Tuesday Debut – Presenting Heather Gale!

Woo hoo! Woo hoo!
Time for something new.
Woo hoo! Woo hoo!
Tuesday Debut!

How’s that for a theme song?

It doesn’t have a tune yet . . . but that’s just a minor detail 🙂

Here on Blueberry Hill the weather forecast is less than optimal.  Rain, snow, ice and other cr** . . . er, precipitation threatens to make going outside something to avoid unless you have a very good reason to want to fall down your mudroom stairs and introduce your hindquarters to the driveway, so today’s debut picture book is perfect! It will carry us away to the island paradise of Hawai’i!

Ho’onani: Hula Warrior
written by Heather Gale
illustrated by Mika Song
Tundra Books
October 1, 2019
Nonfiction, Ages 4 – 9

Ho_onani-cover
An empowering celebration of identity, acceptance and Hawaiian culture based on the true story of a young girl in Hawai’i who dreams of leading the boys-only hula troupe at her school.

 

SUSANNA: Welcome, Heather!  Thank you so much for joining us today!  Where did the idea for this book come from?

HEATHER: This story came after watching the PBS documentary A Place in the Middle, but it took a while for me to consider it as even a possible picture book.
I had used the documentary to help wind down after a day of research for that next picture book idea. Yet while watching Ho’onani and Kumu Hina face their struggles I was transfixed, swept along with the story and the power of emotions it evoked.  When Ho’onani turned to face her community, I held my breath as if I were amongst the awed silence of the crowd.  And when Ho’onani opened her mouth to begin the chant usually reserved for males, I whooped it up, both proud and relieved she had pulled off her biggest challenge.

The next day I could not stop thinking about each character in the documentary.
I watched and re-watched A Place in the Middle, never getting tired of feeling those same emotions. When this happens, I think you have no choice but to write the story. It’s under your skin and won’t let go until you do.

 

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

HEATHER: Initially I’d promised the producers, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, a no-commitment rough draft within 6 weeks.  But it helped that by the time we’d met, I already knew where the story would start and where it should end. I’d never written and researched so hard in my life to meet that deadline, but it worked. They got their first draft and I got their green light to carry on.

After that the revisions took almost a year.

My best advice to anyone is to not start a story until you know those two key moments. They’ll keep you going when the writing process gets rough.

 

 

SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?

HEATHER: I must have gone through at least 150 revisions and this is the time to ask for help from your critique partners and writing buddies. Listen to their comments and suggestions and if more than one person is saying the same, you know you have to go back.

As you learn the mechanics behind a story, you’ll also discover your own revision process, and which ones are your favorites.

Mine are adding emotion and deleting.

I may already have one or two emotions in a draft, but there comes a point when the story needs a whole lot more. Thankfully, at this stage of the manuscript you’ll know your character inside and out, so this part is fun.

As I read scene by scene, I imagine my character’s face and gut reactions to the situation. I’ll jot them down and return for a more serious edit.

After emotions are added my next favorite is deleting.

Distilling a draft to 1000 special words is a challenge.

Every word matters.

Every sentence should feel unique.

Every paragraph has the potential to build a scene.

Like decluttering a room, there’s a sense of lightness with deleting which makes a story even better.

I start with spacing out the sentences. This gives me some working room (aka thinking or doodling space).

Then line by line, I’ll check the timing of events. I’ll ask myself does this follow and is it logical?

Then I check the sentence itself, looking at the structure.

Have you noticed sometimes when you split the sentence in half then swap their order it’s so much stronger? Or move one word to the end and you’ve got a WOW sentence.

Next, I look at each word in the sentence.

And here’s where my thesaurus is used to check each word conveys the best meaning I intended.

Perhaps there’s a better word with a deeper meaning. Or, the word is perfect, but in that sentence, it’s a tongue-twister.

And then I like to use words that surprise the reader and are easy or fun to say out loud.

If, after doing all this, the paragraph adds no story value, it qualifies for a total strike-through.

It’s hard to explain but when there’s a line through all that hard work, the story often pops through the noise and clutter.

 

 

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

HEATHER: I’m slowly learning when my manuscripts are almost ready for submission.

I always read my manuscript out loud to our two dogs (because my two kids are grown up now). This is an incredible way to discover those fancy words you found in thesaurus don’t quite work when placed together.

IMG_0716

I’m lucky to have two work buddies, Molly and Cooper who are best friends. They love daily hikes in Toronto’s ravines, their daycare, and swimming beside me as I kayak.

I check off any sentences where my brain did a ‘huh?’ and question any gaps in the timing of events.

On another round I’ll hunt for emotions in the scenes. I want to walk in that person’s shoes, feel their frustrations and their achievements, get goosebumps and a lump in my throat.

Then, my best tool is the pitch.

Because my working pitches seem to always start off 4-6 sentences long, until I‘ve got one that’s whittled down to one or two sentences, I know the manuscript is not ready.

I tweak and hone that pitch every 3-4 revisions.

Once everything is as close as I can get it , I save my work in a folder, stash it away, put the timer on and wait two weeks.

And . . . tah-dah! This is when you’ll know if your story is ready to submit.

With fresh eyes I’ll read my story out loud, looking for all the same things as before. I want to laugh, to tear up, have the words swimming in front of me.

I want the story to unfold, unrushed yet not too wordy.

And when that happens there’s no way to describe the feeling except you know you’ve given your story the best possible chance.

Your manuscript is ready to face the big wide world.

I have two workspaces that inspire my writing process.

Here’s my view from the cottage:

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 8.12.13 PM

 

SUSANNA: That is inspiring all right!  But I’m not sure I’d get much work done with a view like that!!! 🙂  When and how did you submit?

HEATHER: I’d submitted this story to one agent while seeking representation and then to a publishing house through an earlier conference connection.

Both times Ho’onani: Hula Warrior was turned down but coming up was our annual Pack Your Imagination conference hosted by CANSCAIP in Toronto.

We have an opportunity to skip the line with Canadian publishing houses which is a fantastic opportunity. I decided to hold this manuscript back from further submissions because I had to know what was wrong with this story!

 

 

 

 

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

HEATHER: I was the last person slated to meet Lynne Missen, the Publishing Director for Penguin Young Readers at the CANSCAIP conference. You can take being last as good news, bad news, or part of the lucky draw so as I sat and waited. I’ll admit, I was nervous.

And then it was my turn.

As I listened, waiting for the, ‘here’s why your story isn’t working,’ I struggled to understand why Lynne was smiling.

Lynne must have repeated it three or four times before her words and their meaning sank in – they loved my story!

We got to work right there, going through the manuscript, tweaking areas, discussing ideas and my 15-minute slot turned into the best 30 minutes I could’ve ever imagined . . . working on a story that my heart was so vested in.

 

SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?

HEATHER: We popped a bottle of bubbles and had a barbeque with my hubby, kids and dogs.

 

 

SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?

HEATHER: The contract was just what I expected, an advance, followed by a percentage in royalties and for me, the best gift ever – 10 author copies! (I’m one of 6 kids so my siblings all got a dedicated and signed copy.)

 

 

SUSANNA: What can you tell us about the editorial process?

HEATHER: Samantha Swenson is such a gifted editor who, through some word tweaks made the story pop, and that’s when I saw the potential they’d seen all along.

 

 

SUSANNA: How about your experience of the illustration process?

HEATHER: I was so lucky with having Mika as my illustrator.

From the beginning I saw all her sketches, and my thoughts and ideas were sought out while any questions I had were explained.  Mika captured each child in the documentary at the right moment while Kumu Hina looked the same yet different as she too experienced her emotions.

I had one illustration note in the story at the end and that was only because Ho’onani’s sister is not mentioned in the text.

Here’s what I wrote:

One person stood.

[illo: Kana smiles]

Ho'onani - illo note and illustration

and here’s how that illustration turned out!

 

 

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

HEATHER: I saw a mix of advance reviews while others were sent to me soon after being released.

I think the best part about reading a review is, you get to see how the rest of the world views your story.

I’ve learnt so much about Mika’s illustrations from reading reviews.

For example, one review commented on Mika’s technique as a way to convey information to children.

“Boldly outlined watercolor and ink artwork by Song (A Friend for Henry) conveys visual information with strength that suggests Ho‘onani’s own.”

Publishers Weekly
https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7352-6449-6

And then I read, “Watercolor and thick, angular black lines against a combination of white, open spaces, and blue or tan backgrounds elevate and emphasize Ho’onani as the central character within each spread.

As well, the use of bold colors at times helps some characters become more noticeable in crowd scenes.”

Canadian Review of Materials

https://www.cmreviews.ca/node/952

And here’s another wonderful comment on Mika’s illustrations: “The boys filing past in the background, and the empty pair of flip-flops left in the hallway, are pale and weak in comparison to Ho’onani’s profound sense of self as a hula warrior.”
E. Schneider at Imaginary Elevators
https://imaginaryelevators.blog/2019/09/03/she-is-who-she-is/

With each of these reviews I went back to my copy and noticed the same.

 

 

SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?

HEATHER: The process from signing the contract to a first copy was almost two years. That sounds like a long time, but it wasn’t. We were always moving forward with the next steps.

 

 

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

HEATHER: Tundra Books has gone above and beyond in their efforts to get this book noticed by various communities.

From trade reviews to tradeshows, to advertising to promotions, Ho’onani: Hula Warrior has been included or is their featured title.

 

 

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

HEATHER: I’ve reached out to picture book bloggers I know and asked for any opportunity to be a guest post or have the book reviewed.
I’ve also figured out Twitter and become more involved.

And I plan on doing school and library visits – my first is in NZ!

 

 

SUSANNA: Wow!  NZ?!  That is AMAZING!  How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
HEATHER: The whole process took me six years along with a lot of online and class courses, some conferences and then just hours in the chair, practicing and honing the craft.

I actually started my serious writing with a psychological thriller which I wrote one year during NANOWRIMO (National November Writing Month). And, I still like that story and maybe one day I’ll get to revise it.

 

 

SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
HEATHER: This book has taught me a lot about the industry and I’m in awe. We have so many dedicated, passionate professionals who work with picture books and once a manuscript is sold, there’s still so much more that happens behind the scenes before it reaches the shelves.

 

 

SUSANNA:  Heather, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! We so appreciate all your insights, and the helpful information you shared about your writing process!  Wishing you the very best of success with this and future books!!!

 

Heather-head-shot

Author Heather Gale

You can visit me over at
https://heathergale.net/

and my social media links include:
https://twitter.com/writergale
https://www.facebook.com/heather.gale.311

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

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

Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes&Noble

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

– purchasing their books

– recommending their books to friends and family

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

– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores

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

– sharing their books on social media

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

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

 

Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts?  Check them out!

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

Jessie Oliveros – The Remember Balloons

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

Hannah Holt – The Diamond And The Boy

Laura Renauld – Porcupine’s Pie

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

Melissa Stoller – Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

Sherry Howard – Rock And Roll Woods

Kate Narita – 100 Bugs! A Counting Book

Vivian Kirkfield – Pippa’s Passover Plate

Laura Roettiger – Aliana Reaches For The Moon

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

Natalee Creech – When Day Is Done

Margaret Chiu Greanias – Maximillian Villainous

Wendy Greenley – Lola Shapes The Sky

Danielle Dufayet – You Are Your Strong

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

Cathy Ballou Mealey – When A Tree Grows

Pippa Chorley – Counting Sheep

Sandra Sutter – The Real Farmer In The Dell

June Smalls – Odd Animals ABC

Jill Mangel Weisfeld – Riley The Retriever Wants A New Job

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

Eleanor Ann Peterson – Jurassic Rat

Sarah Hoppe – Who Will? Will You?

Marla LeSage – Pirate Year Round

Stacey Corrigan – The Pencil Eater

Shannon Stocker – Can U Save The Day?

Nadine Poper – Randall And Randall

Christine Evans – Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist

Karen Kiefer – Drawing God

Susan Richmond – Bird Count

Dawn Young – The Night Baafore Christmas

 

 

 

Oh, Susanna! What Verbs Should I Avoid And Why?

Hey, Everyone!

What an exciting day it is!

It’s time for . . .

(cue dramatic soap opera theme music 🙂 )

. . . the long-awaited return of Oh, Susanna! (your picture book questions answered!)

Today’s question comes to us from BoldWriter who wonders:

In writing picture books strong verbs are a must. My question is this,
‘What are the most common verbs to avoid using, if possible, and why?’

BoldWriter, I’m so glad you asked!

As writers, it is our goal to express ourselves with the strongest, most articulate, most evocative language we can muster.  We use our words to bring stories to life for our readers.  In addition, as writers of picture books, our word count is extremely limited and we never want to use two or three words where one will do… and do a better job!

We’ve probably all seen those blog posts or articles that instruct us on The 5 Verbs To Avoid At All Costs! or how to Make Your Story Jump Off The Page By Eliminating These Action-Sucking Verbs!

It’s tempting to try to come up with a list.  It would be so simple, wouldn’t it, if we had a list of No-No Verbs that we could just search our documents for and remove, thereby turning our stories into perfect gems of literary genius?! 🙂

But it isn’t quite that simple.  (It never is with writing 🙂 )  While there are a few verbs you want to try to avoid when you can, it’s more an overall question of choosing the right word in every instance throughout your story – not just verbs, but nouns and the very judicious sprinkling of adjectives and adverbs we use where necessary and appropriate.  Every word has to earn its place in your picture book manuscript.  As George Carlin said, “There are no such things as bad words.  Only poor choices.” 🙂

So while I can’t necessarily give you a be-all-and-end-all list of verbs to avoid, there are a few verbs that belong on the Use-With-Caution list for one reason or another:

CAUTION! (1)

to be (am, is, was, were, etc.)
to do (does, did)
to go (go, went)
to have (has, had)
to seem
to feel
to think
to believe
to know

Others to use carefully include:

to get
to make
to let
to put

I don’t imagine this is an exhaustive list, but it names the majority of the main culprits.  (Readers, if there are others that leap to mind, please share them in the comments!)

The potential pitfall of most of the verbs on this list is that they are weak and/or vague.  They lure you into using modifiers (a word, phrase, or clause which functions as an adjective or adverb to describe a word or make its meaning more specific) when you’d be better off choosing a stronger more descriptive verb to begin with.

A weak verb will fit almost anywhere because it’s nonspecific.  A strong verb uses context to be the best verb for that spot.

Why say I went when you could say:

I skipped
I strolled
I dashed
I wandered
I galloped
I biked
I tiptoed
etc…?

Any of the alternate choices is stronger, clearer and more active, and conveys more information.  In addition, each of the alternate choices indicate very different things occurring in the story – someone who is wandering is a different kind of character, or is in a different situation, than someone who is galloping.  The alternate choices rely on context.

The verb to be has added dangers.

  1. It may take you down the “telling” path (you know, Show’s arch nemesis 🙂 ) and invite you to use weak descriptors like “nice” and “great” or vague descriptors like “big”.  Let’s look at an example:
    The building was big.
    Well, how big?  We’re being told something but not shown.  Is it bigger than a car?bigger than a house?  bigger than a mountain?
    The verb to be has led us astray! 🙂
    A better way to say it would be:
    The building thrust its peak into the clouds.
    Thrust is a stronger verb than was and used in conjunction with the clouds allows us to envision how big the building is.  It also conveys a sense of action.
  2. It may inadvertently set you up for passivity.  For example:
    Lucie and Lily were looked on with disgust after they ate a mustard sundae.
    “Were looked on” is passive – the action is being done to the characters instead of the characters doing the action.  Who is looking on Lucie and Lily with disgust and why should we care?  You’d be better off with something like:
    The whole first grade avoided Lucie and Lily after the mustard sundae episode.  “You guys are disgusting!”

The verbs to feel, to think, to believe, to seem, and to know are in a slightly different category.  They create unnecessary distance and weaker forms of expression.  For example:

Joe thought the goblin smelled like toe jam.

Does the goblin smell like toe jam or doesn’t he?

If he does, it would be a stronger statement to simply say: The goblin smelled like toe jam.  If he doesn’t, there’s no reason to bring it up at all! (I mean really, why would you bring up toe jam if you didn’t have to? 🙂 )

Most times if you find you’ve used think, know, believe, seem, or feel, you can simply cut them to make your sentence stronger and more active.

Choosing strong verbs and nouns also has the advantage of allowing you to avoid flowery or overly descriptive language which a) runs up your word count, b) slows the pace of your story, c) can distract from the action, and d) can potentially confuse picture book aged readers.

All verbs, however, even those on the caution list,  are useful and have their place, and in some cases are the best choice when you want to stay simple and direct.

For example:

Phyllis was not like the other groundhogs.

Yes, I used the verb to be.  But as an opening sentence, this is simple and direct and conveys immediately the information that Phyllis is different.  In this case (I would argue 🙂 ) the verb to be was the right verb for the job.

So it’s not really that there are verbs you want to avoid.  Rather, you want to choose the strongest word you can in any instance, verb or otherwise – the word that does the very best job of conveying your meaning in that sentence.

Part of the fun of writing is polishing our work until it shines, going over and over our sentences until each word is perfect.  🙂

BoldWriter, I hope that answers your question, at least somewhat!

And now, I open the floor to readers.  Do you have thoughts on verb usage?  Do you have a list of verbs you avoid?

Please feel free to email me your picture book writing, reading or teaching questions!  The next installment of Oh, Susanna! will be Monday June 5.

Have a marvelous Monday, everyone! 🙂