Thursday, June 29, 2017

GET ON THE BUS, GUS--An Interview with Patty Toht-By Sherri Jones Rivers

   I first met Patty Toht at the WOW 2015 conference in Helen, Georgia. I found her to be fun, creative, and a truly kind person. Now I get to interview her about her wonderfully poetic All Aboard the London Bus. Let's get started.

     About how many revisions did you go through before the manuscript was acquired?

     Each poem in All Aboard the London Bus went through so many revisions that it's hard to count, and I'm so grateful to my critique buddies for their help and guidance in that process. The timeline for publication is a little easier to figure out because writing began the last month our family lived in England--November, 2013--and publication was May, 2017.

     Did you always intend on a UK publisher? Did you submit in the states?

     The first editor to take a peek at the manuscript was here in the States. Andrea Welch from Beach Lane Books critiqued it at the LA SCBWI conference in 2014. She liked it and shared it with her publisher but they felt the market in the US would be too small. But their praise gave me courage to pursue submitting it more widely in the UK. Frances Lincoln is a UK publisher with a love for poetry and was the perfect place to send it.

     Do you have an agent? 

     My agent is Julia Churchill from A.M. Heath Literary in London. I signed with Julia while our family was living in the U.K. We met at the SCBWI conference in England where she critiqued a picture book manuscript of mine. (SCBWI conferences have been great connectors for me. If you are serious about writing for children, an SCBWI membership is a must!)

     I know you lived in London for several years. Did you always have a love for all things English?

     I always had a love for travel and moving overseas was a goal for our family. Our years in London were magical ones and have cemented my love of the U.K.

                                                Englefield Green     

 My husband and I are returning for two weeks this summer and I can't wait!

     Were there some places/stops/attractions you had to leave out in your manuscript, or did you cover all the sights you wanted to?

     Four of the poems that I wrote for the book were edited out, and the editor asked for three to be added. I was especially sad to say goodbye to a poem about Piccadilly Circus, but then the illustrator, Sam Usher, set the "Rain" poem in that location, so it ended up in the book anyway.

     How do you feel about the art? I think it's fabulous. I especially love the way the artist wove the words into a "river" on the page about the Thames. The Tube page is awesome the way your words fill the page, and the Seek and Find page was an added bonus.

     I adore the artwork in the book and was so lucky to be paired with Sam Usher! He's incredibly talented and his illustrations are the perfect mix of architectural detail and whimsical action. The bird's eye view of London is magnificent. I wrote "The River

Thames" as a shape poem and Sam brought it to life on the page, although I had to edit away several lines to make it fit. I often wonder if Sam was ready to throttle me with "Seek and Find Trafalgar"--that's a lot of detail to squeeze into one spread! With "The Tube" poem, I'm not sure if it was the editor's idea or Sam's to curve the text, but what a clever idea that was.

     What challenges or surprises have you encountered along the way to publication?

     One thing that always surprises me is the variation of time it takes from selling a book manuscript to the time of its publication. All Aboard the London Bus is actually the third book I sold. Two books I sold in 2013 are waiting to be born--Pick A Pine Tree arrives on September 19, 2017, and Pick A Pumpkin will follow next autumn.

     Do you have a writing schedule? Where do you like to write? Do you use mentor texts?

     I'm really struggling with my writing schedule right now. Between work and marketing my 2017 books, I'm finding it hard to carve out time for writing. Luckily, my school job allows for a few summer months off--now I just have to figure out how to get myself unstuck! I don't have an office, so I usually write in a corner of the living room, much to the dismay of my family who are constantly stepping over my papers and books. And yes, I use mentor texts ALL the time. I firmly believe that reading hundreds and hundreds of picture books has given me an internal rhythm about page breaks and three-part movements.

     What is something folks might not know about you?

     How about something old and something new? Old--I owned a children's book store from 1988-1995; it was called Never Never Land, and I met my husband there when he stopped in to look at books. New--I started a new job this year working in a middle school library.

     What advice do you have for other kidlit writers working towards that debut picture book?

     Keep going! I am an incredibly late bloomer. I began writing for children in the mid-1990's, just at the time that children's books were heading into a deep slump. Between raising four kids and facing a tough market, I didn't have much success in selling my work for a long time. But a poetry class led me to writing poems

for children's magazines and that was my stepping stone to publication.

   Patricia Toht lives in the Chicago area with her husband and youngest son. She has three more adult children and one grandbaby. When she tires of the Chicago winter weather, she buys a lottery ticket, hoping to win it big and be able to spend her summers globe-trotting. You can visit her website at


Monday, June 26, 2017

Explore What Illustrators Know & Do: Another Picture Book Writer's Tool - by Kathy Halsey

Last Monday we learned to use storytelling techniques thanks to author Lindsay BonillaToday we explore more in the second part of my series on new ways to see craft and story. We'll unpack the knowledge that illustrators employ in telling their story. Thinking like an illustrator is a great way to open up our writing even if we've never dabbled in art. 
I always leave room in my professional development playbook for an illustrator workshop to help me see with new eyes. Last Saturday the Ohio South Central SCBWI hosted a great 4 hour workshop with author/illustrator Lindsay Ward entitled "Write, Draw, Read, Repeat: How to Create Successful Picture books in Today's Children's Book Market." 
Author/ Illustrator Lindsay Ward

Lindsay began as an illustrator before she became an author; she works in cut paper, a very hands-on, painstaking process. Her first book, WHEN BLUE MET EGG, took her four years of work. She shared illustration "drafts" of cover designs, dummy pages, and most importantly for us writers-only folks, how she "sees" stories she creates. What follows are the takeaways I added to my writer's toolbox.

From the Illustrator's Mind
1. See the whole. Lindsay tapes/strings up her illustrations across her office to get a sense the organic whole of the story. Writers need to see tone, voice, and imagine pagination after a few drafts to get a sense of the true feel for the work.
2. Pagination and reading aloud. This is where Lindsay starts with a draft. We need to hear/feel page turns. Take your TBR stack and read aloud. Get to the point where you know the page turn because...
3. The page turn is the most powerful narrative tool. Treat it with respect. Use page turns to hide and reveal plot. They can set up the pacing, another big consideration in crafting a masterful picture book. Lindsay concentrates on keeping  a "visual pacing" going in her work.
See the personality reflected in each brother?
4. Characters need defining characteristic. Using BROBARIANS as a mentor text, Lindsay showed us several cover illustrations. She couldn't quite nail the cover until she saw the brothers per their defining characteristic. If you can't "get" your character while drafting or revising, amp up their defining characteristic ( just one, it is a PB) and follow that through the text. Lindsay suggests writing dialogue w/that defining trait to explore the character.
"Ahem, art notes??? Yes? No?
5. But what about art notes? Writers always want to know about the advisability of their inclusion. Our expert advised us that nine times out of ten, art notes are not necessary especially if they are descriptive. 
6. Finally, we received a list on what tools successful illustrators use: composition, perspective, color, line, action, focal point, gutter. Read some PB favorites and see how those elements are employed. And... how might we as writers use these tools to our benefit? 
Read this as a mentor text for action

So as we segue into summer, splash into new ways of writing thanks to Lindsay Ward. She has a fabulous web site, too.

Read this as a mentor text on composition

Thursday, June 22, 2017

BIC and BOC ~By Suzy Leopold

Perhaps you are seated as you read today’s GROG Blog post. 

Writers know the importance of, BIC or Butt in Chair. 

When you have your BIC, you are brainstorming, revising, and polishing. 

BIC = writing. 

Some days, writers are seated with BIC reading a stack of mentor texts or researching facts and information for a nonfiction manuscript. 

A tall stack of mentor texts
Are you sitting at this very moment? I'm thinking you must be.

If you are, please consider removing your BIC now. Come on you can stand up to read this GROG Blog post.

While my intentions are not to take you away from your computer keyboard or pen and paper, you need to get your BOC or Butt off chair to be a better writer. If you choose to stay seated then at least SUS or Sit up straight

BOC and SUS will support you and your writing.

I’m certain you may be thinking, “How can this be?”

As a writer, more vertical time throughout the day is best for your writing and your overall health, including your heart.

According to the American Heart Association, sedentary behavior can be risky causing cardiovascular problems. Yes, the life of a writer is sedentary. It’s what writers do to increase word counts on manuscripts, and meet deadlines.

When a writer is sedentary for long periods of time, one develops a foggy brain. Your brain function slows down. 

Walking helps your muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and increases the mood-enhancing chemicals. Spending time in green spaces, such as a stroll through a park, a hike up a hill, or enjoying the sights, sounds, and fragrances of a garden will rejuvenate your spirit. 

After a walk, a writer’s memory works better, improves attention, and has a positive impact on creativity.

All you need is a good pair of walking shoes. Grab a water bottle and slather on sunscreen. Now put one foot in front of the other. Remember to replace walking shoes every 500 miles.

Whatever you do, try to walk more. Along with health benefits, its one of the best things you can do for your writing. 

When you sit and write, do you experience some neck pain? How about your back and shoulders—Do they bother you as you write? Craning your neck forward toward a keyboard or tilting your head to write can cause strain on the cervical vertebrae. 

As my Mom (and your Mom, too) always said, “Sit up straight.” Relax your shoulders with your arms close to your sides. Elbows should be bent ninety degrees. Do not lean forward with your head and keep your feet flat on the floor. When you have your BIC, remember to SUS.
Sit up Straight
Consider standing as you type at your computer. If you have a cool standing desk that you type at, you're doing great. Typing while standing may give you an energy boost. An important tip to remember while standing is to keep your hands near waist level. It is also best to have the computer screen adjusted to eye level.
Stand and type
Walk more. Enjoy walking. When you do, you’re enhancing your creative muscles to write more and write better. You’re also creating a healthy life style with a stronger heart, and a clearer mind.

A writer needs to incorporate more movement every day. Whatever you do, take more breaks every thirty minutes from your writing to walk, to stretch, or stand up. Along with health benefits, its one of the best things you can do for you and your writing. 

After your walk, get your BIC. Make sure you are SUSBeing vertical is best. You can do it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Writing Tools Gleaned from Author/Storyteller Lindsay Bonilla - by Kathy Halsey

My last two posts until summer break will uncover new ways for picture book writers to see craft/story by focusing on complimentary arts – storytelling and illustration. Storyteller/author Lindsay Bonilla uses writing to feed her storytelling craft and the art of performance to enhance her writing. 

I accompanied Lindsay to a recent library story hour where she shared tales for this summer's theme, Peace Builders. I observed, took notes, and watched the engagement levels of adults and children as she woven her magic tales. 
Good Storyteller and Writers...
1. Set the stage immediately. Believe in the world you create for the reader, and they'll follow along.  Lindsay greeted children as they entered the room. She gave them imaginary hard hats and even extended the imaginary world. One child asked about her glasses, and Lindsay said, "What? You want safety google, too?" 
2. Engage the audience with questions, action, refrains. With a sea tale, Lindsay instructed kids to show the motion of the ocean, and act out the story as she became the guide on the side. What props can we use to entice kids to interact with the characters/plot?
3. Be cognizant of children's differences. A young boy who had trouble settling/attending to the story became a participant who moved the pace along. As writers, we must never lose sight of our readers' entry point with the material.  
4. Our roots as writers are from the oral tradition. Read a craft book on storytelling, attend a storytelling circle, or take a class. As Judy Sierra and Robert Kaminski say, "Nothing has ever equaled for us the intensity and excitement generated by a good tale, well told."(TWICE UPON A TIME.)
Interview with Lindsay

K: How did you first become interested in storytelling?
L: I like to say that I sort of stumbled upon storytelling. I was a theatre and religion major at Northwestern University. During my senior year, I signed up for a storytelling class that was offered by the theatre department because I I loved the professor, Rives Collins, and would have taken anything he offered. The class was magical. Each student had to share multiple types of stories. It was amazing to see how quickly the sharing of our stories created a bond amongst us, not only as we shared, but as we LISTENED!
K: What led to your interest in cultural stories?
L: For one of my class projects, we created a bibliography of stories that we could tell. At the library, I poured over tons of story anthologies  but the ones that captivated me the most were folktales. I love travel and learning about other cultures. I loved the way these stories could transport us to different places and that the wisdom in these stories seemed simple yet had incredible depth. I fell for folktales and knew I wanted to have a company dedicated to sharing them with children.
K: Take us through your career path.
L: After graduating from Northwestern, I spent two years doing children's theatre in my hometown. Then I made a big move  to Madrid, Spain. I took a month-long course to become an ESL teacher, but at the same time I was looking for theatre work. I found a company called Interacting that presented English-language theatre programs for Spanish-speaking audiences.  With them, I toured Spain and Portugal doing interactive programs to teach English. Although we performed in two-person teams, occasionally I would do solo performances. 
     They also had me writing/developing new programs. I loved their interactive approach and the way it  engaged the audience. After a bout a year, I knew that I had all of the tools I needed to start my own company dedicated to sharing other cultures through their folktales. I moved back to the states. It was a slow process, but my husband (who I met in Spain!) would not let me give up. He actually forced me to turn down paying work at a time when we could have used some stability because he believed in what I was I doing. My company, World of Difference Ltd., would never exist if it weren't for him. 
K: For you, how do the worlds of storytelling and writing intersect?
L:   This is a great question! I think that storytelling and writing are two sides of the same coin. You can't really separate them. Here's how I see the intersection in my work. Storytellers are not like actors in that we don't memorize our stories. We are taught to visualize a story – to see it playing out in front of us and then to describe it. (Like authors, many storytellers use storyboarding as a tool for learning their stories.) 
    This definitely informs the way that I approach writing. I tend to visualize my own stories. I see my characters and the world that they inhabit. I hear their voices. During my current phase of life, where I'm at home with a 3 year old and an almost 4 month old, it's rare that I have time to write. So being able to visualize the story comes in very handy. Sometimes I'll also start to tell the bare bones of a new story aloud or act it out with my son. It's amazing what you can discover when you take a different, more playful, approach!
K: What’s up for you next Lindsay?
L: I'm in the middle of my Summer Reading Program tour right now. That will keep me busy over the next few months, visiting libraries across Ohio and even one in New York state! After that wraps up, I begin work on a program featuring folktales about turkeys  for Thanksgiving.
As for writing, I'm currently working on a picture book that I'm really excited about. I've approached it in three different ways (meta-fiction, traditional 3rd person, and as told by the main character). I'm not sure which one I'll ultimately land on, but I do know that trying it in so many different ways has helped me make discoveries I never would've even considered if I'd only stuck with my first version.
Also, I'm hoping I'll be able to share some exciting writing news very soon! So stay tuned! (K: I know her news and it's very good!) 
Be on the lookout for Lindsay at an Ohio library near you and on her blog here where she posts on story and writing-related topics.