Seven weeks until ReviMo! Tonight we have an interview with the lovely Deborah Holt Williams, (who is also my critique mate!).
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Deborah Holt Williams and I'm a retired preschool teacher, still subbing and visiting classrooms as a storyteller. I have five kids and three grandkids, and I live in the mountains in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Favorite picture books?
I love Bruce Coville's Sarah's Unicorn, and The Friendly Giant. Mrs. Wishy Washy by my writing hero Joy Cowley is another favorite. And Bubba the Cowboy Prince, and old, wordy books by Virginia Lee Burton and Robert McClosky, the Little Bear books--so many favorites!
If you could be a superhero, what would your power be?
It would be nice to have a superpower that let me see exactly the fix my stories need to become beautiful, published picture books for my grandkids!
Can you tell us about your picture book writing journey?
I graduated with a journalism degree from UW-Madison and I've always loved writing. I made up bedtime stories and finally started writing them down in the early 90's. One summer I made it my goal to send off five manuscripts, and one of them sold to Seedlings (which at the time was a new publisher started by two teachers) as an easy reader. They bought four more before Seedlings was bought by Continental Press. Continental hasn't purchased any more from me, but they keep my books in their catalog and I'm still earning royalties. In '96 I sold a story for $2000 to a New Zealand publisher. I was a single mom, and I celebrated by taking my youngest to Disneyland--before I got the check. I came back to find the gas cancellation notice, the electricity cancellation notice, and the check--whew! The company was purchased so it could be closed down and my story never ran. I later reworked it and sold it to Highlights as a rebus!
Which segues into reworking and revising--four times now, Highlights has asked me to revise pieces, and I always take their suggestions and most of the time, they go on to publish them. I find revising with suggestions, from the publisher or my critique groups, is SO much easier than trying to do it on my own! But, when I do my own revising, I pay attention to the sound of the words together (I like a little alliteration), and to using the verbs to illustrate the character (stomped vs walked, for example). Picture book writing is so tight, words have to do double duty when they can. I've had good luck with my magazine writing (Highlights, High Five, Hello, Jack and Jill, Turtle, AppleSeeds, Spellbound) but no luck yet with my picture book manuscripts. Now days, with picture books having so few words, I think the short word limits for magazines are good training--or so I tell myself between rejections! But, a magazine story will probably only get one illustration, and with a picture book, you have to think about an illustration on every page, so it is quite different. Every sentence has to pack a punch as a caption to a picture.
So very true. Thank you Deb!
Monday, November 18, 2013
Our first guest is the lovely Elaine Kiely Kearns, "Rev up those engines!"
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am the mother of two, a writer, an educator, and an optimist. Not necessarily in that order.
Tell us about your picture book writing journey? What has influenced you most?
Even though I teach second grade, I have always wanted to write picture books. It wasn’t until 2007 that I decided to pursue it as a career. I started out slowly, researching different agents and editors. I sent out manuscripts and got rejections. However, it wasn’t until I won a contest on DEAREDITOR.com in early 2012 that I threw myself into the craft. Deborah Halverson gave me a really great critique and, without knowing it, a really great boost of confidence. She is an expert in the field, has many books published, has been an editor at Harcourt for years—and she likes my writing! She has been my freelance editor ever since. After that, I joined an in-person critique group (which has since dissipated), and then got together with some 12x12 people; together we have formed a really great online group. We are very close, and I would be lost without their constant support and invaluable critiquing.
Favorite picture book?
Of course that’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I love all picture books, but if I had to pick just one author, or just one book, it would have to be anything by Mo Willems. I love his picture books—they’re fun without the slap-you-in-the-face messages. I’ll take a fun romp that has the kids in stitches any day. My all-time favorite is DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS. I love doing the voice of the pigeon and the silliness that the book demands when you read it. I got to meet Mo Willems at the NY SCBWI Conference last year, and he was lovely. I was a babbling idiot when I met him; he must have thought I was a total nut. I found out that we even share a birthday—February 11—so it’s destiny that I should love his work so much!
What gets you inspired to revise?
I think that having a critique group is extremely important. The feedback you receive from other people can put you on a completely different path and give you a new perspective, particularly when you are sick of your manuscript. I typically go through several rounds of revisions with my critique group, and then I send it off to Deborah Halverson for line editing. Each time the manuscript comes back to me for revisions, I am excited by the thought of revising. Yes, excited!
Thank you Elaine! :)