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PEDRO'S PAN: A GOLD RUSH STORY

Elementary school teacher Matthew Lasley grew up fishing, mushing dogs, and panning for gold in Alaska.   After writing a  traditional biography of Alaskan miner Felice Pedron, an unlikely narrator popped into Matthew’s head and transformed his #firstpicturebook into a humorous and playful one.  Debuting February 19, PEDRO'S PAN “is sure to appeal to educators, especially those teaching about the various gold rushes in western American history...[and] the amusing adventures of Pan and Pedro hold broad appeal for read-alouds with many and varied audiences beyond the classroom. A sweet little nugget of a story" (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Q. Was PEDRO'S PAN 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. My first story was bad….real bad. It has potential, but it is sitting in a drawer waiting to be reshaped into something greater. This was, however, my second or third story.

 

Q. What inspired PEDRO'S PAN?

A. My family grew up mining in the interior of Alaska and in the Klondike. Felix Pedro, whom the story is based on, was a prominent prospector of legend having founded the last great gold rush of the Americas in Fairbanks. We drove by his monument every time we went to town. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. I am a fan of alliteration. It makes things more memorable. I had the two characters and they both started with "p". The subtitle "A Gold Rush Story" was added on by the publisher to clarify the theme of the story.

 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?

A. I do both actually. Most of my work is done on a computer, but I do like to generate ideas on paper. It is faster and messier and without needing to be organized. When I am brainstorming, I am pretty messy and working on more than one thing at a time.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. My favorite part is the vulnerability of Pan and his struggle with his identity. That was not part of the original story. The original story was written as a biography of Felix Pedro. That wasn't working, then one day, after letting the story rest, Pan's voice popped into my head and I told the story from his point of view and that made the story.  

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. Pedro was a real person. While we know him as Felix Pedro, he was an immigrant named Felice Pedroni. Many of the other prospectors that he worked with came from the western gold fields and morphed his name into the Spanish version we know today. Pan is a gold pan, but Pan went better with Pedro, so that is how I got the names.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  

A. I wanted to find a way to explain the process of prospecting and panning without being didactic. I found that when I gave the story to Pan, he was able to explain in his words what he was trying to do. His voice is one of innocence and uncertainty, which I felt that children could identify with.

 

Q. Why did you write PEDRO’S PAN in the present tense?

A. Since Pan is telling his story, I wanted the readers (children) to understand how Pan was feeling. Feelings can be unreliable when told in the past tense because you already know the outcome. Pan never directly says how he feels, but since the story is taking place now, the readers can empathize and infer.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I had written a 1500 word biography as an outline. This story sprung from that when I changed it from a biography to a fictional story. When I wrote this story, it literally poured out. I had brainstormed a couple of things and knew where I wanted it to go, so I let it. 

 

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?

A. I had written a lot for the back matter and presented some of it to my publisher. My editor asked to see it and said that they wouldn't likely be able to use it all, but asked to see all that I had. When she saw it, she asked if I could condense a couple of things as she wanted the biography of Felix Pedro, instructions on how to pan for gold, and fun gold facts.

 

Q. Did PEDRO'S PAN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. This is the crazy thing — this was my first submission to a company of my very first story. Everything fell into place for this. I submitted the biography to be critiqued at a local SCBWI conference and got some good feedback. About six months later I submitted the current story to our local SCBWI spring writing retreat and had my manuscript read by a prolific local children's book author, Tricia Brown. She had once worked as an acquisitions editor, and after reading my story, told me I needed to submit it to Graphic Arts Books. They happened to be opening back up their Alaska Northwest Books imprint and were looking for children's books. I was able to get in on the ground floor and had no delays in getting into a print cycle, so from acquisition to release was about 18 months!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PEDRO'S PAN.

A. I was elated. I felt so blessed. God had brought my wife into my life to help me reach my writing goal, then He found me a champion for my story who got me in at the right place at the right time.

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. None. My publisher had an idea. I did let them know what kind of work I wanted to see, or more specifically what I did not want to see.

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A. I was amazed. My vision was limited and when I saw what Jacob Souva did, I was so excited. His attention to detail and color was fantastic.

 

Q. How long did PEDRO'S PAN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Just over a year and a half. The editing went quickly and Jacob was excited and pumped out some great early work which helped speed up the process.

 

Q. 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 was lucky and there was not a whole lot that had to be changed. I trusted my editor to suggest changes she felt were needed. Most of it was structure to tighten it up a bit.

 

Q. When you read PEDRO'S PAN to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. The part where Pan feels he is a fools gold pan usually gets a big "awww" and they really like the picture of him sliding down a mountain.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for PEDRO'S PAN? If so, what kind?

A. My wife helped me design small pins as well as bookmarks. We did the pins first to hand out at conferences and the bookmarks after we received the final pictures and some of our first reviews.

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. I know you are excited about your story and think it is great (and it is by the way), but you need to get advice from other writers by joining critique groups. Then let your story set for a couple of months and focus on other things so that when you come back to it, you have a fresh set of eyes.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. Everyone has  different methods of writing. What I like to do is enter in small contests that challenge me to write frequently and concisely. Many blogs and sites usually have them during various holidays. Susanna Leonard Hill usually does them and they are quite fun. She also gives people the opportunity to practice the pitches. I like to respond to them and think of how I would pitch this story having never read it. These things help me sharpen my skills and keep me actively producing.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have a sci-fi that is stalled. I have a middle grade that is in the revision stage. I have a chapter book series that is going out on submission to editors. I have a few picture books that are being pitched to agents. But a lot of my time and energy outside of work is going to the launch of Pedro's Pan.

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:

A. I am a school teacher and I am going to do a book launch at my school. It will be a part of our Family Literacy Night at Lake Otis Elementary on February 19th. Then that weekend, I am planning to do a book signing at our local Barnes and Noble, details still forthcoming on that.

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. My website is www.matthewlasley.com

On twitter at @Lasley_Matt

And wandering the creeks during the summer looking for a little gold in my pan.

Book trailer for PEDRO’S PAN

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The Full House and the Empty House


Illustrator L.K. James likes working with contrasting ideas and the idea that household objects can reflect a personality. Today she tells how she used these concepts to build her #firstpicturebook THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE—"an original, deftly crafted, and entertaining picture book story . . . certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections " (Midwest Book Review).

 
Q. Was THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE 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, but it was the first one I finished and the first I tried to get published. 

 

I don't remember what the first one I wrote was about, but at the time I wrote The Full House and the Empty House, I was interested in Aesop's Fables. I tried to write a handful of stories aimed at turning the form on its head. Stories that had some ambiguity and couldn't easily be boiled down to one glib moral. Most of these were very bad, but it was a very useful exercise. 

 

Q. What inspired THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE?

 A. At the time I was drawing a lot of household objects, and thinking about the role they play in our lives when we are young and old. How they project and inform our identity and how they often express our relationship with the material world. 

 

I was also playing with these personified houses with arms and legs who would eat dinner together and dance around and go walking through the forest. I liked the idea that the things inside a house-character could express their personality. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

 A. The title of the first draft was just "The Empty House." As the story evolved, it became less about that house and more about the two houses' relationship, so the titled evolved too.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. My favorite scene to draw was all the stuff flying around inside the Full House when it dances. This was one of the images I wanted to draw from the beginning, so it was always in the first draft, and it never really changed because it was one of the images from which the rest of the story grew.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 

A. I wanted to avoid favoring either perspective of my two main characters, and that was most easily done in third person. I wanted this story also to feel outside of time, almost like a fable, so again the third person perspective felt appropriate. 

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE? 

A. At first, the whole story was just a few lines of prose: when the Full House danced, the beautiful things inside it jangled around, and when the Empty House danced, it could jump high into the air because it was so light on its feet. From that the rest of the story grew as I began to ask myself what this relationship meant and how it might be explored.

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

 A. The image of the houses and many of the objects in them had been floating around my sketchbook when I drafted the written version. The next step was thumbnailing, which brought them both together. Doing so changed the story a lot. The images pushed the narrative in unexpected directions, and the narrative brought out new images that hadn't been there before. 

 

Q. Did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

 A. Yes, plenty. I was lucky enough to pitch this book in person to Ripple Grove Press at a conference. As a bookmaker and printmaker, I was able to show the publisher a physical prototype of the full book during the pitch, and I think that was a big help. So much of my idea was already alive in the colors, the paper, the book design, and the printing process of my dummy. I think that it allowed them to trust my vision more easily than if I had emailed them a PDF of a storyboard or a written synopsis. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE.

 A. I was thrilled, of course, and grateful. But also nervous—it is my first book.

 

Q. How long did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

 A. About a year and a half—the offer came after I pitched the book in August 2017, and the publication date is February 5, 2019.

 

Q. 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. In the first draft there was an image of a sandwich flying apart in mid-air inside the Empty House. I loved it because it was kind of funny, and sandwiches have always been one of my favorite things to draw. I ended up cutting it, though, because although it expressed the right action, it didn't express the right feeling for that moment in the story. 

 

Q. When you read THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

 A. My favorite part of reading to kids is when they get lost in the details of the interiors—for example, there are these funny framed pictures of other houses hanging on the walls inside the characters, like family photos in a world where everyone is a house. There are little sub-narratives like that all throughout the book, and I love it when kids notice those.   

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

 A. Always be collecting ideas and don't be afraid of abandoning a story if it isn't working. I like to brainstorm ideas a lot, and then see what I'm still excited about the next day. I hate feeling trapped in a story I don't like, so I'm always trying to keep story-generation process as fluid as possible.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

 A. Sometimes I force myself to write a new story start to finish in 30 minutes, then do that for ten days in a row. Most of it is junk, but it gets me thinking in unexpected ways and generates lots of raw material—which is far better than agonizing over the perfect story or staring at a blank page.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

 A. Right now, I'm working on a book about a duck who lives in a hotel and doesn't know what it's like to be outside in the wild. I like working with opposites or contrasting ideas (full/empty, inside/outside, wild/tame) and seeing what happens when you shake them up. 

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

 A. My work is on Instagram (@lkjamz) and my website (lkjames.com).

 


Pre-order The Full House and the Empty House 

 

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THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Lindsay Leslie adores mechanical pencils, thinking up book titles, and breaking through the fourth wall. Today she talks with us about how these loves, along with a smushed book cover, contributed to the creation of her #firstpicturebook. “A winning story about handling the unknown and asking for help” (Publisher’s Weekly), THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS “will urge readers to be brave and turn the page” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS 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, it wasn’t. In fact, I started my writing adventure with a chapter book series. I have three of those books finished and they are collecting dust in my computer somewhere. My first picture book I wrote is keeping my chapter book series company. Some day I might break them out, but for now I thank them for what they were … stepping stones to get me where I am today.

Q. What inspired THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. My love of breaking the fourth wall and my own personal battles with anxiety. Plus, stepping on one of my son’s picture books and feeling its spine give.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title picked me. One day, I walked into my youngest son’s room, and it was as if the idea pole-vaulted from the floor and into my ear. I had accidentally stepped on one of my son’s picture books, and thought, I just broke its spine. Then my mind zigged and zagged from this book has a spine to what if it were spineless to this book is spineless. I looked at my son and shouted, “This Book Is Spineless!” I couldn’t let the idea go. It kept begging me to write it. With the majority of my books, I need to have the title first before I can begin writing. It’s like knowing the name of a person. It leads me to where I need to go.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A mixture of both. I knock out my first draft on the computer and I edit on paper. I need to print it out and rip it up with my trusty mechanical pencil. I LOVE mechanical pencils.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The beginning. There is a page turn in this book that I adore, and I think it will grab the reader’s attention. And, no, it wasn’t in the first draft. The first draft of this book was a bonafide messy mess. In fact, someday I would love to share my first draft and show folks where a book can go with revision, the help of critique partners, and the golden touch of a fantastic editor!

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I told this story in first person, because I wanted the physical book, the book the reader is holding, to be the main character.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. None of it. And, again, my first draft was hideous. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with it, but because I am a pantser (meaning, I don’t outline) I had to see where my mind would go with it. There were elements of the first draft I kept, but the manuscript changed a bunch. (Thank goodness.)

Q. Did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. For some reason, I did not traditionally query this manuscript very much. I did participate in a lot of hashtag events on Twitter, like #pitmad and #pbpitch, and did not get any favorites. I’d say I received 10 rejections on this piece. Overall, I’ve received about 35 rejections from agents on my work before I found representation.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS.
A. Oh, I loved this moment. I was at the cleaners picking up the dry cleaning. My older son, who was nine at the time, was at my side. My phone pinged, so I looked to see who sent me an email. All I had to read was the subject of the email. It read: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS Offer. I couldn’t speak. I just began to jump … and jump and jump and jump. Up and down. And then I started to point at my son and then I pointed at the lady behind the counter. All I could say was “YES! YES! YES!” My son began to jump with me and he said, “Mom, why are we jumping?” That was the most adorable thing. And then the tears started to roll. I will never forget that Jack Brown Cleaners, the look on the lady’s face behind the counter, which was somewhat of a bemused look, and the fact that my son will jump up and down with me before knowing why.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Page Street Kids is my publisher and I try to find all the words to express how wonderful and collaborative they are. I was provided with three illustrators to choose from, which worked great for me, as I was feeling more than overwhelmed. At this point, I was so focused on climbing the hill toward a book deal, my mind hadn’t worked through the scenarios of what happens once the book deal is signed. I received all the assurance from Kristen Nobles and Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids that there was no wrong choice. So, I went with the aesthetic I was drawn to most, and that was Alice Brereton’s dramatic, geometric, quirky, and colorful illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. What jumped out to me was the connection between Alice and me through my words and through her illustrations. It’s like we got each other and we had yet to meet. We were having a discussion through our preferred way to communicate. Me with words. Her with art. I trusted her implicitly and was blown away by her unique approach to the concept.

Q. How long did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer on June 27, 2017, and the book hits the shelves on Feb. 19, 2019. So, less than two years. It’s been a buckle-your-seatbelt-and-hold-on kind of ride.

Q. 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 almost had to change the title, but my editor and I worked on a compromise, so the title could remain. The title led me to the story, and I felt the title made the story and makes the book stand out. In terms of adding to the story, yes! My editor really pushed me to dig in with the voice of the character, as well as look deeper into my word choices and the impact on the overall story. A great editor, like Charlotte Wenger, will see how to make your story shine even brighter!

Q. When you read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Definitely the page turn at the beginning of the book.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS? If so, what kind?
A. I did. I have some temporary tattoos, because I think all kids should be wearing Alice Brereton’s art! I also have bookmarks and postcards, which will pull double-duty. Not only am I promoting THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, but also NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). NOVA is my second picture book, illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, and will hit the shelves on May 21, 2019.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Only you can write you, so tune out the noise, focus on your craft, and enjoy the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite marketing tip is to participate and say yes. Be part of the writing community. Show up. When you show up, it shows you care and then opportunities begin to present themselves.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am diving back into a middle grade novel that I finished a draft of a year ago. It’s been speaking to me, and I’m also writing many new picture books. I can’t have just one project.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. Yes! I’m launching my book at my local indie bookstore, BookPeople. It’s on Feb. 23 from 2-3 p.m. for all you folks in Austin, Texas (https://www.bookpeople.com/event/lindsay-leslie-book-spineless). I’ll also be at TLA this year and part of the What’s New With Texas Picture Book Authors and Illustrators roundtable on April 15 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Find me, connect with me! I’m active on Twitter at @LLeslie, and I love to pay it forward by offering free picture book manuscript critiques there. I’m also on Facebook at @AuthorLindsayLeslie and kind of active on Instagram at LindsayLeslieWrites. And, please visit my website at lindsayleslie.com.

Thanks for having me, Karlin, and congratulations on SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER! I look forward to seeing it on the shelves in May!

If you have read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, please consider writing a review:
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21 children’s publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts

Happy New Year! Next week I will post a new #firstpicturebook Q&A. Until then, if your 2019 resolution is to submit your unagented children’s book to publishers, check out my list of publishing companies that review unsolicited manuscripts. (Join SCBWI and you’ll receive The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children which includes a master list of children’s publishers and agents.)

Remember, you can’t control a publisher’s decision to acquire your book. But you can control meeting goals like submitting your work to publishers. So make sure your manuscript is submission-ready and start working on your resolution today!

Albert Whitman & Company

Arthur A. Levine Books

Boyd Mills Press

Cameron + Company

Charlesbridge

Chronicle Books

Creston Books

Dial Books for Young Readers

Enchanted Lion

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Flying Eye

Flashlight Press

Holiday House Books for Young People

Lantana

Lee and Low Books

Page Street Kids

Peachtree Publishers

Quarto

Ripple Grove Press

Sterling Publishing

Tilbury House

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