Picture Books, Uncategorized

Interview with Alayne Kay Christian


Everyone’s creative spark can be lit at different times and places. For example, Alayne Kay Christian was a writer all of her life, but it wasn’t until the birth of her granddaughter that she was inspired to create a picture book. Recently Alayne took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about her creative process, the ins and outs of publishing and also her amazing agent (and mine!) Erzsi Deak.

How did you decide to become a writer and a publisher?

I have written most of my life. When my long-distance granddaughter was born, I wanted her to always feel close to Grandma and Grandpa even across the miles. So, for her second birthday, I wrote and illustrated a book for her. The book was titled CLOSE TO YOU. Each person at the birthday party who read the book, ended up with tears welling in their eyes and saying, “You have to publish this.”
Their reactions and comments were wonderful compliments. An even bigger compliment was my husband pushing me to try to get the book published. My husband was really the one who decided to become a publisher – that’s just the kind of guy he is. After a year of pushing me to try to get my book published, I told him that I didn’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published. He said, “I’ll publish it.” He up and started a publishing company because that’s the kind of guy he is 😉 Last year, he did a guest post on my blog titled WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A PUBLISHER? He didn’t cover everything, but he painted a pretty good picture of what it took for him to achieve this challenge.
By the time the editors, illustrator, and book designer were done, my book was quite different from my original handmade book, and the title had changed to BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA.
As for me, once the book arrived and the impressive reviews and awards starting pouring in, I was hooked. I had to learn more about the kid lit industry, and I was driven to write, and write, and write some more.

Where did you grow up and how did where you grew up shape your writing?

I grew up in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Although, I have some stories in the back of my mind that are inspired by where and how I grew up, I don’t think, so far, that the actual place has shaped my writing. I do think growing up in the city shaped me as a person, and my writing comes from me, so there is that. However, I believe that spending time in the country as a child shaped me equally. Each summer, as a child, my family went to stay on my grandparents’ farm in Minnesota. I tend to think that my experiences in the country shape my writing most. Exploring the countryside, fishing the lakes, playing in the river, smelling the barn . . . I could go on for days. These experiences filled me with a love for nature and a sense of freedom that remains with me. I think the last line of the bio on my book jacket sums it up pretty well. “Alayne’s writing shares the creative spirit and kinship with nature that organically resides in her heart.” I think I was born with that creative spirit and kinship with nature, but I believe my days in the country as a child brought them to life. They organically reside in my heart. As an adult, being in the country or having any opportunity to be with nature or in wide-open spaces feeds my soul and renews my creative spirit.
What has changed in your life since your picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was published?
Because my book has been quite successful, by independently published standards, I am much more confident in my knowledge and ability to write, submit, and publish. Also the experience lead me down a path of taking classes, reading books, and learning from other’s in the writing/publishing industry. I now know how to go about submitting my work to agents and editors. I also know how to publish a high quality book, market a book, and work with distributors. I know what it feels like to read my words to a group of children and see their excitement and joy. I know what it feels like to have my mother call and tell me that my book is in her library system. I know what it feels like when my book shows up in my own library system, and my granddaughter thinks I’m famous because of it. I know what it’s like to hear an excited granddaughter tell me her library now has her grandma’s book on the shelf, and BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA will be featured in her neighborhood’s bookmobile. I’ll step away from the hearts and flowers and move on to some other ways things have changed for me. I now have an agent. I signed with the fabulous Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio, late last year. I belong to a huge and supportive writing community, which includes SCBWI and 12 x 12. I belong to critique groups. I’m branching out from picture books into early chapter books. I have a blog, and I have founded groups to support other writers. I do everything I can to help other writers, so that they never have to say, “I don’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published.”

How has being a mother and grandmother changed you as a writer?

As I mentioned above, my writing career really started with the birth of my long-distance granddaughter. The same week we agreed to leave Chicago and move to North Carolina, we also learned our daughter was pregnant. The emotions I felt lead me to writing my first picture book. I’ve carried numerous picture book ideas with me for many years, but I’m not sure that I would have ever written a picture book if not for my granddaughter. I’m pretty excited about writing chapter books that she can read now that she’s older. It is a perfect next step.
On my website for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, I offer my story MAKING PEACE WITH BEING A LONG-DISTANCE GRANDPARENT. I share my experience and the thought process that inspired the book.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
One of my favorite parts of my writing workday is to lie in bed in the morning and think. I get story ideas. I solve story problems. I fill in story plots. I believe that is when I’m most connected to my creative spirit. After fifteen to thirty minutes of connecting time, I am ready to go. I spend several hours writing, revising, reading, studying, or whatever is on my agenda for that day. I take a break to exercise, run errands, and have lunch. I write a couple more hours in the afternoon and take a break to do a little around the house. If there is time, I do writing related tasks for a few more hours before dinner.

Describe some of the books and authors who have influenced you as a writer.

Tammi Sauer has influenced me because of her rapid success. I’m sure it doesn’t feel rapid to her, but in my eyes, it’s like boom, boom, boom – book, book, book. Tammi first caught my attention at the 2011 SCBWI North Texas conference where I heard her speak. I took her breakout sessions, and I sat with her at lunch. She never failed to impress. I believe three of her picture books were released that year. Since the conference, another seven Tammi Sauer picture books have been released. She reads and speaks to massive crowds of children year round. It is just plain fun to watch her career. She inspires me, and I think there is much to be learned from her and her works.
I am also impressed with Kathryn Otoshi and her successful, independent published books: ONE; ZERO; and soon to be released TWO. She and her books are proof that quality independent published books and their authors and illustrators warrant respect and recognition.
Up and coming picture book authors that influence me are:
Corey Rosen Schwartz –
Soon to be released NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.
Tara Lazar – THE MONSTORE and her upcoming book (2015) I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK.
Studying the books and the journeys of each of the above authors offer a different learning experience. They are all great inspirations to me.
Believe me, there are many other authors who inspire or influence me than those I mentioned above. And there are far too many books to even begin trying to mention them all. I limited my answer to the first several authors or books that popped into my mind.
I wanted to talk about chapter books and books on writing, but I think I already took up too much space with the above. Maybe another day.

What are you working on now?

My top priority is to convert some picture books to early chapter books. In addition, I have a goal to get some sellable picture book manuscripts in Erzsi’s hands, so she can start getting some of my work out there. I am also brewing new picture books and polishing old manuscripts. I’m working on taking advantage of a couple unused rooms in my home and making one room my writing space and the other my brainstorming, thinking, and meditating space. And just to shake up my creativity, I’m also planning on doing a few character sketches and going back to some old-fashioned handwritten manuscripts.

You can learn more about Alayne Kay Christian on her website
http://www.alaynekaychristian.com and purchase her wonderful picture book online or at your favorite local bookstore

butterfly kisses cover

Uncategorized, Writing General

Interview with Caryn Caldwell


Caryn Caldwell is a pre-published, award-winning author who like many of us (me included) are sandwiching our writing life between children, husbands, day-jobs and the occasional cat. Recently I got to chat with the delightful Ms. Caldwell about writing, time management and the drive to create.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I am a child of the Ohio suburbs, but I always dreamed of moving west. I now live in Utah (by way of Colorado), with easy access to both the desert and the mountains — just the way I like it.

What were your favorite books as a child? What was the first book that you fell in love with?

It’s almost impossible for me to list favorite childhood books because I read everything I could, and I loved everything I read. It wasn’t until I grew up that I became much pickier. If I HAD to narrow it down, though, I’d say that I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Christopher Pike and was a big fan of anything that won the Newbery. My brother and I also spent many wonderful hours listening to my mom read The Boxcar Children series aloud to us.

What happened that made you decide to become a writer?

I knew I could never be a writer when I grew up. Authors were these amazing creatures, completely untouchable and hallowed. Still, I always enjoyed writing and did it consistently until, one day, I wondered if I actually could write a whole book. Not a publishable book. Not even a good one. Just a book. As soon as I typed THE END on that first one, I was hooked. I wrote several more for practice before I even began to look for an agent.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write by so many things. Sometimes it’s just the sheer fun of figuring out a puzzling plot piece or finding just the right word. Sometimes I have ideas I want to explore or characters to play with, and writing is one way to do that. When things are very hard and I’m having trouble finding the motivation, I remind myself how far I’ve come. I don’t want all that work to be in vain. Plus there’s no high like the one that comes from a successful day at the keyboard — except reading those words again later and realizing that, hey, they aren’t too bad!

How have your various day (and night) jobs (mom, librarian, teacher) shaped your writing?

It’s tough to find the time to write while also being a mom and having a day job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have the other stuff to pull me away, I would probably become a hermit, and I’d quickly run out of things to write about. Having other activities also gives me structure and helps me manage my time better. I can’t put off my writing because I don’t have the flexibility to do so; as a result, I am better about focusing during my allotted time than I probably would be otherwise. That said, whenever I have long breaks I love to dive into the world of my story, and it can be very difficult to surface again.

Describe your creative process – early mornings? late nights? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey?

My daughter goes to a full-time preschool/daycare, and I work in the afternoons/evenings, so morning has become my writing time. That works well since I’m freshest in the mornings. When I’m trying to get the words down, though, it can be fun to write very late at night when I’m too tired for my internal editor to surface. Some of my favorite lines have come out when I’ve been falling asleep at the keyboard, just letting the words pour out. Thank goodness I have mornings to revise with a wide-awake brain!

When writing, I always have water beside me, and I frequently have music — usually songs I’ve heard so many times that I barely notice them, but that I still enjoy. Eating gets in the way of my writing, so I’m not much of a snacker. Cats interfere, too, but they make good company, and mine needy so I let them stay. When sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram call to me, I use a special program that bans me from the internet. I work extra hard so I can earn that social networking time.

What books and/or authors have shaped you as a writer?

Honestly, I think every book I’ve ever read has shaped me in some way. They’ve widened my vocabulary and reinforced my school lessons on grammar and punctuation. The ones I enjoyed also taught me about story structure, voice, character-building, etc. The ones I didn’t enjoy taught me what not to do (or, at least, what doesn’t work for me). Reading has been especially helpful now that I’ve become a writer, since I read with a more analytical eye, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

How did you find your agent?

I had just begun querying my previous book when a popular writers’ blog mentioned an open call for Hen & Ink. I visited the website and liked what I found there, so I queried. I loved Erzsi’s enthusiasm during our email correspondence, and when she offered representation I was impressed by what her clients had to say about her, so I happily signed on.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a young adult contemporary romance. The premise is under wraps for now, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to sharing it when the time is right.

If people are interested in learning more about your work, where can they find you?

I have a website at http://www.caryncaldwell.com. It has more information on my books, as well as a blog. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among other sites (all of which are linked to on my website). I love to connect and hope to see you online!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/caryncaldwell

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcaryncaldwell

Instagram: http://instagram.com/caryncaldwell

Holiday Post

Last Minute Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List…..

There is no better time than the holidays to give books. Ten times better than a gift card, a well-chosen book is a gift that entertains, inspires and can even change a life.

Here are my favorite books to give:


The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

If you have a middle school girl in your family, this is the perfect girl for her. Charlotte starts off as prim and proper young lady and ends the novel as a kick-butt wonder woman.


Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachan

MacLachan’s sparse and eloquent prose makes this short novel a perfect choice for readers from grade second through fifth. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud as long as you aren’t prone to weeping during MacLachan’s many poignant passages.


Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Although published almost over twenty years ago, this Newbery winner is a favorite I re-read every year. Creech weaves together two separate stories which unite for a surprises and satisfying ending. Be sure to have a box of tissues near-by while reading this treasure.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lament

One of the best books about writing I have ever had the luck to read, Bird by Bird offers no nonsense common sense to those of us (aka everyone) who struggle with the fear and anguish of writing. Lamott’s self-depreciating voice guarantees many laugh out-loud as well as inspirational moments.


Kiss, Kiss by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo

Baby Hippo is dismayed to discover that he has forgotten to kiss his mother good-bye! The simple text and adorable illustrations make this board book an important part of any young child’s library.


Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

I love all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, but I have to admit this is my favorite. A fantastical story set in modern day London, Polly has two sets of memories. In one set, she has a strictly normal and boring life. In her second set of memories, she is entangled in the life of the eccentric Thomas Lynn. Only when she begins to forget her second set of memories does she realize that magic, which endangers the life of Thomas, is the reason for her memory loss. A wonderful story for grades sixth through adult.


Half-Magic by Edgar Eager

I was beyond happy to discover this book a few years ago. Originally published in 1954, the novel is a surprisingly modern read. When four siblings discover a magic coin that grants half-wishes, adventures and hilarity ensue. Perfect for boys and girls from 8-12 years old.


The Chocolat Series by Joanne Harris

Three books follow the adventures of chocolate and magic maker Vianne through battles with priests, radicals and small minded people. A wonderful gift who anyone who loves France, magic and especially chocolate!

All of these books can be purchased online or at your favorite indie bookstore. Wishing you  all a new year full of happiness, good health and many, many books!