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Interview with debut picture book author Rebecca Colby…plus a GIVEAWAY!

I received a surprise package a few weeks ago — my copy of Rebecca Colby’s picture book debut THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE. It was a surprise because I had preordered the book so long ago, I had completely forgotten about it. I don’t often preorder books, but I did order this one because in addition to being a milestone for Rebecca, it’s also a milestone for me — the first picture book I have critiqued that has made it into publication! And doesn’t it look sweet?

Rebecca has very kindly offered to do a GIVEAWAY – just leave a comment at the end of this post to enter. And now, please welcome Rebecca!

Wee Lassie coverRebecca, your book is a charming twist on “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” What gave you the idea to do a Scottish version?

I’ve always enjoyed this traditional rhyme—and even more so, the various twists on it that have been written like Jennifer Ward’s There was a Coyote who Swallowed a Flea. It was after I read P. Crumble’s Australian version, There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Mozzie that I got the idea to write a Scottish version. I considered writing a generic UK version, but as I listed ideas, I found myself drawn over and over to all things Scottish. Let’s be honest, swallowing the Loch Ness monster was always going to be funnier than swallowing a fox or a plate of fish and chips.

Yes, and I love the spread with Nessie! You’ve said that you submitted this book on your own, before you signed with your agent. How did you find your publisher?

Finding my publisher was fairly straightforward. I researched Scottish children’s book publishers and found all of two. I submitted to the first one on my list, Floris Books. Floris has a strong picture book list and a reputation for nurturing new talent through their annual Kelpies Prize. Their submission response time is three months, and it was nearly three months to the day when they came back to me with an acceptance.

I wish all interactions with publishers were that fast! I remember seeing a version of this in our critique group (Poets’ Garage) that was a bit different. What changes were made between acceptance and the published book? What was it like to work with an editor?

Working with an editor was a new experience for me and it was great to get a different perspective on my work. And yes, the original manuscript was very different from the published book. In the original, the Wee Lassie swallowed anything and everything Scottish that she could get her hands on—or rather, her mouth on! She swallowed a thistle, a haggis, and even a bagpipe player. However, my editor at Floris decided it would be best if Wee Lassie swallowed mostly real creatures. And having her swallow a bagpipe player was thought to be too disturbing for young children. Good thing I didn’t send my editor the first draft which had Wee Lassie swallowing the Queen!

You signed with an agent last year, and you have another picture book coming out in 2015. How has the experience of working with an agent and with editors and seeing a book through to publication changed you as a writer?

Having an agent is awesome! Or maybe that’s just my agent. She’s happy to provide feedback on anything I send to her, and she always keeps me in the loop with any communication she receives from my editors. As to how I’ve changed as a writer, after seeing my work so heavily edited in my first book, I’m not as precious about my writing as I used to be. I’ve realized that having a strong idea, can be just as important as strong lines—if not more so, as those beloved lines may be changed several times over before publication.

That’s a great thing for writers to remember — starting with a strong idea is so important. What have you done to promote this book, and do you have any takeaways for your next book?

I started by doing the usual things like booking visits with any library, school or bookstore that would have me. I also purchased a truckload of bookmarks to give away.

Beyond that, I’ve done a couple other things. When I had no success in getting the local paper to interview me, I wrote an article about myself and submitted it to them. The newspaper published an edited version of this article in their very next edition.

The other thing I did was to write a teacher’s guide to Wee Lassie. However, I soon realized writing the guide and making it available from my website wasn’t enough—I needed to get it into the hands of teachers. I did this by uploading the guide to elementary teachers’ resource websites.

So the big takeaways for my next book are 1) make things as easy as possible for the press by offering to write up interviews for them and 2) make things as easy as possible for teachers. They are some of the busiest people I know. They don’t have time to make resources or search websites for information. Create resources for them and put the information where it is easily accessible. Don’t make them search for it!

Those are great tips, Rebecca! What’s your favorite part about being a published author?

My favorite part of being a published author is sharing my stories with children, and inspiring them to explore their own creative talents. I’ve worked as a teacher myself and from my experience, there is no greater feeling than knowing you’ve made a positive impact on a child’s life.

rebecca photoAlthough I started conducting author visits the day after my book launched, I didn’t appreciate that I was making any kind of impact on children’s lives beyond the enjoyment and novelty of having an author in their classroom. Then a mother at my daughters’ school came up to me and thanked me. “My son hates writing,” she said, “but he became so enthused about writing after your visit. He came home that very day and immediately wrote a story.” I’m not sure which of us walked away from that conversation happier—that mother or myself. To me, that’s what makes being an author worthwhile—knowing you’ve inspired a child and positively influenced their attitude towards reading and writing.

What a sweet story. Thank you so much for sharing, Rebecca!

Rebecca Colby writes picture books and poetry and is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Her debut picture book, There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie, is published by Floris Picture Kelpies. A further picture book, It’s Raining Bats and Frogs, will be published by Feiwel and Friends in 2015. You can learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com

LEAVE A COMMENT for Rebecca and you’ll be entered to win a copy of There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie. I will do the drawing on Friday, June 6.

Author Interview: Gayle Krause

For the past several years, my focus has been on writing poetry and picture books for children. However, one of my goals in 2013 is to develop some ideas for longer work — chapter books and middle grade novels. It seems daunting, though, and I thought it might help to talk with someone who has made the leap. So today, I am posting my very first blog interview with Gayle Krause. Gayle is a critique partner and friend who has published in many genres and is now celebrating the release of her YA book RATGIRL: SONG OF THE VIPER, now available for the Kindle and coming soon in paperback. Congratulations, Gayle!

ratgirl_coverI just love the idea of this book – a retelling of the Pied Piper story. Listen to this synopsis: Sixteen year old Jax Stone is an expert at surviving in a dangerous city, where rats rival the homeless for food and shelter, but she’s an amateur at fighting the immoral mayor of Metro City, when he orders the kidnapping of her little brother. Desperation demands she quickly master the role of courageous opponent to steal him back.

When she discovers her singing has a hypnotic effect on rats and children, she uses her gift to outwit the tyrannical mayor. Disguised as a world-renowned exterminator, she barters with him for her brother’s freedom. To fulfill the contract she lures the rats to their death in the toxic river with her mesmerizing singing, in exchange for gold to pay passage for her brother and herself to the New Continent. But when the corrupt mayor reneges on their agreement, Jax has no choice but to stage another daring musical coup. This time, she leads not only her brother, but all of the city’s children to safety, with the help of a ragtag band of friends and a handsome stranger, who holds the secret to her past and the key to her heart.

Gayle, you are someone who writes across age ranges and genres of children’s literature. Give us a snapshot of your work.

gayle_krauseThanks, Carrie. I appreciate you taking the time to help me promote my newest book.

My very first publishing credits were my kid’s poetry in children’s magazines. My picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA, was released in 2008, as an original Scholastic Book Club selection, and has proved to be a perennial favorite.

Of course, I’ve written a sequel and many more picture books, yet to be published. So while I waited for a second picture book contract, I started writing YA novels. I feel my writing voice is more YA than PB. Consequently the YA novels come easier to me. That’s why I only write rhyming pictures books. I have too many words in my head to tell a picture book story in 500 words or less.  LOL!

April 2012 was a lucky month for me. I was offered contracts for three pieces of my writing.

  • One for a sports poem, ‘Hail Mary Pass,’ in an international sports poetry anthology for kids (AND THE CROWD GOES WILD).
  • One for The Storyteller’s Daughter, my version of the Scheherazade story, in Pugalicious Press’s YA Historical Romance anthology, titled TIMELESS.
  • And for RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, my first full length YA novel, to be released in February, 2013 from Noble Romance – Young Adult, the Sweetheart Line.

You write books for both the youngest and oldest readers in the kidlit spectrum. What draws you to these two age groups?

My previous career was teaching. I trained prospective teachers at the secondary and post-secondary levels. (Thus the YA connection.) During this time, I also directed a Laboratory Pre-K, where I supervised the students preparing and teaching lessons to the children. (The Pre-K connection.) I write what I know best.

What resources or writing classes have helped you make the leap from being a picture book writer to writing longer work?

I don’t believe you can be taught how to write a successfully. You either can do it, or you can’t. I might even say it’s an inherent gift. I’ve read many resource books and tried various prompts, but ultimately I count on my imagination and my awesome critique group, The YA Wonderwriters.

Also, seminars at SCBWI conferences help tremendously.

As a picture book writer, I love that I can sit down and write a rough draft in an hour or two. It’s hard for me to even see where to start with drafting a novel. Where do you begin? Any advice?

Well, there are two types of writers, as you know. Some outline the entire story before they begin to write a word. (The Plotters.) When they do write it’s almost like a second draft because they have predetermined where the story is going.

Then, there are those that write from the heart, and just keep going until the story is out, becoming surprised as they write, as if they’re reading someone else’s novel. (The Pansters – writing by the seat of their pants.) Of course, they have a lot more revising to do.

So, you either do the work first, or last, depending on what kind of writer you are.

Tell us a bit about your revision process for Ratgirl: Song of the Viper.

Ratgirl started as a NaNoWriMo attempt three years ago. Everything that I had in my head came pouring out, but it made my revision process daunting. I had to find the beginning of the story twice. I would say I wrote five revisions, the last two passing through my critique groupIt was the last version they critiqued that was offered a contract.

How has this been similar to or different from your process with Rock Star Santa?

Very different.

ROCK STAR SANTA                                        RATGIRL

1. picture book                                                         1. YA novel
2. 32 pages                                                                2. 200 pages
3. rhyming couplets                                               3. Prose fiction
4. no critique group                                                4. 4-member critique group***
5. final revision took 1 day                                   5. final revision took 2 weeks

Do you work on picture book manuscripts concurrently with your YA work, or do you find that you need to be completely immersed in one age group (or one work) at a time?

Daytime is for the heavy, intense schedule of writing YA, specifically mornings. I find I wake with fresh ideas to insert into the story. Evenings, after supper, are for critiques and/or picture book writing. I especially turn to picture book writing once a YA novel is complete. It’s like a freeing exercise for my brain, because rhyming uses a different part.

What’s next for you, Gayle? Will you stick with YA? Write another picture book? Or maybe something in between?

My brain is always churning out ideas for both. But, at this point, I believe I will be polishing and submitting my MG ‘fractured fairy tale’ poetry collection titled, ONCE UPON A TWISTED TALE.

Thanks for stopping by, Gayle. Where can we find you?

If your readers go to my website: www.gayleckrause.com they can click on my books and be directed to the online purchasing site. There, they can also access information for First Peek Critique, my rhyming PB service.

My blog is thestorytellersscroll.blogspot.com.

RATGIRL: SONG OF THE VIPER is available for the Kindle and will soon be released in paperback.