Tag Archives: amwriting

The Apartment Girl, Yurts, and “Let’s Be Friends”

9 Feb

I grew up in a little ranch house in a midwestern suburb. My classmates were similarly situated. We were all ranch house kids—except for one girl, who lived with her mom in an apartment. Let’s call her Valerie.

Valerie was a tough cookie, let me tell you. Feathered hair, oversized plastic comb, jean jacket. Fierce.

Mousey Me would have feared her even if she lived in a ranch house like the rest of us, but her apartment-dwelling mystique made her all the more terrifying.

Decades later, when gathering ideas for Let’s Be Friends, I found myself categorizing various potential barriers to friendship—and I remembered my bias against Valerie. A “dwellings” category was added. Can friends live in any kind of house? Of course they can!

Originally, I drew a yurt under the flap. I thought a yurt would be a funny surprise.

About the Yurt

For a while, right around the time that I was writing Let’s Be Friends, my husband was fantasizing about retiring in a yurt. With me. We even spent a few nights in a very lovely New Zealand yurt AirBNB, as research—both for retirement, and for the book.

The yurt in Let’s Be Friends was eventually replaced by a treehouse. And unless fate takes an absurd twist, I very much doubt that my husband and I will live out our days in a yurt.

Incidentally, the couple who own the NZ yurt AirBNB also rent out a ship that they converted into a treehouse. Please, nobody tell my husband. We live in an apartment now, and I’d really like to keep it that way! :o)

Let’s Be Friends is the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. Order your copy today!

Let’s Be Friends

14 Dec

“We are the same, and different.”

Roxane Gay, on the role of literature.

The Backstory

I was living in Auckland during New Zealand’s only mass shooting, which happened at a mosque in Christchurch. Idyllic, peaceful, beautiful New Zealand was shattered by an act of hate.

In the aftermath, I couldn’t stop wondering why our differences matter. Aren’t we all ultimately the same? Does it really matter that people look different, come from different places, worship differently? (And, by the way, isn’t religion supposed to be about love?)

This swirl of questions became the inspiration for a proposed lift-the-flap book, What Matters?. Every spread showed people with different opinions, different life styes, physical differences, etc, and asked the question, “Does it matter?”. Under the flap, the answer was always some form of “No!”.

My original storyboard for What Matters?

My agent pitched the idea to HarperCollins, where an amazing editor took an interest. She shared the proposal in a meeting, and the project sparked conversation. Apparently, a person’s ethnicity, color, and religion do matter. Of course! All of that stuff shapes each person’s worldview.

The concept of material wealth didn’t make it into the final book.

The editor asked me to pivot and send a revision.

The original color sketch and final illustration. Religion made it in—yay!

After a month of thinking and hand-wringing, I rewrote and redrew the book. I was visiting my cousin Tom at the time, who tossed ideas around with me and generally kept me sane.

Can cousins be BFFS? Of course!

I’d been asking the wrong question. “Does it matter?” became “Can they be friends?”. The answer under the flap was always some version of YES, and adds even more positivity to what I hope is a loving, joyful message. 

HarperCollins bought the book, which was a giant relief and an enormous cause for celebration.

Let’s Be Friends is available everywhere as of Dec 14, 2021. Click here to order your copy today!

Getting UNSTUCK

5 Dec

For years, I’ve been wanting to write for older kids. I’ve explored a few characters and have written a paragraph here and there, but never built momentum.

As explained in my previous post, in the spring of 2021, an idea for a YA novel popped into my head. I knew it was good, but I remained STUCK.

Thankfully, I was binge-listening to Children’s Book Insider‘s Kidlit Distancing Socials, including a Chris Tebbetts interview. Chris announced a Highlights Foundation online course that he was co-teaching with Erin Dionne: “Getting Your Middle Grade or Young Adult Novel UNSTUCK”.

I took the course, listened to it repeatedly while illustrating other books, and then, over the summer, wrote my novel!

I highly recommend the class, which delivered on it’s promise one hundred percent. I stand before you, UNSTUCK. Able to write. (And in the photo above, I stand before my beat sheet. Perplexed about how to move my plot along… but not stuck!)

Amazing.

“Getting… UNSTUCK” is now an online on-demand course at the Highlights Foundation. Anyone can take it, any time! Click here to check it out.

You’d be wise to connect with the Highlights Foundation to receive course updates. Connect with Erin Dionne and Chris Tebbetts, too! Erin and Chris are excellent writers and excellent teachers. Check out their books, and follow them on social media so you won’t miss notices about any of their other classes or workshops.

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Check out an upcoming Highlights Foundation intensive weekend workshop with Erin Dionne and Chris Tebbetts, along with agent Linda Random: “Beginning Your Novel: MG & YA First Pages, Pacing, & Voice“. Jan 8-9, 2022.

Another great resource: Bad Choices Make Good Stories, Erin Dionne's fantastic new book on writing! Click here for ordering info.

Horizons, Broadened

28 Jul

In Which Violet Writes a Novel

I’m a book illustrator who sometimes also writes, mostly for very small children. Writing was never one of my career goals, and writing a novel was never on my radar, until… ba-boom!

Cue lightning bolt.

Yep. I was struck by a story idea for a kidlit novel. Bonus: the subject was of great interest to my teenage son. He loved the idea, and I loved discussing it with him!

After a few years of talking, it was time to act. This book wasn’t going to write itself! Not knowing where to begin, I poked around on the internet, listened to tons of author interviews, and enrolled in a few online classes. I thought I’d share the highlights in a series of posts for any potential authors out there. Note that I am not affiliated with any of these courses, I’m just sharing my experience as an online kidlit writing student.

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Writing Blueprints

If you want to write for kids of any age but aren’t sure where to begin, or you’ve been trying for a while and feel frustrated or lost, look no further. Laura Backes (of Children’s Book Insider and Writeforkids.org) and her team have put together a Writing Blueprint course for every kidlit category, from picture books to middle grade and young adult novels. Each blueprint is self directed and takes you step by step through the writing process. Because the blueprint system is clear and linear, it can save endless hours spent meandering.

“I guarantee that you are going to write a first draft that wanders in a lot of different directions before you end up where you think you should be going. And you will have huge rewrites ahead of you, that you could possibly avoid, by doing this.”

Laura Backes

Before using the blueprint, I had written nearly 20K words guided by a loose outline. The scenes were good, I loved my characters, and I was thrilled to be writing my book! The more I wrote, however, the more I felt that my story was drifting. I sensed massive rewrites and restructuring in my future, which made the process feel heavy. It seemed the only way to find and work out the details of my story was to keep writing, which would mean even more eventual rewriting.

Enter: The Detailed Outline

After helping me create characters and story ideas, the Middle Grade/Young Adult Writing Blueprint guided me through the process of outlining. Creating a detailed outline for my story was not easy for me, but it was so worth the effort! I am much more at ease as I’m writing now, because I know exactly where I’m going.

There are many components to the Writing Blueprints system besides the outline. Do check it out! You can even sample a Writing Blueprint for free.

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But wait… There’s more!

In addition to the instructional videos and worksheets, the Writing Blueprints package includes lifetime access to the course, and inclusion in a private Facebook group.

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If you are ready to invest in your writing career, Writing Blueprints is a great way to start. Terrific bang-to-buck ratio.

Click here to be redirected to the Writing Blueprints website.

Click here to be redirected to a free trial of Writing Blueprints.

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Want to follow along on Twitter as I write my book? Click here!

What online writing classes have you enjoyed? Let me know in the comment section. :o)

Getting Social

26 May

On May 18th, I had the pleasure of joining the amazing Laura Backes Bard, the founder of Children’s Book Insider, for a live Zoom chat focusing on board books.

Click here to watch the replay on CBI’s YouTube channel. Considering that this was my first live interview, I think it went pretty well. Whew!

An Unexpected Cover Reveal

While prepping the day before the interview, I discovered that HarperCollins had revealed the cover of my latest board book, Let’s Be Friends, several weeks earlier than I was expecting. How perfect! I was able to share the cover during the interview.

Board Books

If given a do over, I would spend a few minutes gushing over little ones and their caregivers, all of whom have my heart. Board books, after all, are at the center of the sacred ritual of reading to babies and toddlers. When I was a young mother, I took every opportunity to snuggle with my baby and a book. Libraries and bookstores were our regular haunts. At night, when my son begged me to keep reading past his bedtime, I usually indulged him. Childhood is fleeting, after all. In hindsight, I know I made the right choice, despite the brain cells that I certainly lost to lack of sleep. :o)

Human babies are only tiny for an instant—their growing up is as swift as the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.

Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Board books give authors and illustrators opportunities to share in all of that good stuff. What a gift.

This CBI interview made me realize that board books are a sweet spot for me. I absolutely adore babies, and two-thirds of my writing credits are board books, but before this interview, I had never considered that I had a specialty. As I learn to write for older kids, it’s comforting to think of board books as home.

My friend Michelle and her daughter Sophia, enjoying “Healthy, Healthy, Love, Love, Love.”

Dreaming of Writing for Children?

Laura Backes and her husband Jon Bard have spent decades collecting helpful information for children’s book writers. If you want to get into the business of children’s books, explore Write4Kids.org and Children’s Book Insider.

CBI’s YouTube channel is a great place to start! There are tons of topics from which to choose. I’ve listened to every interview, and have learned from all of them.

Write4Kids.org is chock full of helpful info, too. While you’re there, sign up for the CBI newsletter, which is amazing! Priceless content, for the price of a cup of coffee.

If you’re looking for a class, CBI has got you covered. Their Writing Blueprints are revolutionary self-paced online courses tailored to various genres, at a very reasonable rate. I’m about to begin my own journey with one of these blueprints, and will keep you posted!

Meanwhile, if you have any questions about board books, give a shout!

Here are my two most recent board books. :o)

Click here to order Healthy, Healthy, Love, Love, Love

Click here to pre-order Let’s Be Friends (available everywhere on Dec 1, and in stores on Dec 14)

Studio Time

1 Apr

Office Space

Inspired by internet photos of awesome-looking illustration studios and cozy, inviting writing nooks, I once went to a lot of trouble to decorate my studio. A few months after every last detail was perfected, my husband got a new job out of state.

One of the only photos I have of my sweet little studio in Savannah, GA (circa 2012).

We sold the house, packed up my studio along with everything else, and moved north. The new home office was nice enough—same furniture (slightly banged up from the move), same colors—but was definitely not as precise and perfect. Not long after that, my husband began taking international gigs. We sold a bunch of stuff and put everything else in a POD, not knowing what the future would hold. Ultimately we became globe hoppers, never staying in one place for very long.

LEFT: One of my New Zealand work spaces. Had to hang a hoodie on the desk lamp to protect my eyes from the sun. RIGHT: Zooming into a midwestern classroom from the office space in our apartment in China.

While I have fond memories of the perfect little studio space that I decorated all of those years ago—especially my books, which are still in storage in the US—I’ve gotten used to working at any available table-like surface, preferably with a comfortable chair and a solid wifi signal.

Quiet Times

In late October 2020, my husband and I moved to Malaysia for his new position at the international boarding school where we now live. We were given keys to a lovely small apartment in the residence building, and a set of auxiliary rooms across the hall.

In the mornings I’ve been taking an on-line class, working on new book ideas, and writing. When I’m thinking, writing, trying to catch illusive flutters of creativity, I need silence. As in, please don’t drop any pins.

Stay-at-home orders had my noisy husband, whom I adore, working from home. Constant loud classic rock and Jets news (egad!) filled the place. God help me. To preserve my sanity, I had to get out of there. Luckily we had keys to those auxiliary rooms!

Bare-boned, but blissfully quiet. We moved my work table across the hall.

Working on my latest book (HarperColins/Spring 2022) in my lovely new work space.

Turn Up the Volume

When I’m illustrating final art for a book and most of the important decisions have already been made, I do listen to stuff while I work: music, TED talks, audiobooks, podcasts. Illustrating an entire book takes some serious time, so there are many silent hours to fill. I once binge-listened the entire canon of Gilmore Girls (153 hour-long episodes) when working toward multiple simultaneous deadlines, followed by one and a half traces through all 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory. No joke.

Note that I could actually cohabit with my fella and his playlists—and even the NY Jets—during this phase of the illustration process, and often do, but now that I have a space across the hall, that’s where you’ll find me. Fred is back to work in his own office and our apartment is empty during the day, but I’ve grown to love this white box with it’s powerful ceiling fan and… well, that’s pretty much it! Just me in an otherwise empty, completely unadorned room.

For Your Listening Pleasure… and Professional Edification

Now that I’ve exhausted my Netflix favorites, podcasts have become my listening preference. Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend and Office Ladies are perpetual favorites. Funny, insightful, heartwarming, inspirational. Great stuff.

Recently, though, I made an important discovery: Children’s Book Insider‘s KidLit Distancing Socials!

Photo of the first CBI Kidlit Distancing Social that I was able to join live, after listening to most of the recorded sessions via Youtube. My Photoshop file at the top of the screen is blurred because it’s much too soon to share the art I was working on that day, which is for the same upcoming book referenced above.

These weekly socials (recordings of Zoom calls, basically) feature amazing interviews with all sorts of kidlit professionals. I’ve learned so much from these videos! They easily get five stars from me; I highly recommend CBI’s Kidlit Distancing Socials to anyone who is interested in writing books for children—from absolute beginners to highly published pros. You can join live via Zoom or catch the replays on YouTube. In the first few minutes of every episode, you’ll learn everything you need to know to get connected to Children’s Book Insider and their website WriteForKids.org, which is an amazing resource. Drumroll: newsletters are involved—newsletters!—and they are jam packed with seriously incredible content.

CBI’s Kidlit Distancing Socials have broadened my horizons, which was a delightful surprise. Who knew such treasures were available on Youtube?


Click here to be redirected to Children’s Book Insider, and/or click here for CBI’s Youtube channel where you’ll find replays all of their wonderful, informative Kidlit Distancing Socials.

And You?

Do you need silence when you work? If not, what are your listening preferences? Let me know in the comments section below.

Happy creating!!