Tag Archives: writing

Author Interview: Jenna Grodzicki

I recently had the pleasure of meeting debut author and fellow elementary librarian, Jenna Grodzicki, at the spring NJSCBWI Conference. Jenna’s newest book is “Pixie’s Adventure,” published by  eTreasures.

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What inspired you to write your debut picture book, Pixie’s Adventure?

The idea for Pixie’s Adventure came to me over 10 years ago.  Our cat, who was always trying to sneak outside, escaped during a thunderstorm.  My husband and I spent two hours looking for her in the pouring rain.  We finally found her on our neighbor’s front porch.  Even though I had always dreamed of writing picture books, it took me a long time to actually start. Quite frankly, I was scared to take that risk.  In early 2015, a combination of events prompted me to pick up a pencil, and Pixie’s Adventure was the first story I wrote.  The rest is history!

What is the topic of your next picture book?

My second picture book, Finn Finds a Friend, is coming out in October with Clear Fork Publishing.  It is about a lemon shark named Finn who wants to make some new friends. Unfortunately, his sharky appearance causes potential buddies to swim away or hide.  Finn must demonstrate it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters in order to convince the sea creatures that he’s not looking for his next meal.

In addition to Finn, I have 6 other manuscripts (and counting!) I’m working on, including one nonfiction piece.

Who are your favorite authors for kids?

Wow, this is a tough question.  I have so many favorites, it’s hard to choose!  When I was little, I loved Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene) and the Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin). Among my favorite picture books were Miss Nelson is Missing, The Paper Bag Princess, and Click, Clack, Moo.   Today, I absolutely love Mo Willems.  His Elephant and Piggie books are a hit with every one of my students, as well as my son.  I’m also a big fan of Ame Dyckman, Kate Messner, Drew Daywalt, and Jon Klassen.

What are your interests/hobbies besides writing?

In addition to writing, I absolutely love to read.  I’m really into YA right now, especially anything by Sarah J. Maas.  I love the Boston Red Sox – we try to go to Fenway Park at least once a year.  In the winter, I enjoy skiing.  And of course, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my husband and our two crazy awesome children!

 

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Thanks Jenna, for your awesome answers!

 

 

 

Planting Story Seeds

I grew up in Queens, New York, in a small apartment complex where gardening/lawn maintenance was done for the tenants. My family never owned their own home. I’ve always loved flowers, but I never gardened while growing up, except on one occasion where I planted some seeds from a flowering tree I admired in nearby Whitestone Park.

Imagine my surprise when a few years later a small tree began to sprout in our little shared garden plot. Beginner’s luck. When I bought my first home as an adult, there was lots of land.  A front yard, big backyard, and plenty of other side plots next to the left and right of our house to garden. When we first came to view the house, it was in the late winter and I was only looking at the inside of the house with a young mother’s eyes. Would there be enough room for our two daughters to grow inside?

The next spring, to my surprise, little purple sprouts popped up next to our driveway. Soon, some pretty purple plants were showing. I googled some images and found out they were hyacinth.  On the right side of our house dozens of daffodils grew quickly. I loved flowers and soon began to plant our front garden with the help of my young daughters. To my dismay, however, everything would be eaten by the local roaming deer population. It took a few springs until I could research what to buy and plant that wouldn’t be decimated by deer.

Geraniums, tulips, lilies; all were experiments in growing and were quickly consumed by the deer, groundhogs, wild turkey. But annuals like marigolds and perennials- the daffodils, newer planted gladiola and butterfly bushes, in all colors of the rainbow, thrived. After about ten summers, my garden and my daughters have grown. And as I started to spend more time writing during my summer vacations from teaching, my younger daughter, who has a natural green thumb, has become the primary gardener in the family.

Now what does this all have to do with writing, you may ask? Well, I have always loved to write. I won writing contests and awards in elementary school, wrote for college and professional newspapers as an adult, but put it on the back burner for a while. As a children’s librarian, I started to see a void in kids literature, so I decided to try my hand at writing biographies for kids. Two years, almost three, since my story seeds were first planted and watered. A big NYC publisher gave me a chance with my first non-fiction children’s manuscript, but then my story, like the first plants I had tried to grow, withered and died. In May of 2015, devastated by the rejection of almost two years of edits to my first story, I almost gave up entirely.

Just like the first flowers in my garden, my first stories needed editing to grow. New ideas were more successful than the first ones and I finally sold a first story this spring. Four summers of writing have passed and I have five manuscripts to show for it and am starting on a sixth this summer. Just as I had to nurture and find the right seeds for my garden, I have persevered and am planting story seeds that will grow tall and strong.

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

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Writers are always told ” write about what you know.” So when I started to delve into the world of children’s writing , that was not great information for me; because I wanted to write nonfiction, about new and unknown subjects or places. I come from the background of writing feature news articles for adults. I have always been more comfortable reading and writing nonfiction. But after an almost two year stretch of  acceptance and revisions  for a nonfiction kid lit biography I wrote, came the  ultimate rejection from a great publisher. I was crushed.   I then decided to step out of the comfort zone and try writing fiction picture books instead of nonfiction.

Write about what you know: Family, nature, humor.  I wrote my first fiction picture book  about two years ago and received requests from a couple of publishers who liked it, but wanted some edits. Still haven’t sold that title, but it has led to more fiction writing.   My newest manuscript is being read by  a few agents and editors right now and I feel confidence in it. It’s funny and kids like funny; it has a feline main character who can read and write.

Working on tightening my fiction writing led to me recently selling my first online short story, written with a lot of dialog; way out of my comfort zone of writing nonfiction narrative. I still plan on writing kids’ nonfiction; I have started on some new ideas for researching in the next few months. But sometimes it is good to try new things and step outside of that comfortable box and stretch your goals a little. For me, the fiction writing led to better writing and revising and I can say it was worth it to take on the challenge.

 

 

“And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

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I am not a mathematical person. I hated taking Statistics in college. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that for unpublished writers the odds are not in our favor.  Here’s hoping that 2016, is a great year for debut, unpublished writers of kid and YA lit. There has been a renaissance of lovely picture book illustrators in 2015 and YA writers of dystopian chronicles about fictional characters in fictional lands seems to be the norm. But what about a good, old-fashioned story?  I am primarily a non-fiction writer and we depend on great research and facts, woven with lyrical writing. Sometimes that makes our stories even harder to sell and market, especially for the children’s market which is highly fiction driven.

But it is a New Year. And there have been statistics, aha, that say print book sales for kids are up  and e-books sales for kids are dwindling. Kids are reading again, be it graphic novels or even non-fiction picture books. It is still a delight to this kid’s librarian to see a young child holding a physical book rather than an IPad. So, to my writer friends out there, don’t give up hope. 2016 is just around the corner and kids are still reading the old-fashioned way. And since eighteen, chai, is a lucky number in Judaism, 2016 added together, 18  doubled or 36, this just might be your lucky year!

Writing Narrative Non-Fiction for Kids : Weaving Together Facts and Fiction

inventors-secret-cvr_large                                                                                                         The job of the non-fiction writer is tough; besides getting the facts straight, we need to weave together a narrative that presents the facts in an interesting way for readers.  Doing the research can sometimes be the easier of the two parts of the narrative non-fiction writer’s job. Finding the right voice and editing your story can take longer than finding the facts.

Where to start?  Find an interesting subject for kids who has not been written about endlessly. If you are going to write about Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, what is the spin on your story that is different from the dozens of books already out there?  There have been great new children’s bios in the past few years about  Albert Einstein, Gordon Parks, even one about  the friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. All of these books relied on strong writing and beautiful illustration to drive forward story.

As a researcher I find my subjects by reading, reading, reading. Newspaper and magazine articles  provide a great starting path to finding good subjects for non-fiction. I spend a lot of time in the American History and Biography sections of my library looking for new subjects to research. When I find a person who I think will be interesting to kids or who is an undiscovered hero, I am ready to begin my writing. It usually takes me a few weeks to get the facts, but a few months to write the main story and connect the dots on how to make a scientist’s or historian’s life relatable to kids today. I try to find facts about the person when they were a child and who or what inspired them when they were younger. Is there an important life event of your subject that can be the main plot line of your narrative children’s biography?

Last, but not least, after you have the narrative done, take a few weeks to let your manuscript rest. Read it over with fresh eyes and edit out all the extraneous words; the ands, the “thes” and too many hes, and shes . It’s amazing what a second, third or tenth look at your writing will find. Have some other readers’  opinions.  A strong, respectful  or poetic voice about your subject  throughout your manuscript is key. If you love who or what you are writing about it will show.

 

 

Finding Your Fiction Voice Through Non-Fiction

10835255_671606022984727_3647482300606995007_oI am primarily a lover of non-fiction writing and books, but once in a while a great fiction read comes along. In the past few months I’ve realized that historical fiction like Outlander, TV shows like Mad Men or a children’s book about Golda Meir  can be important tools for a writer to look at character development based on true historical events. Using research and facts first,  as a backdrop, one can find a character’s qualities to write about.  Did living during wartime or leaving one’s country help develop your character’s strengths and dreams? I usually spend hours or days on research before deciding which way my character’s story will progress.

After researching some facts about strong women in the 1920s and 30s  labor and feminist movement, I’ve taken notes for a children’s picture book biography about one of these strong women. But I have decided to put that on the back burner for a few weeks and have started a fiction picture book about my grandparents journey from Poland and Russia to America, spurred on by some of the non-fiction research I did for the bio.  I have started to write about my grandparents on other occasions, but now after reading more about the time period I felt ready to tell their story.  From butcher to seamstress, shop owner and milliners, all four of my grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe with stories to tell. As I write about the grandparents on my maternal side, I hope their interesting story will come alive on the page as I edit and revise to make some details of  their journey into historical fiction fun for young kids to read.