Thursday, February 26, 2015

#Writer & #artist Laura Wilbourn takes us on a #picturebook journey with Asterion's Elixer

When I met Laura Wilbourn at a SCBWI conference a few years back, I was immediately struck, not just by her intelligence and humor, but by the unusual, etherial quality of the picture book she had brought to show everyone she met. When I learned that she was about to publish a new book, Asterion's Elixir, I jumped to invite her to join us here and talk about her process. And look at these wonderful illustrations, which Laura does herself!

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Creating Asterion's Elixir
by Laura Wilbourn

I have always been a fan of imagination. As far back as I can remember, daydreaming has taken precedence over anything that required academic attention. In one recurring daydream that I recall vividly, I had the ability to magically transform myself into a flying unicorn. At the time, I was in first grade at the International School of Bangkok, and in this fantasy, the classroom was on fire. I transformed into a mystical creature that flew through the window and saved my class from the flames. Even though it occurred at such a young age, I feel this daydream was very telling of who I would become as a person and planted a seed from which my children’s books would originate. 

In second grade, my family and I moved back to California. With the option of choosing my own wallpaper for my room, of course I chose unicorns. Between the daydreams and the wallpaper, it may not come as a surprise that my children’s book, Asterion’s Elixir, includes a unicorn! 

Not only is there a unicorn, but a lot of color as well! My ultimate favorite color is blue (with red a very close second). What better place than space to fulfill this color scheme? An interesting fact about another influence in my life at the time I was writing this book: I was taking an astronomy class at Texas State about the stars and galaxies. Reading all that material and seeing all those pictures definitely sparked my mind's adventure into the unknown. This book is unique in that it contains many bright and engaging colored images, but there is an abundance of text as well. This is exactly what I wished for as a ten-year-old girl. I was never satisfied with the illustration-text ratio. It was either a lot of text and few pictures, or it was very little text and so many pictures. How do you solve this dilemma? Make your own children’s book! Make it exactly how you wanted it as a child, so that every part of the inner-child in you is fulfilled. 

Though the influences of this story are easy to distinguish, my process is harder to explain. I don’t have a clear-cut path when I create a book. I do both the writing and the sketching at the same time. However, what is consistent is that the seed of a story begins with a drawing that eventually blossoms into character development. From here, a few more sketches are made which make room for plot development. It is a back and forth movement between the graphic and the literary art, and somehow I end up with a book and illustrations in the end. 

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Learn more about Laura Wilbourn and purchase Asterion's Elixir on her website. Follow her on Facebook.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dionne Lorae Holly's CAMP BIRDSONG tells of the Girl Scouts' legacy for Black History Month

Happy Black History Month! We celebrate with a wonderful guest, author Dionne Lorae Holly, who shares with us the fascinating history behind her new book.

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CAMP BIRDSONG: A Night Under The Stars
When it’s darkest, the stars shine the brightest

By Dionne Lorae Holly

I began my adventure in researching for Camp Birdsong: A Night Under The Stars as a Girl Scout Troop Leader. I created a Black History Month badge activity for my troop about the first campgrounds for African American Girls.  The activity presented 1940’s vintage uniforms, handbooks, and photographs.  The presentation became popular thorough out my Girl Scout Service Unit.

What peeked my interest to do research is the famous Girl Scout quote by the founder, Juliette Low. Low called her friend describing a program she has for girls, "I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!”  The Girl Scouts began in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia. Then, there is a rumored quote by Martin Luther King Jr. dated in 1956, which describes the Girl Scouts as a force in desegregation. I had to learn what happened in between those two quotes.

I made inquiries online and learned about Girl Scout Volunteer, Josephine Holloway. She donated not only her time, but also bought land in Tennessee for a Girl Scout camp for African American girls.  The Jim Crow laws prevented her troop from a true camping experience.  The girls could not sleep overnight. Eventually, the local Girl Scout council purchased the campgrounds from Holloway.  Later the council integrated the campgrounds. 

Prior to Holloway purchasing the land, her troop traveled to Indiana to camp overnight.  
After reading about Holloway, I called the Tennessee Girl Scout Historian; I asked if there were any photographs. She replied no.  In my disbelief that there were not any photographs, I said, “You know what I’m coming up there.” The local council gave me permission to explore Camp Holloway for my research.  I drove four hundred miles across state lines to visit. Once there I toured the grounds and walked through the Holloway homestead. I saw the photographs!  I thought maybe that the historian had not visited the camp…

In order to tell this historical fiction authentically, I interviewed my mom.  As a Girl Scout from the 1950’s, she shared how she made a bed roll (sleeping bag) and cooked meals over an open fire. Foremost, she described how she felt many times like a spectator and not a participant at the annual Girl Scout gathering called Camporee.  My story uses a fictional scouting group called Girl Rangers. I studied orienteering for my research as well. The story tells how the Girl Rangers learn about the sun and the stars. The most shocking discovery I made was to learn the idea of introducing girls into scouting; was when the Boys Scouts founder, British General Powell observed African Zulu women’s resourcefulness while their tribesmen were away at war. 

Camp Birdsong: A Night Under The Stars is considered a children’s Black History Month book, but it is an inspirational story for any age, any gender or any skin color. The story shows how to overcome challenges and make your dreams come true. 

Blurb for Camp Birdsong: A Night Under The Stars:

In the 1940’s Joalee Olingsworth is frustrated when the local Jim Crow laws prevents her daughter from becoming Girl Ranger. Growing up a preacher’s kid, she’s fearless to give her daughter and the girls in her community the equal opportunity to enjoy a camping experience. She travels near and far for freedom to have “A Night Under The Stars.”

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Purchase Camp Birdsong: A Night Under The Stars on Amazon and Barnes & Noble; if you live the metro Atlanta area visit the Greater Atlanta Girl Scout Shop, 5601 Allen Rd. Mableton, GA 30126.
To learn about the author visit her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fun #SciFi #Kidlit from Rob Sanders: OUTER SPACE BEDTIME RACE

Science fiction for children? Yes, please. We definitely need more of that. Today Rob Sanders talks about the big adventure he wrote in a little book called Outer Space Bedtime Race. (Seriously, can you pack any more fun into a title?!) 

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Tucking Kids into the Whole Solar System
by Rob Sanders

I am so pleased to share the story behind the creation of my new book OUTER SPACE BEDTIME RACE, illustrated by Brian Won. Our book was recently released by Random House Children’s Books. Brian and I are both grateful to our editor, Maria Modugno, and our art director, John Sazaklis, for their incredible work and support.

My vision for this book began when I had the idea to create a bedtime story that my great nieces AND great nephews would love and wanted to have read over and over again. I wanted to create something that wasn’t pink and sweet and butterfly-filled. I wanted something edgy and active and maybe even a tad creepy. Something different, but something that would still get kids ready for bed.

Honestly, my great nieces (like many girl readers) are easy to please and just love books in general. But my great-nephew, Jack, well that’s a different story. I knew if I could come up with something that Jack liked, his sisters would like it, too. I made a quick list of topics with boy-appeal: robots, monsters, dinosaurs, aliens. Aliens! Immediately the idea of an alien getting ready for bed stood out, and as I researched the market I couldn’t find any bedtime books with or about aliens. Now I don’t want you to think this was a long, drawn out process. This whole process occurred in an hour or so. Then the real work began.

My first stab at a manuscript followed one alien through his bedtime routine. As I explored that idea I couldn’t decide if Jupiter or Mars or Saturn or another planet might provide the most story and illustration possibilities. When I couldn’t decide which planet to focus on, I did what any reasonable person would do—I decided to use all the planets and explore a different bedtime activity on each planet. Since my story was focusing on earth kids going to bed, I knew I wanted to start the story on earth and circle back around—or orbit—back to earth.

I soon decided that rhyming was the best mode for telling the story since it would add to the bedtime appeal of the manuscript. I started listing planets, bedtime routines, and words and phrases that would add life to my crew of bedtime aliens. I also started researching non-fiction facts about the planets that I could write into back matter for the book. As a teacher, I know how parents, teachers, librarians, and kids love those tidbits of fact that often accompany a story.

After a few drafts and taking the manuscript to my critique groups, I fired it off to my agent, Rubin Pfeffer. Rubin gave some suggestions for revisions and we worked back and forth a bit. Rubin decide to submit exclusively to Maria Modugno. She quickly took the manuscript to acquisitions and within a few weeks we had a deal. Brian Won was soon brought on as the illustrator. Maria and I worked for several weeks via phone and email examining and revising the manuscript line-by-line. From ideation to research to writing, revising, editing, illustrating, and printing the entire process has taken right at two years.

OUTER SPACE BEDTIME RACE has been released and is soaring out of book stores! Brian and I are enjoying launching our book in book stores and libraries, creating resources to support the book, and promoting our book in various ways. As a matter of fact, you can view our book trailer to get a taste of outer space bedtime adventure. 

Now all that I have left to do is to give Jack, Madi, Libby and their new brother, Lincoln, their copy of OUTER SPACE BEDTIME RACE!

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Learn more about Rob Sanders on his website and his blog.

Purchase Outer Space Bedtime Race on Amazon, BN, and other retailers.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

007 - License to Tell Stories: How Licensing Services Can Breathe New Life into Your #Writing

I admit it, I'm proud of my publishing credits for short works. On my website, there's a complete list of my stories for kids and another list for adults. Adding new works to those lists gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

But once a story is published, then what? Most fade into obscurity, if they don't actually go out of print (or get taken down from a website).

"Sell them again as reprints!" you're saying. Sure, that's a possibility for grown-up sci-fi. But have you ever tried to sell kidlit reprints? Mighty tricky.

Enter the licensing service, a new concept in my authorial life. Alfie Dog Fiction and Schoolwide Inc. both take already-published children's stories, so long as you hold the right to reprint them. They take new stories too, of course. I've decided to offer new stories to Schoolwide and reprints to Alfie Dog. The latter has a spectacular response rate of under a week! This is definitely not so for Schoolwide: expect to wait a few months. Both sites accept book-length works, too, and Alfie Dog takes fiction for adults as well as children.

From the consumer's point of view, licensing services work sort of like iTunes. The reader picks the story she wants and pays to download it. On the author's end, there are royalties paid per download, with no advance. I am not far enough into my relationship with Schoolwide to comment on their actual payment practices, but Alfie Dog's royalty statements are prompt and transparent, occurring quarterly. There is a minimum that must be met before a payout, but that's not uncommon for a small press.

I don't say you'll get rich parking your reprints on licensing sites. However, even a few cents per story is more that the big fat ZERO your pre-used story is making just sitting in an old website database or anthology. I've decided to feed Alfie Dog as many reprinted stories as it's hungry for. Here's my collection there so far.

Have you used licensing services? What has been your experience? Are there others I should try?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Susan Margaret Chapman introduces kids to Inuit culture in THE OLD WAYS

Ages ago, I had a job as researcher and content-writer on several series of books about indigenous peoples of the world. One of my favorite projects was on the Inuit. Somehow, reading about igloos and snowshoes completely captivated me.

Imagine my delight to learn that there's a recent picture book about this wonderful culture. Even better, its author, Susan Margaret Chapman, agreed to be my guest and talk about her research for the book!

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by Susan Margaret Chapman

This picture book, which was inspired by a true event, is about a contemporary Inuit boy. Simon loves computers, TV and pizza, and is not interested in learning how to build an igloo, or in listening to his grandmother’s old tales. But when their snowmobile breaks down, and his grandfather builds an igloo and his grandmother helps to fill the waiting hours with many tales, Simon changes his view.

The idea for The Old Ways came from a story that was in the paper. An Inuit family survived for over a week when their snowmobile broke down in a storm. I imagined a child who thinks the old ways are very out of date. He doesn’t want to hear about them. But when they are stranded, and his grandfather is ready with all his tools and builds an igloo to save them, I could see how the boy would change his mind.

As a teacher librarian, I was always very interested in storytelling. I had a storytelling festival each year, and asked the students to go home and listen to stories from their parents and grandparents, and then tell them to us. Storytelling is a lost art, and is such an important thing to preserve, and to hand down family history.

The storytelling part of the book seemed to flow as a natural part of the story. They were waiting to be rescued, and the grandmother tells him many stories, which, for the first time, he appreciates. And these stories are, of course, part of “the old ways”.

I spent a lot of time checking that all my facts were correct re igloo building, seal oil lamps, clothing etc. When I was baffled about how there were sticks to hold up the cooking pot (when this takes place above the tree line) I phoned a school in Nunavut, and asked if someone could talk to me and check everything. I talked to the grade 4 teacher, and she reassured me that the wood sometimes drifted in, and they saved it. We also discussed things like what they would use in a seal oil lamp now instead of seal oil.

I also spent a lot of time looking at folktales that would work, as I thought that students and teachers might want to go and read the actual folktales mentioned in the story. The story that Simon tells is a popular old story I used to tell called “The Fisherman and His Wife”.

I loved doing the research, but became anxious about the accuracy of the illustrations, because they had to be right. I sent a number of notes and directions for the illustrator (who I never actually met or talked to directly).

I have never been to Nunavut, but  certainly hope to visit there eventually.

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Learn more about Susan Margaret Chapman on her website.

Purchase The Old Ways on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Marla F. Jones on Life as a #Kidlit Writer/Illustrator

As a writer who can draw a bit, I have huge admiration for people who hone their skills in both fields, and thereby can illustrate their own books. One great example is today's guest, Marla F. Jones.

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I love books. I love reading. As a first grade teacher and mother of two, I read literally thousands of children's books. So when I retired from teaching, I promptly joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and began the on-line writing course at the Children’s Book Insider, or “the CBI Clubhouse.” My first real writing gig was creating curriculum activities for Augsburg Fortress Publishing. My first book, Ponder Porcupine, was written to supplement a piece of curriculum.
Susan York Meyers, a published author and friend, graciously mentored me through the process of writing for children. I  completed the Children’s Book Insider’s writing course (some parts more than once), joined a couple of critique groups, revised and polished, received additional critiques, revised and polished some more. I followed submission guidelines exactly and sent my manuscript to editors and agents. Rejections abounded, saying 'I like it, it just doesn't fit our line-up' or “really fun story, it’s just not for me”. So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and publish it myself.
But did I have what it takes to illustrate my own picture book? As a teacher, I enjoyed working with beautiful papers, creating colorful bulletin boards and games. So, I created a few cut-paper art illustrations for my story and asked my family, friends and colleagues if the pictures were good enough for a children’s book. Everyone gave me an enthusiastic “thumbs up”!
I’m a folk artist. I am not classically trained but I’ve always had a deep appreciation for all types of visual media. Folk artists typically use bright, bold colors in a unique or unusual way. The illustrations for We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark! include colorful papers, fabrics and found objects. Look close and you’ll spy twigs, pinecones, and textural objects. I especially love repurposing. After all, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”! The layers are assembled then scanned. Scanning causes shadows to appear, giving it a fun, 3-D look. The paper and the scanner do the shadows for me! At this point, with my computer I add highlights, shading, and tiny details as well as fix imperfections.
When author Susan Meyers saw the published book, We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark!, she liked the artwork and asked me to illustrate her picture book,  Grrr…Night!.  It stars a little monster who can’t go to sleep. My latest book, Let’s Follow Them!, came out in July 2014. I wrote and illustrated it, using the map of our city in the cover background.
I work hard at my craft. Every day. I attend writing conferences, take classes, and soak up everything I can about writing and illustrating picture books. I’m also the co-founder of a group called Next Generation Writers. Our slogan is “nurturing tomorrow’s storytellers and artists.” We teach writing/illustrating workshops to elementary students and adults.
What could be better? I get to do the things I love every day—teaching, writing and illustrating.
Full circle, right?
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Books written and/or illustrated by Marla F. Jones:
Let’s Follow Them! (available through Ingram and Amazon)
Grrr…Night!, written by Susan York Meyers, (available through Amazon or author/illustrator)
We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark! (available through Amazon and Marla’s web site)
Ponder Porcupine (available through Amazon and Marla’s web site)

Learn more about Marla F. Jones on her website.
Purchase her books on Amazon

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tom Williams and his Historical Secret Agent, James Burke

Today's guest, Tom Williams, tells us about the research and inspiration for his historical adventure, Burke in the Land of Silver. Ladies and gents, meet James Burke....

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Years ago, I wrote a 19th century historical novel that attracted interest from publishers but was generally regarded as too "difficult" for a first novel. My agent (yes, I had an agent then) said that I should write a more straightforward historical adventure in the same period. It made sense, but I like writing stories that are strongly based in historical reality, so I had to find a real life figure I could base an exciting story on. A friend who knows how much I love Argentina suggested that I look at Europeans who were in South America in the early days of that country. Thanks to her, I discovered James Burke, a little known spy for the British around the time of the Napoleonic wars. Burke’s story had everything: war, espionage, beautiful women and an evil villain.

I've taken a few liberties in the telling of the tale but the plot of what became Burke in the Land of Silver is mostly either definitely true or very well could be. As I had already visited Argentina several times, I was writing about a place that I knew and I made a couple of extra trips to research places that were particularly connected with James Burke. That meant the opportunity to ride out with the gauchos on a cattle ranch and a trip on horseback up the Andes, besides the usual visits to museums and historical sites in Buenos Aires.

The story is set around the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. It’s a little known – and not particularly impressive -- part of Britain's colonial history. The book gave me the chance to tell the story of a military adventure that few people will have heard of.

What I tried to do, having got this historical background accurate, was to write a modern spy story but set two hundred years ago. James Burke was to be my James Bond. I have always thought that Ian Fleming was a great writer and that his books are a model of how to write a thriller. Like Bond, Burke is nominally in the armed forces. Bond is a naval officer, Burke is in the infantry. Like Bond, he is a flawed hero: a snobbish womaniser, always with an eye to the main chance. (I’m not saying he has exactly the same flaws as Bond, but there's certainly an overlap.) In the end, though, we admire him because he is brave, loyal, and, when forced to choose, will ultimately do the right thing. It helps that he’s good looking, an excellent rider, multi-lingual and a crack shot.

Does it work? Well, I enjoyed writing it and, more importantly, I enjoyed reading it when I had to check the finished product before publication. I wouldn't claim that it's up to Fleming's standard, but I think it compares well with some of the stuff that’s been passed off as James Bond since Fleming died. I’m not really the person to say, though. Why not read it and decide for yourself?

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Learn more about Tom Williams on his blog.

Burke in the Land of Silver is available on Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.