Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Kimberly Ridley Talks About Writing for a Small Press

by Sue Heavenrich

One of the best things about reviewing books is that I get to meet so many interesting people. Usually by phone - I'll read a book and think: "I must find out more about why they wrote that book!" And all of them, writers and illustrators, have graciously shared their wisdom, trails to publication and trials, and their excitement about their subject.

For Kimberly Ridley, it's animals that have lived on earth for millions and millions of years. Horseshoe crabs! Goblin sharks! Tardigrades! Comb Jellies! They have lived through extinction events and keep on going...

I was first introduced to Ridley's writing through her first book, The Secret Pool. She wrote another about an estuary (The Secret Bay), and now this, Extreme Survivors, out last fall. Like her others, this book is published by Tilbury House, a small, award-winning publisher tucked somewhere in the town of Thomaston, ME.

Since it's her third book with Tilbury, I invited Kimberly to share what she likes about writing for this small press. Also, because she is a science journalist like me, we had a wide-ranging conversation - some of what you can find over at my Archimedes Notebook blog this Friday.

Extreme Survivors is part of the "How Nature Works" series. There are a number of very interesting titles in the series, and I wondered how Kim got a book included in the series.

Kim: After The Secret Bay came out, I was brainstorming with editor (and co-publisher) Jonathan Eaton. I felt like I had a relationship with Tilbury House, and I was interested in doing another book. So we began talking about horseshoe crabs - Jonathan has a background in marine sciences - and he mentioned the "How Nature Works" series. I checked out other books in the series. I really love the idea of asking "how does nature work?" - this is a question all scientists are asking - so my ideas evolved in that direction.

Kim with salamander eggs in a frisbee
I started wondering what animals, other than horseshoe crabs are ancient? What other animals haven't changed in a 100 million years? And what adaptations helped them survive? I jotted down a list of about 20, and made a timeline on a wall by posting photos and notes.

GROG: What attracted you to Tilbury in the first place?

Kim: I think it was the response I received when I pitched ideas to (editor) Jennifer Bunting. Having worked as a science journalist for a few years, I sent a letter pitching a handful of ideas for a children's book. I said that I work with scientists and wanted to write for children. Jennifer was familiar with my writing, so she acquired The Secret Pool, my book about vernal pools.

Working with a small publisher was a good fit for me. I appreciate the back and forth with editors through the revision process. The editors at Tilbury House work closely with writers, and they take tremendous care with the book through the writing and revision process. They also pay a lot of attention to detail. A good example is the care they put into acquiring the high quality photos for Extreme Survivors.

GROG: Speaking of photos, was part of your job to secure the photos for the book?

Kim: They asked me to help find preliminary photos, and then they followed up by purchasing the rights to use photos. The people at Tilbury House were also receptive to my feedback on layout and design. I admit I can be opinionated, having been an editor myself.

Kim shows wood frog eggs to students.
For Kim Ridley, doing research for a nonfiction project is "like dessert." She loves finding things out, coming across cool facts, and discovering amazing photos. Her advice to writers: go ahead and check out small presses, especially if you want to write science and natural history books for kids.

You can learn more about Kim and her projects at her website. And if you think you might like to submit a manuscript to Tilbury, take some time looking through their website.

Photos of Kimberly Ridley are from her website and used with permission.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Collaboration on a STEAM book: Interview of Dr. Margaret Albertson and Paula Emick by Tina Cho

It's back to school for some folks (like me), and so today I'm interviewing two authors, Dr. Margaret Albertson and Paula Emick, who collaborated on an educational book, Music: The Sound of Science published by Rourke. These ladies are special to me because when I lived in California, we all belonged to an in-person critique group headed by Nancy Sanders. I was blessed to see Margaret again this past summer. 
Nancy, Margaret, Paula, Tina
Tina, Margaret

1. Can you tell us about this book and one of your favorite parts?

Music the Sound of Science is the first in a new series published by Rourke Educational Media called Project STEAM. This acronym is used to describe the marriage of the sciences with the arts: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art (visual and performing), and Mathematics. This book mixed music and physics.

Kids read an introduction to a science concept. For example, music is made up of sound waves. Readers then do an activity. They are asked for the most part to make, play and observe. The text then presents the scientific “why” of what happened.

Paula: I enjoyed taking the lead on the drum project, because I remembered making them as a kid. Anybody can make music with a drum. Plus, the artist in me loves decorating them.

Margaret: Working on the whole project was a lot of fun. If I had to pick only one favorite part, it would be the chapter on making music by buzzing your lips. Musicians play trumpets, trombones and even tubas this way. When I was a kid, I played the trombone in the school band, so I guess I was partial to this chapter.

2. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Paula: Margaret saw the call out for children’s nonfiction writers. Both of us wanted to try a short nonfiction book. We then submitted a writing example and our resumes to Keli Sipperley, who then became our editor at Rourke. Within six or eight weeks she offered us a contract to write this book. We were given the title and some loose parameters. Because our book was first in a new series, we had no mentor texts. Talk about needing to brainstorm!

Margaret was the music major. We had both taught elementary school and knew how these books were laid out. Since she had the music background and knew the terms she took the lead. The book fell together very naturally. We both had ideas that blended together. When working with a partner no one can be a prima donna. The ego must be put aside and just focus on telling the story. Each person puts in ideas and it all gets blended and molded into the final piece.

3. Why did you decide to write it together? How does that work?

Paula: We were attending the same writer’s group for several years and found we had a common interest in children’s books. Because we had helped each other and edited each other’s work, Margaret suggested we try to publish together. Our work styles complement each other. That is necessary when collaborating on a project.

We often met in person at a local restaurant for an extended lunch. Sometimes we emailed, phoned, and texted back and forth. We’d email a Word document using the markup tools.

4. Do you have any other published articles together or something on submission?

Paula: The music book is the first to be published together. We have a couple other pieces written and are sending them out. 

5. How did the two of you meet, and what got you working together?

Paula: We first met at church many years ago. Margaret and her family moved to another church. I remember her well because she sat behind me. When she sang, it sounded like a host of angels singing with her, the most amazing sound. Years later we met again in Nancy Sander’s writer’s group, CHAIRS, in Chino, CA. We got to know each other as writers and found we worked well with each other. To our amazement we also discovered we lived just a few blocks away from each other!  

Margaret: Paula’s style of writing really impressed me. Her sense of humor spilled out into her writing. I called it her “Paula Pizzazz.” She is very fun to work with. I now consider her a close friend.

6. What are you working on next?

Paula: We are still looking to publish our bilingual alphabet book, and another on prehistoric art.  Currently, we are working on separate projects. I started working full-time as an art teacher and only write part-time.  (I am doing this interview during my prep period.)  There are a few ideas percolating in my brain cells.  I have a couple middle grade mystery/fiction books to rework and send out. 

Collaborative writing sounds interesting. Try it out sometime!

Margaret Albertson, Ph.D. began writing a mystery book when she was in fifth grade. Her hopes of being an author were dashed when she read a published book with the same plot. She persisted and by eighth grade she had published an article. Now, in addition to her book, Music: The Sound of Science, Margaret has authored more than thirty-five articles and stories. Some of these have appeared in Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr., Brio, Brighthub, LiveStrong, and in a textbook for educators. She resides in Southern California with her husband and her dog.
You can find Margaret at

Paula Emick is a native Southern Californian. In addition to writing, she teaches art to elementary schoolchildren. She and her husband continue to live in Southern California with their dog and cat. Paula also has authored two pictorial history books, Rancho Cucamonga, and Old Cucamonga  by Arcadia Publishing.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Consider a “DO-IT-YOURSELF” Writers' Retreat! Eileen Meyer talks about hanging out with your tribe, fueling inspiration and gettin’ things done!

by Eileen R. Meyer

Are you looking for:
·       An opportunity to hang out with a small group of fellow writers?
·       A chance to sharpen your focus and get work done with minimal distractions?
·       A place where kidlit topics populate the agenda?
·       A way to keep costs reined in?

Friend Julie Phend writing outside on the patio.
Then maybe you should consider participating in a WRITERS’ RETREAT ...

One that you could even put together YOURSELF!

As they say at Nike – “Just do it!”
And so a small group of us did!  Here’s our story . . .

Earlier this year, two friends from my writing tribe (who live in different parts of the country) came to visit me in Florida for a DO-IT-YOURSELF WRITERS’ RETREAT!

Backtracking -- a few years ago, my husband and I bought a home in north Florida near the ocean. It’s a beautiful location and provides the perfect getaway for friends and family, BUT you don’t need an ocean hideway. You can host a writing retreat ANYWHERE –at a friend’s cabin in the woods, a relative’s place that they are willing to share, or any location that offers space for a few people, plus a temporary retreat from the outside world. When I offered to host the retreat, long-time pals and fellow kidlit writers, Dana Easley and Julie Phend jumped at the opportunity to leave chilly climates for a springtime getaway. So we put our plans in motion.

Our objectives:
·       Each writer would bring an existing project that needed attention.
·       Weather-permitting, we hoped to get daily exercise to break up extended periods of sitting (or standing) and writing each day.
·       Our schedule would include focused morning and afternoon writing sessions.
·       We ate simple breakfast and lunch meals at home to maximize our writing time. Everyone pitched in with kitchen chores.
·       We read an inspirational message before each meal and discussed what we thought about it. Mealtime also gave us an opportunity to discuss stumbling blocks and get feedback before our next writing session. Sometimes we provided a speedy critique on a short piece if someone needed immediate feedback before they could write on.
·       Most evenings we ventured into town and had a nice casual dinner. It was good to get out of the house and nice to have someone else make our dinner.
·       Evenings were reserved for critiques or Q&A time. Each writer had 30-45 min to get input on a topic of their choice.
·       And of course, we wanted to enjoy our time together as friends, laugh and have FUN!

By the end of our retreat we hoped that each writer would feel she had accomplished much more than she would have at home. We each planned to make significant progress without the constraints of our typical daily schedule. We also wanted to leave the retreat on a “writing high” – eager to resume our regular lives, yet pumped up with a lot of energy to keep moving forward on our projects.

As the retreat host, I tried to provide a framework for success:

Each writer had her own room and desk for writing. (There were other spots for work, as well.)

I put together four special messages (excerpts from writing guides or inspirational blog posts) for each day of the retreat.

We started each day with a walk on the beach. One morning we made a point to get out extra early to watch the sun rise above the ocean – that was a fabulous way to begin the day. 

It felt good to stretch our legs and get some exercise; we usually spent an hour walking and talking.

Dana Easley working on her novel in the family room
after a morning of writing in her guest room.

For morning and afternoon writing sessions – we mixed it up. Sometimes, we each moved to a new spot inside or outside. Changing our setting helped us feel refreshed and energized.
Julie Phend editing her work in a new spot.
What else did we do?

Left to right: Dana, Eileen, Julie dining out.
A few nights we ate in, other nights we headed out for dinner. 

Shell and sea glass hunting.

We usually went back to the beach for another walk after dinner. Most days we averaged well over 15,000 steps, sometimes almost 20,000! 

Hunting for shells and bits of shiny sea glass gave our minds a much needed break – and also provided time to ruminate about a pesky plot or character problem. 


Here is what each of us had to say about this experience:

“I came to the retreat having just re-worked the plot of my novel-in-progress. I hoped to get feedback on the changes and a jump-start on writing the needed revisions. Both goals were accomplished--and more! It was the ideal setting:  dedicated time to think and write without distractions, coupled with supportive colleagues who already know my work. One night we even brainstormed ideas for selling and marketing a prior novel, which I have passed on to my agent. We worked hard and had fun doing it! I appreciated this retreat so much and came home filled with new vigor and determination.”   -- Julie Phend

“I came to the retreat with two goals in mind: to overcome creative lethargy that had set in over manuscript revisions requested by my agent and to spend some time brainstorming in the company of writing colleagues. The retreat was exactly what I needed. Both the time dedicated to concentrated writing and the camaraderie of fellow writers kickstarted my creative process and got me back on track with my manuscript. The inspirational messages and conversation recharged my writer batteries and gave me the push I needed to complete my revisions the following week and to develop a strategy for prioritizing writing going forward.” – Dana Easley

“I looked forward to spending time with dear friends and working on poems for a collection I hope to complete this year. I continued to make progress, and found it helpful to discuss the project with fellow writers and get instant feedback that shaped the direction of the picture book. The retreat was a big success – by the end of our time together, I felt a greater sense of enthusiasm for the project, my work benefited from instant feedback, and time spent with my friends was a needed break from the typical solitary life of daily writing!” – Eileen Meyer

Hands-down, our writers’ retreat was a GREAT experience!

So maybe it’s time to think about setting up your own “DO-IT-YOURSELF” Writers’ Retreat!

I’ll close with a favorite writing and friendship quote . . .

Stay tuned – fellow GROG Blogger Chris Mihaley will post an article about her experience creating a do-it-yourself writing retreat in the coming weeks. It's always nice to have another perspective and additional ideas regarding how to set this up. Hopefully, both of our experiences will inspire you to carve out some special time for your writing soon!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

RICE and HAY: Two New Picture Books! ~ by Tina Cho and Christy Mihaly

Hi Friends!
Tina Cho
Christy Mihaly
We (Tina Cho and Christy Mihaly) have known each other through GROG for about four years. We’re also both members of Epic Eighteen, a group of authors and illustrators who have debut picture books coming out in 2018. 

Though we’ve never met in person, and in fact live on different continents, we’re friends with lots of things in common … so it’s a happy coincidence that our debut picture books will be published on the same date, August 14, 2018We decided to interview one another for the occasion.

Tina’s forthcoming book is Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans. It’s illustrated by Keum Jin Song and published by little bee books. It tells the story of a secret delivery of rice from South Korea over the mountainous border to hungry people in North Korea via helium balloons. This book was informed by Tina’s own experience participating in an aid project that sent rice-laden balloons to North Korea. The book includes informative back matter about the history and politics of North and South Korea.

Christy’s rhyming picture book, Hey, Hey, HAY! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Themwas inspired by the beauty of the author’s hayfield and the fascinating process of haymaking. Illustrated by Pura Belpre honor winner Joe Cepeda, the book provides a kid-friendly introduction to farming, specifically making hay – “storing summer in a bale” – and to the machines that help in the work. It’s published by Holiday House and includes a glossary of haymaking terms (like “baler” and “tedder”) and a recipe for switchel, the traditional haymakers’ drink.

For this post, each of us asked the other three things that we were curious about. First, here’s Christy, interviewing Tina.

CM: Tina, though this is your first trade picture book, I know you’re an experienced writer. What other books have you written, and how did they prepare you for Rice from Heaven? 
TC: I’ve written many products and books for the educational market such as The Girls' Guide to Manners. Working with editors and deadlines has prepared me in being a very disciplined writer. I’m used to dedicating my evenings and Saturdays to full-time writing.

CM: Yes, discipline and persistence are a big part of writing for publication. I’m glad it has paid off for you so well. 
Although you grew up in Iowa, you now live and work in South Korea – how has this created challenges and advantages for your writing career?

TC: Living in South Korea has both challenges and advantages.

It’s been challenging in that I feel like a “lone” writer, meaning, I don’t have English-speaking face-to-face critique groups or writing conferences that I can attend. Being on the other side of the world means I sometimes stay up very late or awake early to take part in “live” webinars or training for work-for-hire meetings. I don’t have an English library to check out books or read the latest picture books. I’m also not able to be in the states for my debut book’s birthday and for book signings when it comes out.

 RICE FROM HEAVEN spread, showing the two Koreas
Some advantages:
Because I don’t go out a lot (language barrier), I stay inside and write. This allows me to do a lot of work-for-hire and my own writing.
rice field in Korea
I’ve gleaned many book ideas from living in another culture. Two of my picture books sold are based on Korea.
I’ve made many online kidlit friends, and it’s a joy to be a part of many Facebook kidlit groups.

CM: You also teach school, Tina – how long have you done that and how has your teaching helped in your writing?

drawing by Isaac
TC: I’m starting my 15th year of formal teaching this August, my 20th if you count five years of homeschooling here in Korea. Being around elementary kids all day for most of the year helps me understand kids and what they are interested in. I write down ideas from funny things they say or do. I also understand curriculum and standards, so when I read a picture book, I’m able to think of lesson plan ideas or how that book can be incorporated into schools. I also wrote the teacher’s guide for kindergarten – 3rd grade for my book Rice from Heaven. Also, when I read manuscripts, I can sort of tell the grade level and if a word or topic will be too difficult for a certain age group. It’s just something natural that pops into my head. I guess I can’t turn off my teacher brain.

CM: Thanks, Tina. Congratulations again! I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person sometime soon.
And here are Tina’s questions and Christy’s answers:

TC: Christy, how did you land the sale for Hey, Hey, Hay?

YMCA camp where Falling Leaves meets in autumn
CM: In November 2014, at a point when I had published in magazines but hadn’t yet signed for any books, I attended a small writing conference. It was Falling Leaves, which meets on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York (and which I highly recommend!). There I met Grace Maccarone, executive editor at Holiday House. Grace was not my assigned one-on-one critique editor, but I was able to chat with her during the conference, and based on what she said she was looking for, I thought one of my manuscripts--the one about making hay--could be a good fit for her. 

Christy's hayfield
After the conference, I walked through my hayfield and revised and polished my HAY manuscript, and a few months later, I sent it to Grace and crossed my fingers. She liked it right away! A couple months after that, we had a contract. Now, three years after that, HAY is about to be published.

TC: You also write for the educational market. What was one of your favorite books to write and why?

CM: I enjoy writing on assignment for the educational market because I get to write about a broad range of topics – including many that I wouldn't have thought of myself. I particularly enjoyed writing California’s Redwood Forest, which is part of the series “Natural Wonders of the World.” I knew the basics about redwoods, but enjoyed learning more about these magnificent trees and the ecosystem that they inhabit. Plus that book has some great photos!

I'm also very excited about a new forthcoming YA nonfiction book which I co-wrote with another Grogger, Sue Heavenrich. It’s called Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, and it’s about how what we eat affects the health of the planet as well as our own health. Specifically, we invite readers to consider consuming more weeds, invasive species, and insects. These are foods that are local and fresh, and harvesting them can be good for the environment! The book will be published this fall by Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner).

TC: What have you learned so far this year on having a debut picture book?

Website image: some Epic 18 covers
CM: Having a picture book coming out has reinforced for me the importance of being part of the kidlit community. As you pointed out, Tina, we write alone, but it sure is nice to have the support of others. I was really happy that you connected me with Hannah Holt and the other wonderful folks who formed Epic Eighteen. It’s been so helpful to share resources, tips, questions, and nervous thoughts with others during our mutual debut year.
In addition, I learned more about connecting with readers. I hadn’t put much energy into school visits before this year. Recently, I've visited several classrooms to read to kids, and received great feedback about designing good kid-oriented presentations. I’m developing more interactive programs for youngsters, and I’ve started to schedule bookstore visits. Now that I have some hay-related crafts and activities figured out, I’m realizing that this could be really fun! 
More from Hey, Hey, Hay!
Back matter

Interestingly, although our two picture books address quite different topics, they also -- like us -- have a lot in common. We both enjoy writing nonfiction, and for our debut picture books each of us invented a fictional narrator to tell a true story. Plus, both books involve food.☺

Thanks for letting us share a few tidbits about our books and our writing. And special thanks to GROG and all our friends out there for supporting us on this journey. 

Interested in pre-ordering? 

Christy is running an online pre-order campaign for Hey, Hey, Hay! For more information about how to pre-order through the website of Bear Pond Books, her local bookseller, see instructions on her website, here
And Tina wants you to know that you can pre-order Rice From Heaven here. Thanks again.