Category Archives: Author Interviews

Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

 

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

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INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

with crayon

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.

 book cover 1

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?

 GRETCHEN:

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?

GRETCHEN:

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.

book event

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?

GRETCHEN:

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.   

kids in hard hats

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?

GRETCHEN:

I don’t follow a schedule. Maybe when I get organized….

ME: Why do you write for children?

GRETCHEN:

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.

with kids

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!

GRETCHEN:

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!\

cookie pic1

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

And add:

         1 cup sugar

         2 eggs

         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

Powdered sugar

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!

cookie pic 2

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.

Emma Bland Smith: Will Write for Cookies PLUS GIVEAWAY

 

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

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INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

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EMMA BLAND SMITH

Joining Storm Literary Agency connected me with a wonderful family of awesome authors and illustrators. They are smart and super supportive. And I’m thrilled to welcome one of them to Will Write for Cookies.

Emma Bland Smith is a mom, librarian, and writer. She was born in Scotland, grew up in San Francisco, and has lived in New York, Santa Barbara, and Paris…no wonder she wrote a book called Journey. Now she’s back home in San Francisco, living a block away from the house she grew up in. Her past careers have included magazine editor and French teacher. Today she works part-time as a librarian and fills the rest of her time volunteering at her kids’ school, leading a Girl Scouts troop, driving to baseball practice, cooking, gardening, and writing.  

Emma, I’m not sure how you find time for the writing with all those other activities…but thank goodness you do. I want to remind everyone that there will be a giveaway of a copy of Emma’s BRAND NEW picture book, Journey: The Most Famous Wolf in the West (click here to read my Perfect Picture Book Friday review)…so please stick with us throughout the post and then leave a comment at the end.

 ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

 EMMA:

I was definitely a book worm, and the first books I remember reading on my own, starting in about first grade, were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So many lines from those books, along with the evocative illustrations by Garth Williams, are ingrained in my mind! After that, the book I remember the most clearly is Ramona the Pest. I used to get so indignant on Ramona’s behalf, when the she got in trouble for pulling Susan’s curls! I loved Henry Higgins, too. I remember practically dying of anxiety when Henry smuggled Ribsy onto the bus in a box, and Ribsy slowly began to wiggle his way out of the box, to Henry’s horror. The way that Beverly Cleary makes the reader pull for her characters is extraordinary. When I got older, I read the entire Green Gables series over and over until they fell apart. In about sixth grade I began reading James Herriot and Gerald Durrell, and their beautiful imagery, compassion, humor, and language were very influential for me years later, when I began to write.

Picture books I remember from childhood and still love include Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Charlie Needs a Cloak, Dogger (and anything by Shirley Hughes), and Madeline.

 ME: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?

EMMA:  

I should say that I wish I had known what a long haul this journey would be. I started writing about seven years ago, and of course I expected to get published right away! However, if someone had told me that my first book wouldn’t come out for seven years, I probably would have given up, so maybe it’s for the best that I started out so naïve!

I wish I had read more books and blogs about picture book writing, attended more conferences, and taken more classes. It took me a few years to jump into the kidlit world with both feet. Now that I’m here, I learn something every day.

journey-emma-bland-smith

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?

EMMA:

I write either on the sofa or out in the backyard, with my computer on my lap. (Sitting outside can be very effective. It’s harder to get out there, but once I’m there, I’m not as distracted by constantly nagging housework, paperwork, and other obligations.) The only time I’ll write with pen and paper is when I’m out and get inspiration on the run. Then I’ll frantically make notes on notebooks, receipts, anything I can find. (I highly recommend something like this! If I don’t jot things down, I will forget them, no matter how sure I was that they’d stick with me!)

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?

EMMA:

As soon as my kids are at school, I sit down and dig into any real writing I might have on my plate. I don’t write on schedule and my work is pretty varied. On any given day, I might work on critiques for my critique partners, revise a manuscript and send it to my agent, start something new, or work on an article for Red Tricycle. And there are plenty of days I don’t write at all. I definitely work as the muse strikes, but I don’t procrastinate much, so if someone asks me for a revision, I usually get it done within a few days.

ME: Why do you write for children?

EMMA:

I write for children because I want to be part of what I think is the most beautiful, dynamic, challenging literary field. When my kids were young, I was reading them all these wonderful books, and I remember being so amazed at the quality of children’s literature. One of the first picture books that made me want to be a children’s book writer was Someday, by Alison McGhee. That book just slayed me with its lyricism and ability to touch the emotions. Another inspiration was the Henry and Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant. I would love to create books that grab readers the way these do.

ME: Emma, 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.

EMMA:

One thing I’d recommend to beginning writers is to think about looking for an agent first, rather than submitting mostly to publishers. Although some writers do land a book contract on their own, unagented, it’s hard. Once you have an agent, you have someone on your side, who has access to all the houses, and who will take care of all submissions, so that you can focus on writing.

And the single most important thing new writers can do is join a critique group! It can be in person or online. I learn so much from critiquing and reading other people’s critiques. It can be a little hard to receive criticism, and sometimes I need a few days to digest major edits. (The worst is always hearing that everyone likes the concept and the beginning, but that the middle and ending don’t work at all!) But eventually, I end up seeing their points, and I revise the manuscript and send it right back for another round. Most of my manuscripts simply wouldn’t exist without the help of my critique partners!

Oh, Emma! I totally agree with you…critique groups are such an important part of our writing journey. And I thank you so very much for participating in Will Write for Cookies…this was so much fun!

 And for all of you who want to find out more about Emma and her awesome book or get in touch with her:

Twitter

Facebook

Author Website

Okay friends…please take a breath…because we are not finished yet. Emma has shared one of her favorite cookie recipes.

Lace Cookies

cookies

Our whole family looks forward to these cookies every year at the holidays! The recipe, from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, is incredibly easy to make, and after you try one, it will become one of your regulars, too!

1 ½ cups uncooked oatmeal

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

2 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup melted butter

1 egg, slightly beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the oatmeal, sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then add the eggs and vanilla and combine. Arrange the batter by teaspoonful, about 2 inches apart, on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly, removing the cookies from the cookie sheet with a spatula as soon as they are firm.

What a perfect recipe for the holidays…a million thanks, Emma!

And now, dear friends, don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Emma’s beautiful picture book. If you could take a journey to anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…and all good wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving.

Laurie Wallmark – Will Write for Cookies

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

LAURIE WALLMARK

I discovered nonfiction picture books when I took Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction Archaeology class in June of 2014. From that moment on, I wanted to write my own…and I read every single one I could get my hands on. When I saw the cover of Laurie’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, it was love at first sight.

Ada cover 72dpi

Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison.

I was thrilled when Laurie and I connected. Back in November, I did a Perfect Picture Book Friday post and she made a guest appearance with about fascinating information about women in history.

 

Welcome, Laurie! It is a pleasure having you here.

ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

 

LAURIE:

As a child, I didn’t actually read a lot of children’s books. Instead, my shelves were filled mostly with science fiction. My favorite authors were the big three from the Golden Age of Science Fiction—Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. I read and reread their novels and short stories over and over again. Much of my early scientific knowledge came from the factual underpinnings of their work. Read the rest of this entry

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