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Posts Tagged ‘12 x 12 picture book writing challenge’

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!

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Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel have interviewed me for their blog KidLit Takaways. Thank you, ladies! In the interview, I share some picture books with good arcs and break them down to show the various plot points. I also offer a 25% discount off my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Because their blog’s theme is “Bite-size bits of wisdom & inspiration for writers on the go!” we weren’t able to include everything from the interview, so I offer some of the outtakes below.

How did you come up with the idea for your online writing class, Art of Arc?

After critiquing hundreds of picture book manuscripts, I saw the same issues repeatedly. As my professional critiques include mini lessons, I found myself recreating the same lessons but customizing them for each story I critiqued. There had to be an easier, more efficient way to do this. And a course was born.

The reason I created a course that focuses on the classic arc is because 90% of the stories I critique are built around that structure. Many successful published picture books are built around an arc on some level. It is the number one structure in picture books. Therefore, I believe this course fulfills a need that has not been available until now. Many courses are taught using the classic arc, but none goes into the detail that this course provides.

Define “story arc.”

Story arc (sometimes called narrative arc) refers to the plot’s development, and character arc refers to the character’s development. Sometimes this can get confusing, with kind of a which came first the chicken or egg type of conundrum. However, usually with picture books, neither comes first because they develop simultaneously as the story progresses. Your character can’t develop unless your plot creates events that instigate your protagonist’s growth or change. Your plot can’t develop unless your character reacts to the plot events through action that moves the story forward, hence developing the plot.

The character arc is the structure that shows how the character develops (grows/changes/or learns) over time. Without a change, the story would be flat, and the reader would not have much to relate to. Usually, the main character starts out with some sort of conflict that he tries to work through, and he is eventually forced to make a choice that leads to his change in thinking or growth. Sometimes the change in thinking is acceptance. Character arc is sometimes confused with character motivation (the thing that makes him take action).

Motivation is the “why” of the protagonist’s action.

The arc is the “how” of the change and growth that occurred because of the action he took.

So, motivation is the driver. It is the energy that moves the protagonist to react or act. His growth is the result of the actions that he took.

Arc determines the ups and downs that set the pace of your story. A good arc is key to engaging readers from beginning to end. There are many picture books based on a similar idea or theme. The arc helps to differentiate one of those same-topic picture books from the other. The narrative arc (also called story arc) is related to the external events and the character arc is about the protagonist’s inner journey, hence the importance of some sort of growth in the character by the end of the story. But still the two arcs form a symbiotic relationship. They rely on each other. The situations and challenges that your characters face are part of the story arc. The choices your character makes and the action he takes that lead to growth and change all fall into the character arc zone.

The main plot points of the story arc include the exposition, ordinary life, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Not all picture books show the ordinary life. Many start at the inciting incident.

The beginning of the story usually provides the who, what, when, where, and why of the story. And the protagonist and his problem/goal are introduced.

Describe the class curriculum and learning objectives.

The focus of the course is the storytelling structure that uses a classic arc. The purpose of this course is to deepen writers’ understanding of picture books written with a classic arc and to introduce them to many other picture book structures. The course also addresses a number of common issues I have found in the manuscripts I critique.

The objective of the course is . . .

• To give a strong foundation in storytelling that is built around the traditional story arc
• To teach picture book writers some techniques and structures that will improve existing manuscripts and make future writing stronger
• To provide writers with the knowledge and tools to assist in analyzing their own work prior to investing in professional critiques
• To guide writers through a manuscript self-assessment process that may help prevent submitting manuscripts prematurely
• To show writers how to avoid common writing errors and apply writing elements that will enhance their stories in a way that takes them to a higher level
• To shed light on writing elements previously learned in less-detailed courses
• To expand writers’ ability to revise and polish their manuscripts
• To expand writers’ ability to develop a strong plot

The curriculum is based on the following lessons:

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

LESSON SIX: THE MIDDLE – FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE PROBLEM OR REACH GOAL

LESSON SEVEN: DARKEST MOMENT, INNER AND OUTER CLIMAX, ENDING

LESSON EIGHT: SHOWING VERSUS TELLING

LESSON NINE: USING ELEMENTS OF FICTION IN NONFICTION

LESSON TEN: OTHER COMMON ISSUES

BONUS MATERIALS AND WRITING RESOURCES

Describe your background in writing?

I’ve written my whole life. First, I wrote for creative pleasure. Then I wrote in various jobs. I wrote newsletters, processes, and procedures. I wrote greeting cards for a small business my sister and I had. When my granddaughter was born, my interests turned to children’s book writing. I started my children’s writing journey and education with the Institute of Children’s Literature, moved on to their advanced course, and then I started taking courses from authors, editors, and other writing schools. In addition, I went to SCBWI conferences and workshops as well as other writing workshops and webinars. There is a partial list of the courses I’ve taken on my website.

And in critiquing?

I’ve been critiquing for ten years. It started with critique groups. Then as I progressed with my knowledge, I felt the need to help other writers, so I started critiquing people’s manuscripts out of generosity. In the process, I learned things I hadn’t learned in the courses I had taken. Issues that I sensed were concern worthy piqued my curiosity and drove me to research. I was especially interested in understanding plot and arc on a deeper level because I saw so many stories that were missing cause and effect or had no arc or a weak arc. The more I critiqued, the more people would tell me how much I helped them understand and strengthen their story. So, I decided I must be pretty good at this critique thing. After writing hundreds of picture book critiques, I opened my professional critique service in January 2014. In 2016, I was invited by Julie Hedlund to be a Critique Ninja for 12 X 12. This will be my third year as a Critique Ninja. I still give critiques away to help other writers. For paid critiques, I mostly critique manuscripts for my students and alumni because I know that I can refer back to lessons that they should revisit to help them strengthen their manuscripts. My students get a deep discount on critique fees.

What are some of the common mistakes writers make regarding story arc?

There are so many! I could write a book, but I will give a few of the top ones that have major impact on the story.

I see a lot of episodic stories. I explain episodic stories on my blog.

Many stories have a lack of growing tension or lack of variety in action.

It’s common to read stories where it’s not clear who the protagonist is. When I query the author, we often find who they think the protagonist is does not convey in their story. This is usually a sign of an episodic story or a weak or nonexistent arc.

I find that the darkest moment and inner and outer climax are either weak or missing.

There is often a lack of motivation or stakes that drive the protagonist to take action. This and a lack of obstacles (or try and fail scenes) result in a story with very little to no emotional core. The lack of stakes and obstacles prevent the rise in action and the tension that keep the reader engaged.

I see many weak beginnings that don’t hook me as a reader. They don’t create questions in my mind that make me want to keep reading. They don’t set up any expectations that make me want to keep reading.

And then there are weak endings. Just a few examples: The story is resolved too easily. Someone else steps in and saves the protagonist. It might be predictable. There are loose ends left dangling.

Tell us about your writing career.

I covered this pretty much in my answer about my background in writing. I will add that my picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was my first published book. And it won the Mom’s Choice Gold Medal and the Independent Publisher’s Silver Medal. My first chapter book Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain was released last year. It is the first in a series with three other Sienna books that are scheduled to follow. I have started giving chapter book critiques, and gosh darn it, if I’m not pretty good at those, too 😉

Can you share any success stories from your students?

While some of my clients have signed with agents or sold books to publishers, I don’t believe that it is entirely a result of taking Art of Arc or any one course. I believe that it usually takes a combination of courses (where the author gleans a bit from each one). And then there are critique groups, professional critiques, conferences, and craft books, and on and on. It’s also important to give credit to the determination and the blood, sweat, and tears that authors put into their work. In my opinion, reaching success as a writer usually takes a village. I’m happy that Art of Arc can play a role in the growth of many writers’ knowledge. I will share a few recent comments about the course below.

Michael Samulak said, “I don’t have a ‘success’ story in the traditional sense, but I can at least support the ‘village’ idea and say that the course has helped me with my writing and approach. I recently was able to finish a story that I am currently submitting to agents. I realized how much of my writing up to the ARC has been ideas more than a complete story.”

One of my students, Karla Valenti has signed with Essie White and her picture book Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence has been acquired by Sourcebooks. This is the first book in the My Super Science Heroes picture book series. Following is what Karla shared with me about how Art of Arc impacted her writing.

“So I took your course after I had taken a few other PB courses. What I loved about it was that it (1) reinforced a lot of what I already knew (hooks, story structure, conflict, showing vs. telling, etc) but it provided supplemental material to study, (2) there was a lot of new content that was really useful and that I’d never read before (e.g. episodic stories and using elements of fiction in NF), and (3) you have assembled a truly fantastic list of resources!!

In the end, the exercise of working through all of these materials, truly helped cement (and ultimately internalize) key elements of picture book storytelling which have undoubtedly made me a better writer.

As for how this helped me in my career, the course gave me a number of tools I could use to improve upon my stories as well as the confidence to know that I was on the right track as a writer. It also helped me become better at reviewing my work and critiquing the work of others. This last part continues to be a huge benefit as I find no substitute for reading picture books (published or otherwise) and trying to understand what makes them resonate.

On a personal note, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to also learn from you through your manuscript critiques. It is clear you have a solid understanding of effective and meaningful storytelling, and your insights have been invaluable in helping me develop my own work.”
For those who might be interested, there are many more testimonials on my website.

Other suggestions for picture book writers.

Read, read, read. Read picture books. Read books on writing.

Analyze picture books written with a classic arc. One good way to do this is to write out all the plot points in simple sentences. I find when writing critiques that sometimes getting away from the wonderful writing and distilling the story down to simple, bland steps of the protagonist’s actions, challenges, and turning points, I can see the actual structure better.

You can find more information on Art of Arc on my website. To learn how to get your 25% discount, be sure to visit KidLit Takeaways.

 

 

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I’ve been busy working on the next Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy book and rewriting my picture book writing course, Art of Arc. That’s only part of what I’ve been up to. But what’s important here is that I haven’t written a blog post in a while, so it’s high time I wrote one.

Today, I thought I would take a little time to share a few other things that I’ve been up to because I want to share some news, opportunities, and resources.

Teachers, librarians, parents – this one is for you.

I was just invited to be a judge for a fun writing contest for children in grades 3-5. Rosie Pova is offering the contest on her blog. This is a nationwide competition for creative writing with a theme, a twist and, of course, PRIZES! Teachers and librarians have 30 days from the contest opening date to submit the best entries that they select.

The contest began January 18 and will end at 11:59 pm February 16, 2018.

Writers, this one is for you.

I’ve signed up for my sixth year as a 12 X 12 member and my third year as a 12 X 12 critique ninja. As a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, you get the motivation and accountability you need to write picture book drafts in 2018. There are opportunities to learn from industry experts, receive advice on the craft of writing picture books from published authors, literary agents, and editors, and enjoy the fellowship of community. Registration is open until February 28.

Just so you know, a critique ninja is a person who works in the 12 X 12 forum offering critiques on posted picture book manuscripts. There is a whole team of critique ninjas – all professional critique writers.

Another one for writers.

I’ve joined Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge for, I think, my sixth year. The Storystorm challenge is to create 30 story ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas. The registration is over and the challenge is more than half over, but you can still get some great inspiration for finding ideas from the month-long Storystorm posts on Tara’s blog. Once upon a time, Storystorm was called PiBoIdMo or  Picture Book Idea Month.

This one is for illustrators, artists, and illustrator wannabes (like me 😉 )  

I have bounced around the idea of trying my hand at art with this KIDLIT411 illustration contest, but I haven’t gained the courage. But YOU might want to give it a try. Excellent opportunity! The deadline is February 9.

Another one for illustrators, artists, and illustrator wannabes (like me 😉 )

I’ve been practicing art using a bunch of different books, but I also recently signed up with the Society of Visual Storytelling (SVS). Here’s a little blurb from their site. Our videos are custom made to show you how to get the skills necessary to break into the dynamic field of illustration. We have a wide range of subjects that fit any interest you may have in art. On top of our huge video library of art videos, we are now offering multi-week interactive classes where you get direct feedback from the instructor. In addition to our video content, we offer a forum where you can chat with other students and ask for help or just show off your stuff!

Now, if only I could get reliable Internet access on the road so I can watch my courses!

And one last bit of fun for writers.

If you don’t know about it, Sub Six is a Facebook support group for kid lit writers who are focusing on submitting their work. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with it, and the wonderfully smart and talented Manju Gulati Howard has volunteered to help. And boy has she helped. She does so much to inspire and encourage the group. She’s secured monthly prizes for the whole year from generous donors. And now, she has started Rejection Bingo, which is a blast. The game is in play until June 1.

 

  

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Before I share Melissa’s wonderful post, there are a few things I want to announce.

The winners of my book and critique giveaways are Cathy Ogren and Kim Delude. Cathy has won a copy of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain. Kim has won a critique on the first three chapters of her chapter book. Congratulations! Thank you to all who participated in the giveaway by commenting and sharing the link.

September is Chapter Book Challenge Lite month (a.k.a. ChaBooCha Lite). This is another chance for writers to challenge themselves, and to give themselves a deadline for writing a book. The goal is to write the first draft of an early reader, chapter book, middle grade book or YA novel within a month. Want to join the fun? Sign up here.

 

I am pleased to have my friend, Spork sister, and fellow Chapter Book Challenge member Melissa Stoller as a guest blogger today. She is offering a chance to win your choice of a copy of her book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, or a chapter book critique (first three chapters), or a picture book critique. All you have to do is comment. Be sure that your name is on the comment.

TOP TEN FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO WRITE A CHAPTER BOOK VERSUS A PICTURE BOOK

by Melissa Stoller

My debut chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, released from Clear Fork Publishing shortly after Alayne’s chapter book, SIENNA THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN. I enjoyed following Alayne’s posts about the differences between picture books and chapter books here and here. And I blogged about writing chapter books as well here and here.

Melissa with book

When Alayne asked me to comment further about this topic, I wondered what I could add that would be new and fresh. I decided that a Top Ten List would do the trick. So here goes:

TOP TEN FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO WRITE A CHAPTER BOOK VERSUS A PICTURE BOOK:

  1. Length of the Book – In a chapter book, the author has room for more words. I tried to keep each of the ten chapters of my book to approximately five hundred words each. That was a general rule I used for my own planning purposes but I think it helped to keep each chapter on track. And in picture books, I aim for the sweet spot of approximately five hundred words. So just by doing the math, it is apparent that I would tell a story much differently in 500 words rather than 5000 words. I liked the longer format a chapter book afforded me to tell this story.
  2. Age of the Characters – My main characters are nine-year-old twins. Generally, young readers enjoy reading about characters who are a bit older than they are. The book is geared to children ages 5-8, with the main characters falling just above that mark. This older age of the main characters fits in perfectly with a chapter book structure.
  3. Age of the Reader – In a chapter book, the reader can be a bit older and may be more sophisticated than the reader of a picture book. The sweet spot for picture books is generally 3-5 years old. The sweet spot for chapter books is generally 5-8 year olds. These ages tend to fluctuate and the lines get blurry, but that’s how I categorize them in my mind. Writing for each age group has its rewards, you just have to know your audience.
  4. Number of Characters – The common wisdom is that the fewer the characters the better in a picture book. Picture book writers generally stick to a few characters so that the plot is tightly woven. In a chapter book, that general number of characters can expand. In my book, the main characters are twins. Plus, I include their grandmother and her dog Molly, and then Jessie and her two sisters Anna and Pauline, and finally Jack. They all had some character development (some more than others) and I had the time and word count to include relevant details and dialogue to shape them. In a picture book, there just isn’t the word count, the attention span of the young reader, or the availability of plot to include so many characters.
  5. Complexity of the Plot – A picture book usually focuses tightly on one problem or issue, and one or two characters who are somehow growing or changing. That is enough for the young reader who is the target audience for the picture book. In contrast, a chapter book’s plot can be more complex, and can have more sub-plots, twists, and turns.
  6. Dependence on Illustrations – Whereas the magic in a picture book comes from the meeting of the text and the illustrations, in a chapter book the magic usually comes mostly from the text. The chapter book illustrator enhances the story and helps bring the story to life, but usually there are only a few full-page and/or spot illustrations per chapter. The book is not dependent on illustration as a picture book is (hence the difference in title between a picture book and a chapter book).
  7. Dialogue – A picture book usually doesn’t have excessive dialogue because there is a potential for the characters to just seem like “talking heads.” Of course there are exceptions and there can be dialogue-heavy PBs, but generally I try to keep PB dialogue to a minimum. In contrast, chapter books are filled with more dialogue and description as they present a well-rounded view of the characters and plot.
  8. Enough Material for Ten Chapters – A typical chapter book is broken down into ten chapters. Ask yourself these questions: do you have enough story to fill in these chapters? Does your story arc have a complete and satisfying beginning, middle, and ending? Or could you condense the story into approximately 500 words that will be enriched by illustrations? Also, try to make sure that each chapter has a mini story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, and the transition to the next chapter contains a small cliff-hanger to help the reader maintain interest.
  9. Writing Time – Because chapter books are longer and the plots are more complex, the author can spend more time with the characters and plot (of course writing picture books and chapter books both take tremendous time in the brainstorming, writing, and re-writing phases). In my case, I love my chapter book characters and this story line so I’m happy to have more time with them. I enjoyed fleshing out their emotions, their characteristics, details about their appearance and dress, their dialogue, and their adventures.
  10. Series Potential – I know that an author is not supposed to be concerned with series potential when writing a picture book or a chapter book. However, I must admit that when writing THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION, I did think about, well . . . a collection! I envisioned twins shaking many snow globes in their grandmother’s collection, and each time they did, they would be transported to a different time period and location. When writing a picture book, I might think, wow, this could really lend itself to a sequel. In fact, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is my debut picture book being published by Clear Fork Publishing in 2018, and I’m hard at work writing the sequel. But I would not envision designing a whole picture book series.

So there you have it . . . ten factors to consider when deciding whether your story is more suitable to a picture book or a chapter book. And of course, these are my top ten factors . . . you might have your own distinct top ten. Whatever you decide, make sure you set yourself up for success: work closely with your critique partners; hone your craft by participating in writing classes such as The Children’s Book Academy Chapter Book Alchemist, and writing communities such as the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, The Chapter Book Challenge, The Debut Picture Book Study Group, KidLit411, and many others; join the SCBWI and your local SCBWI chapter; and immerse yourself in the world of children’s books. Reading, writing, and being part of the KidLit community has truly inspired my work – and it’s been so much fun as well! Melissa book

I look forward to reading your books, and I know that whatever format you choose, it will be the best one for you.

_ _ _

Thanks, Alayne! I loved being featured on your blog. And I’m excited to read more of your upcoming chapter books and picture books!

_ _ _

Alayne: Thank you, Melissa! I look forward to reading more of your work as well.

 

Melissa head shot  About Melissa:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the debut chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (Clear Fork Publishing, July 2017); the debut picture book SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork, March, 2018); and THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE (Clear Fork, April 2018).  She is also the co-author of THE PARENT-CHILD BOOK CLUB: CONNECTING WITH YOUR KIDS THROUGH READING (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, an Assistant for Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy, and a volunteer with SCBWI-MetroNY. Melissa writes parenting articles, and has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, travelling, and adding treasures to her collections. Find Melissa online at www.MelissaStoller.com, MelissaBergerStoller (Facebook),  @MelissaStoller (Twitter), and Melissa_Stoller (Instagram).

 

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This post was originally part of Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s blog seried WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Marcie had asked the contributors to this series the following question: How do you keep yourself motivated? We all like to have written, but find it hard to stay motivated to write.

Following is my response to the question.

Some words my thesaurus gives for “motivated” are inspired, stimulated and encouraged. Some antonyms for those words are demotivated, uninspired, depressed and discouraged.

When it comes to writing, do you ever feel demotivated? Discouraged? Uninspired? Depressed or frustrated? What might be behind those feelings? Following are ten obstacles to consider when you lack the motivation to write. I have listed a few ways to combat each obstacle. Can you find some other ways of your own?

1. Fear
List the beliefs, thoughts, events, situations etc. that are behind the fear and find a way around those obstacles.

2. Lack of Knowledge
Take classes; read; ask questions; participate in writing community discussions; attend conferences; join a critique group; read blogs; join a group like Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, or kidlit411, or Sub Six, or WOW nonficpic, and many more.

3. Lack of Ideas
Join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo; start an idea file; live life thinking like a writer – eventually you’ll hardly go through a day without hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling something that sparks an idea; ask other writers how they get ideas. This is a common question in author interviews, so read interviews.

4. Rejections
Read “We’re All in This Together” posts on rejection (post #1 and post #2) and my post on TWELVE METHODS FOR COPING WITH REJECTIONS.

5. Other People’s Successes
Instead of letting the green-eyed monster frustrate, discourage or depress you, do something nice. Congratulate the other writers. Buy their books. Share their success on your blog or elsewhere. Let their success inspire you. Believe the same is possible for you.

6. Feeling Overwhelmed or Overloaded
Take a break by doing enjoyable things that you have not allowed yourself to do for a long time. Cut yourself some slack and prioritize. Are all those “shoulds” spinning around your head really that important? See time management link in #10 this post. Journal, meditate, vent to someone that you know truly understands.

7. Distractions
Set limits on social media and other computer distractions. Find a place and time to write that is void of distractions. Are you a distracted mom? See Marcie’s “Mom’s Write” series.

8. Writing for the Wrong Reasons
Ask yourself why you are writing. If it is to become famous or make lots of money, those reasons might not be enough to motivate you after you’ve received a few rejections. They might not be enough to motivate you away from distractions. There has to be something in it that makes you want to write no matter what. Even if no one ever reads it, you are compelled to write. What makes you love writing? According to my Webster’s Dictionary, the definition for motivate is “To provide with a motive.” The definition of motive is “Something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.” What is your motive for writing?

9. Beating a Dead Horse
After sending the same story to your critique group twenty times, you might feel like you are beating a dead horse. After getting twenty rejections for the same manuscript, you might feel like you are beating dead horse. When going around in circles editing the same old five stories, you might feel like you are beating five dead horses. Try putting the dead horses away for a while and start writing five fresh stories.

10. No Time
Look at your time realistically. Are you trying to fit a 72-hour day into 12 hours? If so, you have too much on your plate and something must go. What will it be? When considering this, the first place to look is time wasters. Check out these time management tools.

Your turn: What keeps you motivated when things in your writing life get tough?

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is the one and only Julie Hedlund. Thank you, Julie, for taking the time to share your thoughts on platform building.

Before I move on, I want to mention that registration for Julie’s 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge begins next month. If you don’t know about this wonderful writing community and challenge, it would be worthwhile to give the 12 x 12 page a look.

12-x-12-new-banner

Now, here’s Julie. . . .

BUSTING MYTHS ABOUT AUTHOR PLATFORMS

BY Julie Hedlund

Thanks Alayne for hosting me today! I’m a big fan of your blog, so it’s an honor.

Never has a word inspired so much fear and angst into the heart of an author. Part of that fear, IMHO, is based on myths about platform that I want to bust for you today. My goal is that by the end of this post, you’ll feel a LOT better about what author platform is (and isn’t) so you can embrace it as part of your journey as a writer.

The first big myth about author platform is that it is primarily about online activities, particularly social media and, to a lesser extent, websites and blogging.

But since we are writers, let’s take a look at a couple of definitions in the dictionary for the word platform:

“A place, means, or opportunity for public expression of opinion.”

Another definition: “A formal declaration of the principles on which a group
makes its appeal to the public.” We could change that to say: “A formal declaration
of the principles on which a writer makes his or her appeal to the audience/readers.”

Under these definitions, platform is not a set of tasks or tactics. Platform is an opportunity for you to establish your identity as an author and communicate that identity, that worldview, to your audience.

As Tara Lazar aptly explained in her post, everything you do that you intend your potential readers and audience to see is part of your platform. Everything. School visits, presentations, book signings, mailings and newsletters, promotional materials such as business cards and book swag – even conversations at conferences.

And yes, your website and/or blog and social media presence is a part of your platform, but only one part. Choose which aspects of online platform you enjoy and leave the rest behind. It’s okay. Really. Because if being on Twitter is anathema to who you are, that will come out in your participation anyway. Luckily, there are many options for online platforms, but we don’t have to be tied to them all.

The second platform myth I’d like to bust is that it’s all about promotion, and you establish it for the primary purpose of being able to sell your books.

Wrong.

Your platform should not be used to blast your message out to a bunch of people in one direction but rather, to create a conversation and a two-way dialog that will help you build relationships and make connections with people (as Miranda Paul pointed out in her post).

Your platform should be a means by which you help others. Sometimes that takes the form of a helpful blog post, sharing a resource on social media, or giving a workshop on writing. Sometimes it takes the form of making people aware of a book you’ve written that you think they will enjoy and/or will enrich their lives. You wrote the book for people to enjoy, so promoting it in that way is a just another way of helping others.

Helping people is not only rewarding all by itself, but it also builds awareness of you and your work in an organic way. Like Tara is well known for her picture book idea month challenge, I am best known as the founder of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge. I embrace that role because I LOVE helping other writers, and it’s a huge part of who I am. I get a great deal of support (and yes, some book sales) through that community because they already know me and are therefore likely to enjoy my books.

The last myth I am going to bust today is that platform is a drain on time and creativity. That it “takes away” from your writing. If you approach your platform in the right way, holistically and as an extension of yourself, it can actually be a huge part of your creative journey AND fun!

Connecting with readers and fellow writers is a big part of why we write, is it not? Platform provides the means to make those connections and reap those rewards by giving of yourself and receiving from others. How great is that?

Julie Hedlund - Headshot

ABOUT JULIE

Julie Hedlund is an award-winning children’s book author, founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, monthly contributor to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books Podcast, and a frequent speaker at industry events such as SCBWI conferences.

Her picture book, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, Little Bahalia Publishing, 2013, first published as an interactive storybook app, was the recipient of the 2014 Independent Book Publisher’s Association Benjamin Franklin Digital Gold Award. TROOP-Cover-300x283Her storybook app, A SHIVER OF SHARKS, Little Bahalia Publishing, 2013, was a 2014 Digital Book Award winner. MLFY_coverHer latest book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, released in September 2014 from Little Bahalia.

Julie is passionate about helping fellow writers achieve success. With her friend and colleague Emma Walton Hamilton, she created The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions – a soup-to-nuts resource for crafting a winning query and landing an agent or book deal. As a single mother of two young children who earns a complete living as an author-entrepreneur, Julie also created a course called How to Make Money as a Writer to help other authors build their careers and support themselves financially.
Julie lives in beautiful Boulder with her two children, ages 12 and 9, and a large and terribly misbehaved hound dog. When she is not writing or entrepreneuring, she loves reading (duh!), hiking, skiing, cooking, movie and game nights with the kids, and sipping red wine at sunset in the company of good friends and family.

Other guest posts on platform building:

Breaking the Fourth Wall: My Platform-Building Strategy by Miranda Paul

You are your Platform by Tara Lazar

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