Tuesday Debut – Presenting Jolene Gutiérrez!

Hi Everyone!

It’s Tuesday, and I’m so excited to introduce you to a new debut-ess! Let’s give a warm welcome to the lovely and talented Jolene Gutiérrez and have a look at her book about learning to respect personal space!

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader
written by Jolene Gutiérrez
illustrated by Heather Bell
published on August 11, 2020
Clear Fork/Spork Publishing
Fiction, ages 5-9

Oliver hopes he can learn to be a good friend by observing how guinea pig friends Mac and Cheese interact. Snuggling might be OK for guinea pigs, but Oliver’s classmates don’t like him getting in their personal space bubbles!

SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Jolene! We are all excited to hear about your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?

JOLENE: Based on some of my experiences as a teacher librarian and a parent, I know that many kids struggle with the concept of personal space and friendship/social skills. I wanted to write a story that would give kids and adults talking points and tools around these topics.

SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?

JOLENE: My first draft took me a few weeks to write, but something about it wasn’t quite right. I tinkered with it on and off over a couple of years (in addition to writing other things).

SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?

JOLENE: Yes, I went through many revisions! Originally, the story included tiny aliens in flying saucers who were zooming into people’s personal space. In 2018, I had a critique with Callie Metler-Smith, owner of Clear Fork Publishing. While we were looking at the manuscript, Callie said, “Why not take out the aliens and just make this about a boy who struggles with personal space? Lots of people can relate to that.”

SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?

JOLENE: After my initial critique with Callie, she said she’d be interested in seeing the edits I made to my manuscript, so I shared them with her. We went back and forth for 3 or 4 months, tweaking the story and making edits.

SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?

JOLENE: At the same time I was making edits on Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader with Callie, I was wrapping up one of Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy courses, the Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Books. I didn’t have an agent at this time, but Mira had invited me to submit one of my other manuscripts to Clear Fork Publishing and Callie invited me to submit Mac and Cheese (then called The Personal Space Invader), so in the summer of 2018, I submitted both manuscripts to Clear Fork.

SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?  (Best moment ever! 😊)

JOLENE: At the end of October in 2018, Callie reached out via email and asked for my address and phone number. . .I was cautiously optimistic. I didn’t want to get too excited and be disappointed. 😉 So when Callie called me and said she and Mira would like to publish Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, I was over the moon happy!!

SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract? 

JOLENE: After I finished screaming and jumping up and down, my family and I went out for dinner at a nice restaurant and I ate chocolate!

SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?

JOLENE: Much of the revision process happened before Callie offered me a contract. After I signed the contract, there was more work with fine-tuning the manuscript and language and making sure the pagination worked. Although I never say it in the text, my main character Oliver is a boy on the autism spectrum, so I had a few sensitivity readers including people with autism and school counselors who have worked with children with autism, and I incorporated their feedback into my edits as well.

SUSANNA: What can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?

JOLENE: Before Callie and Mira signed an illustrator, they did show me a few options and asked their favorite illustrator, Heather Bell, to create character sketches. When they shared Heather’s character sketches, I fell in love with her gorgeous illustrations. Mira hosted various video meetings with Heather and I where we looked at the spreads and talked through edits.

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted Oliver to have a notebook where he wrote and sketched his observations about the world, so I included that information in the form of art notes. My first art note in the manuscript read: Mac and Cheese are guinea pigs. Oliver watches them and takes notes/sketches pictures in notebook. Oliver’s notebook is with him throughout the book, and I love the adorable sketches Heather created within. Here’s an example of Oliver with his notebook and one of the sketches he made based on what he saw Mac and Cheese doing.

SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc.? What was that like?

JOLENE: Yes, and that was tough. I made a conscious choice not to label Oliver as a boy with autism, and my reviewer from Kirkus didn’t like that. The reviewer wrote, in part, “Gutiérrez’s simple story, sprinkled with a few Spanish words from the teacher, lacks the context needed to explain why this young, apparent middle grader has no socialization skills, introducing his difficulty with the simple line “I’ve always wondered how to be a good friend.” The author’s note discusses how acceptable personal-space boundaries can vary culturally and individually but does not illuminate Oliver’s particular challenges further.”

I still feel strongly that a person (or reader) doesn’t need to know a child’s diagnosis (if they have one) to treat them as an individual and with respect and compassion. Many people are challenged by personal space, and I didn’t want it to be viewed as something that only people with autism struggle with.

SUSANNA: I understand your reasoning and think it is sound! (And a lot of us have had less than complimentary reviews from Kirkus! 😊) How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?

JOLENE: A little over 1½ years—it felt like a long time, but honestly, this is pretty fast in the picture book world!

SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?

JOLENE: They’ve promoted Mac and Cheese in blog posts, on their websites, in Mira’s Children’s Book Academy, and on social media.

SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.

JOLENE: I created a teacher’s guide, activity guide, and craft sheets (with the help of illustrator Heather Bell and my daughter, Shaian Gutiérrez), and created book swag like bookmarks, stickers, and pins (again, with the help of Shaian). I made a book trailer and sell sheets. I am a member of debut book groups Picture Book Buzz and Perfect2020PBs. I was part of a blog tour, participated in Twitter parties, and have done a few virtual school visits. I partnered with my local SCBWI chapter on some events, did a book launch party with local book store Second Store to the Right, was hosted on the Reading with Your Kids podcast, and presented to the Detroit Writing Room. I’m scheduled as a guest presenter for Children’s Book Academy as well.

SUSANNA: Wow! You’ve been busy! How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?

JOLENE: Oh, boy. Well, I joined SCBWI in 2008, and at that time, I wanted to write picture books. A friend who was also a writer told me that the picture book market is really difficult to break into, especially since I’m not an illustrator, so she encouraged me to write within another genre. I tried young adult first, but in 2013, I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 group. I still worked on young adult and middle grade as well, but I finally allowed myself to follow my heart write picture books. I received my contract in 2018.

SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming writers?)

JOLENE: I always knew the writing journey would teach me patience. It has also taught me persistence. There were times during this journey that I considered giving up. I’m a teacher/librarian as well, so I would say to myself, “What are you doing? You already have a day job and there aren’t enough hours in the day! You don’t need to write.” But the truth was, I did need to write. Not to pay the bills, but to feed my soul. So I told myself I’d just keep writing as long as I was moved to do so. I gave myself permission to stop if the joy in the process disappeared. But the joy never disappeared, because writing is like magic—you’re conjuring something larger than yourself. I self-talk like that a lot, and another thing I’ve told myself in regards to reaching my goals is that I have two choices: to stop working toward a goal (in which case I’ll never reach that goal), or to continue working toward a goal (in which case I’ll get there eventually). The other thought I would offer is try to surround yourself with a supportive community. The KidLit community is one of the kindest communities you’ll find anywhere. Connect with others who are moved to make magic like you are. Share tips and tricks. Read others’ work. Read their books and leave reviews. Settle in with the people who will hold you up when you’re falling and lift you up when you’ve done well.

Author Jolene Gutierrez

Website: www.jolenegutierrez.com
Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene                   
Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene
Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene/

This is me with Daffodil, a baby squirrel we found right before a blizzard in April 2020. My daughter and I fed him every 2 hours and released him in our back yard in July. He still visits us.

And these are our 3 rescue dogs, Wynter, Echo, and Summer. 😊

SUSANNA: Great advice! Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series, Jolene, and for paying it forward to other writers! I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the very best of luck with this and future titles!!! 😊

JOLENE: Thank YOU so much for this amazing opportunity! I’m so grateful!!

Readers, if you have questions for Jolene, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!

You may purchase Jolene’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)


We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:

– purchasing their books

– recommending their books to friends and family

– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians

– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores

– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries

– sharing their books on social media

– reviewing their books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other sites where people go to learn about books.

Thank you all for stopping by to read today!  Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday!  Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 😊

Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts?  Check them out!

Christy Mihaly – Hey! Hey! Hay! A Tale of Bales And The Machines That Make Them

Jessie Oliveros – The Remember Balloons

Beth Anderson – An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin And Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution

Hannah Holt – The Diamond And The Boy

Laura Renauld – Porcupine’s Pie

Annie Romano – Before You Sleep: A Bedtime Book Of Gratitude

Melissa Stoller – Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

Sherry Howard – Rock And Roll Woods

Kate Narita – 100 Bugs! A Counting Book

Vivian Kirkfield – Pippa’s Passover Plate

Laura Roettiger – Aliana Reaches For The Moon

Matthew Lasley – Pedro’s Pan: A Gold Rush Story

Natalee Creech – When Day Is Done

Margaret Chiu Greanias – Maximillian Villainous

Wendy Greenley – Lola Shapes The Sky

Danielle Dufayet – You Are Your Strong

B.J. Lee – There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed A Moth

Cathy Ballou Mealey – When A Tree Grows

Pippa Chorley – Counting Sheep

Sandra Sutter – The Real Farmer In The Dell

June Smalls – Odd Animals ABC

Jill Mangel Weisfeld – Riley The Retriever Wants A New Job (self pub)

Kathleen Cornell Berman – The Birth Of Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Eleanor Ann Peterson – Jurassic Rat

Sarah Hoppe – Who Will? Will You?

Marla LeSage – Pirate Year Round

Stacey Corrigan – The Pencil Eater

Shannon Stocker – Can U Save The Day?

Nadine Poper – Randall And Randall

Christine Evans – Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist

Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)

Susan Richmond – Bird Count

Dawn Young – The Night Baafore Christmas

Heather Gale – Ho’onani: Hula Warrior

Ciara O’Neal – Flamingo Hugs Aren’t For Everyone (self pub)

Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)

Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)

Kirsten Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents An Airplane

Valerie Bolling – Let’s Dance!

Janet Johnson – Help Wanted: Must Love Books

Susi Schaefer – Cat Ladies

Heather Kinser – Small Matters: The Hidden Power of the Unseen

Kelly Carey – How Long Is Forever?

Mary Wagley Copp – Wherever I Go

Nell Cross Beckerman – Down Under The Pier

Claire Noland – Evie’s Field Day: More Than One Way To Win

Sharon Giltrow – Bedtime, Daddy!

Gabi Snyder – Two Dogs On A Trike

Sarah Kurpiel – Lone Wolf

Vicky Fang – Invent-a-Pet

Lisa Katzenberger – National Regular Average Ordinary Day

Pam Webb – Someday We Will

Abi Cushman – Soaked!

Teresa Krager – Before Your Birth Day

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Beatrix Potter, Scientist

Nancy Roe Pimm – Fly, Girl, Fly! Shaesta Waiz Soars Around The World

36 thoughts on “Tuesday Debut – Presenting Jolene Gutiérrez!

  1. Stephanie Gibeault says:

    What a fabulous interview, Jolene! My copy of the book should be arriving any day now. I’m so excited to hold it in my hands!

  2. Sarah Meade says:

    Congratulations, Jolene! I enjoyed reading this interview so much! Love your thoughts on following your heart and writing to feed your soul. Love that. Thanks for another super Tuesday Debut post, Susanna!

  3. authorlaurablog says:

    Great interview, my friend! I read it yesterday but was having trouble commenting on my phone. I didn’t know an early draft had space aliens! It’s such a wonderful, relatable story that I can’t imagine that version.
    Also, Kirkus reviews seems to be a mixed bag at best. As a teacher, I agree with your decision to leave labels out of this wonderful book. Congratulations!

  4. ingridboydston says:

    I love that you chose not to label Oliver! As a teacher I see many children who struggle with personal space and they are not all on the sprectrum. This book will reach a far wider audience (many who need it) this way. Thanks for sharing the story of your story!

    • Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez says:

      Thank you so much for saying that, Ingrid! Yes, I’m hopeful that this book will help start the discussion of the importance of personal space and help teach kids to be compassionate and communicative with each other as they practice social skills. ❤

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