ALEXANDRIA LAFAYE: Will Write for Cookies Plus GIVEAWAY

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

headshot

ALEXANDRIA LAFAYE

When I joined Storm Literary Agency in 2015, not only did I get an awesome agent, but I also got a wonderful support system – all of the other clients – authors and illustrators. And one of the most active is today’s guest, Alexandria LaFaye. I grabbed a bit about her from her wonderful website.

ALEXANDRIA: Family is at the core of who I am which why families are at the center of most of my books whether it is families torn apart by injury (Worth) or absence (The Year of the Sawdust Man) or drawn together by tragedy (Water Steps and The Keening) or seeking each other (Walking Home to Rosie Lee). 

When I’m not joining my family for a board game, a jaunt to the park, or a trip to the zoo, I’m usually writing or reading, but I’m also an associate professor of English at Greenville College in the academic year and a visiting associate professor in the Hollins University Summer Graduate Program in Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Follow Me Cover

 

ME: Welcome, Alexandria! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us and share your writing journey. and a little bit about yourself. Can you name a book that changed the way you saw the world?

ALEXANDRIA: I seek out books that show me things about the world I did not previous know like Michelson’s The Alphabet of Angels revealing that Hebrew had nearly died out as a spoken language until one man, Ben Yehuda, popularized it in Isreal in the 19th century. Hesse’s Aluetian Sparrow opened my eyes to the horrific treatment of the Aleut people of the Aluetian Islands during World War II.  I love books that expand my world one page at a time and that’s the type of book I was trying to write  with FOLLOW ME DOWN TO NICODEMUS TOWN.  By sharing a story of the Exodusters who built Nicodemus, KS and homesteaded in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and other parts of Kansas, I hoped to celebrate their achievements and spread the world about these historical heroes who are often overlooked in historical accounts of homesteading the US.

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

ALEXANDRIA: How to write in way that is true to my own voice and experience, but that reaches out to readers of all walks of life and speaks to them in a way that makes them feel understood, inspired them, or lead to see things in a new way.  I’ve also always wanted this literary connection to lead readers to spread the news about my books to other potential readers.   I’m still trying to figure out this formula for great writing.

book vobrt

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

ALEXANDRIA: The answer depends on the genre.  I prefer to write poetry and short stories with a pen and paper and usually in one of my writing journals and I can do that pretty much anywhere, but I often do it at my writing desk at home or in my office at work (I’m an associate professor at Greenville University).  I have to admit that when I write “outside” of these spaces, I’m usually too drawn into observing things around me to focus on writing.

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

ALEXANDRIA: I’ve always been quite bad at doing things routinely, so I write as the muse strikes most of the time.  I often get a burning idea I need to write down and that often leads to more ideas which means I put other things on hold until I’ve followed this vein of creativity to its conclusion, then I go back to my daily activities. Other times, I leave things at home in my husband’s capable hands and spend a weekend in a cabin on a nearby lake and write, write, write.  That often involves a lot of revising, revising, revising.  But it’s a great time to fully emerse myself in my work.

with kids at bookstore or library

ME: Why do you write for children?

ALEXANDRIA: I write the stories that come to me.  Since I so enjoy children—understanding them, raising them, helping them, I believe I’m drawn to the stories that interest them. I also have an alterior motive.  If the books children read are inclusive, inspiring, historically and culturally accurate, and open the world up to young readers, then they will grow up with a kinder, more accurate, and layered view of the world.  The things we read as children shape our views of the world and prepare us for all the learning and experience that follows, so I guess, I’m hoping to help kids build expansive and supportive views of the world through the stories that I write.

ME: What is your writing advice?

ALEXANDRIA: Write to become the best writer you’re meant to become—don’t try to measure up to some external ideal of writing and writers—find your own voice and speak in it through your writing.  You’re a uniquely made person who has a singular life experience and point of view to share with the world, so embrace that and become the best writer you can as you learn to speak in your own voice.

ME: Is there anything you’d change about your writing life right now?

ALEXANDRIA: Yes, I’d love to do more school visits!  As a greater admirer of kids, I love to create school presentations that are entertaining, educational, and uplifting.  As a geek who was bullied in school, I can inspire the kids who struggle with self-confidence and engage with the kids who are following the crowd and need to be encouraged to become the “kind kid” who says “no” to bullying.  I’m also a professor who teaches preservice teachers how to integrate literature into the classroom, so I’m uniquely skilled to help kids become life-long learners and process writers. My professional credentials also make it possible for me to do professional development programs for teachers, administrators, and librarians.  And I love the school visits where I learn as much as I mentor.  If anyone would be interested in hosting me for a school visit, they can contact me at Alexandria.lafaye@greenville.edu

with class reading

ME: WOW…thank you so much, Alexandria. I love your authenticity…it shines right through all of your answers. I know we all appreciate you stopping by…and I know you are not done yet. You’ve got a recipe to share with us that is kind of special to your new picture book, right?

ALEXANDRIA:  Yes, this is a recipe Dede’s mama would have known by heart – hoecakes:

 Hoecake

The legend is that African Americans who had been enslaved “baked hoecakes on a hoe in the fields for their midday meal.  Elizabeth Lea, a cookbook author from Montgomery County in the mid-19th century has several corn cake recipes, one of which she called a “Virginia hoe cake.”  Indeed, hoecake was the hardtack, the matzah, of enslaved Blacks for several centuries.  Some Maryland hoecakes were made over a griddle in the hearth (also known as a hoe), others were baked on a “bannock” board placed facing the fire.”  Although an African-American staple it was also a food served in many kitchens across the frontier in the 1800s.

1 cup of white stone-ground cornmeal

3/4 cup of boiling hot water

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ cup of lard, vegetable oil or shortening

Mix the cornmeal and salt in a bowl.  Add the boiling water, stir constantly and mix it well and allow the mixture to sit for about ten minutes.  Melt the frying fat in the skillet and get it hot, but do not allow it to reach smoking. Two tablespoons of batter can be scooped up to make a hoecake.  Form it into a small thin pancake and add to the pan.  Fry on each side 2-3 minutes until firm and lightly brown.  Set on paper towels to drain and serve immediately once all the hoecakes have been cooked.

Recipe and background by  Michael W. Twitty in “A Few Antebellum African American Recipes” published in Afroculinaria (2011)

https://afroculinaria.com/2011/11/10/a-few-antebellum-african-american-recipes/

My dear friends, please join me in thanking Alexandria for her wonderful insights and the fantastic hoecake recipe…plus, she is generously donating a signed copy of her wonderful picture book, Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town, so make sure you leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and I’ll see you back here next week for another review (and a giveaway!) of a fabulous new picture book, HONEYSMOKE, by Monique Fields. I’ll be cloistered away, working on the redlines for the big compilation book – 9 stories means 9 times as many edits to go through, right? So if I am a bit MIA on social media this weekend, you’ll know why.

Christy Mihaly: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Picture Book Critique Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

 

PHOTO_ChristyMihaly

CHRISTY MIHALY

I usually reduce the size of the headshot for my Will Write for Cookies guests…but I just couldn’t take away one inch of this glorious scene. It looks so much like a photo I have of my grandson and me at a lake in New Hampshire which figures because Christy is right next door in Vermont. 

Christy Mihaly lives and writes in Vermont, overlooking the hayfield that inspired her picture book, Hey, Hey, Hay! She has published a half-dozen books in the educational market, on topics from California’s redwood forest to cosplay to elephants and moose. She writes for children’s magazines about science, nature, and history. Her poetry has appeared in publications including Imperfect: Poems about Mistakes, an Anthology for Middle Schoolers; Highlights; and the SCBWI Bulletin. Christy also co-wrote a nonfiction book for YA readers, Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, to be published October 1 by Lerner/TFCB. Christy loves walking in the woods and playing the cello (though not simultaneously). She is represented by Erzsi Deak, of Hen&ink Literary Studio.

You can connect with Christy on any of these platforms:

Blogging at GROG

Instagram: @christymihaly

Twitter: @CMwriter4kids

Facebook Author page

But right now, we are going to connect with Christy right here. 

Welcome to Picture Books Help Kids Soar, Christy! We are so happy to have you hear!

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

CHRISTY: As a kid, I read all the time, but for the most part I didn’t think much about the people writing the books. I loved classics like The Borrowers and The Secret Garden. I also read and re-read Harriet the Spy and A Wrinkle in Time. And I guess the exception to my ignorance about authors was Beverly Cleary – if I saw her name on a book, I picked it up!

kid with book

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

CHRISTY: I wish I had appreciated the importance of meeting others who are doing this work. In the beginning, I didn’t understand that you’re not fully a children’s writer until you engage with the community of writers and illustrators. Even more than publishing my first magazine pieces, what made me feel like a real writer was meeting with others who were also writing for kids—and joining a critique group!

WOW July 2015

Conferences and writing retreats are a great place to connect with others in your field. This is from the 2015 WOW retreat in Helen, Georgia. I see a bunch of familiar faces there. (Vivian left early that morning with Ann Magee and a couple of others because they had an early plane to catch out of Atlanta so they missed the photo).

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

CHRISTY: Everywhere! I write on scraps of paper in the car, on my phone in the middle of the night, and in a notebook I keep in my purse. I write in my head when those words come in the middle of a walk in the woods. Still, most of my writing is on my trusty laptop, which I move around a lot – kitchen, porch, desk, seeking different views of trees and fields … As a writer, I am peripatetic.

Note from Vivian: I had to look that word up…peripatetic: traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.

beautiful rows

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

CHRISTY: I’m lucky right now to be writing for a living. So – I write all the time. I spend more time writing, in fact, than some people around me might prefer … [What, we’re out of dog food again?]

dog bale

Sometimes I sit down first thing in the morning and write a poem. Other times, I’m facing a book deadline and writing all day and at 4:00 I realize I forgot lunch. I do some of my best work after dinner and into the wee hours, but that can’t happen too often or I get sleep-deprived and cranky.

ME: Why do you write for children?

CHRISTY: Because I keep having new ideas that I want to write about and I love doing it! And because I believe that our best hope for the future is raising a generation of people who love to read. My wish is that by giving kids books that are engaging and fun, we can spark their love of learning, and also foster the critical thinking skills that this generation is going to need.

HeyHay_intr_tractor

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

CHRISTY: Vivian, you didn’t ask me about the many rejections I’ve received. I do love sharing about my published pieces – but the manuscripts that don’t find (or haven’t yet found) a home are equally important. Each one that gets a “pass” from an editor can help in my writing journey, because I learn from it: What works and what doesn’t work? What grabs an editor’s attention and what leaves her cold? How might I better address a subject I really want to tackle? How can I make this story sparkle? Or … which editor might like this story better? Rejections are never easy, but they’re inevitable, and they feel less awful if I remember that each one is a step forward.

Thanks, again, Vivian, for all you do to support children’s books and writers and illustrators. This has been fun.

ME: Christy, I love that you talked about rejections…and your attitude towards them is spot on! And it’s my honor and pleasure to feature authors and illustrators and to review all of their wonderful books! And hosting the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge is something I am truly passionate about…providing a safe and encouraging platform for fellow writers.

I know you aren’t finished here, Christy…there’s a VERY special recipe you’ve got in store for us!

CHRISTY: Yes…for a summer change of pace, how about a little switchel?

Switchel—or ginger water—is the traditional haymaker’s drink. In one of her books, Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to Ma’s zesty ginger-water, declaring that after a blazing hot summer day working in the fields, nothing could quench the thirst quite so well. Or, as my narrator reports with delight in Hey, Hey, Hay!,

“Mom calls out, ‘Let’s take a break … for switchel and a piece of cake!’”

There are many regional variations, and you can make your own adjustments to taste. This simplified recipe (included in the back of HAY) is based on the Vermont version of the drink. And yes, they’re bottling this stuff now – but why not make your own?

quart-jar-switchelPhoto courtesy: The Vermont Switchel  Company

Make Your Own Switchel

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

4 cups water (plain or sparkling)

Combine the ingredients in a large jar with a lid, and shake. Pour the mixture over ice cubes to serve right away, or chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours. Stir well before pouring it into your glass. Makes about a quart.

Variations:

You can add mint leaves, lemon, or cucumber – why not experiment? Try some switchel with ginger cookies!

Thank you so much, Christy! This has been so much fun. And I want to remind everyone that Christy has generously offered to do a picture book manuscript critique…so make sure you leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Stay safe and be happy!

Kerri Kokias: Will Write for Cookies Plus Critique Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

Kerri Kokias Headshot

 

KERRI KOKIAS

I met today’s guest in Picture the Books 2017. Debut picture book authors together, we really had no clue as to how the process of publication worked. As Robert Burns said in To a Mouse: The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” Which in plain English means, sometimes your plans don’t work out exactly as you thought they would. There can be all kinds of hold-ups in the publishing industry…that’s just how it is. So here it is 2018, and Kerri and I are part of Epic Eighteens, the group formed to give support and encouragement to debut picture book authors and illustrators with books coming out this year.

Now it looks like there is a chance Sweet Dreams, Sarah may be pushed back even further to 2019, but I’m thrilled to welcome Kerri and congratulate her on her exceedingly beautiful 2018 picture book debut!!! 

Kerri’s writing features unique structures, playful language, humor, tension, tenderness, simple text, and complicated characters. She has a good vision for how text and art can work together to tell a complete story. Kerri credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper.  Kerri lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two children, and three dogs.

book covers for sisters

Hello, Kerri! Thanks so much for stopping by! We enjoyed finding out about SNOW SISTERS yesterday on Perfect Picture Book Friday and everyone is excited to hear a little bit more about you.

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

KERRI: In my youngest reading memories I was a big fan of anything written by Shel Silverstein, James Marshall, Arnold Lobel, Judith Viorst, and William Steig. As I got a little older I liked books by Beverly Clearly, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and Ann Martin. I still treasure these author’s books and expect that I’ll never outgrow them.

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

KERRI: Hmm, I started to say that I wish I knew how long it was going to take me to get published, but then I realized that it was probably a good thing that I didn’t.  (12 years!) I guess I would reframe that a little and say that I wish I knew that a career as an author doesn’t really come easy for anyone, even if it may look like it from the outside. I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of author friends through the years and everyone’s path to publication is different, but every one includes a lot of hard work, determination, grit, a little luck and some disappointment along the way.  And as best as I call tell, this doesn’t change post publication either.

SnowSistersLargeCover

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

KERRI: I can tell you the most unusual place I have even written- at the swimming pool while swimming laps. There was one particular manuscript I was working on that I kept getting ideas for while I was swimming. So I kept a waterproof notebook at the end of the pool and would jot down notes between laps. But more ordinarily, I have a nice space with my picture book collection set up in my basement but I usually prefer to just sit on my living room couch or at my kitchen table and write on my laptop. Occasionally, if I’m having a hard time staying focused I’ll go to the library or a coffee shop to work. One thing that I’ve noticed is that I often come up with my best ideas when I’m driving or falling asleep. So a surprising amount of my writing originates as notes taken on my phone or whatever scrap of paper happens to be nearby. I have learned the hard way that these pieces of inspiration are lost if I don’t record them immediately, so I know to pull the car over when I need to jot something down and that it’s worth it to turn on that bedside lamp at record my idea even if it’s tempting to just roll-pver and fall asleep.

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

KERRI: I’m not very structured with my writing time (gasp!) and have never had much luck with the old butt in the chair technique. I’m more prone to just go about my day and write as the muse strikes. However, projects are ALWAYS stewing in my brain, even if I don’t have anything on paper to show for it. I take notes throughout the day and typically when enough of them build up I feel motivated to sit down and pull them together.

ME: Why do you write for children?

KERRI: Kids are my favorite kind of people!

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

KERRI:  I often hear beginning aspiring authors say that they can write better stories than what’s already out there. My advice here is that people’s tastes vary, and there is an audience for just about anything. So don’t compare your writing to books that are outside of your taste; compare it to the books that you most admire.  Take your time striving to get your work the best that it can be.

ME: What awesome advice, Kerri. TAKE YOUR TIME STRIVING TO GET YOUR WORK THE BEST THAT IT CAN BE!!! That’s a great mantra for all of us!

I know we are want to thank Kerri for her insights, her generous picture book manuscript critique giveaway, and for spending this precious time with us. But we’re not done yet!

I guess Kerri is part seer…she must have known that here on the East Coast, we have been hit by a blizzard and record cold temperatures and we are in need of some warm beverages. So pull out some of those previous cookie recipes and bake up a hatch and then…

KERRI: How about some hot cocoa to go with all of those cookies?

Homemade Hot Cocoa

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 Cup milk

Dash of salt

Multiply by desired number of servings. Heat until warm. Snuggle up and enjoy!

YUM! And while you are sipping your hot chocolate, don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway of A PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE from the lovely and talented Kerri Kokias! And after you do that, choose one or more of the following to help your favorite author:

1. One of the best ways is to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book review sites. 

2. Ask your local library to order the book…many libraries honor patron requests and some even have online request forms.

3. Buy a copy of the book.

4. And most importantly…TALK ABOUT THE BOOK…to friends, family, and anyone who will listen!

Amazingly, it is almost time to start talking about the #50PreciousWords writing challenge. The challenge opens March 2 – it celebrates the birthday of Dr. Seuss – last year we had 253 incredibly wonderful entries and 40 prizes! I’ve already got two kidlit powerhouses to help me. So, if you have a prize you’d like to donate (book, critique, original art, or anything a writer would love to have), please contact me at viviankirkfield@gmail.com or via FB or Twitter PM. This challenge brought out amazing talent…the 1st place winner in 2016 already has a contract for that story and a sequel to it! Many people who participated said it was the FIRST time they had ever submitted anything. That is a huge accomplishment for them right there! And the camaraderie and positivity that wove through the thread of over 2000 comments was a testament to what a beautiful kidlit world we are creating! The informational post will go up in mid February, but I just wanted to get the ball rolling.

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