LIFE IN BALANCE

LIFE IN BALANCE

Early this morning, I rolled out my cat-scratched, hole-poked mat once again and pressed Shuffle for my yoga tunes. With bones shouting and muscles complaining, I ebbed and flowed through my poses. I ended in the calming tree pose with one leg bent and a foot to my knee. Well…almost to my knee. My arms stretched from my heart to the sky. Gazing out the window, I saw a tree staring at me. Oddly enough, it posed in mirror image to me. We bent and swayed together in a ridiculous dance…the tree buffeted by wind…I battered by age. I was struck by the intricate balance between humanity and nature. And when that balance is betrayed, both are damaged.

During my practice, I thought of the profound connection humans have with one another and the world. It’s forged by kindness, spirit, compassion, goodness, pain, loss and love. If broken along any of those bonds, balance is restored by selfless acts. Caring for our planet and one another. Respecting God’s love for His world and creations.

After gaining stillness and centering from yoga, I washed my sweaty face. Started my computer for storytelling. I’ve submitted two picture books recently and am a player in the “Waiting Game.” Or is it the “Praying Game”? Well-loved, KIDLIT guru Julie Hedlund (“12 x 12 Challenge”) says, “Passion, patience, and perseverance.” True about life, too.

For a change, I’m writing a YA historical fiction novel. My 13-year-old neighbor and I had text-brainstormed the overall arc. Each week, she begs for the next chapter’s draft, returning it within the hour plastered with notes. A true teenage taskmaster!

In MAY, I’m playing host for the annual KS/MO SCBWI Critique Group online event. The humorous Christine Schmidt, author extraordinaire, is a marvelous organizer. With my group of five, I’ve discovered fun, authentic, encouraging, and supportive writers. What more could we ask of strangers? Perhaps storytelling connects “goodness” across the globe.

Within our surreal environments, the new “normal” will not be the old “normal,” if there ever was a “normal.” Finding balance within the changes takes time and effort. The delicate connection depends on us caring enough to act. Selfless acts come is all sizes. We’re fully equipped give one every day. To create a world where we wake up grateful for living. Radiating all light possible…even in the worst of circumstances…even as we make mistakes…sheltering within our homes and friendships. We are enough.

A HAPPY DANCE DEBUT FOR REBECCA KOEHN

A HAPPY DANCE DEBUT FOR REBECCA KOEHN

Cheers and grins for Rebecca Koehn’s debut picture book After the Rain! Rebecca’s clever storytelling leaps off the page into a splashy tale of how teamwork is key to building friendships. A perfect read for anyone!

Rebecca Koehn

When my copy arrived, I ripped off its wrapper and hugged it. Thrilling! Goose-bumping! Rebecca’s a favorite author, critique partner, and friend. I knew of her hard work behind the book. I knew of her hours drafting and revising. Of how she dug deep to make every word count while keeping the rhythmic read-aloud text. After the Rain delivers with a rollicking story that embraces sound, heart and humor.

Cover for After the Rain

Illustrator Simone Kruger’s lively artwork captures the story and its characters with charm, adding fanciful fun and excitement to each page. Her rainbow colors create childlike delight. Simone’s style will enchant readers, starting with the cover’s rainy rumpus!

Critique Group: Mary Ann Hendrix, Marsha Elyn Wright, and Rebecca Koehn

Here are The Three Amigas! That’s illustrator Mary Ann Hendrix, me, and Rebecca. Our first Road Trip together to the 2018 annual SCBWI KS/MO Regional Conference solidified our friendship and support for one another. We decided to meet monthly for a “crunch-and-munch” lunch while critiquing our work and lifting our spirits. Oh…laughing is key to a successful session for us!
Writing is a solitary adventure but the journey to good writing is one of community—the Kidlit Community and trusted Critique Partners. Within these groups, we celebrate successes and lighten rejections. We remind one another to keep believing. Persevere. Be patient. And the rewards are stellar!

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Whoooopeee! Congrats, Rebecca! Polish those tap shoes…next critique meeting, we’re all doing the Happy Dance!

Offer your support for Rebecca and the Kidlit Community. Purchase your own copy and gift copies. Recommend After the Rain to your local library, friends, teachers and more. Visit Rebecca’s Website. Write her a celebratory note!
Website: www.rebeccakoehn.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/After-Rain-Rebecca-Koehn/dp/1506454518/

By the way, the winner of the Give-Away copy of After the Rain is Rebecca Thill of Olathe, Kansas. Congratulations! Rebecca’s book is mailing its way to your doorstep. Enjoy!

APPLAUSE FOR EMILY LIM-LEH’S GOOD FORTUNE

APPLAUSE FOR EMILY LIM-LEH’S GOOD FORTUNE

“One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others”—Archibald Rutledge. And…I’M HAPPY for Emily Lim-Leh! Her as-yet unpublished picture book manuscript My Grandfather’s Rojak placed in the Top 3 for the Scholastic Picture Book Award 2019.

Emily and I met as participants in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge: https://12x12challenge.com/ . We’ve both learned so much from each other about Kidlit storytelling that we’re online Critique Partners as well.

Goodreads writes: “…Lim is an award-winning children’s book author. She was the first outside North America to win three Independent Publisher Book Awards (“IPPY” awards) for her books, Prince Bear and Pauper Bear (Bronze Medal 2008), Just Teddy (Bronze Medal 2009), and Bunny Finds the Right Stuff (Silver Medal 2010). [She] is also the first South-east Asian recipient of the Moonbeam Award, for her book, The Tale of Rusty Horse (Moonbeam Gold Medal 2009)….”

ME: I’m thrilled for you, Emily! You must still tingle from the Scholastic Book Award announcement. I understand The Scholastic Picture Book Award (SPBA) is a shared initiative between Singapore Book Council (SBC) and Scholastic Asia. Will you tell us more about this award?

Scholastic Picture Book Award

EMILY: This Initiative is one of the significant highlights of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, which is organised by our Singapore Book Council. The SPBA has been established with the purpose of birthing quality children’s picture books of Asian content from content creators in Asia.The top 3 winners get publishing contracts with Scholastic Asia, so this is a very precious win.

ME: When I researched rojak, I discovered that it’s a mixture of Asian fruits and vegetables. I’m curious to know more. Why did you write about rojak? What inspired your story?

EMILY:I wanted my story to represent something distinctly Singaporean. At breakfast, we discuss lunch. At lunch, we are planning dinner. Food is a very important part of our Singaporean culture. We have a diverse range of food from all nationalities and cultures represented here.

Secondly, the Rojak dish is a popular and well-loved local street food here. Our neighbouring countries also have their own kind of rojak dish so it is also relatable to other Asian countries.Thirdly, ‘Rojak’ means ‘mixture’ or ‘eclectic mix’ and the ingredients are precisely that. For me, that’s symbolic of the Singaporean. We are a mix of different races and cultures but we see ourselves first and foremost, as Singaporeans.

ME: How long did it take you to write My Grandfather’s Rojak?

EMILY: I took about two months to write and revise a couple of times. I had two friends and critique partners look at it and give me feedback for story gaps. The SBPA competition criteria is unique because submissions need to include both manuscript and draft storyboard. So, I had to get my story out quickly for my friend to illustrate draft storyboards for our joint submission.

ME: How many revisions did your story go through before submitting to the SBPA competition?

EMILY: Interestingly, this has been one of my quickest-written-and-revised manuscripts. I had about four drafts before I submitted.

ME: You have several award-winning picture books. Did you always want to write for children or did something lead you into the Kidlit universe?

EMILY: I enjoyed writing as a child, but when I “grew up” and entered the working world, writing was the last thing I wanted to do. It wasn’t a career choice because it doesn’t pay much financially. Things changed when I developed a rare voice disorder shortly after marriage. I went through a journey of searching for a cure. In the process, I found God and a new voice in writing. Now, I cannot imagine doing something else.

ME: What have you learned about writing picture books from the experiences of winning international awards? Have these honors changed the way you create your stories?

EMILY: Winning the awards in themselves has not changed the way I write my stories. But awards have certainly encouraged me in my writing journey and given me that affirmation to keep at it on days when I feel discouraged.

ME: What qualities do you look for in a critique partner or group? How has participating in critique groups helped you as a writer?

EMILY: I wrote my first 4 children’s picture books as a winner and grant recipient of my Book Council awards. The market was very young then and I went at it alone – without critique partners – and that was really tough. So, I’m amazed that these are my bestselling books.

Little Godwit Finds His Wings

I found 12×12 through a blogger friend and found the critique support there very helpful to improving my writing. I look for critique partners who give their comments to me straight up—both the good and no-good feedback. And I reciprocate with the same. Iron sharpens iron, so I like to critique with people who challenge me to push myself in my writing.

ME: What’s something you’ve learned that you wish you would’ve known starting out as a writer for children?

EMILY: Nothing! It’s been a providential journey right from the start, so I just go with the write/ride.

ME: What does your writing “routine” look like?

EMILY: I went through several personal and family crises in the past few years so I actually could not recall what my writing routine was or if ever I had a proper one…haha.

A heart doctor friend asked me this exact same question over dinner recently and it sparked me finding and keeping a writer’s routine over the past two months. I have a lovely writer’s calender journal gifted from someone. Now, every day, I bullet-point each day with at least two writing related activities, be it reading a Kidlit book, working on a manuscript or watching an online writing class. It helps me to track my time better and make time for writing if I find I have slipped over the week.

ME: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your writing journey?

EMILY: My writing journey has been something totally unexpected and providential. I lost my voice to Spasmodic Dysphonia, a rare voice disorder, and recovered it along with a writing voice 10 years later. God has been the Author of my writing journey and it’s been one filled with  favour and flavor! You can read more about my backstory at a recent interview here:

Prince Bear & Pauper Bear

ME: Thank you, Emily! We’re so grateful to you for sharing your thoughts. Your journey and thoughts inspire us to keep believing in ourselves, practicing the art of storytelling, and submitting our work. We send you energy and inspiration for your continued success.

Find out more about Emily

https://asianbeacon.org/no-matter-what/

Website: https://mummumstheword.wordpress.com/about-emily-lim/

Thank you for spending part of your day with me! If you have thoughts or questions for Emily, please comment below. Emily and I will enjoy reading your words. And if Emily has the time, I’m sure that she’ll respond.

MARY HENDRIX PAINTS HER WAY TO THE MAGIC

MARY HENDRIX PAINTS HER WAY TO THE MAGIC

Mary Hendrix is a gifted artist, plus a good friend and critique partner. Mary’s insight from an illustrator’s point of view is invaluable for the writers in our group. Her artistic eyes see beyond the words and in between the spaces.  

I asked Mary if she would tell us how she approaches a story to bring her imagination to the page. Mary said, “Sure!” Lucky us!

ME: Thank you, Mary, for helping us better understand how illustrators think. I’d like to start by asking yourself.

ME: Who are some children’s illustrators that you admire?

MARY: The 90’s illustrations of Diane Goode, “When I Was Young in the Mountains,” caught my attention as art work so well rendered, evoking such emotion of a family…one of my favorites. I remember thinking I could do that!!!  Of course, I am also a great fan of Jan Brett.  Her attention to detail, color and layout are beautiful.  

ME: How did you know that you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

MARY: I love paper, books and drawing.  It took time for me to realize that illustrating a children’s book combined all three!  It also took time to gain the confidence that my artwork was valued.

ME: What does your “Illustrating Time” look like? 

MARY: I sit at my table with my sketch book and pencil, envisioning what the characters of the author’s story look like and what they do from page to page. Then I revise, revise, revise!  It is lots of alone time with my paint brush! 

ME: As the illustrator, what do you do to help visualize the characters and arc of a story? 

MARY: I do research about the character if that is part of the story. Otherwise, I draw and draw until I can find that character appearing on the page with all the right characteristics!  Often times this is the easy part as the illustrations flow and the book gets laid out.  The hard part is making the spontaneous drawings “look right” on a page! Time and revision is necessary for making the characters stand out.

ME: What advice would you give a beginning writer about including Art Notes?  

MARY: Be very general.  Let the artist bring out the best in your book. 

ME: What do you see as the artist’s role when illustrating a picture book?

Girl with Pumpkins

MARY:  Artists tell a story with pictures rather than words. We want to make your words come alive with color, interesting characters and vivid backgrounds that will encourage a child to read forever. Aart develops a greater depth to your story to enhance its influence on the reader.

ME: How would you describe a meaningful collaboration between author, editor and illustrator?

MARY: Work together and accept advice and criticism.  Don’t get caught thinking the revision process and collaboration is a hindrance…everyone just wants a successful project. Remember everyone is working toward the same goal.  That being said, know how to stand up for yourself and the story you want to tell. Art is an integral part of the process.

ME: We know authors invest blocks of time on social media to connect with other authors and publicize their books. What should do illustrators to connect and display their art?

MARY: Always do your best work and then put it out on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Click “like” on author blogs that interest you.  We have so many modes of communication that were not available in the past. Use them to connect with others and expose yourself to more ideas.  This has been particularly influential for me. YouTube has exposed me to so much variety in the art world!

ME: Is there advice you can offer picture book illustrators who are starting out?

Mary Hendrix Cat Art

MARY: The best advice is to practice, practice, practice. Always strive for the best.  Don’t give up or get discouraged!  Join critique groups, attend conferences such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, find artist communities in your area that challenge you to try new mediums and ideas.  Read lots of children’s books! Someone will notice you with time and dedication.

ME: As picture book authors, we tend to take over the page. Thank you, Mary, for reminding us that we work 50-50 with illustrators. Gifted artists expand our stories beyond our visions to bring out the magic! We wish you success in your illustrating journey. Do I hear a whisper that you’re illustrating a picture book debuting in the near future?!  

MARY: I was asked to collaborate with the Flying Ketchup Press to produce illustrations for a delightful folk tale about bar-b-que sauce.  I have such fun characters to develop, and Polly McCann, the editor, has been delightful to work with.

As authors, we create and craft stories, working to find magic in the storytelling and characters. Mary has encouraged us to remember how much of that “magic” can be created by talented illustrators. Picture books are truly a collaboration of creative minds and hearts. What a wonderful Kidlit World we live in!

A STUNNING STORY OF NATURE’S BALANCING ACT BETWEEN SAMENESS & CHANGE

A STUNNING STORY OF NATURE’S BALANCING ACT BETWEEN SAMENESS & CHANGE

Brendan Wenzel

Enthralled by the cover art of Brendan Wenzel’s A Stone Sat Still, I tucked his book into my arms and slipped into a library chair. Little did I know his rhyming text and mixed-media artwork would touch a deep corner of my heart.

Brendan’s simple, creative crafting of words rhythmically creates magical moments on each page. His talented artistry captures the passage of time as nature evolves through environmental changes.

A Stone Sat Still

Kirkus Review: “As with Wenzel’s Caldecott Honor–winning They All Saw a Cat (2016), this picture book plays with perspective to examine characteristics of one object—a stone—as it is experienced by a multitude of creatures….”

Title: A Stone Sat Still

Author & Illustrator: Brendan Wenzel

Publisher: Chronicle Kids, 2019

Age Range: 4-8
Website: https://brendanwenzel.info

Summary: With the passage of time, a single stone sits still while the natural world changes. The stone becomes more than a stone—infinitely more with a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

A sea gull swoops onto it, cracking open a clam. The stone is “loud.” A snake wraps itself on it for sunning. The stone is “quiet.” But no matter what, the stone sits where it sits “with the water, grass, and dirt” and it is as it is where it is in the world.

Reasons to Read…Reasons to Buy

  • The artwork is stunning!
  • The rhyming text rolls off the tongue, tugging the heart.
  • The message is worthwhile for all ages.

BUY THE BOOK: https://www.amazon.com › Brendan-Wenzel

Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!

Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!

Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!

 I’m doing the “Happy Dance” and tossing confetti for Rebecca Koehn’s debut picture book After the Rain! Rebecca is a talented writer, plus my dear friend and critique partner. She knows the patient hard work behind good storytelling and is fearless—a role model for us all! 

Amazon writes: “… After the Rain puts a new twist on the rainy-day picture book about sharing and learning to work together.”

Website: www.rebeccakoehn.com

Cover for After the Rain
Cover of After the Rain

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/After-Rain-Rebecca-Koehn/dp/1506454518/

ME: Thank you, Rebecca, for squeezing in time to talk! Your days must be SUPER busy parenting two young boys while writing stories. I’d like to start by asking you about yourself.

ME: Who are some of your favorite children’s authors?

REBECCA: Thank goodness you asked for only “some.” There are sooo many! I’m a big fan of Tammie Sauer and Ame Dykman. Newer authors I love are Alastair Heim, and co-authors Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie. We’ve been eating up Stacy McAnulty’s nonfiction books on celestial orbs at my house. As for classics, my boys still love a good Curious George or Ezra Jack Keats when we sit down to read. I could keep going. Do you have a word limit?

ME: What sparked your interest in writing for children?

REBECCA: My story is pretty typical. I rediscovered children’s books after I had my first baby. I loved the mixture of colorful artwork and vivid words. I remembered books I’d forgotten and discovered new ones. I was a middle school teacher before having children, so I’d already been into the middle grade and YA lit scenes. Once my boys came, I was addicted! I ran into an artist friend of mine, and yours, Mary Ann Hendrix (a beautiful water colorist), and we got to talking about how we both wanted to work on a children’s books. As with a lot of things, once you have a friend who shares your interest, you start moving quickly. That’s what happened with us. We started moving: me writing; her painting. And we learned about the business and the craft as we went. It’s been a ton of fun!

ME: What was your inspiration for writing After the Rain?

REBECCA: I actually have the photo that inspired this story sitting on my piano. We live in southwest Kansas, and at the time were suffering from a severe drought. Then, one day the rain came. Because of how the street drains are situated around our house, the gutter can fill up fast and become one massive puddle with little rivers leading away and feeding into it. The photo captures my boys and nephew running barefoot through the gutters after the rain. Such a fun day. Such wonderful inspiration.

ME: As a published author, what do you know now that you wish you did when you wrote your first story?

REBECCA: Excuse me a moment. I have to laugh until I cry because there’s SO MUCH! Then again, I’m pretty sure it was important for me to be completely clueless when I started out. My ignorance gave me the stamina and ability to learn, grow, and stick with it. So my answer is probably “nothing.” Except, it might have been good, and it still is good, to realize that this journey requires patience…and the ability to complete something, and then to walk away from it. You can’t sit and obsess indefinitely, or you’ll remain unpublished. You also have to reach a point where you’re willing to take risks. Most importantly, you need to know (and having been an English major I already knew) how to take criticism. While this is vital for writers, I think it’s an important skill to have in life—no matter what career or art path you choose.

ME: Is there a helpful tidbit that you can offer Kidlit writers who are starting out?

REBECCA: Well, there is the all-important READ. Read what you want to write. Read the classics, yes. Read the new stuff. Use our technology-based world to your advantage. Research, learn, take classes. Be open-minded and listen. Not everything will work for you, but if you ignore the experience and wisdom of those who have gone before, you’re failing yourself. And as I said earlier, embrace and learn patience, and how to accept criticism. You don’t always have to agree with and utilize others’ comments. But accept them with grace. 

ME: Since you’re a parent of two young children, how do you find time to write?

REBECCA: Whew. Well, I have many answers since my writing time has changed with the age and stage of my children. When I first started, I thought only the time I spent writing stories counted as “Writing Time.” I was constantly disappointed in myself. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I’d snatch writing time during naps or when family was around to help. Nap times were my writing times.  I learned quickly how to write with distractions or in quick bursts. As my boys got older, I structured our days so I would have time to write. Now, that they’re older, my boys are used to having a “quiet time” in the early afternoons. They spend that hour in their rooms playing quietly with Legos, reading, doing activities, etc. They know when Mommy sits at her desk typing, she’s NOT to be disturbed unless there’s a fire or blood! When you’re a new writer, you also need to count the time you spend reading about writing, reading books in your genre, following author/publisher blogs, and interacting and learning about writing on social media as “Writing Time.” It’s essential for your growth in knowledge and craft. You don’t need a dedicated hour each day. Though having dedicated writing time would be ideal, it isn’t necessary to progress as a writer. You just need to make the time to write some time. The writing does need to happen. 

ME: As a parent and author, do you have advice for adults when they read aloud picture books to children?

REBECCA: Here are my four favorite tips:

  • Use different voices when you read! You don’t have to be good. Just distinguish between characters. You may feel silly, and your kids may giggle, but what you’re doing is teaching kids HOW to read and how to think of the words on the page as characters, people, and story. My husband, bless him, does the most horrendous accents. But his voices are great! And it’s so fun to hear the boys mimic Dad. It’s wonderful to hear them attempt different voices because they realize what the words represent. As a teacher, I can tell you, not all kids realize this. Many children don’t visualize or connect the words with the characters. 
  • Make sound effects, even if they aren’t written into the text. With Eric Carle’s Brown Bear book, we always growled, tweeted, etc. Kids love this! Kids can participate by doing sounds with you. Sound effects add to the learning and makes reading fun! 
  • Let kids read to you even if they’re “reading” the pictures or reciting from memory. It’s part of the process of learning to read, an important step in their journey. 
  • Read every day. Picture books are so short now. Some can be read in less than a minute! All parents can spare a minute. Read aloud each day and don’t stop when kids can read on their own. Our oldest is 9 and still looks forward to us reading to him before bed. The books we read have changed but not the habit. 

ME: As you know, I’m “over-the-moon” in joy for your debut picture book! We’ve traveled many miles together to meet with our critique group and to attend writing conferences. In celebration of your book’s birthday, I’m offering a copy of After the Rain to one of our bloggers. To enter, leave a comment below. A winner will be randomly selected during March 2020 when Rebecca’s book is released. So please, have patience! 

CONGRATULATIONS TO REBECCA THILL, THE WINNER OF A “HOT-OFF-THE-PRESS” COPY OF AFTER THE RAIN! Thank you to all of the readers who wrote celebratory words to Rebecca Koehn and her debut picture book.