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Posts Tagged ‘Laurie Smollett Kutscera’

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week Ellen Leventhal and I focused on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. If you missed this mini-course, you can find it here. If you read the post, but missed the links to the additional resources links see below.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

Today, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley share their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles.

Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Kid-Lit Wisdom team member, Melissa Stoller and her co-authors Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman picture book PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (Illustrated by Kate Talbot) will be born on October 19, but it is available for pre-order now. Congratulations, my friends!

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP

I just discovered that my friend, 2021 Word Birds group member, and fantastic author/illustrator Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s new baby MAYA’S TREASURE was born yesterday!!!! CONGRATS Laurie. This is a lovely book. My heart has been connected to it for a long time.

Maya's Treasure

Words of Wisdom

THREE HAIKUS ON MIDDLES

by Rob Sanders

When writing middles
Always think rising action—
Attempts and failures

Keep raising the stakes
And readers will then relate
To your character

Step by step by step
Middles tie us to the start
And lead to the end

WHAT IF?

by Michelle Nott

There are so many names for the place where our manuscripts get stuck — right after our brilliant beginnings and right before our extraordinary endings… it’s the muddy middle, the murky middle, the mushy middle. But why not the Magnificent Middle? Because it can be so hard to get out of the muck! But what if there were a way…

That’s it… ask yourself, “What if…?”

Not sure what your character will say next? What if he says this or that or shouts or cries or stays silent? (Make a list of the possibilities). Then, what would happen?

Not sure where your characters will go next? What if they go here or there or to the moon or to the cinema or into the garden or nowhere at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Not sure what your characters will do next? What if they do this or that or ride their bikes or eat a poisonous snake or surf in the Board Master competition or do nothing at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Check your lists. What combinations of dialogue, scene, and action will lead your story to that extraordinary ending you have in store for your readers? But what if none of those possibilities work? That’s ok! Because you can tweak your ending accordingly.

In my experience, when I am forcing my story and characters to go specifically to only one possible ending, the messy mucky middle becomes quicksand that leads to no one going anywhere. So what if you let your inner critic take a nap, put your plot outline under some books, and go on an imaginary, non-committal, “just ’cause” adventure with your characters? You can stop at any point. You can open a new document and start again as many times as you want. The narrative will eventually pull you by your own bootstraps into your story and take you where it needs to go… and it will be magnificent!

KEEP THE MAIN CHARACTER ACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD (with a nonfiction focus example)

by Vivian Kirkfield

Just like in a family with three children, the middles of your manuscript sometimes don’t get the same attention as the youngest (opening lines) and the oldest (satisfying ending). But the middle of your manuscript is where the action is, where your main characters are pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles and inviting the reader to connect with them.

That’s why I love writing nonfiction picture book biographies…the middle pretty much writes itself. 😊 Well, perhaps not quite. 😊 But the plot and pacing are provided by the true events of the person you are writing about. It’s all a matter of choosing which information to include and which to omit. I think the key is to keep the main characters front and center…keep the main characters active…and keep the main characters moving forward towards realizing their goals.

Here’s an example from MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe:

1. Beginning: Two girls, different on the outside, but inside they have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella wants to share her voice with the world and Marilyn wants to become a great actress.
2. Middle: Ella sings at the Apollo Theatre and signs a contract with a band. Marilyn captures the attention of photographers and signs with a motion picture studio. Ella encounters discrimination as she works in the entertainment industry but continues to perform wherever she can. Marilyn battles salary inequality and lack of control of her career but she studies Ella’s singing. Marilyn buys a ticket to Ella’s show to thank her for her help. Ella confides in Marilyn. Ella and Marilyn hatch a plan. Marilyn calls the club owner. Ella practices her songs. Marilyn attends the performance. Ella wows the audience.
3. End: Ella never misses one of Marilyn’s movies. Marilyn listens to all of Ella’s songs. Two stars, different on the outside, but on the inside, both understood that even stars need a little help to shine.

Just remember – keep your main character actively moving forward towards realizing her goal and your middle will keep your readers engaged!

ella-and-marilyn

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STRUCTURE

by Kirsti Call

Compelling middles come from stellar structure. Including a repeating refrain, or the rule of three helps readers engage, anticipate the structure, and want to turn the page.

A DELICIOUS SANDWICH FILLING: GIVE YOUR MIDDLE FLAVOR

by Pippa Chorley

Think of the middle of a story as a delicious sandwich filling. Full of flavor. It is where your story truly develops for your main character. It is where they face their main obstacles and we see their characters being tested and reacting and learning along the way. It can often be neglected in your first round of edits, even your second and third but without a strong middle, it is easy for your readers to lose interest. So, here are my top tips for making the middle flavorsome:

1. Vary the setting for the middle section. Whether your story has emotional or physical obstacles, try to make the middle scenes exciting and different for the illustrator.
2. Include a variety of obstacles or plot complications that your main character must overcome before they can reach their ultimate goal. Try to build these as you go, creating more and more climax along the way.
3. Don’t be too wordy. Keep the middle active and moving forwards. I often use a plot clock for this. I find this very helpful in checking I maintain the pace of the story.
4. Raise uncertainty through emotional depth. As your main character reaches their low point, make the reader uncertain about the outcome too. This will heighten tension and make them care about their main character more.
5. Take a break. When you feel your middle isn’t working, put the story aside for a few days. Take a walk, a bath or a nap and let the story play out in your head over and over. When you are most relaxed, that is when solutions come and your problem solving can begin.

No more tasteless middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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