Category Archives: Author Interviews
Well, bless my boots! We are back again with another special interview!
This time, we’ve got Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy in the house…or should I say barn!
My thanks to author Alayne Kay Christian for lassoing the main character in her brand-new chapter book, SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN (Clear Fork, 2017), and convincing her to set a spell and answer some questions. And, when the interview is over, you can mix up a mess of yummy chocolate bark wth the recipe Alayne shared.
ME: Howdy, Sienna! Many thanks for riding over. We are a curious sort of folk, so we’re going to shoot some questions at you.
- What is your favorite Cowboy saying?
SIENNA: Pa wins the belt buckle for wise ol’ cowboy sayings. I reckon they each strike me when the time is right for it to make sense. One that makes sense to me a lot of the time is “It’s better to ride and fall than never to ride at all.” One that he is always pounding into my noggin is “Always ride toward what is right, even if it means riding alone.” I think I like ridin’ towards what’s right . . . most of the time.
- What’s the one thing you can’t leave the house without?
SIENNA: One thing? That just ain’t fair to ask. I feel naked without my hat, so I reckon I’d say my hat. My ma always says a proper fairy never leaves home without her fairy dust. And I say a proper cowgirl never leaves home without her lasso. If a cowgirl fairy has her lasso and dust, she can do just about anything.
- If you gave yourself a nickname, what would it be?
SIENNA: My pa calls me Sunshine and I like that just fine. If I had to pick another, it might be Spunky Sal.
- How would you describe yourself in three words?
SIENNA: Ma says I’m precocious. That means I’m smart, talented and talk good, too. She also says I’m stubborn. She and Pa taught me to know my own mind, so I don’t know why she acts like my stubborn ways is a bad thing. Puttin’ Ma aside, the three words I would choose are determined, outspoken, and delicate on the inside. Read the rest of this entry →
Will Write for Cookies
Insight, Inspiration, Information
Our kidlit community is populated with amazing people…writers, illustrators, mentors, agents, and editors. Sometimes, these amazing people wear more than one hat. And that is true for our guest today.
Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. Prior to joining BookEnds, Tracy worked as a freelance editor, a Literary Agent’s Assistant, a children’s book reviewer, and a newspaper correspondent. She holds an M.F.A in Writing for Children.
But, she is also a debut picture book author and we reviewed her fabulous CHICKEN NEEDS A NAP yesterday. Please don’t forget to leave a comment on that post to be entered in the giveaway of a copy of her book.
Welcome, Tracy! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us here on Picture Books Help Kids Soar. I can’t wait to get to the Q&A, and I know there is also a sweet treat at the end.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
TRACY: My favorite picture book was Chatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day by Suzanne Gruber and illustrated by Doug Cushman. There was something about the refrain that I just loved, and has stuck with me all this time.
I also loved Princess Furball by Charlotte Huck and Anita Lobel. The idea of three dresses that fit in tiny walnut shells fascinated me, as well as Lobel’s gorgeous illustrations of the dresses that reflected the sun, moon and stars. (I think even as a kid I liked the idea that you could pack your whole wardrobe in one bag – always ready for travel!)
Finally, I think I still have my copy of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. (And as a Literary Agent and reader, I still love more subversive picture books with a bit of dark humor!)
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
TRACY: Besides learning craft, patience is one of the greatest things you can learn as a writer. Publishing is a slower paced business and learning to write a good picture book takes a lot of trial and error before you get it right!
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
TRACY: I like to write by hand when I’m stuck on something. So if I’m revising, I tend to break out a notebook and write out my inner monologue until I hit the right fix for a manuscript. Sometimes the result is just a page of me asking myself the same question over and over again – but eventually I hit on an answer that works!
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
TRACY: I agent during the day, so my writing tends to happen in spurts outside of working hours. I’ll take a whole weekend day to do nothing but work on my writing, or I’ll break out a manuscript in the evening.
ME: Why do you write for children?
TRACY: I just love how the world has infinite possibilities for children. There’s an incredible sense of freedom (and opportunity for humor!) when you can write from a number of implausible premises.
As someone who read a lot as a child, I also think that reading itself is a fundamental childhood activity and I hope to write (and as an agent, represent) books that foster a love of reading well throughout adulthood. It does make me a little sad when I hear that an adult doesn’t read (and not just because I’m in the book business!) I can’t help but wonder if they just never found that book that spoke to them as a child.
ME:Also, 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. 🙂
TRACY: Make sure to stay current! Picture books that sold twenty years ago might not sell today, because the market has and will continue to change. Today’s picture books – particularly in fiction – have a lower word count, but still have all the same layers (emotional and physical) that earlier, longer works had.
As an agent, I can always tell when an author has written a picture book but hasn’t read a picture book in a long, long time.
WOW! Thank you so much, Tracy! I love that we have been able to get your take on things from two perspectives…as an author AND as an agent. I know this post is going to be shared quite a bit on social media…your comment about knowing when an author hasn’t read a picture book in a long, long time is going to create a run on the libraries, I think. Although with all of the online kidlit challenges throughout the year, I know that most of us read picture books like crazy.
But I will admit that when I first started writing, before I had taken any classes or joined any writing groups, my head was still back in the picture books I had read to my kindergarten students and my own children, so many years before. I needed a wake up call which I got from online challenges and critique buddies.
Thank you so much, Tracy!
To find out more about Tracy, as an agent and as an author:
CHICKEN NEEDS A NAP is available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target.
And now, a very special treat…actually one of my favorites. Take it away, Tracy!!!!!
TRACY: I’ve been making my own pizza lately and it’s been working really well!
I use this recipe to make the dough: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/pizza-dough-recipe-1921714
and then I cook at 500 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes on a sheet of parchment paper. Then I pull the dough out, add my toppings, and bake it again for another 7 to 8 minutes.
We’ve experimented a lot with trying to get a good crust without a pizza stone, and even though we use a pizza pan to get the dough in and out of the oven more easily, baking directly on parchment paper on the oven rack gives you a great crispy crust that still has a bit of depth/lightness to it.
The recipe makes two 14 inch pizzas, so we almost always have a ball of dough in the freezer now for quick baking!
This is fabulous, Tracy! I can’t wait to try this! You’ve been a delightful guest and we are all very appreciative of your insights.
I’m wishing everyone a wonderful and safe weekend and hope you’ll be back on TUESDAY when my special guests will be the pirates from Henry Herz’ new picture book, CAP’N REX AND HIS CLEVER CREW.
WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
GRETCHEN BRANDENBURG MCLELLAN
Gretchen is another writer I met in the Picture the Books 2017 group. Hurray for all of these wonderful stories that wonderful authors like Gretchen are bringing to life. As a teacher and reading specialist, she delights in welcoming children into the magical world of reading. As a book fairy, she enjoys slipping books under the pillows of readers that remind them of where they have been and take them to places they didn’t know they needed to go. As a writer, she is excited about the coming publication of her picture books with Beach Lane and Peachtree.
Gretchen has lived on three continents and is an advocate for TCKs, Third Culture Kids, who grew up as global nomads, especially military brats like herself. Children yearning for a home will find they belong in her picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. Gretchen has settled in Washington State, where she lives with her husband, cat and dog and celebrates when her three children come home.
Dear friends…you are in for a treat with this Q&A! Please leave a comment at the end to be entered into the giveaway for a copy of MRS. MCBEE LEAVES ROOM 3.
Welcome, Gretchen! Thank you so much for stopping by to visit with us.
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
I loved A.A. Milne in all the adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dr. Seuss, and E.B.White’s Charlotte’s Web. I was a big-time Nancy Drew fan and had my own library with check out cards!
ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
I wish I had known that there is a writing Cupid.
So many factors need to fall into place to ultimately publish—factors that are out of a writer’s control. Rejection doesn’t mean that a story is unpublishable. It means that fickle Cupid was busy doing other matchmaking when the submission was read. Cupid needs to pierce the heart of the right editor at the right time with the right space on her list in the right company that will be so smitten with the story that they’ll find it a worthwhile investment. It’s all about love. And money. The publisher must believe that Cupid will strike the heart of the reading public and that they will put up cash to possess the book.
Those are a lot of variables that a writer has no control over. All a writer can do is write, improve her craft, write, read, and write and read some more, and strive to get her work in Cupid’s quiver by going to conferences to make connections with agents and editors who are open to submissions. This involves a lot that is out of the comfort zone of most of us introverts. Cupid may strike during your open mike reading! All in all, the writer must persevere.
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 started writing for children when my own children were young and continued while I worked full time as a reading specialist during their school years. I learned to snatch writing time wherever I could–in the car, in barns, on sports fields, even in the bathtub! Now that I am not multitasking so much, I really enjoy working in coffee shops with the happy hum of people around me. I’m not a picky superstitious writer. I’ll write on anything, with any instrument, at any time. I’m messy and so is my process.
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 don’t follow a schedule. Maybe when I get organized….
ME: Why do you write for children?
Writing for kids is one pure, unquestionable YES in my life.
When I became a mother, one of the unexpected gifts was my reentry into the world of children’s literature. First, I fell totally in love with beauty and power and form of the picture book. As a young mother and as a teacher, I was overwhelmed by what I and my children discovered in the experience of sharing picture books together. We cherished our reading time. We bonded through laughter and tears and wonder. Reading was at the heart of how we lived and grew.
Frost wrote of poems that they begin in delight, but end in wisdom. So do most picture books. If the book is of any importance it will end in wisdom—often so profound that I am moved to tears. The delight of a picture book is not just in the reading, but in the writing as well. When a picture book idea arrives, it often comes with a shiver of excitement—a delight so surprising and vital that it carries me along on the magic carpet ride of creation from the beginning to the middle to the end—to story.
As my children grew, so did my love of easy readers and middle grade fiction and YA. Each genre gave me glimpses of myself and literary experiences I wish I had had as a child. Each genre gave me a bit of home I never had, and a sense of belonging I craved. In my own work, I hope I can give children and their adult readers opportunities to see themselves and their lives in my stories, to find a home too. I am particularly committed to making a room for children who have grown up as Third Culture Kids, especially military kids such as myself.
ME: Gretchen…this is fabulous. I love your focus on Third Culture Kids. And I love all that you shared with us, especially about how Cupid must pierce the heart of the editor who looks at our manuscript. I believe that is true!
And now for one of the sweetest parts of Will Write for Cookies…the treat recipe!
The book birthday party for Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, I wanted the treats to be thematically related to my story—about the bittersweet. Mrs. McBee helps the kids in her classroom label their mixed emotions about the end of the school year. “Children, this is called a bittersweet moment. It’s like swirly ice cream with happy and sad twisted together. We’re sad about saying good-bye, but we’re happy about what’s ahead.” So my cookies are twisty ice cream cones, of course!\
Basic Sugar Cookies—you can use your favorite. This is mine:
Whisk or sift in a bowl and set aside:
2 and 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
In a mixer bowl beat:
¾ cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat until fluffy, then add the flour mixture
Chill for at least 1 hour
Roll on floured board to desired thickness
Cut into your favorite shapes. I used a pastry cutter to make the diagonal lines on my cones before baking.
Bake on parchment paper for easy cleanup or on a greased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven, until a pale brown.
Cool and frost with your favorite frosting.
I used Butter Cream Frosting for my swirls:
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ teaspoon salt
4-6 tablespoons scalded cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat until creamy. For a two-toned effect, divide frosting into two equal parts. Add 2 tablespoons cocoa for chocolate—or more. Add the same quantity of powdered sugar to the vanilla to have equal consistency for swirling. You could use food coloring and other flavors as well!
Use a split pastry bag designed for swirls to decorate your ice cream cones! Enjoy!
WOW! These would be perfect for any kid’s party! Thanks so much, Gretchen.
Thanks to all of you for stopping by today. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend…don’t sit on any of those eggs the Easter bunny has left.