Friday, February 15, 2019

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Heather Macht's The Ant Farm Escape


Story behind the story: The Ant Farm Escape!


By: Heather Macht

I typically like spending my Saturdays in bookstores or in libraries, reading through new picture book releases. Not only is it fun, it’s definitely an important part of a picture book writer’s job! You have to be aware and kept up-to-date on what’s selling and being released.
One particular Saturday I was reading through construction-themed books including Mighty Mighty Construction Site (Sheri Duskey Rinker) and Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night (Brianna Caplan Sayres). Since my son, who was 4 at the time, happened to be big into bugs – including ants – I started imagining hard hat and tool-belt-wearing ants building their nests with tools in hand on the pages. I even started to hear little rhymes form about these super-strong ants!

With this idea in mind, I went home and started writing The Ant Farm Escape!, and researching all about ants, because I LOVE STEM tie-ins and wanted to include some fun facts!  The cool thing is, in researching ants, I found out that worker ants, the ants that do all the digging, building, heavy lifting, and hunting in their colony are ALL FEMALE! In fact, ants are a matriarchal group of insects, completely run by tough females.  How did I not know this before?!

Within a week I had a completed manuscript to send off to my critique group and start querying.  The exciting part of this process was #Pit2Pub just so happened to be close by to my story’s completion. With that in mind, I went ahead and got my pitch ready.  When the day arrived for #Pit2Pub, I pitched this, got a request from Pelican Publishing (who encouraged me to include even more STEM facts in my MS).  After some minor edits I submitted the revised story to them.  The rest is history!  I got offered a contract on this story within a month of submitting it to them. 

I’m so excited that they picked it up, too!  They had such a fun direction and paired me with a wonderful illustrator. They were a pleasure to work with too, might I add.  Altogether, this was such a fun story to research and write; I’m so glad I took the trip to the bookstore that morning. 😉


Bio:

Heather Macht is the author of The Ant Farm Escape! (Pelican, 2019), Rex the...We-Don't-Know (Pelican, 2019) and You May Just Be a Dinosaur (Pelican, 2015). 
     
Macht has a degree in Fine Arts, is an active member of the SCBWI, and is the Assistant Administrator, the Newsletter Coordinator, and a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. She loves spending her Saturday’s in bookstores or in libraries with friends.  
     
Macht’s happily married and currently resides in Florida next door to a quiet beach.  When she's not writing, Macht enjoys painting, reading poetry, and watching scary movies with her husband and children. 




Website:

Twitter:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

MY ENTRY: Susanna Hill's 4th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest - Lynne Marie





A MONSTROUSLY MARVELOUS MALENTINE’S DAY
By Lynne Marie
214 Words

Morton fretted. Malentine’s Day was days away.
“What can I give the most monstrously marvelous teacher?” Morton asked Mombie.
“There’s so much cleverness rattling around that brain,” said Mombie. “You’ll think of
something.”
Morton wracked his brain. He decided on chocolate-covered worms, a rotten caramel apple and a
hand-made card.
At Ghoul School, Morton left his gifts on Miss Phantasm’s desk.
He couldn’t wait to see her eyes light up.
Morton watched the doorway. Oh, no! A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER!  
He sloshed up and grabbed his gifts. He stowed the apple in his lunchbox, the worms in his
ears and slid the card into his homework.
“Hi, I’m Mr. Wolf.” The substitute passed out gummy worms and funny cards to each student.
“I know the holiday won’t be the same without Miss Phantasm, but I’ll  try to make it special.”
Morton groaned. I feel terrible.


Mr. Wolf taught class about the phases of the moon. Morton was mesmerized. He had no idea
other teachers could be monstrously marvelous too.
Morton moaned. He felt even worse.

Finally Morton’s guilt had eaten away at him. “These were for Miss Phantasm,” he admitted.
“But I’d like you to have them. You’re a monstrously marvelous teacher, too!”

Mr. Wolf howled. “And you, Morton, are a monstrously marvelous student.”

PLEASE SEE ORIGINAL POST TO CONTEST HERE: 
https://susannahill.com/2019/02/13/oh-guilty-heart-the-4th-annual-valentiny-writing-contest/



THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: The Duchess and Guy by Nancy Furstinger, Illustrated by Julia Bereciartu

When my agent, John Rudolph, asked if I was a “royal watcher,” I had to admit that I had zero interest in  the royal wedding of Meghan Markle and England’s Prince Harry. But John attached an article about Meghan’s rescued beagle, Guy, who went from a KY shelter to royal life in Barkingham, er, Buckingham Palace.
"Think there could be a book here?" he wondered? "If so, we'd need to move ASAP." Guy's story could be a compelling fairy tale, and I was eager to write it. Most of my books feature animals, especially dogs. Animals are near and dear to my heart: I volunteer at my local SPCA and with a rabbit rescue plus I share my home with two large dogs, Bosco and Rosy, three house rabbits and one chinchilla -- all rescued.


I’m not a super speedy writer, even though I started my career as a reporter for a daily newspaper; I have a tendency to spiral off course as I research and vanish down the rabbit hole. But this time I focused on the “big picture” and soon emailed “Guy, the Regal Beagle” to my agent, who loved my  voice and how I “balanced the sadder aspects of Guy’s live with the happy ending.”  John wanted me to write about how Guy met the queen and her corgis and add in a wedding scene, but quickly, he emphasized again, since the story was “timely and commercial.” Then he submitted it to several select editors, billing me as his agency’s “resident animal expert.” He also told me that this was the quickest submission he’s ever done (that goes double for me)!

I was excited when Ann Rider at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which published two of my middle-grade nonfiction books—“Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA and Friend of Animals” and “Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals”— suggested passing along the manuscript to a newish HMH editor, Emilia Rhodes. "As luck would have it,” Emilia said, "we have been talking about a picture book about Guy this past week but don’t have a writer attached.” So on May 31, 2018 I received a pre-empt offer and happily became attached after agreeing to revise (rapidly again) with an emphasis on “a bit more of imagined fun and wish fulfillment of Guy and his new life in Buckingham Palace.”

Emilia thought the story was “sweet and fun” but wanted me to tug more on the heartstrings. So I did a rewrite, followed by yet another overhaul to strengthen the climax plus the pacing in the second half. Emilia is a dream editor her comments and edits made the story much stronger. Plus she is equally passionate about pooches–volunteering for a rescue and adopting two dogs (one was featured in a video for The Dodo!). I also got to see artist samples and was super thrilled with Julia Bereciartu’s illustrations. I was encouraged to add any art suggestions (I only had a few minor ones as the artist brings her own vision to the story) plus sales & marketing loved my speech bubble for Guy and asked me to write more.

My first title was changed and a subtitle was added (and changed twice too) until we all collaborated on a winner: "The Duchess and Guy: A Rescue-to-Royalty Puppy Love Story.” And, instead of taking years like my other picture books, “The Duchess and Guy” burst on the scene January 8, 2019, eight months after I received an offer. What a whirlwind adventure!

Bio: Nancy Furstinger has been speaking up for animals since she learned to talk, and she hasn’t shut up yet. She started her writing career in third grade, when her class performed a play she wrote while recovering from chicken pox. Since then, Nancy has been a feature writer for a daily newspaper, a managing editor of trade and consumer magazines, and an editor at two children’s book publishing houses. She shares her home with big dogs, house rabbits, and a chinchilla (all rescued), and volunteers with several animal organizations. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

SUNDAY RAMBLINGS from CRITIQUE STREET: The Secret of How to Get Published by Lynne Marie


The secret of how to get published isn't really a secret.

It's not just talent, although a little bit of that helps. It's not just luck, although a little bit of that can help too.



Here it is....

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

It's HARD WORK, TIME and DETERMINATION.

Like I said, talent and luck helps too. But talent and luck and a token can get you on the New York City Subway. See what I mean. It takes what it takes, and there's no way around it.

So, HARD WORK, TIME and DETERMINATION it is!
I am sure that' s not the answer everyone wanted to hear. But it's the truth.

I think many of you may submit your story for critique thinking it's going to come back with just a few edits and a note saying "great to go out." I also think you may get discouraged when it doesn't. I want you to know that I hope and pray that isn't the case. So I want you all to keep a few things in mind.

Let's start with this -- It often takes many, many revisions before a manuscript sells.

      Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten -
                 15 Versions
      Hedgehog's 100th Day of School -
                 5 Versions
          *Note Basically I had characters and a setting and other factors that worked, so this one
            was rather easy to accomplish.

      The Star in the Christmas Play -
                8 Versions
      Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -
                19 Versions
      Let's Eat: Mealtimes Around the World -
                11 Versions

You might be saying, well, that's not an awful lot, I revised my ___ manuscript 20 times before I sent it to her!

Note: Each version was one focused "revision" round with several of my many critique groups. That includes going over the feedback of from 1 to 3 critique groups of three to five people each. So there would actually be MANY revisions within each version.  Based on this, each time I dusted the manuscript off and focused on it, I would save a new version. I hope that makes sense.

So it's actually A LOT more revisions than it looks like above. If you still don't think it's a lot...

Here's where another aspect of the HARD WORK part comes in. In college, I majored in English, with a focus on Writing for Children and Children's Literature and Folklore (also the Holocaust in Children's Literature). I started my actual journey in 1999 when I bought my first Children's Writer's and Illustrators Market Book and also joined LICWI and SCBWI, and a critique group. In 2000, I started going to conferences.  I've attended classes at the New School in NYC with Meg Cabot of the Princess Diaries as my teacher, conferences on both local (Long Island and New York), non-local (NESCBWI, NJ, Hudson Valley, EPA, WPA) and National (NY/LA) and International (Spain) levels. I have an extremely, extremely long resume of magazine, poetry and book review credits that I earned before I even submitted book manuscripts. I'm not saying you have to do ANY of this, but what I am alluding to is the amount of HARD WORK and TIME I put in as well as my DETERMINATION, so, please keep reading. There's a point to all of this.

Because I had an extensive background in writing for children and some modicum of talent, I was able to get into Highlights Chautauqua in 2001. I returned in 2002, 2003, and 2005. I also got into RUCCL (Rutgers University Council for Children's Literature) those years as well, all the while writing and critiquing. I published in many magazines and book review journals, but I really didn't start to submit my book manuscripts until 2005 (again, look at the TIME) and then, got sidetracked with my special needs toddler for a few years until I re-focused on getting published in 2009 and got my first contract in 2010.

I am not, in any way, saying that any of you have to do all that schooling, or go to all of those conferences or take all of those classes or have a long resume -- what I am saying is the same thing I always say. It takes TIME and HARD WORK and DETERMINATION to get published.

And sometimes, part of that hard work includes a lot of critique comments or a lot of re-visioning to put you on the right path for your manuscript.  It's the same for me! Please do not think that I have not gotten my work critiqued at conferences. YES! I have. I still do when I attend a conference which I'm not on Faculty! I am a huge believer in conferences, as well getting someone else's feedback and I still participate in several critique groups today. Feedback is the breakfast of Authors :)

DETERMINATION
You ARE investing in yourself and your career by getting a critique. That is great and such a positive step. You are determined and moving toward your goal of becoming a published author. Now, continue to put in the TIME and the WORK and keep that DETERMINATION alive by considering the steps of revision and re-visioning as part of that path. Do not consider it discouragement, or anything else other than a step FORWARD toward your goal. You are bringing your manuscript where it needs to go to get YOU where you need to be.

Your critique is an investment in your career. So what if there is a lot of work to be done? Do the work. Each positive revision you make is a step closer to your goal!

Our journeys will not be the same. But most likely neither of us will be the extreme exception (as you can see I was definitely not) and it will take TIME and HARD WORK and DETERMINATION.

So if I had one other thought to leave you with it would be -- DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED. Stay on the path. The writers who reached the Finish Line are the ones who stayed on the path and did not give up. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off. Do the revisions. Re-vision the story if you have to and drive that story to the finish line. YOU can do it!

With Love and Support -- I Did This Thing and YOU CAN TOO!!!!

*.*.*.*

PLEASE follow this blog so you don't miss any tidbit of information and please feel free to leave any comment or question you may have. I will do my best to answer all! 


Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, pending) and Let's Eat! Mealtimes Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019). You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com. 

To order the Star in the Christmas Play, click the title. Keep an eye out for MOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE SCARES, coming in August, from Sterling Children's Books! 


Saturday, February 9, 2019

WRITE CLUB RECOMMENDS: Showing the LOVE for Valentine's Day-Themed Books


For today's post I asked the prolific Agented and Published writers in my Write Club critique group to share with you some of their favorite *must-read* Valentine's Day Picture Books. 

Many of these authors have books coming out in either this year or next! 




To start off your Valentine's Day picture book list, Lynne Marie, Author of Moldilocks and the Three Scares (Sterling, 8/2019) and Let's Eat: Mealtimes Around the World (Beaming Books, 2019), recommends ZOMBIE IN LOVE and ZOMBIE IN LOVE 2 +1 by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell. 
www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com





Lauren H. Kerstein, Author of Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Make Waves (Amazon/Two Lions, 6/2019): recommends XO, OX written Adam Rex and illustrated Scott Campbell and I WISH YOU MORE by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. 
https://laurenkerstein.net

Katie Frawley (Debut picture book, Spring 2020...details forthcoming)  recommends CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE (words by Samantha Berger, pictures by Dan Santat). 
katiefrawley.wordpress.com

Kathleen Doherty, author of DON'T FEED THE BEAR, Sterling Children's Books, 2018, recommends SOMEBODY LOVES YOU, MR. HATCH, written by Eileen Spinelli. and illustrated by Paul Yalowitz and ROSES ARE PINK, YOUR FEET REALLY STINK by Diane de Groat.  
From Joana Pastro, author of LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS (Kane Press, Fall/2020) recommends I’LL LOVE YOU TILL THE COWS COME HOME by Kathryn Cristaldi, illustrated by Kristyna Litten and LOVE, Z by Jessie Sima. 

Evelyn Bookless, author of Captain Green and the Plastic Scene (Marshall Cavendish, 2018), VALENSTEINS by Ethan Long and THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins.  


Shannon Stocker, author of CAN U SAVE THE DAY (Sleeping Bear Press, August, 2019), recommends BE A FRIEND by Salina Yoon and even share a wonderful audio/visual for our readers -  https://youtu.be/xr1gm5gIG4Y
http://www.shannonstocker.com/

Sophia Gholz, Author of THE BOY WHO GREW A FOREST (Sleeping Bear Press, March 2019) recommends 
HENRY IN LOVE by Peter McCarty and AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell, as well as DID I TELL YOU I LOVE YOU TODAY by Deloris Jordan. 

Heather Macht, author of "The Ant Farm Escape," Feb. 2019, "Rex the...We-Don't-Know," Sept. 2019, and "You May Just Be a Dinosaur," September 2015, recommends GROGGLE MONSTER'S VALENTINE by Diana Murray, and illustrated by Bats Langley.  
https://www.heathermacht.com/

Rosie J. Pova, author of Sarah's Song (2017) and an upcoming picture book soon to be announced, recommends MOSTLY MONSTERLY by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Scott Magoon. 

Henry Herz, author of "Two Pirates + One Robot," 2020 recommends WORM LOVES WORM written by J.J. Austrian and illustrated Mike Curato. 
http://www.henryherz.com/

Kelly Jordan (debut picture book, Spring 2020...details forthcoming) recommends BUNNY BEAR by Andrea J. Loney, Illustrated by Carmen Saldana. 

Michal Babay recommends GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall and SNUGGLE PUPPY (A LOVE SONG) by Sandra Boynton. 

PLEASE check out the websites of these authors where you will find more information about these *rising stars* of #Write Club.  And please leave a comment or a question for any one of them! Thanks for stopping by My Word Play Ground! 


And PLEASE share @Literally_Lynne @LaurenKerstein @AuthorHMacht @iwriteforkidz @evelynbookless @sophiagholz @jopastro @doherty60 @rosiePOV @HenryLHerz @KatieFrawley1 @KJordanWrites @MicBabay #WriteClub #WriteClubRocks 

*.*.*.*

PLEASE follow this blog so you don't miss any tidbit of information and please feel free to leave any comment or question you may have. I will do my best to answer all! 


Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, pending) and Let's Eat! Mealtimes Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019). You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com. 

To order the Star in the Christmas Play, click the title. Keep an eye out for MOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE SCARES, coming in August, from Sterling Children's Books! 

Friday, February 8, 2019

PPBF: UNICORN (and Horse) by David Miles. Art by Hollie Mengert

TITLE: UNICORN (and Horse)
AUTHOR: David Miles
ILLUSTRATIONS: Hollie Mengert
PUBLISHER: Familius
PUBLICATION DATE: 2018

I interrupt this book review to ask...where was this book all my life? Seriously! I LOVE this book. Why didn't I write this book???? I've written in snarky, dead pan wit. Why didn't I think to do it with a horse and a unicorn?

Back to the book.

JACKETFLAP:

Unicorn is a unicorn. And Horse, well, isn't. 

Horse is brown. Horse is plain. And Horse can't stand the unicorn he shares a pen with. Unicorn dances. Tra la la! Horse does not. Blah blah blah. But when greedy robbers kidnap Unicorn, what will Horse decide to do? Packed with forty-eight pages of hilarious illustrations and deadpan wit, Unicorn (and Horse) is a funny, yet endearing lesson on evey and friendship with one essential truth: Happiness comes from something more important than pink cupcakes. 

Did I mention that I LOVED this book?

If you didn't get drawn in by the jacket flap humor here's another tidbit.

Unicorns make rainbows. 

Horses make something else. 

OMG this book is hysterical. I. can't. even.

The art is wonderful and the expressions on horse and unicorn. Priceless. I don't even have to say anything more about this book. Look at the cover. Basically, it says it all. Buy this book. Buy one for everyone you know. They will thank you.

And despite all the puns it has a wonderful message about friendship. What more could one want from a book. It's perfect. 5 out of 5 Peas (my rating scale for picture books ala the Princess and the P.B.).

###

PLEASE follow this blog so you don't miss any tidbit of information and please feel free to leave any comment or question you may have. I will do my best to answer all! 

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, pending) and Let's Eat! Mealtimes Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019). You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com. 

To order the Star in the Christmas Play, click the title. Keep an eye out for MOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE SCARES, coming in August 2019, from Sterling Children's Books! It may not have any unicorns or horses, but it does have Zombies and Monsters! 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Captain Green and the Plastic Scene by Evelyn Bookless (Illustrated by Danny Deeptown)

CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE(Marshall Cavendish, 2018)

Written by Evelyn Bookless

Illustrated by Danny Deeptown



Thank you, Lynne Marie, for the opportunity to tell the story behind my debut picture book, CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE.

Let me begin by telling you about the story:



Fresh out of Superhero School, Captain Green, the Caped Captain of Clean, gets a call. Dolphin is tangled up in plastic, and there’s trouble for Seagull and
Turtle too. When our superhero rushes off to help, he finds himself on a major mission: saving sea creatures from plastic. Captain Green tries to fix things on his own, but eventually learns that it takes more than just superpowers to save the seas.

And now for the story behind the story!

I was inspired to write Captain Green and the Plastic Scene while on holiday in Indonesia several years ago. I was saddened by the huge amount of plastic that had washed up on the beach not too far from our hotel. Such an incredibly beautiful place was destroyed by our actions. I thought, this pesky problem needs a superhero, and Captain Green was born! I immediately began researching and writing the story with the goal of engaging children, in a fun way, in the fight against ocean pollution.

I adore animals and nature and when I began to learn more and more about the way plastic is polluting our oceans and hurting sea creatures, I wanted to shine a light on the problem while, most importantly, telling a story that children would enjoy and connect with. I watched documentaries, read widely and talked to a marine biologist to learn as much as I could. Then I chose three animals to include and studied their habits and habitats. It was important for me to not overwhelm children but show them some ways that they can make a difference.

In terms of the writing, I included many patterns in the story, through the use of repeated language and applying the rule of three in different ways, with the aim of showing connections between characters and events and to aid the story’s pacing. I had a ball choosing snappy superhero language to accompany Captain Green’s actions.

One of my goals when writing this story was for Captain Green to be a role model of sorts. While he is a superhero, and an inexperienced one at that, he is also a kid. I feel that children can relate to him as he clearly doesn’t know everything, but is willing to learn. Danny Deeptown, the book’s incredible illustrator, felt that it was important to get Captain Green’s innocence across in the art work so that all children can relate to him, or even better, want to be like him. Captain Green loves nature and does his best to protect the planet. He shows everyone ways that they can help save our seas and empowers us all to do our bit. Afterall, “you don’t need superpowers to save our seas. It just takes a super human!”

I enjoy visiting schools and discussing this topic with children and hearing their bright ideas for saving the seas. Children can and want to make a real difference from a very young age. As I read, I see children connect emotionally to the story. There is one illustration in particular, where Captain Green is comforting Dolphin after saving him, that always elicits the saddest little faces looking up at me. But to quote the film, The Plastic Ocean, “from knowing comes caring, and from caring comes change.” The story ends with a positive message about solutions and team work.

I sincerely hope that if we all make some small changes in our daily lives, we can make a big difference to ocean pollution and the well-being of our sea creatures. It's not too late.

Keep It Green!

Evelyn
Evelyn Bookless


BIO: 

Evelyn Bookless grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland. She is a nature lover, mum, teacher and writer. Her first time diving was at The Great Barrier Reef. It blew her mind (but thankfully she made a full recovery!) Following this she learned to dive properly in the Atlantic Ocean one winter. She saw an octopus and was very happy even though it was very cold. Evelyn has lived all over the world but her favourite place to be is in the ocean, preferably somewhere warm, as she’s not as tough as she used to be. She dreams about clean oceans and contented sea creatures.

Social links





Tuesday, February 5, 2019

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Pedro's Pan - A Gold Rush Story by Matthew Lasley - Illustrated by Jacob Souva




Our Story Behind the Story Banner Courtesy of Jena Benton
https://jenabenton.com/

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY



The Journey of Pedro’s Pan


I have long loved telling stories. In 2016, I met my soon to be wife, Jena, and joined her in writing picture books. I had recently restarted writing and made it a life goal to publish a book. And a picture book seemed easy. I mean, after all, less than a thousand words, I could do that in less than an hour.


And I did.

And it was terrible.

And there were rules. Lots and lots of rules.

My wife patiently guided me along the path and we watched webinars on writing and I read books on writing. We attended writing conferences where I was able to get feedback on my writing and I joined a critique group.

In one webinar, the presenter told the audience to write what they know. Figure out what you are passionate about and only you can write about.

Hmmmmm….I love history. I enjoy searching for gold (and other lost things).

I grew up in rural Alaska and my family were gold miners. Every trip to the big city of Fairbanks (population less than 35,000), we drove past the Felix Pedro monument. He discovered gold near Fairbanks in 1902 and started the last great gold rush in North America.

So, I decided to tell his story. An epic biography. 2000 words later and numerous critique readings, I got it down to 1400+ words and submitted it for a manuscript review.

To paraphrase the reviewer: You’re a newbie aren’t you.

And I was.

Did I mention there were a lot of rules?

I went back and read some more. I read books that taught the rules for writing and I read other picture books to see how others pulled off the craft.

I got another piece of advice from a webinar: Let your story rest. Do what you can, then put it away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes.

My story rested for nearly four months. Then I had another opportunity to get my manuscript reviewed by a local author.

I took the advice the previous reviewer had given me and stripped my biography down to the essentials and tried to make it into a story.

But I had a biography, not a story.

I thought back to growing up and gold panning. Mining is hard work and panning is tedious, but I had many funny memories with my dad. I decided to inject some of those into my story.

As I did that, I realized that I was not hearing a person tell the story, but a gold pan. He was innocent. He enjoyed what he did, even if he was a little naïve. And he worried about disappointing his friend.

I grabbed onto that voice and let him tell his story. It was raw and it was rough, but I now had a story.
Over the next month I reworked it and had it critiqued. They didn’t recognize the story. They liked a lot of things and made many suggestions to improve and change it.

With a submission deadline for this review approaching, I did what I could and submitted it.

The review was at a writer’s retreat which was small and intimate. We met around a wood burning stove in a yurt and shared our stories.

And the reviewer loved it (with a few minor suggestions)!

And she told me to contact Graphic Arts Books (now West Margin Press) because they had a renewed imprint that was looking for regional picture books like mine.

And the rest is history.

My book was under contract a few months later and will be released on February 19th, 2019. Pedro’s Pan has already received some good reviews and I look forward to seeing my life goal achieved.

I learned two things on my journey. Number one: Practice and learn. Learn from others. Take advice. Take criticism. Put it into practice.

Number two: Find your champions. Find people who believe in you. Find people who will support you. Then be that someone to someone else.


You will be successful. Maybe in ways you never imagined.

Matthew Lasley