Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Interview with Children's Picture Book Author Cynthia Reeg

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes. Nearly as quickly as I learned to read and write, I began creating. I wrote stories and poems in elementary school. A few won local prizes or were published in local newspapers. I enjoyed the acclaim, but mostly I wrote because I enjoyed writing so much--taking a blank page and making it come to life with words. In high school, college, and beyond, I continued taking classes to improve my writing skills. After years working as a librarian, I decided I wanted to write full time.

Tell us about your children's books.

Currently, I have two children's picture books available through Guardian Angel Publishing: GIFTS FROM GOD and KITTY KERPLUNKING: PREPOSITION FUN.

GIFTS FROM GOD is a celebration of 12 simple but profound heavenly gifts. The book combines beginning reader sentences and Bible verses with breathtaking photo art. GIFTS FROM GOD is an inspiring read for young and old.

In KITTY KERPLUNKING, prepositions kerplunk all around Preppy the kitty in this beautifully illustrated picture book. Preppy's amusing antics provide young readers a fun introduction to prepositions. A study guide and six activity pages are also included.

Describe your working environment.
I am very fortunate to have a lovely wood-paneled office with bookshelves overflowing with books and mementoes to work in. I have a big desk which is usually rather cluttered looking, but when I do tidy it up, I often can't find where I've put things. :-) I know a librarian should be a better organizer.

But I do have many alphabetized drawers of files with clippings, and information, and all my writings. In fact, my files are also overflowing. I guess I am an information junky. But I recently received a new computer for my birthday, so at least I have tons of space on it to fill up. I have a nice view ofthe world through my office window--trees and grass and flowers (from spring through fall) and a busy street with vehicles zooming by to remind me that life goes fast so my fingers should be flying on the keyboard, completing another new story.

I also have my office crew--my two cats, Herman and Henry; and my dog, Holly. They usually assist me throughout the day. The cats nap on top of my printer or almost on top of my laptop as I type. And Holly meditates on my lap or closeby. They always enjoy hearing first readings of works in progress and offer no end of revision suggestions. And they encourage me to expand my workspace environment to help keep my ideas fresh--which means we often work on the sunny, comfy loveseat in my bedroom where they all can nap (I mean work)in even greater ease.

Are you a disciplined writer?

Yes. This is my job now, so I to to work everyday. I try to have at least 3 days of the week in which I work a "regular" work day--9 to 5 from my home office. Then my other two weekdays, I work at volunteer and other projects related to my writing--tutoring, Bible study, school visits. And often I do some work on weekends as well. I'm always reading--which is part of my work.

What is your working style?

I like to take care of emails and other must do commitments first thing in the morning. I don't enjoy the business work of writing--researching the market, creating cover & query letters, mailing lists and promotional business stuff. So often I'll set aside a day just to do that boring work. Then on my other days, I can devote my brain cells strictly to my writing. My creative right brain doesn't like to be tied down on those business-oriented left brain days. :-)

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?

Yes and Yes! I have a fun and informitive website--so I've been told--for kids, parents and teachers, and writers, too. I'm always updating it with new activities, book lists, writing information and more. It's at Under the WHAT'S NEW section, you'll find my blog--which currently has a "Where in the World Am I" picture and clue puzzle going on to see if my readers can figure out where I've been on my last holiday.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I'm revising a realistic contemporary novel titled, PROMISES KEPT. In this story Berty and her father, Curtis, an auto mechanic, live in a rural community about an hour west of St. Louis. Her mom, May, moved to St. Louis less than a year ago after the divorce to pursue her fashion design dreams. Berty remains torn between her commitment to stay with her father and her guilt for her lonely mom, whose interests she doesn’t share.

Berty’s best friend is her neighbor, Randall, an African-American boy abandoned by his teen mother. He lives with his stoic grandmother, Gran Millcee. When Randall, the Trash King, an avid collector of odd items, begrudgingly gives Berty one of his finds, she promises to discover its origin as a means of paying Randall back. When their new widowed teacher, Mrs. Evans, leads their fifth grade class on a study of Missouri’s own famous son, George Washington Carver, Berty soon learns of his ties to Randall’s family.

In this story where many promises are made, it’s Berty’s dad who reminds her that, “Promises are easy to make, Berty. It’s the keeping them that’s hard." As Berty learns about her dad’s hidden addiction, her mom’s driving passion for design, Gran Millcee’s deteriorating health, Randall’s run-away mom, and her new teacher’s sad past, Berty unravels the mystery of Randall's trashed treasure and comes to understand the importance of promises--even though they can’t always be kept.

Plus, I've just finished the final editing of my short story, "The Emily Explosion," which is soon to be published in the anthology, THE GIRLS, from Blooming Tree Press.

And another short story of mine, "BF's and Butterflies," will be in the April 2008 edition of STORIES FOR CHILDREN online magazine. It's always exciting to finally see the stories in print and receive such wonderful reactions from the readers. :-)

What is the best advice on writing you've ever received?

From Larry Brossler, the Editorial Director at Boyds Mills Press, at a writing conference when he said, "Believe!" Believe in your writing and make it happen--no matter the difficulties you face along the way. That's my motto and I'm sticking to it

Review of Joy the Jellyfish, written by Kristen Collier & illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier

Joy the Jellyfish has a very serious problem. More than anything, he wants to make friends. But how on earth can he make friends when he's nearly invisible!
He tries to get the attention of the other Great Barrier Reef creatures--Amy Anemone, a school of sea horses, Gantian the Great White Shark, Bogart the Blowfish, Daphne the Dolphin--but because of his near-invisible nature, he's mostly ignored.
"My only wish is to have a friend," says Joy the Jellyfish. Then, as he keeps traveling deeper into the ocean, and the waters become icier and darker, he meets Bella Beluga the Whale, who teaches him the secret of friendship and how friendship itself has nothing to do with his nearly-invisible physical nature. Thanks to Bella, Joy learns how to overcome shyness and make friends. More confident, he swims back to the reef, this time powered with the knowledge of true friendship.
Joy the Jellyfish is a sweet story about friendship and about how to overcome shyness in order to make friends. The prose and dialogue are engaging and the brightly colored illustrations captivating. This is a book that will make a fine, delightful gift to any child, not only because of its beautiful artwork and engaging plot, but also because it teaches the different animals which inhabit the great barrier reefs. This book is the second collaboration between talented illustrator Kevin Scott Scollier and his author wife, Kristen. I hope this book will not be their last and I certainly look forward to more children's picture books from this winning team.
Written by Kristen Collier
Illustrated by Kevin Collier
Dragonfly Publishing
October 2007
24 pages
Paperback: $12.99
Hardcover: $25
Joy the Jellyfish Book page:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Interview with Young Adult Author Beverly McClure

Beverly Mcclure talks about her latest young adult novel, Secrets I Have Kept. She also talks about inspiration, writer's block, and finding a publisher.

Hello, Beverly. Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Secrets I Have Kept is a young adult mystery about Jennifer, a girl whose father, a molecular biologist, is kidnapped. Armed with nothing more than her own courage, a phone number on a candy wrapper, and her loyal Australian cattle dog, Chopin, she begins a desperate attempt to rescue him and to discover the reason for his abduction. In her search, she meets Casey, a runaway on a quest of his own: to find his father who deserted Casey and his mother when Casey was three. As they follow a trail of unusual clues, a chilling secret is revealed.

The idea for this story came to me one day when I was reading a magazine about the amazing drugs scientists are making with plants from the ocean. This story revolves around one such plant.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

I started with the idea of a plant that could fulfill man’s wildest dreams or be man’s greatest nightmare. Then my characters introduced themselves to me, and I made character sheets to help me remember what they liked, hated, looked like, etc. They just led me along. Sometimes I had to back up and follow a different path, but I seldom outline. I prefer to see where the story takes me. From idea to finished story was around a year, maybe a little longer. I am a slow writer.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Not really writer’s block. Sometimes I get stumped, but I play around with the scene, jot down possibilities, or go on to another scene with a reminder to go back and redo or finish the previous one. Long walks help to clear my head and an occasional solution will present itself. I think getting away from the story helps me focus on what it needs. It may take several days, but there is an answer.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

I queried probably every large publisher in New York and those in between, with no success. Then I discovered small online publishers, and my book is now published. My advice would be to join messages boards such as Verla Kay’s Blue Boards, where writers, editors, and agents discuss the business of writing. Study the markets. Know what each house is looking for. Join a critique group. When your story is the best you can make it, send it out, again and again. If an editor makes comments, pay attention. Your story might improve with a few tweaks here and there. The markets are tough. Don’t get discouraged.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

Networking on the Internet has been my most productive promotion, especially the Muse Online Writers Conference where I was a presenter. I’ve had small successes at local bookstore signings, but that readership is limited, where the Internet reaches almost the whole world.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

My favorite book is Gone With the Wind. I love Scarlet who is not perfect and sometimes I want to shake her and say “Wake up, girl, Look at him,” meaning Rhett Butler of course. Why would she like wimpy Ashley with a hunk like Rhett after her? Also, the Civil War era is one of my favorite time periods.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work? (though this may soon change)
(for my forthcoming novel that’s under construction)
Please friend me, if you’d like.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

Yes, I have two young adult novels scheduled for release in 2008. Rebel in Blue Jeans is a contemporary story about a girl whose mother runs away with the drummer in a rock band and what she does to try to bring her parents together again.

Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines, is a historical fiction story about one family’s struggle to survive a changing way of life during the Civil War.

I’m also working on a young adult contemporary novel and a middle grade ghost story.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

My pleasure, Mayra. I enjoyed chatting with you.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Interview with Young Adult Author Kim Baccellia

Kim Baccellia is a Latina author who writes young adult ethnic novels. In this interview Kim talks about how her Mexican roots influenced her latest novel, Earrings of Ixtumea, and about writing and publishing.

Welcome to my blog, Kim. It’s nice to have you here. Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Earrings of Ixtumea is a fast-paced fantasy featuring a young Latina who discovers ancient traditions in her family history that propel her to a magical civilization, where she struggles against evil forces that threaten her family, her heart, and her life.

I was inspired to write this story when I was doing my own research on my Mexican roots. My grandfather didn’t talk much about his history but it wasn’t until I took classes at the university that I found out so much about my rich heritage. Plus, I was sick of the fantasies that had the usual Anglo heroine.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

The idea of EARRINGS OF IXTUMEA came to me first as a dream then from my frustration at not finding any fantasies that had Latinos in them. I then took a Novel writing class through UCI’s extension program which helped me with plotting a novel. Later, I went to my writing mentor’s home once a week for critique sessions.

The story took me two years to write and a year or so to revise.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Oh, yes! I also found it’s not productive to wait for a so-called muse. I believe the only way a book gets written and completed is if the author writes everyday.

Some ways I help unleash my creativity is by reading, putting together songs with the theme of my novel, and just writing.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

My biggest advice to give novice authors is to not give up. Talent is only a small part of this business. You need to be persistent and develop a rhino skin. Don’t take criticism to heart. This business is very subjective.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

Word of mouth. Also the virtual tour I did back in August was great. I love teensreadtoo, which offers reasonable rates for advertising. It’s only $20 a month. MySpace also has been great for opening the door to more reviews.

What is your favorite book of all time? Why?

House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. I loved the paranormal aspect of the story along with the strong Latina main character. I love all of Isabel Allende’s books.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, I have a blog.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects.

Right now I’m shopping around a YA paranormal, CROSSED OUT.
CROSSED OUT is a YA paranormal where a girl with a major attitude problem has to get over herself or the world as she knows it will go to hell. Literally.

I’m also working on a YA romance, STEP STONE AWAY, about a teen who loves romance and finds a piece of jewelry causes romance to happen to those around her but at a cost. Plus I’m finishing up my more edgy YA, BULLETS OF TRUTH.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Joy the Jellyfish, written by Kristen Collier & illustrated by Kevin Collier

24 pages,
Written by Kristen Collier
Illustrated by Kevin Collier
Dragonfly Publishing,
October 2007
24 pages
Paperback: $12.99
Hardcover: $25
Joy the Jellyfish Book page:

I just finished reading this truly delightful children's picture book about a little Jellyfish named Joy and her search for true friendship. I read it to my ten-year old daughter and she loved it and found the illustrations charming! You can always count on a child for an honest review :-)

I'll be posting my review in a few days, so stay tuned!



On the author/illustrator relationship...

For most authors, working with an illustrator for a picture book can be a thrilling yet stressful experience. Having created the imaginary world in their stories, authors often wonder whether or not the artist will be able to grasp the essence of the setting and characters—not only physically, but tone-wise as well. After all, it is up to the artist to bring the story visually to life. Sometimes the artist may have a different idea for the artwork than the author, and this can create problems.

When working with the big publishing houses, authors hardly have any saying as far as the artwork goes. The art department assigns the illustrator who they think will be better suitable for the book, and that’s that. With small presses, the author has more influence in the matter and often authors and illustrators work side by side. This, by the way, doesn’t necessarily lead to a better book. It’s okay for the author to indicate her vision for the book, but it’s also important to allow the artist to be creative and do her part. Likewise, an illustrator should keep in mind the author’s vision for the illustrations. Mutual respect and communication are essential in any relationship, and for authors and illustrators working together this is no exception.

Of course, an author has the most control over the artwork when she hires an artist for a self publishing project. This is how I found Amy Moreno. Initially I was planning to self publish my children’s picture book, The Doll Violinist. I had sent it out to dozens of agents and publishers, without success. I got some good comments on it, but apparently the editors and agents found the story’s tone too ‘quiet’. Nevertheless, I had faith in my project and set out to find the right illustrator for it. My plan was to keep submitting while the artwork was being done, and in the event that I didn’t have a publisher by the time it was finished, then I would publish it myself.

But to go back to Amy … I spent about three months searching online, studying illustrator’s styles and querying the ones whose work I liked to learn about their fees and work schedules. I found Amy via ( I believe in the sixth sense, and I instantly felt a connection to Amy’s beautiful illustrations and renderings. I got in contact with her. To make a long story short, I sent her The Doll Violinist and she loved it. Amy’s background in music and the cello was a huge plus, as I really wanted someone who would understand the musical aspect of the story. After I described her what I was after and we exchanged ideas, I asked her to send me a sample illustration, which she did. When I saw it, I was spellbound—in that single black & white drawing, she had perfectly captured the essence of the story. This was in the fall of 2006. She’s still working on the illustrations, 24 in all, and in the meantime I have been sending off the story and sample artwork to various publishers. The Doll Violinist won an Honorable Mention Award at the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and was one of 12 finalists this year at the ABC’s Children’s Picture Book Competition, so I’m still hoping that it will catch the attention of a publisher. Working with Amy has been a thrilling and rewarding experience as we see the story, setting and characters come to life. Since the story takes place in Victorian Europe, Amy has done a tremendous amount of research for the fashions and architecture of the time. She spent a long time studying the postures of violinists and even bought a violin so she could get the violin illustrations perfectly right! Thanks to her skill and vision, I know the book will turn out a beautiful product, whether traditionally or self published.

In the case of The Magic Violin, however, it was my publisher, Lynda Burch of Guardian Angel Publishing, who assigned the artist, though she asked my opinion before a decision was made. As soon as I saw K.C. Snider’s website (, or ( I was very impressed by her drawing and paintings, especially of horses, which are her specialty. So I accepted her suggestion to have K.C. illustrate my book. K.C. was wonderful to work with, even though I made a few mistakes initially. For one thing, I didn’t give her enough information about the setting and especially about the correct postures for a violinist. This created some delay as I found errors in the artwork which had to be fixed. I blame myself for this. If I had spent more time communicating, I would have made both our lives a little easier. She was very open to suggestions and wanted me to be happy with the result, so I’m really grateful to her for that. Part of the reason for this lack of communication was my hectic schedule, so this has been a valuable lesson—to always give my writing projects 100% of my attention. Fortunately, I’m happy with the results and especially with the cover. I think K.C. capture something special and even magical in that cover.

Every children’s picture book is an adventure and I can’t wait to dive into the next one. Finding the right illustrator can be difficult, but once you do, it’s really a worthwhile and exciting experience. The secret? Mutual respect and communication.