WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INFORMATION – INSPIRATION – INSIGHT
JULIE SEGAL WALTERS
This kidlit community is teeming with incredible people and it’s been my honor to get to know many of them. Today’s guest is one of the founders of PicturetheBooks2017, a group of authors and illustrators whose debut picture books are launching this year.
Julie Segal Walters is a children’s book author who lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, son, and pesky cat. Before writing for children, Julie was a lawyer and advocate for civil rights and civil liberties, and an international democracy and civil society development specialist. In those days, she was a frequent writer, public speaker, and commentator on NPR, Court TV, and C-Span on civic engagement and religious liberty. These days, Julie can be found advocating for her many favorite children’s books to anyone who will listen. Julie is fluent in Spanish, and loves to cook, but not bake. She thinks baking has too many rules. This Is Not A Normal Animal Book (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fall 2017) is her first picture book (illustrated by Brian Biggs) .
Welcome, Julie! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat!
ME:Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
JULIE: My favorite author as a child was Judy Blume. Like many kids my age, I read and re-read every book she wrote, and grew up along side her characters and their increasingly complex problems. From Sheila to Sally to Margaret to Deenie to Katherine, in my mind, Judy Blume was more friend than admired author. Through her books, she was always there for me. In her writing, she seemed to truly understand me. I’ve carried the appreciation for Judy Blume’s “friendship” with me FOREVER (Ha, ha! See what I did there?). In fact, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to slip her a little thank you note during a book signing event in D.C. Sometimes you just need tell complete strangers how much their work has meant to your life.
ME: Where do you like to write?
JULIE: My absolute most favorite place to write is on an airplane. I don’t know what it is but I have written more — both quantity and quality — on airplanes than in any other single location. I love it! I don’t know whether it’s the white noise, or the lack of internet, or the butt in chair that makes airplanes such a perfect place for me to write. If I could fly somewhere every day (or even every week), I would have many more polished manuscripts indeed! The same is not true for trains, however. Who knows why these things are the way they are.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
JULIE: The “when” of writing for me remains frustratingly unroutinized. For the most part, though, I write during the middle of the day when my son is in school. Although I do love my productivity when I write early in the morning!
ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing?
JULIE: Among the many things I know now that I wish I had known when I first started writing is, when starting out, don’t write with an eye toward publication.
Like so many picture book writers I know, I first began writing picture book texts when my son was young and I yearned to create and memorialize stories for him. The problem was, before I wrote all the stories for my son — the playful food experiences we shared, the book about always loving himself, and all the other “lesson-forward” tales, — I began researching everything I needed to know about writing and publishing for children. I joined SCBWI and attended a conference. I read blogs about page turns and querying agents and editors and leaving room for the illustrator. I got my writing critiqued.
The result? I took the business of writing for children seriously and learned a ton about both the craft of writing and the picture book market. I understood that writing picture books is not a hobby, that first drafts of 2,000 word stories about my young son will not sell, and that writing really means revising — over and over and over. I wrote a marketable story, and sold it relatively quickly. (Note: an experience I have not been able to repeat for subsequent books!) I was extremely fortunate to write and sell my first book, and am thrilled about my upcoming debut.
The other result, though, is that it’s five years later I still haven’t written those important-to-me lesson-forward stories for my son. I still haven’t figured out how to memorialize the playful food experiences we shared that remain an important-to-me memory of our time together, but that he doesn’t remember at all. I haven’t brought myself to take the time to write fiction stories that are not for publication (hopefully). I focused on my publishing pipeline and not on my reason for writing in the first place.
I wish I had known that would happen when I first started writing for children. I wish I had first just written for my child.
ME: Why do you write for children?
JULIE: The books that were important to me as a child remain the most important books in my life, and I’ve rarely if ever had a relationship with a book the same way as an adult. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to create something with the goal that it will find a special place in a child’s life. Whether it’s sharing fun facts, or making kids laugh, or helping them feel connected or seen in the world, everything I write is with an eye toward whether the story will be important to a child. It’s an honor to write for children, and I take my responsibility very serioiusly.
ME: Oh my goodness, Julie. I would love to take your answers and send them to every newbie/wannabe writer…it would save them so much meandering and going around in circles…you’ve laid out a perfect plan of action steps to becoming a serious kidlit writer! And I know you have some thoughts about your book that you’d like to share as well.
JULIE: Thank you, Vivian! It’s a privilege to share my book with you and your readers.
THIS IS NOT A NORMAL ANIMAL BOOK begins as a stroll through different types of animals, but quickly evolves into a disagreement between the author and illustrator over how to draw them, — in particular, the blobfish. Based on a Yiddish proverb, the book is a behind the scenes look at the picture book creation process, the importance of collaboration and compromise in the face of different opinions, and the beauty of both words and art. With a sprinkle of snark. THIS IS NOT A NORMAL ANIMAL BOOK is a commercial story that breaks the fourth wall, while remaining appropriate for classroom use. (It even includes nonfiction back matter!). You can read a review of Julie’s book from PW, and you can pre-order SIGNED books from Politics and Prose, buy it on Amazon, or request it from your favorite bookseller!
(Special note for educators: Visit my website on or after October 31st for a fun and informational teacher’s guide to the book!)
ME: And I’ll add another note for everyone…please please please…go to Amazon or Goodreads or other book sites and let the world know how much you love your favorite books by leaving a review.
And guess what…we are not done yet. Even though Julie says she is not a baker, she is sharing a super recipe for…well, I’ll let her tell you. Take it away, Julie!
Julie’s favorite cookie recipe:
The “Signature Cookie”
About 20 years ago, I was invited to a “bring a special dessert” party. I decided to tackle lemon squares, because I love the combination of sweet and tangy — in food and in life. I spent an entire day cutting butter into flour for the shortbread crust, zesting and squeezing lemons, slowly heating a lemon juice and egg mixture until it was curd but not curdled, and generally becoming irritated by the number rules to follow that caused too many dirty measuring implements and bowls in my apartment kitchen.
About 15 minutes before leaving for the party, I looked at my plate of elegant and delicious lemon squares and felt completely underwhelmed. How could something so high maintenance to bake be so paltry to look at? I decided that I couldn’t show up at the party without something more.
Luckily, I happened to always have a roll of chocolate chip slice-and-bake cookies in the fridge. I quickly grabbed a mini muffin tin, dropped a quartered slice-and-bake cookie into each cup, and popped the tray in the oven. During the 10 minutes it took for the cookies to bake, I peeled the wrappers off 12 mini Reese’s peanut butter cups. When the cookies were done, I pressed a peanut butter cup into each cookie, forming a crust around the candy. Five minutes later, a dozen chocolate glazed peanut butter cookies in a chocolate chip cookie crust sat alongside my divine lemon bars on my lap on the metro.
Do I need to tell what happened next?
My friends flipped for the peanut butter cup cookies! The precious lemon bars sat untouched and alone like me in my lemon chiffon dress at homecoming, while 15 people pleaded for the recipe for the chocolate peanut butter cookies.
I vowed that day that I would never bake anything other than those cookies for the rest of my life, and the signature cookie was born.
The Signature Cookie
Mini muffin tin
Slice-and-Bake chocolate chip cookie (any brand)
Mini peanut butter cups
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Slice the cookie dough loaf into rounds (about 1/2 inch thick), and quarter each round.
Place one quartered dough chunk into each mini muffin tin cup, and put the tin in the oven for 8-12 minutes (checking for cookies to puff up, fill the cup, and brown slightly).
While the cookies bake, unwrap the peanut butter cups.
When the cookies are lightly browned on top, remove from oven.
Immediately insert one peanut butter cup into each cookie, pressing down gently so that cookie forms a crust around the candy.
Allow to cool slightly. Lift cookies out with a knife and cool completely on cooling rack.
Total active time: 15 minutes.
WOW! I can’t wait to try this recipe, Julie! Thank you so very much…for the recipe, for your insights into the writing life, and also, for your VERY generous giveaway of a PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE. Dear readers, we ALL love getting feedback from a pro…so please leave a comment to be entered in the drawing!
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…the leaves are coming into their glory in our little corner of New England…and the weather has been quite mild. Indian Summer is one of my favorite times of the year! I’m actually at a Picture Book Writing Intensive led by Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss at the Writer’s Loft in Sherbourne, Massachusetts. Next week, I’ll share a bit of what I learned!