FEED YOUR HEAD → KidLit, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

By Henry, Josh & Harrison Herz


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Interview with prolific children’s book author, Larry Dane Brimner

Larry was one of those weird children who liked to write and who had a grandfather who not only indulged Larry’s written expression, but encouraged it by corresponding with him whether he was across town or in another part of the world. Today, Larry has written more than one hundred fifty-eight books for young readers, and he’s still writing.

BrimnerLarry

For what age audience do you write?

I write fiction and nonfiction for kids between the ages of pre-school to young adult. Although I’m known mostly for my nonfiction for middle-grades on up, my favorite genre is the picture book, which I think requires enormous skill, because the writer has to be so succinct while at the same time he must also pay attention to rhythm, language, page-turns, and format. Long ago, I wrote chapter books, and this is a genre I hope to return to in the next couple of years.

Henry: So true. Picture books are a distinct form of literature.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, just out, is STRIKE! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights (Calkins Creek). It’s about the Filipino grape strike in Delano, California, 1965, which paved the way for Cesar Chavez and his struggling union to come to power. Larry Itliong and the other Filipino Americans who began that strike are often ignored. Yet, without them, the story of Chavez—who actually didn’t want to involve the UFW in the Filipino action at first—may have been painted differently.

Henry: I’ve only written fiction so far, but I think it’s great you are telling tales that need to be told.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope readers will understand the significant role that Filipino Americans played in this, the most important agricultural strike in U.S. history. I would hope, too, that they come away from the book understanding that we need to be measured in our inclination to place important historical figures on pedestals. Chavez has become almost a martyr by many, yet upon closer examination we learn that he was human, flawed, and motivated in part by ego and a selfishness that eventually led to the UFW’s downfall.

Henry: Good point. A complex and imperfect figure like Dr. Martin Luther King.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

First drafts are hell, pure hell. Most of the time, I am not somebody who shows up at the computer each morning eager to get started. I’ll respond to email first. I’ll answer interview questions like this first. I’ll tidy my desk or do a load of laundry (often washing clean clothes). In other words, I procrastinate and avoid. This wasn’t always the case, but I find (for me) since most of my nonfiction books are contracted before I write them and there’s always a deadline looming that it takes some of the joy of process out of it. On the other hand, those projects—poems, picture books, and even nonfiction books—that I write on speculation are often the most enjoyable because I can tackle them at my own speed without the pressure of having to have them finished by a particular date. Once I have a first draft, though, I love revision and tweaking and refining. I love playing with words. I LOVE HAVING WRITTEN. And I still get a great sense of accomplishment when I can hold an actual book in my hands or see it on a shelf in a bookstore or library.

Henry: Nice. “I love having written” is a great expression.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

There is, probably, almost always a better way to write something.

Henry: True, and yet at some point we must submit. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

There are so many. Meeting a reader who tells you your book had impact on his or her life. Being told by a father that his child takes your picture book to bed each night and sleeps with it. Being invited to schools and conferences hither and yon to speak about writing and the books you’ve written. Many of my books are about the African American struggle for freedom and equality. Perhaps my most memorable experience was when I was invited to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to speak about writing Birmingham Sunday and being introduced to an audience of 7th and 8th graders by their teacher as a black American writer. (We had not yet met.) The teacher later apologized to me, saying that she didn’t think anyone but an African American could tell the story with such heart. I explained to her there was no need for apology; it was the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid.

Henry: You’re white!?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Trust in yourself and your ability to tell the story your way. (I lost this for a while when writing STRIKE! because I’d chosen the wrong fact-checker to vet the manuscript. It taught me an important lesson: choose an objective person to check your work for accuracy rather than a friend or devoted aide.)

Do you have any favorite quotes? 

A favorite quote above my computer is by M. A. Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

You mean like PROCRASTINATION? I do love white noise—the sound of the washer, dryer, and dishwasher humming while I write. But since I live in a desert and am concerned about our water supply, I listen to classical Spanish guitar instead. I also don’t like to talk about my work until it’s complete because I worry about using up all the words speaking about a topic instead of writing about a topic. It’s also a good way to lose one’s enthusiasm about a topic. I pop in and out of Facebook or email when I’m thinking about what to type next.

Henry: Procrastination is not a strange ritual. It is a lifestyle.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I would love to have the power to bring peace and equality and adequate food to all people throughout the world (for obvious reasons).

Henry: A lovely, selfless wish.

If you could have three authors/artists over for dinner, who would it be? 

Probably Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway. Picasso, because he was quite randy and lived life to the fullest. He’d keep us entertained. Stein, because she had a unique theory of writing rhythm and I’d like to know more about it. Hemingway, because I’ve always admired the way he could turn the most simple of events into an enthralling story with a minimum of words.

Henry: That would be one lively dinner.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I think in another life, I must have been a chef because I love to cook. I’m told I have one of the largest cookbook collections in the U.S. When I’m not at my desk or in my kitchen, I’m either on my mountain bike riding various trails, in the garden, or at the scrap metal yard.

Henry: C’mon, you can’t say “scrap metal yard” without elaboration. Are you constructing a rocket ship?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Either “The End” or “Larry Dane Brimner is turning the page.”

Henry: Well, that’s a page turn I don’t want to see. 

Where can readers find your work?

At the public library, an independent bookseller like the Yellow Book Road, or your favorite online book retailer.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Click to TweetInterview with prolific children’s book author, Larry Dane Brimner at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-KL via @Nimpentoad


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I am a PiBoIdMo Guest Blogger

I’m delighted to share that I am a guest blogger for Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) at http://www.taralazar.com/piboidmo/

Thrilled to be among such accomplished company.

piboidmo2014


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Interview with A THOUSAND PERFECT THINGS author Kay Kenyon

Kay Kenyon is the author of eleven science fiction and fantasy novels. She is best known for her world-building, especially for her series The Entire and the Rose and for A Thousand Perfect Things. She lives in Eastern Washington with her husband and demanding orange cat.

KenyonKay

Tell us about your latest book.

A Thousand Perfect Things is a fantasy about an alternate 19th century, where there are two warring continents on a re-imagined earth: scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India). The main character is Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist. She is emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus in Bharata that confers great powers. Her quest is to find it, braving the jungles and dangerous courts of rajas, as well as a magic-infused world of demon birds, ghosts and silver tigers.

Henry: Terrific premise! And I love the cover art. BTW, in our yard, we’ve got loud birds and birds that eat our apples and birds that poop on our solar cells. So, all birds are demon birds.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

My hope is always to entertain, to sweep a reader up into a fascinating world in which they can live for a while, vicariously. I also treat the question of how far one should go in search of perfection. When is the world itself enough?

Henry: There’s that great quote, “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.”

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

With novels, especially if they are a bit complex, the most difficult aspect for me is plotting. How to keep the story moving, not just by increasing the obstacles, but with meaningful developments that link the character to the plot.

Henry: I’d be curious to know if you use any form of diagram or chart to track the plot strands.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Not to expect perfection! To accept the judgment of the marketplace and find a balanced footing amid all the pressures of deadlines, marketing and the chaotic world of publishing.

Henry: Ah, yes. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Being scolded for killing off a character. Each time readers respond strongly to something they feel I should not have done to a character, I am reminded how real stories are to readers, and how remarkable it is that they care about the people who live in those stories. I love this.

Henry: Now imagine being George R.R. Martin for a day…

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Work hard on plottting. The first ideas that come to you are likely warmed-over, delivered up by your subconscious as the easy answer. Dig deep for new twists and more believable, memorable stories. By going deeper into your own heart, you will also find writing your story more personally meaningful.

Henry: Terrific advice!

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

My fingernails must all be the exact same length, therefore a bit of filing done as I sit down in front of keyboard. My cat, who is often on my lap by this time, thinks I am simply sharpening my claws.

Henry: We must allow our cats their delusions. Dogs have masters, but cats have staff.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I quite love the character of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Seriously, this guy carries the art of self-justification to brilliant heights. It’s ironic how Milton, a man of the church, wrote such a fascinating evil creature, far outshining the heavenly characters.

Henry: Isn’t that the way of it? The sinister characters can often be the most interesting. Perhaps because through them, we can vicariously be bad for a while without consequences.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Her last book was her best.

Henry: Best. Answer. Ever.

Where can readers find your work?

Bookstores and at Amazon, in ebook and print. For more information, please see www.kaykenyon.com.

Click to Tweet: Interview with A THOUSAND PERFECT THINGS author Kay Kenyon at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Kz via @Nimpentoad

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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Interview with Hugo Award-winning scifi author Dr. Vernor Vinge

From 1972 to 2000 Dr. Vernor Vinge taught math and computer science at San Diego State University. In 1982, at a panel for AAAI-82, he proposed that, in the near future, technology would accelerate the evolution of intelligence itself, leading to a kind of “singularity” beyond which merely human extrapolation was essentially impossible.

Vinge sold his first science-fiction story in 1964. His novella TRUE NAMES (1981) is one of the earliest stories about cyberspace. RAINBOWS END (2006) looks at the implications of wearable computing and smart environments. Vinge has won five Hugos, including three for best novel. His latest novel is THE CHILDREN OF THE SKY.

VingeVernor

Tell us about your latest book.

My most recently published book is THE CHILDREN OF THE SKY from Tor. It’s a direct sequel to A FIRE UPON THE DEEP.

Henry: I’ve read DEEP, and thought it was immensely creative.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope the readers get a good time and be inspired to think about ideas and issues coming from the story (mainly light-hearted consideration of the nature of mind and social structures).

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

By far, writing the first draft! For me (and most people, I’ll bet) it’s difficult to create something where nothing concrete was before.

Henry: Right with you on that one.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Planning is fine and ideas are important, but very often the magic happens in the contingency of writing individual scenes — and even individual sentences.

Henry: I’m reminded of the saying, “No battle plan survives first impact with the enemy.”

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

I would have missed out on meeting a number of cool people.

Henry: Ditto. Yourself included.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My own aspiring author stage is at least one technological/publishing revolution in the past, so there’s a lot I’m not qualified to give advice about. However, I think that Heinlein’s writer advice is still valid and very important (e.g., as related by Robert J. Sawyer at http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm).

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

I don’t think my rituals are especially strange, but since writing that first draft is very difficult to me, I do need fairly strict rules (even as to exceptions to the rules) for getting through each writing day. So there are goals and policies (5 days a week, 1500 new words a day, but those 1500 words are allowed to be flawed).

Henry: See also Sheldon Cooper’s roommate agreement.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Track current science/tech, especially astronomy and computation.

Henry: Do you ever apply your advanced computational skills in Las Vegas?

Where can readers find your work?

Almost all my science fiction is in print (and eprint) from Tor Books. Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (in San Diego, but I believe they also do mail orders) can provide the printed versions, normally including autographed copies. My Technological Singularity essay is at
https://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html

Henry: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Vinge, and I’m tickled to say I’ll be on a panel tomorrow at San Diego Comicfest with both he and Dr. David Brin. I’m not worthy.

vernorvinge

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Click to Tweet: Interview with Hugo Award-winning scifi author Dr. Vernor Vinge at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Ks via @Nimpentoad


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Authors, use Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to add interactivity to your books

Publishing children’s books on Kindle just became a little easier. While authors have long been able to post illustrated books through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, the books were simply text and images. However, you can now add a little interactivity to your book in the form of pop-up text, thanks to the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator (KKBC), the newest addition to Amazon’s arsenal of publishing tools.

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While you can publish an illustrated book on Kindle without using KKBC*, the new program offers two cool opportunities to make your book more fun and accessible for young readers.

Here’s a quick illustrated guide to the new features.

Getting started with KKBC

Once you download KKBC for free from Amazon, your first task is to set up the book. Enter the title, author, destination folder on your computer (which must be empty), page orientation and other details.

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Next, import your book cover as a PDF, JPG, TIF or PNG, followed by your page images. This can be done en masse using a multiple-page PDF — which I recommend, as it’s easier — or as individual images.

If you opt to upload individual images, the files must be at least 400 by 400 pixels. To keep them in the correct order, make sure you’ve numbered your image file names, because KKBC adds them alphabetically. In the example below, I have added a single interior page image using the Add Page button.

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Read the rest of the post at http://thewritelife.com/childrens-book-authors-amazons-new-tool/


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Tips for rhyming picture books

rhyme copy

Lately, we’ve been seeing quite a few rhyming picture books in our critique group. Writing rhyme for picture books is VERY hard. It’s much more than simply ensuring each couplet ends with rhyming syllables. I jokingly tell people to go to http://www.DontDoRhyme.com (not a real website, yet). But for the intrepid few who continue onward, I offer the following tips:

A. Use the metric system. The three most important elements of a rhyming picture book are meter, meter, and meter. There is NO excuse for the meter to be off. Don’t submit a manuscript until the meter is PERFECT. Compose sentence pairs with the same number of syllables AND with accents on corresponding syllables, as follows.

Write the manuscript, capitalizing ONLY the accented syllables, e.g.,

MAry HAD a LITtle LAMB, with FLEECE as WHITE as SNOW.
EVEry WHERE that MAry WENT, the LAMB was SURE to GO.

Inspect each couplet. Is the syllable count the same? Do the accents fall on corresponding syllables? If not, keep working. Note that the longer the sentence, the more challenging this becomes.

Read your story aloud. Does it roll off your tongue, or trip you up. Then comes the acid test. Have someone unfamiliar with the story do the same. If they can read it without stumbling over any words, you’ve done it.

B. Weak rhyme pairs need not apply. Make sure each couplet’s rhyme pair does, in fact, rhyme. That sounds obvious, but some authors choose word pairs that aren’t perfect rhymes. I’m very picky in this regard. I don’t think “time” rhymes with “fine”, or “choose” rhymes with “loose”.

C. No word-fracking. Do not inject patently gratuitous words in a sentence just to tweak the syllable count or meter. Every word must belong. I once saw this done so well that I was several couplets into a story before I realized it was written in rhyme!

D. Are we there yet? Nope. Writing a rhyming picture book does NOT relieve the author of the normal requirements of a good picture book, including:

Voice. Characters must speak with authentic voices. Your five year-old protagonist cannot say “befuddle” just because it rhymes with “a puddle”.

Character development. Your readers still expect you to create engaging characters with whom they can identify and/or with whom they want to spend time.

Plot. Yup, you still gotta’ offer a story arc. Having a theme is necessary, but not sufficient. Your protagonist must surmount an obstacle or traverse an interesting path.

Love or friendship. The story must feature some form of amity.

Show, dont tell. ‘Nuff said.

Didactic is deadly. Use a light touch with your theme. They’ll get it.

Lexile level and word count. It’s still a picture book, so the word count and Lexile level guidelines remain unchanged.

Re-readability. The story must have a satisfying payoff at the end, or otherwise delight young readers so they’ll want to read it again.

I told you rhyme for picture books was hard! And some tales are better told in prose. Does rhyme make it a BETTER story, or distract from an otherwise engaging tale? Good luck! Henry Herz is the author of Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, coming in early 2015 from Pelican Publishing.


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Announcing KidLit Creature Week

KCWbanner2015

KIDLIT CREATURE WEEK is a free online collaboration starting January 15. Prior to that, illustrators are encouraged to submit an illustration to our gallery of monsters, creatures & other imaginary beasts suitable for children’s literature. This year’s guests of honor include:

  • Pat Cummings
  • Rebecca Emberley
  • Molly Idle
  • Mike Kunkel
  • Debbie Ridpath Ohi
  • Luciana Navarro Powell
  • Peter H. Reynolds
  • Brian Won
  • Salina Yoon
  • Dan Yaccarino

Who Can Participate?

Anyone! It’s fun. Be inspired by others’ art. Promote your work by sharing it with others in the KidLit community.

What Can I Submit?

Submit before January 1 an image of any creature you’ve illustrated. It need not have been traditionally published. “Creature” is defined in this context as any sentient being not found in nature, e.g. dragon, ninja rabbit, muppet, talking crayon, elf, and so on. The artwork may be in any media, but submit a 72 dpi JPEG no more than 7″ wide and 5″ high.

How Do I Join The Fun?

1. Paste the small KCW participant badge on your website, with a link to the KCW website.
2. Email me your JPEG with the info listed below (Oscar shown for illustrative purposes). By submitting, you are agreeing to these terms.

  • Creature Name & Genus: Oscar the Grouch
  • Home: Garbage can
  • Personality: Grumpy. Just wants to be left alone.
  • Appears in book(s): Grouches are Green, Sesame Street Grouchy Hugs (not required)
  • Link: link to the book or your website
  • Your name

How Do I Tell My Friends?

1. Tweet about #KidLitCreatureWeek on Twitter.
2. Like the KCW’s Facebook page so you can network with other artists and discuss their creatures.

But Wait, There’s More!

All participants are automatically entered in a raffle for signed art, books, and other swag.

Check it out here: KIDLIT CREATURE WEEK, LET THE WILD RUMPUS BEGIN!

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