits, plays leapfrog over bales of hay and ring-around-the-rosy.
Why would a child remember Otis?
Otis is kind. In this story, he befriends a lonely calf. And children can relate to the idea of loneliness or at least empathize. They can relate to the sadness Otis feels when the farmer brought home a newer bigger tractor and Otis is sent to live behind the barn where “weeds began to cover his tires.” Kids will cheer when the calf gets into trouble and Otis comes to the rescue. Because that’s what we teach kids what friends do and Otis is a special friend.

Long establishes the character qualities of Otis the first book. In each book thereafter, when Otis is faced with a new conflict, he stays true to himself. 

In Otis and the Tornado, Long introduces a bull who snorts, snarls, huffs, glares, and flares his nostrils. This character is not gentle and everyone is afraid of him. But when Otis learns the bull could be in danger, he stays true to his character and takes a big risk to help the bull. And in the end, Otis makes a new friend.
In this story Long reveals something new about Otis. He is not only brave, but he is courageous too. Otis is brave when he acts without fear to save the calf; he is courageous when he acts despite fear of the bull and the tornado.

In Otis and the Kittens, An Otis Christmas, and Otis and the Puppy Long continues to explore the character trait of selflessness by putting Otis in danger before saving others.

Long’s supporting characters; the lonely calf, big scary bull, and an impulsive puppy also serve a purpose. They all have traits that lead to making choices so Otis can jump into action and become the character he is supposed to be.  
Find more books in the Otis the Tractor series here

So writers, if you are creating a character that is kind, considerate and caring, you want them to be like Otis. If you have a dream of becoming a picture book writer and wonder if you have the talent, persistence, and perseverance, be like Loren.

Illustrated picture books by Loren Long

Other resources: