Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Welcome to our newest blogger, Carol Coven Grannick! ~ by Patricia Toht

The GROG has added a new blogger to its roster:

Carol Coven Grannick!

PT: Welcome, Carol! How did you get started as a writer?

Carol: As a child, it seemed natural for me to write, to put thoughts and emotions to paper. From childhood on, poetry and wonderful stories delighted and moved me, and the most natural thing in the world seemed to be for me to create the same. I suppose without putting it into words at the time, it felt like this - this thing, this experience is 'me.'

As far as I've meandered from full-time writing, being a writer has always figured into my multi-faceted identity. But there did come a time, once I was writing for children in a committed way, when I said to myself that whether or not I ever became book-published, I was a writer, and would keep writing. For several years, I put submitting on the back burner, and that freed me to write exactly what I needed and wanted to write. I still do. The deepest joy is in creating and re-creating.

PT: What inspires you?

Carol: Everywhere I go, everything I do, every moment of my life, can inspire a poem or idea for a picture book. It could be something a child does or says, something I observe or experience during the day, but it's always something visceral and something that my brain sees in language. An idea comes from this kind of response to anything - always something that catches me, sparks a sensation of wonder, even awe. Something tiny, but breathtaking, whether beautiful, joyful, painful, sorrowful, will catch my attention, and I'll hear an opening line of a poem, a title or opening lines for a picture book.

Advice Image source and CC link
PT: You've written quite a bit for newsletters and blogs. What are your favorite bits of advice for writers?

Carol: It's true that I've written lots of articles on the writer's inner life for newsletters and blogs. In fact, before I had a professional interest in the writer's inner journey and the strengths needed for persisting on the journey, I wrote columns for my high school paper, and later longer papers and articles that always leaned "internal." 

I never offer advice that I don't take myself, and so the small pieces of advice I'd offer - as a writer and clinical social worker - are these overarching things:

  1. trust or learn to trust your emotions and refrain from judging them; 
  2. if a pessimistic framework seems to inhibit your work, choices, and life, learn - with help and practice - to reframe language into a heartfelt, optimistic framework; and
  3. when preoccupied with the self-absorbing issues of working at being creative, make certain that your life has "other-balance" - focusing on what you can do for others or the greater good.

PT: Which books and authors are among your favorites?

Carol: Many authors have impacted my writing life, from the ALL OF A KIND FAMILY books I received as a child and classic picture books like BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, and THE STORY OF FERDINAND, to the extraordinary books I discovered at Skokie Solomon Schechter Day School, where Irene Sufrin had created and shared a magnificent K-5 library that took my breath away and turned my writing journey toward children. I read and re-read Jerry Spinelli, Linda Sue Park, Katherine Applegate, Kerry Madden, Karen Hesse, Lois Lowry, Claudia Mills, Deborah Wiles, Frances O'Roarke Dowell, Richard Peck, and so many more I don't have room to mention.

PT: Tell us a little about your upcoming book. What was your path to publication?
Esther Hershenhorn

Carol: My middle grade novel in verse, REENI'S TURN (Fitzroy Books, 2020), is a story of becoming, as one of my mentors, Esther Hershenhorn, so aptly said - really, a story of a shy, self-conscious preteen girl becoming the girl she'd like to be, without giving up the person she already is. It is a body-positive story that challenges the cultural notion that who we are, what we achieve in our lives, and what we even allow ourselves to want, is dependent on the size and shape of our bodies. 
The seed story for the novel appeared in Cricket Magazine in 2001, and inspired the award-winning experimental film, La Folia (Filmelodic, 2018). For now, I'll say that REENI has been through many years and more drafts and versions than I could have imagined, with me facing plenty of obstacles not unique to our business, but important to learn from, and to share. The degree of help and support I received from so many people in so many different arenas was a true gift. I took a turn toward independent, traditional publishers in early 2019, and found my good (and best) match with Fitzroy Books and publisher/editor Jaynie Royal.
Carol spent time this summer on a creative retreat, led by
Esther Hershenhorn in Landgrove, Vermont.

PT: Do you prefer the initial writing or the revision process?

Carol: I prefer revision, hands down! I love revising and have learned to revise with the eyes of a stranger. The benefit of putting away a manuscript for some period of time cannot be overstated. Our brains need the distance in order to see clearly.

PT: What's next for you?

Carol: I believe I've circled back to where I began my writing life - with poetry, whether verse or poetic prose, it feels like where I belong.

Heidi Bee Roemer
Poetry for the very young is my primary focus right now. When I began writing full-time, for the first time in my life, in July 2018, I took an intensive class with Heidi Bee Roemer. I felt like my brain exploded into a garden. I couldn't stop writing poetry for the very young, and I didn't want to! My inspirations were, and still are, the beloved children at the cutting-edge early childhood center where I'd worked for six years, and continue to serve as a volunteer story-reader. Heidi is a wonderful teacher, and a loving and supportive mentor. My classmates and I continue to exchange valuable critiques online.

I'm also working slowly and carefully on a poetry chapbook for adults that deals with an experience in a major hospital that jeopardized my husband's life, and had a major impact on me that I'm still processing.

PT: Wow, Carol! What an interesting journey you've had. Your path and persistence are an inspiration to me. We're so looking forward to having you join us on the GROG!

Hello, Carol!

************ WINNER ALERT!!! ************

Congratulations to Andrea Page,
the winner of Michelle Schaub's
new picture book/poetry collection,

Andrea, please contact Michelle via her website

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

FINDING TREASURE Author Interview w/ Michelle Schaub + Book Giveaway by Eileen Meyer

Michelle Schaub's latest picture book!

Michelle, thanks for joining us today at the GROG Blog. Where did you get the idea for this book and the poems within?

I first thought about writing a poetry book about things people collect when I was participating in Tara Lazar’s STORY STORM a few years ago. In this challenge, writers come up with a new picture book idea each day for a month. 

One day, when I was short on ideas, I was perusing the items on my bookshelf, and my eyes landed on my grandmother’s seashell collection. I started brainstorming different items that other family and friends collected. My mom collected buttons. (I loved rummaging through her button box when I was little.) My father-in-law collected trains. My husband collected baseball cards as a child. The neighbor around the corner had a birdhouse collection that filled his entire front porch. Each of these topics ended up becoming a poem in the book. But I still needed something to hold the poems together. So, I came up with the idea of adding a protagonist who needs to bring in a collection for a class assignment. This gave the book an arc: a hunt for the perfect collection!

Poem featured in Michelle's new book
Which poem from the collection is your favorite and why?

I had so much fun playing with different forms in this collection, and each presented its own challenges and triumphs. I think my favorite of the lot is “Auntie Kate’s Vanity PL8S” because I thought “outside the box” or more accurately “inside the license plate rectangle” for this poem. Each line of this poem is a vanity plate puzzle that must be decoded.  The challenge with this format was maintaining a rhyme and meter within the constraint of each line being no more than 6 or 7 characters long (including spaces), which is the standard for vanity plates.

Are you a collector yourself, and if so, what do you collect?

My grandmother was a collector. She had an amazing giraffe figurine collection and a butterfly-themed collection.   She also collected teapots and cups. I used to spend hours studying all her different pieces.  As a result, I’ve always loved the idea of collecting. 
Michelle and one of her collectibles: tea cups

Over the years, I’ve started several collections:  a blue teacup collection, a blue Santa collection (I really like the color blue), but then my attention and interests change.  The only collection I’ve managed to sustain is my collection of children’s poetry books. I just had to buy a bigger bookshelf recently to hold all of the wonderful poetry collections written by my fellow children’s poets. I’m also really drawn to the idea of collecting non-tangible things like smiles or words or poems. 

Something folks might not know about you…

I also “collect” visits to farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets are my happy place.  This statement, written on a tea towel my neighbor gave me, is absolutely true. 
Farmers' Markets & Michelle

The first thing I do when I travel to a new place is find the farmers’ market and see what local fruit and veggies treasures I can spy. I’ve even been known to plan vacations around farmers’ markets that are rumored to be spectacular. Walking down a row of tents at a market, taking in the bright rainbow of fresh produce and listening to chatting neighbors and lively musicians, fills me with joy.  

I channeled that joy into the poems I wrote for my last collection, FRESH-PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMERS’ MARKET.

Michelle's debut picture book

Michelle, I know that you have some other exciting news to share ...

I just launched a blog called POETRY BOOST.  I’ll be sharing lesson plans, mentor text, and ideas for using poetry to boost literacy across the curriculum.

GIVEAWAY: For those who leave a comment on the blog post, we'll pick a lucky winner of Michelle's new book on Sept. 23rd! Stay tuned!

Find Michelle here on social media:

Twitter and Instagram: @schaubwrites

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Just in time for fall: Pick a Pumpkin--Patricia Toht, Author, interviewed by Julie Phend

Pick a Pumpkin
With autumn here and Halloween just around the corner, what could be more delightful than Patricia Toht’s invitation to Pick a Pumpkin in her latest picture book? The book, written in rhymed verse for readers aged 3-7 and charmingly illustrated by Jarvis, evokes the magic of choosing just the right pumpkin and transforming it into a jack-o-lantern for Halloween night.

I love the rich, sensory details in Toht’s text: from “vivid orange, ghostly white” and “lumpy chunks, sticky strings, clumpy seeds, guts and things” to “small slits sleeping, cross-eyed crazy” and “red-hot eyes and fiery grin.” Jarvis’s beautiful illustrations in autumn tones of orange and blues give the book an old-fashioned feel that perfectly suits this timeless tradition.



Patricia Toht Interview

GROG: Pick a Pumpkin is a companion book to Pick a Pine Tree. Whose idea was it to write a companion book? How closely did you follow the same structure? Did this make the writing easier or harder?

PATRICIA: Pick a Pumpkin started out as a poem about carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. The poem eventually grew to book length. I thought that transforming a pine tree into a Christmas tree had promise, too, so I wrote Pick a Pine Tree. They follow the same structure, which definitely made it easier to write, since the basic arc was established. They were submitted to the publisher as companion books, with Pick a Pine Tree released first (2107), followed by Pick a Pumpkin this year.

GROG: Tell us about the illustrator, Jarvis, who illustrated both of these books.

PATRICIA: I’m so fond of Jarvis’s illustrations! For me, they evoke comfort and nostalgia. The color palette of Pick a Pumpkin is so rich – not only oranges, but purples, pinks, and blues – and conveys the feeling of autumn. Jarvis also has whimsical books that he’s both written and illustrated. My favorite is Mrs. Mole, I’m Home!, about a near-sighted mole.
Patricia's son Will picks a pumpkin of his own
He lives in England, so we haven’t met yet, but I’m hoping we will some day!
You can explore Jarvis's website here -

Daughter Ruth with Decorated Pumpkin
GROG: You’ve chosen to use rhymed verse in an era where writers are often told not to attempt it. What do you like about rhymed verse? Why did you choose it?
PATRICIA: I’m a poet at heart. I love lyrical language and how images can be conjured from few words. But I don’t always write in verse. It’s sounds odd, but I write in rhyme if a piece comes to me that way – it begins rhyming itself as I’m working on it! One danger of writing in verse is that sometimes the rhyme tries to drive the story – it’s tempting to add extra lines or to word things unnaturally, in order to make an end rhyme work. I once heard an editor say it’s not that editors don't like rhyme, they don’t like bad rhyme. If you want to be a rhymer, you have to really work at it by studying rhythm and meter, forms of poetry, poetic devices, etc.

GROG: How much do you edit and tinker with the wording and the rhyme?

PATRICIA: I obsessively edit and tinker! In poetry, every single word counts. I use a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary to help me make just the right choices. And I’m so lucky to have critique partners who are amazing poets, too, and they help me whip my manuscripts into shape.

GROG: What training do you have—as a writer and a poet?
Critique group: Eileen Meyer, Heidi Roemer, Michelle Schaub

PATRICIA: I didn’t study creative writing at school, so I’ve learned along the way. Early on, I took a writing-for-children class with Esther Hershenhorn and a poetry class with Heidi Roemer, which were both very helpful. I’ve also attended SCBWI workshops, and I have a shelf of craft books I refer to often.

GROG: You’ve written a number of holiday books for children. What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages of holiday books?

PATRICIA: A definite advantage is that holiday books have a ready market. But that also comes with a disadvantage – sales are usually limited to the holiday season. I also think it can be challenging to come up with a unique concept to compete with existing holiday books.

Glass Pumpkin Festival
GROG: Do you have marketing ideas for Pick a Pumpkin that you’re willing to share? 
PATRICIA: Last year, I worked with a classroom of second graders and I gave them an early reading of Pick a Pumpkin. Their teacher is from a farming family, and she picked tiny pumpkins for each student. I would love to do something like this at book signings and school visits! I’ve also reached out to our local arboretum, which hosts a glass pumpkin festival, hoping I can share the book at their festival.
Patricia with Second-Graders

GROG: While we’re talking about holidays, what’s your favorite holiday? Why?

PATRICIA: My favorite holiday is Christmas – I love everything about it! I start playing Christmas music and baking cookies the day after Thanksgiving. Our family has its own traditions, which include the trek for a tree, annual ornaments for the kids, and stuffed stockings that may not be opened until after Christmas dinner.

GROG: Finally, GROG readers already know a lot about Patricia Toht. Tell us something we don’t already know.

PATRICIA: Many people will find this weird, but I love graveyards! When I was a young mom, I lived across the street from one, and I often took my son for walks there. It was peaceful and filled with beautiful statuary. Reading the gravestones made me wonder about people buried there. Now, when I travel, I often find a graveyard to explore in each location.

Sounds like another Halloween book might be in your future, Patricia!

Thanks for sharing with GROG readers.