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From Idea to Bookshelf Part 4: Love Can Come in Many Ways

Book Production & Collaboration

Inspiration—writing—submission. That’s what I’ve talked about thus far in this series of posts–those first important three steps toward getting a book published. Fortunately, these things happened quickly for Love Can Come in Many Ways. I got the idea in January 2017 and accepted the book deal in July 2017. After a lovely “honeymoon” with Chronicle Books making me feel so incredibly welcome, it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Love is my first novelty book and I was incredibly fortunate that my wonderful editor, Ariel Richardson, included me in on the book collaboration. I, who knew very little about novelty book production! But her welcoming nature, gentle guidance, and master ringleader skills in managing everyone involved (her team, the illustrator, and myself) made the experience pure joy.

To give a sense of Love’s timeline, our initial discussion began in August of 2017, when we chatted about some light revisions, the number of page spreads, which animals to include (or remove). A few weeks later, our talented illustrator Suzy Ultman, had already done some rough sketches for the cover, so Ariel asked for my thoughts. We also discussed the felt samples (Chronicle wanted to use felt flaps and found some gorgeous sturdy felt fabric that could withstand the repeated use of small hands).

In January 2018, Suzy had completed the rough sketches for the book, so for the next few weeks, we discussed revisions (to the art and the writing). One of the things we all agreed upon was incorporating diversity into the book (even though there were only two spreads with humans we wanted to make them count so all readers could see themselves in the book). For me, the final spread was where we aimed at being all-inclusive. I mean, this is a book about love, after all!  

By late February, Suzy had done more rough sketches based on the revision notes. One of the things we were discussing was a line, “Enclosed in tender toothy jaws” which I wrote based on this photo:

I loved this picture of a mother alligator carrying her young inside her mouth. Wow! That’s some motherly love! But unfortunately, it just didn’t work in the art because no matter how Suzy drew it, it looked like the mom was eating her young! (Yikes! NOT our desired effect!). So, after much discussion, we landed on using a panda. Phew! Kids love pandas and they carry their very pink young in their mouths like cats do (something young readers might be familiar with already).

Our collaboration continued for the next few months. Suzy’s artistic style is charming and whimsical (so fun for very young children), but because I’m a stickler about animal facts, sometimes I’d have a question or concern. I greatly appreciated Ariel and Suzy’s patience with me whenever I’d ask about something in the art that I wasn’t sure of. I also found that sharing the photographs that inspired the writing was helpful. If nothing else, seeing these beautiful animals showing affection to their young was a joy for all of us to see.

We also had to reorder the spreads a bit. Ariel had noticed the animal-to-human order of appearance was off a little. I’m a visual learner, so I printed out the rough sketches and laid it out on my office floor to play with it and see what suggestions I could come up with. Playing with words and pictures is so much fun! (and yes, that’s cat food and water on my office floor—my co-authors must have sustenance!)

After taking a pause for Suzy to complete another project, we were now mid-summer 2018. Our collaboration on the cover and interior illustrations continued, mostly working out the fine details. One of my favorite ideas born of this time was to have a felt speech bubble flap on the final page. When Ariel asked me for suggestions for the text under the flap, I immediately thought of how I often sign my other board book, Mama Loves You So: “You are loved!” Everyone loved this idea so these became the final words that will resonate with every reader. And how important is that?

Our collaborations continued through 2019. Much of this was checking the final art and text, and deciding on the final cover. Checking and rechecking all those delightful details! It wasn’t until late 2019 that the final edits were actually “final.”

So, in case you’ve lost track, the collaboration process took about 28 months (August 2017 through late 2019). That might sound like a long time, but it flew by for me. I love doing deep dives into projects and am so grateful I had this opportunity to do so.

One final thought…I’ve learned many important lessons in my twenty-one years of writing, but one of the most important is to play nice. That might sound obvious, but I can’t say enough how important it is to be kind, respectful and courteous to your fellow creatives and professionals in the book business when you’re collaborating on a project.

Next week, the “radio silence” phase of book production! (and a shorter post, I promise!)

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From Idea to Bookshelf: Part 3: Love Can Come in Many Ways

The Submission Process

Last week, I left off with a polished final draft of Love Can Come in Many Ways, ready to send to my agent. For me, this part of the writing-submission process is just as stressful as submitting to an editor. Despite feeling like I had written a strong piece, there were no guarantees that she (or an editor) would feel the same way! We work in a highly subjective business, after all. But as I once heard author and editor Arthur Levine say, “Nobody is going to show up at your door and ask to look in your file cabinet so you have to submit your work.”

So, off it went! I let her know I envisioned the manuscript as a picture book or a board book, depending on an editor’s vision. And of course, I’d be happy to revise. I crossed my fingers after hitting “Send” and, between you and me, was hoping she’d read it right away, especially since it was only 104 words. (by the way, shorter word counts don’t seem to affect how quickly editors or agents will read your work!).

Approximately six weeks passed without a response to Love from my agent (in all fairness, we were discussing other manuscripts as well—Love just hadn’t come up.). But I was so convinced, so completely certain, that Love would sell, I emailed her(after the six weeks) and essentially begged her to send it out. She soon wrote back and said she was still thinking on it. I put on my “patience” cap and waited…

Have I ever mentioned how much patience a writer should have? (probably true for editors and illustrators, as well!).

A week later, she wrote me back with lovely things to say about the manuscript, including that she was going to send it out to five editors THAT DAY. I was so happy to finally have Love out on sub…

…but when we got interest from Chronicle Books FIVE DAYS LATER, I knew my gut was right—it was going to sell.

Woo-hooooo!

Now, getting “interest” is exciting, but it’s no guarantee. And I knew not to get my hopes up too much, after the initial excitement. The editor wanted to share it with her team, and show the manuscript to one of their illustrators. Again, I put on my patience cap (by the way, I don’t really have an actual cap).

A month later, we received an email from Ariel Richardson, editor extraordinaire, letting us know the illustrator, Suzy Ultman, loved the manuscript, so we could expect an offer. But…here was the surprise—they wanted to publish it as a novelty book! A NOVELTY BOOK! They loved the idea of having movable arms, paws, tails, etc. for little ones to manipulate. I’d never published a novelty book before (although I’d certainly thought about it), so this was icing on the cake for me!

Another month passed, and we received the official offer letter with all the details. And I’ll say here that based on that letter alone (positive, enthusiastic, professional), I knew working with Chronicle was going to be amazing. And it has been! Seriously, it’s this writer’s dream.

At that point, we worked out some minor changes to the terms of the contract, so the contract process could move forward. (it can take anywhere from a few weeks to few months for an agent and publisher to finalize a contract). I was walking two feet above the ground, elated that Love had sold, and knowing I was going to get to work on a novelty book with one of the best editors in the business!

I should also note that the process up to this point had happened quickly. I don’t usually get a manuscript to perfection in a couple of months. And this was the second fastest submission response I’d ever received.

Next post, I’ll talk about the collaborative process with the book’s production (warning: the collaboration process took over two years—my post won’t be that long, I promise.).

If you’d like to preorder Love Can Come in Many Ways, just click HERE.

Available in stores and online October 20, 2020.
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National Blackberry Day!

It’s National Blackberry Day (I know, who knew such a day existed? Well, me.). For me, blackberries bring back sweet, warm childhood memories. When my family lived in Washington state, my brother and I would pick wild blackberries in the summer and bring home so many that my mom had no other options than to make a pie. Yum!

I carried this tradition down to my own family. When we vacationed every summer in the Pacific Northwest, we would pick wild berries and I’d always make a fresh berry pie. Double yum when it’s with your child!

Well, the inspiration for my picture book, Blackberry Banquet, came to me one time while I was picking berries. I accidentally stepped on a twig in the forest and watched in surprise as various animals flee from my favorite berry bush. Birds, squirrels, mice! That inspiration turned into an idea that later became Blackberry Banquet.

The book, a cumulative story about animals coming to feast at a blackberry bush only to be interrupted by a hungry bear, included fun, educational backmatter including a recipe for blackberry smoothies. But for now, I’m going to share author Jean Ann Williams’s winning recipe for “On Top of the Stove Blackberry Cobbler.” (Yuuuuummmy!)

ON-TOP-OF-THE-STOVE BLACKBERRY COBBLER
By Jean Ann Williams

INGREDIENTS:
1. As many blackberries you managed to pick.
2. Sugar to taste and added in before dough strips.
3. Favorite pie dough recipe made with shortening or lard, not butter.

STEPS:
Prepare pie dough for either one or two crust pie, depending on how many berries.

Wash berries in a colander, careful not to squeeze berries and therefore losing juices. Dump into a pot, not filling more than 2/3 full. DO NOT ADD WATER! Simmer on low to medium heat. Stir occasionally. Add the sugar to taste.

Pull an apricot-sized ball of pie dough and roll thin on a cutting board. Cut long strips like for lattice weave about ¾ inches wide. Then, cut the lattice in half to accommodate layering into pot of berries.

Once berries juices flow and thicken and boil slightly, add first layer of dough strips. Let simmer for five minutes to set the dough, and then stir into berries. Repeat the rolling of dough and continue this until all dough is gone or you have enough dough to suit you in cobbler. After last layer of dough is stirred in, let simmer for five more minutes. Take off stove and let cool to warm in the pot or in bowls.

This cobbler is very tasty warm and with a side of ice cream. IF you have leftovers, refrigerate. Eating cold is another treat, but if you wish to reheat, then add a bit of water to stir into bottom of pan so as not to scorch.

TIPS
I make this for at least twelve servings and use the double pie dough recipe (with maybe a little leftover). We’ve never measured our ingredients, except for the dough and it always comes out tasty. Did I say never add water when making? That is a sure way to lose some of your rich berry flavors. Enjoy! Our family has for three generations.

My own notes: (from Terry)
Because I’m one of those people who likes things in measurements, I’ll share the amounts I used:
four 6-oz. containers of berries (fresh berries are unavailable where I live)
½ cup sugar
Also, I kept a lid on the pot while it simmered to retain the heat and “bake” the piecrust pieces.
I served in custard cups with a choice of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for my judging team.

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From Idea to Bookshelf Part 2: LOVE CAN COME IN MANY WAYS

The Writing Process

On my last post, I ended with my idea and what inspired me to write Love Can Come in Many Ways (available for preorder HERE). This manuscript took a few turns along the path toward becoming submission-ready.

As I mentioned last week, I began writing this in early 2017, when I was feeling so saddened by the lack of civil discourse in our country. I mean, how could be people be so unkind and disrespectful to each other? After being motivated by some beautiful animal photos, I began writing a new picture book, Tummies, Tongues and Twisty Trunks: Love is Everywhere.

I know, I know! That was a mouthful for a title! I loved the alliteration of the first part, but as is, it sounded like a nonfiction book, so I added the subtitle to make sure the concept and tone was clear. But yeah, what a mouthful of words! So, I put the title issue on hold and started to write.

At that point, I knew the topic: animals showing affection. I knew the meter (rhythm pattern) I would use throughout, which I wrote at the top of the page to keep me in rhythm as I wrote:

/ – / – / – /,

/ – / – / – /

Or, if you prefer…

DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM,

DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM.

(Note: Sometimes I used a “pause” for the middle unstressed beat:

/ – / || / – /,

/ – / || / – /

DUM da DUM || DUM da DUM,

DUM da DUM || DUM da DUM.

It only took a few weeks to come up with a solid draft. Inspired by gorgeous photos, I made a list of key words that came to mind, such as trunk, fur, arms, paws, tails, etc., depending on the animal. I played with the verbs (gerund form) and prepositions to fit with the rhythm (embracing arms, protecting wings…). This really is the kind of writing I LOVE to do so it was pure joy for me to do this kind of detailed wordplay.

Once I got the animal part down, I knew I wanted to include humans in the mix, as well. I decided to do this by creating two couplets  to include ways that humans show affection, love, and kindness (one in the middle, one at the end). I brainstormed another list, everything from hugging and kissing to holding hands to playing games to simply smiling at one another. Here’s another favorite inspirational photos…doesn’t this child’s face say it all?

I tinkered with the rhyme and rhythm a lot. One “trick” I always do when I write in rhyme is to walk while reading my story out loud (thank you, Ann Whitford Paul, for sharing that trick with me so very many years ago!). This is a sure-fire way of “feeling” any glitches in the rhythm (like tripping on a crack in sidewalk if your meter is off!). The other thing I do is ask my husband to read it out loud to me. One of the best tips for checking your work–prose or verse–is to have someone read it aloud who is NOT used to reading aloud. This is a great way to hear how a future book buyer might read your work (and you might be surprised at how differently someone might read a sentence than how you hear it when you write it!).

And of course, I did multiple scans of my text, to make sure my rhythmic pattern was consistent. Because this book was so simple and intended for very young readers, I chose to keep a consistent meter. With longer picture books, I’ll often break the rhythm at an appropriate time, such as a pivot point in the story or where the action is disrupted. But with LOVE, that wasn’t necessary.

After about two months into working on the manuscript, I asked my writing group to review it for me. Their initial response was hugely positive. A couple of concerns were the title (too nonfiction-y sounding), and they guided me towards submitting it as a board book, not a picture book. Multiple people said it was “too thin” for a picture book, that the simplicity and “list” feeling of ways of affection seemed to read “board book” more than “picture book.” Did I mention how helpful writing groups can be? (or writing partners!)

I made a few small changes, including changing the title to Love Can Come in Many Ways. Then, I felt like it was ready to send out (I got the idea in January 2017 and it was now early April). I was super excited about the manuscript and had a good feeling about it. Now, it was a matter of hoping my agent would be as excited about it as much as I was.

Next post, I’ll talk about the submission process. Stay tuned!

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From Idea to Bookshelf Part 1: Love Can Come in Many Ways

Idea and Inspiration

I’ve never written an “idea to published book” account so I thought this would be great time to start! My first novelty book, Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle Books), is coming out October 20! (to preorder, click HERE).

So! Let’s start with the idea because all stories begin with a spark. Sometimes the spark is like a tiny spark jumping off a flint stick and other times it’s a roaring fire. Either way, inspiration comes, and when it does the idea doesn’t let go. It burns in my mind until I get serious and sit down to write.

In “Love’s” case, the spark came in early 2017. I, like many others, were coming off a challenging 2016. Our country, one way or another, was dealing with the outcome of the 2016 election. And in early 2017, I found myself feeling increasingly disturbed by the way people were treating each other.So much unkindness, nonacceptance, unwillingness to listen. None of it being what I try to live my life by—love, compassion, acceptance, and kindness.

So one day, as I sat pondering over how to deal with all the negativity, it occurred to me to write a book about love. Now, being a writer for young children, I didn’t want to just write about love, I wanted to write about…

But how, I wondered, could I present love in a kid-friendly way that didn’t seem like I was hitting them over the head with a heart- and glitter-filled stuffed bunny?

Animals! That’s how. I’m a huge animal-lover and have been since I was a kid. I mean, what kid doesn’t like animals? So, I now had a theme (love) and a main topic (animals). Next I thought about how to present the story. Because I wanted love to be the focus of the book, I wondered about how animals express love and affection to each other? To get ideas, I went to the internet. Here are a few photos I’d saved…

I couldn’t get over this giraffe image, and as I was perusing through so many heartwarming images, my opening line came to me…

Nose to nose,

Gaze to gaze,

Love can come in many ways.

I didn’t necessarily start out wanting to write in rhyme, but like much of when I begin writing for younger children, the rhyme just happens. And once I had what I thought was a perfect opening, I knew I had my rhythm pattern for the remainder of the book.

So, that’s how the idea for Love Can Come in Many Ways came to be. Next post, I’ll talk more about the actual writing process of this piece. But for now, I’ll leave you with a few more inspiring photos.

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What’s All the Flap About?: Lift-A-Flap Novelty Books

In a recent interview, Eastern Sierra Book Festival organizer Jennifer Crittenden asked about my upcoming novelty book, Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle). She specifically wanted to know more about the flaps—how do they benefit young children who might enjoy this novelty book? The former Montessori teacher in me kicked in but her question got me thinking further. I thought I’d share here just how “lift-a-flap” novelty books benefit young children.

To begin, babies, toddlers and young children learn through their senses. They glean information from their environment by touching, tasting, hearing, smelling, and seeing. This explains why babies instinctively put things in their mouths! So, novelty books with sensory-based features, such as flaps (using the tactile sense), will give the youngest readers an opportunity to experience a book using multiple senses. Little ones will be able to touch the flap, feel its texture, see its beautiful color, and lift it up to reveal what’s underneath (working fine motor skills and kinesthetic development).

And speaking of lifting the flap, doing so gives young readers some empowerment in the story experience. It gives them control over revealing what’s under the flap. Developmentally, this kind of empowerment is good for tiny humans who are trying to exert power over their environment. In other words, it enhances their sense of self and self-mastery over their environment.

One last benefit I’ll mention here…lifting a flap helps a child toward eventually learning to write. Yes, that’s what I said! It helps them learn to write. How? Think about how a toddler or young child use their fingers when grasping a flap. Here’s a photo I “borrowed” from the internet…

Physically exercising this hand position (using hand and finger muscles to strengthen the “pincer movement”) and developing the eye-hand coordination to lift the flap will help a child work towards someday being able to do this…

To further the point, think about the eye-hand coordination you might observe when a baby learns to grasp finger foods. When my son was around 6 months old (when he could sit up on his own and put his hand to his mouth), I would put some Cheerios in front of him. At first, he awkwardly grasped at them, grabbing what he could by the handful (using his palm to grasp). But as he got older, his fine motor skills developed and eventually he could pick them up individually by using his pincer movement. Practicing the pincer movement through eating, playing and yes, lifting flaps in books, helped him eventually be able to hold a crayon or pencil to write. Here’s another photo I “borrowed” from the internet to illustrate. Now, imagine those chubby little fingers someday holding a crayon, pencil, or pen.

I haven’t gotten into the emotional bonding between the adult and child reading a novelty book, but then again, that can happen with every book.

With all the benefits of lift-a-flap and other novelty books, it makes sense that they’re a great choice for the youngest of readers. And I’ll just say that the sturdy, gorgeously colored flaps in Love Can Come in Many Ways will certainly enhance your little one’s development.

The book comes out on October 20, 2020 but it’s available to preorder now! Just click HERE.

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WAIT FOR IT…COVER REVEAL!

I am over the moon excited to share in the Yosemite Conservancy’s cover reveal of my latest board book, EAT UP, BEAR! (Ill. by Nadja Sarell).  Living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this book is close to my heart as it helps teach little ones how to keep bears wild, AND every purchase helps support one of our greatest national treasures, Yosemite National Park. The book comes out spring 2021, but you can preorder now through Bookshop. Just press your paw HERE.

EatUpBear