Posted by viviankirkfield
WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
Most of you know I am a great fan of critique groups. They help us in so many ways…not just with their suggestions and feedback on manuscripts, but also with support and encouragement regarding all aspects of our lives. I’m blessed to be a member of several amazing critique groups and I’m always thrilled to meet my critique partners at conferences and retreats. Last July, at the WOW Retreat in Georgia, I got to hug two of my favorite writing buddies, Linda Hofke (on the right) and Ellen Leventhal (in the middle). And you guessed it…Ellen is our guest today!
While growing up in New Jersey. Ellen Leventhal didn’t dream of bluebonnet fields, but she did dream of writing books. Ellen has a master’s degree in education and has been writing for and with her students for many years. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and is the proud mother of two grown sons, and three grandchildren who love bluebonnets, Longhorns, and just about anything Texan.
I’m thrilled to welcome you to Picture Books Help Kids Soar, Ellen!
ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
I can’t remember all the authors’ names, but I sure do remember the stories. A few of the many picture books that stick in my mind are all the Curious George books (especially the hospital one, for some reason), Babar, Madeline, and Caps for Sale. I can remember trying to balance a bunch of hats on my head like the man in Caps for Sale. As I got a little older, I read all the Nancy Drew books as well as the Cherry Ames series. Some people may not be familiar with Cherry Ames, but she was a nursing student and then a nurse. I lived close to a hospital, and I really wanted to be a nurse, just like Cherry Ames. Hmm…as I re-read this, I see I had kind of a “hospital thing” going on when I was a kid. That couldn’t be farther from who I am now.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I wish I knew how difficult it is to write a good picture book! Or maybe I’m glad I didn’t know. If I had known, I wonder if I would have forged ahead. I had been writing poetry and even wrote an MG story with Ellen Rothberg (who is my coauthor on a few books), but when our first picture book was accepted, the revision process was crazy!! A very nice editor told me that I was a good writer, but didn’t know how to write picture books. Many years, classes, tears, and chocolate later, I still struggle, but I love it.
The other thing I wish I knew is the value of critique groups. My next picture book, Lola Can’t Leap, will be out in March 2018, and if it were not for all my critique buddies (including the wonderful Vivian Kirkfield), it would be sitting in a drawer. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but having good critique buddies is absolutely the best thing about this business.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
My initial brainstorm is usually scribbled in a spiral, legal pad, or whatever scrap of paper I have handy. That can happen anywhere, including the dark lobby of a Chinese restaurant waiting for my take-out order. (Yes, that just happened.) When I get to the actual writing part, I usually write in my home office on my desk top computer. But sometimes I need a change of scenery, and I bring my lap top to a coffee shop. That only works if I’m totally “in the zone.” If I’m not, I tend to get distracted. Sometimes that’s a good thing because I’ve gotten story ideas from watching people.
ME: When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
My goal is to set a real schedule to write, but I am not there yet. I am trying very hard to make writing time a priority. I try to write every day, but it’s not always for as long as I’d like. I can’t say if I’m more productive during the day or in the evening because it depends on so many different factors. To be honest, I’m more of a muse seeker, and when that muse visits, I immediately stop when I’m doing and indulge her.
ME: Why do you write for children?
The first answer that pops into my head is “Why not?” But of course, it’s more complicated than that. I’ve always loved literacy and being with children. So, writing for kids felt right.
Children need to feel like they belong. They need to feel that they are not alone in their fears, dreams, and idiosyncrasies. If I can at least try to add to a child’s sense of self while making them smile, it’s something I need to do.
And of course, the bonus of writing for children is getting to share my stories with them. I never get tired of that.
ME: Ellen, if you have any special tips or thoughts for writers, teachers, parents…please share.
Here’s something funny about stories. One day I was teaching a creative writing class, and a book that Ellen Rothberg and I wrote was on the shelf. A child said, “I love that book! I read it almost every night. The lady who wrote it came to my school.” It took a while for the child to realize that I was that lady, but I thought it was great. I don’t need to be remembered, but I hope my stories are.
As I said, a new book is coming out in March, but I’m also very excited about a “re-boot” of an older one that is out now. Several years ago, Ellen Rothberg and I wrote the book, Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, but unfortunately, it went out of print. However, we loved the book and didn’t want it to die a slow death. We wanted a new generation of children to read it, but we knew the picture book market had changed. We took a leap of faith and embraced an opportunity most people don’t get. Instead of giving up, we updated. We cut down the word count, illustrator, Joel Cook, took the art in a new direction, and I am happy to say, Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, Ten Year Anniversary Edition hit bookstores this past spring.
ME: Hurray!!! I’m so thrilled that BLUEBONNETS is back, bigger and better than ever. If any of you missed the Perfect Picture Book Review I did yesterday, please go here. https://viviankirkfield.com/2017/06/09/perfect-picture-book-friday-dont-eat-the-bluebonnets-plus-critique-giveaway/
For information on Ellen’s other books and her availability for school visits, please check out her website at www.EllenLeventhal.com
Now, before we say goodbye, Ellen has a fabulous recipe to share with us. It’s something with chocolate so I am smiling already. Take it away, Ellen!!!
I must admit that I did not come up with this on my own, but I make it whenever dessert is called for. It’s from www.allrecipes.com, and it’s yummy!
Chocolate Trifle Recipe
I package brownie mix
I package instant chocolate pudding
½ C water
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (8oz) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (12 oz) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
Prepare brownie mix according to package and cool. Cut into 1 inch squares.
In a large bowl combine pudding mix, water, and condensed milk. Mix until smooth.
Fold in 8 ounces whipped topping until no streaks remain.
In a trifle bowl or glass serving dish, place half of the brownies, half of the pudding mix, and half of the 12 ounce container of whipped topping. Repeat layers.
Garnish any way you’d like.
Refrigerate 8 hours before serving.
WOW…this looks amazing, Ellen! If I make it, I will eat it. And if I eat it, I will have to hide the scale. 😉
I know everyone is clapping, Ellen. Thank you for participating.
Dear friends, if you’d like to be entered in the giveaway for a picture book manuscript critique from Ellen (and I can tell you from experience that she give wonderful feedback), please make sure you leave a comment.
And if you’d like to thank Ellen for her insights, please leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Book reviews are so very important in this business.
Thank you all for stopping by…I love visiting with friends!
Posted by viviankirkfield
When I first started blogging, I posted every day…YIKES! What was I thinking! Menu Monday (a child-friendly recipe), Timeless Tuesday (several quotations), What’s in Your Child’s Bookcase Wednesday (picture book review), Healthy Habit Thursday (health tip related to children), Follow Me Friday (school or library visits), Saturday Reflections and Cinema Sunday (kid-flick review).
Lately, I’ve been focusing on my writing for children, so I’ve cut down on my blogging…usually only posting once a week. But today is my FOURTH day in a row of posting!!!!
And what a special post this is!
Recently, my dear friend, picture book author Clarike Bowman-Jahn, tagged me in an author-illustrator writing process blog hop and, since I am knee-deep in revisions and up-to-my-neck in story ideas, it seemed like the perfect time to participate.
By the way, Clarike’s NEWEST picture book, Edmund Pickle Chin – A Donkey Rescue Story (co-authored by Susan April Elwood and illustrated by Lynne Bendoly) is HOT OFF THE PRESS. Click here to check out the ebook version. I’ll be reviewing it as part of her book blog tour.
Clarike has also undertaken a huge memoir project. Her blog provides all kinds of wonderful resources and links for writers. Why not stop by and say hello.
The hop has four questions…so hold on to your hats…here are my answers!
- WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
I almost feel guilty calling this work. I’m having so much fun and I get so much joy from writing – It does not feel like work. I’m part of the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge…this encourages me to stay on task and write at least one picture book draft every month…I’m working on that draft right now. I also participate in two critique groups where I submit a manuscript each month for critique and then I get to critique the stories of my critique buddies…that means NINE critiques I need to do…plus this month, I’m participating in Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo and I’m in a critique group for that…so an additional two critiques each week. I am learning so much from critiquing someone else’s manuscript AND reading the critiques that the others do. I’m currently polishing one picture book manuscript to resubmit to a small niche publisher…polishing another to submit to a small publisher who I met through Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo…polishing a rhyming picture book to submit as an entry into the Golden Quill RhyPiBoMo poetry contest. I’ll bet you can see the sparkle from all of that polishing. I’m also planning to try my hand at a picture book about dinosaurs (yes, I know, there are 10,000 of them already) and one about the All-American Girl’s Baseball League of the 40’s and 50’s.
- HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
Sometimes I don’t feel my work does differ…in fact, sometimes, I pick up a book, turn the pages, and say – OH NO! THAT WAS MY IDEA! Has that ever happened to you? But I do know that all of my writing for children contains a core of positivity – my background in early childhood education and my own positive outlook on life lead me to do that. I am trying to learn to add humor because I know that kids love a funny book…and if they don’t love it, they won’t read it!
- WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I’ve always loved books. I know how important a book can be…one book CAN make a difference in a child’s life. I hope that my books will bring a smile to a child’s face and help a child approach life with a positive attitude.
- HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I’m a pantser, not a plotter. I get an idea – hear a phrase – see something interesting – and I want to write about it. So I sit down and write. And then I look it over and cross out a lot and write some more. When I am pretty happy with what I’ve written, I go over it for spelling and grammar and then I submit it to my critique groups. I take their feedback and suggestions and revise. And then begin again. Look over – cross out – write some more. Submit to critique groups. When I feel it is ready, I submit it – but that hasn’t happened as much as I had hoped this year – I plan to improve that for the second half of 2014.
I think this is a perfect time to speak a bit about studying the craft of writing. I know we’ve all met people (some of them writers) who think that writing for children is as easy as 1,2,3. And most believe that writing a picture book is a piece of cake. Well, take it from me…if it is a piece of cake, it is a piece of the most complex layer cake you have ever eaten! The spark or idea is just the tip of the iceberg…there are so many elements (character, plot, structure, strong beginning, satisfying ending, etc.) that go into writing a great story…and once that is written, you are only just starting the process. Many revisions later, it is time to let other eyes look at it. Then, based on the feedback, more revisions.
You can learn a lot about writing for children from books…there are many excellent ones out there…Ann Whitford Paul’s is my favorite. Attending conferences is another layer that can help…the workshops and presentations will teach you so much. But there is something else that can add so much to your understanding of the whole process – taking a class. And with everyone’s busy schedules, the online courses that are offered are perfect!
In February, I attended Susanna Leonard Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic class. I only wish I had taken it last year when she first offered it.
- THE LESSONS – 5 weeks of in-depth lessons that addressed every important element in writing picture books
- THE ONE-ON-ONE ATTENTION – Susanna was an incredible mentor – commenting and giving personal help every day
- THE SMALL GROUP SETTING – Susanna keeps the group size low – I believe the classes cannot have more than 8
- THE CAMARADERIE – There was a wonderful feeling of comfort and trust amongst the participants in my class…I know we will be helping each other out with critiques and encouraging words as we continue writing in the future
One of the greatest joys of being part of this writing community is connecting with other like-minded souls. It is now my pleasure to introduce to you FOUR amazing women who are also passionate about their writing. Cathi is a gifted artist and illustrator who wrote an amazing book about kites which I reviewed last year…Ellen is one of my RhyPiBoMo critique buddies…and she introduced me to Monica and Artemis…see how this amazing spider web works.
Originally from Colorado, Cathi currently lives and works in Madison, Connecticut where she owns a Creative Design Services Studio: C & D Studios. She is a working artist, illustrator, photographer, publisher and designer and, although the projects, subjects and work objectives have changed over time, the passions, artistry and skills have sharpened with new experiences, resources and challenges.
She finds herself drawn towards designing for the web where she likes to empower clients with emerging resources. Cathi is also a member of the SCBWI Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the NESCBWI New England Connections SCBWI. Her photography and photojournalism work has been recognized by The Connecticut Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ annual excellence in journalism awards 2008 for published magazine covers and for photo-journalism stories. She handles web design, identity, branding, logos, photography and illustration for clients internationally and offers training, consultation and all kinds of design services for print and for the web. Cathi works with several Art galleries throughout New England as well. As an illustrator she is best known for her work illustrating College Mascots for the CBC Collection – officially licensed and approved Fine Art Illustration work for institutions and retail product lines. As a children’s writer, she is best known for her picture book, Be The Kite.
Find out more about Cathi here: http://www.bethekite.com/about-the-authorartist/
Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in the Houston, TX area. Ellen has a BA in Elementary Education and an M.Ed. in Special Education. She began her career as a special education teacher and currently works part time with students in second through eighth grade. Ellen’s writer’s dream came true when her first children’s book, Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, was published in 2006. Hayfest, A Holiday Quest and Bully in the Barnyard soon followed. Now she is busy working on a middle grade chapter book, another picture book, and a compilation of essays. Ellen’s favorite part of her work is visiting schools and sharing her stories and passion for literacy. She loves working with and learning from other writers and the children she meets along the way.
Monica Shaughnessy draws on her experience as a lifelong Texan by creating characters larger than the Lone Star State. Her works span multiple genres, including adult mystery/suspense, YA, middle grade, and picture book, but they all carry her signature offbeat style. If you’re looking for something outside the mainstream, you’ll find it in her work. When she’s not slaying adverbs and polishing prose, she’s either hanging out with her rescue dogs or stargazing in her backyard.
Artemis Greenleaf has always been fascinated by the mysterious, and she devoured fairy tales, folk tales and ghost stories since before she could read. In 1995, she had a near-death experience which turned her perception of the world upside down. She lived to tell the tale (and often does, in one form or another), and went on to marry an alien. She lives in the suburban wilds of Houston, Texas with her husband, two children and assorted pets. She writes novels, short stories, and non-fiction.
For more information, please visit artemisgreenleaf.com.
I hope you all enjoyed meeting the four authors I tagged.
I know they all plan to do author/illustrator writing process blog hop posts…I hope you will go and visit them to say hello…and perhaps some of you know them already!
Now I’m off to work on my poetry submission for RhyPiBoMo…or maybe it’s time for some popcorn and a movie with hubby!
Tags: Artemis Greenleaf, Cathi Bosco, children's author Susanna Leonard Hill, Clarike Bowman-Jahn, Edmund Pickle Chin - A Donkey Rescue Story, Ellen Leventhal, Making Picture Book Magic, Monica Shaughnessy, Writing Process Blog Hop