[Note: This was originally published on Emu's Debuts, but it seemed to resonate with people, so I decided to reblog it here in case you missed it. Sorry if you're seeing it twice!]
Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.
I haven’t posted here for way too long, but 2013 turned out to be quite a year. I did manage to squeeze in a few posts over at Emu’s Debuts, so I thought I’d share them here as a sort of roundup (and to partially explain where I’ve been since the last post)…
In July, I had the amazing experience of attending my second Erin Murphy Literary Agency client retreat, this time in Big Sky Montana. Words can’t really describe how wonderful these retreats are, but I posted a bit about it here.
Aside from that trip, I spent the summer writing, researching, writing, interviewing, writing, revising, writing, revising, revising, and revising to deliver the final manuscript for BE A CHANGEMAKER. I wrote a bit about the process here.
Despite the mad race to the finish line, I feel really good about how it all came together. And here‘s a post about how it felt to get to THE END.
Then there was the dreaded author photo, which actually turned out to be sort of fun (and decent enough to share with the world, thank goodness!).
Other news and highlights from the year?
I got to see an early study for a scene from the picture-book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, illustrated by Sean Qualls.
The above book also FINALLY has a title, EMMANUEL’S DREAM!
I also got to see preliminary sketches for MY DOG IS THE BEST (sorry, I can’t share them here, but Paul Schmid‘s illustrations are ADORABLE!).
I finished another fiction picture book manuscript and it will soon be going out on submission (fingers crossed!).
As most of you know, I’m under a pressing deadline to deliver the completed manuscript for CHANGEMAKERS by August 1st. I have three chapters left to write, plus a plethora of bits and pieces scattered about and piles of notes to myself about things I still want to go back and fix… and only three weeks left to wrap everything up. So, what did I spend my day doing today? Making a new email subscription campaign, of course. (Gah! What?)
My brain seems to like having a burst of writing activity one day, followed by a burst of something–anything–else the next. I had an extremely productive day yesterday, so I pretty much accepted that today was going to be spent revising, tightening, expanding, twiddling, etc. Since I wasn’t in “flow” today, there was time for doing the dishes, putting away laundry, and catching up on some web browsing.
I happened to come across this article about the 10 biggest Internet marketing mistakes made by artists and creatives. I’ve been wanting to set up more of a newsletter for my email subscribers for a while now, so I’d already done some research on it and was planning on switching to using MailChimp instead of Feedburner… someday. Well, Mark’s article spurred me into action today. After all, I’m a tech savvy gal… how hard could it be, right?
Well, it took longer than I thought it would to get all the pieces to fit together (a few hours), but I think I have everything all converted now. I think it looks more professional and it certainly gives me more options, so although my timing might not have been ideal, I think it was worth it. If you were subscribed to my old Feedburner feed, I’ve moved you to the new MailChimp one. I hope you’ll like it better, but you can always unsubscribe if you’re not happy with it (MailChimp makes it easy for you!). From now on, any new subscriptions will go straight to the MailChimp list. (If you’d like to subscribe, just look for the MailChimp subscription form on the right-hand column just below my bio.)
Please let me know what you think! And, of course, let me know if you see any problems. Note that I might not fix them until August, though. After all, that deadline is still looming!
and this went up on the Erin Murphy Literary Agency’s news page this morning:
Yes, she’s a busy and multi-talented lady, that Laurie Thompson! Her first book was acquired last summer by Schwartz & Wade, a picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which is being illustrated by Sean Qualls. Then just a few months ago saw a second deal for a teen handbook of social entrepreneurship, which is due out from Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in Fall 2014, and which Laurie is busily writing and researching as we speak.
But that’s not at all! This week I am thrilled to announce a brand new deal, for Laurie Thompson’s adorable picture book MY DOG IS THE BEST: a little boy’s effusive praise of his best friend and all the amazing feats that dog can do (while sleeping on the couch). It’s sweet and warm and guaranteed to make you smile. Even better, an illustrator has already been attached to the project, the talented Paul Schmid!
MY DOG IS THE BEST was acquired by Janine O’Malley at FSG, and it’s going to make a giant picture book splash for sure. Huge congratulations, Laurie!
Wow, have I neglected this blog in recent weeks (okay, months), or what? I’ve been feverishly focusing on knocking out the CHANGEMAKERS book, which also meant I was feverishly focusing on finding a method to the madness of knocking out the CHANGEMAKERS book. I wrote a bit about my struggles over on the Emu’s Debuts blog.
Thanks to the support of my fellow EMu’s following that post, I’ve since hit a pretty good stride and am feeling much more comfortable about my ability to finish the book without letting it kill me. I’ve got a dandy collection of spreadsheets to track my progress by word count, by chapter, and by research. I’ve got some reward systems in place (i.e. Lindt’s A Touch of Sea Salt bars).
So, things are flowing much more smoothly now with the writing part, and I am thrilled that the interviews are rolling in as well. I can’t wait to share what some of the stories about what these venture teams are doing! I’ve known I wanted to write this book for years, but now that I am actually doing it, I’m having even more fun than I thought I would. Hearing these teenagers talk about their ideas, their goals, their success stories: WOW! It is so inspiring, and on so many different levels. Whenever I start to think maybe I can’t do this, that this book is too ambitious or the deadline is too short, I just think about what some of them have done. If they are changing the world at the age of 18, or 15, or 10, surely I can write one little book, right? And if my little book can help just one more teen pull off even a tiny fraction of what these kids are already accomplishing, then I know all of my efforts will have been worth it.
After the book is done, I hope I will be able to share with you here some snippets of the interviews and outtakes from the profiles I’m working on, because these young people will blow you away, and in the best possible kind of way. I hope my readers will be as affected by learning about these teens’ ventures as I have been.
When we watch the TV news or read the newspaper headlines, it’s easy to get discouraged about the state of the world. But writing this book is the complete opposite experience. It’s hard to get discouraged about where the world is heading when there are so many young people like the ones I am writing about out there.
And now, back to work! Please forgive me if I’m a little quiet for the next few months.
Although we recently spent a week in Disneyland, last week was definitely the bigger roller coaster ride for me: I had surgery on Tuesday, then my second book deal was announced on Thursday! There’s nothing like good publishing news to cheer up a writer who is feeling down, and nothing like a book selling on proposal–with a short deadline–to make her want to recover as quickly as possible.
And here’s the fabulous write-up my amazing agent put up on the agency website:
Quick show of hands: Who here has ever dreamed of changing the world? Okay, now one more: Who’s actually sat down and put together a specific plan for changing the world, complete with guidelines, practical tips, and hands-on experience from those who have gone before and actually done it?
Let me introduce you to Laurie Thompson. Last year, Laurie’s first picture book was signed on by Schwartz & Wade. This week, Laurie has accepted a publication offer for her newest book, a non-fiction manual for teens and preteens, tentatively titled CHANGEMAKERS. Focusing on the experiences of teens and young people who have made a concrete difference in their own neighborhoods, countries, and across the world, CHANGEMAKERS will be the definitive guide for kids who want to make a difference but don’t know how to get started. And I have a feeling the rest of us non-kids will enjoy it too!
This book was enthusiastically signed on by Nicole Geiger at Beyond Words Publishing/Simon Pulse, and is slated for publication in Fall 2014. Huge congratulations, Laurie!
Even though this is my second book deal, it looks like it will actually be my publishing debut. My first book, a picture book, isn’t scheduled to launch until spring 2015, but this one is scheduled to come out in fall 2014. Since this one sold on proposal, however, I have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time if that is going to happen. So, please forgive me if I’m even quieter than usual for the next few months. As soon as I am recovered enough, I’ll be back on my treadmill pounding out words!
Did you (or any children in your life) ever wonder how soap works, why onions make you cry, or how bad it is for you to breathe in hairspray? 11-year-old Alexa Coelho did, so she pulled together these and almost 200 other questions about her favorite subject, chemistry, and asked science writer Simon Quellen Field to write up the answers. This book is the result.
Alexa did a great job of coming up with a huge collection of specific, relevant questions that today’s kids (and adults) are sure to be interested in, and Simon did an equally great job answering them in clear, easy-to-understand explanations. It’s fun to read straight through or to use as a reference whenever you come across something interesting that you want to know more about. The book also has some nice nonfiction features like a detailed table of contents, special sections with hands-on projects for young chemists (and often an adult helper), and a glossary of terms.
Unfortunately, there are a few things missing here. First, I would really love to see an index in a book like this. It’s nearly impossible to find the answer to the titular question, for example. I only found reference to it in a different question about why hair conditioner is white, which, obviously, isn’t in the food section. Second, I would have liked to have seen some advice about where to find the ingredients for some of the projects. Have you purchased any muriatic acid lately? Finally, I wish it had clearly stuck to chemistry questions, or at least acknowledged when it was departing from them. Some, such as “Why is the sky blue?”, stray pretty far afield into other areas of science.
Still, I think the goodness here far outweighs the flaws, and middle-school scientists all the way through curious adults will learn a lot about science while enjoying this book.
It’s STEM Friday! Check out the STEM Friday blog for more STEM book reviews.
(STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
KNIT YOUR BIT is a fictionalized account of the real “Knit-In” event at Central Park in 1918. Despite being fiction, it was heavily researched to get the historical details right, and readers can learn a lot about the time, World War I, and the people who lived then.
Please help me welcome back Deborah!
LT: Hi, Deborah. It’s great to have you back. I love KNIT YOUR BIT and how it melds a fictional story with a nonfiction event. How did you first become interested in writing about this topic? Where did the seed of the story come from?
DH: The seed of this story actually dates back some years, to my first professional job. After graduate school I stumbled into a career in fundraising, which I have pursued ever since, in addition to being a writer. My first position was Staff Writer for the American Red Cross in Honolulu.
DH: As part of a history celebration, I wrote some articles for the organization’s newsletter and stumbled upon one of firemen knitting in World War I. I loved that image. As a writer interested in history, I collect books on a wide variety of topics. At some point, thinking about the upcoming anniversary of WWI, I remembered that photo and began reading about the history of knitting. Eventually, in Anne L. Macdonald’s NO IDLE HANDS, THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN KNITTING, I found a reference to the 1918 Central Park Knitting Bee, and that’s where the story began.
LT: What kind of reader do you think this book will appeal to?
DH: I think that my editor, Shauna Rossano, and the illustrator, Steven Guanaccia, have done wonders to make this story appealing to young readers. I hope people who love crafts and knitting will be interested. I know that I often sign copies of my picture book, SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT, which are being given as gifts to adults. I hope folks will give KNIT YOUR BIT to friends (women and men, as well as boys and girls) who knit.
LT: What was your research process like for this book?
DH: Like many of my picture books, KNIT YOUR BIT is historical fiction inspired by real people or events, and includes an author’s note about knitting for soldiers during World War I.
DH: The New York Times published an article on the knitting bee back in 1918, and some of the details of the prizes awarded are pulled directly from that piece. I also researched and got permission for the historic photos on the endpapers, which include one of sheep grazing during World War I on the White House lawn. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track down permissions for the Makiki fire station photograph, but I have added to my Pinterest Board for KNIT YOUR BIT: http://pinterest.com/DAhopkinson/knit-your-bit-a-world-war-i-story/
LT: What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write? What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you? How did you deal with that?
DH: I actually love doing research of any kind. The hardest part is not having enough time, or not being able to travel to do research on-site. For KNIT YOUR BIT, the fact that I couldn’t actually find any first-person accounts of children who participated in the knitting bee meant that I felt the story, although based on real events, needed to be historical fiction to be appealing to readers. I always tell kids that when authors put words in character’s mouths the story becomes fiction.
LT: How have your research and writing processes evolved over the course of your career?
DH: I think my processes have improved over the years. I’m writing a nonfiction book now on World War II, and I’m being careful to cite each source meticulously as I go along.
DH: This is something I learned the hard way, especially with longer nonfiction. The vetting and research process for my 2012 book, TITANIC, VOICES FROM THE DISASTER (a YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist) was incredibly detailed and time-consuming, because of the wealth of information and the sheer complexity of the story. So even though it might be tedious, I have learned to take my time and carefully track information and sources. It definitely saves time later!
LT: I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book?
DH: I tend to write for older readers, especially since both my kids are now in their twenties. I like to do author visits and talk with first and second graders and imagine how the book will sound if I’m sharing it with them. That was especially helpful in paring down this story to be as kid-friendly as possible.
LT: Besides promoting your new book, what are you working on now?
DH: Right now, I’m finishing the proofreading for my fall middle grade novel, THE GREAT TROUBLE, A MYSTERY OF LONDON, THE BLUE DEATH, AND A BOY CALLED EEL. I’m very excited about it because 2013 is the bicentennial of the birth of Dr. John Snow, whose work in the 1854 cholera epidemic changed medical history. With the recent outbreaks of cholera in Haiti, this topic is especially relevant today.
LT: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about?
DH: I have several knitter friends who helped with this book, including Robin Smith, who knits hats for premature babies with her second graders.
DH: I, on the other hand, am an extremely poor knitter and I’m not very good at hats – or socks. I knit scarves for relaxation only, and only dare give my handiwork to people who don’t knit at all. I am lucky enough to live near Portland, Oregon, where there are many wonderful yarn stores and enthusiastic knitters.
DH: I’m also delighted that the tradition of knitting for soldiers continues today. I hope that KNIT YOUR BIT inspires readers to learn a new skill or share one with others.
LT: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Deborah. And best of luck with KNIT YOUR BIT!
Today I’m thrilled to introduce a longtime friend of mine and fellow nonfiction writer, Loralee Leavitt. I first met Loralee many years ago through an online critique group put together by SCBWI Western Washington. We were an assorted mix of beginning writers, writing everything from picture books to novels, both fiction and nonfiction. The group eventually dissolved, but Loralee and I still run into one another from time to time at in-person SCBWI events, and we always enjoy keeping up with one another’s careers. Now, I couldn’t be more excited to help Loralee launch her exciting new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS!
LT: Welcome, Loralee, and congratulations! How did you get started with science experiments using candy? What was your inspiration?
LL: It actually started with my four-year-old daughter, who one day after Halloween asked to put her Nerds in water. The next time she asked, I realized it was a chance to get rid of all the Halloween candy I hadn’t wanted my children to eat. We covered the table in bowls of water and started throwing in candy to see what would happen. Soon we discovered crazy things, like the floating M&M m’s or lollipop sticks that unrolled when they were wet.
LT: How did you get from that initial inspiration to developing the actual experiments in the book?
LL: When we started doing candy experiments, I saw that we could teach real science with them, and drew from my own science background to create experiments. I also asked other experts for ideas, and read books like The Science of Sugar Confectionery, in which I learned things that led to new experiments. Other experiments came straight from what my children were trying: for instance, my son’s attempts to sink a marshmallow by jamming M&Ms into it became one of my density lessons.
LT: How much time did you spend researching overall, and how long did it take to write the book?
LL: I spent about two years developing and researching experiments and writing rough drafts. (This was an on-and-off process, since I was also very busy raising children.) After I found my publisher, I had about five more months to finish writing and researching, check my science, and take photos.
LT: The design of the book, the photos and layout, is gorgeous. Did you supply the photos, too? Can you tell us about that process?
LL: After the publisher saw the photos I’d taken for my website and magazine articles, they decided I’d be able to provide photos for the book. Luckily my husband is an excellent photographer, and was able both to take some photos and teach me what I needed to know. I’m also grateful to a friend of mine who brought a professional photographer to my home to give me some tips, such as using a roll of white paper to create a smooth background.
LL: To take most of the photos, I set everything up on my kitchen table by a north-facing window, and set the camera on a tripod so I could take long exposures for good lighting. Other photos were more challenging, like microwaving a marshmallow on a paper background and opening the microwave fast enough to snap a photo before the marshmallow collapsed. I assigned one of the hardest photos to my parents: a series of pictures of a Mentos/Diet Coke geyser, which they took in a floodit backyard one dark summer night.
LT: Fun! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
LL: The book is full of experiments that surprised us, many of them coming from things we tried that had crazy results. I had no idea when I put gummi worms in water that they’d absorb enough water to double in length, or that opaque Smarties would melt into clear puddles, or that conversation hearts would bob up and down in soda.
LT: What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you? How did you deal with that?
LL: One of the hardest parts was finding answers to really weird questions. For instance, I asked several experts why, when I dropped M&M’s into water and they dissolved, the resulting pools of color didn’t mix together on their own. At last I found a similar experiment on the ACS website and contacted them to see if they could provide me with a good explanation. And they did.
LT: What kind of reader do you think CANDY EXPERIMENTS will appeal to?
LL: I targeted the book at 7- to 10-year-olds, but older and younger people should enjoy it as well. Even adults love learning that the m’s from M&Ms float in water.
LT: I think every book teaches us something new: about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book? What surprised you the most during the process?
LL: I loved learning about the ingredients and science of candy. For instance, I learned that taffy pulling is what makes taffy soft by incorporating air bubbles–without the air bubbles, the taffy would be as hard as lollipops.
LL: I also had to think hard about what made these experiments so interesting to me, and try to share my amazement with my readers.
LT: I love that answer! I’ve found that focusing on what makes the subject so interesting to me is the key to my successful nonfiction writing as well. And it’s not nearly as easy to do as it sounds! Are there any other tips you would like to share with aspiring children’s book writers, especially those writing nonfiction for kids?
LL: Write about what you love. For me, writing about the science of candy captured my sense of childlike discovery/explored things I’d loved since I was a child: science, writing, candy, and family. I was excited to share my discoveries with others. Also, I spent so much time on this book that I couldn’t have stuck with it if I wasn’t really interested.
LT: That’s definitely good advice. What are you working on now?
LL: Right now, I’m mostly working on publicity for my book, arranging reviews, guest blog posts, and book signings. I’m finishing up an ebook about car trips for Familius.com, since everybody always asks me how we manage our kids on long driving trips. I’m collecting more candy ideas in case I get the opportunity to do another book, and I have a historical novel that I’d like to polish up and submit.
LT: Good luck with those! What would you most like people to know about you?
LL: When I became a mother, I worried that I’d have to put my writing aside. Little did I know that my kids would lead me to my big break! I’m so thankful for the way that my family, my love for science, and my love of writing have combined to make this project a success.
LT: It is a great story, and a good reminder to just go with the flow sometimes. Thanks so much for stopping by, Loralee, and much success with your fantastic new book!
Loralee Leavitt destroys candy for the sake of science at www.candyexperiments.com. Her new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS, contains dozens of amazing experiments including creating giant gummi worms, turning M&Ms into comets, and growing candy crystals.
My fellow judges and I are still hard at work trying to finalize our round one shortlist for the Cybils nonfiction picture book category. It’s a difficult task because there are so many great books this year! Here are some reviews of some of my personal favorites (Note: I had many, MANY favorites this year). I enjoyed and would recommend all of these.
This is the true story of a nameless dog seen floating on a piece of ice down a river in Poland. Initial attempts to save the dog fail, and he is washed out to sea. Fortunately, the crew onboard a research vessel sees him and finally succeeds in rescuing the dog and nursing him back to health. The story is told in simple but engaging text with delightful illustrations. I think kids and dog lovers of all ages will love this book. I know I did!
This beautiful book is firmly on my list of all-time favorite nonfiction picture books. Rather than talk about why animals migrate south for the winter, this book looks at the flip side: why and how they come back from all over the world to live in the Arctic the rest of year. It presents a wide variety of animals, including many different kinds of land mammals, birds, whales, and fish. The artwork is stunning, the text is both factual and lyrical, and the layout maximizes the effect on each on every page. This is about as perfect a nature book as I could imagine. Highly recommended!
This is another beautiful book by Candlewick. What I enjoyed most about this book is that the love the author has for his subject comes through on every page, in both the text and the illustrations. Even if you’re not a big baseball fan (which, admittedly, I’m not), there is still a lot to love about this book, especially Ted Williams’ admirable perseverance and dedication to his sport. The author’s note explains that Williams wasn’t perfect, which makes him even more human. There’s also a bibliography and, for true baseball fans, a detailed table of Williams’ career stats.
I thought this was one of the stand-out books for younger kids, teaching number recognition and counting as well as introducing a variety of different animals that hatch from eggs and what those eggs look like. The text is appropriately simple but descriptive and interesting, with the repeated question, “Who will the babies be?” and a fold-out page providing the answer for each number 1-10. The collage artwork gives the pages a rich, three-dimensional look and adds tons of visual interest. My only complaint with this book is that I don’t think the numbers match how many eggs the animals might really have (nine frog eggs, for example), so it’s a bit misleading in that regard, but it does such a wonderful job of achieving its other goals that I’m willing to let that detail slide.
This is a deceptively simple, but really quite ingenious, rhyming poem about all of the different things a leaf can do or be used for throughout the year. The glowing illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment as well as an explanation of each line of the poem, plus there’s a section at the end of the book with even more details. I think young kids will love this book and it will open their eyes to a whole new appreciation of the nature all around them. Well done!
Disclaimer: All of these books were obtained from my amazing local public library system.
I write for children and young adults, opening up hearts and minds and engaging both toward understanding and improving our complex world. Sometimes, getting lost in a good book can be just the thing we need to finally find ourselves.