WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
PAT ZIETLOW MILLER
Writing a book is a big thing. And getting it published is even bigger. My guest today is amazing…she has done this not once, not twice, but many times…and she is not done yet. That’s why I was so thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for Will Write for Cookies.
Pat Zietlow Miller has five picture books in print and five more on the way. Her debut, SOPHIE’ S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book text, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. It also won the Midwest Region Crystal Kite Award and was a Cybils’ finalist. WHEREVER YOU GO briefly made Midwest Booksellers bestseller list and won a Crystal Kite Award and SHARING THE BREAD was the No. 1 Amazon.com release for new Thanksgiving books. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two particular cats.
Please make sure you read down to the end of the post to find out how to get entered into the GIVEAWAY for a copy of Pat’s newest book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School.
I know Pat’s got so many insights to share with us…so let’s get to it!
WELCOME, PAT! We are so happy to have you here today.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
My two favorite books as a child were THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Patterson. I was in awe of both of them and the shiny Newbery Award stickers on their book jackets. I read them and re-read them. And, when my youngest read THE WESTING GAME and midway through told me, “I think Angela is the bomber.” I just about burst with pride.
I also read a ton of Paul Zindel when I was in middle school. Other books I remember reading and re-reading were the ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN series, the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series and the BOXCAR CHILDREN series. We also had tons of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in my house.
Interestingly enough, as someone who loves picture books like I do, I remember very few picture books from my childhood. I can only think of three that I remember reading – WHEN I HAVE A LITTLE GIRL by Charlotte Zolotow, MY FIRST COUNTING BOOK by Lilian Moore and THE GOLDEN EGG BOOK by Margaret Wise Brown.
I remember more picture books from when I a teen and young adult because I’d read them in the library and the bookstore. In fact, when I was in college, I bought my very own copy of ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY because I loved it – and Judith Viorst – so much. Note: I still do. She is my picture book writing idol.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
- That you’ll always have something to worry about even when you’ve achieved what you thought were your goals. Publishing that first book is awesome, but it doesn’t erase any self-doubt you might be carrying around.
- That worrying, in general, is useless. I know this now, but that doesn’t mean I always can avoid it. But now, at least, I try to recognize it for what it is and either head it off at the pass or channel it into a more productive direction. So much of publishing is out of an author’s control, so focusing on the activities that you truly have some say over is the only way to stay sane.
ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?
I write inside. I’m a bit of a fragile flower when it comes to outdoor activities. I get hives if I’m in the sun for too long and I don’t handle extreme heat well. So I’ll always go for the climate-controlled activity.
Usually, I write at my kitchen table using my laptop with the rest of my family going about its business around me.
On very rare and lucky days, I’ll take my laptop to the Fitchburg Public Library and set up shop there. It’s peaceful and quiet and lovely, and being surrounded by so many books is inspiring. It’s good karma. As an aside, I’m always surprised by how many adults talk loudly on their cell phones in the library. I’m not someone who thinks libraries should be silent, but people there should be considerate of the people around them.
ME: When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
I have a full-time day job, so I mostly write in the evening or on weekends.
But ideas can come at any time – they don’t care where I am. Sometimes, when I’m not at home, I’ll get inspired and scrawl the idea for a story on whatever piece of paper happens to be handy and then I’ll take it home with me to work on when I’m free.
ME: Why do you write for children?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. Maybe because books were so important to me as a child. I’ve always loved kids’ books. I loved them when I was a kid and when I was a teen and I love them now that I’m an adult.
I’ve always felt drawn to kids’ books – almost like a magnetic pull. It’s an attraction that draws me to them and makes me read them and admire them and smell them and hold them and admire them some more and tell others about them and then do it all over again. And while I like reading adult books too, that same pull is not there.
ME: Pat, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
Writing a really good picture book is hard.
You can feel like you’re so close, but still know that: Something. Is. Just. Not. Right. And no matter how many shiny parts your book has, it won’t really glow until you figure out what’s not working. So give yourself time. Don’t rush to finish. Don’t rush to publish. Set things aside. Write new things. Revisit previous manuscripts and see what fresh perspective you might find. The results will be worth the wait. And even then, even when you think you’ve truly done it, if you wait a few more weeks you’ll look at your work and think, “Hmmm … If I just changed this one part, this story would be SO MUCH BETTER.”
To give you an idea of how THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, one of my now-published books, moved through this process, here’s a blog post I wrote.
Always remember what you’re going for. Something that’s SO MUCH BETTER than what you have right now.
Kate Messner wrote a blog about this that says it better than I did. So take a moment and read Picture Books Math (And Why You Should Write Something New).
Pat. I know everyone is going to get so much out of this interview. I’m hopping over to reread those two links you provided…I hope everyone else does, too.
And for all of you who want to find out more about Pat and her delightful books or get in touch with her, she blogs about the craft of writing picture books at www.picturebookbuilders.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter @PatZMiller.
SPOILER ALERT: The following recipe is guaranteed to knock your socks off and please every sweet-treat-loving palette.
Pat says, “This recipe is, hands-down, my family’s favorite cookie. We make it every Christmas and at various other times during the year. I got it from a friend when I was a newly married graduate student, and I’ve made it ever since.”
Chocolate-Chip Pistachio Cookies
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (Do not use margarine. The cookies won’t be nearly as good. Trust me on this.)
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup crushed walnuts
1 3¾-ounce box of instant pistachio pudding
Red and green M&Ms, cinnamon candies or chocolate chips for garnish.
Sift dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix. Add dry ingredients and mix again. Set aside a quarter of the dough and add the walnuts to it. Add the pudding mix and the chocolate chips to the rest of the dough and knead until it turns green. Shape the dough with the chocolate chips into balls. Place on cookie sheet and flatten slightly with a glass dipped in flour. Shape the walnut dough into smaller balls and place one on top of each flattened cookie. Garnish with an M&M, cinnamon candy or another chocolate chip. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes. (Do not overbake or let the cookies get brown around the edges. They won’t be nearly as good. Trust me on this.)
Okay, Pat…we totally trust you on this!
And another thing we will trust is that Pat’s newest book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School, rocks! Yesterday, in the Perfect Picture Book Friday post, when we announced the winner of City Shapes, by Diana Murray, I mentioned there would be another great GIVEAWAY today. Please leave your comment below for a chance to win a brand new copy of Sophie’s Squash Goes to School. Just tell us what was the STRANGEST thing you or your kids ever brought to school.
I hope you all have a fabulous weekend…I’ll be leaving for the WOW Retreat on Sunday…can’t wait to hug all my dear writer friends. It will be a great way to pump me up for my upcoming surgery on August 3rd. I may not be posting again until our August Will Write for Cookies interview with Jill Esbaum. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.