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

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!

TARA LUEBBE: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

 

Carl-Kerridge-Photography-Lifestyle-Portraits-Tara-Luebbe-80-Edit

TARA LUEBBE

Our Will Write for Cookies guest is on fire! Entering her debut picture book year with TWO entries, she has another already in the pipeline for 2019 and another for 2020! WOW! You can see why I wanted to have her stop by to chat with us!

 

Tara Luebbe is an ex-retailer turned picture book author. She co-writes with her sister Becky Cattie. They are the authors of I AM FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff; SHARK NATE-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan; I USED TO BE FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff, (Albert Whitman Spring 2019); and CONAN THE LIBRARIAN (Roaring Brook Press 2020). You can learn more at beckytarabooks.com and you can find her on Twitter @t_luebbe.

Tara, thank you so much for spending your precious time with us. I know everyone is excited to learn more about you, so let’s get started.

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

TARA: My favorite picture book author was Jolly Roger Bradford, and I still love The Flying Hockey Stick and Pickle Chiffon Pie. When I became an independent reader, I devoured all things Hardy Boys, the Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, and the Black Hand Gang books by Hans Jurgen Press.

Shark Nate-O cvr (1)

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

TARA: I wish I had known that it’s very difficult to feel successful in this business as the bar never stops moving. When I was unpublished, the goals were simple: get an agent and sell a book. But now that I have done those things, there are new goals. So it’s hard to simply stop and smell the roses. Also the rejections and things that make you feel insecure don’t go away.

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

TARA: I always write on a laptop. I wish I could take the laptop outside some days, but the glare problem never quite works out for me. I have commandeered our dining room as my “office.”

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

 

TARA: I work every day from the time my kids are off to school until they return around 3pm. I usually get in another hour of something writing related after my boys are in bed, from around 9pm to 10pm. Most of this time is not spent on actual writing, however. Launching two books this year, most of my “work” has to do with marketing and other necessary, related items. As far as writing new stories, I don’t do it until I have an idea that is fairly developed in my brain. As soon as the marketing phase calms down, I need to come up with a system that allows me to spend more distraction- free time working on new ideas. And I am a bit unique in that I have a co-author, my sister Becky Cattie. Becky has a day job, so I try to leave her alone as much as possible during the weekdays. Then on the weekends she will review everything I have queued up for her. But if we have urgent issues or edits due, we will jump on the phone during the week.

ME: Why do you write for children?

TARA: I write for children because those are the books I have a natural aptitude for. I owned a children’s toy and bookstore in my previous life, so I was immersed in picture books both at home with my children and at work. I understand them the best and felt a calling to try to write them myself.

I_Am_Famous (2)

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. 🙂

TARA: If you are an aspiring picture book writer or illustrator, please check out my website (www.beckytarabooks.com) for information on Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for picture book writers and illustrators.

Oh yes…everyone…if you don’t know about Tara’s amazing WRITING WITH THE STARS mentorship program, please bookmark that website and check it out. I know quite a few kidlit friends who can’t say enough wonderful things about how much they loved it! Working one on one with a pro is such a gift…THANK YOU, Tara, for providing the platform for writers to connect and learn and grow in their craft.

And Tara is sweet in other ways as well. she’s waiting to share a GLUTEN FREE NO BAKE cookie recipe…take it away, Tara!

TARA: I had to go gluten-free last year so I don’t bake much anymore, but this is a childhood favorite that I can still eat. These taste better than they look!

cookies

Unbaked Oatmeal Balls

¼ c. butter

¾ c. sugar

½ c. grated raw apple

1 ½ T. cocoa powder

1 ½ c. quick cooking rolled oats

¼ t. salt

½ c. chopped raisins

½ t. vanilla

(optional powdered sugar)

Melt butter in saucepan. Add sugar, apple, cocoa and salt. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Add oatmeal, raisins and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper. When cold, roll into balls and roll into powdered sugar if desired.

What a fabulous recipe for parents to try with young kids. Gluten-free…and No-Bake…what a great combination!

I think I will give it a try this weekend…my 9-year old grandson is sleeping over tonight…and I have all of the ingredients!

Thank you, all, for stopping by and spending time here. And I know we all thank Tara for sharing her journey with us. Please leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway of a copy of SHARK NATE-O.

LAURA SASSI: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

headshot

 

LAURA SASSI

We are so very fortunate to have generous mentors like today’s Will Write for Cookies guest. I’ve been a fan of Laura Sassi for years. Her website is a treasure trove of information and resources for parents, teachers, and writers. So, I was thrilled when she agreed to stop by and chat with us today.

Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014) and GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz, 2015), DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling, 2018), and LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie.

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Welcome, Laura! It’s wonderful to have you here. I know everyone is excited to get to know you a little better. 
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child? 

Laura: I loved reading as a child and my all-time favorite author was Madeleine L’Engle. I loved her writing so much that as a twelve year-old— in quick succession – I read every book she’d written up to that point.  And now, with the recent release of the A Wrinkle In Time movie, I’m enjoying rereading that book – which was the first book of hers I ever read – with my daughter. We just finished it last week and it’s as marvelous as I remember.  Read the rest of this entry

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