Saturday, September 30, 2017

ASK AWAY FRIDAY: With Children's Author Lynne Marie

Lately I have had current and prospective critique clients ask me similar questions about my publishing background, so I decided to whip up an "Ask Away Friday" post to address these questions. 

I am a former paralegal who drafted correspondence and pleadings (1983-2003), as well as professional book reviewer who reviewed novels. During that time, I tinkered with rom-com (romantic comedy) novels and screenplays before switching to children's writing in 1999. 

I threw myself into learning anything and everything I could about children's writing, took many college and other courses, attended many conferences (including NY and LA SCBWI Nationals, SCBWI International at Madrid in 2003, Rutgers RUCCL each year and Highlights Foundation Workshops at Chautauqua in 2001, 2002, 2003 and later in 2005). Programs like RUCCL and Chautauqua are selective, and I was able to get in time and again, so I did have confidence that I was on the right track with my career choice. 

I finally felt ready to focus on submitting four years later, around 2003. However, I got married in May 2003, got pregnant, and was prescribed bed rest. As a result, I was living with my family at my parent's house with no access to a computer. I couldn't write, but kept reading. I intended to return to writing as soon as possible, but my new daughter needed my attention more than my writing. 

BLOG: I did have a blog which actually made Writer's Digest Top 100 many years ago and which you see today here. I don't feel that my blog helped me sell a book, however, I do feel it is a necessary promotion tool, especially now that I have several books to my name.  [Art by: Lisa J. Michaels] 

WEBSITE: I feel the same about websites (personal opinion). However, I do think once you sell your first book that you should buy your domain, get your website set up, and start building traffic and subscribers. 

I finally got back on track in 2010 when Kayla entered kindergarten full-time. At that time, I started submitting and got my first offer on a manuscript called School Bus Buddies from Jenne Abramowitz of Scholastic in 2010. This offer produced my first book, Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, published in 2011 and illustrated by Anne Kennedy. I did not have an Agent at the time, but had fortunately slipped through the cracks and my manuscript had been seen. 

I had absolutely no recall of this event until I recently found the rejection letter, but in 2003 I had attended the NY SCBWI conference and had a critique with Mary Gruetzke, who liked my School Bus Buddies manuscript, but felt it wasn't for Scholastic Press, so she passed it along to Jenne Abramowitz, who rejected it. 

Ironically, it was the same story (after many years of revision) that the SAME editor from Scholastic accepted in 2010. Please know, had I remembered the rejection at all, I would have never sent again. But I didn't, and I had put enough time and energy into the manuscript to pass through this time. Moral of the Story: Do not submit before your manuscript is ready. This means several trusted people telling you SEND IT OUT! It would be like opening a bottle of fine wine before it's time. 

Unfortunately, soon after Hedgehog's publication I moved myself and my daughter to Florida to escape a bad marriage. It took me several years to get back on my feet (2015), but as soon as I did, I joined Joyce Sweeney's critique group and also formed an online critique group and started relearning and honing my skills. In 2016, I submitted Hedgehog's 100th Day of School directly to my then-editor Jenne, and got an acceptance from Michael Croland, who had replaced her. In 2017, after several editor shifts, my book was published under the same name and was illustrated by Lorna Hussey. Scholastic is currently holding a third, related Hedgehog manuscript, pending successful sales of the 100th Day sequel. 

Like many other writers,  I sent submissions to which I received no response, but for the most part, I enjoyed champagne rejections for many of my manuscripts, with responses like "this is wonderful but just signed a similar book about a dog in Versailles," "unfortunately, I just committed to  a Panda book," "I really like this but just took on another feisty princess book," etc. And so I pressed on and persisted. 

My third book (pending 2018) The Star in the Christmas Play,  was a finalist in the a contest put on by Sparkhouse Family. It did not win the contest, but they brought it to acquisitions and ultimately bought it in April, 2017. I am thrilled to announce it will be illustrated by the talented Lorna Hussey, who created the art for my Hedgehog's 100th Day book! [Art by Lorna Hussey]

My fourth book (pending TBA) Moldilocks and the 3 Scares was picked up by Meredith Mundy of Sterling Children's Publishing.  She had originally seen my manuscript The Dino Store at a SCBWI Conference in Miami in 2016 and loved it, but said, "I already have too many dinosaur books and it would compete for sales with what I already have. What else do you have?" I pitched six books to her on the spot, and she told me to send the first three. Moldilocks and the 3 Scares was one of the first three. Although it was submitted in February 2016, I received the offer in July, 2017, and the contract is currently pending. 

So to recap, I basically was writing / studying / reading for 11 years before I got published (but consider there were many years in there where I was not focused). I did submit to the slush pile and made it through, and I did persist. I am now at the 18 year mark, with four books and this being my best year. I had one book published in January and have a goal of five contracts this year. Even if I don't reach it, I'll have gone further than if I didn't have such a wonderful goal. Two down, three to go. I have a few rewrite requests out and my fingers are crossed. 

This is a good time for me to point out that anyone in this business really needs to have patience in their arsenal of skills and really needs to LOVE what they are doing.  [Art by Lorna Hussey]

Of all the advice I could give, I would say that everyone's path is different, and that perhaps dedication to learning craft and devoted reading, as well as persistence are the best tools to carve a successful children's writing career. 

I think critique groups are absolutely essential and are part of my success. I run several critique groups, including a few for KidLit College ( and SCBWI and am very active in them as well. I have no idea how people get by without a critique group with honest feedback. 

I am currently talking with someone who is on my dream agent list and my fingers are crossed that it works out. However, I have sold four books on my own, so I am not afraid of pressing on without an Agent. It would be nice, though, as there are some houses I can't be seen by that I think would be good fits for manuscripts I have in my stash.  However, I do have a lot of friends that either have an Agent and have not sold a manuscript in quite some time, or, have an Agent and are not happy with them. So to be honest, I do not get caught up in worrying about whether I have an Agent or not and do the best that I can with what I have at hand. 

As I've previously mentioned, in part the fact I am active in critique groups, another part would be the amount of time and energy I invested into my craft, and lastly that each of the books that sold I focused on enough to read over 50 comp titles for, in an effort to make sure there isn't anything else like it, and that it is geared to the publisher to which I submitted. 

I will dive into this in more depth in an upcoming blog post, however I will say that ideas are like children. They come to you from different places, and in different ways, and that no two are exactly alike. So, sometimes I start with a character, sometimes with the plot. Sometimes the idea comes as a seed and I write from there. Sometimes, I don't write a word until the idea is fully formed. 

I actually have more ideas than there is time in the day, however, I try to focus as much as possible. 

I do write all over the picture book and board book spectrum -- which includes meta-fiction, subversive, concept, bedtime, high-concept, friendship, school stories, historical, sweet, rhymed, fairy tales, mash-ups, pun-filled and more! My latest manuscripts are Witch's Christmas Switchmas (an obvious mashup); Counting Sheep with Bo Peep  which is a fairy tale mash-up and counting book,; The Trouble with Lemmings which is about a lemming who struggles to show his individuality, only to find that being a part of a group has its perks; and Tombmates, which is about two brothers who must share a tomb (room) in the afterlife; to name a few. I encourage writers to keep writing and revising and to explore many story options until they find that one that soars above the rest. 

If anyone has any questions for me that I have not answered, please feel free to post them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

PPBF: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carman Agra Deedy, Art by Eugene Yelchin

TITLE: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!

AUTHOR: Carmen Agra Deedy

ILLUSTRATOR: Eugene Yelchin

PUBLISHER: Scholastic, 2017

IMPRINT: Scholastic Press

SUBJECTS:  Villages -- Fiction. Noise -- Fiction. Singing -- Fiction. Roosters -- Fiction.

THEME: Persistence. 

REVIEWER: Lynne Marie

SUMMARY (Provided by the Publisher): The mayor of the noisy village of La Paz institutes new laws forbidding all singing, but a brave little rooster decides he must sing, despite the progressively severe punishments he receives for continuing to crow. The silenced populace, invigorated by the rooster's bravery, outst the tyrannical mayor and returns their city to its free and clamorous state. 

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT THIS BOOK: From the cover onward, I loved Eugene Yelcin's beautifully-drawn, colorful, folksy but modern art and the way it added cultural and other details to the story. I love that La Paz means "the Peace" in Spanish, and every cultural detail in the text. I loved word choice, setting, characters, spacing, increased tension and every plot element used. It's a great story, with essential moving parts which propel the story forward.

PLEASE, someone read this book and hopefully nominate it for a Cybils Award!

A hearty 5 out of 5 Peas!

LINK REPOST: Picking Pumpkins by Kayla Michelle and Lynne Marie

The Season of Pumpkins is upon us...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

GUEST POST: Folktale-ISH by Lauri Fortino


by Lauri Fortino

Is your story a folktale? When my picture book The Peddler’s Bed was published, many readers said it had the feel of a folktale. Some even thought it was a retelling of a folktale. It isn’t. And actually, I never set out to write a folktale. I just wrote a story.
But that got me thinking, what is a folktale? And what elements go into a story to give it that folktale-ish feel? Let’s explore.

Let’s start with the definition of folktale. Merriam-Webster defines folktale as “a
characteristically anonymous, timeless, and placeless tale circulated orally among a people” or “a story made up and handed down by the common people.” The American Heritage Dictionary says a folktale is “a story or legend forming part of an oral tradition.”

This definition from the American Folklore website ( is a little clearer: “Folktales are generally passed down from one generation to another and often take on the characteristics of the time and place in which they are told. Folktales speak to universal and timeless themes, and help folks make sense of their existence or cope with the world in which they live.”

Research has taught me that fairy tales are a subcategory of folktales, as are fables. Fairy tales include magical elements, imaginary beings, and make-believe worlds. (e.g. Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel) 

Fables are usually short stories with animals as characters, and a clear moral at the end. (e.g. The Tortoise and the Hare, The Fox and the Crow)

Folktales do not have to have magic or clear morals. But all true folktales should be the product of a traditional, often oral, narrative, anonymously authored and passed down, rather than the creative work of a particular author.

Some examples of classic folktales include, Lon Po Po, Stone Soup, The Twelve Months, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Rapunzel, and The Ugly Duckling. There are many, many others from around the world, and from every culture. Check your local library for more titles.

Now that we know what true folktales are, what elements can we borrow from them to help create a folktale-ish feel in our own stories?

*  Exotic setting, characters, and culture
* Time and place that evoke a bygone era
* Word Choice/Language Use
* Lesson/Moral (A word of caution: Most publishers today aren’t interested in stories that teach lessons or clearly state morals. If your goal is to be traditionally published, I suggest you learn to weave your message in-in a subtle way.)
* Art Style
* Magical Twist/Imaginary Creatures

Let’s take a look at a few new titles and how they’ve used the elements above to create that folktale-ish feel. You’ll notice that the elements often overlap or are closely related. Also, you should be aware that sometimes the elements appear in the text, sometimes in the illustrations, and sometimes in both.

1. Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman and Divya Srinivasan (2017): 

· Exotic setting and characters. Most of the story takes place in the palace of a Hindu king and queen. The main character is a princess.

· Bygone era. This is actually stated in the first sentence. Cinnamon was a princess, a long time ago, in a small hot country, where everything was very old.

· Word choice, language use. Phrases such as, he moved like a god through the world, which is how tigers move, and words like Rajah and Rani are used deliberately to make clear that a specific culture is portrayed in the story.

· A Lesson. Honestly, I found the subtle lesson of this story difficult to interpret. I actually took away several messages: Expressing feelings when appropriate, speaking when necessary, living free of material things, and attaining enlightenment. 

2. Ossiri and the Bala Mengro by Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby, and Hanna Tolson (2016):

· Exotic setting and characters. This story is about a family of Romani, also known as traveling people or gypsies, in Europe.

· Word choice, language use. Romani culture is expressed through words and phrases like Tattin Django, Bala Mengro, and Daddo.

· A Lesson. Surprisingly, this book has a not-so-subtle message. It’s actually stated near the end of the story. The stranger had asked Ossiri many questions, but had forgotten to ask why the Bala Mengro liked her music. Perhaps it was because she played from the heart, not for gain. Again, most publishers today don’t want stories that blatantly teach lessons or state morals. But there are always exceptions, and this book is one of them. 

· Imaginary Creature. The Bala Mengro is identified as an ogre and described as “a huge hairy monster, as tall as a barn.”

3. The Lonely Giant by Sophie Ambrose (2016):

· A Lesson. There is a subtle message here about caring for the natural world.

· Imaginary Creature. Obviously, this story is about a giant.

4. Grandmother Thorn by Katey Howes and Rebecca Hahn (2017):

· Exotic setting and characters. This story takes place in a little village in Japan. The characters are dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. (see below)

· Bygone era. How the characters are depicted, in traditional dress, evokes a bygone era, especially the traveling merchant (his clothing and his cart). So here, it is more the art than the text that creates a long-ago feel.

· Word choice, language use. Japanese culture is expressed through words like Ojiisan and dorayaki.

· A Lesson. In this story, there is a subtle message about accepting that some things are beyond our control, and about embracing the possibilities that may come from change.

· Art Style. In her sewn and painted hand-crafted artwork, the illustrator used many patterns that clearly reflect traditional Japanese style.

5. The Peddler’s Bed by Lauri Fortino and Bong Redila (2015):

· Bygone era. My book features a traveling peddler dressed in a dapper suit with gloves and cane, a horse-drawn cart, and an outdoor water pump. All of these things bring to mind a bygone era. Also, the polite manner in which the characters speak has an old-fashioned ring to it. (see below)

· Word choice, language use. The characters speak in a very polite, rather formal way to one another, using words and phrases that aren’t used as much today, which, again, conveys a past era: “It’s a fine day.”, “Truly.”, “I’d be delighted.”, “Do come in and have a bite to eat.”

· A Lesson. My book subtly expresses the importance of kindness and generosity towards others, no matter our circumstances.

I encourage you to read these titles as well as classic folktales to get a better feel for how to incorporate folktale elements into your stories.


A few other things I’ve noticed about traditional folktales-not all, but many, include:

· Lengthy text (excluding fables, which are quite short). Long texts are not recommended for today’s picture books. Keep your story under 1000 words. Five hundred words is average and many picture books have even fewer. Just because your story may be folktale-ish doesn’t mean it should be overly long. Learn how to write a picture book for today’s market and apply that same knowledge to writing a story that feels like a folktale. Remember, folktales were originally shared orally. The storyteller could make the story any length they wished. Today, shorter stories prevail in picture books.

· A main character who must use cleverness to defeat or outsmart evil

· A main character who must discover the answer to a riddle or secret

· Elements like hunger, weariness, or cold weather

· Rich kingdoms and poor villages

· A focus on dysfunctional families (think Cinderella)

· A focus on beauty, usually of the main character


NOTE from Lynne of My Word Playground - 

As a big fan of folktales myself, and my Moldilocks and the 3 Scares coming from Sterling Children's Books in the future, I want to thank Lauri for this fabulous post!

Please leave a comment to thank Lauri for sharing these wonderful points. If we reach 50 comments, one lucky winner will be able to choose a picture book from my 2016 Cybils stash. I will e-mail the winner with the list and mail out as soon as the book is chosen. And please hurry and comment, because I will be donating the remainder of the books to a good cause soon. 

Please subscribe to/follow this blog and check back for reviews of the 2017 Cybils nominations! 

Monday, September 25, 2017

EXCITING NEWS from 2017 Cybils Award

Click here for Monday's big announcement!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

PPBF: The Road that Trucks Built by Susanna Leonard Hill, Illustrated by Erica Sirotich

Title: The Road that Trucks Built
Written By:  Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated By: Erica Sirotich
Published By: Simon & Schuster, 2017

Imprint: Little Simon

Genre: Fiction  
Suitable For Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Construction Trucks 

This is the traffic that's moving too slow.
Cars and buses have nowhere to go. 
What is the answer? 
I'm guessing you know. 

Brief Synopsis: When a traffic jam occurs due to too much traffic, a new road must be built. In come the trucks, from bulldozers, to scrapers, to graders, and more! This sturdy book has a strong, durable cover and thick pages, and falls just in between a board book and a picture book! 

Why I Like This Book: This book nods to this is the house that Jack build and is a treat for anyone who loves trucks. The art is accurate, yet fun and engaging, with lots of little details for little ones to take in. 

For MORE about Susanna Leonard Hill and her books, click here:
For MORE about Erica Sirotich, click here: