FEED YOUR HEAD → KidLit, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

By Henry, Josh & Harrison Herz

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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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.,

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


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.


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Interview with picture book JUNKYARD author/illustrator Mike Austin

Mike Austin is an award-winning illustrator and author. Originally from Pennsylvania, Mike now lives in Hawaii with his wife, illustrator Jing Jing Tsong, their two kids and a dog named Prudence.


For what age audience do you write?

I write and illustrate picture books for young readers age four to 100.

Henry: It’s good to know I’ll be able to enjoy your books for many years to come.

Tell us about your latest book.

JUNKYARD is about two Munching Machines who work together to clean up a rusting, stinky junkyard and turn it into a beautiful park for everyone to enjoy.

Henry: Sort of a mashup of Transformers and BAG IN THE WIND.

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

I hope that readers will take a moment to think about the positive changes they can make in their own community then roll up their sleeves and make it happen! Start by planting a tree!

Henry: My easy reader, TWIGNIBBLE, shares this theme of being good stewards of the earth.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Getting the idea from my brain to the paper. It always seems to get stuck in my elbow! Also expressing my ideas in both a visual and verbal sense. I illustrate my own stories, and that gives me a lot of freedom, but sometimes it can get overwhelming. Thankfully I have great editors who keep me from going off the deep end.

Henry: That’s a great mental image of an idea traffic jam at your elbows.

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

What a thrill it was to walk into the local library and see a little kid sitting on his dad’s lap reading my book! That was very inspiring.

Henry: Nice. “Excuse me sir, would you like that book autographed?” “Umm, it’s a library book…”

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Just do it!” You could spend your whole life talking about your great ideas, but if you never go for it then what’s the point?

Henry: Very true. I also like the related quotes:
“Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

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

I have to clean my studio and get everything organized before I begin any new project. It’s too hard to concentrate if I have other jobs piled around my desk and floor.

Henry: Then it’s fortunate you don’t work in my home office.

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

The ability to fly! And time travel! Wait, that’s two… how about to fly through time and space! YA BABY!

Henry: You travelled back in time to change your superpower wish. Well played, sir.

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

Surf! There is a surf break just down the road that my wife and I try to go to every day. It’s the best place to organize my thoughts. I bring a crayon with me to scribble notes on my board if I think of something brilliant while bobbing around in the ocean. 

Henry: Scribbling notes on your surfboard!!? Love it!

Where can readers find your work?


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

Click to Tweet: Interview with picture book JUNKYARD author/illustrator Mike Austin at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-JM via @Nimpentoad


Interview with NY Times bestselling PETE THE CAT author Eric Litwin

Eric Litwin is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of PETE THE CAT: I LOVE MY WHITE SHOES and three follow-up adventures. He is also the author of the new musical series THE NUTS. Eric performs all over the world and is a popular keynote speaker on interactive literacy. He is also cofounder of the Learning Groove. His website EricLitwin.com.


For what age audience do you write?

I am interested in beginning readers. However I try to write for children and adults at the same time.

Henry: A good book works for readers of all ages. Witness the timeless appeal of  WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is called THE NUTS, BEDTIME AT THE NUT HOUSE. It is a nutty, fun, musical bedtime story. And, yes there are disco moves.

Henry: It seems only fitting that there would be disco moves in a nut house.

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

I hope they get the message that they are loved unconditionally.

Henry: And that it’s OK to be a little nuts?

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of writing is finding time to sit down and write. I carry and little note pad with me and write ideas and edits on the fly. I also edit and test my stories in front of a live audience.

Henry: I use a note pad too. But trying out stories on a live audience? You are brave!

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

I have learned that books are loved and cherished.

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

People tell me stories about how my books where the first words their child spoke. Or that their child is a reluctant- or non-reader, but they can read my books cover to cover.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write because you love to write.

Henry: Yes. Writing KidLit is not the path to fame and fortune.

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

I would be “Sarcastic Man” with the power to make people laugh and feel lighthearted.

Henry: Ha! I have in my wallet a “Withering Sarcasm” card from Dungeon’s & Dragons. You never know when a little sarcasm will come in handy.

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

Mark Twain so will all laugh. Neil Gaiman because he is so cool. And, Elmore Leonard so I can hear more about how he writes so well.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully elaborates: “Elmore John Leonard, Jr. was an American novelist and screenwriter. His earliest novels, published in the 1950s, were Westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Among his best-known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, and Rum Punch (adapted for the movie Jackie Brown). Leonard’s writings include short stories that became the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T, as well as the FX television series Justified.”

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

I perform around 200 shows a year and so travel a great deal. I also like to eat eggplant parmesan and drink decaf café Americanos.

Henry: 200 shows a year!? It’s amazing you have time to write anything. Or eat eggplant parmesan.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

It takes a silly man to sing a silly song.

Henry: It does indeed, which is why the world needs silly men.

Where can readers find your work?

My website http://www.ericlitwin.com

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with NY Times bestselling author Eric Litwin at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-JB via @Nimpentoad


Interview with picture book author Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee began writing novels, for adults, and then branched out into books and poems and essays and stories for all ages. “Have laptop, will write,” is her motto, and that means that she writes wherever she is: hotel rooms, airplanes, her kitchen table, coffee shops, bakeries, you name it, she’s happy to sit down and write. She is happiest when cooking, baking, playing games, dancing and laughing with the people she most loves.



For what age audience do you write?

I write for all ages and in all forms: poetry, novels, picture books, chapter books, blogs, essays, Facebook posts. Writing in a new form feels like a huge and scary challenge for me, and I like huge and scary challenges, which probably explains why I keep trying out new genres.

Henry: Huge and scary challenge is right. Writing novels is a completely different animal than writing picture books. And soon you will run out of new genres. Oh, the humanity!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book comes out in the late fall. It’s called STAR BRIGHT, and it’s sort of a Christmas story. A young angel knows that a baby’s about to be born and she wants to give him the perfect gift. But she’s so small, and the world is so huge, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Henry: Some people are just very hard to buy for…

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

I hope that readers will know that the perfect gift is one that brings light, in a tiny or huge way, to someone else.

Henry: Like the gift of a good story! Well played.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Even though I’ve been writing almost every day since the day I got out of college, I still find it nearly impossible to sit down and begin. I fret and avoid and get angry at myself and silently yell at myself just to SIT DOWN AND WRITE, and yet it’s still so hard.

Henry: Life is filled with distractions. And yet, distractions are what feed our muse.

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

When someone writes to me, or comes up to me at a reading, and tells me quietly that something I wrote gave them the strength to keep going when they didn’t think they could. That something I wrote made them feel that they weren’t alone.

Henry: Nice. I once had a parent tell me that their kid will now eat mushrooms after reading my book NIMPENTOAD. So, I got that going on.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“A diamond is a piece of coal that stuck with the job.”

Henry: A high pressure job, though. 

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

I’d fly! With just my arms! My whole life I’ve dreamed of flying, swooping up and over mountains, skimming through the air, hovering on the wind like a hawk or an eagle. This is my favorite dream. It was also, come to think of it, the inspiration behind my picture book “Only a Witch Can Fly.”

Henry: SCUBA diving is like flying underwater.

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

I love to travel. I travel constantly, by car and plane and foot. I’m a lifelong adventurer. 

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“She was kind.”

Where can readers find your work?

They can find my work in bookstores, both brick and mortar and online.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with picture book author Alison McGhee at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Jr via @Nimpentoad


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