California Dreamin’

Beloved author/illustrator sightings of Aaron Becker, Tomie dePaola, Judy Blume, and more; favored agent schmoozing, preferred publisher swooning . . . I’m living vicariously through my creative friends as they message me from the 43rd Annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

Through technology, I can be a little birdie in the corner as Elise Parsley, represented by Steven Malk, debuts as the one of Writers House’s newest authors/illustrators; Alicia Schwab meets fellow authors/illustrators represented by her new agent, Jodell Sadler, of Sadler Children’s Literary; and Kristi Herro networks to find the perfect advocates to promote her work. They generously share their experience, so I can experience it, too. I’m so happy and lucky to be welcomed along in spirit. Thanks, friends!

My best wishes and support goes to them and all who work so diligently to bring joy, learning, and growth to the world through children’s literature.  For all seeking to be discovered and all seeking to discover them, here’s rooting for an extra-fruitful conference.

Distance

Sometimes we can see more clearly from a distance.

When my daughter was in her early twenties, she handed me a photo of twelve dashing young men. She contemplated dating one of them and asked me to pick “the one”.

“Him?” I pointed.

“No.”

“Him?”

“No.”

“Him?”

“Sigh. No.”

Finally there was only one guy left.

“Never mind.” She snatched the photo and marched to her room.

In hindsight, the young man she picked turned out to be a great catch, but not for my daughter. They just weren’t right for each other. Even in a photograph, my mother’s intuition told me he wasn’t “the one”. Luckily, they never dated. And she found her true love.

This is how it is with my writers’ groups. I can become enamored with weak characters, silly gags, lame story lines, and superfluous sentences, but my writing friends aren’t so blinded by infatuation. From a distance, they can see what’s not right for me and my story.

I wouldn’t trade my critique partners for anything. They will save me from settling for the wrong manuscript.

Now if they could just help me choose broccoli over chocolate.

One More Moment, Please

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
~A.A. Milne, WINNIE-THE-POOH

FIXMEUP600Piglet and Pooh’s thoughtful exchange opens the “Fix Me Up” music video featuring Zach Sobiech, Sammy Brown, and Reed Redmond of A Firm Handshake.

The “Fix Me Up” soundtrack sprouted from the trio’s resolve to bring beauty and goodness out of 18-year-old Zach’s terminal diagnosis and impending death from osteosarcoma. In “Fix Me Up” Sammy pleads, “One more moment, please.” The Piglet/Pooh dialog fittingly echoes Sammy and Zach’s heartache, love, dread, and hope. By communicating their conflicting emotions with such urgent truth and transparency, the life-long friends remind us that sooner is better. Their message has hit a universal cord, as proven by Zach’s #1 hit single “Clouds”.

Bestselling children’s book author Kate DiCamillo uses music to create a specific mood in her books. In 2006, a New York Public Library Author Chat participant asked,”Which music would be the best soundtracks to accompany your books?”

DiCamillo answered,  “I wrote Despereaux to Bach, Winn-Dixie to Van Morrison, Edward to Rachmaninoff. Does that help?”

I’ve toiled to find the perfect songs for my work.  For children’s books, I’ve found that Veggietales Radio produces better results than Etta James. For my family memoir, baroque keeps me serious, but too stuffy. Buddy Holly helps me remember, but I find myself dancing instead of writing and regressing to an age nobody else remembers.  Colbie Callait helps me forget, but that’s not good when you’re writing a memoir.

I could waste a lot of time selecting songs and never do the work. My distracted mind needs music of focused urgency. Tuesday, my craft received a defribulating jolt when I won the “Fix Me Up” Deluxe Edition CD and music video DVD in a door prize drawing.

I’d already received a what-are-you-waiting-for kick in the pants while laughing, crying, and crying some more through Zach’s mother Laura Sobiech’s memoir, Fly a Little Higher.

Laura wrote Fly a Little Higher  in only twelve weeks, just months after her son’s death–with no lack of professionalism or clarity. I hadn’t been so inspired by a family story since Atticus raised Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird. And I’d never experienced such a graceful, life-giving death in someone so young–or old–ever. The Sobiech experience spoke to me. It said, “What are you waiting for?”

I bought extras for gifts. Shhhh.

I bought extras for gifts. Shhhh.

 

Zach (and Laura) raised the bar to billowy heights, but Zach’s short life reminds us to share our talents, not hide or waste them. And now we have his music to encourage and inspire us to reach higher in whatever we’re doing.

Now my favorite ear candy while writing for children: “Sandcastles” and “Star Hopping”. For living, breathing, memoir writing, and everything else: the “Fix Me Up” soundtrack set to repeat.

A Firm Handshake‘s melodies soar; their words stir, yet fill you with hope. By baring and sharing the fruit of their young, wise souls, the trio challenges others to be real, to step into the unknown despite our fears, and to live while dying.

“Because, let’s face it–we’re all dying.” ~ Laura Sobiech.

To experience more of this story, go to Zach Sobiech’s Page on the Children’s Cancer Research Fund website, especially SoulPancake’s  documentaries preceding and one year after Zach’s death.

Other links for you

I’ll leave you with KS95’s Largest Choir’s singing “Clouds” .

Zach Sobiech-RIP
May 3, 1995 – May 20, 2013

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.”
~A.A. Milne, WINNIE-THE-POOH

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

2014MayEliseIIOur vowel is moving. Elise Parsley, the “E” in KEM and our dear friend and critique partner, will ride off into the sunset with her husband, Jarrod, to experience new adventures in the far-off land of eastern Minnesota.

She’s become like family to us, so it’s painful to let her go.

Elise started preparing me and Kristi and her other critique comrades months in advance. “This isn’t good-bye,” she assured. “We’ll see each other again soon.”

I wasn’t so sure.

Her consoling words came to  mind last night while I babysat my grandchildren. After story time, prayers, and last-minute water refills, I slipped downstairs to quietly pick up the house. As I washed the kitchen counters, huge five-year-old eyes peered around the stairwell.

I’m accustomed to at least one bed-time rebel. This one excelled in the charm department. She hugged my neck and sniffled as I carried her to her bed. “I can’t sleep. I’m afraid I won’t see you again.”

Little one still hadn’t succumbed to sleep when her parents arrived home. Instead, big tears welled up in her eyes. “I want Grandma to stay.”

“Oh, silly,” I said, as I kissed her soft, salty cheeks. “Wherever I go, I’ll be right here, in your heart. And, besides–this isn’t good-bye. We’ll see each other again soon.”

Then we planned picnics and play dates and parties. Just like Elise had promised me–picnics and play dates and parties–and so much more.

Today, I came across some photographs from a recent family excursion. This artwork adorned the walls of the Fort Meyers airport. The creative masterpieces put this moving business all in perspective.

OhThePlacesYouWillGoIIOhThePlacesYouWillGoWe’ll remain in each others’ hearts. And our work will keep us close. We are aunties to each other’s book characters. And Elise has promised to keep in touch–no matter how famous she becomes And there’s social networking and the old-fashioned cell phone and conferences and work shops and book signings and tours . . .OhThePlacesYouWillGoIII

Thanks to Dr. Seuss, I, too, can go to sleep now.

Oh, the places we’ll go.
Oh, the stories we’ll tell.

We love you, Elise!

Photos of our farewell SCBWI-MN meet-up

An interview with Elise about her three-book deal

Autism and Disney

“I am not the hero. I am the sidekick. I help others fulfill their destiny.'” ~ Owen Suskind

To those in the business of creating stories for children, your work has the power to impact lives in ways you’ve probably never imagined. In Life, Animated, a memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning Ron Suskind shared how Disney movies provided the key that unlocked his autistic son from a prison of silence. Suskind’s book led CBS Sunday Morning to feature a report on this remarkable family by 60 Minutes journalist Leslie Stahl.

Watch “Breaking through autism with Disney movies“, produced by Sari Aviv and edited by David Ehagat. It’ll make your day.

Thank you, Ron and Cornelia Suskind, for raising the bar on parenting; to Owen Suskind, a hero in my book, for celebrating quality children’s stories with others; and to CBS Sunday Morning, for drawing attention to this positive and enlightening story!

Studies show that autism afflicts 1 out of 68 children in the U.S. – up 30 percent from 2013. Learn more about animation’s effect on this disorder through the official Life, Animated website.

Petburbia

Melissa Aromel BlackIf you love pets and art, you’ll love writer and illustrator Melissa “Artomel” Black. She has created an innovative and fun illustration challenge called the Petburbia project.

Here’s how Melissa describes Petburbia:

“I’m embarking on a year-long journey to meet, paint, and post pictures of amazing pets. The 2014 Petburbia project centers around Twin Cities suburbs. Who knows what kinds of pet and people personalities I’ll meet this year, or where 2015 will take me next.”

Rascals
Melissa’s latest Petburbia model, a wascally wabbit named Rascals.

Melissa pampers her featured pets and their owners. She travels to the homes of selected pets, interacts with each furry friend, takes loads of pictures, and even offers owners the first option to buy her painting of their pet for a nominal fee. And there’s absolutely no obligation or strings attached.

She just gave me this update:

I recently attended the Twin Cities Pet Expo and met a wonderful variety of pets. Half of my weeks are filled, leaving just 26 slots open.

My driving concept for this project is to find and paint animals with amazing personalities and unique stories.

Dogs are easier to meet, because they go out and about, but I’d love to meet and paint a few more cats. I also am looking for a horse, a ferret, a chinchilla or any other unusual pets with great stories.

As an artist, I’m really enjoying the challenge of turning water and paint into the silky ears of a spaniel or the fluffy coat of a puppy. Soon I’ll be tackling feathers and tortoise scales, so keep watching the blog!

If you are a Twin Cities MN area resident whose pet has star potential, send your information via the contact form on the lower right of Melissa’s Petburbia page. Hurry before her calendar is full!

Free Train Rides For Writers

All Aboard!

Check this out:
Inside Amtrak’s (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers.

TrainView

Amtrak developed  “writer’s residencies”–free round trip train rides for writers to write. The Wire blog post by Ben Cosman says it all started with a twitter conversation that Zach Seward started, “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Jessica Gross took the ball and ran with it. “How much momentum do we have to gain for this to become real, @Amtrak?”

Amtrak responded, “We’d need a test run. You two up for a trip to Chicago and back?”

TrainThis is a perfect public relations opportunity for Amtrak. They have one small no-brainer requirement of their writing guests–to write about their experience on social media and to agree to a company blog interview at the end of the excursion.

Jessica Gross, the first “writer in residency”, wrote “Writing the Lakeshore Limited” in the Paris Review.

TrainAdventure

It’s not free, but it’s priceless. Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway offers train rides from May through October. Click on the photo for the Minnesota Transportation Museum website.

Amtrak Social Media Director Julia Quinn said that Amtrak is open to offering residencies to writers with a variety of writing back-grounds, focusing on those with a strong social media presence.

You can’t actually sign up for this, yet.

Amtrak is working out the details. But competition will be fierce. So, if you want a writer’s seat, tweet. That’s how this train ride got started.

Elise Parsley’s Four Leaf Clover

“. . . I imagine that every now and then a book is picked up by a prestigious New York agent and sold to a prestigious New York publisher, but it is statistically akin to finding a four leaf clover. On the banks of the Dead Sea. In July.”
~Ann PatchettTHIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE

E4Elise Parsley found a four-leaf clover.
On the banks of Medicine Lake.
In November.

Metaphorically speaking.

Her book was picked up by the prestigious New York agency, Writers House, by their prestigious West Coast agent, Steven Malk, and sold to the prestigious New York publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

And, incidentally, Elise lives near Medicine Lake. And this all happened in November

Even better than a four-leaf clover, Elise received a three-book contract. Now she and her work are hot topics for blogger friends like me; literary magazines like Publishers Weekly; and  sweet tweets like Steven Malk’s December 17th and January 15th entries.

However, don’t let this lucky clover analogy give you the wrong impression.  As Elise’s critique partner and friend, I can attest that no one worked harder or possessed more talent and determination to find success.

THE ELUSIVE FOUR LEAF CLOVER
HOW ELISE PARSLEY FOUND HERS AND WHAT SHE’S DOING NOW

1. When you developed your upcoming book, what did your creative process look like? For example, how did you decide what art medium to use? What came first: the protagonist or the plot; the title or the ending; the illustrations or the text?

Elise P“I actually came up with an image of the story’s antagonist first. I drew a classroom scene with a hulking alligator that happens to be dodging blame for tossing a paper airplane. I put the piece together to give my portfolio some fresh work before an SCBWI conference. After I drew that image, I figured I should have a good reason for an alligator hanging out in a classroom full of small children, so I developed the protagonist (the kid taking the blame) and created the story. The title came long before the ending. I love thinking up book titles. They’re so full of promise!

For this book, I’ll be creating the art using a digital tablet and Photoshop. I fell in love with digital painting shortly after graduating college and have been exploring it ever since.

2. What is your favorite part of the process, writing or illustrating? And why?

“My favorite part is when I’ve developed the writing enough to begin work on the images. The images fill in so many blanks and add a lot of punch lines, and it’s always satisfying to see the text and art paired together, rather than just mentally picturing it. I spend a lot of time snickering to myself before I get the pictures hammered out. Once they’re developed, I make my husband and critique group look at them to see if they’ll snicker too. Sometimes they do! And sometimes they give each other side looks and I can hear crickets chirping. That’s when I know my work is falling flat.”

3. How many drafts do you typically write before you feel a manuscript or dummy book is ready for submission?

“I don’t think I have a typical number yet (and probably never will). I kept track of at least 25 drafts for ALLIGATOR. But then there were various drafts of the storyboard and dummy after that, and I didn’t keep track of those numbers.”

4. What advice would you give writers and illustrators who are just starting out on the road toward publication?

Elise

Seriously? Your critique friends give each other side looks, Elise? They sound like losers. Hee. Hee.

“That’s a good one. Hmm. Well, you should definitely read a lot of books in your intended age range (we’re talking several gazillion, including the classics and the stuff hot off the presses). Also, you should make an effort to spend time with kids in that age range.

When it comes down to the work, it’s important to realize that it’s work. I would encourage writers and illustrators to be very intentional about creating time to do that work and set some office hours. Become part of a regular critique group (or two or three) if you can. A good critique group will give you fresh perspectives and ask valuable questions to push your story and characters. It’s also important to be on the lookout for ways to learn more and practice your craft. Continuing education can include (but is not limited to) signing up for an art or writing class (or degree!), attending writing/illustrating conferences (e.g. SCBWI conferences), and self-study (books, tutorials, etc.).”

5. How did you celebrate your three-book contract?

“When it was all said and done, my husband made me a tuna fish sandwich. It was delicious, and probably the only normal thing that happened that week.”

6. When will we see your books on bookstore shelves? And what are you working on now?

“Magnolia and her alligator will hit shelves in the fall of 2015. Stay tuned for more details! Besides Magnolia’s story, I’m working here and there on a new piece that takes place among a lot of snow and ice and cold (thanks, Minnesota winter, for your constant inspiration in that area).”

7. If you could be a children’s book character, which character would it be, and why?

Wouldn't it rock to have Elise Parsley for a mom?

Wouldn’t it rock to have Elise Parsley for a mom?

Shucks, right now I’d have to say I’m aiming to be as awesome as Clementine’s parents in Sara Pennypacker’s series (you know, the CLEMENTINE books.) They seem like such a great pair who know how to set limits for their creative and hilarious kid, but they also know when to let her creativity roam free. I hope I’m half as cool as them when I’m a parent!

 

Thanks, Elise.
And congratulations to a talented and deserving writer  and illustrator. You’re the best!
Anna Marras

I shouldn’t complain, but . . .

MinnesotaIceSculptureIt’s another subzero morning in Minnesota (-16 degrees), and my pen is on strike. The ink won’t to come out–and I don’t blame it. I prefer to stay inside this time of year, too.

Knowing that writers in other states are struggling, too, might make me feel better.

  1. Do Florida iPads ever shut down from too much sand?
  2. Californians–is that pesky sunshine making that laptop too hot to hold on your sunburned legs?
  3. Hawaiians–do you have circular indentations covering the backs of your notebooks, curse jars full of quarters, and trash bins full of dead pens from too much orchid pollen?

For those of you feeling a ting of guilt as you bask on the beach, here are some great good-will ideas for the needy. (I’m talking about us cranky Vitamin D deprived writers and illustrators from up north):

  • fingerless-glovespencils with refillable lead
  • fingerless gloves
  • space heaters
  • hot beverages
  • airline tickets to any southern destination

Okay, I’m warmer, now that I vented.

A gift idea for the KEMs (besides the aforementioned) is to join us February 15 for our Barbara Park tribute post about KEM GEM, MICK HARTE WAS HERE. We’re eager to know your opinion about the middle grade novel and we look forward to seeing you there.

Also, it’s never too late to comment on our first KEM GEM recommendation: Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee’s chapter book, CLEMENTINE.

Movies About Writers

THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLENever stop looking for what’s not there.

This quote came from Morgan Freeman’s character, Monte Wildhorn, in The Magic of Belle Isle.

I love movie characters who share writing wisdom or a glimpse into their writing life.

Since my husband and I are avid motion picture enthusiasts, I looked on-line for more flicks about writers and writing. And voila! Christina and Jason Katz have compiled a list of 277 titles and a Pinterest page of the 277 movie posters.

For fun, I’ve compiled my own Top Ten List of Movies About Writers (and the books that inspired them, where applicable). (My list is PG13 and under and they’re in no particular order.)

  1. movies_saving-mr-banks-posterSaving Mr. Banks (Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, The Real Life Mary Poppins: The Life and Times of P.L. Travers by Paul Brody)
  2. Freedom Writers (Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell)
  3. Diary of Anne Frank and Diary of Anne Frank TV miniseries (Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank)
  4. Funny Farm
  5. Marley and Me (Marley and Me by John Grogan)
  6. The Magic of Belle Isle
  7. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan)
  8. Little Women (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)
  9. The Help (The Help by Kathryn Stockett)
  10. Dan in Real Life

On my to-read and watch list:

  1. thebookthiefThe Book Thief (about reading–so it qualifies) (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)
  2. Nim’s Island (Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr)
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney)
  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky)

What’s your favorite movie that features a writer or writing?