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Today, author Ellen Leventhal helps me launch my new blog series Arc Angel, and she is offering a softcover copy of her sweet book, Lola Can’t Leap, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment for this post, and your name will go in the drawing for December 13.

In the Arc Angel series, I will work with published authors as we use our books and have Q and A sessions to help demonstrate good narrative and character arcs when writing picture books.

The idea for this blog series began brewing in my mind about a year ago when one of my critique buddies called me her arc angel. I got a kick out of the play on words and appreciated the compliment. That same day, I wrote the following after the song Earth Angel. You can listen to the song Earth Angel below.

Arc Angel

by Alayne Kay Christian

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

Arc angel, arc angel,

I want to explore,

sharpen my writing forevermore.

I need a tool,

a tool or two from you.

I dreamed of you, and I knew,

I could improve my plot’s liveliness!

I hoped and I prayed that someday,

I’d have the vision of arc happiness.

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

 

And Heeeeere’s Ellen!

new headshot 3

Today’s Arc Angel is the talented author and my fabulous friend and critique buddy, Ellen Leventhal. Thank you for joining us today, Ellen. As you know, the main plot points of the story arc usually include the exposition, ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action that slips into resolution. Your books Lola Can’t Leap and Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets along with your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness all have well-written story/character arcs.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets strays a little from a typical picture book arc formula. But it’s a great example of how arcs can look a bit different but still contain all the elements of a good arc.

Before we move into showing the basic plot points of your stories, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

EL: Happy to answer whatever I can!  But first, I want to thank you for having me. By the way, that Arc Angel song is quite impressive! The only thing better would be for YOU to sing it to everyone!

AKC: Okay. You asked for it . . .

Q: From your experience as a published author, why would you say that understanding arc is important for any writer to master? Could you also address the value of emerging writers learning it and using it?

A: In my mind, ARC is STORY. Without an arc, you just have a group of ideas or actions. Now that’s a fine starting place, but it doesn’t lead to a satisfying ending. As writers, we have to think about how the actions are related and move the characters (and readers) through the story. Stories take us on journeys with a beginning, middle, and end. Thinking about plot points and arc gives both emerging and experienced writers a structure. For me, keeping the arc in mind while I write and revise helps me stay on track. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s important.

Q. What suggestions do you have for strengthening an arc?

A: I guess it would be cheating to say that my first suggestion is to have a talented friend like Alayne Kay Christian who can tell you when you are totally off.

AKC: I’m blushing. You’re too kind.   

But barring that, I do a few things.

  1. After the first few super sloppy drafts, I begin to analyze what I have.
  2. I pop the plot points into a very simple story map to see if I have the elements of a story. If I’m lucky, the elements are there. But if I can’t find the rising action, climax, and resolution, I go back to the drawing board. (actually, the computer screen or yellow pad)
  3. I’ve recently begun to look at arc separately when I revise. That’s difficult for me because a lot of other elements of good writing come easier to me. Give me a sentence to revise; I’ve got it!  Give me an arc to revise; that’s work. But VERY needed and satisfying work.

Q: Do you write organically (pantser) or do you use an outline (planner)?

A: I am definitely a pantster with dreams of becoming more of a planner. For picture books,  I always know my main character and problem before I start, and on a good day, I  know the major plot points and some action. But being mostly a pantster, I don’t always know exactly what goes between those points or how I’m going to get to the end. On not so good days, I just have a character, theme, and some idea of where I want to go when I first sit down to write. But I get there! It’s just a bit circuitous.

I do try to have more of an outline for longer stories. But none of those stories are published, so there’s that. 😊

Q: Whatever your method, what is the value in that approach?

A: For me, I need the freedom to allow new thoughts into my head as I write that first messy draft. I am a list person in my non-writing life (although my list usually says, “Finish that draft!”) The few times I outlined every beat, my “do the list” personality popped up, and I had a difficult time deviating from the outline and letting my mind flow. 

Q: Do you believe there is any value in the opposite approach? Do you sometimes wish that you worked that way, or have you ever considered trying it?

A: Absolutely there is a lot of value in being more of a planner! The most obvious value to me is that it will probably cut down on revision time. I think that it is easier to keep arc and story in mind when the plot points are in front of you. I am actually outlining a picture book now with the hopes that it will aid in keeping word count low.

Q: If you’re a pantser, are you aware of the arc while you are writing? Or during editing, once the basic idea gets down on paper?

A: As a pantster, I do think about the arc as I write first drafts, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. For me, the real work of making sure there is a GOOD arc comes during those early revisions. I usually know the end, so I have to figure out how to get there while keeping the theme, voice, and emotion of the story.

Q: I’m not sure this next question is possible to answer. Why do you think the arcs for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and Lola Can’t Leap took different arc journeys?

A: The first reason for this is because I wrote Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets with my talented friend, Ellen Rothberg. In fact, the major question of the story was her idea. What would happen if a cow ate some bluebonnets? This book was born of conversation and lots of laughs. We were somewhat clueless about writing picture books when we first started, but being educators who read a lot, we did understand basic story structure. When I started Lola Can’t Leap, I knew it was for younger children, and I wanted a specific, easy to follow structure.

Q: Your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness (great title, by the way) has an excellent arc, too. You do a really good job of building tension. Would you please tell us a little bit about A Flood of Kindness? What is it about? And why do you think the arc is important to this story? What was your approach to building the arc?

A: Glad you like  the title! Thank you! I went through many different ones, and I was surprised when the publisher kept that one. But I do like it.

The story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter–a strange, crowded place that is not home–she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have–her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat–and begins looking for ways to help others in the shelter. The book addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope.

The arc is very important in this story because aside from outside circumstances, there is a strong emotional arc. I think in order for children to be drawn to the story, they must feel, not just see, Charlotte’s transformation. My approach to building the arc in this story started with the character’s emotional arc, and  then I plugged in circumstances to support it.

AKC: I think emotional core is key to any story–even humorous ones. The reason I say even humorous stories is because any emotional connection that the reader has to the character and story is a connection that makes the reader want to keep reading. And caring about the character and what might happen to him/her makes the reader turn pages. Charlotte’s emotional journey definitely makes the reader care.

Q: I did a quick breakdown of the arc elements in Bluebonnets and Lola. Would you mind doing one for A Flood of Kindness? I’m not asking for a diagram, but if you can fill in the areas below. It’s fine to use generalities, and please don’t give your ending away. Feel free to adjust as needed for your book.

  1. Ordinary World: This book opens with the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting Incident: Water seeps into Charlotte’s room.
  3. Rising Action: She goes to the shelter.
  4. Dark Moment: She goes back home and sees that the house is destroyed.
  5. Inner Climax:  She sees people performing acts of kindness and sees a little boy with no toys.
  6. Outer Climax: She gives the little boy her beloved Teddy Bear.
  7. Resolution: She smiles for the first time since the flood.

Plot points for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg, illustrations by Joel Cook, Clear Fork Publishing 2017

I find this arc interesting because it’s almost like it has two of everything—two inciting incidents, climaxes, and so on. And that works to build even more tension than the typical formula. I like a story that has lots of ups and downs.

To blog readers: In my analysis, I intentionally give basic plot points to protect Ellen’s work. It will be important to analyze the book to find how each plot point is fully executed. I’m sorry about the ending, but it is common practice to never give the ending away.

First Part

  1. Ordinary World: Sue Ellen is a cow that dances to her own beat.
  2. Inciting Incident: Max puts up a sign, “Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.” Sue Ellen loves bluebonnets and announces that Max is not her boss, and she will eat the bluebonnets if she wants.
  3. Rising Action: Bluebonnets are popping up everywhere, tempting Sue Ellen. And no matter how many animals warn her the dangers of eating the bluebonnets . . .
  4. Inner Climax: Sue Ellen makes a decision.
  5. Outer Climax: She eats all the bluebonnets!
  6. Dark Moment: Her friends are all mad at her and her belief system is challenged when the bluebonnets don’t come back.

Second Part

  • New Ordinary World: There are no more bluebonnets in Sue Ellen’s pasture.
  • Inciting Incident: Sue Ellen decides to find a way to bring the bluebonnets back.
  • Rising Action: Sue Ellen tries several creative ways to bring the bluebonnets back, but she fails with each attempt.
  • Dark Moment: Sue Ellen may not find a way to bring the bluebonnets back. Then what?
  • Inner Climax: Sue Ellen realizes how important the bluebonnets were to her, and she’s back to thinking.
  • Outer Climax: When the other animals offer to help, Sue Ellen gets an idea, dashes off, and puts her plan into action.
  • Resolution: I can’t tell you how Sue Ellen solved her problem or how the story ends, but I will share that the ending is satisfying and that Sue Ellen gains a new appreciation for bluebonnets, friends, and rules.

Don't eact the bluebonnets diagram arc

 

 

Plot points for Lola Can’t Leap by Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Noelle Shawa

Clear Fork Publishing 2018

This story follows more of the classic arc formula.

  1. Ordinary World: Lola comes from a long line of leapers, and she longs to leap, but she has to wait until she’s just the right age.
  2. Inciting Incident: Lola’s birthday—she has finally reach leaping age.
  3. Rising Action: Lola tries in the most fun and entertaining ways to leap the fence, and fails each time.
  4. Dark Moment: Poor Lola. She works so hard, trying in every way imaginable to get over the fence so she can help the babies sleep. But no matter how hard she tries, nothing works. She’ll never help the babies sleep if she can’t leap. Lola gives up. With her head hanging, she heads home.
  5. Inner Climax: When Lola hears a baby’s cry, she decides to try something different.
  6. Outer Climax: Lola puts her plan into action.
  7. Resolution: Satisfying ending with a twist. And the art provides another surprise.

LOLA CAN'T LEAP DIAGRAM ARC

To see some plot points for other books visit Kid Lit Takeaways here

Thanks again, Ellen for taking time to spread your angel wings and share your arc thoughts. I really related to your feelings about being a pantser and writing first drafts organically. I think the more we work with arc, it is naturally in the back of our mind and part of the process, but not the focus on those first drafts. We have to let our characters lead the way. I also hear what you are saying about perhaps having less revision work if we bring the arc into the story earlier in the process. I’m sure that’s why on my first rough draft of a story with my critique group this month, I got a comment back that there are three different themes that I could make my focus. However, I’m not sure I can write from the heart if I were a planner. It’s all definitely a balancing act.

About Ellen

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com

 

I was so impressed with the visual story that Polina Gortman created in our picture book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED that I decided it would make a great mentor book for both illustrators and writers.

In the video at the end of this post, I walk you through the visual story that is related to my text but independent of it in many ways. It demonstrates to illustrators how doing more than just showing what the text is saying can add layers of meaning to a story and make a picture book much more interesting. It also demonstrates to writers the importance of leaving room for the illustrator to help tell the story. 

Western Washington SCBWI featured Polina on their blog Pen & Story. It is a worthwhile read to accompany this video because Polina talks a bit about her process and how she managed all the characters that she created that appear throughout the story. You can read the post by clicking here.

Also, in a recent article in the Toledo Blade Newspaper, Polina shared some interesting details about how this great visual story came to be. It all started with her not fully connecting with the story . . . 

Blade quotes PolinaI hope that you will be patient and watch the video to the end because that is where the whole story that Polina created comes together. This visual story is all Polina’s creation–no one told her to tell the story, no one told her what characters to create, and there is no bakery, baker, or older woman with a dog mentioned in the text at all. I know that without the text it’s hard to know what Polina created in addition to the story told via text. But I can’t give the whole book away. My publisher wouldn’t like that 😉 Also, I intentionally left the text out because I wanted the visual story to stand on its own with just a little help from my guidance. I hope this video inspires both illustrators and writers, and if it does, please leave a comment to let us know.

 

world kindness day

Above image compliments of Random Acts of Kindness  #worldkindnessday  #makekindnessthenorm

November 13, is World Kindness Day. I’m happy to share that my latest picture book, The Weed That Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, has been listed on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) recommended reading list for books about kindness. And it is in good company. I will share a few of my friends’ books that are on the list below. But, I hope you will check out all the books on the list here.

Weed cover better quality for social media

Because I was only allowed one entry, my book An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin isn’t on the list. But it is also about kindness.

Cover 9781732893566 (1) - Copy

I’m not going to get too carried away talking about kindness because I found a good place for that. The Random Acts of Kindness site has resources for educators and anyone interested in making the world a better place. They have kindness ideas, quotes, posters, videos, stories, and more.

kindness ideas

Above image compliments of Random Acts of Kindness  #worldkindnessday  #makekindnessthenorm

In addition, click here to read their inspiring blog post “Make Kindness the Norm.”

THE CONTEST

I will kick off the Random Acts of Kindness Contest by offering a couple prizes for the contest.

Art of Arc V3

writing for children webinars and courses

We will have a first place and a second place winner. The winners of the contest will win their choice of the following prizes. The first place winner will get first pick, and the second place winner will choose from the remaining prizes.

• Complimentary access to my picture book writing course Art of Arc
• The collection of my webinars currently available at this date
• A signed copy of An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin
• A copy of Who Will? Will You? (also on the SCBWI recommended reading list)

cover from bwp site

What do you need to do?

  1. For the rest of the month of November, carry out a random act of kindness.
  2. Comment on this post by sharing what you chose to do for someone else (the random act of kindness).
  3. Share this post in social media.
  4. With your comment, include where you shared the post link.
  5. 1-4 are requirements to be entered in the contest. Number five is just a favor. Please, if you have any of my books and you like them, I would be very grateful for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you might prefer.

The contest will be over at midnight central time on December 1, 2020. The first place winner will be chosen by Alayne’s choice of the best random act of kindness, and second place will be chosen via a drawing. I will announce winners within two weeks from the end of the contest.

A Flood of Kindness 51B-NZpo0rL._SX473_BO1,204,203,200_In addition to my friends’ books about kindness (at the end of this post) and those on the SCBWI reading list, I’d like to do one more random act of kindness. My friend Ellen Leventhal’s wonderful picture book A Flood of Kindness is available for pre-order and will be released in April 2021. I’ve ridden along with her as she had her writing journey for this book, and I can attest to its excellence. The book was inspired by Ellen’s personal experiences with floods in Houston, with the most devastating being the result of Hurricane Harvey.

“The night the river jumped its banks, everything changed.”

So begins A Flood of Kindness, a poignant picture book that addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope. The story is written in beautifully lyrical spare prose and told from an intimate first-person point of view. Ellen has filled the story with heart and readers “feel” Charlotte’s experience as they follow her watching floodwaters rise in her home until she is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents.

I believe Blythe Russo’s fabulous art is going to bring even more emotion to the story, as we “see” what Charlotte experiences.

Some of my friends’ books about kindness.

See the SCBWI reading list for more. 

Authors: Dozens of Doughnuts Carrie Finnison, Ready, Set, Gorilla Melissa Stoller, Be Kind Pat Zietlow Miller, Finding Kindness Deborah Underwood

Author Illustrators: Hedgehog Needs a Hug Jen Betton, Hugsby Dow Phumiruk 

Illustrators: Brianne Farley, Sandy Steen Bartholomew, Jen Hill, Irene Chan

Doughnuts_front_cover_web-1-originalReady-Set-GOrilla-Cover-72dpi-originalBe_Kind-original Pat MillerHedgehog_jacket-front-sm-original jen bentoncover-10-original DowKindness-cover-original debrah underwood

 

Good luck with the contest, and remember kindness makes the world go round!

kindess believe there is good in the world

Above image compliments of Random Acts of Kindness  #worldkindnessday  #makekindnessthenorm

It’s been months since I’ve written a blog post, but it’s time to pick myself up by my bootstraps and get going again. What a year this has been! I’ve bounced around a number of ways to approach this return to my blog. I even started down a path of several paragraphs talking about how when times get tough, the tough keep going. But that path also led me into a “true confessions and soul searching” direction that just didn’t feel right. So, I’m going to try a more direct approach to where I’ve been, what I need to do, and where I’m going. I’ll start with where I’ve been.

Please forgive any weird formatting issues. WordPress decided to change it’s format while I was away. I need a little more time to learn it.

Who Knew?

When my latest books were scheduled for release, who knew that we would be challenged with a pandemic that has changed nearly everyone’s life? Who knew that my first picture book in ages, An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, would be released eighteen days after I had knee replacement surgery? Who knew that the surgery would still be holding me back nearly four months later? Who knew that my next picture book, The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, would be released four days after my oldest brother’s death? Who knew that book two in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book Series, Cowboy Trouble, would be rescheduled for 2021? Who knew, that my first picture book, Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa’s tenth anniversary would slip by without acknowledgement or celebration? Who knew that it would be picked up by Clear Fork Publishing under the Blue Whale Press imprint, and continue selling all these years later?

My Brother and Me–I will miss him, but I carry him in my heart.

I didn’t know that my exciting book launches and the wonderful year I had planned for all of my beloved books would all come crashing down around me. I’ve been knocked down, but I’m getting back up (broken heart, bum knee, and all) and moving forward.

Trying to get in the spirit in spite of my challenges.

What I Need to Do and Why I Need to Do It

I need to make up for lost time and share the news of my books with y’all. I feel compelled to do this because I feel it’s only fair to the illustrators (Milanka Reardon and Polina Gortman) who worked so hard on my picture books. And it’s only fair to the beautiful books and heartwarming stories that people should get an opportunity to read them. It’s only fair that the kids and adults who will read them should be made aware that the books even exist. It’s only fair to João Pereira de Souza and Dindim to have their story told. It’s only fair to the citizens of Toledo, Ohio and the little weed that their story of unity be told when it seems we’ve forgotten how to love and care about one another as human beings. Along those same lines, I feel like I have an obligation to humanity to share these stories of love and kindness. They both touched my heart, and I want to reach as many other hearts as I possibly can.

You can help me and the illustrators as well as readers by requesting the books at your library and writing reviews. I would be forever grateful.

Future Posts

Keep an eye out for future posts. I’m going to start a new series called Arc Angels where published authors will analyze each other’s books and share with you how each made their stories shine by using the classic narrative and/or character arcs. I expect there will be prizes and giveaways along the way. I plan to share the very first version of Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa with my crude illustrations and all. I will also share how the book started as one thing and ended up being another. And I’ll soon have a book trailer for Cowboy Trouble to share.

There are lots more great posts to come, but I will save them for surprises.

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED

BOOK TRAILER

Review Excerpts

“A heartwarming holiday tale that proves even the littlest things can make a big difference.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The fine message about holiday spirit makes for a perfect read for parents seeking stories that encourage kids to feel empowered to begin changes that cross age and economic barriers. The Weed That Woke Christmas is a lovely, positive, much-needed story for modern times.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“This sweet story is accompanied by lush illustrations by Gortman, who portrays Toledo’s citizens as diverse. The author manages to convey the importance of charity and community without making the tale mawkish or trite. She closes the text with the real story of the Christmas Weed and the hope that the holiday magic will continue.” —Kirkus Reviews

Description

This heartwarming and inspiring book proves that even the smallest gestures can make a big difference and transform apathy and oblivion into awareness, unity, community, kindness and hope. Partly truth and partly fiction, it is based on the true story of how a weed on a Toledo street corner helped spread the giving spirit far beyond its traffic island home. All Weed wants is to be seen, but people are in too much of a hurry to notice each other, let alone Weed. Weed watches, wishes, and waits until finally someone does see it. But Weed discovers that there is something far bigger and more important than a little weed being noticed.

Where to Buy

Buy wherever books are sold and . . . 

Amazon Hardcover

https://www.amazon.com/Weed-That-Woke-Christmas-Mostly/dp/0981493815

Amazon Softcover

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981493823/

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/book/9780981493817.html

Book Depository

https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Weed-That-Woke-Christmas-Alayne-Kay-Christian-Polina-Gortman/9780981493817

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/1137418710?ean=9780981493817

Indie Bound

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780981493817

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/book/9780981493817.html

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN BOOK TRAILER

Review Excerpts

“A moving, affectionate, and joyful tale, all the more so for being true.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An Old Man and His Penguin holds a number of important messages about human/animal relationships, love, oil slicks and their impact on sea life, and loneliness. . . . its underlying focus on letting go and reaping rewards from non-possessiveness offers an outstanding lesson about love for the very young.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Adults looking for an inviting animal story with an important message will welcome this appealingly different seaside tale.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“The underlying lesson about compassion and good stewardship is subtle but effective; an author’s note explains the real-life circumstances. Reardon, who also illustrated the penguin-themed Noodles’ & Albie’s Birthday Surprise (2016), deftly captures the story’s charm and expressiveness.” —Kirkus Reviews

Description

Off the coast of Brazil, João rescues a lifeless, oil-covered penguin (Dindim) and nurses him back to health. Dindim adopts João as an honorary penguin, and the steadfast friends do everything together. They swim together, fish together, and stroll the beach together. But there are real penguins somewhere across the sea. So one day, Dindim leaves João. The villagers tell João the penguin will never come back. João cannot say if he will or will not. Are the villagers right? Will Dindim ever patter into his old friend’s loving arms again?

Where to Buy

Wherever books are sold and . . .

Amazon Hardcover

https://www.amazon.com/Old-Man-His-Penguin-Honorary/dp/173289356X/

Amzon Softcover

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732893578/

Book Depostitory

https://www.bookdepository.com/An-Old-Man-and-His-Penguin-Alayne-Kay-Christian-Milanka-Reardon/9781732893566

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-old-man-and-his-penguin-alayne-kay-christian/1136805502?ean=9781732893566

Books-A-Million

https://www.booksamillion.com/search?id=7861112761623&query=An+Old+Man+and+His+Penguin&filter=

Indie Bound

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781732893566

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/an-old-man-and-his-penguin/book/9781732893566.html

SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT THE REAL CHRISTMAS WEED

I chose to share this video because the narrator gives a sense of the heart of the story that ended up in my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED.

ANOTHER SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT THE REAL CHRISTMAS WEED

I chose to share this video because it does a good job of showing the community coming together.

A SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT JOAO AND DINDIM THE PENGUIN

BOOK LAUNCH POSTS

Thank you to all my friends who helped me share the news of my books via social media when I couldn’t! There are too many to mention, but you know who you are.

Thank you friends who featured my books on your blogs!!!!

My brain is still somewhat foggy, so if I’ve forgotten anyone, please forgive me and feel free to add your post in a comment.

The Weed That Woke Christmas

Vivian Kirkfield’s Picture Book Friday Post 

Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS Plus Giveaway

Kathy Temean shares my book journey on her  Writing and Illustrating blog.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/10/11/book-giveaway-the-weed-that-woke-christmas-by-by-alayne-kay-christian/

Rosie Pova interviews me on her Chitchat blog.

https://www.rosiejpova.com/blog/chitchat-with-author-editor-and-publisher-alayne-kay-christian

Keep an eye out for my KidLit411 feature coming in November.

An Old Man and His Penguin

Janie Reinart interviews me on the GROG blog.

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2020/07/she-wears-many-hatsinterview-with.html

Vivian Kirkfield features An Old Man and His Penguin on her blog.

Alayne Kay Christian: Will Write for Cookies Plus GIVEAWAY

Kathy Temean shares Milanka Reardon’s and my book journey for an Old Man and His Penguin or on her Writing and Illustrating blog.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/book-giveaway-an-old-man-and-his-penguin-how-dindim-made-joao-pereira-de-souza-an-honorary-penguin/

Kathy Temean features Milanka Reardon’s art process for An Old Man and His Penguin.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/05/09/illustrator-saturday-milanka-reardon/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS AN ICHTHYOLOGIST? Mahalo and a final aloha to an amazing man.

I originally posted this story August 17, 2019. I am republishing it today in honor of Dr. John E. Randall, a distinguished ichthyologist and coral specialist who discovered and named more species of fish than anyone. He died April 26 in his home in Kaneohe, Hawaii. He was 95.

Since the original post, the picture book titled after Dr. Randall, Randall and Randall, has been released and was named as one of the best 100 indie books in 2019 by Kirkus Reviews. Author, Nadine Poper and the Blue Whale Press team will be forever grateful for Dr. Randall and his contributions to this educational and funny book. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. May he rest in peace. 

With a final aloha to Dr. Randall, we offer the original post below.

Before I answer the ‘ichthyologist’ question, I want to explain why I’m presenting the question in the first place. Blue Whale Press’s latest picture book, Randall and Randall, is now available for pre-order, and this book just happens to have a foreword written by the renowned ichthyologist Dr. John E. Randall. Please read the post to the end because while I was writing it, I got some fantastic, must see, news. I want to share the surprise with you.

Cover corrected 978-0-9814938-7-9

An ichthyologists is . . .

. . . a branch of zoology that deals with the study of fish and other marine life. Ichthyologists (ik-thee-AH-lo-gists) are also called marine biologists or fish scientists. They discover and study new and existing species of fish, their environment, and their behavior.

Ichthyologists dedicate their time to studying different kinds of fish species, though many will focus on one family of fish in particular. They generally focus on the biological history, behavior, growth patterns, and ecological importance of these fish. Most ichthyologists will go into the field to collect various samples or observe fish behavior and then return to a lab or office to analyze their collected data. If funded by a university, many of these scientists may be required to teach in addition to their other duties. Some of these scientists may also dedicate their time to educating others about the field and advocating for the importance of fish to ecosystems.

About Dr. Randall Dr R head shot

Dr. John “Jack” Randall, ichthyologist emeritus at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, has over 900 publications and has described more valid marine species than anyone, living or dead—at least 800 of them.

Dr. R book 1

Why did Dr. Randall write the foreword for Randall and Randall?

First, the author, Nadine Poper, named the characters and the book in Dr. Randall’s honor. But the answer goes deeper than that.

Why are goby fish named Amblyeleotris randalli and the pistol shrimp named Alpheus randalli? Either there is a strange coincidence between Dr. Randall, the Randalls in the book, and the scientific name randalli or there is a strong connection and explanation.

The explanation starts with Dr. John E. Randall.

“A dive pioneer and a dedicated taxonomist for over 70 years, it’s doubtful there is anyone who knows more about fish than Hawaii’s Jack Randall.”

–Christie Wilcox, Hakai Magazine

Some fun facts about Dr. Randall

• He is sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fish”
• His O‘ahu home is methodically littered with hundreds of pickled fish specimens sequestered in alcohol. Click here to read why he collects these specimens.
• For Dr. Randall, collecting the fish has been exciting and adventurous. He has dived on some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but the actual process of identifying species takes passion and patience. Dr. R book 2
• Dr. Randall was one of the first to study fish in their ocean habitat. He first dove in the mid-1940s, before the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) was even coined.
• He became one of the first scientists to use scuba gear, allowing him to access fish that no one else had ever seen.
• Dr. Randall even pioneered wet suits—sort of. He tried using long underwear to stay warm at first, but they didn’t retain heat. Then he got the brilliant idea to dip his long johns in liquid latex, creating a primitive wet suit years before the first neoprene was used.

 

All the above facts came from an article by Christie Wilcox at Hakai Magazine (May 15, 2016)

Two more wonderful facts about Dr. Randall

1) Dr. Randall celebrated his 90th birthday by SCUBA diving off Waikiki.

2) At the age of 91, he received the 2016 Darwin Medal from The International Society for Reef Studies. The award was presented at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium on June 20. Jack gave an entertaining presentation on his work with coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands to an enthralled audience of hundreds of conference attendees.

Dr. Randall has likely won many other awards, and here is one more example: At 94 years of age, he won the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) Pioneer Award for Science.

Dr. Randall’s scientific and academic achievements are too extensive to list in one blog post, instead I will share the following video. Although it doesn’t cover all his accomplishments, it is so much better than a list! It’s only six minutes long and definitely worth viewing.

This man is amazing, and I urge you to read more about him and to visit the links I have shared.

Finding Dr. Randall: Nadine Poper’s research for the book

Dr. R book 3During Nadine Poper’s research for this book, she was eventually led to Dr. Randall, and they became friends. Dr. Randall told Nadine anything she wanted to know about these creatures and their symbiotic relationship. He even provided her with photos that he took personally under the sea. And Dr. Randall graciously obliged when Nadine asked him if he would write a foreword.

When Nadine asked Dr. Randall how the fish and shrimp species came to bear his name, he responded with the following: “If you see the two-part scientific name Alpheus randalli, Alpheus is the generic name for a group of very similar shrimps, and randalli is the species name which was given by the person who prepared the scientific description of the genus to honor me. . . .”

I’m going to assume the same goes for the goby (Amblyeleotris randalli). And it makes sense, given the interesting relationship between the shrimp and goby (Randall and Randall).

Ambyleleotris yanoi Bali

Live goby fish and pistol shrimp, compliments of Dr. Randall

Goby 2

A real-life view under the sea. Goby fish guarding the burrow and protecting a pistol shrimp while it digs their home. Compliments of Dr. John E. Randall

As I was writing this post, the Kirkus review for Randall and Randall arrived . . .

and I cannot resist hijacking this Dr. Randall post to share an excerpt from it (in green below). Well, I’m not fully hijacking it because they do mention ichthyologist Dr. John Randall. But the really exciting thing about this review is it is starred review! According to Kirkus, only 10 percent of the 10,000 reviews they do a year earn a blue star. And according to Washington Post, only 2 percent of independently published books earn a blue star. This also means that Randall and Randall will automatically be entered into the Kirkus awards!

 

Young readers get a slice of science in this undersea tale about symbiosis.

Randall the pistol shrimp accidentally gets a new roommate when he snaps at a fish he believes is a threat. But the goby fish, also named Randall, offers to let the shrimp know when genuine predators are around. Unfortunately, the goby misidentifies plankton, a sand dollar, and a sea cucumber as dangerous foes, all the while singing songs that drive the shrimp to distraction. Likewise, the noises the shrimp’s snapping claws make irritate the goby. After a huge fight, the goby leaves, only to run into a real killer . . . Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s (Fishing for Turkey, 2016) closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics, showing the shrimp’s long antennae as mustaches. Poper’s (Frank Stinks, 2017, etc.) simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases (“mi casa”) due to the coastal Mexico setting. The ingenious aquatic tale also encourages readers to realize they can find friendship even if they don’t see eye to eye with their cohorts.

A clever introduction to a scientific concept with an accessible moral.

Written by Nadine Poper
Illustrated by Polina Gortman.
Dr. Randall’s foreword does a fantastic job of explaining all about the goby and pistol shrimp and their special relationship.
Published by Blue Whale Press

Book trailer for Randall and Randall

More about the picture book Randall and Randall

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

INTERVIEW WITH MIDDLE GRADE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR LAURIE SMOLLETT KUTSCERA

I’d like to introduce Laurie Smollett Kutscera, author and illustrator of the exciting middle grade book Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, published by Blue Whale Press. Her book launched on April 1, 2020. Today, I share an interesting interview with Laurie about her experience as an author and illustrator. She also offers tips for writers and illustrators!

First, I’ll share excerpts of a recent review of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, and I will follow that with the book trailer.

Midwest Book Review

“. . . Laurie Smollett Kutscera weaves a strong story of personal struggle and achievement into a tale that takes some unusual twists and turns as Alex continues to learn about the magic of human emotion, recovery, and resiliency from his unusual mentors: “Isn’t it possible everyone would appreciate you for who you are?” What could have been a singular story of a boy’s special talents thus evolves into an unusual exploration of the roots of magic, ability, and support systems that come into play when loss changes one’s familiar life patterns. . . .

Readers who choose the book anticipating a dose of magical encounters will not be disappointed, while those who like interpersonal relationships, intrigue, and growth as subplots in their stories will find Misadventures of a Magician’s Son holds an action-packed touch of all three to keep readers guessing about Alex’s future and incredible adventure, right up to the end.”                         

 — by Diane Donavan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Book Trailer

Interview

Alayne: How did you get your start as a children’s book writer? And illustrator? What brought you to this world?

Laurie: Thank you for that lovely introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here with you!

I knew art was always going to be my path from a young age. As a teenager, flipping through the pages of Mademoiselle, I reveled at Betsey Johnson’s quirky illustrations with dreams of being a fashion illustrator. But once I entered Queens College, my drawing teacher Marvin Bileck, introduced me to the magic of children’s books and changed the course of my life. He was a remarkably talented artist and an award-winning children’s book illustrator. He taught drawing, printmaking, and book design, all of which were filled with energy and exploration. He invited other illustrators to the class including his dear friend Ashley Bryan. What a talented artist and author. And when I was ready to show my portfolio- Professor Bileck arranged for me to meet with Margaret McElderry! I was terrified. I’ll never forget, sitting beside her, she paused at one of my illustrations and smiled.

After college, I spent the next eight years freelancing as a graphic designer when two dear friends approached me about illustrating a story they had written about a cliff dwelling tribe and a fearless girl named Ravita. I was thrilled. I decided to work in pastel—a medium I had never used before. I used my handy dandy Xerox machine and made dummies that the three of us sent to various publishers. Rizzoli Books in NY loved the story and a year and a half later, Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published and in the windows of Barnes and Noble all over Manhattan!

Ferdinand and Joker from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

It never dawned on me that I would ever be an author. In truth, I hadn’t thought about writing seriously until ten years later. A writer friend suggested I take an essay writing workshop that lead me to a memoir class. Memoir was fascinating. I learned so much about world building, dialogue and writing in the moment. But knowing memoir is a challenging sell, I decided to take elements of what I had written, and incorporate it into Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. Soon after, I found a critique group at Media Bistro that focused on MG/YA. Once I opened a Twitter account, I discovered Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. What a find! I learned so much about the craft of writing picture books and also connected with my current (and may I say, amazing) critique partners.

Alayne: You are also a wonderful illustrator. Which came first? Writing or illustrating?

Laurie: Thank you Alayne. Can you guess? Following is a photo of me with my first paint set when I was 3 or so. ( Nice bangs!) My mother was an artist so I was lucky in that I received plenty of encouragement, (even when I drew people with wheels for feet!) In school, art was always the best class. One of the few I paid attention in. As I grew older, I loved writing poetry and in high school I wrote a fractured fairy-tale that made my English teacher laugh out loud. That always stayed with me, but that was as far as I took it. I didn’t have the confidence to take a writing course until much later. Art was always going to be my profession, or so I thought.

Laurie with her first paint set at age three.

Alayne: Does your art influence your writing or does your writing influence your art?

Laurie: That’s a great question. Most of the time, I think the tone of the story affects the art. It doesn’t happen often, but I have written a few stories based on an illustration.

Alayne: Do you think you would ever do a wordless picture book or a graphic novel?

Wordless picture book dummy THE RED BALL, pastel (2019) Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Laurie: As daunting as that sounds, I just recently finished a dummy for my first wordless picture book and am excited to find a home for it. I’d love to learn more about graphic novels, then get down to some serious playing!

Alayne: What is it like to see your printed book for the first time?

Laurie: As you yourself know, there are no words to describe what it feels like to hold your book, years of hard work in your hands. Writing, editing, sweat. Re-writing, editing, tears. Re-writing editing, prayers. Blue Whale Press did such a lovely job designing it. I am beyond thrilled to finally share Alex’s adventure with everyone!

Alayne: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son is super creative and unique. The characters are so special. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Laurie: It was a kind of perfect storm. I had just finished a long conversation with a dear friend who was trying to help me out of an emotional slump. We both agreed I needed to find a creative project to delve into. Later that week, I was sitting in a movie theater with my husband watching the opening credits of Casino Royale. I was immediately struck by the graphics that filled the screen. These larger than life card characters suddenly consumed me, and became the impetus for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. Had I not had the conversation with my friend, I don’t think I would have been as receptive. This was before Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, which for those of us who join every year know has the same powerful intention.

Alex and King Anton from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Kutscera copyright 2020

Alayne: Blue Whale Press offered quite a few edit suggestions. I know we all had trying times with that process. But you have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways. Do you have any tips for authors regarding how to keep from taking edits personally?

Laurie: Well that’s the key really, not taking it personally. I think most creative people are super sensitive to begin with, so having an editor revise what seems like a brilliantly crafted sentence can feel like a stab in the heart, LOL. I think communication, intention and flexibility play a big part here. Editing takes on many surprising facets, including when the author and editor live in different parts of the country, or world for that matter! But stepping back always helps. Take a break and come back to it. Have someone unfamiliar with the story read the revisions. The bottom line, editing is part of the process and will only make your work stronger.

Alayne: I’ve mentioned your wonderful characters before, but only asked where you found the inspiration for your “story.” Where did you find your inspiration for so many great characters and their voices?

Laurie: This is a fun question to answer. In high school and college, I was totally into acting in plays and tried to tap into the personalities around me. I guess I still do. In our charter boat business, I’ve met and worked with some interesting people. Not all were delightful. Joker for example, (who is hilarious and whom I love dearly!) was based on two extremely annoying people I worked with. They were beyond self-involved and snapped their fingers at everyone. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at many of their comments. Queen Olivia was based on a very dear neighbor who reminded me of Eleanor Roosevelt. With her queen-like demeanor, she always found something nice to say about people…most of the time. Alex’s character was inspired by my nephew. He is insightful and resilient, but struggled quite a bit when it came to navigating relationships in school. There are parts of me in Alex, too. We moved when I was 10 and I felt so lost in a new school, and I’m pretty sure my teacher had it out for me, too!

Alexander Finn and friends from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Kutscera copyright 2020

Alayne: Are you a pantser or a planner? Did you plan and outline, or did you just let the story flow out of you organically.

Laurie: I am a total pantser! Before I understood the definition, I would sit at the kitchen counter, open my laptop and begin typing, anxious to see where the story was headed. It was a bit freaky, like I was being channeled and had nothing to do with the outcome. Undiagnosed, that first draft was an exciting process!

Alayne: I recently did a Chapter Book Challenge guest post where I analyzed Misadventures of a Magician’s Son using The Hero’s Journey. Did you study that storytelling structure before writing the book, our do you just have that natural storytelling ability?

Laurie: Wow. That sounds interesting. I was not familiar with The Hero’s Journey when I began writing. I approached Misadventures of a Magician’s Son much like I was watching a movie unfold. I tried to build an arc to the story line based on lots of visual action. Once I joined that MG/YA critique group at Media Bistro, I learned more about structure and was able to strengthen Alex’s voice, clarify details, and build more tension using short sentences.

Alayne: This is your debut middle grade book. How long had you been writing and submitting before signing with Blue Whale Press?

Laurie: I began writing in 2007, but with only a few winter months to devote to the process, it took me several years to complete it. I took a break for a year to work on another project, then came back to it in 2012. In 2014, I began subbing with no bites. The following year, I signed up for the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam Event in NYC. I created a deck of cards with the characters, fanned them open, and pitched my heart out to a number of agents. 500 people, 1 hour and lines 15 minutes long, I was so nervous, I left my bag somewhere in the ballroom–but I found my agent! She pitched it to a number of publishers including Simon & Schuster who loved the manuscript and asked for revisions. That was the high point. But unfortunately, they passed. (I think they had another project in the works about magic.) Soon after, my agent left the company. That was the low point. I took some time off to clear my head. When I started subbing again I discovered Blue Whale Press was open to submissions. That was 2018. And here we are!

Alayne: How long did it take you to the write the book—from first line until confident enough to submit?

Laurie: I don’t want to frighten people because my experience (and work schedule) are probably not quite the norm. But from the time I began to write until I started submitting took 8 years.

Alayne: Did you have the book critiqued or edited before submitting?

Laurie: Yes, first through my critique group at Media Bistro. I received feedback on every chapter and once I revised the manuscript based on their feedback, I hired an editor to review again. He had some excellent ideas regarding juggling and strengthening a few scenes and suggested I write a prologue for the ending. He also recommended I call the book- Dance of Suits: An Alexander Finn Magical Adventure, which I was never crazy about, but submitted it for a while with that title. I think it confused people. I finally changed it to Misadventures of a Magician’s Son a year later.

Alayne: Did you have beta readers at any time?

Laurie: Yes, I had a few beta readers, including a middle grade librarian.

Alayne: We’ve touched a little on the illustrator side of you, but I’d like to dig into that a little deeper. I’ll start with the question, Do you have a preferred medium?

Laurie: So much has changed since I opened that first paint set. In truth my work used to be very linear and detailed. Now I’m trying to find a more ethereal approach to my art. I love working in pastel–it’s dreamy and soft and likes to take the lead which is kind of cool. I love playing with colored pencil and watercolor then fine tuning in Photoshop. I also love working in Pro-Create. I’ve recently gotten to a place where I don’t need a sketch as a starting point. OK…that in itself is an amazing accomplishment especially for a control freak like me!

Polar Bears by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – pastels and Procreate

Illustration from Painted Desert Dummy by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – Pastel

Illustration from Maya’s Treasure by Laurie Smollett Kutscera – Pastel

 

Alayne: Have any other artists or children’s literature illustrators influenced you during your journey so far?

There are so many illustrators that have inspired me. After reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I was elated to see that illustrations for middle grade readers didn’t necessarily have to be cartoony. Cartoony is fine, but Bagram IbatoulIine’s artwork evokes such depth and warmth. It was the perfect choice for Kate DiCamillos work.

Illustrators I love: Brian Selznick, Erin E. Stead, James Christopher Carroll, Brian Lies, Sophie Blackall, and Pamela Zagarenski just to name a few. I love Gauguin, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, and my all-time favorite, Leon Bakst. He was a costume and set designer, and his illustrations are exquisite. I can only imagine what he would have brought to picture book illustrations.

Alayne: What medium and process did you use for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son?

Laurie: Many of the original illustrations were done in colored pencil. Soon after, an editor I met at the SCBWI conference in NY explain to me that middle grade readers prefer black and white illustrations. At first, I was disappointed to learn that, but once I converted all my work into grayscale, I was happily surprised at the results. The rich grays and deep blacks added quite a bit of mystery that complimented to tone of the story. I did the remaining illustrations in black and gray Prisma pencils on vellum paper and adjusted them in Photoshop.

Alayne: Where did you find the inspiration for the illustrations of the book’s characters?

Theo and Mr. Raymond from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

Laurie: I always try to take advantage of the resources around me…like friends. I started eyeing them up right away. For instance, the model I used for Joker is a very dear friend who was born in England and lives up in the Adirondacks. Unlike Jokers snarky character, Chris is charming and brilliant and was unbelievably patient as I took photo after photo of him. Two of our first mates posed as Theo and Mr. Raymond, and another friend’s grandson posed for Alex. I also had Joel, my technical magician/adviser pose while Alex shuffles the cards. And our dearest neighbors posed as the King and Queen of Hearts.

Alex from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

 

Alayne: How is illustrating a middle grade different from illustrating a picture book?

Laurie: There are always exceptions to the rules, which I love, but in general, there are fewer illustrations in middle grade books and most are created in black and white. Picture books are different in that much of the story is told through the illustrations and are done in full color.

Alayne: How many years did you work on the art for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son? When did you do the very first drawing?

Laurie: I started working on the first illustrations back in 2007. Mostly character studies, lots of hands and card tricks in motion. I finished the last illustration a few weeks ago. All in all, twelve and a half years of illustrating.

Alayne: For this specific project, Did the drawings inspire your writing? Or did your writing inspire the drawings.

Laurie: I visualized many of the scenes before I started illustrating them. So, in a sense, the illustrations in my head inspired the writing. Once I began, I jumped back and forth between writing and illustrating. Working this way helped me visualize specific scenes and details I might otherwise have missed.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for illustrators who are waiting for their first contract?

Jack from Misadventures from a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera copyright 2020

Laurie: Try not to focus on the contract. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you focus on crafting wonderful stories, the contract will follow. Keep submitting, try to develop a thick skin—someone just told me this, so again easier said than done. If you’ve received feedback, try to take a step back. Put it away and re-read it again later. It’s easier to grasp when you’re not so close to it.

Alayne: I know that being a writer/illustrator submissions are different than those who are writers or illustrators only. Do you ever submit as a writer/illustrator?

Laurie: Most of the time. It’s a bit more work. Not only are you offering a polished manuscript but you’re creating an entire book with illustrations. This is the heart and soul of your story.

Alayne: Do you ever submit as a writer only? Or as an illustrator only.

Laurie: The answer is yes to both. I actually have several manuscripts that I feel would be better using an illustrator with a more whimsical approach. I also just completed a wordless picture book that I just started submitting.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for writer/illustrators?

Laurie: Read out loud. Savor every word. Have fun with your dummies. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Break rules!

Alayne: Now, I will put on you the spot, even more than I already have 😉 Why do you write?

Laurie: I have to! I love sharing stories that will touch young readers and adults. Maybe Alex’s journey will help someone who’s having a difficult time navigating this ever-changing world we live in. Maybe I can get them to laugh and see the light is closer than they think.

Alayne: It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Laurie. Your story has brought me so many smiles. You know I am in love with Joker 😉 Thank you for helping Blue Whale Press make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

Joker and his scepter Emilio. King Anton, Queen Olivia, and Jack. Characters from Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutcera copyright 2020

Thank you Alayne–for believing in me and Alex’s journey.
C#&sffinxaagpzzz@l. OHHH, hey, no. Wait! UGH! Joker just climbed on my laptop. He wants me to tell you…you haven’t heard the last of him!

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son is  available wherever books are sold. Some places currently are

Amazon

BookTopia

The Book Depository

Barnes & Noble

About Laurie

laurie-smollett-kutsceraLaurie Smollett Kutscera was born in Greenwich Village and grew up in Queens, New York. At the age of 11, she performed her first magic trick and was destined to be a ventriloquist with the aid of her childhood friend, Neil, who today is a real magician! But rather than follow in the footsteps of Houdini, she went on to study fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is an award-winning graphic designer, a published children’s book illustrator, and toy designer.

Laurie’s passion for writing began 12 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. Today she continues to write and illustrate and is currently working on several contemporary picture books and middle grade novels.

Laurie lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. You can learn more about Laurie by going to lskillustration.com.

For Aspiring Magician’s

Laurie has interviewed the young man who helped her learn about magic as part of her research for Misadventures of a Magician’s Son. He offers some tips on to get started and improve as a magician.

Introducing Joel Goldman, Magician Extraordinaire!

Happy Double Book Birthday!

What Will Change?

With Blue Whale Press’s recent announcement about becoming an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing, questions are starting to arise. I will answer a few here.

  • First, let me say I am excited and happy to be working with the amazing Callie Metler-Smith.
  • The simplest way to explain things is to say that nothing is changing with Blue Whale Press when it comes to authors, illustrators, and submissions. Any changes with Blue Whale Press being an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing are about behind-the-scenes business management.
  • Blue Whale Press submissions will remain the same. Visit the BlueWhalePress.com submissions page for guidelines. We will be putting out a special celebration call for submissions very soon. For announcements, follow the Blue Whale Press Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/BlueWhalePress/ or you can search Facebook with @BlueWhalePress. You can also follow the Blue Whale Press Twitter page @BlueWhalePress.
  • If you have submitted to Blue Whale Press in February THERE IS NO NEED to resubmit.
  • Alayne Kay Christian will remain the acquisitions editor and creative director for Blue Whale Press. Steve Kemp will remain the publisher.
  • Blue Whale Press will still design the books.
  • Any changes in how things work that might impact authors and illustrators will be announced.

What About Submissions? What is Blue Whale Press Looking For?

People often ask what we are looking for. Currently, our focus is on picture books. STEM and clever and/or humorous informational fiction that is written with young readers in mind is at the top of our list. Even the STEM books must have a great hook. To see what a great STEM book hook (or any book hook) is, read RANDALL AND RANDALL, WHO WILL? WILL YOU? and PORCUPETTE AND MOPPET. Blue Whale press is looking for unusual characters, strong narrative arc, strong voice, fresh/unique premises, and surprise twists. We are drawn to unique stories that standout from all the rest. We gravitate toward humor, but we would love some stories that tug at the heartstrings, but again, in a unique, standout way. Alayne also has a soft spot in her heart for nature.

Some have asked what we are not interested in, so I will offer that we are not interested in trends. Trends eventually lead to an abundance of similar stories. If you haven’t seen it before, your chances are probably better with us. We aren’t able to produce board books at this time, so manuscripts for the newborn to three age range are not for us. We are not against faith-based stories that give a mild universal message. However, heavy messages or stories about specific beliefs based on specific religions aren’t a good fit for us.

Remember: Always read the submission guidelines carefully. Do not send attachments other than PDFs for art. We usually discard Word attachments for security reasons. Contact information is not just your email. Provide your name, physical address, phone number, email, and website/blog if you have one/them.

Ask yourself what makes your story different. Read Blue Whale Press books. They will give you a better feel for what appeals to us. If we aren’t able to acquire your story, don’t let that discourage or stop you. But do keep working to hone your craft. Now, having said that, there are many reasons that we pass on manuscripts and sometimes it has nothing at all to do with writing skills. No matter what, always do your best and keep on keeping on.

Always check our website before submitting. If we are closed to submissions and you send a manuscript, it will most likely not be read or responded to.

An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin is Here!

Can be found at the following and more!

Amazon

Book Depository

Barnes and Noble

Books-A-Million

We are excited about this good news, and I (Alayne) looks forward to working with Callie Metler-Smith and being part of the Clear Fork Family.

The winners have been chosen for the No Bears Allowed photo caption contest and the Who Will? Will You? What’s in Lottie’s Wagon? writing contest.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the fun. We have some great caption entries. Most of them are funny and one is sweet. They are all creative. And the stories for What’s in Lottie’s Wagon? are all entertaining, and some are very touching. Each writer did an excellent job with the limited word count of 100 words. And then trying to fit in the required words the contest rules listed on top of that? Wowza! Hats off to you all.

We’ll start with the caption contest winners and then move on to the writing contest winners. But before I move on, I want to wish everyone a joyous holiday season. May 2020 bring each of you all that your heart desires.

Also, I want to share an old-old blog post from 2013 Just Say No to New Year’s Resolutions. It offers up a perfect way for writers, artists, or anyone really, to end a year and begin a new one.

PHOTO CAPTION WINNERS

First place goes to . . .

pamela's caption

Pamela Courtney

Pamela has won a pre-release proof (hardcover) of No Bears Allowed and a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone.

Winners who placed second through fourth will each win a softcover copy of No Bears Allowed. If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC

Second place goes to . . .

Stuffed Teddy Bear

Ciara O’neal

 

Third place goes to . . .

Hare in my Stuffing

Tara Cerven

And fourth place goes to . . .

Thankful We're Together

Katie Williams

 

WHAT’S IN LOTTIE’S WAGON WRITING CONTEST WINNERS

Who Will 1 giftaway

I must say, the judges struggled to choose the first place winner. If there could have been a tie, we would have had one. You can read the winning stories at the end of this blog post. Spoiler alert! I give away the ending of each story in the prize announcements. If you want to read the stories and be surprised by the ending, jump to the end of the blog post and then come back to see where each story placed.

First place goes to . . .

What’s In Lottie’s Wagon?

By Mona Pease

In Mona’s story, Lottie’s wagon is filled with found treasures, love, hope, and dreams. Lovely story.

Mona has won a pre-release proof (hardcover) of Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and Alayne’s critique will have to be Skype or written.

Winners who placed second through fourth will each win a soft cover ARC of Who Will? Will You? If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC

Second place goes to . . .

Lottie’s Little Treasure

by Kristen Reinsel

In Kristen’s story, a sea turtle is in Lottie’s wagon. A creative and poetic story filled with imagery.

Third place goes to . . .

Precious Cargo

by Linda Staszak

In Linda’s story, Lottie’s aging dog is in her wagon. A very touching story.

Fourth place goes to . . .

The Mystery of the Missing Sandwich

by Kiley Orchard

In Kiley’s story Lottie’s wagon holds mysterious bread crusts, a beach pail, and one sandal. A humorous ending with a twist.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Please come back in 2020 for more giftaways and informative blog posts. And visit Blue Whale Press to see what’s coming next year.

AND JUST IN CASE YOU’RE CURIOUS, HERE ARE THE WINNING STORIES

What’s In Lottie’s Wagon?

By Mona Pease

98 Words

Lottie felt sad. It was almost Christmas. Mom and Dad were deployed. Grandma tried to help make things special. Still, nothing felt right.

No snow.

No live tree.

No Mom and Dad.

Gazing toward the horizon, Lottie’s mood lightened. “Come on Pup. Let’s walk along the beach and fill our wagon with treasures.”

Afterwards, she decorated Grandma’s shrub with shells, sea glass, driftwood.

Then, Lottie took her rarest finds from the wagon: blue glass, wishing rock, and large shell that whispered sea songs.

Lottie listened. Mom and Dad felt close. Grandma listened. She smiled. What songs did that shell whisper?

 

Lottie’s Little Treasure

by Kristen Reinsel

88 Words

Lottie gently pulled her wagon

Toward the shore with urgency

She knew her precious cargo

Was indeed an emergency.

 

She found this little treasure

In a surprising sort of spot

While on a beach vacation

In the hotel parking lot!

 

Green and gold, yet hidden

In the grass nearby their space

Her helpful pup ol’ Rufus

Was quickly on the case.

 

Placed in her wagon with great care

For it was lost and lured to roam

Away from sea, toward the lights

A baby turtle… far from home.

 

Precious Cargo

by Linda Staszak

90 Words

Lottie tugged on her squeaky wagon. She inched her way down the beach, walking past the rainbow shells and sparkly stones.

The wagon was hard to move through the deep sand.

“Do you need help?” a lady asked.

“No thank you,” Lottie said. She dragged the wagon close to the water and sat next to it.

“You liked the beach when you were a puppy,” she said to the wagon.

A tail thumped. Lottie gently patted her old dog’s head.

“I thought you’d like to be here one more time.”

 

The Mystery of the Missing Sandwich

by Kiley Orchard

100 Words

 

“Lottie, I found another clue!” Pup dropped two bread crusts into the wagon. SOMEONE had eaten Lottie’s sandwich—but who? Pup considered the clues: bread crusts, a beach pail, and one sandal.

“Maybe our thief doesn’t like crusts,” said Pup.

“Crusts are gross,” said Lottie.

“And was on their way to the beach,” Pup continued.

“Just like us!”

“And they’re probably only wearing one sandal.”

“Great thinking!” said Lottie. Pup was so helpful!

Pup looked down. “Um, Lottie…”

“Yes, Pup?”

“You’re only wearing one sandal.”

Lottie looked at her feet. “Hey, Pup?”

“Yes?”

“I just remembered… I ate my sandwich!”

PLEASE HELP YOUR FELLOW CREATIVES BY VOTING! IT WILL TAKE LESS THAN ONE MINUTE!

It’s time to pick the winners of the No Bears Allowed photo caption contest.

We were supposed to announce the winners of the contest on December 7. But we are having trouble deciding between some of the finalists as far as placement. So, we thought instead of drawing from a hat, we would do a survey vote. If you have entered the contest and don’t see your caption here, please note that not all finalists are shown in this blog post. So, you may still be a winner. Finalists, please spread the word and share the link to this post, so people will vote. But please do not tell them which caption is yours.

HOW TO VOTE

You will find the photos with captions below and a title at the bottom of each caption photo. Go to the survey by clicking here, and vote for your favorite. But first, here is the voting criteria . . .

  1. Thanksgiving appeal. May just include words like thankful or grateful.
  2. Originality and creativity.
  3. Humor or heart tugging.

VOTING WILL CLOSE FRIDAY, SATURDAY DECEMBER 14, AT 11:59 pm CENTRAL. Winners will be announced Sunday, December 15 via this blog, twitter, and facebook.

The titles you are looking for by the photo and then on the survey are . . .

  • Stuffed Teddy Bear
  • Thankful We’re Together
  • Alfalfa and Carrot Masterpiece
  • Hare in my Stuffing

Thank you for joining in the fun and helping out your fellow creatives by voting.

Stuffed Teddy Bear

Stuffed Teddy Bear

Thankful We're Together

Thankful We’re Together

Alfalfa and Carrot Masterpiece

Alfalfa and Carrot Masterpiece

Hare in my Stuffing

Hare in my Stuffing

If you’ve purchased or read No Bears Allowed, please help the author and illustrator out by leaving an Amazon and/or Goodreads review. Another way you can help the author and illustrator is by asking your librarian to purchase it for you library. Thank you! 

Cover from BWP site 978-0-9814938-9-3

by Lydia Lukidis art by Tara J. Hannon

HOLIDAY GIFTAWAYS (1)

What’s in Lottie’s Wagon?

With the holidays coming, I’m offering contests with prizes and random giftaways to kid lit writers and illustrators  as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. Last week, our giftaway offered four ARCs for No Bears Allowed by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Tara J. Hannon. The first place winner will also win a 15-minute “first impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone or Skype. There is still time to get in on the fun! The deadline for the photo caption contest is December 4. The first week, we offered four ARCs for Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman. And this week, we are offering even more!

This week, we are giving away, for first prize, a hardcover pre-release proof for Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book, Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a 15-minute “first-impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone of Skype. For second through fourth places, we will be giving away a softcover Who Will? Will You? ARC to three winners. If you aren’t familiar with Who Will? Will You? you can view the fun book trailer below.

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . .” Kirkus Reviews

“A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray. Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find “Who Will? Will You?” engrossing and fun.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

My goal is to have weekly contests until we run out of prizes. So watch for more Holiday Giftaways–books, critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things.

The beauty of writing contests is it gives you a possible start for your next picture book. So, it is never a waste of time.

Following is the picture book trailer.

Following is a short peek at the Who Will? Will You? activity book for teachers, parents, and librarians

The Contest—WHAT’S IN LOTTIE’S WAGON?

  1. Write a 100-word story about what’s in Lottie’s wagon. The story must include the words pup, beach, help, and of course wagon and Lottie. Any form of the words is acceptable—for example: puppy, puppies, beachfront, beach ball, helpful, helping and so on. The title is not included in the 100 words. You can go under, but not over.
  2. It should be appropriate for children ages twelve and under.
  3. Your story can be serious, funny, sweet, or anything in between. It can be written in poetry or prose, but it must include those 3 words.
  4. NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! Keep reading beyond the following image, there are more steps you must take.

 

  1. Post the above photo with your story on your blog, along with a blurb about the contest and a link to this blog.
  2. IMPORTANT! Along with the story you paste into comments, add your name and your blog post-specific link (post-specific link not your blog’s main url because if you put up a new post on your blog after your entry during the dates of the contest, the judges will find the wrong post!)
  3. Post between now and Saturday, December 14 by 11:59 PM EDT
  4. If you don’t have a blog, just leave your name and paste your story in a comment, explaining you don’t have a blog. But please share the a blurb about the contest and the link in social media.
  5. If you have difficulty posting in the comments, which unfortunately sometimes happens, you may email your entry using the contact form on my blog or at alaynecritiques at gmail dot com, and I’ll post it for you. Please place your entry in the body of the email including your title and byline at the top – NO ATTACHMENTS!
  6. Please submit your entry only ONCE.
  7. By entering this contest, you agree that if you win, and you like the book, you will post an Amazon review.

The Judging

Judging criteria will be as follows:

  • Kid appeal—something the twelve and under reading audience will enjoy and relate to.
  • Originality and creativity.
  • Humor, heart tugging, or thought provoking.
  • Wow factor—something that makes the story stand out from all the others.
  • Following the directions thoroughly. Very important. Not following directions may result is disqualification.
  • Winners will be announced on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter on Sunday, December 8.

The Prizes

First place:

A pre-release proof (hardcover) of Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. Learn more about Sarah here and more about Alayne here.

If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and Alayne’s critique will have to be Skype or written.

Second Through Fourth Place:

A softcover ARC of Who Will? Will You?

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