Category Archives: Will Write for Cookies – Author/Illustrator interviews

Julie Segal Walters : Will Write for Cookies PLUS Picture Book Manuscript Critique Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INFORMATION – INSPIRATION – INSIGHT

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

Julie Segal Walters headshot (1)

JULIE SEGAL WALTERS

This kidlit community is teeming with incredible people and it’s been my honor to get to know many of them. Today’s guest is one of the founders of PicturetheBooks2017, a group of authors and illustrators whose debut picture books are launching this year. 

Julie Segal Walters is a children’s book author who lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, son, and pesky cat. Before writing for children, Julie was a lawyer and advocate for civil rights and civil liberties, and an international democracy and civil society development specialist. In those days, she was a frequent writer, public speaker, and commentator on NPR, Court TV, and C-Span on civic engagement and religious liberty. These days, Julie can be found advocating for her many favorite children’s books to anyone who will listen. Julie is fluent in Spanish, and loves to cook, but not bake. She thinks baking has too many rules. This Is Not A Normal Animal Book (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fall 2017is her first picture book (illustrated by Brian Biggs) . 

Welcome, Julie! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat!

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

JULIE: My favorite author as a child was Judy Blume. Like many kids my age, I read and re-read every book she wrote, and grew up along side her characters and their increasingly complex problems. From Sheila to Sally to Margaret to Deenie to Katherine, in my mind, Judy Blume was more friend than admired author. Through her books, she was always there for me. In her writing, she seemed to truly understand me. I’ve carried the appreciation for Judy Blume’s “friendship” with me FOREVER (Ha, ha! See what I did there?). In fact, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to slip her a little thank you note during a book signing event in D.C. Sometimes you just need tell complete strangers how much their work has meant to your life.

ME: Where do you like to write?

JULIE: My absolute most favorite place to write is on an airplane. I don’t know what it is but I have written more — both quantity and quality — on airplanes than in any other single location. I love it! I don’t know whether it’s the white noise, or the lack of internet, or the butt in chair that makes airplanes such a perfect place for me to write. If I could fly somewhere every day (or even every week), I would have many more polished manuscripts indeed! The same is not true for trains, however. Who knows why these things are the way they are.

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

JULIE: The “when” of writing for me remains frustratingly unroutinized. For the most part, though, I write during the middle of the day when my son is in school. Although I do love my productivity when I write early in the morning!

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

JULIE: Among the many things I know now that I wish I had known when I first started writing is, when starting out, don’t write with an eye toward publication.

Like so many picture book writers I know, I first began writing picture book texts when my son was young and I yearned to create and memorialize stories for him. The problem was, before I wrote all the stories for my son — the playful food experiences we shared, the book about always loving himself, and all the other “lesson-forward” tales, — I began researching everything I needed to know about writing and publishing for children. I joined SCBWI and attended a conference. I read blogs about page turns and querying agents and editors and leaving room for the illustrator. I got my writing critiqued.

The result? I took the business of writing for children seriously and learned a ton about both the craft of writing and the picture book market. I understood that writing picture books is not a hobby, that first drafts of 2,000 word stories about my young son will not sell, and that writing really means revising — over and over and over. I wrote a marketable story, and sold it relatively quickly. (Note: an experience I have not been able to repeat for subsequent books!) I was extremely fortunate to write and sell my first book, and am thrilled about my upcoming debut.

The other result, though, is that it’s five years later I still haven’t written those important-to-me lesson-forward stories for my son. I still haven’t figured out how to memorialize the playful food experiences we shared that remain an important-to-me memory of our time together, but that he doesn’t remember at all. I haven’t brought myself to take the time to write fiction stories that are not for publication (hopefully). I focused on my publishing pipeline and not on my reason for writing in the first place.

I wish I had known that would happen when I first started writing for children. I wish I had first just written for my child.

ME: Why do you write for children?

JULIE: The books that were important to me as a child remain the most important books in my life, and I’ve rarely if ever had a relationship with a book the same way as an adult. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to create something with the goal that it will find a special place in a child’s life. Whether it’s sharing fun facts, or making kids laugh, or helping them feel connected or seen in the world, everything I write is with an eye toward whether the story will be important to a child. It’s an honor to write for children, and I take my responsibility very serioiusly.

ME: Oh my goodness, Julie. I would love to take your answers and send them to every newbie/wannabe writer…it would save them so much meandering and going around in circles…you’ve laid out a perfect plan of action steps to becoming a serious kidlit writer! And I know you have some thoughts about your book that you’d like to share as well.

JULIE: Thank you, Vivian! It’s a privilege to share my book with you and your readers.

Animal Book cover

THIS IS NOT A NORMAL ANIMAL BOOK begins as a stroll through different types of animals, but quickly evolves into a disagreement between the author and illustrator over how to draw them, — in particular, the blobfish. Based on a Yiddish proverb, the book is a behind the scenes look at the picture book creation process, the importance of collaboration and compromise in the face of different opinions, and the beauty of both words and art. With a sprinkle of snark. THIS IS NOT A NORMAL ANIMAL BOOK is a commercial story that breaks the fourth wall, while remaining appropriate for classroom use. (It even includes nonfiction back matter!). You can read a review of Julie’s book from PW, and you can pre-order SIGNED books from Politics and Prose, buy it on Amazon, or request it from your favorite bookseller!

(Special note for educators: Visit my website on or after October 31st for a fun and informational teacher’s guide to the book!)

ME: And I’ll add another note for everyone…please please please…go to Amazon or Goodreads or other book sites and let the world know how much you love your favorite books by leaving a review.

And guess what…we are not done yet. Even though Julie says she is not a baker, she is sharing a super recipe for…well, I’ll let her tell you. Take it away, Julie!

Julie’s favorite cookie recipe:

The “Signature Cookie”

signature cookie 2

About 20 years ago, I was invited to a “bring a special dessert” party. I decided to tackle lemon squares, because I love the combination of sweet and tangy — in food and in life. I spent an entire day cutting butter into flour for the shortbread crust, zesting and squeezing lemons, slowly heating a lemon juice and egg mixture until it was curd but not curdled, and generally becoming irritated by the number rules to follow that caused too many dirty measuring implements and bowls in my apartment kitchen.

About 15 minutes before leaving for the party, I looked at my plate of elegant and delicious lemon squares and felt completely underwhelmed. How could something so high maintenance to bake be so paltry to look at? I decided that I couldn’t show up at the party without something more.

Luckily, I happened to always have a roll of chocolate chip slice-and-bake cookies in the fridge. I quickly grabbed a mini muffin tin, dropped a quartered slice-and-bake cookie into each cup, and popped the tray in the oven. During the 10 minutes it took for the cookies to bake, I peeled the wrappers off 12 mini Reese’s peanut butter cups. When the cookies were done, I pressed a peanut butter cup into each cookie, forming a crust around the candy. Five minutes later, a dozen chocolate glazed peanut butter cookies in a chocolate chip cookie crust sat alongside my divine lemon bars on my lap on the metro.

 

Do I need to tell what happened next?

My friends flipped for the peanut butter cup cookies! The precious lemon bars sat untouched and alone like me in my lemon chiffon dress at homecoming, while 15 people pleaded for the recipe for the chocolate peanut butter cookies.

I vowed that day that I would never bake anything other than those cookies for the rest of my life, and the signature cookie was born.

The Signature Cookie

Ingredients:

Mini muffin tin

Slice-and-Bake chocolate chip cookie (any brand)

Mini peanut butter cups

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice the cookie dough loaf into rounds (about 1/2 inch thick), and quarter each round.

Place one quartered dough chunk into each mini muffin tin cup, and put the tin in the oven for 8-12 minutes (checking for cookies to puff up, fill the cup, and brown slightly).

While the cookies bake, unwrap the peanut butter cups.

When the cookies are lightly browned on top, remove from oven.

Immediately insert one peanut butter cup into each cookie, pressing down gently so that cookie forms a crust around the candy.

signature cookie

Allow to cool slightly. Lift cookies out with a knife and cool completely on cooling rack.

Enjoy!

Total active time: 15 minutes.

WOW! I can’t wait to try this recipe, Julie! Thank you so very much…for the recipe, for your insights into the writing life, and also, for your VERY generous giveaway of a PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE. Dear readers, we ALL love getting feedback from a pro…so please leave a comment to be entered in the drawing!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…the leaves are coming into their glory in our little corner of New England…and the weather has been quite mild. Indian Summer is one of my favorite times of the year! I’m actually at a Picture Book Writing Intensive led by Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss at the Writer’s Loft in Sherbourne, Massachusetts. Next week, I’ll share a bit of what I learned!

 

Lori Alexander: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

INFORMATION, INSPIRATION, INSIGHT

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

Author Photo_Lori Alexander

LORI ALEXANDER

2017 is bursting with super picture books and I’ve been thrilled to feature their authors on my blog. I’m especially happy to welcome Lori…she’s a fabulous writer and a super lovely lady.

 Lori Alexander is the author of BACKHOE JOE (Harper Children’s), FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling Children’s) and the upcoming ALL IN A DROP, a biography of scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). She lives with her husband and two children under the star-filled skies of Tucson, AZ. 

Welcome, Lori! Thanks so much for stopping by to chat with us today. We’ll get right to the Q&A.

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

LORI: I remember reading lots of Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman books. My brother and I loved Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL and KATY AND THE BIG SNOW. Arnold Lobel’s FROG AND TOAD books were favorites, too. But above all, it was CHRISTINA KATERINA AND THE BOX by Patricia Lee Gauch. Oh, how I loved the wonderful things Christina Katerina crafted with that refrigerator box: a castle, a clubhouse, a race car, a dance floor. Time and again, she rescued her creations from her tidy mother (and the garbage bin!). And when the poor box got wet and disintegrated on the front lawn, there was still a happy ending—two new boxes!

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

LORI: Things get easier…and more difficult. The various aspects of writing get easier as you hone your craft. I’m much more comfortable with character development, plot structure, pacing, page turns, word choice, etc. But at the same time, writing is more difficult than when I first began. I tend to self-edit too early in the process. I don’t always give my ideas a chance because right from the get-go, I’m trying to judge their marketability. When I first started out, I wrote with more freedom because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I suppose the learning never ends, no matter where you are in the process.

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

LORI: I usually write inside at the shared family computer in our great room. Needless to say, I get more done when my kids are at school.

workspace

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

LORI: As the muse strikes, but mostly mid-day when the kid count is zero. I haven’t had much luck sticking with a strict writing schedule.

desert view

ME: Why do you write for children?

LORI: The challenge! Holding the attention of a classroom of kindergartners is the very best kind of tricky. And making kids laugh is addicting.

reading with kids

 

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.

LORI: Advice to aspiring writers! When I read interviews, this is my favorite part. I always hope a seasoned writer will spill the beans and dole out some first-rate advice that will make my next story flow from my fingertips, sell to the first editor who reads it, and rocket to the top of the bestseller list. As soon as I find that seasoned writer with the stellar advice, I’ll be sure to pass it on! J

For now: read lots of current books in your genre, hone your craft, seek out critique partners, and don’t give up no matter how many rejections you collect.

As for educators and librarians, I’ve spent a ton of time volunteering at my kids’ public elementary school, in both the classrooms and the library. The energy, care, and grace you put into your work never ceases to amaze me. Thank you! Thank you!    

ME: WOW! This is fabulous, Lori! I especially love your advice to READ, JOIN CRITIQUE GROUPS, HONE YOUR CRAFT, and NEVER GIVE UP!!!!

And I’m sure part of the advice you didn’t add is to keep your energy up with yummy treats, right Lori? I’m a fan of the recipe you are sharing…it’s perfect to prepare with kids!

LORI: Although this is not a cookie recipe, it’s our go-to when we want a quick, sweet treat (and it’s been a hit at school bake sales). We call them something different each time we make a batch. In this case…

Famously Phoebe’s Star Bars

recipe photo

6 cups crisp rice cereal

1 bag mini marshmallows

3 bags white chocolate chips

1 bag mini chocolate chips

1 cup peanut butter (almond butter would work, too, if allergies are a concern)

Melt the white chocolate chips over low heat. Stir in peanut butter. Remove from heat and add rice cereal. Stir gently. Then stir in mini marshmallows (they don’t need to melt) and half bag of mini chocolate chips. Line rimmed cookie sheet with parchment. Pour mixture onto cookie sheet and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle top with remaining mini chocolate chips. Refrigerate for about an hour. Cut into bars and enjoy!

Dear friends, you can find out more about Lori on her website at lorialexanderbooks.com or follow her on Twitter at @LoriJAlexander

And don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of FAMOUSLY PHOEBE.

Phoebe cover JPEG

Have a wonderful weekend! I’m behind on awarding our giveaways, so next Friday, I’ll be announcing the ones from the last three posts.

Katey Howes: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT, INFORMATION, INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

KathrynHeadshots-40 (2)

KATEY HOWES

Author Katey Howes is actually a very special person in my life. Facebook friends and fellow kidliters, we met online in writing challenges. Then, in March 2015, I noticed on Twitter that she had just signed with Storm Literary Agency. I had never heard of Storm, nor of the agent, Essie White. So, I hopped over to their website…and fell in love. And the rest is history!

Katey Howes is a fierce advocate of not just literacy, but of raising kids who love to read. She treasures those moments when books allow children to relate their experience to the greater world, or when their curiosity skyrockets from interest to obsession. Katey tries to weave her passion for nature, travel, science, and creativity, as well as her sense of wonder, into stories that make children think more deeply, explore more broadly, and laugh a little bit louder.

Katey is the author of GRANDMOTHER THORN (Ripple Grove Press, Aug. 2017) and MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE (Sterling, Jan. 2, 2018.) Katey is a team member at All the Wonders and founding member of Picture the Books.  You can get to know Katey better at www.kateyhowes.com or by following her on Twitter @kateywrites or on Instagram @kidlitlove. 

ME: Welcome, Katey! I’m so very excited to have you here today. I could chat with you forever, but first let’s get to the Q&A.

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

KATEY: I’ve always loved rabbits, so many of my favorite books as a child were bunny books. I still have my battered and much-loved copy of A Home For a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, as well as I Am A Bunny by Ole Risom. I think those two books shaped my illustration preferences for a long time – I still get a warm, fond feeling over illustrations that remind me of Garth Williams’ or Richard Scarry’s signature styles.

 

As an older child, I gravitated toward epic adventures, from The Chronicles of Narnia to The Dark is Rising. I also loved nature stories, science fiction, and historical fiction. Prolific authors were big favorites, too – I always wanted more of the characters and voices I loved. I had shelves dedicated to L.M. Montgomery, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony and Cynthia Voight.  My fondness for bunnies continued – I’ve read my copy of Watership Down (given to me by my middle school librarian) so many times that the cover completely fell off.

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

KATEY: I wish I had known how much a manuscript changes from inception to publication!  I must have wasted hours agonizing over illustration notes that wouldn’t matter to the illustrator, word choices that would change ten times after acquisition, word counts that would expand and shrink over rounds of revision. It’s important to realize that, while every detail is important, none is immutable, and that other voices and opinions and viewpoints will influence the manuscript many times before it sits on a bookshelf. I could have spared myself a lot of heartache and headaches if I knew that sooner.

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

KATEY: I prefer peace and quiet to write. For a long time, the only place I could really find that was in my little office in the basement. Now that we’ve moved to a more rural location, I can sit on my screened porch without interruption from anyone but the birds. It’s perfect.  I jot ideas in notebooks and on sticky notes, and I sketch out rough dummies by hand, but I prefer to do the real drafting of a manuscript on my laptop. There’s an option to turn the keystroke sound off – but I like it on. Loud. That tappity typing sound makes me feel very productive.  

61ZmxqpNLaL._SY497_BO1,204,203,200_

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

KATEY: In the summer, my family keeps me busy, and while I have time to write, it has to be flex-time. Once the kids are back in school, I try to focus on writing, revising, studying, reading, promoting, and all that jazz from 8:30am until 3pm. I’m not much good at writing in the early morning hours (by which I mean all hours before my third cup of coffee) but I find I can use that time to read and critique my CP’s manuscripts while I load up on caffeine – and their work usually inspires me to buckle down and create my own. If the day goes according to plan, I take what I call “a writer’s nap” around two in the afternoon. With no plans to actually sleep, I curl up on the couch with a cozy blanket, set a timer for 20 minutes, and give my brain permission to drift and dream. I find a lot of solutions to writing problems that way, and always feel reenergized afterwards.

ME: Why do you write for children?

KATEY: I don’t think I have a choice. I’ve done a lot of other things with my life –  things I’ve enjoyed, things that came easily, things that made more sense or more money – but my path keeps bringing me inexorably back to children and to books.

ME: WOW…Katey…you struck several chords with me in this Q&A. Everything you said about spending time on the illustrator notes and worrying about word choices and word counts (which are, of course, important…but not the way we agonize over them since they ARE going to change) is true. And you’ve given me a wonderful plan of action…that 20 minute afternoon siesta sounds like a great idea! But now i know you have another Great Idea…the recipe you are sharing!

KATEY: My daughters and I love to cook together. We decided to try out a new recipe to go with GRANDMOTHER THORN. In the story, Ojisaan brings Grandmother sweets from the village each time he visits. On one occasion, he brings “a parcel of sweet dorayaki.”

Dorayaki are a traditional, casual Japanese treat made of two small, sweet pancakes sandwiched around a filing of anko – a sweet red bean paste. We watched several videos (I recommend Japanese Cooking 101 for a great instructional video) and read a few recipes, tried a package of pre-made dorayaki, and then tried our hand at making our own – with a twist. This is a very easy recipe for kids to participate in – they especially loved squeezing the “sandwiches” together at the end. We hope you enjoy!

Dorayaki-New-IVPhoto courtesy: https://www.justonecookbook.com/dorayaki-japanese-red-bean-pancake/

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T honey
  • 3/4 c milk
  • Fillings: Traditional: Anko (red bean paste – can be found at an Asian grocery or ordered online. We bought ours through Amazon.)

Twist: Nutella, Peanut Butter, or Jam (we used our homemade blackberry jam)

 

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, and honey together.
  3. Add milk to liquid ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add dry ingredients to liquid mixture. Stir or whisk until smooth.
  5. Spray a nonstick pan or griddle with a generous amount of cooking spray like Pam.
  6. Pour batter onto hot griddle or pan to make round, pancake-like cakes. About 1/8 cup of batter makes a nice-sized cake.
  7. Cook about 2 minutes – until the bubbles pop, leaving little holes. Flip over and cook 1-2 more minutes. Don’t let it dry out – moist cakes work best!
  8. Transfer to a plate. Cover with a wet paper towel to keep them moist until you cook all the batter.
  9. When you have all your cakes cooked, it’s time to sandwich them! Place one cake on a square of plastic wrap. Top it with a big spoonful of your favorite filling. Put another cake on top.
  10. Wrap the sandwich tightly in the plastic wrap and squeeze together. Pinch the edges to seal.
  11. Keep wrapped until ready to eat!

This is awesome, Katey! Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope everyone will leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway of an authographed copy of GRANDMOTHER THORN, compliments of Katey!

Have a safe and happy weekend, dear readers!

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