Mem Fox at BEA

I adore Mem Fox. She is the author of my favorite quote: "Writing picture books is like writing 'War and Peace' in Haiku." Her brilliance is unquestioned and her recent speech at BEA was no less than one would expect:

CLICK HERE to see her talk on YouTube if the embedded video gives you an issue.
Thanks to Betsy Bird for the heads up!

Candice Ransom's IVA HONEYSUCKLE MEETS HER MATCH - Guest Post and Giveaway!

Candice Ransom is my walking buddy at Hollins University each summer. We do three laps around the gorgeous campus almost every week-day. It got me in shape last summer! Let's hope it'll do it again this summer! Along with being the author of over 110 books, she's a fantastic photographer with a blog that inspires lovely sighs called "Under the Honeysuckle Vine"... Anyhow, I'm thrilled to have Candice on to talk about her latest novel, IVA HONEYSUCKLE MEETS HER MATCH! Take it away Candice...
Iva Honeysuckle: Made-up Character or Me in Disguise?
Candice Ransom

     I’ve written a lot of books with a lot of characters, but Iva Honeysuckle takes the cake. She isn’t me, but she lets me be my nine-year-old self again.
      Iva’s story began when I was driving home from a conference. Suddenly this character, her entire family, and a town full of people boiled into my head. The character told me her name was Iva Honeycutt, that she was almost nine, and that she had a tattling, sneaky, lying double-first cousin named Heaven, who was clearly no angel.
      She said she lived in Uncertain, Virginia, and she wanted to be a great discoverer. (As a great discoverer, she called herself Iva Honeysuckle so she wouldn’t be just another Honeycutt sister or cousin.) She was friends with Euple Free, owner of the third-fastest pickup in town, and Swannanoah Priddy, who ran the town dump, and Swannanoah’s parents who owned a taxidermy/cake decorating business in the same shop, but had not spoken a syllable to each other in thirty-five years.
      Iva told me she was suspicious of Cazy Sparkle, who threw yard sales any old day of the week, but loved Walser Compton, the Sunday school teacher and the only person who really understood Iva and who served preacher cookies with unsweetened cherry Kool-Aid on her front porch while she was understanding her.
      I moved into Iva’s town, Uncertain, a place that suited me right down to the ground. The people in that town were my people. Although the characters and the town are fiction, the place they came from was very real. The characters spoke the language I grew up hearing (and still speak myself), language salted with idioms and poor grammar, interesting talk.
      The events in Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World (Hyperion) are based somewhat on my own life, but Iva had a life of her own to live and she roared like a freight train in her story.
      She didn’t shut up until I wrote another book about her. In Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match (Hyperion). I cast back to all those day trips to the beach with my cousins, fighting for the “best” window, dropping Planter’s peanuts in a bottle of R.C. Cola and then shaking the bottle with disastrous results, falling out over something before we’d backed out of the driveway, then making up, and then falling out again.
      Stingray Point, a real place, is not a little beach town. I combined all the little gimcrack beach “resorts” we frequented—Widewater, Fairview, Colonial Beach, Breezy Point—to give my fictional version of Stingray Point a little life. And I dreamed myself back to those days when the sun blared in the hazy sky, the rough sand promised buckets of fossil shark’s teeth, and jellyfish dotted the beach like giant loogies.
      I remembered floating in tractor tire inner tubes, hanging on until my armpits ached, and when the black rubber got too hot, I’d dip down, the sides of the inner tube blocking all sounds except my own breathing and laplets of greeny-gray water, and flip the inner tube to the cool wet side. I remembered half-running, half-walking over scorching gravel—Oooch, eeech, ouch!—in a bathing suit stuck damply up my butt crack. I remembered cotton candy that wisped to nothing in the seaside air. I remembered tuna fish sandwiches and ice tea on sandy porches. If those exact things aren’t in Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match, the nine-year-old feelings of being at the beach with extended family are.
      Do we write for ourselves or for readers? People who write for children have to be aware of their audience. But we also have to tap into our pasts. It doesn’t matter if we have children, or teach children, or are around children. What matters is that we were kids once. We can observe children, but we only know the feelings we experienced as a child.
      No, Iva is not me, not entirely. But I love her more than any of my characters. I love how she looks at the world around her in all its particularness and peculiarness, sort of the way I did. She makes me feel I’m back home again with all my cousins, falling out and making up again, the sound of ice cubes clinking in glasses of cherry Kool-Aid.

     Bio goes here....

Hyperion has kindly agreed to give a free copy of IVA HONEYSUCKLE MEETS HER MATCH to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below!

Friday Linky List - June 27, 2014

This is cool. Use to record how your name is pronounced to share with people who might have trouble with it. CLICK HERE to hear mine.

At Huff Post: 7 Skills Your Grandparents Had That You Don't

From Bookshelf Blog - Leawood man faces citation for putting Little Free Library in his front yard - really?

At PW ShelfTalker: How to Talk About Amazon

On Three Ways of Writing for Children at Catholic Culture - thanks to the hubbie for this link!

From NPR via PW: Librarian Nancy Pearl Maps Out A Plan For Your Summer Reading

From PW - Obituary: Nancy Garden, author of Annie on My Mind, which I think I'm correct in saying is known for being the first LGBT novel for young adults (1982). Read more here.

From Bustle via PW: 19 Classic Picture Books You Should Still Have On Your Shelf As An Adult!

BEN & ZIP: TWO SHORT FRIENDS - illustrated by Tom Goldsmith - Interview and Giveaway!

It’s no surprise that the latest book from Flashlight Press is awesome. Shari Dash Greenspan (publisher) has excellent taste, and I adore her books! The latest is no exception: BEN & ZIP, TWO SHORT FRIENDS written by Joanne Linden and illustrated by Tom Goldsmith. We’re lucky to have Tom here today to answer some questions…

Q. Hi Tom! Congratulations on BEN & ZIP! It’s absolutely adorable!
Thanks so much. I have to say though that many hands are involved in pulling a book like this together. If Ben and Zip is a success, it has as much or more to do with Joanne Linden, the author and the leadership of Shari Dash Greenspan the editor at Flashlight Press, as it does me.

Q. I have to ask about the boardwalk, with the storm coming. Were you at all reminded of Hurricane Sandy when you were working on the book? (If so, was that an intentional reference?)
Oh absolutely. As I watched the news and saw the devastating effects of Sandy on the boardwalks and amusement parks of New Jersey. I was struck by all the memories of good times that so many children and adults must have had at such a place. I wanted to celebrate those memories and pay homage to the way of life that was so devastatingly effected by the storm.

Q. I always tell my students to remember the point of view of their main characters, and boy, do you do a wonderful job with that! Ben is short, so all he sees is knees. (Or when he gets up a little higher - tummies.) Was that fun to play with? (It sure is fun to read!)

In fact, those were the spreads that jumped out at me right away. As a humor illustrator at heart, I always gravitate to those images were I can play around and have some fun.

Q. The crowd scenes are so wonderfully full of stuff going on. Did those pieces take you forever to do?

Yes, they take a while but they are always a treat to do. I love being able to tuck little things in here and there. For example, I’m a dog nut. I own three and each of them make an appearance in those beach scenes.

Q. What is your medium?
I am hopelessly a traditionalist. I love the tactile nature of inks, quill pens and watercolours.

Q. Without giving away the book - there’s a twist from the cover to the end that I didn’t see coming and was delighted when I realized it. Did you awwwww as much as I did when you read the manuscript for the first time?
Truthfully, my editor Shari Dash Greenspan discussed the “twist” with me before I had even received the manuscript. When I read it though it became clear how it could be cleverly accomplished in my illustrations.

Q. How did you break into the biz and how did you and Flashlight Press connect?
I have done editorial illustration for books and magazine for years but I always had an eye towards picture books. They are a great vehicle for doing exactly what I love to do. I love developing a relationship with the characters and getting them involved in the story. A far cry from the quick turnaround, one-off nature of editorial humor illustrations.
      As for Flashlight and I getting together - it was as simple as Shari seeing my online portfolio at www.tomgoldsmithillustration and giving me a call. I’m glad she did. Working with an editor that thinks and talks in pictures makes an illustrators job so much easier. I learned a lot from Shari. My future work with Flashlight, or anyone else for that matter, will be better for knowing and working with her.

Q. I hope you have more children’s books in the works? Can you share?
Sure, I have just completed all the images for a new Book by Scholastic Canada called “We’re All Friends Here”. This one is based around separate and opposing points of view of two boys. A unique and challenging job for an illustrator, but the finished illustrations are very rewarding.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Tom!

Tom has graciously agreed to send a free, signed and dedicated copy of BEN & ZIP to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.

John Green on Colbert

Recently, Stephen Colbert interviewed John Green about his book, now hit movie, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. And John did alright! He held his own and was able to be the funny guy he is - no small task with Stephen who said, "As far as I can tell, a young adult novel is a regular novel that people actually read." And well, now we all know what it takes to get a gig on The Colbert Show as a Young Adult author! Click the image to go check it out:

Coloring Page Tuesday - Beach Reading!

     Reading at the beach, is there anything better? What are you reading this summer?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**

Settling in at Hollins...

I arrived in Roanoke, Virginia, home to Hollins University, on Saturday... stopped in Gaffney, South Carolina on the way to pick up a bag of peaches from Abbot Farms. (This is my new tradition as they are THE best peaches on the planet!)
     Saturday was mostly unpacking and hauling supplies up stairs and elevators. Sunday was my inaugural walk around the gorgeous campus. (I do 5 miles with Candice Ransom every morning.) I purchased incidentals and got set up. Monday has been orientation and more nitty gritty stuff like getting internet to work, etc. And I'm finally settled in. Here's my office this year:

     I teach Design in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program as well as the Certificate in Children's Book Illustration program, so I'll be here for the next six weeks. It's a small class this year, so I'm really looking forward to digging in and helping my students with their specific needs.
     Tonight is the welcome party and then classes begin tomorrow. We're off and running!! It feels SOOO good to be back at Hollins - almost like I never left. It's great to be back with my fellow instructors - Ashley Wolff, Lauren Mills, and Ruth Sanderson (on the illustration side). What a treat that this is a regular part of my life now!

Alexandria Still Burns...

Librarians & the Fight for Knowledge. This Kickstarter project is a continuation of the viral video about "What Librarians Look Like" by Kyle Cassidy. It was such a hit, he's wanting to take more photos, do more interviews, and turn it into a photo book. He's already doubled his asking pledges to get him to the American Library Association conference in Los Angeles this summer - an obvious message that librarians are important to our society! The video touches on why (click the image to watch on Kickstarter):

Thanks to Betsy Bird and Jules Danielson for the heads up!

Anna Staniszewski's THE PRANK LIST - Guest Post and Giveaway!

Anna Staniszewski is a fellow EMLA sibling (Erin Murphy Literary Agency). I'm happy to have her on to talk about...

by Anna Staniszewski

     I used to think that writing the first book in a series would be the easiest since the premise and the characters are still fresh and exciting. But now that I’m almost finished writing/publishing my second trilogy (in fact, I’m revising the third Dirt Diary book at the moment) I’ve learned that writing the second book is the most fun for me. The experience is like reuniting with an old friend. It might feel a little stiff at first, but once I hang out with the characters for a day or two, it’s like no time has passed.
      Since I already know the world of the story and its inhabitants, I can play around and see what else I can do with them, what other misadventures I can set into motion. Often, this comes from the characters’ flaws, ones that might have been present in the first book but were more in the background. Now it’s time to dig deeper and figure out how those other quirks and flaws might lead to conflict and action.
      If you know that the series is going to have three books, the second book also gives you the luxury of being able to explore new threads without needing to completely wrap everything up. Of course, you want the second book to have a satisfying arc so that readers don’t feel frustrated or cheated, but knowing that you still have one more book left in the series means that the second book can leave certain things open.
      Perhaps that’s why I find third books the most challenging; everything needs to feel even bigger and more exciting than in the other two books, and there are also lots of threads to wrap up in a satisfying way. Plus, you need to show how the character has continued to change and grow from the beginning of the series. We want to feel like we’ve lived through something with the character and evolved along with her. No pressure, right? Honestly, getting it right can often feel like pulling teeth and having your teeth pulled at the same.
      Do I enjoy the process of writing a trilogy? Absolutely. It’s amazing that one tiny idea--e.g. a story I heard on NPR about a girl cleaning houses with her mom--can lead to multiple books, and I love getting to explore the characters by putting them into different scenarios. But I’ve also gotten a little smarter about how I plan out a series. Since I know that third books are the most difficult for me, my plan for my newest trilogy is to keep that in mind while I’m writing the first two installments so that by the time I’m ready to write the last one, maybe it won’t be so painful.
      Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some teeth to pull...

      Bio: Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at

Anna has generously agreed to send a free, signed and dedicated copy of THE PRANK LIST to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below!

Friday Linky List - June 20, 2014

17 Bookstores That Will Literally Change Your Life at BuzzFeed - you've probably seen some of these before, but some are new. (The children's section of "Cook & Book" in Brussels is pictured below.)

Via PW and The Hollywood Reporter: 'Fault in Our Stars' Ripple Effect: Success Breeds New Rush of 'Grounded' Teen Movies - Move over vampires and wizards: The new IT genre is "grounded" young-adult book adaptations. (I like this - it bodes well for A BIRD ON WATER STREET!)

Matt Faulkner was the other creator tagged by Mary Jane Begin in last week's blogtour. It's worth the read:

Via PW at Washington CityPaper: Rush Limbaugh Attacks the Bookstore at Busboys and Poets - um. Donations to the store and the organization that hosts it, Teaching For Change, can be made HERE.

Via PW at BuzzFeed: How To Get Published: Four debut novelists on elevator pitches, getting an agent, and writing your first book (adult authors)

Tu Books is once again hosting their New Visions Award to "writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published."CLICK HERE to learn more.

Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and Macy's have released a disturbing survey - Only 17% of Parents Believe Reading is Top Priority During the Summer; Kids Spend Nearly Triple the Time Playing Video Games or Watching TV - Click here to read the story.

At PW: "Wedding and Funerals and Everywhere in Between" - Editors talk about the strangest places they've been pitched a book!

At Teenreads: Barbara Marcus, President and Publisher of Random House Children's Division - a three part interview

From PW and Bustle: 5 Favorite Children's Books Turn 50 This Year (And Now Everyone Feels Old)

"Professor Storytime" Karyn Tunks wrote a lovely review for A BIRD ON WATER STREET on her blog. :)

TAP TAP BOOM BOOM by Elizabeth Bluemle - GIVEAWAY!

Today I'm thrilled to have Elizabeth Bluemle visiting. She is the author of TAP TAP BOOM BOOM and the owner of the Flying Pig Bookstore in Vermont. We've also long kidded that she is my message board doppleganger. For some reason, whenever she and I are on the same message board, people confuse Bluemle and Dulemba and think we are the same person. It happened so often it became a long-running joke. Well, Elizabeth is indeed her own person and a wonderfully talented picture book writer. I'm thrilled to help her celebrate her latest achievement...

Q. Elizabeth! I LOVE this book!!! It's definitely an urban story. But you're from Vermont? How did the idea of getting out of a storm in the subway come to you?
I'm so glad you love the book, Elizabeth! I lived in New York City for many years before moving to Vermont, and wrote this book on a trip back to Manhattan, when I got stuck on a subway platform during a downpour on my way into town. I saw so many great exchanges between New Yorkers during that half hour. All of the vignettes in Tap Tap Boom Boom actually happened: the big guy with the tiny yellow umbrella, the fancy girl who dashed out into the pouring rain, the lady handing off her umbrella without a word to a student heading up the stairs. I was so amused and touched by the wonderful way people in cities befriend one another in these small moments, I had to write the book. Those moments of kind connection between strangers are one of the things I miss about life in New York, although it happens in different ways in Vermont, too.

Q. I so badly want to hear you read this story aloud with your own rhythm and style. I imagine with different readers it would sound differently (each stressing different words). Have you experienced that?
YES! I definitely have my own internal rhythm, and it's a very jazzy, dancy kind of thing that doesn't always translate instantly to other people. Since picture books are meant to be read aloud, I always make it a point during the revision process to have people do "cold" readings of my manuscripts in progress, to see where they stumble, where my internal rhythm isn't communicating itself on the page. And then I try to address those places. Different stories call up different rhythms, though; the manuscript I'm working on now has a much more regular rhythm than Tap Tap Boom Boom, which needed to follow the pacing of a building and diminishing storm.

Q. I love the illustrations by G. Brian Karas - he captured the mood perfectly. Did you squeee when you saw them for the first time?
G. Brian Karas did such a beautiful job capturing the palette of the city and the colors of a storm, as well as populating the book with the most delightful cast of irrepressible little people! Yes, I was absolutely delighted when I saw the first round of artwork. It's magical to me how you illustrators bring words to life, and so often in ways I would never even think of. I've been very, very lucky with all of my illustrators; I have Candlewick to thank for those perfect matches.

Q. You love to write with alliteration. (I'm thinking of HOW DO YOU WOKKA-WOKKA?) Where does that come from?
Hmm. I haven't thought about my alliteration as much as I do about cadence and rhyme and near-rhyme. But I love wordplay and lively language, and I suspect any alliteration in my writing has to do with fun. I'm also a big fan of assonance. I keep waiting for someone to tell me they like my assonance....

Q. As a children's bookseller, you read tons of children's books and read them to kids as well. How has this influenced your writing?
I think all of that reading has had many effects on me as a writer. My bar is high; I have read so many gorgeous books, memorable books, funny and haunting and sparkling books for children that I have the deepest respect for the craft -- not to mention a LOT of humility. There are geniuses out there whose work just lights up the universe, and I marvel at that work. So I am always striving to live up to what children deserve in a book. That can be as intimidating as it is inspiring, of course. I do think this perspective allows me to throw out manuscripts of mine that I like quite a bit but are, at the end of the day, not quite there.

Q. I'd love to hear about your writing process - do your stories come easily to you or are they a ton of hard work?
The stories themselves tend to come on me in a burst. Sometimes in two or three bursts. And then I spend more time than I care to think about tinkering and tweaking and reworking that piece. Once in a while I have to "break the spine" (Kate DiCamillo's phrase) of my manuscript and completely restructure it to get it right. Most often, though, it's a matter of cutting bloat and adding texture, shaping the pacing, and looking hard, many many many times, at each word in its place. My editor--the fabulous Joan Powers, who has worked with me on all four of my books--would tell you she pretty much has to pry my manuscripts out of my hands to send them to press.

Q. CONGRATULATIONS on a wonderful, sweet book perfect for sharing!
Thank YOU so much for inviting me to your blog, Elizabeth! Thanks for all you do to promote children's books, authors, and illustrators. It's such a generous use of your time.

Candlewick has generously agreed to give a free copy of TAP TAP BOOM BOOM to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below!

TAP TAP BOOM BOOM. Text copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Bluemle. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by G. Brian Karas. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Off to Hollins University!

Saturday, I leave once again for Hollins University to teach Design in the first and only MFA in Writing AND Illustrating Children's Books in the country. This is in conjunction with the already established MFA in Children's Literature and Certificate in Children's Book Illustration programs (which I co-taught with Ruth Sanderson last year).
      The program is six weeks of crazy busy, wildly inspiring and creative learning for the students and the instructors. You can read my wrap ups from last year by clicking the "Hollins University" tab in the sidebar, or going here. I'm so looking forward to getting back!! I highly recommend this program and can attest to the intellectual, inspiring, and magical environment that Hollins creates each summer on the pristine campus in Roanoke, Virginia - right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. It is where my brain goes to expand and play among peers who happen to be some of the most successful names in children's literature. Will you join us?

Coloring Page Tuesday - Cannonball!

     Do you have a pool near you this summer!!! Oh how I love to be in water!! Do a cannonball for me, okay?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**

SCBWI Southern Breeze Sketch Book Event - Train Museum!!!!

Saturday, a group of illustrators from Georgia gathered at the in Duluth, Georgia. What a great place! There were antique trains, pullman cars, bullet trains, Amtrac cars, you name it. So fun to explore and check out the digs inside. Two birthday parties were being hosted in train cars while we were there and the kids were so excited! They even got to take a real (albeit short) train ride on a real train. It was great to draw, but man, if you've got kids, you really need to check this place out!!!
      Afterwards we went to lunch in historic downtown Norcross (adorable!) at Mojito - an authentic Cuban restaurant with music on the weekends (I have to go back to hear it). The food was FABULOUS and of course I had to have a mojito, which was truly the best I've ever had.
Illustrator Michael A. Austin organized the event for us, and did such an amazing job tying in John Rocco's How To Train Your Train and Brian Floca's Locomotive along with fun exercises like, draw a train but don't use any straight lines, or, draw a train feeling anger, euphoria, loneliness. Here are mine. The dude is from a lantern that looked like the head of some sort of underwater sea adventurer to me:

But maybe the photos were better.

I don't know what was more beautiful - the trains still in good shape, or the old rusted out ones:

     Michael has arranged six of these events for us now, and they are such a blast every time. What a treat for our illustrators! Thank you Michael!

47 Charming Facts About Children's Books by John Green

Video of the week! You might have to watch this twice to keep up!

If the embedded video doesn't work for you, click the image below to go to the video on YouTube.

Jackson Pearce as J. Nelle Patrick on TSARINA - Guest post and Giveaway

I'm always amazed at how much talent lies just in my back yard. Here in Georgia, we're proud to claim Jackson Pearce as a local literary star. In her latest book, TSARINA, she used the pseudonym J. Nelle Patrick - but we still know who she really is! I'm thrilled that Jackson stopped by to chat...

      This February, my seventh book came out—a historical fantasy called TSARINA, which I wrote under the pen name J. Nelle Patrick. TSARINA is set in Imperial Russia; it’s about a young noble named Natalya who must find and use a magical Fabergé egg to save both the love of her life and her country.
      It’s something of a far cry from my other books—which are a series of retold fairytales, a contemporary story about a girl losing her virginity, and a story about a girl falling in love with the genie granting her three wishes. I’ve also got a middle grade spy series coming out next year.
      So, what I’m saying is: I write a pretty wide variety of stuff! For this post, I thought it might be fun to discuss the challenges—and the pleasures—of writing somewhat up and down the kidlit spectrum.
      Let’s go ahead and discuss the good stuff first. The number one advantage to casting your genre net wide? Never feeling hemmed in by a “brand”.
      My first book was AS YOU WISH (the genie one). My second was SISTERS RED (a darker fairytale book). And then I wrote PURITY, the contemporary. I often wonder if I would have been able to sell PURITY with a long-established reputation for fairytales or paranormal fantasy. I’m really glad that from the get go, I committed to writing the books I wanted to write rather than writing the books I thought best fit the market/my name. I’m by no means saying I can write and sell whatever I want, whenever I want, but rather that any restrictions I may face exist because of the market or the quality of the book, not because of a pre-conceived notion of what type of book I write.
      Secondly, writing such different stuff means I always feel challenged. That’s not to say writing ANY book isn’t a challenge in and of itself—but it’s sort of like working out, I guess. You work out different muscles in different ways, so that your body doesn’t get used to the activity. Writing TSARINA was hugely different than writing the books that came before. I felt an obligation to and sense of stewardship for the real people of Imperial Russia. I didn’t want to mess with their lives for the convenience of a story if it could be avoided, which meant lots of long nights studying the layout of the Winter Palace, reading biographies on each of the Romanovs, and deciding what was flexible and what was sacred. I wasn’t always able to take the most obvious path, plot-wise, if I didn’t feel that path meshed with the history. Similarly, writing PURITY was very, very different than writing retold fairytales. For starters, I couldn’t drop a werewolf action scene in to spice things up; all the motion had to come from my very-not-magical protagonist. But secondly, PURITY is probably more “me” than my other books, which meant writing it forced me to address some personal demons rather than address the demons of fictional characters. I felt like I emerged from both projects a stronger writer for being forced outside of my comfort zone. It’s nice to look back at a project and feel proud not only of the final product itself, but of how you changed and grew through writing it.

      So, what’s the big downside? It’s not having a “brand”. I know, I know, this is the exact opposite of the first thing I listed as one of the “best things”. But the truth is, there are huge benefits to having a brand—Sarah Dessen is an excellent example. Her books have the same look, the same feel…when I see a cover with a certain layout/typeface/type of image, I KNOW it’s a Dessen book. And readers do too—so when they grab one of her books, it’s easy for them to find all of them instantly. With my books? Not so much. TSARINA is under a pen name. PURITY is often stocked on in “Teen” while my fairytale series is stocked in “Paranormal Romance”—except for the first one, which is sometimes in “Teen”. I also had a cover redesign halfway through that series, which complicated things a bit further. AS YOU WISH has appeared in both the aforementioned sections, and my upcoming middle grade series will be on another shelf entirely. It’s flatly hard to find my books sometimes.
      Despite all that, at the end of the day, I’m glad that I have a wide variety of books out. I’m glad that that I feel like I can show my publishers anything I want without hearing “But your brand!”. My advice? Write the books you love, and if they fall into a handy dandy brand, woohoo! If they don’t? You’ve still written books you love.

Visit Jackson's website:

Jackson is generously offering a free, signed and dedicated copy of TSARINA to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below!

Friday Linky List - June 13, 2014

At Nerve: A Young Adult Author's Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature's Most Maligned Genre

At - an interview with S&S Associate Art Director Lauren Rille

At the Nerdy Book Club: Pushing Through Writing Failure with the Help of a Lost Horse by Heather Mackey

From Epic Reads - Videos - How To Be A Princess? Cute!

From School Library Journal - Climbing the Shelves | Library By Design - cool!!!

At PW - R.J. Palacio Fulfills Michigan Girl's Make-A-Wish Dream - wow. So very awesome.

And I'm not going to link to the flood of articles over the Slate article (no link) against YA being read by adults. I not only proudly read YA, I read MG and PBs and everything in between. Because I don't see what's so great about adult stuff anyhow. Adults are idiots (me included). They should know better but still screw things up. At least in kidslit, the kids don't know better yet. They're still forming and therefore represent and have HOPE. Also, I'm a tender soul and I don't need to read/watch porn or extreme violence to feel grown-up. My genres are plenty complicated with nuances of life on all levels. And yes, the books I read tend to have happy endings. In a world that oftentimes doesn't - I'm good with that.

Sarah Frances Hardy's PAINT ME! - GIVEAWAY!

I remember attending the SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles many years ago and being welcomed at breakfast by Sarah Frances Hardy (and Katie Anderson) with a big hug. Considering I knew nobody else in the room and was destined to eat alone, I was so grateful. We’ve been friends ever since.
     Back then, Sarah Frances wasn’t published yet. So I’ve been thrilled to watch her career take off, first with PUZZLED BY PINK (click here to read that interview) and now with her latest, PAINT ME! (Sky Pony Press). She and Katie even gave a great talk about breaking into the industry at the recent Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It’s always my honor to celebrate my friend’s successes, like today. SF (her email nickname) dropped by to talk to us about her latest book…

Q. SF - I know you puzzled over PUZZLED BY PINK for years. How long did it take you to come up with PAINT ME!?
There were lots of false starts after PUZZLED BY PINK, and the idea for PAINT ME! came to me in a funny way. I was talking to someone at a party who said, "I love your book PINK ME!" ... which of course wasn't the name of my first book. But he got me thinking along the lines of "pink me, green me, yellow me ..." Of course, I still had to come up with a story and sketch out the illustrations, but that was the jumping off place. Once I got going, it only took a couple of months (with some encouragement from my agent).

Q. It’s been so fun to watch you grow in your knowledge and skills, and turn around and share that with other budding creators. What did you learn between PUZZLED BY PINK and PAINT ME?
When I started my first book, I was still figuring out how to make the shift from fine art to illustration which was hard for me. With fine art, I can leave in mistakes and ambiguity as part of the finished artwork. With illustrations, I'm confined to the narrative and "happy little accidents" don't always work. I learned so much from working with Denise Cronin, the art director at Viking. She really pushed me to make each illustration as good as it could be, and she taught me to question every little detail that went into the pictures. The illustrations have to tell their own story, but they also have to be supported by the text. Now I try to imagine Denise looking over my shoulder while I paint to get me in the right frame of mind. I've also started digitally editing my paintings which has been a huge timesaver. I used to redo every single painting if something wasn't working. Now, I play with color and change things up on Photoshop after scanning in my original artwork. The only downside to this is knowing when to call it a day--it's tempting to keep editing forever and ever and ever.

Q. Is this an autobiography? (I suspect it is.) And what about the cute doggie with the purple beard?
Absolutely! I was just like that crazy, messy little girl. I dedicated this book to my mom "who cleaned up lots of spilled paint," and the dog in the book is based on my childhood pooch named Tam. [I've included his picture!]

Q. I love the joy of all the colors - the rainbow especially. It looks like it was a blast to illustrate, yes? What was your method?

I had so much fun illustrating this book. I mean, how often do we as adults get to sling paint around and call it our job?? I paint on Strathmore illustration board. It's wonderful and thick, so it doesn't warp, and it makes the colors really pop. For the color, I use a combination of gouache, watercolor pencils, watercolor crayons (these are my new discovery and they are yummy!), and pen. My favorite brush is a Winsor Newton #8 sable for big washes of color. I have a smaller sable brush for details.

Q. Sky Pony Press is a rather new player in the publishing world (an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing). How did the two of you come together?
My agent found them for me, and I have to say, my editor Julie Matysik has been fabulous. Plus, I'm thrilled with the way the physical book came together.

Q. How have you been celebrating the release of PAINT ME!?
I crammed in some school visits before school ended last month, and I've had several book signings at my favorite indies and paint parties (of course). My next book signing will be at Parnassus in Nashville on June 28th at 10:00.

Q. I hope you have more in the works… what’s next in line for you?
My next book DRESS ME! which is a companion book to PAINT ME! is coming out in the spring of 2015 from Sky Pony. I've also got several other books kicking around in my head, so we'll see ....

I wish you big fuzzy hugs and much continued success, SF!!

Sarah Frances has generously agreed to send a free, signed and dedicated copy of PAINT ME! to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below.