Will Write for Cookies: JULIE ABERY Plus Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

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TODAY’S GUEST

 

JULIE ABERY

Today’s guest holds a special place in my heart. I got to know her when she submitted an entry to the first #50PreciousWords Writing Contest in 2016. Now she is a Storm Literary Agency teammate and the author of TWO debut picture books in 2019…plus more in the pipeline.

Julie Abery is a children’s author and Pre-K teacher. Originally from England, she has spent half of her life living in Europe, bringing up her three (now grown up) children and experiencing new languages and cultures. She now calls Switzerland home.

Julie is looking forward to welcoming: her debut board books Little Tiger and Little Panda publishing in Spring 2019 with Amicus Ink with a further two in the Amicus Little Animal Friends series publishing in Spring 2020 ; a nonfiction picture book biography entitled Yusra Swims from Creative Editions (TBA); a true story Mr. Joao and Dindim the Penguin, Kids Can Press (Fall 2020) and a nonfiction picture book Sakamoto and the Sugar-Ditch Kids from Kids Can Press (Spring 2021). She is represented by Essie White of Storm Literary Agency. You can find out more about her on her website: https://littleredstoryshed.wordpress.com/ and connect with her on Twitter or on Facebook: @julieabery

little tiger cover

ME: WELCOME, my friend! It is an absolute pleasure and thrill to have you here. I know my readers want to get to know you a little bit better. Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

JULIE: As a child I loved to read the Amelia Jane books by Enid Blyton. Amelia Jane was a big rag doll with a bright red dress and corkscrew curls. I had a few books in the series… but Naughty Amelia Jane! was my favorite. As the title says, she was naughty and loved to play tricks on the other toys! I was never naughty, of course, just for the record! The book was a compilation of short stories, which were well read and very much loved.

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

JULIE: Probably that writing picture books isn’t as easy as it looks! I sometimes look back at my early work and wonder how I really thought that it was good enough to share with an agent.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

JULIE: I have my writing table in the lounge, in front of the windows overlooking the garden. I like to watch the birds while I work. I have notebooks too, so I work with pen and paper first and then I transfer onto my laptop.

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

JULIE: I am an early bird, so most of my writing is done in the daytime, although when I am puzzling on rhymes I have been known to wake up in the early hours with the complete stanza in my head, and sometimes the perfect rhyme and meter comes to me when I am out jogging with my dog, so I need a notepad or phone on hand to jot everything down.

little panda cover

ME: Why do you write for children?

JULIE: I love picture books and, as a teacher, I have been fortunate to have a career sharing stories and singing songs with hundreds of children from around the world. Through those years, picture books have been my friends and allies bringing rhyme, rhythm and repetition to the ears of young EAL students. It is the magic that picture books create for children that inspires me to write.

 

ME: Do you have any thoughts for aspiring authors?

JULIE: Read lots. Write lots. Take courses to learn more about your craft. Share your writing with a critique group, listen to what they have to say and revise – lots. And most of all be persistent and patient, because perfecting your story may take longer than you think.

YAY! Persistent! Patience! And read and write and revise! The magic formula, right? Although there is probably nothing magic about it…just hard work and determination. Thank you so much, Julie. I loved having you, and I know you have one more treat for us. And I saw the word ‘ginger’ in the name of the treat, so I know this is something I am going to LOVE!

JULIE:

ginger fairings

GINGER FAIRINGS

85 grams of butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

170 grams of flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

85 grams fine sugar

Melt the butter and syrup in a pan over a gentle heat. Sift the flour, bicarb., ginger and add these to the melted mixture with the sugar. Mix well. Form the mixture into small balls, using a rounded teaspoon of the mixture for each. Put balls onto an ungreased baking tray, leaving space for each to spread.

Bake in a moderately hot oven, about 200C/180C fan/gas 6 for approx. 8 – 12 minutes or until golden. Leave on the tray to stiffen slightly before placing on a cooling rack.

Oh my goodness! I do love any cookie with ginger. I hope you all give this one a try. In a week or so, I’m going to be hugging Julie in person…how lucky I am! But meanwhile, I’m giving away a copy of each of Julie’s two 2019 board books, LITTLE TIGER and LITTLE PANDA to one lucky winner. And if you share on Twitter or Facebook or other social media, please do let me know and I will add another entry for you.

Until the next post (Little Tiger and Little Panda’s book birthday on March 12), I hope you have a wonderful and safe weekend. Right now, I am in Auckland, NZ, reading Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book to a lovely group of little kiddos at a local Auckland library.

auckland library flyer

SHERRY HOWARD: Will Write for Cookies PLUS PB Critique Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

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VIVIANE ELBEE: Will Write for Cookies Plus Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

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VIVIANE ELBEE

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AMBER HENDRICKS: Will Write for Cookies Plus PB Critique Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

updated author

AMBER HENDRICKS

Hello everyone! You are in for a treat today! It’s always such fun to chat with authors who are friends and critique partners – even I learn more about them during the Q&A.

Amber grew up reading everything she could get her hands on, including the morning cereal boxes. That passion melded into writing, and by the age of 11 she was writing and binding her own “books.” Over the years, Amber has worn many hats. Those include army wife, mother, visual merchandiser, certified pharmacy technician, and childcare professional. But she has always circled back to her first love of telling stories. SOPHIE AND LITTLE STAR is her first book for children.

To learn more about Amber and her writing:

Facebook, Twitter, Publisher website

Okay…so there you go! I just learned that Amber also read cereal boxes! I wonder how many other people do that? I’m so thrilled you stopped by today, my friend. Thank you for offering a pb critique as a giveaway…I can attest to the fact that your feedback is fabulous!

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

AMBER: I don’t remember reading many picture books as a child, outside of Dr. Seuss. What I do remember is the feeling I would get when I held a book. A magical feeling that I was about to go on an incredible adventure and discover amazing new people and places I could only visit in my imagination. I still get that feeling every time I hold a book!

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ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

AMBER: So many things! But one of the important lessons I learned was that publishing takes a very long time. Patience in publishing is a must! There will always be something you’re waiting for: responses to submissions, that new shiny idea, your book to release….  Once I learned to accept and embrace the waiting, I was able to enjoy the process even more and turn my focus onto writing something new.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

AMBER: My laptop sits atop my fireplace mantle, so I write standing up! Standing gives me the freedom to pace around if I’m working through a particularly tough scene or if I want to grab another book for reference. After so many years of standing, I couldn’t imagine writing at a desk.

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

AMBER: I have two young children and work a full time job, so it is almost impossible to find time during the day to write. Often, you’ll find me typing away in the late evenings after the kids have gone to bed and all the chores have been done. Though sometimes an idea or perfect line will pop into my mind in the middle of the night!

Writing area

ME: Why do you write for children?

 AMBER: I think there is a certain magic in introducing a child to the love of reading. When I first got the idea to pursue publishing, I thought I’d write Young Adult novels. But I was running a preschool/daycare at the time and picture books were a huge part of our day. I began to see the complexity in those seemingly simple stories and challenged myself to give picture books a try. I fell head-over-heels in love. Four years later, I’m still honing that craft!

ME:  If you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. .

AMBER: To aspiring writers…… Publishing is full of ups and downs. There is no magic formula. Writing will always be hard, and will most likely get harder as you push yourself to learn more and hone your craft. The good news?  We belong to an amazing community of like-minded people who will lift you up and encourage you along the way. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep learning. You CAN do this!

ME: WOW! Thank you so much, Amber. I love your advice…yes, definitely, there is no magic formula…although you’ve laid out the steps that must be taken: Keep Reading! Keep Writing! Keep Learning! 

I wonder if anyone else is amazed that Amber writes standing up…that is probably a great idea for the back…no bending over and rounding of the spine!  I just may have to try it! And something else I may have to try…Amber’s Mom’s No Bake Cookie! Take it away, Amber.

AMBER: I’m not the best baker, but my mom is and she makes a mean No Bake Cookie!

No Bake Cookies

NO-BAKE COOKIES

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

½ cup milk

½ cup butter

¼ cup cocoa

3 cups quick oats

½ cup peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp salt

Directions:

Melt ½ cup butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add sugar, milk, and cocoa and mix well.

Bring to a boil for one minute, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir until peanut butter is melted.

Combine oats and salt and add to the pot stirring until well mixed.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto wax paper.

Allow to cool thoroughly and enjoy!

This sounds like pure comfort food to me…I’m going to make them with my grandson the next time he comes over. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to meeting a kidlit friend on Wednesday, one of my inperson critique groups on Thursday, and my local SCBWI group on Friday – so I’d better get busy revising an old nonfition pb bio I want to send to my agent and also get writing on the tentative follow up Pippa story.

And please stay tuned because one day early next week I’m going to have a SURPRISE COVER REVEAL for my FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN:An Animal Counting Book story with a special giveaway in honor of that.

What’s happening in your writing world, my friends? I hope you have a wonderful weekend – the New England foliage is probably coming into its peak…at least here in southern New Hampshire. Don’t forget to leave a commnet to be entered into the giveaway for the FABULOUS PICTURE BOOK CRITIQUE from Amber!

 

EMILIE BOON: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

 

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

Emilie Boon Press Kit Photo 2 lowres

 

EMILIE BOON

I love getting to meet fellow kidlit people. A couple of years ago, I went to lunch with a local critique buddy and two of her author/illustrator friends. We had a lovely time, even though I felt a bit out of my depth because my artistic talent consists of stick figures standing on swirls of color and all of these ladies are gifted artists. One of these friends was Emilie Boon. And when I heard that Emilie had a new picture book coming out, I knew I wanted to feature it on Perfect Picture Book Friday as well as interview her here on Will Write for Cookies.

 

Emilie Boon is the illustrator or author-illustrator of more than twenty books for young children. She was born in the Netherlands and spent her childhood in California and Mexico. Emilie later went back to the Netherlands to study graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. She has always loved to draw, especially with crayons, which she still uses regularly. Emilie lives in the Boston area. To learn more about Emilie’s work please visit her website, tour her studio, or visit her on Instagram.

So, dear friends, you can see why I am excited for Emilie to stop by – she has so many books to her credit and and I know she plans to share some of her experiences with us AND show us some of the process using early sketches of her story!

But first I want to remind all of you to leave a comment at the end of the post because Emilie and her publisher are donating a copy of ELLA AND MONKEY AT SEA for a giveaway.

book cover

ME: Welcome, Emilie! We really appreciate you taking time to chat. By the way, congratulations on your new book. I wonder if your early experiences with books had a big influence on you. Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

EMILIE: Since I was born in Holland, my favorite book was in Dutch! It was a book of poems and nursery rhymes, originally titled Do Kola in Cezch, written by Petr Denk and illustrated by Adolf Zabransky. My beloved grandmother, Oma, gave me this book when I was two and I can just see myself sitting on her lap listening to the poems. The illustrations are so gorgeous that I have always cherished this book which is still on my bookshelf. I’m sure it inspired me years later to become an author and illustrator of children’s books. But before that, it inspired me at a very young age to love drawing, especially with crayons just like my main character Ella in Ella & Monkey at Sea. That story is based on my own childhood experience of emigrating from Holland to America via passenger ship when I was three.

Alle Voetjes Dansen 0 © Adolf ZabranskyPhoto credit © Adolf Zabransky

 

After I arrived in America, I struggled to learn to read. My parents spoke Dutch at home and I ended up being the youngest in my first grade class. Maybe that’s why my favorite books in English were classic easy readers from the 60’s that inspired me to learn to read. I especially loved those written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman. Favorites were: Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish, Two Fish, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham, Are You My Mother? and Go Dog Go!, among many others. Once I learned to read I became a voracious reader!

Alle Voetjes Dansen 2 © Adolf ZabranskyPhoto credit © Adolf Zabransky

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

EMILIE: It always surprises me how hard it is to write picture books and how much rejection is involved. I don’t think I would have wanted to know that when I first started! I certainly would have liked to know how helpful it is to have a critique group and how important it is to connect with fellow writers.

 

Something I like to tell young students when visiting schools, is how I first started writing and illustrating. I was living in London right after graduating from art school and an editor I visited loved my illustrations. She especially liked a little character I had in my portfolio and asked if I could write a story about him. I told her I wasn’t sure if I could do that (I was very honest!).  She suggested that I create a wordless book, and that’s what I did. In the end we decided to add words and named the character “Peterkin”. Since I had created the story with pictures, the writing followed more easily. So for me, many times images and pictures come before words. Often I first create an illustration, which in turn inspires the writing. That can be a helpful way for young elementary school students to start their writing, too. Start with the pictures and the writing will follow naturally.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

EMILIE: Since I am also an illustrator I’m lucky to have a small but lovely studio in an old mill where I draw and paint, mostly with watercolors. You can take a tour here. (http://www.emilieboon.com/studio-tour). But when it comes to writing, my favorite place is in bed at home. It sounds a little indulgent but I like to trick my unconscious into staying relaxed to keep it playful and fun. I usually start with pen or pencil in a notebook so I can sketch a little, as well. Then I move over to a laptop. When I’m in the editing stage, I usually switch to my couch or desk at home or at my studio. Similarly, when I start a project as an illustrator, I also try to let myself just play with lines and color. It’s helpful not put too much pressure on myself in the initial creative stage. That’s why at my studio I have two desks, one for sketching and painting, the other for digital work.

Regarding ELLA AND MONKEY AT SEA, all of the character sketches and artwork were created months before I wrote the story. In between developing the character and writing the story, I took a trip to Holland where I visited the original ship I sailed on! You can read about it and see a few photos on my website here.

Looking back at my sketchbook, I’m surprised at how early on the suitcases appeared in my drawings. They made it all the way to the final cover and hint at the narrative to come.

Notice how Ella and even Monkey changed in the sketches below, all done in quick succession.

Very first sketches for “Ella” in my sketchbook

1. Ella & Monkey at Sea sketchbook

 First “Ella” with pigtails and suitcases

2

Experimenting with emotion and character

3

“Ella” the final character appears only a few pages and days after the first sketches

4

© Emilie Boon 2018

The final color character piece that caught the attention of my editor at Candlewick

5. Ella Says Good-Bye 4

© Emilie Boon 2018

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

EMILIE: Morning is my favorite time. But I’ll take any time the muse strikes, and I’m perfectly happy to spend a whole afternoon or evening writing!

ME: Why do you write for children?

 

EMILIE: Children are my favorite people. I love how open, curious and full of wonder they are. Before I had children of my own and before I had the opportunity to regularly visit students at elementary schools, I probably created books solely for my inner child. Maybe I still do. But now I also have a better understanding of children. I feel inspired by the experiences I had with my own children, as well as from encounters with the wonderful young people with whom I interact at schools. Because I love books and I’m young at heart, creating books for children is the most satisfying thing I can do.

ME: And your books are so beautiful, my friend. You put your heart into each one! Do you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring authors or illustrators? 

 

EMILIE: Picture book writing can be like a puzzle. All the pieces have to fit together. It can be frustrating at times, to be sure, but it can also be fun! Try and stay playful and open. Listen to your characters and what they want. A blank page in front of you before writing or sketching can feel overwhelming but it’s also exciting! There’s a little magic in there along with all the hard work. Enjoy the process, from generating ideas to editing over and over again. Keep at it… but also know when it’s time to put a story aside if it just isn’t working and let something new reveal itself to you. Let your imagination take flight and trust it!

ME: This has been wonderful, Emilie. We are all cheering for everything you have shared with us. Seeing the actual process the illustrations go through is extremely helpful, not only for other illustrators, but for all of us writers!

EMILIE: Thanks so much, Vivian! It’s been fun stopping by! And I have a special treat to share with you.

I love this recipe for meringue nut cookies because it uses only 3 ingredients and allows the baker to be creative while still having a foolproof recipe. Pecans are one of my favorite choices. Have fun experimenting because these cookies are simple and delicious every which way!

Emilie's Merinque Nut Cookie Ingredients

 

Emilie’s Meringue Nut Cookies

1 egg white

½ cup sugar

¾ cup nuts of your choice––salted or unsalted.

If using small nuts like peanuts or pine nuts, they can be left whole. For larger nuts, chop into medium pieces, not too tiny.

  1. Heat oven to 325º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Beat egg white until stiff with a hand mixer. Slowly beat in sugar to make a meringue. The egg whites will become opaque and shiny. Fold in the nuts.
  3. Drop the meringues by the teaspoon full onto the paper-lined baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave cookies in for another 15 minutes. Cool before serving. Cookies can be stored in an airtight tin or plastic bag between layers of wax paper for up to a week.

Makes 2- 2 ½ dozen cookies

Dear friends, this looks amazing! Honestly, inviting my guests to share their favorite recipes is dangerous…so much temptation for me to be baking, and then eating, these yummy treats. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…filled with all sweetness…and maybe even a few of Emilie’s cookies!

Please make sure to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway. And remember that the greatest gift we can give our favorite authors is to buy their books, review their books, and tell our libraries and friends about their books.

Jen Betton: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

Jen-photo

JEN BETTON

 

I’ve always been a person who sees the silver lining in the storm cloud. My Sweet Dreams, Sarah may have been pushed from 2017 to 2018 and now to 2019, but I’m overjoyed to have connected with the debut picture book authors and illustrators of each of those years. Talented Jen Betton is one of the Epic Eighteens and I’m thrilled to know her and welcome her to Will Write for Cookies.

Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she s been illustrating ever since. Her picture books include her debut as an author-illustrator, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Putnam, and TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.

She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in Dallas with her husband and two children. You can see more of her work at www.jenbetton.com.

hedgehog needs a hug cover
ME: Jen, I’m so happy you stopped by today. I know everyone is excited to find out more about you.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

 

JEN: Favorite authors were C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, Madeline L’Engle; illustrators were Pauline Baynes (you can tell I love the Narnia Chronicles), Trina Schart Hyman, and N.C. Wyeth. I still love all these people and their work.

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ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing? 

JEN: How helpful it can be to pay attention to different book structures. Certain ideas fit better into different structures, and being aware of them makes it possible to play with the plot.

Also, when a certain bit of critique resonates with you, or even more when it doesn’t, think about the heart of your story. What is the underlying theme, the core of your story, and how does this suggested change align with that heart? This helps me a lot when figuring out what changes to make.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

JEN: I usually write on my computer, but I’ll also print out a copy of what I’m working on and make edits on the print out. That way I can work on little thumbnail drawings while I’m editing the text.

Hedgehog-p18-19-fox1-v2-bigger-eye-900ppi.jpg

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

JEN: Definitely not morning! Midday is my sweet spot (because it’s nap time and the kids are asleep!), but really any time of day (other than morning) when I get the time and an idea.

ME: Why do you write for children?

JEN: In part because those are the kind of stories that I love the most, and the kinds of stories I want to write. C.S. Lewis said he told stories for children because that was the best medium for the stories he had to tell, and Neil Gaiman and Maurice Sendak have made similar comments.  

I also write children’s books because I’m an illustrator, and picture books allow me to tell stories visually, which I love to do. I tend to think of the story as separate from the medium in which it is told – it exists on its own and then takes form in either words or pictures, or both. The picture book is this wonderful alchemy where you share the story between two different languages – the verbal and the visual.

 And finally I write picture books because I enjoy sharing them with kids!

hedgehog-sad5-9000px

ME: EXACTLY! I totally agree, Jen! Thank you so very much for sharing all of this. And I know you have a fabulous cookie recipe to share as well.

JEN: I do, I do! This one is perfect for kids, but for a more “grown up” cookie, you can soak the dried cranberries or cherries in bourbon for one hour ahead of time. 
Recipe: 
……………..
Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup (aka 2 sticks) of butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups oatmeal (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts 
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries*
Heat oven to 350 F
Beat together butter and sugars until creamy
Add eggs and vanilla; beat well
Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mix well
stir in oats and raisins, mix well
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet 
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack.
WOW…Oatmeal raisin cookies are one of my favorites!!! This Q&A has been lots of fun…and I can’t wait to try the recipe. Big thanks to Jen for stopping by and to all of you for spending your precious time here. Please don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway of a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG.
Have a safe and happy weekend, dear friends. I am still in Chicago, but will be flying home early Monday morning. It was great to be visiting with famiy and I was fortunate to connect with librarian Betsy Bird. I’d met her at an SCBWI conference, listened to her on one of the 12×12 webinars recently, and yesterday I enjoyed chatting with her at the Evanston Public Library where she is the Collection Development Manager in addition to being a blogger for School Library Journal.

Michelle Cusolito: Will Write for Cookies

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

 

headshot

Photo credit: Alison Noyce

MICHELLE CUSOLITO

A few years ago, I attended a writer’s retreat and got to meet our Will Write for Cookies guest. I was so impressed with her rapier-sharp focus and spot-on organization for the research she was doing for what sounded like a fabulous nonfiction picture book story. Fast forward to today and…TA-DA. Her debut picture book, FLYING DEEP, launches this week! 

flying deep cover

Michelle Cusolito has been exploring natural places since she was a child growing up on a farm in Southeastern, Massachusetts. She has lived in the Philippines, where she first observed colorful fish in their native environment, and in Ireland, where she and her family hiked “The Burren,” an otherworldly landscape made of limestone. She has trekked to places such as Machu Picchu in Peru and the Sahara Desert in Morocco. She hopes readers will be inspired to explore their worlds. Visit her at michellecusolito.com or follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.

I’m thrilled to welcome you to Picture Book Help Kids Soar, Michelle! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by to chat. And I know how busy you are with the book launch, so let’s get to the questions right away.

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

MICHELLE: Like many people my age, I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. I was also a big fan of the Paddington Bear books. I still have my original boxed set of novels. When I was in 4th grade, I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Clay, who had a huge impact on my life. Two things that really stand out: she told me I would be a great teacher and she gave me the book Zeely by Virginia Hamilton as a gift. I did go on to be a 4th grade teacher, just like her, and Zeely broadened my reading preferences. Zeely was one of many seeds planted in my lifetime that lead me read as widely as I do.

graphics-Cusolito_Strickrott-_DSC7129Photo credit:  Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Michelle with Bruce Strickrott in front of Alvin. He’s an Alvin pilot and the manager of the Alvin Group. That’s some Styrofoam cups before he took down on the outside Alvin last week. The cups shrink, which helps show how much pressure there is down on the seafloor.

shrunken cups

And this is what the cups look like AFTER they’ve taken a deep sea trip in the Alvin. Illustrator Nicole drew the dumbo octopus on the cups and author Michelle colored them in.

 

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

MICHELLE: More often than not, my first drafts are completed at home: in my office, in the screened porch, or sitting on my living room sofa. I need to move around a lot, so I work in different places. When I’m creating something new- say a first draft- I’m usually somewhere comfortable like my sofa or porch. I nearly always write long-hand (Flying Deep is the exception) and my preferred pen is the Pilot P-700, fine point. I love this pen because it’s “fast.” The ink flow keeps up with my hand moving across the page. My best, most creative writing happens when I’m writing longhand. I feel like I’m more connected to my creative brain. It’s usually a big ol’ mess, but as long as I can read it back to myself, that’s good enough. Later, I either type it up or dictate it to Dragon software.

In a real departure from how I normally work, the first draft of Flying Deep was completed while I was out on a walk. I had forgotten my notebook, so I typed it into “notes” on my phone. I had been mulling the topic around for a while, but I hadn’t done any research yet, so I hadn’t planned to write anything. But the first sentence arrived suddenly when I was walking so I had to capture it. Before I knew it, I had written a full first draft. (Note: it was riddled with mistakes because I had not done any research, but I had found the basic structure).

About once a week, I work on revisions in a local coffee shop (I don’t usually write new stuff at the café). I find the change of scenery helps and it pulls me away from the “to do” list at home. As long as there’s a hum of people around me talking or working, I tend to be productive,  sometimes even far more so than if I were at home.  (If it’s quiet and there’s one loud talker, however, I can’t work).

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

MICHELLE: I don’t have a specific writing schedule, but I tend to do my creative writing in the morning when I’m fresher. Like many people, I have a real dip in energy and focus in the afternoon, so that’s when I tend to do administrative kinds of tasks like replying to email, tweeting, or updating my website.

There are exceptions to this rule: The first draft of the manuscript I have out on submission right now was written late at night after I got off a video call with my agent, Jill Corcoran. (I was living in Dublin, Ireland at the time and she is in California, so we were navigating an 8-hour time difference). I had spent 2 years researching the subject for a picture book biography and I could not make the manuscript work. (I had many failed drafts).  Jill and I talked it through. That call freed me up. As soon as I hung up, I sat on my bed and wrote the sloppiest first draft out long-hand on copy paper (yep…using my Pilot pen). I was able to write that first draft completely out of my head.  I knew my subject so well that I didn’t need to look at my research. That had been my problem… too much staring at the research. I simply needed focus on telling the story. 

inside AlvinThis is Michelle, inside the Alvin.

ME: Why do you write for children?

MICHELLE: I write for children because I want to share the wonder of the world with them.

Well, first of all, thank you so very much, Michelle, for sharing so much of your journey with us. And second of all…I’m buying a stack of those Pilot pens right away!!!

I know we all wish Michelle the biggest success with FLYING DEEP…and I can’t wait to see the next books she writes! And I hope you will all go and buy her book, write a review, ask your library to purchase it for their collection, and tell all your friends about it!

Somehow, with all of her busyness getting ready for her book launch, Michelle also managed to share one of her favorite cookie recipes. And I do LOVE ginger!

 

MICHELLE: My daughter and I like to bake these cookies together. This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies.

GINGER MOLASSES COOKIES

Ingredients

1 cup sugar plus ¼ to ½ for rolling (see step 3)

1 cup butter (2 sticks)

1 cup blackstrap molasses (dark molasses)

2 eggs

4 cups sifted flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 tsps. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

Directions.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream together the sugar and butter. Add the molasses and eggs. Mix well.
  3. Sift together the dry ingredients and mix them in.
  4. Put ¼ to ½ cup of sugar into a small bowl.
  5. Make small balls of cookie dough, about the size of a walnut. Roll them in the sugar and place them on a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. (NOTE: We’ve found that refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes to an hour before this step is helpful. Once the first batch goes in the oven, we stick it back in the fridge while they cook).
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

I definitely  will be trying these! How about you?

Thank you, dear friends, for spending your precious time here. I hope you all have a safe and happy weekend.

I also wanted to thank everyone who reached out with comforting words, flowers, cards, fruit, nuts, and best of all, shoulders to lean on and ears to listen with.  I’ve been busy going through Stuart’s stuff…he held so many things in high esteem…painting, calligraphy, bamboo fishing rods. antique fountain pens…and my writing. I’m overjoyed and exceedingly grateful for the Highlights Foundation Scholarship Fund that Maria Marshall and Sherri Jones Rivers spearheaded in his memory. As a published author himself, it is exactly the kind of tribute he would have loved!