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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!

Baptiste Paul: Will Write for Cookies PLUS Giveaway

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

Plate of Cookies

INSIGHT – INSPIRATION – INFORMATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

baptiste_headshot

BAPTISTE PAUL

In 2016, I attended the Wild Wild West SCBWI conference in Chicago and got to meet our Will Write for Cookies guest. His wife, our own Miranda Paul, was signing some of her books and I had a chance to chat with Baptiste. I don’t know if he will remember…I’ll have to ask him. But we talked about books and families and it was lovely. And when I discovered he had a debut picture book coming out in March, I knew I wanted to have him stop by to share some of his journey with us.

Baptiste Paul is a man of many talents—from woodworking to gardening to entertaining hoards of children for hours on end. Born and raised in the Caribbean (Saint Lucia), Baptise is a native Creole/Patois speaker and enjoys roasting his own coffee and chocolate. Baptiste holds Degrees in Environmental Studies and Political Science from Bucknell University and currently resides with his family in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His debut picture book, THE FIELD, launched on March 6, 2018.

Welcome, Baptiste! Thank you so much for stopping by to visit with us. I’ve got a bunch of questions and we’d all love to hear your answers, so let’s get started. Read the rest of this entry

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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