Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Interview with NY Times bestselling KidLit author David Elliott

David Elliott is a New York Times bestselling writer of books for young readers. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife of 33 years and a rescued Dandie Dinmont terrier mix.


For what age audience do you write?

I write for the very young, the middle grades, and with the release of BULL in March, teen readers. I’m currently working on one of each kind of book. I like to have a few things going at once. It’s the ADD.

Henry: Given the slow speed of the publishing industry, working on multiple projects simultaneously isn’t just ADD, it’s a good idea! Speaking of which, I recently wrote a picture book featuring an OCD owl and an ADD hummingbird.

Tell us about your latest book.

BULL (HMH, March 2017) is an expansion of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. I know that sounds kind of highfalutin – expansion. But I use it because the book doesn’t at all change the outline of the myth; rather, it fills in areas about which the myth remains silent – the Minotaur’s childhood and adolescence, for example. At least that was my intention. The story is told in the various voices of the main players, each character speaking in a distinct poetic form. It practically killed me, but I loved writing it.

Henry: BULL is terrific. Sort of a YA mashup of Homer and Eminem.

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

O dear. I think I’d better leave that to the readers. But it would be terrific if one or two saw that each of us has the potential to become either Asterion — the Minotaur’s’ actual name, by the way, meaning Ruler of the Stars — or the Minotaur. Or maybe even more important, the ability to encourage one or the other in the folks around us. We are now seeing at the national level what happens when the monstrous is excited — the uptick in hate crimes, the increased cruelty in our schools, all of that. Our leaders on both sides of the aisle seem lost in the labyrinth.

Aside from that, I hope readers will enjoy the humor in the book and the language used to tell the story, their language (for speakers of English.) It’s resilience. Its playfulness. It’s beauty.

Henry: We should mail balls of string to Congress so they can navigate the labyrinth!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Oh, writing comes easily to me. But writing well comes very, very hard.

Henry: That pesky adverb well again! When I first began writing for children, I was surprised at how many revisions are necessary. Not like writing when in school, where the first draft was the final draft!

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

I think sometimes people feel that publishing a book changes your life. And I guess it can if you’re someone like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, at least in terms of material security. (Uh . . .that has not been my experience.) But here’s the thing: Even after that book is on the shelves, you are still who you are. There’s no escaping that.

For me, and especially since every book is different, being a writer is a process, not a result. I now try to think of myself as a scribe rather than the more elevated “writer”.

Henry: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how collegial the KidLit author/illustrator community is. Not at all like the hyper-competitive Hollywood scene.

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

Well, the most memorable is very difficult to describe, and if I did, people would think I was crazy, so let me just say that a few years ago, I was invited to Germany to visit schools there. My wife and I became very good friends with the person assigned to interpret for me. She is still an important of our lives. How lucky is that?

Henry: So, you think describing a memorable experience will push people over the edge on assessing the sanity of a man who fractured a Minotaur myth with rap?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Accept all criticism as one hundred percent accurate.
For twenty-four hours.

Henry: Interesting approach. Another good piece of advice I’ve read, is never read reviews of your own work. The positive reviews don’t tell you anything you don’t already know, and the negative ones are so rarely constructive, that you’ll just end up depressed.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Here are three:
“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written.” Eudora Welty.
“Habit is more important than inspiration.” Octavia Butler.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Henry: So, Doctorow was a pantser, not a plotter? Isaac Asimov said “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” Then there’s Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

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

My entire life has been, and continues to be, One Strange Ritual. I think everybody’s is.

Henry: Capitalizing the phrase makes it sound like a great book title. Well played, sir.

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

I know from the one I already possess – the ability to eat non-stop –that superpowers are very difficult to control. I think it might be wiser to bestow them on those better equipped to manage them.

Henry: Isn’t it only a superpower if you can eat all you want and NOT gain weight?

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

Not many people know this, but Charles Dickens and the Polish poet Wyslawa Symborska are conjoined twins, so if invite Charlie, he’ll have to drag Wyslawa along. (The original meaning of Plus 1, by the way.) That’s also true of Teju Cole and Richard Wilbur. Then there are those famous triplets, George Eliot, Shakespeare and Moliere. Journalist Masha Gessen and the Australian novelist David Malouf are my alternates.

Henry: Boy, give you and inch, and you take a mile! Wikipedia helpfully offers:
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.

Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian. Cole is the author of three books: a novella, Every Day is for the Thief (Nigeria: Cassava Republic, 2007; New York: Random House, 2014; London: Faber, 2014), a novel, Open City (New York: Random House, 2012; London: Faber, 2012), and a collection of more than 40 essays, Known and Strange Things, published in 2016. He is currently working on Radio Lagos, a non-fictional narrative of contemporary Lagos. Salman Rushdie has described Cole as “among the most gifted writers of his generation”.

Richard Purdy Wilbur is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

As you know, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with The Minotaur recently. I think I might choose someone a little cheerier next time around, The Mad Hatter, maybe. Or someone really solid like the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, in Philip Pullman’s wonderful book, The Golden Compass. I do wish the Oracle of Delphi had a better sense of humor.

Henry: Please note the minotaur on the cover of MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES in the header image above. But, I’m with you on the panserbjørne!

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

These days, I feel like I’m always working. I’ve got three separate and very different (from each other) projects going right now, and the administrative part of the writing life – interviews like this one, for example, are taking more of my time. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to talk about himself?) To complicate matters, for the first time ever I’ve become actively political. Nobody is more surprised about that than I am.

Staring out the living room window into the fields behind our old house is a wonderful thing.

Henry: Can we say your passion for democracy has trumped your desire to focus on writing?

What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?

He wasn’t afraid.

Henry: You gave me a Monty Python opening, and I’m taking it.

Bravely bold Sir Robin
Rode forth from Camelot
He was not afraid to die
Oh, brave Sir Robin
He was not at all afraid
To be killed in nasty ways
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin

He was not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp
Or to have his eyes gouged out
And his elbows broken
To have his kneecaps split
And his body burned away
And his limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Sir Robin

His head smashed in
And his heart cut out
And his liver removed
And his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped
And his bottom burnt off
And his penis split and his…

“That’s… that’s enough music for now, lads.”

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever weird books are sold, but especially at your local independent bookstore.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, David. For something completely, different, check out David’s THIS ORQ (HE CAVE BOY)

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Interview with picture book author Anika Denise

Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, BELLA AND STELLA COME HOME, AND PIGS LOVE POTATOES. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book MONSTER TRUCKSillustrated by Nate Wragg—“a mash up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. 


For what age audience do you write?

I’m published in picture books (those are for all ages, right?) and I have a particular love for rhyming books, but I’m also at work on a picture book biography and a middle grade novel.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book MONSTER TRUCKS is a high octane, action-packed rhyming Halloween book about trucks who are monsters in a spooky nighttime race.

Henry: As a fan of fantasy, starting with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, I have a special place in my heart for monster books.

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

Pure fun! I want them to shout, “read-it-again!” And I’d love if it were a perennial favorite for Halloween story hours, and the truck and monster-loving set.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Probably finding the hours to write every day. Juggling writing with being a mom, promoting new books, and doing school visits and appearances can be a challenge. This year (knock on wood)—with my littlest in full day school for the first time—I’m enjoying a more consistent writing schedule. We’ll see if this helps with my second greatest challenge, which is not abandoning longer works when I hit a slump. Before I chalked it up to being away from the piece for long stretches and losing the thread of the yarn. But really, it’s fear. The only way around that kind of self doubt is through it—and that means showing up.

Henry: Butt in chair!

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

I think that’s it, the bit about pushing through fear. Fear often shows up to the same party as creativity. Occasionally, they dance. But fear should never lead. My best work comes when I let go and dance (write) like nobody’s watching—including my own inner-critic.

Henry: If you’ve ever seen me dance, you’ll understand why fear is present.

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

Sitting on a panel between Maira Kalman and Chris Raschka. I remember being star-struck, with the Talking Heads lyrics running through my mind: “How did I get here?” Bob Shea was on the panel, too. He was reading aloud from DINOSAUR VS. POTTY, declaring, “Potty wins!” in a boxing match announcer’s voice. We were asked to read only a few pages of our books, so Bob never got to the end; and Chris leaned over to me with a wry smile and whispered, “So, who won? Dinosaur or Potty?” I think part of the reason I remember this is, I’d been so nervous. And Chris totally broke the ice.

Henry: Nothing breaks the ice like a potty-trained dinosaur.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The same advice I give myself: finish. Don’t give up.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I’ve always liked, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Henry: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.,

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

I wouldn’t say this is strange, necessarily, but I do occasionally burn sage in my workspace to clear the energy. And I infuse essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint that are supposed to help with concentration and creativity. Plus they smell nice.

Henry: I infuse pie. Plus, it smells nice.

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

Invisibility. For sure. A writer needs to observe and listen. Invisibility would make that a whole heck of lot more convenient, am I right?

Henry: There’s a picture book right there.

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

Maurice Sendak, Zora Neale Hurston, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Maurice and Zora because they were both fearless voices in their genres. And Elizabeth because she (literally) wrote the book on living a fearlessly creative life.

Henry: We all know of Maurce Sendak. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which as of December 2010 has spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and which was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with the Phoenix. I love the symbolism: rebirth from the ashes. It’s also cool that it pops up across various mythologies and cultures. Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Egyptian and Native American all have a version.

Henry: Plus, it’s a dry heat…

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

I love nesting with the fam: reading, cooking, baking, gardening—I’m a bit of a homebody at heart.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She was funny and kind. And made the best guacamole.

Henry: Achievement unlocked

Where can readers find your work?

Pretty much wherever books are sold. (But when you can, shop indie!)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Anika


Fun at the 2016 Orange County SCBWI Agents Day

I had a great time at the 2016 Orange County Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Agents Day. There were a number of terrific presentations by agents, authors, and an editor. Sorry for the poor photo quality…


Introductory remarks from author Francesca Rusackas, illustrator Priscilla Burris, and author Q.L. Pearce.


Rachel Orr (agent with The Prospect Agency) presenting Voices Carry – Developing your Picture Book Voice


Jessica Sinsheimer (agent with Sara Jane Freymann Literary) presenting how to use Twitter to research, network and become a priority for literary agents


Annie Berger (editor with Sourcebooks Fire / Jabberwocky) presenting Writing Believable Relationships in YA and Middle Grade


I missed the presentation by author Marily Cram Donahue because I was pitching picture books to editor Annie Berger.


Marlene Perez (author) presenting I’m Not Normal and Maybe You Aren’t Either


Q. L. Pearce (author) presenting on scary (but not too scary) picture books


Kelly Sonnack (agent Andrea Brown Literary) presenting Query Letters


Stephanie Fretwell-Hill (agent with Red Fox Literary) presenting straight from the Heart: Knowing Your Emotional Core in the Craft and Business of Writing

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Interview with picture book author Josh Funk

Josh Funk is the debut author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling Children’s Books). In addition to expertise in breakfast foods, Josh has studied dragons (DEAR DRAGON, Viking/Penguin, 2016), researched pirates and dinosaurs (PIRASAURS!, Scholastic, 2017), and thoroughly investigated giants (JACK [AND THE BEANSTALK], Two Lions, 2017). When not exploring the world of literature, Josh lives with his family in New England and spends his days writing software.


For what age audience do you write?

My publishers would tell you I write picture books for ages 5-8. I would say I write fictional picture book texts for ages 0-91 (I haven’t tested my stories on anyone older than 91, so I can’t honestly say a 92-year-old would enjoy them).

Henry: Way to select a market niche, bro’. 🙂

Tell us about your latest book.

LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST is a thoroughly delicious picture book about the funniest “food fight” ever! Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have a beautiful friendship—until they discover that there’s ONLY ONE DROP of maple syrup left. Off they go, racing past Orange Juice Fountain, skiing down Sauerkraut Peak, and rappelling down linguini. But who will enjoy the sweet taste of victory? The action-packed rhyme makes for an adrenaline-filled breakfast . . . even without a drop of coffee!

Henry: Coffee? Hmmm. Sequel idea – COFFEE & TEA LOST AT SEA. You’re welcome. Actually, we seem to think alike. MONSTER GOOSE included a giant. I have a manuscript featuring fruit and vegetable characters, and my picture book DINOSAUR PIRATES comes out from Sterling next year.

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

I really just want kids and their parents to have fun reading it. I hope they enjoy the humor, the rhyme, and the amazing illustrations from Brendan Kearney. I’m not trying to teach anyone anything, relay any morals, or inspire anyone. I really just hope folks will grab a bowl of popcorn (or carrots) and open the book for a healthy serving of fun.

Henry: And here I thought the book was allegory about not being greedy, and losing sight of what is most important.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I often think of fun things I’d like to see illustrated, but I need to find ways to fit them into a compelling story, with engaging characters, filled with conflict and rising tension, ultimately culminating in a satisfying conclusion. So, to answer the question, I guess I find ‘writing’ the most challenging aspect of writing? I guess I could narrow that down to ‘story, plot, characters, conflict, and the endings.’

Henry: Note to self: writing is the hardest part of writing. And then, to make it even more difficult, you went and wrote in rhyme, which brings its own unique set of challenges. But at least you find punctuation to be a breeze.


“The whole bed is my side of the bed!”

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

Know when to trust your instincts. I’m not always right (or so says my wife). And when you write, it’s critical to get critiqued by others. But it’s easy to over-revise manuscripts to the point where they’ve lost their original charm. It’s definitely tough to know when your work is ready and done. But it’s important to know when to stick to your gut as opposed to listening to others’ advice.

Henry: Yes, knowing which feedback to integrate is a tough one. My wife has an excellent technique when asking me questions. If I give the wrong answer, she just keeps asking the question until I get it right.

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

I drove Dan Santat to Mo Willems’ house. Enough said.

Henry: Well, I can’t top that. Was Mo’s house a magical land with chocolate waterfalls and Oompa Loompas? My claim to fame is below. 


This is Jon Klassen, but this is not my hat. It’s Bruce Hale’s famous fedora.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write. Don’t think about writing or talk about writing or imagine what it would be like to be a writer. Just write something. Nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And if you’re interested in learning more, I’ve put together a Resources for Writers section on my website.

Henry: Thanks on behalf of our aspiring authors! My favorite lesson is Don’t Write in Rhyme. Just don’t.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Yes, I do.

Henry: Ah, so it’s gonna’ be one of THOSE interviews. How about

“Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

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

I generally put on a favorite movie of mine as background noise. Something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, one of the 8 Harry Potter films, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Music doesn’t really work when I’m writing, because I need to pay attention to the meter of words and a song’s rhythm just gets in the way.

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

Photographic memory. Is that a superpower?

Henry: Absolutely eidetic memory is a superpower, and a fine choice at that. No more having to look up what T-Rex’s eat, or cracking open that rhyming dictionary.

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

Marcus Samuelson because maybe he’d offer to help make dinner.
Michael Ian Black because he consistently makes me laugh.
JK Rowling because she’s pretty much awesome.

Henry: Our audience may be interested to learn that in addition to being a comedian and TV actor, Michael Ian Black also wrote several picture books, including NAKED, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

I didn’t recognize the name Marcus Samuelson until I saw his photo on Wikipedia, which also helpfully tells us that Marcus ‘Joar’ Samuelsson (born Kassahun ‘Joar’ Tsegie) is an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef and restaurateur. Let that sink in for a moment… Swedish… chef. *swoons*

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Oompa Loompas. They sing, they seem pretty helpful, and they usually come with candy.

Henry: A good choice, particularly since you met some at Mo Willem’s house.

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

Read with my kids, tweet with authors and educators, watch dumb comedies, apologize for annoying my wife (sorry, honey – I love you!), and sleep.

Henry: Husbands are genetically wired to annoy their wives and embarrass their kids. It’s what we do. *drops mic*

Where can readers find your work?

LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST is available in bookstores and online. You can find out more information about me at and my writing at http://www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Josh. I can’t wait to see PIRASAURS! This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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One Word Was Too Big, and One Word Was Too Small

Writing GOOD rhyme is hard. We still have to create an engaging story with endearing characters… in under 500 words! Rhyme also constrains syllable counts and meter. And as with all picture books, word choice must be suitable for young readers. This can lead some authors to end their rhyming picture book (RPB) lines with single-syllable words.

If you view rhyming big words as a chore,
Your new book could end up a big bore.
Instead, if you use big words that add spice,
Most readers will find your book is quite nice.

Now, my meter is off, but I had two goals for that rhyme. The first was to reiterate my thesis. The other was to illustrate my thesis with a counterexample. The lines do rhyme, but the word choice is a bit boring. Multi-syllable words are definitely more challenging to rhyme. But their use adds spice and demonstrates a higher mastery of the craft. Below is a contrasting excerpt from an early draft of my (as yet unpublished) RPB, Never Feed a Yeti Spaghetti, in which monsters misbehave at a party.

vampireThe big night’s arrived, and the vampires knock first;
Unquenchable drinkers, who’re known for their thirst.
These two guests are gracious, and always say ‘please’.
Undying politeness is their expertise.

The multi-syllable “their expertise” adds sophistication and fun. I made sure that the meter matched that of the previous line’s “always say please”. I also worked in puns with “undying” (vampires are undead) and “thirst” (for blood). But perhaps expertise, undying, and unquenchable are a bit of a lexile stretch. And, thirst for blood is probably too dark for a PB. Further, using expertise to describe politeness feels forced. The requirements of rhyme don’t excuse us from the responsibility of remaining aware of whether words serve the story and are suitable for young readers. We must still be willing to murder our darlings, if necessary. Those lines did not make the final cut.

Here is a stanza I kept, which (I hope) demonstrates the desired characteristics of more complex words that add spice to the rhyme.

yetiIt’s dangerous serving a yeti spaghetti.
They toss it around like it’s crimson confetti.
There’s pasta afoot and red sauce on the wall;
A dining fiasco they failed to forestall.


Now, get out there and keep rhyming!


Interview with picture book author Pat Zietlow Miller

Pat Zietlow Miller knew she wanted to write books for children since she was 19, but didn’t actively pursue her goal until she was 39. Her debut picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award and was chosen as an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer honor book and a Charlotte Zolotow honor book. Pat has seven other pictures books under contract.


For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books for children ages 3 to 7. (Although I think picture books are perfect for all ages!)

Henry: Agreed. Good picture books, like a good dessert, work both for kids and adults.

Tell us about your latest book.

WHEREVER YOU GO came out April 21 from Little, Brown. It’s my second book, and it’s a lyrical poem.

Henry: Good for you. I often tell folks that writing good rhyme is hard!

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

On the surface, it’s a book about traveling and the joy of the open road. But … I wrote the book with my oldest daughter’s upcoming high school graduation in the back of my mind. Underneath the basic story, is all the love and advice I hope she’ll carry with her to the next stage of her life. In a nutshell, the message is: “Life is not a straight path to the destination you hope to reach. There are hills and valleys. Twists and turns. Unexpected detours. But there are always options if you don’t like where you are. And the journey – the journey – is wonderful.

Henry: And thus, the path to publishing a book is also a metaphor for life.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Finding the time to do it. I have a full-time job and two busy kids, so I’m usually writing late at night or in odd bursts of time. There are never enough hours. Lately, I’ve been writing on a laptop with a very dim screen because I just haven’t had the time to take it in to be fixed. I’ll have to at some point, but for now I’m muddling through.

Henry: But the fame and fortune of being a picture book writer make it all worthwhile. Right?  *crickets*

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

You are rarely done when you think you are. Your story can almost always be made significantly better if you’re willing to work on it. Having this kind of tenacity can pay off in other areas of your life.

Henry: SO true! I think my books are done half a dozen times before they are. Tenacity and PATIENCE to revisit one’s manuscripts are important disciplines.

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

Having a little boy at a school visit run up, throw his arms around me, hug me and then run off screaming, “I hugged a famous person! I hugged a famous person!”

And, occasionally being recognized. I am a fairly average middle-aged woman. I don’t stand out I crowds. So I’ve been surprised that people in certain very small circles know who I am and seem happy to meet me. A librarian once told me, “This is like meeting Gwyneth Paltrow!” I wanted to say, “Um … no … it’s really not.”

Henry: Interesting, because once Gwyneth Paltrow ran up, threw her arms around me, hugged me, and then ran off screaming. Only the screaming part is believable.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

You writing is likely not as good as you think it is. It sounds harsh, but every published writer I know – including me — made great strides from his or her initial submissions to what eventually got them published. And we all know there are even more strides to be made after that.

To close the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you need to immerse yourself in good writing. I read hundreds and hundreds of picture books. All those great words and phrases and styles and voices will stay in your head and come out as you write new and better material.

Henry: Right on. Just as a lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten, a writer is the product of all the books he or she has read. Writers must strike a delicate balance between being a harsh self-critic and having the self-confidence to persevere.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Lots. I adore quotes. Two of my favorites are:

“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” It’s great for writers because it says very eloquently what I stumbled about trying to say in the last answer. To be as good as you want to be takes a lot of sometimes painful work.

And …

“Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.” From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” I’ve always thought it was a great example of the qualities you need to be a published author. You do the work and write your story and then you wait. And wait. And wait. I sometimes quote this to my kids before we head out to run errands on a Saturday. And they groan.

Henry: Nice. I also like Thoreau’s “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

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

I would like to be able to teleport or apparate to wherever I wanted to be. I have a lousy sense of direction, and I don’t like to drive. So often there are places I’d love to be or events I’d love to attend, but getting there is a supreme hassle. Maybe I just need a chauffeur.

Henry: Teleporting is the greenest form of transportation. However, I thought given you have a full-time job and two kids, and still write books, your answer would surely have been “the ability to slow time.”

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

I’d have to choose picture book authors, are there are a ton I’d like to meet, but I’m going to choose Judith Viorst, Mem Fox and Sophie Blackall. My apologies to all the other wonderful children’s literature folks I did not name.

Henry: I see you favor Aussies. For the benefit of our readers, Judith Viorst wrote ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Mem Fox wrote POSSUM MAGIC and GUESS WHAT?. Sophie Blackall illustrated WOMBAT WALKABOUT and wrote/illustrated THE BABY TREE.

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

Read (I always have books on hold at the library and a reading stack I’m working through.)
Bake (If the recipe calls for chocolate, all the better.)
Post on social media. (I love Facebook and Twitter, sometimes to my detriment.)

Henry: Hey, don’t knock social media. It’s how we got connected. Plus, cat photos.

Where can readers find your work?

My website – www.patzietlowmiller.com – has information about all my current and upcoming books. And, I’m part of a blog called Picture Book Builders where several authors and/or illustrators talk about the craft of picture book creation using books we love as mentor texts.

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


My Excellent Adventure at the Texas Library Association (TLA) 2015 Convention

My publisher, Pelican, flew me out to the Texas Library Association’s 2015 convention. TLA is the second largest such convention in the U.S., after ALA. It’s Comic-Con for librarians! I had a terrific time signing books, getting free books, getting books signed by authors I admire, and meeting lots of cool librarians and teachers. I was a kid in a candy shop. Below are photos of some of the talented KidLit writers and illustrators I met.

Highlights that I was not able to capture in photos included:

  • signing a book for a child with the cool name, Azul Estrella (blue star)
  • I approached Mac Barnett, who was wearing a name tag of “Harry N. Abrams”, and said he looked a lot like Mac Barnett. He concurred. We also agreed that he looked pretty good for someone who passed away years ago.
  • watching Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers sign The Day the Crayons Quit in parallel, Drew on the left side of the spread, and Oliver on the right. They needed to be efficient given how long the line was.
  • seeing Dan Yaccarino (the Italian Stallion) vs. Dan Gutman (the Kosher Butcher) verbally sparring to a standing room only crowd.

Larry Brimner – prolific author and all-around nice guy. I have an interview with him elsewhere on my blog.


Justin Chanda, aka very busy guy. Not only is he the editor of children’s imprints at Simon & Schuster, but I saw him setting stuff up, taking photos, etc., all with a big smile on his face.


Dianne De Las Casas – fellow Pelican author


Peggy Eddleman – author of the Sky Jumper series. I have an interview with her elsewhere on my blog.


Dan Gutman – funny and prolific author of Honus & Me, the My Weird School series, and the Genius Files series. I first met him at LA SCBWI 2012. I have an interview with him elsewhere on my blog.


Henry Herz – yours truly signing Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes at the Pelican booth


Molly Idle – Caldecott Honor-winning author/illustrator and all-around delight. She was on a KidLit panel I moderated at WonderCon 2015. I have an interview with her elsewhere on my blog. She hogs all the talent.


Cynthia Leitich Smith – NY Times bestselling author of the Feral and Tantalize series. I have an interview with her elsewhere on my blog.


Meg Medina – Pura Belpre medal and CYBILS Fiction winning author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. I’d vote for it based on the title alone.


Karen Santhanum – Up and coming picture book author/illustrator from San Diego.


Neil Schusterman – NY Times bestselling fantasy author. I met him at the 2014 ABLA Big Sur Writing Workshop. His voice sounds like Jon Favreau’s.


Jon Scieszka – Awesomely creative author, whose name I’ve spelled correctly.


Don Tate – picture book illustrator. He’s cool, plus his hair is the inverse of mine. Together, we are fully coifed. He completes me.


Eugene Yelchin – Newbery Honor-winning author illustrator. I first met him at LA SCBWI 2012.


Jane Yolen – Nebula, World Fantasy, Golden Kite and other award-winning author of Owl Moon. She contributed a story to my dark fantasy anthology, Beyond the Pale. I refer to her as a legendary writer, but she assures me that she does indeed exist.


“A good time was had by all.” – Tea Rex by Molly Idle

 Click to Tweet: My Excellent Adventure at the 2015 TLA Convention at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Pq via @Nimpentoad