Emma Bland Smith: Will Write for Cookies PLUS GIVEAWAY

 

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

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INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

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EMMA BLAND SMITH

Joining Storm Literary Agency connected me with a wonderful family of awesome authors and illustrators. They are smart and super supportive. And I’m thrilled to welcome one of them to Will Write for Cookies.

Emma Bland Smith is a mom, librarian, and writer. She was born in Scotland, grew up in San Francisco, and has lived in New York, Santa Barbara, and Paris…no wonder she wrote a book called Journey. Now she’s back home in San Francisco, living a block away from the house she grew up in. Her past careers have included magazine editor and French teacher. Today she works part-time as a librarian and fills the rest of her time volunteering at her kids’ school, leading a Girl Scouts troop, driving to baseball practice, cooking, gardening, and writing.  

Emma, I’m not sure how you find time for the writing with all those other activities…but thank goodness you do. I want to remind everyone that there will be a giveaway of a copy of Emma’s BRAND NEW picture book, Journey: The Most Famous Wolf in the West (click here to read my Perfect Picture Book Friday review)…so please stick with us throughout the post and then leave a comment at the end.

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

 EMMA:

I was definitely a book worm, and the first books I remember reading on my own, starting in about first grade, were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So many lines from those books, along with the evocative illustrations by Garth Williams, are ingrained in my mind! After that, the book I remember the most clearly is Ramona the Pest. I used to get so indignant on Ramona’s behalf, when the she got in trouble for pulling Susan’s curls! I loved Henry Higgins, too. I remember practically dying of anxiety when Henry smuggled Ribsy onto the bus in a box, and Ribsy slowly began to wiggle his way out of the box, to Henry’s horror. The way that Beverly Cleary makes the reader pull for her characters is extraordinary. When I got older, I read the entire Green Gables series over and over until they fell apart. In about sixth grade I began reading James Herriot and Gerald Durrell, and their beautiful imagery, compassion, humor, and language were very influential for me years later, when I began to write.

Picture books I remember from childhood and still love include Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Charlie Needs a Cloak, Dogger (and anything by Shirley Hughes), and Madeline.

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

EMMA:  

I should say that I wish I had known what a long haul this journey would be. I started writing about seven years ago, and of course I expected to get published right away! However, if someone had told me that my first book wouldn’t come out for seven years, I probably would have given up, so maybe it’s for the best that I started out so naïve!

I wish I had read more books and blogs about picture book writing, attended more conferences, and taken more classes. It took me a few years to jump into the kidlit world with both feet. Now that I’m here, I learn something every day.

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ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?

EMMA:

I write either on the sofa or out in the backyard, with my computer on my lap. (Sitting outside can be very effective. It’s harder to get out there, but once I’m there, I’m not as distracted by constantly nagging housework, paperwork, and other obligations.) The only time I’ll write with pen and paper is when I’m out and get inspiration on the run. Then I’ll frantically make notes on notebooks, receipts, anything I can find. (I highly recommend something like this! If I don’t jot things down, I will forget them, no matter how sure I was that they’d stick with me!)

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?

EMMA:

As soon as my kids are at school, I sit down and dig into any real writing I might have on my plate. I don’t write on schedule and my work is pretty varied. On any given day, I might work on critiques for my critique partners, revise a manuscript and send it to my agent, start something new, or work on an article for Red Tricycle. And there are plenty of days I don’t write at all. I definitely work as the muse strikes, but I don’t procrastinate much, so if someone asks me for a revision, I usually get it done within a few days.

ME: Why do you write for children?

EMMA:

I write for children because I want to be part of what I think is the most beautiful, dynamic, challenging literary field. When my kids were young, I was reading them all these wonderful books, and I remember being so amazed at the quality of children’s literature. One of the first picture books that made me want to be a children’s book writer was Someday, by Alison McGhee. That book just slayed me with its lyricism and ability to touch the emotions. Another inspiration was the Henry and Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant. I would love to create books that grab readers the way these do.

ME: Emma, 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.

EMMA:

One thing I’d recommend to beginning writers is to think about looking for an agent first, rather than submitting mostly to publishers. Although some writers do land a book contract on their own, unagented, it’s hard. Once you have an agent, you have someone on your side, who has access to all the houses, and who will take care of all submissions, so that you can focus on writing.

And the single most important thing new writers can do is join a critique group! It can be in person or online. I learn so much from critiquing and reading other people’s critiques. It can be a little hard to receive criticism, and sometimes I need a few days to digest major edits. (The worst is always hearing that everyone likes the concept and the beginning, but that the middle and ending don’t work at all!) But eventually, I end up seeing their points, and I revise the manuscript and send it right back for another round. Most of my manuscripts simply wouldn’t exist without the help of my critique partners!

Oh, Emma! I totally agree with you…critique groups are such an important part of our writing journey. And I thank you so very much for participating in Will Write for Cookies…this was so much fun!

 And for all of you who want to find out more about Emma and her awesome book or get in touch with her:

Twitter

Facebook

Author Website

Okay friends…please take a breath…because we are not finished yet. Emma has shared one of her favorite cookie recipes.

Lace Cookies

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Our whole family looks forward to these cookies every year at the holidays! The recipe, from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, is incredibly easy to make, and after you try one, it will become one of your regulars, too!

1 ½ cups uncooked oatmeal

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

2 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup melted butter

1 egg, slightly beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the oatmeal, sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then add the eggs and vanilla and combine. Arrange the batter by teaspoonful, about 2 inches apart, on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly, removing the cookies from the cookie sheet with a spatula as soon as they are firm.

What a perfect recipe for the holidays…a million thanks, Emma!

And now, dear friends, don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Emma’s beautiful picture book. If you could take a journey to anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…and all good wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving.

Pat Zietlow Miller: Will Write for Cookies PLUS GIVEAWAY

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

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PAT ZIETLOW MILLER

Writing a book is a big thing. And getting it published is even bigger. My guest today is amazing…she has done this not once, not twice, but many times…and she is not done yet. That’s why I was so thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for Will Write for Cookies.


Pat Zietlow Miller has five picture books in print and five more on the way. Her debut, SOPHIE’ S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book text, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. It also won the Midwest Region Crystal Kite Award and was a Cybils’ finalist. WHEREVER YOU GO briefly made Midwest Booksellers bestseller list and won a Crystal Kite Award and SHARING THE BREAD was the No. 1 Amazon.com release for new Thanksgiving books. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two particular cats.

Please make sure you read down to the end of the post to find out how to get entered into the GIVEAWAY for a copy of Pat’s newest book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School.

I know Pat’s got so many insights to share with us…so let’s get to it!

WELCOME, PAT!  We are so happy to have you here today.

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

 PAT:

My two favorite books as a child were THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Patterson. I was in awe of both of them and the shiny Newbery Award stickers on their book jackets. I read them and re-read them. And, when my youngest read THE WESTING GAME and midway through told me, “I think Angela is the bomber.” I just about burst with pride.

 I also read a ton of Paul Zindel when I was in middle school. Other books I remember reading and re-reading were the ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN series, the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series and the BOXCAR CHILDREN series. We also had tons of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in my house.

Interestingly enough, as someone who loves picture books like I do, I remember very few picture books from my childhood. I can only think of three that I remember reading – WHEN I HAVE A LITTLE GIRL by Charlotte Zolotow, MY FIRST COUNTING BOOK by Lilian Moore and THE GOLDEN EGG BOOK by Margaret Wise Brown.

I remember more picture books from when I a teen and young adult because I’d read them in the library and the bookstore. In fact, when I was in college, I bought my very own copy of ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY because I loved it – and Judith Viorst – so much. Note: I still do. She is my picture book writing idol.

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

PAT:

Two things:

  1. That you’ll always have something to worry about even when you’ve achieved what you thought were your goals. Publishing that first book is awesome, but it doesn’t erase any self-doubt you might be carrying around.
  2. That worrying, in general, is useless. I know this now, but that doesn’t mean I always can avoid it. But now, at least, I try to recognize it for what it is and either head it off at the pass or channel it into a more productive direction. So much of publishing is out of an author’s control, so focusing on the activities that you truly have some say over is the only way to stay sane.

ME: Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook? And when do you find time to write?

PAT:

 I write inside. I’m a bit of a fragile flower when it comes to outdoor activities. I get hives if I’m in the sun for too long and I don’t handle extreme heat well. So I’ll always go for the climate-controlled activity.

Usually, I write at my kitchen table using my laptop with the rest of my family going about its business around me.

On very rare and lucky days, I’ll take my laptop to the Fitchburg Public Library and set up shop there. It’s peaceful and quiet and lovely, and being surrounded by so many books is inspiring. It’s good karma. As an aside, I’m always surprised by how many adults talk loudly on their cell phones in the library. I’m not someone who thinks libraries should be silent, but people there should be considerate of the people around them.

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?

PAT:

I have a full-time day job, so I mostly write in the evening or on weekends.

But ideas can come at any time – they don’t care where I am. Sometimes, when I’m not at home, I’ll get inspired and scrawl the idea for a story on whatever piece of paper happens to be handy and then I’ll take it home with me to work on when I’m free.

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ME: Why do you write for children?

PAT:

I don’t know. That’s a good question.  Maybe because books were so important to me as a child. I’ve always loved kids’ books. I loved them when I was a kid and when I was a teen and I love them now that I’m an adult.

I’ve always felt drawn to kids’ books – almost like a magnetic pull. It’s an attraction that draws me to them and makes me read them and admire them and smell them and hold them and admire them some more and tell others about them and then do it all over again. And while I like reading adult books too, that same pull is not there.

ME: Pat, 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.

PAT:

Writing a really good picture book is hard.

You can feel like you’re so close, but still know that: Something. Is. Just. Not. Right. And no matter how many shiny parts your book has, it won’t really glow until you figure out what’s not working. So give yourself time. Don’t rush to finish. Don’t rush to publish. Set things aside. Write new things. Revisit previous manuscripts and see what fresh perspective you might find. The results will be worth the wait. And even then, even when you think you’ve truly done it, if you wait a few more weeks you’ll look at your work and think, “Hmmm … If I just changed this one part, this story would be SO MUCH BETTER.”

To give you an idea of how THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, one of my now-published books, moved through this process, here’s a blog post I wrote.

Always remember what you’re going for. Something that’s SO MUCH BETTER than what you have right now.

Kate Messner wrote a blog about this that says it better than I did. So take a moment and read Picture Books Math (And Why You Should Write Something New).

Pat. I know everyone is going to get so much out of this interview. I’m hopping over to reread those two links you provided…I hope everyone else does, too.

And for all of you who want to find out more about Pat and her delightful books or get in touch with her, she blogs about the craft of writing picture books at www.picturebookbuilders.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter @PatZMiller.

SPOILER ALERT: The following recipe is guaranteed to knock your socks off and please every sweet-treat-loving palette.

Pat says, “This recipe is, hands-down, my family’s favorite cookie. We make it every Christmas and at various other times during the year. I got it from a friend when I was a newly married graduate student, and I’ve made it ever since.”

Chocolate-Chip Pistachio Cookies

Ingredients:

3¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter (Do not use margarine. The cookies won’t be nearly as good. Trust me on this.)

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips

¼ cup crushed walnuts

1 3¾-ounce box of instant pistachio pudding

Red and green M&Ms, cinnamon candies or chocolate chips for garnish.

 

Directions:

Sift dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix. Add dry ingredients and mix again. Set aside a quarter of the dough and add the walnuts to it. Add the pudding mix and the chocolate chips to the rest of the dough and knead until it turns green.  Shape the dough with the chocolate chips into balls. Place on cookie sheet and flatten slightly with a glass dipped in flour. Shape the walnut dough into smaller balls and place one on top of each flattened cookie. Garnish with an M&M, cinnamon candy or another chocolate chip. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes. (Do not overbake or let the cookies get brown around the edges. They won’t be nearly as good. Trust me on this.)

Okay, Pat…we totally trust you on this!

And another thing we will trust is that Pat’s newest book, Sophie’s Squash Goes to School, rocks! Yesterday, in the Perfect Picture Book Friday post, when we announced the winner of City Shapes, by Diana Murray, I mentioned there would be another great GIVEAWAY today. Please leave your comment below for a chance to win a brand new copy of Sophie’s Squash Goes to School. Just tell us what was the STRANGEST thing you or your kids ever brought to school.

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend…I’ll be leaving for the WOW Retreat on Sunday…can’t wait to hug all my dear writer friends. It will be a great way to pump me up for my upcoming surgery on August 3rd. I may not be posting again until our August Will Write for Cookies interview with Jill Esbaum. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Who Else Wants Less Clutter? Plus a Giveaway!

Hodgepodge! Jumble! Chaos! Muddle! Holy Mess!

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There are many words to describe clutter—but it all boils down to one thing: a state or condition of confusion. And that is what most of us should be trying to avoid. Life is stressful enough without adding more, right? Yet even though studies show that clutter contributes to stress, many people live with it.

  • Do you have more than one ‘junk’ drawer in your home?
  • Is your email inbox clogged with messages you don’t even open?
  • When you open your closets, does stuff fall out on you?
  • If unexpected company comes, do you rush around, clearing books, papers, and other items?
  • Have you had a late fee from an unpaid bill because it got lost in the mess on your desk?

If you answered YES to any one of these questions, it may be time to take control. If you are a parent, organization is especially important – those last minute searches for missing homework or a lost shoe are no fun at all!

This is my plan:

  1. Get a big shopping bag for each room…clear off every counter/desk/shelf/chair of anything that doesn’t belong. Ahhh…now that looks much better. When I have time, I can go through each bag and decide whether the items should be stored, given away, or thrown away.
  2. Use a letter file holder to keep bills and important mail…if possible, set up auto-pay.
  3. Set aside 15-30 minutes every day to go through one drawer or one closet or one cabinet and divide the contents into three piles: keep, give away, throw away. If you are a fan of Craig’s List or garage/yard sales, you can have a fourth pile…you might even make some money!
  4. Do the same thing with my emails—15-30 minutes every day to delete and unsubscribe from unwanted spam.

Are you ready?

It’s really as simple as 1, 2, 3.

  1. CLEAR
  2. CLEAN
  3. ORGANIZE

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I’ve got a busy year ahead of me, so it’s really important that Continue reading