Meet Marie Harris – Author of The Girl Who Heard Colors PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Happy Monday, Folks!

Before I forget, let me quickly mention that I’m visiting my friend Debby Lytton’s MG writer blog today and I would love it if anyone wanted to go visit.  She is a very talented author and her book JANE IN BLOOM is not to be missed!  SO good!  The link is HERE.

Now then.  To stave off the Olympic withdrawal that I know you’re all feeling, I have such a treat for you today!  First we get to talk with accomplished author Marie Harris, and afterwards one lucky person will have a chance to win a signed copy of her newest picture book, THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS!

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

First, allow me to introduce Marie:

Marie Harris, author and poet

Marie Harris was NH Poet Laureate from 1999-2004 when she wrote her first children’s book:
G is for GRANITE: A New Hampshire Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press). She lives in the woods with her photographer husband, Charter Weeks, and together they run a marketing business.  She loves birding, sailing, and swimming in the Isinglass River.

Marie is also the author of PRIMARY NUMBERS: A New Hampshire Numbers Book (Sleeping Bear Press) as well as several books of poetry for older readers: RAW HONEY (Alice James Books), INTERSTATE (Slow Loris Press), and WEASEL IN THE TURKEY PEN (Hanging Loose Press).  Her website is

SH: Welcome, Marie!  Thank you so very much for joining us today.  I recently had the pleasure of reading THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2013).  The book addresses an unusual subject: synesthesia.  I wondered what inspired you to write a picture book about it?

MH:  When I went in search of a new story to write, I “consulted” my own picture book—G is for GRANITE: A NH Alphabet Book—for ideas. I was looking for a New Hampshire woman who had not gotten the attention she deserved…at least not lately. I looked at the list on the “H” page (featuring Sarah Josepha Hale, the first editor of a women’s magazine in America) and discovered I’d mentioned in passing Amy Beach, America’s first female composer. So I set about learning everything I could about her. This turned out to be surprisingly easy, since the Beach archives are housed at the University of New Hampshire, a few miles from my home, and there are many recent recordings of her wonderful music. I fell in love! And I set about writing a novel for young readers with Amy as a character.

My agent sent out the first chapters and I was contacted by Nancy Paulsen at Penguin who, though not interested in the novel, was charmed that Amy had a wonderful “special sense” called synesthesia. (Her parents seemed to take their daughter’s sound-color sense in stride, much as they did her gift of perfect pitch.) She felt that this subject would make a fine picture book. I agreed, but asked if I could change the protagonist to a contemporary little girl and give her a few difficulties that Amy Beach didn’t have. And that’s how I came to write THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS.

SH:  Can you tell us a little bit about synesthesia?

MH:  Synesthesia is quite a special gift to possess. Nonetheless, it does qualify as something that makes a person “different,” and that’s sometimes uncomfortable. My little girl, Jillian (named after the first synesthete I met when she was in 4th grade), discovers that telling people that she “hears colors” causes her playmates to make fun of her and grownups to worry. However, she also discovers that talking about her special extra sense can result in a happy outcome.

As I visit classrooms as writer-in-residence or visiting writer, I have been astounded at the number of children who have an immediate answer to my casual question: ”What color is seven?” (Of course most kids look at me as if I’m a bit odd.) And once we agree that the student does, in fact, experience the “mixing” of senses (seeing letters and numbers in color, experiencing colors, and even tastes, with sounds) she can usually describe her gift in great detail. And she’s usually pleasantly surprised at how interested her classmates are at this surprising bit of information.

I’ve become fascinated with the phenomenon, and so ask individuals (adults) and kids (usually in classrooms) a simple question or two that prompts a synesthete to reveal her/his gift. Someting to the effect of: What color is eight? or What do you see when you hear rock music?  or  Does anyone taste something when they hear a sound?  And here are some responses…
(from my ten-year-old pen pal in England)  One of my teacher’s voices tastes like raspberries and tea; but another’s voice tastes like spoiled cheesecake.
(from the ‘real’ Jillian)  Classical music is blue. Country music is olive green, and I hate country music and I hate olive green!
(from an 8th grader)  All my letters are in color. When I read, each sentence becomes a single color, then the paragraph does too, then the whole book ends up being a certain color. When I’m reading and my mind wanders, all the letters turn to black. When I start paying attention again, the colored letters reappear.
(from a 5th grader) Your voice is deep green with bubbles and sparkles.
(from an older woman who came to a library presentation) The other day, as I was slicing beautiful green and yellow and red bell peppers, I said to my husband: Can you hear those colors? He looked at me strangely. I think I’ll stop saying those things out loud!

SH:  Do you do school visits?  What do they involve?

MH:  Because I work with students from K-12, I tailor my presentations accordingly.

With the very youngest kids, I read my book (s) leaving lots of time for the fantastic free-association offerings & questions that the words and pictures evoke. I try to give the teachers a few “ways into” the text and ideas as to how to pursue some of the ideas presented in the story.
Once students are reading and writing and talking more or less fluently, my visits take several shapes. I talk about how I came to writing. I tell stories about how the book(s) morphed from my notebooks to print, with lots of digressions and stories about the illustrators, the mistakes I made, the surprises I encountered, the things I learned.
With high school students, I work with their teachers to complement whatever projects they’re involved in.
Often (depending on what the school wants and the time frames) I create writing projects with students at all levels.
What I try never to get enmeshed in are presentations to large groups in auditoriums. I explain to principals (who, understandably, want every kid in their school to be “exposed” to the visiting artist) that I’m not a puppet show or a string band. I feel I’m at my best (as are the kids) when we’re working with me in relatively small groups with lots of opportunities for conversation.
All that said, I’m flexible and will work with every school to create a program that best fits their needs.
(Teachers, or parents who are active in their PTAs, Marie is available for school visits and you can contact her via her website or by email at marie[at]marieharris[dot]com.  Though she has yet to do a Skype visit, she is open to the possibility!)

SH:  What do you hope to accomplish with this wonderful book?

MH:  Jillian has one of a range of types of synesthesia. I hope that her story prompts parents and teachers to learn more about the phenomenon and to celebrate this and all the fascinating differences among their children.

SH:  Thank you so much for coming to chat with us today, Marie.  It’s been such a pleasure!

Marie was kind enough to offer a signed copy of THE GIRL WHO HEEARD COLORS as a giveaway.  All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment below.  We would love to hear about any experience you’ve had with synesthesia, either because you have it yourself, know someone who does, or have met someone with this unusual perception along your life travels.  If you have no experience with synesthesia, you can tell us about any other unusual perception traits you’ve encountered, or just tell us who you’d like the book for (and yourself is a perfectly good answer :))  Please leave your comment by Thursday February 27 at 5 PM EST.  A winner will be chosen by and announced after Perfect Picture Books on Friday (where I will be sharing THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS :))

I have no experience with synesthesia, but I do have experience with unusual vision.  I have bilateral “wandering” eyes (which means both eyes can stop focusing and “wander”, though 9 times out of 10 it’s the left one that does because it’s significantly weaker) in addition to rotary nystagmus (rapid, uncontrollable spinning of the eye) with the result that I am rarely able to focus both eyes at the same time and have very poor depth perception.  Ask anyone in my family – they will tell you how often I overflow cups thinking there’s more room before the top, and fall up or down stairs because I misjudge the distance.  But don’t worry – I might look a little funny, but I’ve learned to compensate pretty well most of the time and am able to drive a car and jump horses 🙂  What’s a little spilled coffee between friends? 🙂

So, please share your stories and/or who you’d like to win the book for!  And if you have any questions for Marie, ask away.  She will be traveling this week, but I’m sure we can prevail upon her to answer any burning questions when she returns 🙂

As an added bonus, Marie is also visiting Tina Cho and Laura Sassi today, with advice for writers at Tina’s and her “unlikely” story of how she became a children’s writer at Laura’s, so please hop over and see what she has to say on their blogs!  Tina also has a giveaway of the book!

Have a marvelous Monday everyone!!!  And please visit Debby’s blog if you have a minute – she would love to meet you all!

Meet Mike Allegra! – Author of Sarah Gives Thanks PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Happy Monday, Everyone, and welcome to another fun-filled week!

Seeing as I’m here, I’m sure you’ve all surmised that I survived the Young Writers’ Workshop yesterday.  Just goes to show that apparently you CAN teach an old dog new tricks 🙂  The first graders and I had a pretty good time learning how to make up characters… including a giant flying egg salad sandwich who goes by the name of Bob 🙂

Today I have a treat for you!

An interview with Mike Allegra himself!

And a giveaway of his fantastic book, SARAH GIVES THANKS!  (Which, if you’re not familiar with, you can read a great PPBF review from Stacy Jensen HERE!)


You thought I meant a treat treat?  Okay fine.  How ’bout waffles in honor of Mike, who has a fabulous feature called Waffles With Writers!  Let’s pick something healthful and nutritious to start our week off right….

A little chocolate ice cream never did a waffle any harm 🙂  YUM!

And speaking of waffles (probably with our mouths full of them) that is a perfect segue into our interview with Mike, who kindly answered all my questions except the ones that would have landed him in Witness Protection.

SH:  Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Mike!  Let’s start with what I would really have to call the most crucial question on today’s agenda: What is your favorite way to eat waffles?

MA:  That is a crucial question, Susanna. I thank you for asking it.

My answer is: It depends. If the waffles are frozen, I like to use them as the bread for a toasty peanut butter and raspberry jelly sandwich. This turns out to be an excellent breakfast on days when I’m too sleepy to operate anything more complicated than a toaster. (Such a meal isn’t complete, by the way, unless it is accompanied by two ginormous mugfuls of Sumatra coffee.)

If I have more time on my hands to make the batter and pull out the waffle iron, my tastes change. All I need is a little pat of butter and some pure maple syrup and I’m good to go. It’s Heaven on a plate.

SH:  What was the inspiration for your book, SARAH GIVES THANKS?

MA:  I didn’t get inspired until later in the process. In the beginning, I was leaping at an opportunity. Over the years I had managed to cultivate a chatty relationship with an editor at Albert Whitman and Company. The editor had yet to give me a contract, but she liked my writing enough to give me the occasional lead. So one day she called me up and said, “We’re on the lookout for a Thanksgiving story. Do you have a Thanksgiving story?”

“Yes, I do!” I announced, eager to get my foot in the door. “Give me a couple of weeks to revise it and I’ll send it to you!”

Well, that was a little fib. I didn’t have a Thanksgiving story. So I had to come up with something fast to turn my little lie into a belated truth.

That was when I stumbled upon the story about how Sarah Hale led a 36-year grassroots effort to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday. I immediately fell in love with Sarah’s story and researched as much as I could in the couple of weeks I had allotted for myself. I banged out a manuscript and sent it off. The draft wasn’t great, but it was good enough to make my earlier lie seem sort of plausible.

Thank goodness the editor liked it enough to ask for a rewrite. I was delighted; I now had time to conduct proper research!

SH:  A nonfiction picture book such as this one must have required quite a lot of research.  Can you describe your research process bearing in mind that some of us attended college in the last millennium and are extremely rusty and/or never learned proper research techniques?  

MA:  I did do a lot of research on Sarah. The first thing I did was buy books about her, including an excellent (out of print) book from the 1930s titled The Lady of Godey’s by Ruth Finely. The bulk of my research, however, was done at The Library Company, an archive in Philadelphia that had an incredible collection of Sarah’s writings. I found tons of information there that ended up in my story – information that no other author had used before.

The more I learned about Sarah, the more geeked out I became. Sarah Hale is one impressive person. Not only did she lead the campaign to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday, but she also was the first female magazine editor in America. She was one of the first female novelists in America – and the veryfirst to condemn slavery in a novel. (Take that, Harriet Beecher Stowe!) She was a tireless advocate for women’s education. She led huge fundraising drives to turn Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks. She even wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb!” And she was influential – sort of the Oprah of her day. When she said something, America listened.

SH:  What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Do you have research or topic selection tips for nonfiction PB writers just getting started?

MA: Use the internet, but never trust it. If you look something up on Wikipedia, for example, be sure focus your efforts on the article’s sources. Then find those sources and read them yourself. Always check your facts. Then double check them. I discovered errors in just about Sarah Hale book out there – which, I must admit, made me feel rather smug and superior.

As for your first question, it depends on whether it is an African or European swallow. 

SH:  Was SARAH accepted by the first house you sent her to?  Tell us about your path to publication…

MA:  SARAH was accepted by Albert Whitman, which was the first and only house I sent it to. But the path to publication didn’t seem all that certain. After I submitted my revised draft, the publishing house didn’t communicate with me for a number of months. Things move slowly in publishing – but this felt too slow. I sensed there was a problem.

Eventually I contacted my editor who, rather candidly explained that Albert Whitman was having reservations about publishing SARAH GIVE THANKS. The editors had just discovered that Laurie Halse Anderson had already written a picture book about Sarah Hale titled THANK YOU, SARAH! The book was 10 years old, but it was still in print and still selling rather well. Albert Whitman seemed reluctant to go head-to-head with a more established author and a bigger publishing house. Even though the Albert Whitman editors had not read THANK YOU, SARAH!, they feared my book was too similar to Anderson’s to get a toehold in the marketplace.

Well, I can’t remember the last time I felt so frustrated. I worked so hard on this story. I wanted it to happen soooo badly.

So I went out and bought Anderson’s book; read it about a million times; made notes; and sent out a long, impassioned email to my editor detailing the many, many ways in which the two books were different. (And they were very different.) I then announced that Sarah Hale was awesome enough to deservetwo books (the presumptuous subtext being that Sarah Hale was awesome enough to deserve my book).

I was professional and respectful, but I let it all hang out there. This was my desperate, Sarah Hail Mary Pass.

Long story short, my editor seemed impressed by the email and took my talking points into the next AW&Co. editorial meeting. Shortly thereafter, they gave me a contract.

I then danced a jig.

SH:  In an attempt to encourage your 3 yr. old son to read, you wrote him notes sealed in envelopes with his name and address and a hand drawn stamp.  Phyllis believes (strongly!) that she is stamp-worthy and this interview will not be allowed to continue until she gets one.  (She is very stubborn, so please humor her!)

MA:  Well, we can’t have that! Whatever Phyllis wants Phyllis gets.
Isn’t this awesome???!!!  I have had it in my hot little hands for weeks
and have just been dying to show it off!  And now finally I can 🙂
Don’t you love it?  Admit you love it!  Mike is such a talented artist!
SH:  Are you agented?  (Why or why not?)

MA:  I am not agented. The reason is because I haven’t yet found an agent interested in representing me. But I will keep plugging away. Such is the writer’s life, eh?

SH:  What kinds of things have you done for marketing/publicity? Which have worked well for you?  Which would you recommend the rest of us not attempt ever if we wish to retain our financial viability and/or sanity and/or self-respect?

MA:  When SARAH GIVES THANKS came out last year, I agreed to do anything and everything anyone asked of me. Some things worked a lot better than others.

The bookstore and library appearances were sparsely attended. I didn’t mind that much because I like hanging with bookstore managers and librarians, but those appearances didn’t do much for sales.

I prefer school appearances. I love to feed off of that marvelous gerbil-in-an-exercise-wheel energy that only a classroom full of kids can provide. And, if the event is put together by the PTO, the school will often pre-sell my book and pay me for my time. So it’s a win-win.

But I really attribute my book’s brisk sales to blog interviews. They got the word out in a big, big way. In other words, I’m very, very grateful for this opportunity, Susanna.
(Aw shucks, Mike, you’re very, very welcome!)

SH:  You are the founder of H.A.C.K.S. (Humans Against Celebrity Kid Stories!)  Can you tell us a little about what led you to create this important organization and what you hope to accomplish with it?

MA:  I thank you for posing this important question. (You are just full of important questions today!)

The world needs HACKS, Susanna, because most celebrity-written books are across-the-board poopy. There are exceptions, of course; Jamie Lee Curtis, for one, keeps me from speaking in absolutes. In most other cases, however, poopy works just fine.

Unfortunately, unoriginal, didactic, awkwardly-rhymed nonsense sells very, very well once you put a celebrity’s name on the cover. A lot of book buyers see this name and think, “Ooh! I like this person!” And in the basket it goes.

This buying reflex creates a couple of problems, I think. First, it exposes kids to lousy, unimaginative writing. That, in my view, should be a crime—or at least a misdemeanor.

Second, bad writing by celebrity non-writers encourages non-celebrity non-writers to announce, “Hey, I can do that, too! I’m gonna write a book just like my favorite children’s book author, Madonna!” And so bad writing begets more bad writing.

My little movement is a way to say to the world, “Hey, let’s make this publishing thing a meritocracy. Let’s promote the good stuff written by unknowns. Let the kids out there see what a really good story looks like.”

I also created HACKS because I thought it would be good for a few laughs. So far so good!

(Those of you who are interested in learning more, or perhaps joining H.A.C.K.S, hop on over here: and/or

SH:  Can you tell us anything about your current WIPs?  What’s next for Mike Allegra?

MA:  I’m writing a YA book about zombies, which is about as far away from SARAH GIVES THANKS as one can possibly go. I have no idea if I’ll be able to sell such a book anywhere – the whole zombie thing has just about played itself out – but I’m having fun. And, as The Cat in the Hat once said, “It’s fun to have fun.”

And when I’m not writing, I’m sending out PB manuscripts with my fingers crossed.

And a few for fun:

Plotter or pantser? 

Both. A blogger – whose name I unfortunately forget – coined the term “planster.” That about sums it up for me. 

Laptop or desktop?


Mac or PC?


Day or night worker?

I prefer afternoons, but whenever I can carve out time, I’ll write.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee – but not while I’m writing. When I write I stick to water.

I’ve tried drinking hard cider while writing and the results were interesting. Not good, but interesting.

Snack or not?

Not. I can’t write with a snack nearby. It’s too distracting.

Salty or sweet?

Sweet. Donuts, white chocolate, and ice cream are preferred.

Quiet or music?


Cat or dog?


Currently reading?

Travels with Charley. And, once again, I am reminded why Steinbeck is my favorite author.

Golly, that was fun!  Isn’t Mike fun?  I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did!  Thank you so much, Mike, for joining us here today!

If y’all have any questions for Mike, I’m pretty sure he can be prevailed upon to answer them in the comments so fire away! 🙂

Those of you who don’t already know Mike can find him on the web in the following places:

And now, as promised, we have a copy of SARAH GIVES THANKS to give away!  All you have to do is leave us a comment by Wednesday or so and we will randomly select a winner.  What we’d really like to hear is your most entertaining Thanksgiving story.  But if that’s too much work on a Monday morning, you can just tell us something you’re thankful for.

I will get the ball rolling by saying that when I was 6 we got 14 inches of snow on Thanksgiving which was pretty much fun.  Some kids might have built a snowman, or made snow angels.  But not us.  What better way to enjoy the gift of snow, we said to each other, than to go tobogganing down our very steep driveway?  It might have been okay but for a small error in judgment… We forgot to account for the sharp curve…  Alas, our combined weight wasn’t enough to turn the toboggan so we shot off the driveway, over a stone wall, through a dormant (but still prickly) blackberry bush and straight into a very sturdy oak tree.  There was only a little blood (all of it mine) and no trips to the Emergency Room were required so it was all good.  But we were not fast learners, so after dinner we tried it again… 🙂  As for what I’m thankful for, I’m thankful that all of you come to visit and read and comment and put up with my ridiculous stories about crashing toboggans and my addiction to chocolate 🙂

Have a marvelous Monday, everyone! 🙂

Meet Charlotte Gunnufson – Author Of Halloween Hustle!

Happy Monday, Everyone!

I’m sure you all realize what day this is…

The last day of September!!!

And I’m sure you all realize what that means…

Halloween is only 31 days away!!!!!

Of course we will be celebrating with the 3rd Annual Halloweensie Contest, guidelines to be posted very soon (which means when I get around to making them up :)), but to get us in the mood we have an interview with debut author Charlotte Gunnufson today and she will tell us about her picture book,  Halloween Hustle!  A copy of the book will be one of the prizes in the Halloweensie contest, so you’ll want to know all about it.

First, let me introduce you to Charlotte who says:

Charlotte Gunnufson

I grew up in Minnesota and suffered all the things a middle child normally suffers: my older sister tricked me into eating a worm (You mean spaghetti doesn’t grow in the ground?), my little brother blew out the candles on my birthday cake, and they called me Miss Prissy—which, I have to admit, was true when I was a kid. Clearly, I’m trying to make up for lost time.
I live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with my husband Scott and Isaac and Ellen. Perry is all grown up and living in Minnesota. Besides writing, dancing, and Halloween-ing, I love crossword puzzles and playing board games and charades with family and friends.
I’m happy to be a member of SCBWI-Iowa!

Welcome, Charlotte!  Thank you so much for joining us today!  We’re all delighted you’re here!  Can you start by telling us a little about how you came to writing and what your typical writing day is like?

CG:  I actually came back to writing. My first poem was published when I was in elementary school (in an Archie’s comic book). I wrote in my teens and early twenties and then stopped writing for 15 years. As crazy as it sounds, I was inspired to start writing again by a movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. (Yep, that’s how it’s spelled and watching it made me feel like I’d been wasting time.) I started writing again the next day. I write for kids because I love their earnestness and exuberance! I like writing humorous stories with word play, rhyme, and lots of exclamation points!!!
I try to write every weekday and protect my writing time like a mama bear protects her cub. I don’t wait for inspiration because that time can be spent writing. Bonus: a (mostly) consistent schedule helps me be ready to write and knowing I’m going to write keeps my mind open to stories ideas (which are lurking everywhere!). I usually do my best writing in the morning. I try to hold my internal editor at bay for a few hours because she can work long into the afternoon and evening.
SLH:  What inspired Halloween Hustle?

Isaac’s project – the inspiration for Halloween Hustle

CG:  I had been writing for kids for a little over a year and relentlessly trolling for story ideas. I opened a bin of Halloween decorations and an art project my son Isaac made way back in 2nd grade caught my attention. (I keep as much of my kids’ artwork as space permits. Okay. Perhaps a bit more than space permits.) I began writing a poem about a dancing skeleton, thinking I’d submit it to a children’s magazine. But then Skeleton discovered he wasn’t just dancing; he was dancing his way to a Halloween party. And, hey, there’s his buddy Frankenstein, and why don’t they just hop on that bus…and the poem stretched into a story.

SLH:  Is Halloween Hustle your first published book?  What was the road to publication like?

CG:  Halloween Hustle is my first book, though I’ve been lucky enough to have my work appear in Highlights, Highlights High Five and Hello, Cricket, Ladybug and other children’s magazines. I submitted the manuscript to several publishers and either received rejections or [Cue crickets].I hadn’t given up on Halloween Hustle, but I’d moved on to other stories.
Illustration copyright Kevan J. Atteberry

I didn’t receive the proverbial call. More than a year after I’d sent out the manuscript, I received a package from a marvelous and multi-talented editor at Marshall Cavendish, with abundant notes, whole pages crossed out, and a letter saying the story had potential for their list. I revised (and re-revised), and the manuscript was acquired by Marshall Cavendish, which was subsequently acquired by Amazon Children’s Publishing.
Writing other stuff
Still writing
During this same time period…
My daughter Ellen grew from kindergartener to fifth grader.
My son Isaac grew from fifth grader to high school junior.
My son Perry grew from college freshman to having a real job and a house.
A grain of advice humbly offered to fellow writers: Don’t waste a nanosecond waiting. Be brave, be fierce, and keep writing.
Illustration copyright Kevan J. Atteberry

SLH:  Do you have an agent?
CG:  I do not have an agent but believe that having an agent the way to go. I’ve queried about a dozen agents with various manuscripts. I’ve received a few requests for additional material (which, of course, I happily obliged!) but haven’t received an invitation to sign with an agent. I’m working to develop a body of publishable manuscripts. It’s a WIP (Work In Progress).
SLH:  What have been your marketing strategies so far?
CG:  Since Halloween Hustle is my first book, I’ve invested oodles of time and not inconsequential funds in promoting it. I developed fun, free, kid-friendly stuff for my website: a giggle-inducing book trailer and dance-along video as well as Halloween-themed crossword puzzles, word searches, and mazes. Illustrator Kevan Atteberry created cool coloring pages and graciously shared his work so that visitors to the website can send Halloween e-postcards to their friends. I hired Taylor Ridling to design the website. Alisabeth Von Presley created the book trailer and dance video, including the music, vocals, and voice over. My son Isaac designed bookmarks for the small price of not having to clean his room.
Illustration copyright Kevan J. Atteberry 2013

DIY (Do It Yourself) Tour: I’m hosting Halloween Hustle dance parties at schools, libraries, and bookstores throughout the Midwest. Kids craft Batty Hats and Bookmark Buddies, listen to the story, participate in original action rhymes, and then do the Halloween Hustle (Yes! Literally!) and boogie to Halloween classics like “Monster Mash” and “Purple People Eater.” The events are fun (Fun!) for the kids and for me. (Setting up events and promoting them are time-consuming.)  I’m also appearing at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival along with Betsy Lewin (Click, Clack, Moo), Bob Raczka (Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word), and Paul O. Zelinsky (Z is for Moose). Seriously? I know. That’s how I feel. Did the Festival contact me? I wish. Actually, no one contacted me. (Fortune cookie message for fellow writers: Don’t wait. Do!)

SLH:  What is YOUR favorite kind of dancing? 🙂
CG:  I am a dancing fool and could never choose a favorite! I teach Zumba Fitness® which is Latin based with a dash of Bollywood, African dance, hip hop and more. I get to see students trade in stress for Samba!
It makes my heart happy to see kids dance at the Halloween Hustle parties because they really get into it. It’s so good for them to move, and when they “get the steps,” they gain confidence. They cheer and always ask to do “Purple People Eater” again.

Well, Charlotte, it has made us happy to have you visit today! Thank you so much for coming!

Folks, you can find Charlotte at the following places online:

You can view her book trailer HERE
You can purchase Halloween Hustle at the following online retailers:

And don’t forget! One fabulous writer will win a copy of Charlotte’s delightful book for writing a great entry in the Halloweensie Contest coming soon to a blog near you.

(Uh, that would be this one. :))

Have a hip-hoppin’, Hustlin’, Halloween’s-comin’-soon Monday, everyone! 🙂

(And if you have any questions for Charlotte, it’s possible she can be prevailed upon to swing by and answer them if you leave them in the comments :))

Meet Erik Weibel – Author of The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea WITH A Giveaway!

Happy Monday, Everyone!

Boy do I have a terrific way to start off your week!

An interview, a giveaway of a personalized signed book!, and a chance to ask questions of the newest author on the block!

Today, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Erik, writer of the blog ThisKidReviewsBooks.  At age 11 he has just published his first chapter book for middle grade readers, and I have to tell you, I have read work by adults that is not as good as what this young man has written!  He’s in the middle of an extensive blog tour.  I will post the complete list at the bottom, so if you’re interested in reading reviews of the book or entering other giveaways for it, you may follow the links.

But I have the privilege of interviewing Erik so we can get to know him a little and have a glimpse into the mind that created The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea Book 1: A Bad Idea, so fasten your seat belts everyone! 🙂

(Susanna in black, Erik in blue)

      So, Erik, tell us a little about yourself…
I’m 11 ¾ -years-old and in 6th grade. I started reading comic books when I was very young (my mom said around 4). I love books and reading! I write a blog where I review books ( and I write a monthly book column for the Upper Bucks Free Press. I have a black belt in Taekwon-Do. I also study Okinawan Karate and Jiu-Jitsu. In my spare time I like to fish and build with Legos. I’d like to be an inventor and a published author when I grow up.
Meet Erik, published author!
When did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think I ever actually decided to be a writer, it is just something I like to do.  I always liked making up stories. I have notebooks filled with ideas and stories that I made up ever since I could write.
Can you share any of your earlier work?

Well, I’ve always loved superheroes (I STILL love superheroes, but that’s beside the point). Ever since I can remember, I came up with my own superhero characters. I had over 500 superheroes in my head and I wrote about 20 (or so) of them. I constantly was telling my superhero stories to my parents and they got me a journal notebook and convinced me to write the stories down. After I filled the first journal with stories and drawings, they got me another one, and I just kept writing. Here is the opening of a story about one of the first superheroes I made up. I wrote it when I was five. Sorry that there are a ton of typos (but I was five). 🙂
Mountain team beginning
Episode 1     
When Mountain Man was a boy he was called Mountain boy because he liked mountains. He lived with his family on a mountain. He liked to go fishing up in the mountains and swimming up in the mountains. Then one day there was a
It was a gray tornado but it was made of power not wind. It sucked up …              MOUNTAIN BOY! He changed. Then he was a grown up. He called himself…
Inside the tornado he saw his, future of his team. He found out what his powers were. They were, turn into a rock, make mountains, and speed, but still he wasn`t happy, he needed friends. 
This is Erik’s illustration of “Fireball” who was the villain in the Mountain Man story!
I am actually still working on this story but I changed the main character from Mountain Man to a guy named Techno and made a bunch of changes (Mountain Man is still in there, just under a different name and is a minor character with a big temper).
I wrote my first “picture book” in 2nd grade. It’s a collection of folktales from different countries. I interviewed a bunch of people from different countries at my mom’s work (and I got to miss a day of school to do it!). I asked them questions about their home country and what their favorite folk tale from their country was. I made it in Microsoft PowerPoint. My second grade teacher let me do it as an outside project because I wanted to learn how to use PowerPoint. My school liked it so much they posted it on their website. J
Cover of Erik’s 2nd grade book
The part about Norway 🙂
I’m actually using the folktale idea right now to try to make it into an actual picture book. I am also working on the next Tomato and Pea adventure. It will take off from where Book 1 ended.
Has anyone been particularly helpful to you in your writing journey?
I want to thank everyone who helped me in some way, whether they know it or not. My blog followers help with all of their encouragement and constructive criticism. My teachers for helping me be a better writer. My Aunt, for being one of my proof-readers! My Dad, for reading tons of drafts of my book and telling me what he thinks. I thank my Mom, who helps me stay organized and tells me when something I write doesn’t sound right. I won a critique from Julie Hedlund and she pointed out (in a very good way) where my characters were weak. Her comments really helped me make the book better. Author Michelle Isenhoff was very helpful and encouraging too. Mrs. Isenhoff, helped me edit the book. She gave me great lessons on grammar and writing conversation. She also really supported me when I didn’t think I could do another re-write. The whole Kid Lit community has been very nice and helpful to me. Whenever I had a question, someone was always there to answer it! Thank you all!
Your book, The Adventures of Tomato and Pea Book 1: A Bad Idea, features “super crime stopper, Tomato and his sidekick, Pea”.  How did your heroes come to be named after vegetables?  Are tomatoes and peas your favorites?  If you had to describe yourself as a vegetable, which one would you be?
My Uncle Dave (Dave Costella) made me two stuffed toys and told me their names were Tomato and Pea. He named the toys after the color of the material he made them from. Dave challenged me to write a story about the stuffed toys so I did!
Here they are!  The Superheroes, Tomato and Pea!
I like tomatoes and peas, but now, I don’t feel right eating them. That would be cannibalistic.
I think I’m a tall thin asparagus. An asparagus is not usually the first vegetable you think of, but when you do, you think, “Yes, I really like asparagus!”
Your villain is named Wintergreen.  What diabolical qualities of wintergreen prompted this name choice?
After I made my first Tomato and Pea story up (it was only like 500 words long), I showed it to Dave. He liked it and made me more characters including the villain Wintergreen. Dave thought it was funny to name Wintergreen, because he’s actually blue. I thought it was great because the other characters could point that fact out and annoy him. J Wintergreen is pretty cranky because he looks a lot like his arch-enemy Tomato and his color is all wrong.
I’m pretty sure this is what Erik looks like when he’s writing the scenes
with the evil villain, Wintergreen! 🙂
Do you share characteristics with any of your book characters?  If so, which character would you say is the most like you and why?
I think the character I most relate to, is Poppy Cornelius Lobster. I am full of random facts (that usually come at the wrong time). I made Tomato into the hero I would like to be; brave, athletic, and awesome. I am good with computers and figuring out how electronic stuff works so that’s where I got the idea that Pea is good with electronics. Skew loves to cook because I love to cook.  I also want to take over the world just like Wintergreen.
What was the easiest part of writing your book?
The funny parts. I would get “on a roll” when I wrote a funny scene. The words just came out.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Edeting Editeng Editeing Editing.
Also, when I decided to make my story into a stand-alone book that didn’t need any pictures. I had to add many details without overdoing it and boring the reader. It was hard to write down what I was picturing in my head.
Which is your favorite scene/moment in the story?
My favorite is after the bunch crash-lands on EAR-TH and they are looking for somewhere to take shelter. Here it is –
“We are in some sort of book depository,” Tomato observed.
“It’s called a library,” Poppy replied.
“Is this one of those facts that you just know?” Tomato asked.
  Poppy pointed up. “No. The sign says it up there, see? ‘Public Library, Free Wi-Fi.’”
“Oh. Well, this could be very useful,” Tomato said.
The library was humongous. Huge shelves stacked with books with strange titles lined the walls.  “Look, over there,” Tomato whispered pointing to a very large desk. “That female creature must be the commander of this book depository. The minions at their work terminals must be doing something top secret because the commander keeps SHUSHING them and won’t allow them to communicate with each other. I think we should set up camp here. It is very quiet. Most of the giants in this building are too interested in their research to notice us,” Tomato observed.
(See?  I told you he wrote well! :))
To help our readers figure out if they would enjoy your book, are there any books that you could say, if you liked that book, you’ll love The Adventures of Tomato and Pea?
I think that if you like silly books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Big Nate, Clueless McGee, etc., you’d (hopefully) like Tomato and Pea. I tried to write it at a chapter book level so young kids can have a fun adventure if they read it. 

Well, I know I want to read it!  (Oh wait.  I have read it… :))

If any of you have questions for Erik, he will be checking in to the blog (after school!) and will be happy to answer them, so fire away!

Thank you so much for joining us today, Erik!  It’s been great learning a little something about you and your book!  And I am thrilled to announce that we have one copy of the book to give away, which Erik will personalize and sign for the winner!

Now, I know you’re all going to enter the giveaway, but alas, only one person can win.  For those who don’t win, you can buy your copy of The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea Book 1: A Bad Idea at the following online booksellers (and I recommend you do it now… if you end up winning you can always give your extra copy to someone as a gift :)):

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Create Space

In order to enter the giveaway, all you HAVE to do is leave a comment on this post.  But if you WANT to join in the spirit of fun, Erik and I would LOVE it if you would tell us what vegetable you are most like and why 🙂

I’ll go first (well, second, because Erik already told us he was asparagus :))

I am a potato.  I am small and a little rounder then is absolutely necessary.  I am pretty gosh-darn white (that Dutch Friesian heritage :)).  And I’m pretty down to earth.  I don’t think you can get much more down to earth than a potato 🙂

Okay!  Your turn!  Please enter your comment by Wednesday September 18 at 11:59 PM EDT.  The winner will be announced on Perfect Picture Book Friday!

And if you’d like to read reviews of Erik’s book and explore what he has to share on the other stops of his blog tour, some of which took place last week and some of which are still upcoming, you may follow the links below:

September 8 Erik’s blog  – cover reveal and announce blog tour
September 9 Michelle Isenhoff’s blog  – Book review
September 10 KidLit Reviews  – Book review
September 11 Mother Daughter Book Reviews  – Book review
The Story Reading Ape  – Guest post by Erik
September 12 Catherine Johnson’s Blog  – Book review
September 13 Julie Grasso’s Blog  – Book review
By Word of Beth  – Book review and giveaway
September 14 Diane Tulloch’s blog  – Book review
September 15 Picture Books Help Kids Soar – Book review
September 16 Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog  – Interview – Q&A with Commenters and giveaway
September 17 Reading with Rhythm  – Book Review
September 18 Julie Rowan-Zoch’s blog – Interview
September 19 Dr. Niamh Clune’s blog – Book Review in rhyme
September 20 S.W. Lothian’s blog  – Book review

Thank you all so much for visiting with me and Erik today!  We can’t wait to see what kind of garden develops in the comments and who will be the lucky winner of Erik’s book!

(And remember, if you have questions for Erik you can ask!)

Beating The Odds: Guest Post From Author/Illustrator Alison K. Hertz AND A Giveaway!

Today I’m delighted to share a guest post from author/illustrator Alison Hertz, whose debut picture book FLAP! was released from Magic Dreams Publishing in November!

One quick thing first: seriously, you guys have to remind me when I space things out!  I forgot to mention in Friday’s post that the winners of my blogiversary giveaway, who shall receive a 5 pack of Tracy Campbell’s gorgeous hand-crafted greeting cards, are Rhythm (who is technically a dog, but I’m pretty sure s/he’s got a mom who will enjoy the cards :)) and Laura Anne Miller!!!  Laura, it’s entirely possible I have your address from sending the Perfect Picture Book bookmarks, but Rhythm, I’m going to need yours, so please email me when you get a chance!  (Handy Email Me button in right side bar or you can do it the old-fashioned way and type in susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com.)  Congratulations to the winners, and thank you ALL for being such wonderful involved participants in my blog – you guys are what make it all such fun 🙂

Oh wait!  One more quick thing.  For the first time in WYRI history, we had a tie for the November Pitch Pick!  Kim and Larissa scored the same number of votes!  I can really only send one pitch per month to Erin, so I’m going to have to ask you all to vote again and choose between these two talented writers!

#1 Kim
How The Bull Lost His Feathers – PB – ages 4-8
Long, long ago in a faraway land, bulls actually had feathers.  And they were big, colorful peacock-like feathers at that!  Discover how one very stubborn yet lovable bull lost every one of his feathers– not only for himself, but for all the bulls born in the world after him. This fable-like tale also reveals why the color red will always make a bull’s temper flare!

#2 Larissa
Dim Sum Dog – PB – ages 4-8
With business dwindling, Chang and his family fear they will have to close their dim sum stand. But with the help of a special dim sum-loving dog who entertains customers, they may save the stand after all.

Please vote by noon tomorrow EST (tomorrow being Tuesday Dec. 11) so I can announce the winner on Wednesday!

Okay!  On with the show!

Alison K. Hertz, author/illustrator of FLAP!

Welcome, Alison!  And thank you so much for joining us today!

I’m very happy to be guest posting on Susanna’s blog today. As a writer and an illustrator, I often get asked about how I work. How does an illustrator write stories? How does a writer illustrate stories? How did you create FLAP!? Well, that’s actually kind of complex to answer. The process that I used for FLAP! was quite different from how I write and illustrate stories now. Let me explain.
When I wrote the manuscript for FLAP!, I didn’t plan to illustrate it. In fact, I submitted it to editors and agents describing myself as a writer (not mentioning any art training or design experience at all). Actually, I have two college degrees in art (city planning and toy design) and was a professional toy designer for many years. I designed hundreds of toys that were produced and sold in major retail stores but all of that changed in an instant. On my way to the toy company, to finalize some models for a major toy retailer presentation, I was in a terrible car accident.  My left arm was broken and permanently dislocated (and I’m a lefty). I also had a bunch of other horrible injuries but there’s no need to go into that now. In short, I was told by the doctors and physical therapists that my arm would have basic function but never be near the level of fine motor movement that I had before. I temporarily became a righty, earned a teaching degree, and began teaching middle school art and technology (both art and tech are used together constantly as a toy designer).
Alison’s work space
Fast forward to 14 years later…Shortly after sending out FLAP! for submission, I received a call from a small traditional press in Illinois that explained they were expanding their line and starting an imprint for children’s books. I had sent it to them because their description was pretty general. They loved my story and wanted to publish it. After the contract was signed, they began their search for the right illustrator for my story. At the same time, the economy tanked and budgets tightened. I was told a year later that they could not afford to hire an illustrator for my story and would probably have drop it from their line. I cringed as I explained to the publisher that I had been a toy designer and an art teacher and that I could illustrate the book. I had not been drawing for many years (except to model examples for my students, which was nowhere near the same thing as illustrating a presentation quality piece). I sent her sketches. She loved them and I became the illustrator for FLAP!
Alison drew sketches by hand
I was excited at the opportunity to get published as a writer and an illustrator but scared that my arm couldn’t handle creating 30 finished pieces. It was incredibly difficult to draw for long stretches of time (more than 40 minutes), my wrist and my arm could not handle the extended use of holding a pencil or stylus and the movements required for drawing. I was on a very tight schedule because of the planned publication date and had only 10 weeks to create all of the illustrations from sketch to final. I created the roughs (sketches) by hand. (See above) Once the roughs were approved by the publisher, I scanned the drawings in and taught myself how to use Sketchbook Pro as I created the line drawings. Those drawings went through another approval by the publisher and I was given the okay to create the final, color illustrations.
some interior artwork from FLAP!
When the illustrations for FLAP! were finished, I accepted that I could be an artist again. I had retrained my left arm to draw.
I now use a much different method of writing and illustrating. When I submit manuscripts to editors, I refer to myself a writer and an illustrator and send samples along with a link to my online portfolio. I challenge myself to things like SkADaMo that require me to draw everyday. I will prove the doctors and physical therapists wrong. I believe that someday I will get back the fine motor function of my left arm if I continue to draw everyday and rebuild those muscles. As Watty Piper once wrote, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
FLAP! is available through 
And my website at:– (autographed copies available here)
Places to find me:
My website (listed above)
Twitter: @AlisonHertz
In addition to writing and illustrating, I am using my graphic design skills to design bookmarks, postcards, coloring sheets, business cards, etc… for authors and other professionals. Check out AH Designs at: details, samples, and pricing.
Thank you so much for joining us, Alison.  Your story is so inspiring.  I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I’m glad you pulled through with such flying colors and proved those doctors wrong.  I hope you sent them an autographed copy of FLAP! to serve as inspiration to future patients 🙂  And if you haven’t had a chance to see Alison’s work, hop on over to her blog and check out the sketches she did for SkADaMo – they’re wonderful!  (And as many of you probably know, Alison designed 3 different sets of book marks for me and they’re all terrific – I can highly recommend her work!)
Alison has generously offered to give away a signed copy of FLAP! to one lucky winner!  In the book, twins Max and Katie decide to teach their little sister Lilly to fly.  At the end, Max says, “I have an idea for tomorrow.”  To qualify for a chance to win the book, please write in the comments what bright idea you think Max had – what are those kids are going to get up to tomorrow?  Or, if it’s too early on Monday morning and you’re not sufficiently caffeinated to be creative, you can just say who you’d like the book for 🙂  Of course, what Alison would really love is pictures of people flapping – especially kids – so if you can add such a picture to your comment you will get an extra chance at winning!  Please enter your comment by Wednesday December 12.  Winner will be chosen by  And it could be a holiday gift for someone 🙂  For a nice review of the book, please go HERE.

Have a wonderful Monday, everyone! 🙂

Meet Natasha Yim – Children’s Author (Plus A Giveaway!!!)

Today I am thrilled to be hosting Natasha Yim on the 4th leg of her blog tour for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone.  Let’s jump right into the interview, shall we?  It’s a little long (I apologize – but there are extra cinnamon sugary cider donuts to help sustain you :))  I think you’ll find it very interesting, and I didn’t want to break it in two because it would have required an extra post on a non-posting day.  Your reward?  (Aside from the extra donuts…)  If you read to the end you can have some fun and there’s a chance you could win a signed copy of Natasha’s brand new book!

…which, BREAKING NEWS!!! was just nominated for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project (Feminist Books For Youth List)!!! (which I happen to know about because Punxsutawney Phyllis was on that list, so Sacajawea is in good company :))  Congratulations, Natasha! 🙂

Natasha Yim

       SLH: Welcome, Natasha!  Thank you so much for joining us today!  Can you tell us a little about your writing beginnings?
NY: My love of writing began when a 7th grade English teacher gave us an assignment where we had to create our own island and make up names of lakes, mountains, forests, villages etc. and weave a story around it. It was so much fun, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been making up stories ever since. I kept several journals and wrote in them daily. I also kept notebooks where I wrote poems and short stories. My Mom knew of my interest in writing and she was very supportive. She encouraged my creative expression, sometimes reading my stories and offering comments, but mostly just letting me write.
       SLH: What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
NYOtto’s Rainy Day(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000). For some reason, Charlesbridge was the only publisher I sent this manuscript to (maybe it was because they wanted exclusive submissions at that time? I can’t remember), but I sent it out and went on to work on other things. The guidelines said they would respond in 3 months. 3 months went by and nothing happened. At the 6 month mark, I received my SASE back. I could feel my heart dropping thinking this was a rejection letter. It wasn’t. The letter said they were really backlogged and hadn’t gotten to my manuscript yet, and to be patient because they will read it—eventually. I remember thinking how nice that was. Usually, you just don’t hear from publishers unless they reject or accept your work. At the 9 month mark, I received a phone call from the editor. I was soooo excited, thinking this was it. This was THE call. It wasn’t. The editor had called to say they were still really backlogged and were catching up on reading manuscripts and that she promised I’d hear from them soon. After my initial disappointment, I thought “Now, that was really nice of them”. Usually, publishers don’t bother to call unless they want your work. Finally, one year after I submitted the manuscript, I got a call from the editor who told me that they wanted to publish my book! My heart leapt into my throat, I was so excited but I had to limit my exuberance because they had called me at work. I did tell my co-workers and allowed myself a few “woo-hoos”. And I did tell my husband who was my boyfriend at the time. My family lived overseas (my parents in Hong Kong and my sister in Australia) so I had to wait until I got home to tell them.
SLH: How did you go about doing the research for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone? Was there anything different or interesting about getting the art for a historical type book?
NY: There weren’t a whole lot of adult books on Sacajawea. Mostly, she gets a mention in books about Lewis and Clark. However, there were quite a few books about her in the juvenile section of the library, so I read about six books on her and browsed about a dozen websites. I found a really good Shoshone website that gave a very comprehensive overview of Sacajawea’s life plus interesting information like the meaning and spelling of her name.  The internet is great for immediate access but you have to be careful about the information on there as there are a lot of misleading information out there, so I did a lot of cross-referencing with books. The publisher and art director are the ones who are responsible for the visual layout of the book including the illustrations.  It’s one of the unique features of the Goosebottom Books books that they use a combination of real-life photographs and illustrations. For photographs, you have to get permission from the appropriate people and get permission to use the pictures, and all that was handled by the publisher. There is also one illustrator for each series so that the books in that series has a uniform look. The Real Princesses series is illustrated by Albert Nguyen, so when Sacajawea was added, he naturally became the illustrator for this book.

SLH: What surprised you the most when you were writing Sacajawea of the Shoshone?

NY: Though Sacajawea has often been mistakenly labeled as the expedition’s “guide” and her name only comes up about 8 times in the Lewis and Clark journals, her presence on the trip was nonetheless invaluable and without her, the expedition could have failed at several points. Not only was she instrumental in providing food for the Corps of Discovery; she gathered edible plants and roots to supplement the game they hunted or in place of game if it was scarce, she patched up and made new moccasins for the men as they were continuously being ripped up by the rough terrain, she saved most of Lewis and Clark’s important instruments and documents when the boat in which she was riding almost capsized, she prevented other native tribes from attacking them because the presence of a woman and a baby indicated that the Corps was not a war party, and as the only Shoshone language speaker, she successfully negotiated for horses that helped the expedition cross the Rocky Mountains. Sacajawea’s contributions have left an indelible stamp on the history of the American West. Today, there are three mountains, two lakes, and twenty-three monuments named after her, yet her tribe, the Shoshone, are still fighting for Federal recognition. That, to me, is not only incredible, it’s outrageous!

SLH: What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
NY: Everything about writing is hard. It’s hard work to make your story as perfect as possible before you send it out. It’s really hard getting the attention of someone who likes your story. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a contract and get your book published, getting it the attention it deserves and the marketing and promotion of it is challenging. But I think for me, the most challenging part was getting over my fear of public speaking and realizing this was something authors had to do. Only this year did I start to agree to assembly-type school visits but having done a few of those, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, although all the ones I’ve done, I’ve done with another author. It might be a whole other level of anxiety if I have to do assemblies alone.

 SLH: Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?

NY: I do do school visits. The kind of program and presentation depends on the age groups, the needs of the teacher, and the book I’m promoting. For example, sometimes the teachers have been working very closely with their students on practicing writing and editing their work so they’ll want me to talk about my writing process. I’ll show them my edited manuscripts with all the mark ups so they can see good writing takes work and practice. If I have it, I’ll show them the original manuscript and then the final accepted one, and read passages as a before and after comparison. For larger audiences like assemblies, I like to use power point presentations because kids tend to be more engaged with visuals. I do a little intro of myself and show pictures of me as a kid, my kids, my pèts, my workspace etc. I can also show slides of the page excerpts I’m reading and the illustrations which are easier to see on a large screen. For individual classrooms, I’ll sometimes conduct writing exercises. For the biographies, I’ll have the kids pair up and “interview” each other then write a biography of their partners from their interview notes. For younger kids, I have coloring pages and sometimes the teacher or librarian and I will come up with related activities. For a recent library event, I presented Cixi, The Dragon Empress and we had a Chinese fan making activity. Every age group can be fun but I love the 4th to 6th graders. Not only are they the age group for the Cixi and Sacajawea books but they’re the most engaged and the most engaging. They always ask such great questions. You can access and download my school visit program at:
       SLH: What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
NY: Keep writing and keep trying. Editors and agents have such different tastes. Just because you get rejected by one doesn’ t mean the next one won’t love your work. My upcoming book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014) was rejected by several publishers. Author Richard Bach once said, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’ t quit.”
Natasha’s work space (which, incidentally is a LOT neater than mine :))
       SLH: Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
NY: I have a couple of middle grade/YA projects in the works and a picture book manuscript.
       SLH: Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
NY: Yes. I’ m a conference junkie. I  LOVE writing conferences because I always learn so much and I get to network with other writers. I rarely enter contests though just because I don’t really have the time.
SLH: Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
NY: This is in line with a recent question I received on my blog from Amanda J. Harrington who asked, “What is your best marketing strategy for building up a following on line?” I promised to provide a link to whoever posted a question on one of my blog tours. So, here it is: Please hop over and check out Amanda’s site.
My marketing tip is that every writer has to do some of it. How much or how little will depend on your comfort level and how much time you can afford. I have a blog, Facebook , twitter, Pinterest. I do school visits, book festivals, public speaking engagements. But it’s really difficult to gauge how effective each aspect of marketing is because there is no measurable yard stick that tells you if you do a, b & c, you will sell x amount of books. However, what I do know is that people can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. To answer Amanda’s question, in terms of building up a following on line, here’s what I’ve learned:
1)   When I first started my blog, I posted things about my writing life, my home life, how I juggled that with writing, any meagre successes I encountered. But here’s the thing: nobody wants to hear or read about you talking about yourself all of the time. My blog began to feel…well…a little self-absorbed. So, I started incorporating things that I think might be of interest or useful to other people, especially writers, such as interesting writing conferences or retreats, writing tips I’ve gleaned from other sites or articles I’ve read. And now I’ve included a Friday Features segment on my blog that is purely devoted to interviews with other authors. It’s been great fun and I’ve learned so much from the authors I’ve interviewed. Come check out interviews with Deborah Halverson, Linda Joy Singleton, and coming up soon, Gennifer Choldenko (
2)   I see this on Facebook groups all the time: “Come read my new blog post.” or “Check out my new blog.” and my question always is “Why?” Generic announcements like this don’t entice me out of my busy schedule to go look at somebody else’s blog or blog post. I have to give credit where credit’s due. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, the lovely hostess of the fabulous blog, Banana Peelin’: Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer ( which features different writers talking about their slips and embarrassing moments on their way to publication, would post upcoming blog posts with teasers such as, “This week we have Cori Doerrfeld, the author/illustrator of one of my family’s favorite reads, LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO! She reveals her experience managing deadlines after the birth of her first child.” So, if I was a writer with young kids at home and struggling with time management, I might be really interested in what Cori had to say about this.” I think this is a very effective way to attract readers to your blog and I do this now. I’ll find something in a blog post that others might find interesting or useful  and mention it in my announcement. For example, for my interview with author and editor Deborah Halverson, I mentioned that she would share tips on the YA market trends and how she started her popular blog. I’ve had quite a few visitors over to read her interview. The Banana Peelin’ blog will be blog stop #7 for the Sacajawea of the Shoshone blog tour on Oct. 23. Stop on by for my top secret blog post. Shhh…
3)   Comment on other people’s blogs or Facebook postings etc. Don’t make it all about you. Congratulate others on their successes, ‘like’ the posts you enjoyed, exchange information. The key word in social networking is “social”.
4)   I have a Facebook fan page for Cixi, The Dragon Empress and Sacajawea of the Shoshone. In addition to posting events and book information, I’ll post interesting tidbits about the characters—Cixi’s six inch long fingernails, for example, or a video of the Shoshone Love song on Sacajawea’s page. It makes the pages more fun and interesting.
I don’t know how much of a “following” I have, but my blog has seen an increase of about 4,000 page views since January when I focused on making it more interactive and informative.
        SLH: Where can we find you?
        NY: You can connect with me on my:

       You can find my books at:
       Your local bookstore
       or purchase it at Amazon
       Signed copies can be purchased from Goosebottom Books
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed? Right
Agented or not? Agented: Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary
Traditionally or self-published? Traditional
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Not
Plotter or pantser? A converted Plotter. I used to be a pantser, but now I like having some sort of road map to go by.
Laptop or desktop? Laptop
Mac or PC? Oh definitely Mac
Day or night worker? Day, 5 am. to be exact
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning and early afternoon, tea in late afternoon and evening
Snack or not? Throughout the day, unfortunately
Salty or sweet? Mostly salty unless you offer me Lindt’s Dark Chocolate
Quiet or music? Quiet but I’m trying nature sounds to tune me into writing my book rather than doing other things like social media, email or marketing stuff
Cat or dog? I’m a dog person but right now we have two cats
Currently reading? LA Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series, my friend Jody Gehrman’s “Babe in Boyland”
If you’d like to read previous stops on Natasha’s tour, please visit:

Oct. 3 — Frolicking Through Cyberspace Blog,www., guest post on public speaking
Oct. 8 — The Writer’s Block on Raychelle Writes,, guest post, “The Journey of a Lifetime”
Natasha, thank you so much for joining us and being so helpful with all your answers!
And now!  The moment you’ve all been waiting for – the chance to win a signed copy of Natasha’s gorgeous and informative book (I have it, so I can attest to how interesting it is and how beautiful the art is!)
You know me.  I like to make things fun 🙂  So here’s what you have to do to earn a chance to win Sacajawea Of The Shoshone:
In the comments, please answer the question “If you were Sacajawea, what would you have written an article/advice column about?”
Here are a few examples to get your minds in gear…  🙂
“Dress Up Your Teepee: Creative Decorating With Buffalo Hide”
“365 Recipes For Corn!”
“5 Subtle Ways To Let Your Traveling Companions Know It’s Time For A Bath!”
You get an entry for every article/advice column suggestion 🙂  (And OK, if you want to be boring serious you can :))
But if you’re not feeling creative at this hour on Monday morning I don’t want to penalize you.  If you can’t think up an entertaining article, you can just say why you’d like to win the book 🙂
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!  Comments must be entered by Tuesday October 16 at 11:59 PM EDT.  Winner will be drawn at some point on Wednesday or Thursday when I have 5 seconds free by and announced on Friday along with Perfect Picture Books, which, I’m warning you in advance, will be Sacajawea Of The Shoshone, so don’t anyone else plan on doing it 🙂

Meet Tiffany Strelitz Haber, Author Of Debut Picture Book The Monster Who Lost His Mean and A Giveway!

I know.  We haven’t done Oh Susanna in ages!  But awesome things keep coming up that I just have to slide in somewhere, one of which is today’s post about a great new picture book.  So… next week?

Today I am delighted to introduce you to Tiffany, but real quick before I do, let me just announce that the winner of Steven Petruccio’s gorgeous picture book Puffer’s Surprise from last week’s author/illustrator interview is Delores (thefeatherednest)!!!  Congratulations, Delores!  I hope you’ll enjoy this beautiful book!

Now then!  Everyone, please meet Tiffany!  I have to tell you, I found this interview so entertaining that I’m afraid you guys will never want to come back and read my boring old posts after it, so you have to promise not to throw me over 🙂

Tiffany Strelitz Haber & Co. 🙂

SLH:  When did you start writing for children?  

TSH:  When I was in third grade, I wrote my first “rhyming picture book”.  I continued writing for many years.  In fact, all throughout highschool, and a bit in college as well.  So obviously, when I was figuring out what I wanted to do for a living, I headed straight for the financial world!  I was never really one for connect the dots.  🙂   Anyway.  Yadda, yadda, yadda, cut to 24 years later (give or take)…chronically unhappy in the career I had been diligently building for over a decade, and feeling like it was ‘now or never’ to make a change, I realized I was barking up the wrong tree entirely.  I wanted to really love what I did for a living.  So I went back to what I had loved for so many years before, and started writing for kids.

SLH:  Do you have an agent, or did you submit on your own?  

TSH:  Agent.  I learned very quickly (by attending a couple of NJSCBWI conferences), that having agent representation opens doors otherwise closed to most authors.  It also allows you the freedom to really focus on writing (and later promoting) as opposed to spending countless hours researching publishing houses and editors, constructing query letters, physically printing, stuffing, stamping and mailing submissions out, following up and…well…you get the point.  

SLH:  Was The Monster Who Lost His Mean your first submitted PB or did you have others before that haven’t sold yet?

TSH:  I actually got extremely lucky.  My agent subbed two PBs of mine simultaneously to a variety of houses.  Several months later…within the same week, we had offers on both.  It was very exciting!  (SLH: OMG!  I think I speak for most of our readers when I say I could sure use a week like that! 🙂

SLH:  Tell us about the moment when you got THE CALL!!!  How did you feel?  What did you do?  Did you celebrate? Call all your friends and relations? 🙂

TSH:  Ok, so I was on a ski trip with a bunch of friends.  We were sharing a house and had been out super late the night before, so everyone was passed out on various couches and beds.  Anyway…for some reason, I found myself wide awake at 5 in the morning so I checked email on my phone.  And there it was.  We had an offer on MONSTER and as I leaped off the couch and looked around for someone to share the news with (read: tackle with uncontrollable zeal), I realized  I was surrounded by zombies.  There wasn’t a single soul within a half mile radius that wasn’t dead to the world and stickin’ to it.  So I kind of just muttered to myself in the corner for a while with a pre-dawn bloody mary.  Party of one, please!

SLH:  Do you have anything else under contract?  

TSH:  I have another rhyming picture book due out in April 2013.  It’s called, Ollie and Claire (Philomel/Penguin) and was illustrated by the amazing Matthew Cordell.

I also have a couple of stories in that critical, “at an editorial meeting” type phase where it could still go either way…but you know you’re close and you’re just kinda….waiting. (read: pacing, email-refreshing, obsessing)

SLH:  And please share where we can find you…

facebook:  (BIG facebook gal.  Let’s be friends!)
Twitter: @tiffrhymes
Blog: for tips and tricks on writing in rhyme, come check out
Just for fun quick questions:

Left or right handed?  right
Traditionally or self-published? traditionally
Hard copy or digital? hard
Apps or not?  not that I know of?
Plotter or pantser? plantser?
Laptop or desktop? lap
Mac or PC? Mac
Day or night worker? DAY
Coffee or tea? Coffee (and then suddenly tea for like…a day)
Snack or not? I want to meet the person who says “not”.  And then never talk to them again.
Salty or sweet? Salty.  Althought salty and sweet in the same bite is actual heaven on earth.  #ChocolateCoveredPretzels
Quiet or music? Quiet
Cat or dog? both
Currently reading? Helter Skelter

And now, my lovelies, Tiffany has generously offered a signed copy of her brand new, hot-off-the-presses, WONDERFUL book.  All you have to do is what the Rafflecoptor widget tells you to.  And may I just say that I hope the Rafflecoptor widget is going to show up somewhere – it probably will not show up where I intend it to, so look around, be ingenious and persistent, and hopefully you’ll find it wherever it chooses to appear 🙂

a Rafflecopter giveawaySo yeah – fill that in.  You get extra points for “liking” and “following” and things of that nature.  And just in case the widget doesn’t work, and I am off in the boonies of PA/VA/NC unable to fix it, please also take part in our fun contest in the comments – it’s supposed to show up as mandatory in the Rafflecoptor thingy, but like I said, my faith has limits…. 🙂 so I’m putting it here too:

Everybody knows the ‘M’ in MONSTER stands for Mean.  When one young MONSTER loses his…and becomes THE ONSTER, everything goes awry.  What does the first letter in *your* name stand for?  How would you feel if you lost it?  Answer below for a chance to win a signed copy of THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN!

Have fun!  And if you have any questions or comments for Tiffany, fire away.  I’ll try to talk her into checking in from time to time 🙂

Happy Monday, All!


Meet Steven Petruccio, Author/Illustrator – And A Giveaway!

I am so excited to be able to kick off this hot summer week in July by introducing you to Steven Petruccio! He is a very talented author/illustrator (and a very nice person! :)) and I think you’ll really enjoy what he has to share.  Not only that, one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Steven’s book Puffer’s Surprise!  More on that at the end…

Puffer’s Surprise is part of the
Smithsonian Oceanic Collection

So please join me now in welcoming Steven!

SLH:  Steven, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today!  Let’s jump right in, shall we?  When did you first become interested in writing and/or illustrating?

SJP:  I’ve done both for as long as I can remember…bet you never heard that before.  I always drew more than I wrote but ideas were always floating around in my mind for new stories.  I used to read comic books on my stoop in Brooklyn and then go to my room and copy the pictures.
Steven at age 4 – ready to take on anything 🙂
SLH:  Were you encouraged by family/teachers?
SJP:  My dad is really a wonderful artist.  He made his career in advertising as an art director and studio manager.  He used to bring work home with  him to retouch the old-fashioned way, with an airbrush. I remember spending time at his side while he painted away and I was amazed at the results.
A drawing Steven did at about age 5… a natural talent!
SLH:  You are both an author and an illustrator, so which comes first for you, the story or the art?
SJP:  I’m more of an illustrator, that’s the part I really love, so I always see a character first and imagine what he or she might do after that.  I know all about characters whether I create them or not, before I draw or paint them.  I imagine what they’re like outside of the story.  It makes it easier for me to imagine what they are doing or what they might do.
SLH:  Is there an author/illustrator who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer/illustrator?
SJP:  Well. I learned art from my dad.  I had no art classes in grade school or high school but my dad would show me how to draw things and I’d observe him at work.  My parents made sure I had pencil, ink and paper and all the art books I wanted.   My dad arranged for me to meet Burne Hogarth who wound up writing a letter of recommendation for me to attend The school of Visual Arts in NYC.  I’m a throwback to a time when illustration was not far removed from fine art.  The technical quality of my work is really important to me, the basics, you know…  good composition, creative use of color and value and so on.  N.C. Wyeth is my biggest influence in illustration because of his own story and because of what he was able to do with the printed page.  I maintain a written dialogue with his grandson, Jamie Wyeth, who has mentioned how much he likes my work.  Recently he wrote to tell me that he was working on a huge painting of a shark jawbone and he has my original cover painting for “SHARKS!” hanging right next to it in his studio!
A drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 14.
He had no art education, so he learned from comic books.
An ink drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 16.
SLH:  What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
SJP:  Understand that being an artist was not seen as a practical career choice and I was encouraged to seek advertising work because my older brother, who always drew and painted as well, followed that path.  My goal was to make a living drawing and painting everyday.  As an illustrator just staring out, you take whatever comes along.  I started getting magazine work even before I graduated from SVA and did mostly editorial work for three years.  I was then asked to illustrate some books that another illustrator had backed out on but I had to alter my style a bit to do so.  I needed the money so I took the job.  The first time I really got to use my own ideas was in a Little Golden Book titled “ Dr. Hilda Makes House Calls”.  It was a fun book to do, I got to create my own characters in my own environment and I totally enjoyed it.  Seeing it in print was very satisfying.
SLH:  Where/when/how do you get your ideas?
SJP:  Well, as the illustrator, the story generates the ideas for the characters  and settings.  I always try to put my own twist on things stylistically and compositionally.  As an author my ideas come from my own experience.  I may see a person and they remind me of something or generate a potential character or I may see a place and something there inspires a story…it just happens.  The coloring/activity books I’ve written and illustrated for Dover Publishing ( American Legends and Tall Tales,  History of the White House, History of the Civil Rights Movement in America and Roadside Attractions) were ideas my editors and I developed to make them as interesting and informative as possible.
SLH:  What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  If you’re familiar with my natural science illustrations you’ll notice how detailed my illustrations are.  That’s not by accident or pure imagination.  I research every detail for every blade of grass or seaweed that I paint.  For my book, “Exploring Underground Habitats” I had to wait two months for  a scientist  to return from a research trip so I could get accurate reference for a particular cave spider!  Researching is always a challenge but well worth the effort.
SLH:  What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  Okay, so I wake up every morning and get to do what I’ve always wanted to do, what I love to do.   Now that’s wonderful!
SLH:  Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?
SJP:  I’ve been doing school, library and museum visits for the past twenty years.  Now, understand that I was very shy as I was growing up.  I also sing and play guitar and when I was younger my parents would ask me to play for relatives ,so I would go into another room, close the door and then play and sing.  Needless to say, I overcame that shyness.  When you really know about what you do it’s easy to talk about it and teach others about it.  I went to see some authors and performers who visited my kids’ classes when they were in elementary school and was later asked by their teachers to come and talk to the class about what I do.  I actually liked it!  I saw what kids were interested in, what they wanted to see and hear and what the teachers expected from me.  I also make sure that my programs meet art-in-ed learning standards so it’s not just fun…it’s funducational!  I have a general program which I can alter depending on the age group and two workshops to give practical experience and develop an appreciation of the creative process.  I give teachers follow-up materials so they can continue learning about picture books and illustration.
SLH:  What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
SJP:  I’m currently advising three young artists who want to become illustrators.  They approached me and that shows me their passion and desire to be creative.  I do teach at Marist College in the Studio Arts Department as an adjunct one night a week because I want to teach young artists the practical things they need to succeed.  I tell theses young illustrators and art students the ups and downs of the industry.  It’s hard work, long hours, shorter and shorter deadlines, constant marketing, negoiating and continuing to grow as an artist.  I tell them all to be persistent!  Any creative field is difficult, know that starting out, be prepared for rejection…and more rejection, believe in your work and keep producing new work.  Don’t give up!
SLH:  Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
SJP:  Right now I’m working on a new book about American Heroes also, a big educational illustration project and sending out dummies of my own stories as well as developing new stories and dummies.
SLH:  Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
SJP:  I don’t know everything and I love learning new things and hearing the stories of other creative people.  I attend conferences when I’m asked to be on a panel or do a book signing only because I’m usually busy working on a project.  It always seems that conferences that I’d love to attend ,just to see and hear other people, are always around times of deadline crunches or painting projects.  ( I also paint for exhibition regionally and nationally.)  As for contests, most of the books I illustrate are not eligible for competitions because they are part of a series.  I’ve never been one for competitions anyway.  I do enter my fine art work in juried exhibits though, to gain exposure for that part of what I do.
SLH:  What has been your best selling book so far?
SJP:  Ah, sales figures…see, this is a business.  We do have to be mindful of how our “product” is received by the public and sales is the way to do that.  So far, my best selling book has been “ Dolphin’s First Day”, (Soundprints Publishing). It has been in print for years and released in many countries.  The Smithsonian series has really been good for me in terms of sales but I put so much into those books that it’s gratifying to have them appreciated by young readers, parents and critics alike.  Most of my titles for Soundprints are still available.
SLH:  Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
SJP:  Well, I have an illustration  agent, Storybook Arts, Inc. and I’ve had an agent for a long time.  We market through our own website and a variety of other sites as well.  I maintain my own site and blog when I can as well as Face book , Twitter , ( although I’m terrible at updating) LinkedIn,  Behanace and SVA Alumni Portfolio.  I try to maintain personal contact with Art Directors and Editors I’ve worked with.  By the way, many people do not have agents, it’s a personal choice depending on how you want to conduct your business.  So don’t let the fact that you don’t have an agent deter you from pursuing your goals.
SLH:  Where can we find you?
SJP:  You can learn about me and see my work at:
…and to see some of my fine art:
SLH:  Reader question:  how important is it to have a story?  Can you just entertain and make people think, or do you have to have a story to make a picture book?
SJP:   Well, really the most important thing is the story.  Whether it’s told in words, pictures  or words and pictures.  If the story is terrible who will want to read the book.  I don’t want to read stories that are uninteresting or not entertaining in some way so I don’t expect my readers to settle for less.  I tend to illustrate stories  that I feel I can bring something to visually.  My own stories have to be interesting to me and not just something I think someone else will find interesting.  I think I’m my worst/best critic.  Stories can be JUST entertaining or JUST thought provoking or… C)  All of the above.
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed?  Righty!
Agented or not?  Illustration agent.
Traditionally or self-published?  Good ol’ fashioned, traditional publishing.
Hard copy or digital?  My book “SHARKS!”  will be available digitally…otherwise I’m a hard copy guy.
Apps or not?  Let’s say…not yet.
Plotter or pantser?  Plot, plot, plot.
Laptop or desktop?  Both…as well as iPod and iPad.  Oh, and remember those things called ‘pen” and “paper“?  I still use them!
Mac or PC?  Both for writing/business.  Mac for art.
Day or night worker?  Whatever the client needs me to be in order to meet a deadline.  I’m an early riser anyway.
Coffee or tea?  Coffee…unless you can find the blueberry tea that Starbucks discontinued.
Snack or not?  Oh yea…you gotta snack!  Make sure you exercise each day though, get up from that desk or chair and move around.
Salty or sweet?  Uh,  is pizza an option?
Quiet or music?  Music…jazz, some classical,  indie rock or golden oldies.  I used to play and sing in a club to afford my art equipment so I covered many genres of music.
Cat or dog?  Used to have a cat…now a fish!
Currently reading?  Biography of Michelangelo ( Kindle ) and re-reading New Art City ( hardcover)
…and now for something completely different ( homage to Monty Python)…
Forging a living out of something you have a gift or talent for is a great thing.  It’s hard to do it alone and I have my wife, KathyAnn, to thank for her support from the very start.  In good times and in bad as they say, she has encouraged everything I do and has been my biggest fan.  Her own artistic background, having worked in NYC as a graphic designer for CBS Television and DC Comics, and sense of design and style have been invaluable to me.  My kids provide support as well while nurturing their own creative side.  My daughter is a wonderful dancer and singer and my son a budding young photographer/videographer and internet entrepreneur.  Surrounding yourself with people who support you, encourage you and inspire you is crucial to your success.  Tolerate those who say you can’t because they can’t and be encouraged by those you see doing what you want to do everyday.   People have been writing and illustrating for ever and ever…why not you?

(See?  Didn’t I tell you what a nice person he is? :))
Thank you so very much for going us today, Steven, it was a real treat!
And now!  Anyone who would like a chance to win the signed hardcover copy of Puffer’s Surprise, please leave a comment below.  Tell us what you most enjoyed about the interview, or if you have a question for Steven ask away!, or just tell us who you’d like the book for!
Have a wonderful day, everyone, and tune in Wednesday for Would You Read It with Vivian (who I’m pretty sure is pitching a picture book but I can’t seem to find that info at the moment, so it will be a surprise :))

Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Rita Borg

Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to the lovely and talented Rita Borg!  Thank you so much for joining us, Rita!

First, a little background.  Rita says,

I started writing when I was 9 years old. I loved the Waltons and Little House on the Prarie. John boy and Laura set me off writing. But when my 7 year old sister died of cancer, I could not pick up a pen. I was 23 then. But after my third child was born, my husband told me of a writing competition he found on the local newspaper. I entered but I did not win. But the editor called me up and told me how much she enjoyed my essay about the murder of a toddler in England. She asked if would I like to start writing articles for the paper? I said yes and my writing career started.I have been writing and learning about writing ever since.
I was educated at Blessed Sacrament School and St. Jean Baptiste High School in New York and studied children’s writing with the Institute of Children’s and Teen’s Literature in Connecticut. I also read for a diploma in child psychology at the European Institute of Education. I reside on the Mediterranean island of Malta, where I regularly perform storytelling and creative writing workshops in schools across the country. I am also a freelance writer for local magazines and newspapers, a mother of three, and have published four picture books aimed at early readers, as well as an anthology of short stories for older children. My books have received multiple printings as well as peer-acclaim and recognition at the Malta National Annual Literary Awards. My last book, Don’t Cross the Road, Holly!, was chosen as the best 2009 Children’s Book in English. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators of the USA, as well as its chapter in the British Isles.

Now then, onto the interview and all those helpful tidbits you guys are eagerly awaiting 🙂

SLH: Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?
RB: I have been studying the craft of writing for the past 12 years. Lately, I got in contact with an editor. She helped me out with several picture book manuscripts. I chose the best one and sent it off to 20 publishers and some agents in England. Most of the publishers I contacted wrote back saying how charming the book was, or it is a great story, or it would be great illustrated. Yet, no one wanted to take a chance of publishing it. Is it because I live so far away in Malta? So I decided to do it myself.

SLH:What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?
RB: I already have two published books but they are in the Maltese language. The publishers here in Malta obviously want to promote their language. However I grew up in New York City, my first language is English. So, I self-published three bilingual Maltese English picture books. But they could only be distributed in Malta which has a population of only half a million people. So I started thinking about self publishing outside the country with a company like CreateSpace.
Rita’s office

SLH: How did you go about self-publishing? (specific details about how you researched and located the company you went with would be great)
RB: I didn’t do that much research to be honest. I heard about CreateSpace; many authors were using it, so I decided for my first book it would be good to go with the experts.

SLH: Did you hire an editor?
RB: Hiring an editor is a must. I had one during the writing of the story and hired another one through the company and was part of the publishing package.

SLH: How did you choose your illustrator?  How did you work out paying the illustrator and did you have a contract?  Did you have a lot of back and forth discussions with your illustrator about the art?
RB: The illustrations are again part of the package if you so wish. CreateSpace sent me four names of illustrators and I chose the one that I saw best fitted the theme of my book. I chose two that I really liked. My first choice was available to work and in six weeks she drew all the illustrations. There was one or two which I changed some aspects of the pictures. But I was lucky, I had little to change and I loved the simple, colourful illustrations at the start.

SLH: Did you hire a cover designer or did your illustrator design the cover?
RB: I hired both. The cover designer was again part of the package which I purchased. The cover designer sent me 3 different types of covers. I especially liked one and then the illustrator drew it. I just added more hay in the nest under the egg for comfort’s sake 🙂

SLH: What formats is your book available in?  Hardcover?  Paperback?  E-book?  Print-on-demand?
RB: So far, my book is only as a Print-On-Demand paperback picture book. I first want to see how well the book sells before I turn it into an e-book. Self-publishing can be quite expensive if you are not careful with your money.

SLH: How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?
RB: Along with advertising on Facebook, being interviewed here is my first attempt at marketing. I still have lots of work to do! I need to contact reviewers, give giveaways, and do more interviews. It’s going to be fun. Also, if I had been traditionally published, I still would need to market myself. So I am learning a great deal from all of this.

SLH: Do you do school/library visits or library/bookstore readings/signings?  How did you go about getting them?  How have sales been in relation to those visits?
RB: I visit libraries and schools all the time in Malta. I am a storyteller by trade. This is the best way to sell books. It is the personal touch rather then a book on the shelf. I plan to do a lot of visits to bookshops, libraries and schools for my book Meg the Egg, too.

SLH: What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?
RB: JUST DO IT! Don’t let the people at the gateways of publishing ruin your dreams.

SLH: Any particular pitfalls to avoid?
RB: Check and check everything you do. Don’t be flippant; be diligent. No one cares about your book more than you do.

SLH: Anything else you’d like to say? 🙂
RB: This was an adventure, a scary, intrepid adventure but if my book sells and the children love reading it, it is very worth it when you have given up on traditional publishing.

Thank you so much, Rita!

If you’d like to find Rita online, you can visit her Website and like her on Face Book.

And, as if all that information weren’t enough, Rita has kindly offered to be available to answer any questions you might have so fire away, AND she is giving away a copy of Meg The Egg (which is very cute – I have read it!) to one lucky winner!

All you have to do is leave a comment saying why you’d like the book.  And if you want to be nice and “like” Rita on Face Book while you’re here, that would be lovely but we are not twisting any arms 🙂

And that, my friends, concludes our mini-series on self-publishing.  I know some of the posts were long – our authors were so very generous with their knowledge and expertise!  I hope you all learned a lot, and that those of you who were previously hesitant about self-publishing now feel more confident and prepared to take it on!

Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Patrick Milne

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to the third guest in our self-publishing mini-series, Patrick Milne.

By way of introduction, Patrick says, “I always enjoyed writing stories as far back as I can remember, though by the time I hit high school, I’d lost interest. It wasn’t until I took a writing course in university as an elective that I really started taking any creative impulses seriously again and eventually majored in professional writing and communications. It was chiefly short prose that I studied throughout school and it wasn’t until my sister, Stephanie Faye, embraced her animation talents that we decided to try a children’s picture book together.”

SLH:  Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?

PM:  We didn’t really even think of the traditional publishing route initially. We just tried to get the story together as much as possible in a 32-page structure, which was difficult because it was the first time we’d done anything so short. It was definitely an exercise in brevity! During the process, it seemed any time we brought up the idea of a publisher and looked around at their respective websites, or researched agents, either they weren’t accepting manuscripts or you had to jump through hoops to get it to them. We continued working away until the story took shape and by then, we both really loved it and couldn’t have fathomed changing anything about it. 

SLH:  What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?

PM:  Once we got our hard copy proof copy back from the printer, Stephanie, the book’s artist, took it to a small publisher’s fair in Vancouver. She got interest from several companies but each had their own list of changes they wanted to make. By that point, we’d been working on the book for so long, Stephanie especially with all of the art and coloring, that thinking about incorporating their changes was just too overwhelming. At that point, we officially decided to move ahead on our own.  

SLH:  How did you go about self-publishing?

PM:  We found a small printing company in Winnipeg, Manitoba called Art Book Bindery that had a great reputation. We knew we wanted to do at least a small run of print copies so we worked with them. The electronic version was formatted and uploaded to Amazon several months later.

SLH:  Did you hire an editor?

PM:  No, I’ve had several jobs as a copy editor in the past so I was very confident in my own abilities. We also passed it around to some family and friends to make sure everything was coherent and had a nice flow and rhythm to it, but the words, sentences, and grammar I was very possessive about. Outside opinions were really key for us because when you work on the same story and the same sentences, you can miss little things

SLH:  How did you choose your illustrator?  What kind of contract do you have with her?  Did you have a lot of back and forth contact with her as she created the illustrations?

PM:  My illustrator was my sister, Stephanie Faye, who is a graduate of Capilano University in British Columbia and had been working in children’s television and animation for several years previous. We sent the manuscript back and forth over email and had conversations over Skype about it. Once she began the illustrations, she sent her drafts to me through email and we discussed them every few days. It was a very collaborative effort for being so far apart.

SLH:  How did you get your book from conception to e-book format?  Is it also available in hardcover or paperback?  Print on demand?

PM:  We currently sell the print version through our website and at various local craft sales around Christmas time and it does quite well. The ebook version, Stephanie formatted from her finished files and they were formatted in a .mobi file for the Kindle and uploaded to Amazon. We’re working on getting it into different places on the web to broaden Lucy’s availability but as of right now, those are the primary outlets.

SLH:  How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?

PM:  Selling the print copies at various fairs has been the most successful approach for the print version. The electronic version has been totally different. There are thousands of ways of going about marketing our book, the only problem is where to start. We currently use Twitter and Facebook and I’ve started a blog called So Much To Be Read to help build a community and get the word out on other children’s authors and illustrators just like me who are self-published. There is so much more to do and I feel like all we have to do is just start!

SLH:  Do you do school/library visits?  How has that worked with an e-book?  How have sales been in relation to the visits?

PM:  We did a seminar with a local grade seven English class that was doing a unit on writing their own picture book and sold many of the print copies there but no e-book versions that I know of. It’s something we’d certainly like to keep doing.

Patrick’s office

SLH:  What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?

PM:  I think the single most important thing to understand is that finishing the book is only a small part of what self-publishing is all about. Depending on your hopes for the book and what it might become, all the rest is marketing – thinking about who your audience is and where to find them and how to get the word out about your book without coming across as a desperate spammer! On the one hand, it’s a very frustrating process, but on the other, you’re only as limited as your imagination. Furthermore, there has never been a time in history when reaching people has been as simple as this. We get a lot of motivation and inspiration from keeping that in our mindset.

SLH:  Any particular pitfalls to avoid?

PM:  Trust your instincts and stay true to what your book is all about and why you wanted to write it in the first place. If we had decided to incorporate the changes suggested to us by the various publishers, I don’t think I would feel quite as passionately about Lucy Snigglefritz as I do now, or as proud. If it set us back from getting a publishing contract, so be it. I don’t see any evidence these days that working with a publisher is any less challenging than the self-publishing route.

Thank you so much, Patrick!  It is so interesting to hear from different authors who have chosen this route.  We all have a lot to learn from you.

Folks, please feel free to visit Patrick on his Website, follow him on Twitter @fayemousbooks, or network with him on LinkedIn.  Patrick has kindly offered to be available for questions, so please ask if you have any!  In addition, he is giving away a free e-copy of The Adventures Of Lucy Snigglefritz – I have seen it and it’s very cute even on my black and white Kindle! – so if you’re interested in qualifying, please leave a comment saying why you’d like to have the book!

Thank you all for joining us!  Have a great weekend!