Reflection and a Tip From a Critique Ninja

I loved how Stacy McAnulty blogged about her takeaways as a 12×12 Critique Ninja (Read HERE). I’m sure her comments were as helpful to other members of the 12×12 community (and other blog readers) as they were to me. As children’s writers any reflections, tips, advice, etc. help us on our journey. Even if we’ve heard the same tips and advice before it’s amazing how hearing something over and over again helps it to become ingrained in our writing process. So I decided to write a blog post reflecting on my time as a Critique Ninja. But instead of making several observations I’m addressing the revision process. Specifically, the importance of taking your time.

As part of this post, I’m sharing a post I wrote in December of 2014 when I was blogging with EMU’s Debuts. EMU’s Debuts is a blog written by debut authors from Erin Murphy Literary Agency who are excited to be setting off down the path toward publication and blog about a little bit of everything along a writer’s journey. Even if you haven’t gotten a book deal yet, it’s worth your time to follow that blog.

The content of my 2014 post still holds true for me and that’s why I wanted to share it on my own blog as I finish up my time as a Critique Ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge. For those not familiar with the 12×12 Challenge: 12×12 is a year-long writing challenge where members aim to write 12 complete picture book drafts, one per month, for each 12 months of the year.

As one of many benefits of the challenge, members can post their manuscript in a Forum to get feedback. Members give each other feedback but can also receive feedback from a Critique Ninja like me. Critique Ninjas browse the forum, choose manuscripts, and make “big picture” comments for the author to consider.

Notice I said “for the author to consider. As I finish up my time as a Critique Ninja I wanted to focus on that word . . . consider in terms of revision. Why? Because when I first began writing and receiving critiques, I didn’t consider comments from the critiquer to the degree that I should have. I rushed in and addressed specific comments without considering all aspects of my story. How would my revision strengthen my story overall and not just that particular part/line. I’ve learned to slow way down and consider carefully.

During my time as a Critique Ninja I noticed some really quick revising. In fact I saw some stories posted two times in the same day with the second one titled “revised” or “revision.” I wondered if it was done too hastily. Not “hastily” because the writers don’t care deeply about their manuscripts. More like “hastily” because they care so much and it’s so exciting to improve a story.

NOTE: It’s very important to me that you know that I’m not writing this post to reprimand or criticize anyone who posted a quick revision in the forum. NOT AT ALL. Because just a few sentences ago, I told you that I’ve done the same thing — a quick revision. And I’ve done it many times. My purpose in writing this post is to challenge you to read my words below from 2014 and do your best to carefully consider critique comments as you move forward on your journey as a writer. Take your time with a revision. If someone suggests a really great change for your meter in a rhyming story you must consider their suggestion in terms of your entire story…not just one line. If someone suggests something for your character, setting, etc., you must consider their suggestion/s in terms of your entire story…not just the character, setting, etc.

We know that EVERY word counts. And when we say that, it doesn’t mean “word count.” It means we have to consider EVERY word in terms of our story. Each word counts toward making our story the best it can be.

Now as a reminder of all aspects/elements of our story that we need to consider as we make revisions, here is my 2014 post from EMU’s Debuts.

Writing in Reverse

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the fact that my car was totaled in a June hailstorm. That unfortunate event necessitated a new car. My old car had a backup camera, but this car has a BACKUP CAMERA! It’s amazing. It has this beeping-warning system that lets me know if someone is passing behind me or if I’m getting close to backing into something. The other day I was backing out of my garage, looking at the view in the backup camera, when the phrase Writing in Reverse just popped into my head. You may have noticed from my posts here that I love analogies. So when I thought about Writing in Reverse, I knew I had to use this for a post.

Before Writing in Reverse, I have to get my my story down. So I just drive/write a first draft. Yes, I do need to have a destination in mind­—a character, the semblance of a plot or structure, events to drive my story forward, etc. I need to keep the Rules of the Road/Genre in mind as I write. I need to be aware of traffic/the audience I’m writing for, and I need to watch my speed limit/word count. OK, sometimes I do go a few MPH/WPM (words per manuscript) over knowing I can probably get by with it for a draft, but I don’t want my speed/word count to get completely out of control. So, pretty much, I just drive/write on. The first draft is a hugely important part of writing. If I never do this part, I’ll never get anywhere. My ideas will be stuck at home and never see the light of day. Never get out into the world. And once the first draft is finished, I do feel like I’ve been somewhere. But I know this same journey will become very familiar . . .

. . . because now comes Writing in Reverse/revision.

Screenshot 2014-12-20 19.58.47

It’s time to take the same drive using my backup camera. It will be much slower. I will cut my speed limit to a crawl. Each twist and turn will require my complete attention. I will be more cautious and more aware of any obstacles that will hinder my story. I will listen to my internal beeps/alarms noting when something is amiss. I will listen to my critique group who will make me aware of my blind spots. This journey will take much longer than my first draft, but it has to be taken to get to that “sweet spot” for submission. I know this. It’s tough. But it must be done. And it’s worth it.

Recently my second deal was announced. A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE sold to Maria Modugno at Random House Children’s who also bought THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT. It will be illustrated by Ben Mantle who also illustrated my dragon story. Talk about Writing in Reverse! I had 102 “Saved As” files of A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE. Not all were complete rewrites, but all had tweaks. Some major, some minor. That’s a lotta Writing in Reverse. But it served me well. When I emailed Tricia (love my agent) that 102nd file, she deemed it “ready to go”. In two days, we heard back from Maria. She wanted my story 🙂

So make sure you use a BACKUP CAMERA! A really good one. Take that slow, Writing-in-Reverse journey where you pay attention to every detail and find that “sweet spot” before submitting. It will be worth it!

writing in reverse final

Last note to 12×12 writers: So as you make revisions in your manuscript make sure to consider all aspects/elements of a great picture book with each change you make. By doing this, you will be presenting your best work to critiquers — whether it be a Critique Ninja or a 12×12 member kind enough to comment on your work.

Good luck and happy considering and revising!

Winners of The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azúa Kramer

And we have WINNERS!!!!TheGreenUmbrella-cover-layout.indd

I interviewed Jackie Azúa Kramer in a blog post a couple of weeks ago. She shared about sources of inspiration and we had a drawing for two free books — one copy for the winner chosen by random.org and one copy for a Little Free Library near the winner. The drawing is over but if you missed the post head over and read it by clicking HERE

And the WINNERs are . . . 

Margaret Simon

and the 

Little Free Library in her City Park in New Iberia, LA.

Congratulations!

Interview With Jackie Azúa Kramer, Author of The Green Umbrella and a Double Giveaway!

TheGreenUmbrella-cover-layout.inddToday we’re here to celebrate Jackie Azúa Kramer’s upcoming book, THE GREEN UMBRELLA, which will be on shelves January 31, 2017. That’s tomorrow 🙂
**Don’t miss the double giveaway. Details below.

Here’s the synopsis of THE GREEN UMBRELLAWhen Elephant takes a peaceful walk with his green umbrella, he’s interrupted by a hedgehog, cat, bear, and rabbit―each claiming that they’ve had exciting adventures with his umbrella. After all, it is an umbrella, and it certainly hasn’t been on any adventures more exciting than a walk in the rain. Or has it? Things aren’t always what they seem in this charming tale of imagination, sharing and friendship.

Prepare to be more than delighted with this book. It’s so full of imagination that I believe readers will be inspired to take imaginary adventures of their own.

Speaking of being inspired, it’s a fact that inspiration is a wonderful and necessary part of writing. Jackie wrote a great article for the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) and Illustrators Summer 2015 Bulletin. Her article talks about inspiration. For today’s post, Jackie agreed to answer these questions about how she feeds her imagination with sources of inspiration.

PPK: In your article, Light My Fire, in the SCBWI bulletin, you discussed pictures as prompts or inspiration for your writing. Can you share about this source of inspiration?

JAK: I have very strong memories in my childhood, of what I’d call, visual inspiration. As a family we travelled all over the world. Exotic destinations like India, Israel, Venezuela, and Russia, to name a few. Between the people, architecture, clothes, art, food it was a feast for the eyes, not to mention all my other senses.

And the visual muses continued with my fascination in movies and theatre. I grew up close to New York City, and my parents would often take us to Broadway plays. The curtain rises and there are the incredible actors and sets, lighting, costumes and props. And movies…from the Golden Age of Hollywood to foreign and indie films, I can’t get enough.

So when I write, like scenes and acts in a play, I envision the page turns; the sets, costumes and props. As a matter of fact, every story I’ve ever written, I see as a moving image. Here’s one of my favorites—To Kill a Mockingbird.to-kill-a-mockingbird

PPK: Pictures are inspiring to me, too, Jackie. I’ve come up with many ideas based on an expression or action conveyed by an image. You mentioned to me that music is another source of inspiration for your writing. I’m curious about this. Could you tell us more?

JAK: Music! I think of the oft-used quote, “If music save the savage beast…” My music, as we have this virtual conversation is a plane flying overhead, birds chirping, dogs barking, kids playing, wind over trees, and more. In my upcoming picture book, The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press), a story about loss, and the sensitive questions and emotions between a boy and his father. I listened to sweeping movie soundtracks, A River Runs Through It and Out Of Africa. Here’s a sample:

I call that my writing environment in which I create a mood or a virtual reality.

PPK: So music helps create a mood for writing, as well as your writing environment. Tell us about your writing environment. And do you only write in one environment or do you move around your home or even outside your home? Do different environments inspire different parts of your writing?

JAK: Yes! I often venture out of my home workspace to a bookstore or my lucky local library where I wrote The Green Umbrella. Each place has a unique ambiance. In a secluded corner of the library I look out onto a tree lined street and this beautiful, old church.

library-window

And six months out of the year, I love to write outdoors in my beautiful yard, surrounded by trees and flowers, I lovingly refer to it as ‘The Canopy’. My soundtrack becomes birds chirping, dogs barking, kids playing and the wind over trees. How can one help, but be inspired.

the-canopy

PPK: Many writers advise getting out and living life to spark inspiration. How important is this advice in your writing life? How do you employ this advice?

JAK: As Matthew McConaughey said, in Dazed and Confused, “Just keep livin’! L-I-V-I-N!” It’s super important to live the life that one’s given. I call it the three ‘R’s’—refuel, recharge, renew. As creators we tend to work in isolation. In order to give our best, we need to give back to ourselves. Museums are an endless source of inspiration. Both in their 80’s, Matisse’s ‘Cut-Outs’ and Picasso’s ‘Sculptures’, remind me that it’s never too late to learn, and for new possibilities in creative expression.

picasso-pic

The three R’s are available to all of us in the smallest of ways. Light a candle, listen to music, take a walk, talk to people. I don’t need to go far. I’m lucky to have a beautiful park in my town.

heckscher-park

But every now and then, I have a bout of wanderlust and I’m gone, gone, gone. My partner in crime, and I, get on a plane, rent a car, stay in one town for a couple of days and move on…it’s so freeing. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit my ancestral roots in Spain.

spain-montage

Jackie, thanks so much for sharing about inspiration. I know it will be helpful to writers, both young and young at heart.

Double the Giving, Double the Fun! Giveaway for You and a Little Free Library!

Readers, today is your lucky day because Jackie is giving away two signed copies of THE GREEN UMBRELLA to one lucky winner! One copy is for the winner to keep. And the other copy is to donate to a Little Free Library near you. Little Free Library is near and dear to Jackie and I love that she’s donating a copy to be placed in one of them. If you’re not sure if you have a Little Free Library close by, you can follow this link and perform a quick search to find out—Little Free Library Map. If you want to know more about Little Free Library, head over to their website: Little Free Library. If you win, we need ‘proof of’ with an official charter sign and charter number. All registered LFL’s have them. For a chance to win, leave a comment on this post no later than midnight (CST), Monday, February 6, 2017. I will use Random.org to choose a winner. The winner will be announced on Friday, February 10 in my A GREAT NEPHEW AND AND A GREAT AUNT post.

Watch the adorable trailer!

Be sure and check out Jackie’s other blog tour stops. You will learn about this wonderful book and learn more about Jackie. Click HERE to see the schedule and find links to other stops.


jackiekramerheadshot1

Meet Jackie: Jackie earned her Masters of Education from Queens College. She is a member of SCBWI and has written for the SCBWI Bulletin. In 2014, she was invited to be a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, Bank Street College. In 2015 Jackie was a presenter at the 1st nErDCamp Long Island.  Her picture book, The Green Umbrella (North South Books) debuts February 2017. The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, TBD) and If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis Books, Spring 2018). Visit Jackie at: Jackieazuakramer.com


Other Places to Find Jackie
Twitter @jackiekramer422
Facebook Jackie Azúa Kramer
Instagram

 

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt: Lorelai and Penny

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon (Click to Enlarge)

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a sixth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on the second Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

It’s the second Friday of the month so normally Landon and I would be collaborating. But instead my great niece, Lorelai, is sharing her artistic talent today. Lorelai is in kindergarten and her interpretation of my poem brought many smiles to my face.

Lorelai said she felt like the poem was about how the ducks let all the other momma and baby animals join in their spring parade

The Poem

Slide1

The Art

crop best

art by Lorelai

Lorelai at work.thumb_IMG_3457_1024thumb_IMG_3458_1024
Loving Momma Bird.thumb_IMG_3455_1024A very proud artist.thumb_IMG_3456_1024

Thanks so much for joining us for today’s episode.I imagine you are smiling at Lorelai’s art right along with me!
Please come back next week for another fabulous guest collaboration.


Violet at Violet Nesdoly | Poems had the Poetry Friday Roundup today.If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.poetry friday button

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt, Guests-Brenda Harsham and Son, Kyle

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon (Click to Enlarge)

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon (Click to Enlarge)

Happy National Poetry Month!

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a sixth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on the second Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests.

I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Brenda Harsham and Her Son, Kyle

The PoemSlide1

The Art

Kyle's drawing

Art by Kyle

Brenda and KyleBrenda and KyleMore fun with Kyle
Kyle 2 Kyle

Many thanks to Brenda and Kyle for sharing their talents with us today!


Meet Kyle: Kyle drew this from his imagination. Kyle is a middle schooler with a penchant for art and mischief. He likes to laugh, take photographs, watch movies, play Minecraft and hang out with his friends.

Meet Brenda: Brenda added words, to suit Kyle, the explorer. Brenda is an author, a photographer, a poet, a blogger and a chocolate fiend. She’s a member of SCBWI-NE and the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. Find Brenda here.
Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup has the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.poetry friday button

GOODNIGHT, MANGER-Interview with Laura Sassi and Jane Chapman—PLUS a Giveaway!

Goodnight Manger Bk Cover


I’m thrilled to be a part of the GOODNIGHT, MANGER blog tour. You won’t want to miss one stop on the tour. You can view the schedule HERE.

Synopsis:Goodnight, Manger, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by New York Times bestselling artist Jane Chapman, tells the story of Mary and Joseph as they try to get Jesus to sleep in the noisy stable after his birth. Told in gentle, lulling rhyme, Goodnight, Manger is an adorable and tender bedtime story, for Christmas or any time of year.


If you haven’t seen the book trailer yet, have a look.

For today’s blog tour stop illustrator, Jane Chapman, and author, Laura Sassi, were gracious enough to answer a few questions.

Me: What drew you to Laura’s GOODNIGHT, MANGER story? What made you decide it was a story you’d like to illustrate?

Jane: It was a new take on a story that everyone knows. I love that it gets across the humanity of Jesus – He was a normal baby! Laura’s brilliant text manages to be both funny and reverent all at the same time.
I took a deep breath before accepting it because I try to avoid illustrating books with people in. I feel confident about drawing animals, but not people. That said, I wanted to challenge myself, and Laura’s text is SO good.

Me:  What was your reaction when you learned Jane would be the illustrator of GOODNIGHT, MANGER?  What appeals to you most about her work?

Laura: I was thrilled when my editor told me that Jane had agreed to take on this new project. She was also the illustrator for my first book, Goodnight, Ark. Jane did a marvelous job capturing the many wonderful expressions and movements of the storm-frightened animals in that book and I knew that she would do an amazing job with Goodnight, Manger as well. And once again, Jane’s work has again exceeded my expectations. The final illustrations for Goodnight, Manger glow with a warmth and gentle humor that perfectly captures the essence of the story.

Me: What is your process when taking a manuscript from text to fully illustrated spread? How collaborative, if at all, was the process?

Jane: First I draw, draw, draw. As I collect the character drawings together, I am thinking about how they could interact on the pages. After that I draw thumbnails (tiny drawings of suggested pages), then the final rough drawings to show the publisher.
I never collaborate with the author – even if he’s my husband! If there is any art direction written on the text, I remove it before I start drawing. I find that having a fixed idea at the beginning can inhibit possibly better thoughts of how the pictures will look.

Me: The best picture books have the perfect interplay between text and art. As authors we do our best to leave room for the illustrator to bring their part of the story. Did you and Jane communicate as she was creating the art? Did you make any changes to your text as a result of this communication?

Laura: Jane and I had no direct communication during the illustration phase, but before she took on the project she said something to the effect that if an action is described in the text, it MUST be included within the pages. With that feedback, Jane, the editor, and I all agreed to cut four verses. At first I thought I would miss the verses, but I don’t. What was lost in text, Jane beautifully made up for, and even enhanced, in illustration! The result is a truly magical melding of my words and her art.

Me: Goodnight, Manger has a Christmas theme. The story of Baby Jesus holds a special place in hearts everywhere. Looking at the cover, I see a sweetness-with-humor element that will draw readers to your book. What do you want readers to take away from your story? Could you both speak to this?

Jane: I want readers to recognise the humanity of Jesus and of His mother. I remember being a new parent to a crying baby – it’s not easy! This book doesn’t stick religiously to the Bible account of events (the wise men appear too early), but it does get across the idea that having a baby in a stable could be a bit messy, and that even Baby Jesus would have cried.

Laura: First and foremost, I want kids (and their parents) to enjoy the story. There’s so much to see on every page and the rhymes are fun to read aloud. I also wanted to offer readers a fun, Christmas-themed story which would keep Christ (rather than Santa) as the focus during what has culturally become a very secular Christmas season. As a mom, I have tender memories of putting my babies to bed and how hard it was when they were overstimulated and overtired. I wanted to play up those tender feelings and remind my youngest readers (and their parents) that Jesus was once a baby too, who cried and felt everything they feel.

Me: I love how you have chosen to depict Baby Jesus and his parents and the angels.  What was the inspiration behind the illustrations?

Jane:I drew lots of peasants from different countries, and a lot of acrobats! I don’t think angels are always in white – surely God would enjoy more colour? And I know that angels are without gender, but I thought they should probably have trousers on because otherwise I was going to end up with them showing too much leg!
Jesus was difficult. The team at Zondervan had me redraw Jesus a few times because He was looking too old on my pictures. Oh my, just thinking about painting all those people makes me shiver. I find it very difficult to paint skin tones…

Me: Laura certainly has a way with rhyme. The text sings. But I wondered if you have a favorite verse?

Jane: I don’t have a favourite verse. It’s ALL really, really good. (But I do like the picture where one of the wise men is being nibbled by a couple of goats – it reminds me of a visit to a local farm with my father-in-law: my son put grass in Grandad’s trouser pocket.)

Me: And Jane certainly has a way with illustrations. I could hang any page/spread on my wall. But I wondered if you have a favorite spread?

Laura: Ooh, that’s hard. I love every spread. The warm hues Jane has chosen for the stable interiors practically glow. And I love the sweet interactions and gentle humor included in each illustration, such as the mice peering dotingly down on Baby Jesus and the exceptionally expressive rooster and hen. In fact, I chose a rooster puppet as my storytelling assistant for author visits because of Jane’s delightful depiction of the bird. But, if pressed to choose I think my absolute favorite spread is the one with the angels singing sweet hosannas overhead in their colorful star-spangle tunics. One angel is even playing a fiddle and another an accordion!

Thank you, Jane and Laura, for answering these questions. And thanks for creating this beautiful book.

Here is Laura’s storytelling assistant. He looks like a very capable assistant 🙂rooster


Goodnight Manger Bk Cover

GIVEAWAY: Zonderkidz is offering one hardcover copy – fresh off the press – to one lucky winner.  And here’s the important part:  To be eligible, you must be a U.S. resident and have a physical address, not a P.O. Box. For a chance to win a copy just leave a comment on this post by midnight CST, Wednesday, October 21.


Laura Sassi photo
Laura Sassi has a passion for telling stories in prose and rhyme. Her poems, stories, articles and crafts have appeared in numerous family publications including Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. and FamilyFun. She is the author of two picture books, GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz 2015) and GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014). She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie. She is represented by Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Version 2

 

Jane Chapman lives in the south-west of England with her illustrator husband, Tim Warnes, her two sons, and a couple of cute bantams. She has been illustrating children’s books for twenty years, but hasn’t run out of steam yet. She enjoys painting fur, whiskers and all kinds of weather, but especially snow.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

I thought I had a winner! Wait! I do have a winner!

Winner! Winner! Winner!

bear bookYes! The winner has been determined!

I thought about sending the winner on an around-the-galaxy tour with Prince Zilch! But Prince Zilch has a history of crashing!

I thought about providing the winner with an life-long supply of porridge! But the bears told me that porridge is NOT THAT SPECIAL!

I thought about gifting the winner free enrollment in one of many classes taught by Goldilocks. Classes include:

  • The Art of Breaking and Entering and Bearly Getting Away
  • Porridge-Getting it Just Right
  • The Musical Chairs of Life-How to Avoid a Breakdown
  • Who Needs a Sleep-Number Bed? Three and Counting-So Many Beds, So Little Time!

But none of those prizes would be near as special as . . . . . . .

a signed copy of I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK! And who will be receiving this wonderful prize??? Who was randomly chosen by Random.org???

Who is the winner??? I thought I told you! I didn’t? Well, it’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

bear book

Buffy Silverman!! Yes, Buffy! You’re the winner!

Congratulations!!!

And thanks to all of you who commented and celebrated with Tara!