By Suzy Leopold
Welcome to the GROG Blog, Debbie. I’m pleased to chat with you about all things kidlit and your soon-to-release picture book.
Aunt Luella was a special lady. I loved my weekend and summer visits with her and Uncle Elmer. Aunt Luella enjoyed crafts and we always had a project to do, making doll clothes, jewelry Christmas trees, and quilting. She taught me to sew, knit, and crochet. There wasn’t anything that she couldn’t do!
When she was 92, she had a stroke. She recovered from that, but could no longer live alone. Years before, she made me promise not to put her in a nursing home, so I brought her home to live with me.
Her behavior changed, she was confused and didn’t know me or the rest of her family. This brilliant lady had Alzheimer’s. Caring for her was one of the hardest, yet most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It was difficult to watch as her memories faded. She passed away four months shy of her 96th birthday.
When I wrote THE MEMORY JAR in 2018, the words flowed on the paper because I was thinking of Aunt Luella as I wrote it. I miss my aunt so much. Writing this story helped to heal my heart.
I had hands-on experience. I once worked as an activities assistant in a nursing home. Many of the residents displayed either dementia or Alzheimer’s. Daily, I visited them, did crafts with them, and played music for them. While working at the nursing home, I attended a conference on aging and learned more about both of these diseases.
While caring for Aunt Luella, I also attended a couple of conferences for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The speakers at these conferences helped me understand what my aunt was going through and offered advice on what I could do to help her.
Children may feel uncertain about a loved one exhibiting
behavioral changes as one ages. Describe how Amelia, the
main character, created love and compassion for Grammy.
Amelia was confused about why Grammy couldn’t remember people
or events. I had her mother give her a short explanation. Being a
picture book, I didn’t want the mother in it to over-explain or sound
like she was preaching. Amelia wanted to help her Grammy remember
and came up with the idea to write down Grammy’s stories. She hoped
when Grammy read her notes, she’d remember.
Did your manuscript require many rounds of revisions?
Did critique partners share thoughtful and helpful feedback?
I wrote this story in two hours but spent a year tweaking and revising it.
When I shared it with my critique group, I received excellent feedback.
One comment was to show Grammy’s excitement or surprise when
Amelia gave her the jar. I believe I had written, 'Grammy smiled'. I
changed it to 'Grammy giggled'. Also, I wasn't happy with my ending.
It was after talking it over with my group, that I had my Aha! moment.
The ending now ties in with the story.
Was your manuscript for The Memory Jar a submission
opportunity from a writing conference, an online workshop,
or Twitter event?
I had already pitched my manuscript to 18 agents and 6 publishers.
I can’t remember where I read about Young Dragons Press. It may
have been mentioned in one of the blog letters I receive or on Twitter,
but I read that this publishing company was branching into children’s
stories and was seeking realistic picture book manuscripts. I submitted
my manuscript to my seventh publisher, Young Dragons Press, on
April 1, 2021, and signed a contract with them on April 13, 2021.
Did you have any input on the bright, colorful illustrations by
illustrator Victoria Marble? Was it the illustrator’s idea to use
sepia tone illustrations for Grammy’s memories from days gone
I didn’t include any illustration notes with my manuscript. I left
everything up to the illustrator. I’m so lucky my publisher chose
Victoria Marble! She did an amazing job. My editor sent me two character sketches Victoria did of Grammy, Amelia, and Mama,
and I loved them.
Victoria and I messaged each other on Facebook. She shared
samples of other sketches for my story. When my editor sent the
illustrations in November 2022, for my approval, only one concerned me. The teacher was shown just from the waist down. I asked if
Victoria could show the full view of the teacher, and it was done.
I wondered how the memories would be illustrated. I thought perhaps
in a thought bubble. Victoria’s idea to do Grammy’s memories in a sepia tone was brilliant.
Victoria had to not only show three generations with her illustrations,
Grammy, Mama, and Amelia, she had to show these characters in
different stages of their lives. She did a beautiful job drawing Grammy as a child, as a wife and mother, and then as a grandmother. Mama was also pictured as a child.
Victoria brought my characters to life with her artistic talent. I love her
|Illustrations by Victoria Marble|
Tell us about yourself and your writing journey. When did you
become interested in writing children’s literature? Did you plan
to be a writer or did it just happen?
As a child, I loved writing, and my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary
Noel, encouraged me to keep writing. When my nieces and nephews
were young, I wrote children’s stories to entertain them.
While on a tour in England in 2012, I decided to seriously pursue a
writing career. One of the ladies in my tour group, Ilana Ostrar, was a
writer/illustrator and she belonged to the SCBWI. She convinced
me to join, too.
When I returned home, I joined SCBWI and attended my first writer’s
conference a month later. After hearing the guest speakers and meeting
the other authors at the conference, I was hooked. I wanted to be a
published children’s author. I joined a local SCBWI-Illinois network,
The Scribes, and here I am!
Do you write a first manuscript draft with pen or pencil and paper or do you type on a keyboard?
I enjoy putting pen to paper, but find it easier to write with a keyboard.
When writing middle-grade or YA novels, I like to write my outline
on paper. I then glance at my notepad as I type each chapter. Since I don’t do outlines for picture books, I just start typing and see where my muse takes me.
Share some recommended picture books, YA, or MG titles.
Are there recently published books on your To Read stack?
This is tough. I want to ‘read all the books, all the time.’ It’s easier to
mention my favorite authors. Carolyn Crimi, Alice McGinty, Meg Fleming,
Lori Degman, Tara Lazar, Josh Funk, Pat Zietlow Miller, Vivian Kirkfield,
Sarah Aronson, Krysten Lindsey Hager. There are so many others, too
numerous to list. I suggest checking out each of these authors’ websites
and then reading their books.
Anitra Rowe Schulte’s book, Dancing with Daddy, came out in 2021.
It’s on my list to read, as well as Deb Aronson’s book, Alexandra the Great.
Do you have any forthcoming projects? Can you share a bit about a future book(s)?
My agent, Dawn Dowdle, of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency, is submitting
four of my stories. The first in my picture book series of seven is about a
girl detective, THE CASE OF THE MISSING STAMP. She’s also querying my
humorous picture book, COWS CAN’T BE CLOWNS. Dawn is subbing
two of my middle-grade novels, VOTE FOR MAX, about a dog who runs
for mayor, and NORTHWOODS SUMMER, about a girl who is determined
to catch a musky.
I’m under contract with Young Dragons Press for two more picture books,
GRANDPA’S BARN, and HEART OF STONE.
I am continuing to write PB drafts and revising them. I have several
other picture book manuscripts ready to send out. I’ve outlined a
middle-grade story about a girl at camp. I typed the first chapter, then l
lost it when my computer’s hard drive went out. I need to get back to
work on this one, but lost my mojo when I lost that chapter.
Share a piece of advice or craft of writing tip that is helpful
when writing for young readers.
If you’re serious about writing, find a critique partner or critique group
that adheres to your vision, but who isn’t afraid to offer advice on ways
to change or improve your manuscript.
You don’t want someone who agrees with everything you put on paper
and tells you, “It’s lovely.”
When you receive your critique, ponder what the person is saying. You
don’t have to defend your work. They are just giving you a suggestion
that you can accept or reject. If you agree, then incorporate their idea
into your story.
Don’t get discouraged after a rejection. Believe in yourself and your
work, and keep honing and improving your craft. Don’t give up!
If you could invite an author to dinner, who might that be?
Why do you admire this writer?
I’d love to meet Vivian Kirkfield and share a meal with her. She’s an
elderly writer, like myself, who has written some beautiful stories.
Making Their Voices Heard, Sweet Dreams, Sarah, and Four Otters Toboggan are just a few of her many books.
She hosts #50PreciousWords and comments on each entry. I
understand there were over 700 entries this year.
She encourages authors on Twitter. She has a Highlights Foundation
Scholarship set up in her husband’s memory and is sponsoring a literary
initiative. We’ve never met, but she feels like a friend.
Share your thoughts on the best way to market a picture book.
What are some activities and events you are doing to launch
and promote your book?
I’ve ordered bookmarks and author postcards. I plan on sending the
postcards to local schools and libraries saying I’m available for author
I ordered a rubber stamp of my characters, Amelia and Grammy, to
stamp in my books when doing book signings.
I ordered items with my book cover on them, a tote, a puzzle, a
computer mouse pad, and a memory card game for possible giveaways.
I plan to give out a decorated plastic jar to classes where I speak, so
they can start their own memory jar. I also ironed a transfer of my book
cover on T-shirts for giveaways.
I’ve been posting on Twitter, Instagram, Mighty Kid Lit, Facebook, and
Goodreads about my book, first with a cover reveal, and now with
I plan to have book giveaways and have scheduled several blog
My plan is to put myself out there. Make myself known, and hopefully,
sell some books.
Tell us about your role as an SCBWI network representative for
Springfield, Illinois Scribes and how you share writing challenges
When Cynda Strong asked me to take over as the SCBWI-IL network
representative for the Scribes, I was honored. I hated that Cynda was
stepping down as she’s done an amazing job leading our group. And I
wondered how I could ever fill her shoes.
I enjoy working with our group. I’m amazed at everyone’s talent. We’re
a small group, but we have so many wonderful writers and illustrators!
Each month we critique pages, but we also have programs and
presentations by authors on subjects my group wants to hear about.
NaShantá Fletcher recently spoke about promoting our books. We've had other guest speakers, such as Michelle Schaub, Lori Degman, and Carolyn Crimi.
To motivate my group, last year I started listing monthly challenges on
our Facebook page. I challenge them to submit to certain agents or
publishers, to write a manuscript draft, to submit to a kid lit magazine,
to write a poem, etc. For each challenge met, they receive a point. At
the end of last year, the member with the highest number of points won
prizes, a chance to submit to a closed publisher and a closed agent, a
critique from Sarah Aronson, and the opportunity to watch the SCBWI-IL
recordings. Grog Blog’s very own Suzy Leopold won! Gail Bradburn came
in second and she also was able to submit to the publisher and agent.
Everyone is working on the challenges for this year. I hope to be able to
line up some more great prizes.
Any words of encouragement you’d like to share with book
If your goal is to become a published author and/or illustrator, do
all you can to make your dream come true. Find critique partners,
attend conferences, and most importantly, keep writing and drawing.
Don’t give up! The world needs your books.
Are you prepared for some fun rapid-fire questions?
Tell us something about yourself that we may not know.
In 2012 while in London, I attended an Easter Eve service at Westminster Abbey which was filmed for a documentary. I’ve never seen the finished production, but often wonder if I made the cut.
Would you describe yourself as a plotter or a panster writer?
Complete this sentence. Debra is an author and kid lit
creator who . . .
. . . loves to watch cozy mysteries.
A favorite storybook character from when you were a kid.
Do you like creative challenges?
- What item(s) displayed on your desk gives you inspiration?
Where can readers of the GROG Blog find out more about you?
Debra Daugherty is represented by:
Thank you, Suzy, for including me, and my book, in your Grog Blog. You asked insightful questions that were fun to answer.