Monday, February 27, 2017

After the interview ~ turning notes into story

by Sue Heavenrich

interviewing bumble bees at RMBL
I’ve been committing journalism for a couple decades and no matter what I am writing about – whether it’s how to plant strawberries or the effects of repealing the Affordable Care Act – I always end up interviewing someone for nitty-gritty details. The trick is turning 5 pages of notes and quotes into an article that both educates and interests the reader.

“But there’s so much material,” you say. “I want to share it all.”

Short answer: you can’t. No one wants to read transcribed notes. Your job, as a writer, is to sift through what you’ve learned and find the important nuggets – and then develop a story that provides context for the reader. For me, this process involves a yellow highlighter and a cup of tea. After reviewing my notes, I jot a rough outline focusing on the most compelling points. Meanwhile I’m asking myself: what’s the most surprising/interesting thing this person has to share?

I think of profiles as a story: I am telling you, the reader, about this cool writer I met. She might have some useful insights on research, or he might have a funny story about what inspired his book. So I use the same process that I would use telling any story: who is this person, what’s the cool thing, and why does it matter – and for GROGGERs, how can we use this in our own craft?

That means that I will describe how they work, paraphrase some of what they have to say, and use the occasional quote. Though I am not a big fan of the Q & A format, I sometimes use it in a longer piece to focus on specific questions. 

GROG:  So how do you use quotes? 

Chris Mihaly (fellow Grogger): If I'm using quotation marks, I use the interviewee's exact words, altered with [brackets] if necessary. Otherwise, paraphrasing works well. 

Jilanne Hoffmann: I paraphrase quite a bit. It really depends on the purpose of the interview and the allowed word count. That tends to drive the form. I don't like word-for-word transcriptions. It doesn't leave much room for shaping the article/interview.

Should writers let the interviewee review the article? Most journalists don’t, though when I am writing something technical I will often email a section to the expert to make sure that the quotes and context are correct. I’m not the only one; Nalini Krishnankutty was happy to have an expert go over what she’d written, and thankful that person caught an error. “But no one has ever asked me to change anything else in either my writing style or the focus of my story,” she says, “and if they did, I am not sure I would be willing to do it.”

Among the many wonderful resources about interviewing, here are two I find useful (please add your favorites in the comments section):

Anatomy of Nonfiction, by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas

“How to Write a Profile Feature Article”  by the New York Times.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Meet Jennifer Ward ~By Suzy Leopold

Just south of the Illinois Prairie, where I homestead, lives a favorite author. She and I have many of the same interests. We both value the importance of caring for nature. We both value the importance of literacy. More importantly we enjoy combining these values. Through picture books we instill the love of nature and literacy with children and students.

I am delighted to share an interview with you. Let me introduce you to . . .  

Jennifer Ward
Jennifer Ward and Oree

Why do you like to write? What's the best thing about being an author?

Picture books bring me so much joy! That is why I write them. I also enjoy writing because it’s a creative process, and I love being creative. The best thing about being an author? Hmmm. Working in a creative field. Being surrounded by book people (some of the best people in the world!). Working in the field of literacy and nature, something I am passionate about. 


Share your author history. When did you begin writing for children, and how did you know it was something you wanted to do?


As a young child, I was always making my own books. Always. My parents knew it was something I enjoyed doing, and although I grew up in a household rich with books, they gave me a very special picture book as a gift once I graduated from college. The book was “Carl’s Busy Day” by Alexandra Day. In it, my father inscribed this message: 

Your Mother and I see in this book the prototype for your own artistic creativity – a love for life’s children – and animals too! We want to share YOUR volumes in years ahead!! 
All our love, Mom & Dad
Christmas, 1990
    CARL'S BUSY DAY by Alexandra Day
    Inscription from Jenny's Parents

    Obviously, my mom and dad envisioned that I would become a published author someday, even though I never thought it was an attainable goal. However, once I began teaching elementary education, I really became immersed in children’s books - integrating them into cross-curricular studies in my classroom. 

    It was then that I decided I would try and publish my own stories for children.
    By Jenny, age 10
    Written & Illustrated by
    Jenny Sultan Ward


    What inspired you to write your first book? Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your manuscripts?


    I was inspired to write my first published book, “Way Out in the Desert”, published in 1998 (and still in print!) because I was living in the Sonoran Desert and found it fascinating: the plants, the animals, the climate, the adaptations of every living thing to survive a place with such extremes. 

    There were not many children’s books about the Sonoran desert published at that time, so I was making my own stories to use in the classroom with my students during our science/desert biome unit. To this day, nature is the creative driving force behind many of the stories I write.


    How long did you write until you became published? Can you tell us about the process of finding and signing with an agent/editor?


    My first manuscript received an offer for publication very quickly. However, I knew nothing about publishing when I started out. I didn’t know SCBWI existed. I didn’t know any authors, published or unpublished. Zero networking. Publishers didn’t have websites when I started out and the www wasn’t really so worldly yet! I went into publishing blindly and naively. I wrote “Way Out in the Desert” one summer, sent it off to one publisher - I used the book, “The Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market” to find a publisher that published books about the desert – and by fall the publisher called with an offer to publish. Beginner’s luck, for sure! That was how I found my first editor, Erin Murphy, who currently heads Erin Murphy Literacy Agency (EMLA). Although Erin is not my agent (she’s an amazing agent!), I am so grateful to her for pulling my manuscript from the slush pile and giving me the chance to become a published author.

    I published my first eight books on my own. Then, I signed with the incredibly talented and wonderful Stefanie Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary. A fellow-author/friend referred me to Stefanie. Stefanie and I now have 20+ books under our belts. I adore working with an agent as it frees up the business aspect of publishing: negotiating contracts, royalty schedules and all the number-related stuff. In addition, Stefanie is my biggest cheerleader and keeps the wind in my sails : )


    Tell us about your two new books that debut this year.


    Thanks for asking! My two newest books are SO beautiful, fun and smart! (Don’t I sound like a bragging mother?) 

    In February 2017, “What Will Grow?” (Bloomsbury Books for Children) debuts. It’s a guessing book about seeds and what may grow from each, with beautiful gatefolds – pages that fold up, down or sideways, and is illustrated by Susie Ghahremani. Susie and I collaborated on “What Will Hatch?” and GROW is our companion title. “What Will Grow?” has already received two starred reviews, so that’s exciting!


    My other 2017 spring debut is “Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear” (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster), illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong. It’s an informational book about animal outwear and the illustrations are stunning!

    In 2018, “Mama Dug a Little Den” (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster) will debut, illustrated by Caldecott medalist Steve Jenkins. It’s a companion title to “Mama Built a Little Nest”.

    In 2019, “How to Find a Bird” (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster) debuts. It’s a picture book about the many ways one may find a bird.


    We all have favorite writers that inspire us. Name three of yours and why you like and respect their work.


    Really? Just three? That’s tough... but in my top 20: 
    1. Cynthia Rylant – her words speak to me. I love her voice. Her books are thoughtful, deep and evoke a sense of place and wonder. 
    2. Mem Fox – she’s a lyrical genius. 
    3. William Steig – storytelling at its finest. 


    If you could invite five authors to dinner who would you choose?


    Well, the above three, plus my father and Carson Ellis.


    Which writer/author would you consider as a mentor?


    I’ve never had a personal (in-person) mentor, but I’ve certainly studied, read and re-read the works of the above mentioned authors to guide my own writing process.

    What words of wisdom or advice do you have for aspiring writers?


    Write what you know. Write because it makes you feel joyful and passionate. Read (read a lot) in the genre you’re crafting. Allow plenty of time to think about your writing: process it; mull it over. Embrace the revision process. Join a critique group. 

    Consider joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for insight into the publishing industry, networking opportunities and support. 

    Most importantly, write because it’s something you enjoy doing.
    Jen & Sue


    What are your thoughts about critique partners and critique groups? Do you have any advice for finding and writers and sustaining a long term relationship that encourages learning and growing?


    I believe partnering with other writers is a fabulous thing, and SCBWI is a wonderful resource to connect with fellow-writers and illustrators for critique purposes. Personally, when I critique, I partner with like-genre writers. For example, I feel I can best offer support to picture book writers; not so much novelists – because picture books are what I know best. I believe a smart and successful critique group should provide encouragement, intelligent and creative feedback, camaraderie, and that members should buoy one another. 


    Share some thoughts on school visits and tips for making them successful.


    School visits are GREAT fun for all involved and a great source of inspiration, especially when planned thoughtfully. Communication is very important – keeping the lines open with the person responsible for scheduling the visit. 
    Tips: keep audience sessions close in age range (I prefer to work with primary-only audiences and intermediate-only audiences). This way, I can tailor my content accordingly. I provide an author visit kit to schools in advance of my visit. The kit provides tips on scheduling sessions, how to prepare students so they’re familiar with my work prior to my visit and lesson plans/activities that may be used in classrooms and libraries.
    Do you write every day? Do you experience days when you get stuck and don't know what to write next? Have you ever given up on a book and filed it away? 
    I may not write every day, but I think about my stories and my writing every day, which is an important part of the process. Yes, sometimes I get stuck. Yes, I’ve filed away many projects.
    Jen's Writing Spot
    with Pez

    Do you have many ideas in your head at the moment? What is your next project about?

    I have many projects and ideas, some are in-process, some are just nuggets and seeds. All contain an element of nature.

    What is your current WIP or what is your next project?
    I’m rewriting a book about birds. It’s an adult book and a huge project. 

    Tell us about the Buckeye Public Library in Arizona.


    I know, right? The Buckeye Public Library in Arizona approached me to ask for permission to integrate one of my books into the architecture of their branch. My publisher, the illustrator and I were very excited, permission was granted and we had no idea how GRAND the integration would be. Let’s just say the final design was beyond my wildest imagination. 

    Today, library patrons may sit and enjoy books inside and beneath my book “There Was a Coyote Who Swallowed a Flea”, which now houses the entire children’s collection at the Buckeye Branch in Buckeye, Arizona. Pretty cool.
    Buckeye Public Library in Arizona

    What's the funniest book you ever read?
    I recall laughing out loud so hard I cried while reading “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”, by Kevin Henkes. I may have been under a lot of stress that day, I don’t know. But a fellow illustrator and I were reading books out loud to each other and something in that book triggered a laugh-fest between the two of us. 

    I can also tell you the saddest picture book I’ve ever read: “Bluebird”, by Bob Staake. I shared it during a dinner party at my house and had every adult at the table in tears.


    What books are you currently reading?


    I just finished “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho – it’s adult fiction. 
    I spend much of my free reading time with nonfiction publications related to science, nature and birding – and reading photographer blogs related to bird photography in order to learn how to use my camera to its potential.
    As far as picture books, I always look forward to the new spring and fall releases, following Publishers Weekly and social media to see what’s new.
    Tufted Titmouse
    photo by J. Ward

    Do you have a favorite treat?


    Spending time outdoors, bird watching.  
    Being near or on the ocean. 
    Wine : )


    Share your love for the beauty of nature. Tell us more about your love for birds.


    I grew up running barefoot through the fields and prairies of Illinois. My family camped a lot, and we picnicked a lot. I can’t imagine a life without nature. 
    Sleepy Eastern Screech Owl
    photo by J. Ward

    I have become especially fond of birds, even more so since I’ve been working on my photography skills. I simply adore observing bird behavior, learning about various species, and making the planet a better place for all wildlife through efforts such as creating birdscapes, planting native, and picking up litter whenever I can.


    Do you have any hidden talents you want to share? 


    I like to believe I can sing, but I really can’t so well. I love photography. I paint. I draw. I create art with objects found in nature. 

    I’m never bored, even when I’m doing nothing : )

    Share something about yourself that very few people may now about you.


    I’m an ordained minister and have officiated three weddings : )

    AND, FINALLY . . . Where can readers find out more about you?

    I have a website: Jennifer Ward Books

    I am on Facebook and I have a Twitter account that I rarely use.

    Facebook is where I am likely to be found on social-media.

    Thank you for being being generous with many thoughtful answers to a long list of questions. I didn't expect you to answer all of them, but you did! We are fortunate to learn more about you, your books and your interests. You are appreciated, Jen.

    And her generosity continues . . . Jennifer Ward is offering a book give-a-way. To be considered for a copy of WHAT WILL GROW?, comment on the GROG Blog, include your email address and share this post on Facebook or Twitter no later than March 2nd. Be sure and indicate which social media you shared this blog post and your account name. Good luck!

    March 3rd Update: Thank you to all who read, made a comment, and shared this interview, ALL ABOUT JENNIFER WARD on social media. 

    Drum roll, please . . . 
    The winner of Jennifer Ward's 
    book & a garden kit is . . . 
    I'll be in touch with you, Stephanie.

    March 6th Update:
    Thank you ALL, for your enthusiasm and book love. It means a lot. And thank you, Suzy, for featuring Susie Ghahremani, me and our sweet book on the Grog Blog. And congrats to Stephanie Geckle, the winner of the give-away! Your package is en route.  
    : )
    Jen Ward

    Monday, February 20, 2017

    Don't Miss This Manuscript Workshop! ~ by Patricia Toht

    Children's writers, DON'T MISS THIS!

    A Manuscript Workshop -

    in Vermont -

    in July -
    Photo by Bill Toenjes

    with brilliant writing coach Esther Hershenhorn!

    Esther Hershenhorn

    Esther is an author, a writing teacher, and blogger. She's a writing coach who helps authors achieve their dreams of turning manuscripts into books. I first met Esther when she was regional advisor of SCBWI-IL, and I can attest that she is one of the loveliest, talented, and most encouraging people in the kidlit world.

    Recently, I sat down with Esther to ask her about the 2017 Vermont Manuscript Workshop that she will be leading. It will be held at the Landgrove Inn in Vermont on July 9-14.

    Q: The Manuscript Workshop was founded by children's author Barbara Seuling. How did she impact your career as a writer, teacher, and coach?

    Barbara Seuling
    Esther: I am beyond honored to be continuing my mentor Barbara Seuling's venerable Manuscript Workshop, especially now that she is no longer with us. Simply put: Barbara's life as an author, editor, and teacher was pure Show, Don't Tell. She believed - in children's books, in children, and in each children's book writer's capacity to become. She held the bar high; children deserve only the best. "Only the best" was also what her readers and writers received - not only from her Manuscript Workshop but from her
    best selling book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S BOOK AND
    GET IT PUBLISHED, both of which launched the careers of countless children's book creators. I feel so lucky to have known Barbara as a friend, to have learned from her as a writer, to have watched a true teacher at work. Last summer's attendees were lucky, too; her afternoon session was the icing on the cake. I'm already at work planning ways Barbara's affirming, caring spirit will continue to make itself known and breathe life into the Manuscript Workshop.

    Q: Who do you feel will benefit most from this workshop - budding writers or more experienced ones?

    Esther: The Manuscript Workshop is all about seeding and feeding children's book writers, giving each attendee what he or she needs (1) to grow his or her stories so they resound in readers' hearts and (2) to grow as a writer. There's the story the writer is telling, and there's the writer's story that the writer is living every day.
    Attendees at last year's Manuscript Workshop
    Writers need only: 
    • a working manuscript on which to focus; 
    • a want and a need to take that manuscript to the necessary Next Level, whatever that might be; and 
    • a willingness to "only connect,' as P.L. Travers advised - with their world, their story, themselves.

    All formats and genres for readers of all ages are welcomed!

    Like Barbara, I do my best to make sure that any writer seeking the time, space, place, focus, insights, and care to make his or her story the best it can be will benefit from the Manuscript Workshop.

    Q: How is leading this workshop different from coaching clients?

    Tranquility in Vermont 
    Esther: Barbara and I used to tease each other that we do things "the old-fashioned way - i.e. up close and personal," so when it comes to my coaching, the "care" mentioned in my answer above stands front and center. It's my job to not simply teach writers how to write for children, though I want my writers and students leaving with Major Writing Truths and Insights they can bring to each and every manuscript that follows; it's my job to make sure the writer continues to move forward on his/her plot line believing in his/her story and believing in himself/herself as the perfect person to tell that story. Think: teacher, facilitator, resource, cheerleader, travel guide, colleague and Jewish Mother. I'm happy to say that somehow all of those roles instinctively come into play when I teach a class, coach a writer, and/or facilitate a workshop.

    Q: What is your favorite part of this workshop?

    Esther: Last summer was my first time visiting Vermont's Green Mountains and the outstanding (and historic) Landgrove Inn that offered award-winning cuisine three times a day! 
    Vermont's Green Mountains
    Photo by Compass Points Media
    My writers and I loved how GREEN everything was, the BLUE of the skies, the quiet of the day, except for the spirit-lifting bird songs. They were free to live inside their stories, free from everyday responsibilities, to go deep and true, yet free to share them with their fellow writers. Coming to know each writer - her connection to the story she was telling, her writer's journey, her wants/needs/wishes, and seeing the progress each made during the week, as always gladdened my heart. Seeing them come together throughout the week, however, to help one another - even now, seven months later as an online writers' group named The Vermonters - took my coaching to a Team Level that would have made Barbara Seuling happy. Like Roald Dahl's Matilda, when she discover the book in the library for the very first time, each writer realized she was not alone.

    As I said earlier, if you are a writer, DON'T MISS THIS!

    For more information about this year's Manuscript Workshop, or to discover more about Esther's work with students and writers, visit Esther's website HERE and HERE.

    Please note that Tom Checchia is offering a 10% room discount at the Landgrove Inn for writers who register by Feb. 28th! Connect with the Landgrove Inn HERE.

    Read Esther's blog about last year's Manuscript Workshop in Esther's blog post "Making Magic in Vermont."

    Esther also reflects on the passing of the wonderful Barbara Seuling in "Barbara as Mentor" HERE. 

    Thursday, February 16, 2017

    100 Backyard Activities That are the Dirtiest, Coolest, Creepy-crawliest EVER! by Colleen Kessler

     By Janie Reinart

    Nature-loving kids of all ages are you ready to get your hands dirty and become an expert on bugs, beetles, birds, plants, worms and more? Let me introduce you to my amazing friend, Colleen Kessler.  She is a mom of four children, teacher, author, speaker and founder of the website Raising Lifelong Learners.

    Colleen taught elementary gifted kids for more than a decade, and has homeschooled her own gifted children. Her website and books focus on igniting a passion for hands-on learning, experimentation, science and creativity in kids. 

    In her spare time, Colleen’s a featured speaker at homeschooling conventions, events and online webinars and podcasts. 

    Give a warm welcome to this gifted author.
    Colleen Kessler

    Colleen has graciously answered some interview questions.  

    Who is your agent?  
    Currently, I don’t have an agent.

    How did you get the idea for your story?

    My new book -- like most of what I've written -- is nonfiction. I love finding ways to make science and nature awesome and exciting for kids. I try to make what I've written so fun and interesting that kids won't even know they're actually learning while reading and exploring.

    How long did it take to write? Get to a publisher?

    The book proposal for this title was written, submitted, and rejected here and there over the last 8 years. It languished in drawers for a long, long time. 

    In November of 2105, I dusted it off and sent it to an editor I was introduced to at Page Street Publishing in response to a request for a proposal for unique kids' activities books

    I had a conference call with the editor and publisher to hash out and fine tune the proposal, and signed a contract that December. Because it's a book most suited for a spring release, and December was too late to get all the details worked out by spring 2016, we decided it was best to wait until Spring 2017. It will be released May 2nd, 2017.

    What is your favorite part of the story?

    I love everything about this new book. It's a backyard nature science book for kids that is jam-packed with activities, explorations, and experiments that they can do in the yard -- mostly with things around the house

    The most fun, though, was that during the summer months when the activities were being photographed, we had about a half a dozen glass terrariums filled with insects, reptiles, and amphibians crammed on every free space in our tiny 790 square foot house. 
     What is your writing routine? 

    I sit down and write. I'm only half kidding. When I first started writing for kids, I waited until an inspiration would hit, and then I'd write feverishly. But, as I grew, and also started taking on freelance assignments, I started making myself write when I had the time to do it. 

    With four
    home-schooled kids, and a thriving blog and speaking career, if I waited until inspiration hit, I'd never write. Instead, I write every single day

    I work on social media and blog writing in delineated segments of work time, and write in a journal or on various documents saved on my computer when I am done with the writing work that has to get done first. 

    And I write wherever I am. In the car, an appointment waiting room, in bed, at the kitchen table... Any place can be a writing nook.

    What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

    Picking a favorite book of any genre is like picking a favorite child. Totally impossible. There are so many from which to choose, and new and exciting ones to discover all the time.

    What inspires you to write?   

    I don't know that anything specific inspires me to write. I know, though, that it's like breathing to me... something I can't live without. It's release, it's creativity, it's me time, and it's play. I just need to write.

    What are you working on now?

    Right now I'm working on a book for parents of quirky kids... nonfiction for moms (in particular) and dads (also) who find themselves parenting kiddos who are outliers -- those who aren't easily quantifiable: gifted, twice-exceptional, sensory strugglers, and otherwise different kids.

    Words of advice for writers:  

    If you want to write, then write. There will never be a perfect time, a perfect place, or perfect story. You just have to do it. And, once you've written, find seasoned writers with whom to  connect. Join critique groups -- and listen to critiquers, go to conferences, and read up on while honing the craft. But first -- write.

    Thank you, Colleen for an intriguing interview. Best wishes on your book launch. Pre-order 100 Backyard Activities here. I know some grandchildren that are going to love this book.