Quick Links

Find Authors

My #FirstPictureBook Q&A

A BOOK OF BRIDGES

February 5, 2017

Tags: A BOOK OF BRIDGES, Cheryl Keely, Celia Krampien, Sleeping Bear Press, February 2017

Cheryl Keely is a journalist and also volunteers with a pet therapy organization. Along with her dog Dagaz, she visits local schools where the children take turns reading to the dogs. This month, Sleeping Bear Press is publishing Cheryl's first picture book, A BOOK OF BRIDGES —"a fine introduction to bridges and the great truth of connectivity (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was A BOOK OF BRIDGES the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, a Book of Bridges: Here to There and Me to You (Sleeping Bear Press, illustrated by Celia Krampien, Feb. 2017) was not the first picture book manuscript I ever wrote. I lost count a long time ago as to how many books I have written, started to write, thought about writing, etc. My first picture book after I became serious about focusing on writing picture books got totally slammed by an editor at my first SCBWI event and almost made me want to give up right on the spot. (I’m glad I didn’t. Stick with it. It gets better) It is now buried deep, deep in my filing cabinet. Others written pre-decision to focus on PB writing are in a shoe box of memories.

Q. What inspired A BOOK OF BRIDGES?
A. Like many of my ideas, a few lines came to me as I was settling down to take a nap. I liked the rhythm of them, so I emailed the lines to myself. Then I emailed a few more and a few more and then got up from my nap. It was not a restful nap, but it was productive.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title was Here to There and Me to You. I liked the thought of bridges making connections and bringing people together. I really liked the line in the book containing those words. It seemed to me to sum up the best connection of all – me to you and you to me. A Book of Bridges was added later to make it clear that the book was about bridges. It helps to let readers to know what a book is about!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the ending line and that was in the book from the start.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this book?
A. I read as many books on bridges as I could from the local library (yeah for libraries) and researched bridge sites on-line.

Q. How did you decide which bridges to use in A BOOK OF BRIDGES?
A. Well, at first the bridge research was just for me to learn about different kinds of bridges and the facts weren’t originally included in the book. I wanted a wide variety showcasing different types of bridges and how they connect us to many different things. Sara Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press critiqued my story during a SCBWI Midsouth event and we talked about the research I did and she liked the idea of adding the facts. It fit well with the types of books Sleeping Bear Press publishes. I went back and added facts about the types of bridges contained in the story. A few were changed later. But it was hard. There are so many cool types of bridges out there.

Q. Did A BOOK OF BRIDGES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I have been reluctant to submit and have only just started putting my work out into the world, but I do take advantage of opportunities within SCBWI to have my work reviewed. I was very fortunate with this book. I had it critiqued at a Midsouth SCBWI event in 2014. The agent doing the critique thought the book was OK, but wasn’t interested. She gave me some really good feedback and I worked that into a rewrite. I had the story critiqued again at a Midsouth SCBWI event in 2015. Sarah Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press did the critique and liked the story. She asked me to revise and submit to her. I was walking on air. I made the changes we talked about and sent the story off. She said, “yes,” we would like to buy this book! Funnily enough, she didn’t like the changes I’d made based on the first critique and the rewrite I did was more closely aligned with the version I had critiqued the first time – with the addition of the facts. Just goes to show how subjective writing is and to keep at a story you really believe in as the right publisher is out there looking for it.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on A BOOK OF BRIDGES.
A. I’m still walking on air. It also still feels a bit like a dream.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I had no input on choosing the illustrator. But I am so happy with Sleeping Bear Press’ choice. Celia Krampien is very talented and I love her artwork. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Oh my god, that’s my book. With pictures. My story …is ... becoming …a book! I loved the cover from the get go. It has multiple layers to it and captures so many of the bridges and the connections made by them and the people who use them.

Q. How long did A BOOK OF BRIDGES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A: I submitted the revised story in November 2015 and received word in January 2016 that Sleeping Bear Press would like to acquire the book. It was around July I learned it would be coming out in February. I’m still stunned by how quickly it’s all happened.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A: I had one line in there I really liked — “or be used for sneaking past trolls to make-believe lands” — because I liked the bridge it made to our imaginations. It is not in the book as it didn’t really fit with all the other realistic bridges. It was replaced with an animal bridge and that made me happy as I love animals and think it’s so fun that there are bridges just for animals. I’d had the bridge in an early version but pulled it because I had too many examples. It all worked out in the end.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Just keep writing.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I set a timer (usually 15 minutes) and write whatever comes out in that time. I find it to be both focusing and freeing. How weird is that? But with the time limit, I have to focus on getting something — anything — down, but since it can be anything, it’s also freeing. I will also use this method for revisions, too, so I have to get something done and not agonize of “what” to get done.

Q. What are you working on now?
A: I have a couple of stories out on submission (yeah, I’m getting better at putting myself out there) and a list of ideas I’ve been generating as a Storystorm participant in January that I’m hoping to turn into several manuscripts as a member of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge 2017.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A: Please come visit me at:
www.cherylkeely.com
@clkeely
www.facebook.com/CherylKeelyBooks/

Thank you so much for inviting me on your blog. May your day have some happy.

MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS

November 21, 2016

Tags: MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS, Linda Vander Heyden, Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

It's been a long road to publication. But after running a business and raising a family, Linda Vander Hayden finally reached her destination—publishing her first picture book! Today she shares the story behind MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS—"an appealing and appropriate addition to the nature shelf in the preschool and early elementary grades" (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. My first picture book was a very long story about a crabby cat. I spent hours researching publishers who would love my story. I sent it out into the world and waited…and waited. Finally—a response! It was a form rejection (with many more to follow). Not one to give up easily, I revised my story, cutting the word count in half. Surely, now they would be interested. Alas, no. Though disappointed, I learned a lot from those rejections. It is all part of the journey.

Q. What inspired MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. For a long time, I’ve been concerned about what is happening to the monarchs. Once it was common to see many of these beautiful butterflies throughout summer and fall. Now, people report not seeing any or very few. Some of the challenges our monarch friends face are changing weather patterns, pesticides, herbicides, roadside mowing, and habitat destruction.

One day, while walking my dogs, I found the milkweed along the side of our quiet road had been mowed. Milkweed is vital to monarch survival. Monarch caterpillars were clinging to the drying plants. Seeing this was upsetting. The monarchs are in trouble, and I wanted to share their story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I loved the alliteration. And I love Irish names. My grandfather came to this country from Ireland when he was only 16. My sisters and I visited his childhood home a few years ago. It was an amazing experience!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I have several. One, in particular, is when Mr. McGinty and his dog, Sophie, are rescuing the caterpillars. People pass by and shake their heads wondering why he bothers. But Mr. McGinty isn’t worried about how he is seen by others. He only wants to help the monarchs.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Mr. McGinty seemed to be the perfect name for this kind-hearted, energetic man who cares so much about nature. And I chose the name Sophie for his dog, because I thought it sounded gentle. Sophie adores Mr. McGinty and is always ready to share in his adventures, including a monarch mission!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. It really wasn’t a conscious decision. The story just seemed to flow onto the page that way. I think using third person makes it more relatable to children. They can see themselves in the story and identify with Mr. McGinty’s love and concern for the monarchs.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. I knew about half the story when I began writing. Over the next couple years, with numerous revisions, the rest of the story took shape. I was also very fortunate to be part of the SCBWI mentorship program. I am so grateful to my mentor, who helped with final revisions.

Q. Did MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It definitely did. I think most manuscripts receive rejections. Perhaps some stories are acquired right away, but they are probably few and far between. I received about seven rejections before learning that Sleeping Bear wanted to publish this story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS.
A. I’m taking a deep breath here. My mother had passed away the month before, and I was (and still am) feeling her loss deeply. My mother was always in my corner. She told me to never give up on my writing. We were at our daughter’s home the evening my agent called with the exciting news. It is hard to describe the combination of sorrow at losing my mother so recently and the elation I felt when I learned of the offer from Sleeping Bear. I wish she could have been here to share my happiness, but I believe she knows.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sleeping Bear chose Eileen Ryan Ewen to illustrate the book, and I am delighted with her vision of Mr. McGinty and Sophie! MR. MCGINTY’S MONARCHS was a debut book for both of us!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. It was thrilling to see this story come to life at last! I loved Eileen’s portrayal of Mr. McGinty. It was so different than how I pictured him. And so much better! I couldn’t believe it when I saw Sophie. She, too, looked very different than what I had pictured. What struck me immediately was that Sophie looked exactly like the dog my mother had when she was a little girl. Eileen had never seen a photo of my mother’s dog!

Q. How long did MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took about a year and a half from the time I received the offer until the book was released.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I honestly can’t think of anything I would change. The story teaches while it entertains, and Eileen’s illustrations are beautiful. I also think the author notes are fun and kid friendly. I love reading this story to students and seeing their enthusiasm as they listen and later share their own butterfly stories with me.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. Yes, one little girl told me, “I want to be a superhero butterfly when I grow up.”

Q. When you do readings of MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children have lots of fun following Sophie throughout the story. They love her hairdo when she visits the classroom with Mr. McGinty! And I hear them “Oooh” and “Aaah” when they see Eileen’s full-page spread of the monarchs being released.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. The best advice I can offer would be to join SCBWI. This organization offers many opportunities to grow as a writer and/or illustrator. I would also say be patient. It can be a very long road to publication, but along the way, you’ll meet supportive, talented people who will often be willing to help you achieve your goals. And as my mother once told me, “Don’t give up.”

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I don’t really have a favorite writing exercise, but as I write, I try to use active verbs and make sure I’m showing (not telling) how my characters are feeling. I’ve also learned to remember to leave room for an illustrator to work his or her magic.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. For several years, I’ve been working on a manuscript about a red-tailed hawk that was injured in a landfill. When I heard about him from his rehabber, I knew I wanted to share his story. It’s taken a long time (and many different versions), but I think it’s finally coming together.

To learn more about Linda, visit her website

TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK

November 7, 2016

Tags: TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK, Shana Keller, David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

Shana Keller is a busy writer, mom, wife, and traveler but today she takes some time to talk about her first picture book, TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK—"a lovely book about time, patience and genius in its purest form" (Black History Channel).

Q. Was TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, Banneker was not my first picture book. I’ve written several. The first one was about storms and it is currently unpublished.

Q. What inspired TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK?
A. The fact that I had never heard of him until my 1st grader came home with an article about his overall achievements. Intrigued, I began to research him.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Through trial and error. I knew that I wanted his name in the title, and luckily my editor supported that.

Q. What resources did you use while researching TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK? 
A. I started off with the library of course and read everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much compared to say, Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. A lot of previous books published about him were no longer circulating. I ended up finding several books online and frequenting used bookstores both at home (Pennsylvania) and one state over (Ohio)! After initial reading, I contacted the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum. That visit led to meeting one of Banneker’s collateral descendants, which led to meeting others, and then the opportunity to interview them. I also went to the Maryland Historical Society and was able to find some of those hard-to-find books and see original documents that mentioned Banneker.

Q. How did you decide where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. The more I researched him, the more it felt right to focus his story on the achievement that everyone supported during a divisive time in our history, and one he did of his own volition. It’s noted that people came from near and far to see his clock.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is when he realizes he can cure wood. That’s problem solving and perseverance at its best! Yes, that part made it in the book.

Q. Did TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes. Seven (I believe), and one request for a myth, rather than a historical biography, which was still a rejection but encouraging nonetheless.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK.
A. Pure shock and joy. I read the email about thirty times. Then read it out loud to my husband. I know I scared him at first. He thought something really bad happened because of my total shock!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. I didn’t have any initial input, but fortunately they paired me with an amazing illustrator. My input came afterwards when the sketches were made.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. It was kind of like reading the offer letter again. Pure joy and excitement.

Q. How long did TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. We were fast-tracked, which I know is unusual. It only took one year.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. Not a thing! I love it.

Q. Can you share any memorable parts of letters from kids about TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK?
A. We gave my daughter’s teacher a book for their classroom library. They made a thank you card with a picture of the pocket watch on the front. It is the sweetest card ever.

Q. When you do readings of TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When Banneker sets his clock on the mantel, that sense of pride pervades.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Find a topic you love or a person you love and go with it.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Journaling, but not for me, it’s for my characters!

Q. What are you working on now?
I have several on-going projects. I’m working on two other picture books, both historical, and literally as of Saturday, a new middle-grade story has sunk itself into my mind! I’m obsessed with it.
To learn more about Shana Keller and her projects, visit her website