Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What are your writing roots?

I had a really fascinating conversation yesterday with Mark about how long we've been writing. My writing roots sprouted in Mrs. Biseli's first grade class. Each week, we were given a small black and white picture at random, which we were to paste into our notebooks and then write a story based upon it. I absolutely loved it. I always had the longest stories out of everyone in my class, and my teacher would always compliment me on my name choices.

Although I started out writing short stories, pretty soon I had switched to poetry. Poetry got me through my difficult pre-teen and teen years. In my eighth grade reading class, we were encouraged to do creative projects like writing poems based on the books we were reading. I always went way over the top, using posterboard, colored paper and glitter as backgrounds for my work.

My love of poetry continued until I placed 2nd in a local poetry contest held in affiliation with the Blair County Arts Festival. That was the first time I ever had to read my poetry in front of people, and I was absolutely terrified. Around that time, I also had my first experience with I didn't realize it then, but the poem I entered probably wasn't publication worthy, yet they "accepted" it and also nominated it for some prize. Once I realized that the company thrived on taking unsuspecting poets' money, I could never look at that poem the same way again. But the mere fact that I had won a poetry contest was enough to propel me into high school.

In college, I majored in English and took my very first poetry workshop. Despite some not-so-great teachers, I excelled in poetry. I felt as if I had found my niche. I had some awesome teachers there, too, who introduced me to poets like Nikki Giovanni and Ted Kooser. I also literally got to meet some well-known poets too. My poetry improved so much in those four years.

I applied to the MFA program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh toward the end of my senior year in college, and was blown away when I was accepted. I started there in August 2006. Chatham was my dream school. I enrolled in the poetry track. Although I have mixed feelings about the program now, I credit Chatham for helping me decide what I don't want to do with my life and what I do want to do with it. I took my very first class in writing for children during my first semester, and that's when my writing really started to come alive.

Almost three years later, I have my MFA in Creative Writing with a dual emphasis in Poetry and Writing for Children, have had my first picture book, and numerous poems, published. I can't believe how far I've come with my writing. I never considered writing for children before going to grad school. I also feel as if I have gone full circle- from a child writing short stories to an adult writing short stories for children. I am so passionate about writing for children and feel as if I can be myself through my stories and books for kids.

I have already written my first YA novel and I'm currently almost finished with my second. Writing for children has given me the opportunity to explore many diverse genres.

Now, my question to you: When did your writing roots begin?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Angeline Goes to the Zoo!

Today, July 25th, Angeline will be appearing at Oklahoma Zoo's 2nd Annual Author Expo! Vivian Zabel from 4RV Publishing will be there with a number of books, including my very own Angeline Jellybean! Angeline is very excited for the cotton candy Viv has promised her. ;-)

You can read all about 4RV's involvement in the festival of Viv's blog.

Friday, July 24, 2009's Author Central

Author Central is a new free service from that allows authors to set up their own pages on, complete with a photo, biography, and links to every book written by the author that is available on You can view my Author Page at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Interview with Deb Hockenberry

Check out Deb Hockenberry's blog today for a brand new interview with me about Angeline Jellyean! It was great to be interviewed by a children's writer from my hometown, Altoona, PA. I wish the best of luck to Deb in her pusuit of getting published!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Contest: Help Angeline Taste the World!

Angeline came to me with a problem today. She is tired of living on the farm and wants to see the world! I’m afraid her sweet tooth is back. She told me she’s heard that Ocean City has some great salt water taffy, Hershey, Pennsylvania has the best chocolate, and she can’t wait to get her hands on some Turkish delight!

I promised Angeline I’d help her try as many sweet treats as possible. To achieve her goal, she must visit as many of you as possible! Here’s how you can help:

1) If you’ve already purchased a copy of Angeline Jellybean, let me know what city or state you live in, and what candies Angeline has tried there, in a comment below.
2) If you haven’t purchased Angeline Jellybean yet, what are you waiting for? Angeline is hungry for new types of candy. There are several ways you can buy the book:
*Order it on
*Order it from the publisher, 4RV Publishing
*Go to your local bookstore and ask them to order a copy for you

Once you order Angeline Jellybean, leave a comment below listing your city or state and what candy you’re going to give Angeline. Post your message by August 13th, 2009 and you could win a prize!

Now, here’s the fun part! On or after August 15th 2009, I will choose one person at random to receive a very special prize of jellybeans from, courtesy of me!

Good luck! (And let’s hope that Angeline doesn’t get sick from eating all this candy!)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Angeline Jellybean Book Review on Suite 101 by Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvania, author of the picture book Crash! has posted a review of Angeline Jellybean on Suite 101. You can see her review here.

PLUS Stay tuned to this blog tomorrow, where Angeline and I will be making an announcement about a very special contest!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Self-Promotion: A Challenge with Self-Publishing and Small Presses

Most of us have heard of Mo Willems, Doreen Cronin or Sandra Boynton. They’re all big name children’s book writers signed with big name publishers. They have marketing teams behind them, designing stuffed animals, CD’s, and endless lines of follow up books. But, for most of us, that kind of success is just a dream. Many people these days are turning to self-publishing or small presses to get their feet wet.

In general, publishing with a small press is still more socially acceptable than self-publishing. Publishing with a small press also often brings the advantage of more support from the publisher. My picture book, Angeline Jellybean, was published by 4RV Publishing, and I was pleasantly surprised that I had so much input during the process.

Although all authors need to promote their books on their own to a certain extent, I find this particularly true for those published by small presses and self-publishers. It also seems true that we have to work twice as hard to get our names out there. Since Angeline Jellybean was published in December 2008, I’ve worked hard to promote it both online and off. I’ve also run into a number of challenges. The greatest challenge anyone who is self-published or published by a small press has to face is not getting shelf space in major bookstores. As a result, I’ve found it hard to find bookstores willing to host me for book signings or author appearances. I did manage to get a few copies of my book on the shelf at a local independent bookstore, but the same bookstore never granted my publisher’s request for a book signing. I recently sent a follow-up e-mail to the bookstore, and have yet to receive a reply.

Selling books is a big business, so it makes sense that bookstores want to carry merchandise that is going to sell. Sometimes, however, it feels like just another impossible hurdle to an author trying to make a name for himself. Most of the authors I know who have been published by small presses have turned to the internet for marketing and promotion. Groups like VBT-Writers on the Move, Goodreads, and invention of blogs help books live on even in a technology-driven world. When your book is only available online or though the author personally, it makes sense to promote online. Still, online promotion can only take you so far. I believe that you have to somehow break into the real world to make a name for yourself.

I have thought of a few qualities which authors must possess in order to make it big. Not surprisingly, time and money are on top of the list. Also included are patience, drive and determination. You can’t be timid about writing, calling or visiting local bookstores and libraries. You also can’t let yourself take it too personally when you get let down.

Still, I wonder if mainstream bookstores and schools could be more open to hosting a little-known author who just wants to get their feet wet. At the very least, I would expect more people to tell me no than not return my phone calls.

What do you think? Should we as writers be doing more, or are traditional venues for promotion and readings a thing of the past?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's Wrong with Mud Tour is here today!

Today, it is my pleasure to welcome illustrator Nikki Shoemaker to my blog. I "met" Nikki because she is currently working with my publisher, 4RV Publishing. Today, we will be discussing What's Wrong with Mud?, a picture book written by Gillian Colley and illustrated by Nikki.

Can you tell my readers a little about the premise behind What's Wrong with Mud?

A: The characters in What's Wrong with Mud? are pigs and ducks. The ducks like to play in their pond and stay clean while the pigs like to play in their sty and stay dirty. One day they decide to change places to see how the other spends their day. The pigs get to play in the pond and the ducks get to play in the mud. They learn that both lifestyles can be fun!

I know very little about the life of illustrators. How did you get involved in this particular project?

A: This particular project actually just popped up in my inbox one afternoon. The editor who runs the ABC Picture Book Competition had seen my work and contacted about participating in the competition. I felt it would be a neat adventure and decided to say yes and an adventure it has been! Though this may be a rare occurrence to some illustrators, I seem to gain a lot of projects just from all the networking I do over the internet. Marketing yourself in this industry is key.

What is your educational background and how did it prepare you for picture book illustrating?

A: I starting illustrating when I figured out what crayons could do. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by family and teachers who recognized my talents at an early age and made sure I stayed active in the arts. That then led me to Columbus College of Art and Design were after a year of fundamentals, was advised that my skills were best suited for the illustration industry. I have been working towards the children's industry ever since.

What mediums do you typically work in? Would you say that What's Wrong with Mud? was a challenge to complete?

A: I have worked in many mediums and have felt comfortable with just about anything I pick up, but have always loved playing with paper. So What's Wrong with Mud? was completed in cut paper. Today, I still do a little bit in cut paper, but work mostly in digital format, because it is quick and allows you to do some different things and provides a multitude of effects.

How long does it take you to finish a picture book?

A: It all depends on the picture book. It took me about 8 months to finish the artwork alone, on What's Wrong with Mud?. And then another two months to go through the layout and proofing. I am currently working on a book that has already taken me 8 months and I have another 2 months worth of work, but take into account that I also have a day job right now. So, I work on art in the evenings and on weekends.

Do you go through multiple drafts of your illustrations during the process?

A: YES!!! They start out as little-bitty thumbnails in a rough shape with the final in mind. I do lots of those for each illustration and then I choose what I feel is the best composition. Then I blow it up to half size of the final and do another sketch on top. From there the illustration gets sent to the editor for approval. It sometimes comes back with lots of edits, some edits or NO edits if you are really lucky! A piece can have anywhere from 5 to 10 (sometimes more, on rare occasions for me) changes before it is finalized. Some of those changes little some major compositional changes...

When working on What's Wrong with Mud? what was your average illustration day like?

A: Well, at that time, I was only working on that specific book, so let's say on a Saturday that I dedicated to the book. I would wake up, have some coffee and a snack, go to my art room and get to work. I usually like to divid an illustration up into segments, it helps in making an agenda for the day. So I would say, get all the tracing done by 10:00 a.m., then I would take a short break and play with the dogs, come back and expect to get all my pieces traced onto the right colors. Then lunch. Then I might decide to work on a particular character or the background. I space it out so I don't get overwhelmed or bored with anyone thing.I am working in digital now with the Critter Group book and I divide it up in layers and time.My days are using very different than what a normal illustrator does, only because of the day job. Crossing my fingers that I won't be doing that much longer!

Do you do multiple projects at one time?

A: During What's Wrong with Mud? I did not have multiple projects. But now I do. But I do realize the time constraints I am under and make sure not to take on more than I can handle. That is very important, because I pride myself on meeting deadlines ahead of time if possible, but NEVER late.

What is the best part if illustrating children's books?

A: I love reading a manuscript for the first time and as you read the images just flow, like a movie. Then I re-read it over and over again and take notes about those images I see in my head. The process changes the images here and there until you get to a finalized sketch that goes on to be the finished piece. The evolution of the entire creative process is what makes illustrating picture books so much fun!

Thanks for answering a curious author's questions, Nikki!

You can learn more about Nikki at or

Read below about how you can enter to win a special prize from the illustrator, Nikki Shoemaker.

Thanks for stopping by the What’s Wrong with Mud Virtual Book Tour.

Nikki is giving away 3 themed tote bags and there are 3 ways to enter to win!

  • Copy/paste the book tour schedule onto your blog and leave a comment on Nikki’s blog to let her know that you posted on or before Saturday, July 11.

  • Create your own blog post promoting What’s Wrong with Mud?
    (You can contact Nikki for the Cover image and an interview to post if you want to)

  • Stop by each blog on the Book Tour and leave a comment on each including Nikki’s blog (on or before Saturday, July 11), to let her know to enter you into the drawing.

If you enjoyed the book tour and would like a autographed copy of What’s Wrong with Mud? please email Nikki Shoemaker, for more details.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nikki Shoemaker is My Guest Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, illustrator Nikki Shoemaker is my special blog guest. I recently interviewed her about the life of an illustrator and her new book What's Wrong with Mud?

Don't forget to stop by the other stops on her blog tour!

Sunday, July 5 -- Nikki Shoemaker announcing the book tour
Monday July 6 -- Rena Jones
Tuesday, July 7 -- Crystalee Calderwood and Mandy Hedrick
Wednesday, July 8 -- Wendy Martin and Roberta Baird
Thursday, July 9 -- Linda B. Rodgers and Carli Moua
Friday, July 10 -- Diana Jenkins
Saturday, July 11 -- Nikki Shoemaker wrapping up book tour and announcing winners.

Nikki is giving away 3 themed tote bags and there are 3 ways to enter to win!

1. Copy/paste the book tour schedule onto your blog and leave a comment on Nikki’s blog to let her know that you posted on or before Saturday, July 11.
2. Create your own blog post promoting What’s Wrong with Mud?
(You can contact Nikki for the Cover image and an interview to post if you want to)
3. Stop by each blog on the Book Tour and leave a comment on each including Nikki’s blog (on or before Saturday, July 11), to let her know to enter you into the drawing.

If you enjoyed the book tour and would like a autographed copy of What’s Wrong with Mud? please email Nikki Shoemaker, for more details.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Guest Blog Article by Mayra Calvani

On Inspiration, Allergies, and Dog Books
By Mayra Calvani

One of the questions I’m asked the most on school visits is “Where do you get your ideas?”
Ideas come from all around: TV, magazines, memories, grandmothers’tales, dreams, and even nightmares. In the case of my children’s picture book, Crash! about a little boy and his first golden retriever puppy, I was inspired by a sad personal experience. Years ago, we got a golden retriever puppy, which we named Crash. Crash was a sweet, smart, assertive dog, and he stole our hearts from day One. Unfortunately, he was with us only three weeks. Though we didn’t know it at the time, my daughter, who was only four back then, was allergic to dogs. She fell sick almost immediately with a bronchitis that wouldn’t go away and was quickly turning to pneumonia. The antibioticsweren’t working. Finally, the doctor’s words crushed us: “You have toget rid of your dog.” Believe me, those are horrible words to have to hear. It broke our hearts, but only three weeks after we had got him,we had to give Crash up.

It’s amazing what the loss of a pet can do to you. The one who was struck the hardest was my son, who was about eleven back then. He felt betrayed by all of us, but especially by his sister who in his eyes was the criminal. After all, it was because of her that Crash had to go away. Tears were abundant that first month after we gave him up. To top it all, it was December, Christmas time!

The good side of this story is, we found a wonderful home for Crash. The last I heard about them is that ‘They love him to death’.

Right away we knew we had to do something if we were going to have adog in the future, so we took my daughter to an allergy specialist who put her on a three-year treatment. Three years seemed daunting,especially at that time; but, as you know, time passes quickly and patience pays off. In the end, the treatment worked like a charm and we were able to get another golden retriever puppy. We named him Amigo. Three years old now, he’s our darling, the bell of our hearts. He keeps himself busy chasing the rabbits and interviewing authors for his blog, Pets and Their Authors. You can visit him at

But to get back to inspiration… I wanted to immortalize Crash. Ineeded to ‘let him know’ that we would never forget him—and what better way than with a book? I dedicated the story to my son, the one who was struck the hardest by his departure.

Writing is a form of healing. A book is a very powerful thing. For me,it was the only way to put closure to a heartbreaking experience.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

All about Mayra Calvani's Book Crash!

Crash! A new picture book by Mayra Calvani

As a lover of Golden Retrievers, it is my pleasure to share with you today Crash! a sweet and cute picture book by Mayra Calvani.

The story is about a young boy named Marcelo, who receives a golden retriever puppy for his fifth birthday. He takes excellent care of the puppy; feeding, bathing, brushing and walking him, but he can’t decide on a name for his furry four-legged friend. Mom and Dad offer a few suggestions, however, Marcelo doesn’t like any of them. So he waited and watched, enjoying time with his puppy and then it happened…he would call the puppy….


Tomorrow, author Mayra Calvani will do a special guest blog article about the moving inspiration behind the book.

Pick up your copy at:
Guardian Angel Publishing
Now available in Spanish, too!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Meet Author Mayra Calvani

Multi-genre author, reviewer and animal advocate Mayra Calvani hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico. A regular contributor to Blogcritics Magazine and Suite101, she's a member of SCBWI and Broad Universe. She keeps two blogs, Mayra's Secret Bookcase and The Dark Phantom Review. Additionally, she's the co-author of the nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. Visit her newest, fun blog, Pets and Their Authors, where her golden retriever interviews authors' pets. Mayra does Spanish translations of children's picture books, is co-editor of Voice in the Dark newsletter, and the National Latino Books Examiner for

In 2008, Mayra published her first picture book, Crash! Crash! is the story of a little boy, Marcelo, and his new Golden Retriever puppy. You can watch the book trailer for Crash! at the Crash the Puppy Blog. And stay tuned tomorrow to learn all about the book!