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Verla Kay

Books for Beaumont

Dear Friends,

You know how sometimes a situation presents itself, and you think, “I could help with that!”?

That’s what happened to me late last week when a writing buddy posted this notice on Verla Kay’s blueboards, a children’s book writing and illustrating message board:

“Well, I recently accepted a position as principal/curriculum coordinator at a local charter school here in Texas. We are a PK-8th grade campus with approximately 300 students. Over 90% are at poverty level. Our library is coming along slowly. We are in need of lower level AR books (PK-2nd grade for sure). Our library budget is nonexistent. We could use new or gently used books. If anyone knows of publishers/bookstores/individuals who might be willing to donate some books, I’d greatly appreciate it. We are the Ehrhart School in Beaumont, TX. Thanks so much!


I thought about all those kids needing books for their library with no funding and with school just weeks away. I thought about the complimentary copies of my books just sitting at home in my office not being used.

I contacted Larry and asked if he’d like some of my books. I knew they didn’t meet the Accelerated Reader requirement he requested, so I wasn’t sure. Larry responded with a big yes. I got the address of the school and boxed up my books.

I happened to mention my exchange with Larry to a writer friend. She wanted to donate some of her books, too. That started the ball rolling.

I contacted Larry, again, and asked if he’d be okay with me posting his message about his school’s need for books on my blog. Maybe other authors and publishing folks would donate their books. Maybe they would re-post, re-blog, tweet, and message their friends. Maybe we could send lots and lots of books to Beaumont, not just my five.

Thus, Books for Beaumont was created!

If you’d like to help the kids of The Ehrhart School, please send your books to:

The Ehrhart School
Dr. Larry Haynes
3380 Fannin
Beaumont, Texas 77701

Here’s their website: http://ehrhartschool.org/index.jsp.

Feel free to share this post. Let’s fill the shelves of the Ehrhart School’s library. School starts August 26, so don’t delay!

(And don’t forget: your donations and postage are tax deductible as business expenses.)

Thanks for helping with Books for Beaumont!


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Interview with Pippa Bayliss

Today I’m talking with Phillipa (Pippa) Bayliss, an up-and-coming mid-grade writer who I met on Verla Kay’s message board (and really, who haven’t I met at Verla’s?).

Hi, Pippa. Thanks for joining us!

Thank you for being brave enough to have me.

You write children’s fantasy. Tell me about your current project(s).

At the moment I’m working on the revision that never ends (which shouldn’t be confused with the Neverending Story). It’s called ‘Ausmus Marney: 11 and 2/3’. Or, ‘Ausmus Marney: Eleven and Two-Thirds’. You see what I’m up against?

And the premise is just as tricky as the title: No one has been able to read a story, watch a movie or use their imagination for over ten years. When Ausmus Marney is taken – at the tender age of eleven and two-thirds – to the afterlife realm of the characters of fiction and make-believe, we find out why.

It’s lots of fun to work on, which possibly explains why I’m still polishing even though it’s already dazzling – (that gagging sound is me choking on my tongue-in-cheek). Seriously, the time I’m spending with Ausmus has absolutely nothing to do with the mess I made of a certain plot point, or my teeny tiny tendency to ramble. I’m so glad you asked so I could clear that up.

How long have you been writing for children? What made you want to be a writer?

This is an embarrassing question for someone like me who hasn’t got a word in print yet, Jody. But since it’s you, I’ll be honest and confess to ten years. I think that makes me addicted? I’m certainly obstinate, and an extremely slow learner. I’ve written plenty but have been very picky about which projects are ready for the world. Only one so far and, really, I’m not sure the world is ready for it.

Oddly, I have no idea what made me want to be a writer. I think at the beginning I wanted to get the stories out of my head, but now I suspect it might have been a generational madness and a touch of heat stroke.

I see you’re a member of The Enchanted Inkpot. What is that? How did you get involved?

Ah! The Enchanted Inkpot – a good question that is most blog worthy. I discovered the site through Verla Kay’s forum and won a swag of books for commenting on a post. I don’t think most of their followers became fans this way but it made me one. The Enchanted Inkpot is a group blog of fantasy writers who write for the juvenile market so its content was of huge interest to me. They let me join them after I begged and groveled a bit. And met their membership criteria. I’m honored to be part of such a talented group of fantasy writers and it’s a site full of wonderful interviews and useful topics. I’d hurry and bookmark it now if I were you.

What are your favorite resources for writing for kids?

I started with Nancy Lamb’s, ‘The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children’ and I still refer to it. There are a ton of resources out there – websites, blogs, Verla Kay’s Blueboard Forum – and really, I salivate over any writing resource I can get my hands on. One that I’d recommend for fantasy and science fiction writers is ‘Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy’ by Crawford Kilian. But by far the best advice you can get is from Snoopy.

I’ve read a ton of ‘how to’ books on the many aspects of good story telling, and inspirational books. If you go to my blog you’ll see that Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’ has a very special place in my heart. She makes me laugh and cry and soldier on. My mind is a bit leaky so I go once a year to a writer’s conference to soak up good advice. There’s always something more to discover and my mantra at the moment is ‘Go brain cell, go! You can do it’.

Back to Ausmus Marney for a minute (which, by the way, sounds very fun). When will you kiss it goodbye and hustle it out the door?

My agent is waiting for it as I type so my intention is to have it back to her by May. Which means I should stop chatting and get onto it …

You clearly are committed to your work. What’s your best advice to writers who struggle to hang in there (that’s all of us, by the way)?

I struggle the most when I take my eyes off my own work and start seeing how brilliant everyone else is. A nasty little voice in my head tells me I’ll never be as good as them and I really should do something more suited to my talent – like worm rescue. It uses phrases like ‘waste of time’, ‘complete failure’, and ‘nobody cares’. So, my best advice is never, ever measure yourself against the success and popularity of others. You’re you, your work is yours and you can do what it takes to achieve your goals. Keep focused on the writing. And read the book that inspires you the most, over and over until you’re clear again about why you must write.

Thanks, Pippa. It has been fun chatting with you. Much success in your writing endeavors!

It’s been fun hanging out with you, Jody!

Readers, you can visit Pippa at http://pippa_bayliss.livejournal.com/. The Enchanted Inkpot blogs at http://enchantedinkpot.livejournal.com/. And Verla Kay’s Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Chat Board can be accessed at http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php.

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Debut Picture Book Author, Judith Snyder

Well, it has happened again! Another of my critique buddies has published her first children’s picture book. Amazon describes Judith Snyder’s What Do You See? (Odyssey Books) this way:

“This title is full of imaginative approaches to artwork, and perfect for curious children, who are eager to combine shapes and sizes in art. There is no end to the creativity this book facilitates, as youngsters open their eyes and the windows of their own creativity. It is a perfect way for adults and youngsters to see the world in a whole new way.”

Judith has joined us today to talk about her book. Thanks for stopping by, Judith. Let’s start at the beginning.

How did you get your idea for this book?

When I first started teaching, back in the golden years when creative thinking took precedence over skill and drill worksheets, I participated in classes that encouraged teachers to get students to stretch their imaginations. That was when I started using simple line drawings to stimulate creative thinking. I started this activity with fifth graders and when I changed grade levels, I discovered that first and second graders could do these activities as well. So that was the initial idea that followed me into all my classrooms. Many years later on a car trip, I used this activity to entertain my grandson. Everyone in the car had fun brainstorming ideas for different shapes. I saved the doodles and the ideas, and combined them with rhyming couplets and voila—What Do You See?

[It pays to save those scraps of ideas!]

How did you find your editor, or how did she find you?

At my second SCBWI conference in 2006, I had the good fortune to be with a friend who won the chance to sit next to one of the guest editors at lunch. So, along with nine other conference goers, we had a wonderful chat with editor/publisher, Barbara Cilette of Odyssey Books. We all talked about the normal publishing questions, but what I remember most is discussing educational philosophy and how books should stimulate creativity and curiosity. This discussion was a great segue into my What Do You See? book proposal that I had been subbing with no success, so I asked Barbara about the best way to get my vision across to an editor. As a result, I mailed her the manuscript. I remember the wait felt like forever. When Barbara responded initially, it was a “Yes, I like your idea very much, but I can’t promise you anything just yet.”

So I waited a little longer…and I was thrilled when she invited me to lunch to discuss this manuscript and several others she was interested in. (The time from initial query to final book was about three years, which I understand now is common.) And then my books arrived at my door and I discovered it was worth the wait. They are beautiful.

[Amazon tells me my copy is on its way to Missouri. I can’t wait to read it!]

It sounds like you thought long and hard about how to make your proposal different from what was already on the market. Tell us about that.

This is a very important piece in getting noticed, and something that I consider as I develop my projects. My first magazine piece was an article and a folktale I sent out as a package, with the suggestion that they could be used together or individually. The article described how to tell a story and used examples from the folktale. It worked. They bought both.

With my Jump Start Your Library activity books, I stressed a hands-on approach, as opposed to simple worksheets, and proposed that the activities be pre-made to save librarians work.

Suggesting ideas outside-the-box can start the editor thinking, too. The concept for What Do You See? is so different from most other things on the market right now, that it was very difficult to market. Luckily, I found an editor with a vision and understanding of the creative process. This book goes far beyond a simple shape book to develop flexible and creative thinking. Preschoolers might enjoy it by finding shapes, but older students and adults are challenged with more abstract thinking.

Now that your book is out, how do you intend to promote it?

Thank goodness I have critique groups and Verla Kay’s message board. I’ve received support to motivate me into cyberspace (my website) and ideas to get me out into the other real world. Since I am a retired school librarian, I still have a few contacts in several metro area school districts to do some author presentations. I’m getting a slow start, but I wanted to make sure I would have my books before I did any presentations. I also think I’m very lucky to be a part of Odyssey Books first book launch. Though Barbara Ciletti has been in the publishing business for a long time, Odyssey Books is her very own imprint. And not only is she well versed in marketing strategies, she is as motivated as I am to get these books into the hands of children. We both are working hard for success.

Also, I am holding a contest on my website, judithsnyderwrites.com. You can win my book by answering a creative thinking question. I’ll put all the responders’ names into a hat and draw a winner. Stop by and check it out. The contest runs through Nov. 30, 2009.

What’s next for you?

I love picture books and that’s what I enjoy writing because that’s what I know best. But there is something niggling at me to take a risk and try a different kind of writing. So I’m starting to learn about writing chapter books and a middle grade realistic fantasy novel. I’ve had a few false starts, but I’m gearing up again.

Finally, what’s the best advice you’ve been given about writing?

I’ve received lots of great insights into the writing process from my critique groups and at conferences. But I have to go back to the very beginning of my journey, when I was just getting my feet wet and stretching my writing wings. Because I was a school librarian, I had opportunities to invite authors to my school and spend time with them at lunch and throughout the day. I remember asking the authors, Janet Stevens and Justin Mattott, how to get started on the “publishing a picture book” journey. Both replied with similar answers. Join SCBWI, go to conferences, get into a critique group, and write what you know. I followed their advice and it worked. And that’s the advice I would give to any other novice writer—that, and grow a thick skin because you’ll get a lot of rejections before you get that wonderful “YES!”

Thanks for your time, Judith. I wish you all the best with What Do You See?

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