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True Story Blog

5 Favorites from . . . Gina Perry!

Once upon a time, Gina Perry picked wild blueberries, floated on lakes in her inner tube, and was always on the lookout for a real moose in the woods. Now she writes and illustrates books for young readers from her New Hampshire home, where she lives with three monsters: her husband and two kids. Today she takes a short break from her moose lookout to tell us about her 5 Favorites:


My favorite place to write:

Curled up in my little teal office chair.


My favorite mentor text:

The Chicken of the Family by Mary Amato


My favorite writing tip:

Always be working on the next thing.


My favorite marketing tip:

Connect with your booksellers. Your event is a blink of time. They are finding books everyday for their readers.


My favorite book event of the year:

I absolutely loved KidLitCon this year. It was a cozy and wonderful blend of authors, librarians, and bloggers. I learned a lot and got to spend quality time with old and new friends.


To learn more about Gina and her work, visit her website.

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5 Favorites from . . . Me!

This week was the launch of my third picture book SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER. So today, I‘m sharing my 5 Favorites:


My favorite place to write:

I love writing in my indoor deck, especially when it's raining. But that's a little dangerous since it's also the perfect place for a catnap.


My favorite mentor text: 

On my desk, I have a copy of Shel Silverstein's WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS. It reminds me of my childhood . . . that you can be both silly and serious on the very same page . . . and that "all the magic I have known I've had to make myself."


My favorite writing tip:

There's no place for perfection in a first draft. Just get it out of your head and onto the page. (No one sees it but you!) After that, revise, revise, revise.


My favorite marketing tip:

Be positive on social media or people will stop following you. I follow and share posts from people who are positive and provide useful information. A good example of this is Debbi Ohi. While I've never met her, I'm pretty sure she is part kidlit professor, part rainbow. I love her broken crayon illustrations as much as I love all the helpful resources on her website.


My favorite book event of the year:

I really enjoyed going to the Hudson Children’s Book Festival this year. The event is so well organized, the volunteers are exceptional, and EVERY attendee receives a free book. Can't wait to return next year!

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5 Favorites from . . . Jarrett Lerner

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the forthcoming Geeger the Robot series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors programs. Jarrett lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat. But today he’s popping in here to tell us about his 5 Favorites:


My favorite place to write:

I try not to get too precious about my routine (see my writing tip below!), and typically, I don't have the luxury of doing so. I've got a toddler running around (and also often demanding my presence at spontaneous dance parties!) and I also do quite a bit of traveling. If I can't be as productive in a hotel room or on a plane as I can be in my studio, I'm in trouble. So even if I do have a favorite spot to work, I try not to let myself think of it like that.


My favorite mentor text:

Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, especially Frog and Toad Are Friends. The stories and illustrations are so distilled, so close to perfect -- there's not a word or line out of place. They inspire me to create and, maybe even more, to be ruthless during revision.


My favorite writing tip:

Regularly shake up your routine. Change mediums. Change tools. Change spaces. Like it quiet while you work? Try playing music. Try working in a crowded place. Prefer the morning? Spend a few minutes playing around with your WIP late at night. Incorporate change in various ways into your process. It'll inject some extra life into your work and keep your imagination on its toes.


My favorite marketing tip:

Engage. Put in the time and effort to learn about the incredible members of this amazing kid lit community. (If you care about those people and the work they're doing, it'll be time well spent and won't be an effort!) Talk with people. Not at them -- but with them. That is, make sure you do plenty of listening. You are always representing yourself and your work, whether you are announcing (and re-announcing, and re-re-announcing...) a preorder campaign or chatting with a teacher about their students. Being authentic and kind and compassionate is an end in itself, of course -- but if you want to look at it from a marketing perspective, I'd say it's a far more effective technique than paying for a sponsored ad or scheduling a hundred tweets.


My favorite book event of the year:

nErDcamp, without a doubt. My first was a few years ago on Long Island, and after that one, I started going to every single one I could -- New Jersey, Kansas, Michigan, Vermont, Northern New England... There is nothing like the energy and spirit of nErDcamp. The events celebrate and put into highly productive practice the belief that kids' educators and kids' book creators are colleagues, that our missions are, at the end of the day, the same -- to improve and enrich the lives of kids through reading and books. The more we work together, the better work we can all do.

To learn more about Jarrett’s work, visit him at his website, on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner, or on Instragram at @jarrettlerner.  


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5 Favorites from . . . Susan Hood!

Susan Hood is the award-winning author of many books for children, including Titan and the Wild Boars, Ada's Violin, Shaking Things Up, and Lifeboat 12. She is the recipient of an E. B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Honor, the Christopher Award, the Américas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, and the Bank Street Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, given annually to "a distinguished work of nonfiction that serves as an inspiration to young people."

Today, she tells us her 5 Favorites:


My favorite place to write:  Outside, preferably on my screened porch or better yet, on a sailboat in Maine
My favorite mentor text: Anything by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Love the way she combines nonfiction with poetry.
My favorite writing tip: Type up a favorite picture book to see the words without the art.
My favorite marketing tip: You can't do it all so do whatever works for you, whatever you enjoy. If you like to make videos and book trailers, go for it. If it's outside your comfort zone, skip it. (Or ask a kid to do it!) 
My favorite book event of the year: The Society of Illustrators Original Art Show. I usually go twice: once to see all the authors, illustrators and publishers at the opening and a second (quieter) time to be transfixed by the art and pore over the books.


 To learn more about Susan and her books, visit her website.


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“I was dealing with the stress of surgery and possible cancer and honestly my book deal was the one thing that kept me hopeful. Even if everything went wrong, I still had that.”

—Kelly Leigh Miller

Illustrator Kelly Leigh Miller received her book offer when she was in the hospital awaiting surgery. Today she is healthy and happy to be celebrating her "loveable" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) #firstpicturebook. I AM A WOLF is “a joyful debut, starring a stray with the force of personality, if definitely not the disposition, of a Chris Raschka dog"  (Booklist).


Q. You worked as an illustrator before your debut book I AM A WOLF. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?

A. Most of the work I did as an illustrator was editorial work or toy based. I always wanted to work on children's books. I've illustrated other's self published comics before and really enjoyed that. I do notice there is a difference in how I work if I wrote the story or if someone else did. When I work on someone else's writing, I want to make sure I get their vision right and try to make my drawings as clear as possible. Usually my initial drawings are tighter and look more finished. That way if there are any changes, I can do it in the sketch phase, which is far easier than the final art phase. 

In contrast, when I'm writing and illustrating, I kind of do both at once. It's very loose and intuitive. Usually I have to draw really messy thumbnails while I write and most of my writing is done in my sketchbook. Then when it comes to the sketch phase, they are far looser than I would normally show anyone. In the case of my children's book, I didn't feel my rough drawings were tight enough to pitch so I tried something new where I draw really quickly in blocks of grey shapes for my book dummy. Since I both wrote and illustrated it, I could try this sort of experimental book dummy drawing where as before, I would probably want to check with the writer. 

When it comes down to it, I really like both. I really love illustrating my own stories but  illustrating others stories makes it so I can illustrate stories that I would have never thought to write but equally love!


Q. Was I AM A WOLF the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. Nope! The first official manuscript I wrote was back in 2011, maybe? It was my thesis back in college. It was called THE HANDYMAN and was a story about a girl who found out her grandpa was a superhero. At the time, I didn't really do anything with it, but when I met my agent years later back in 2016, I cleaned it up and tried pitching it again. We worked with it, but realized it might be better for an older middle grade crowd so I've been working to adapt it to an older crowd. It's changed quite a lot since I originally pitched it but the core message is the same.


Q. What inspired I AM A WOLF?

A. My current dog actually! Haha! I feel like so many people write about their pets and now I am one of them. We had adopted her from the shelter the year before I wrote the script. Because the shelter rescued her from animal control, they don't know exactly what happened to her but based on some behavioral issues, they think she might have been through some abuse. She was afraid of everything! She was extremely hard to train, but she is such a sweetheart. Before we took the time to train her though, she was the dog everyone overlooked at the shelter. She had been there quite a while because she barked at everyone who came close to her! When we met her though, she took instantly to us. Sometimes I feel like the dog just has to find the right home and the right people they trust to work though whatever they are going through. Also training. Lots of training. 


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

A. It was actually just the working title and it sort of stuck with the book! I'm very bad at titles. I picked it because it was the most memorable line out of the book in my opinion as just a placeholder then it turned out everyone liked it as a title so it stayed! 


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

A. A little bit of half and half. I write my rough drafts in my sketchbook but edit on the computer.


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

A. I write down a bunch of names that I like when I come across them in my sketchbook. When it comes to naming individual characters, I try to pick a name from the list that seems to suit the characters personality.


Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person? 

A. The story just sort of came to me in first person! It made the most sense for the story I was trying to tell.


Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I AM A WOLF? 

A. I AM A WOLF is one of the weirder scripts since I got the full story all at once in my head and wrote the initial dummy in about a week. I've written many other book dummies between my first one and I AM A WOLF, and this is the first time this has ever happened. I have a feeling it's a fluke though. I've written a few other dummies after that in between deadlines and those are following my normal pattern of me figuring the stories out through many drafts. 


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

A. They both appeared at the same time! Part of the story is the words playing off what is specifically happening in the illustration.


Q. Did I AM A WOLF receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. If it did, I'm honestly not sure. The book went to auction since we had a few publishers interested and I kind of was more interested in that than the rejections! I think I pitched 2 or 3 other scripts to publishers before I AM A WOLF that all got rejected. I'm not new to rejection and I like to stay on the positive side!


Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I AM A WOLF.

A. Haha so, my offer and signing story is a bit weird. I'm pretty open about this, but I actually received the offer in a hospital bed! At the time, I had a massive tumor and they removed it and my right ovary. Thankfully it didn't turn out to be cancerous but we didn't find that out until like a month or two later after testing. At the time though, I was dealing with the stress of surgery and possible cancer and honestly my book deal was the one thing that kept me hopeful. Even if everything went wrong, I still had that. 


The book went on auction around the time I was admitted to the hospital and when I was discharged, my agent and I had picked the final book offer. My signing story is definitely not a normal one! 


Q. How long did I AM A WOLF take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. As of now, it will be published in Summer 2019! Publishing takes much longer than other fields I've worked in but that's because there is so much going on. There's editing revisions to tighten the story, sketch revisions for the same reason, final art, and then edits for the final art... It's just a long 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?

Not really! The story is basically the same as when I pitched it, but so much better. Sometimes I get really close to my work and don't notice some obvious things to make it stronger so thankfully my editor is there to help out! I think all the changes to the script only made the story stronger. 


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

A. Keep writing and finish a book dummy/book script. Those seem like simple things, but they really aren't. You can learn a lot about your own writing process by finishing a story and looking at the finished product. You may not end up pitching it, but in the process of finishing a story, you learned a lot about yourself and how you write. Understanding your own writing process helps in the long run. 


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

A. I feel like I'm still learning when it comes to writing. I really like finding writing prompts online and practicing with those! They help me get out of my comfort zone and they don't always have to be long writing segments either, which is nice for times when I only have a few minutes to write.


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


Website: kellyleighmiller.com

Twitter: twitter.com/bookofkellz 

Instagram: instagram.com/bookofkellz


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