Thursday, September 27, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Deborah Underwood

The last few weeks I have had the authors of some of my most favorite books on the blog to celebrate my first year writing for children. As sad as I am that the month is coming to an end, it just wouldn't be any kind of celebration without hosting the author of one of my most cherished reads, The Quiet Book. 

After reading it for the first time, I sat and stared at the last page for what seemed like the longest quiet moment of my life, just marveling at the book's brilliance and perfectness. I began to stalk the book at the library. I would return it every other week just to check it out again. Thank goodness they picked up another copy for their shelves. (Little Timmy and I would surely have had a run in had they not!) It wasn't until a couple of months ago that I bought my very own copy. It is one of the books that sits on my desk, out of reach from MY CHILDREN (I know, so ironic and evil) reminding me what magical pieces of art picture books really are. With that said, I am so grateful to have the wonderful Deborah Underwood on the blog today!

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my children’s writing career, but my biggest banana peel moment took place before I started writing for kids. It went something like this.


I decide I’m going to be a world-famous screenwriter. Knowing that film industry success is built on personal connections, I dutifully contact my college alumni office to ask if any graduates work in the film industry.


 The alumni office sends me the names of several film industry people, and I mail a letter to each one, asking them for advice. Do I take two minutes to research what they DO before I write to them? Nooooooo.


 A few months later, my phone rings. The guy on the other end of the line says he got my letter and is calling to check in and see how I am doing. I tell him what I’ve been working on, and then, in what turns out to be the most mortifying sentence I ever utter, I ask him exactly what his connection to the film industry is. Since I didn’t do my research, I don’t know if he’s a sound designer, or a key grip, or what. He tells me he is a writer, we chat for a few more minutes, then we hang up.


 I search for him online to find out if he's actually had any of his films produced. Well, it turned out that he has. One of them was a little movie called The Sting. It won that screenwriting award thingy--what’s it called? Oh yeah. An Oscar.


Me whacking my head against my table, me yelling, me pacing around my apartment, me muttering to myself, me drafting a groveling letter of apology for not having done my homework.

If I'd known who he was, maybe I would have had some useful questions prepared. Instead, I wasted an amazing opportunity and felt like a total idiot, to boot.

I learned a heck of a lesson, though. I’ve had to do a number of interviews for my kids’ magazine and nonfiction work, and I’ve prepared like a maniac for every one of them. If you prepare, you get better material from the subjects--and frankly, it’s just good manners. You shouldn’t make an Oscar-winning writer explain to you that he’s a writer; that’s just wasting his time. Likewise, you shouldn’t make a scientist explain elementary facts about her field that are easily accessible online.

 So all in all, my banana peel moment may have been worth the slip. I met the writer years ago at an alumni event, and he seemed to have forgotten the incident, or at least graciously pretended he did. But I still can’t watch The Sting, which I love, without an inner wince.


Now, I know what you are thinking. When the heck is the Christmas Quiet Book coming out? ( I have wondered this many times myself.) Well, ONE lucky dog (or person) has the chance to win this newest book of Deborah's by doing one or more of the following:
1. Tweet a blurb about the gist of the Banana Peelin' blog series (eg. what one can find here.)
2. Promote the Banana Peelin' series on Facebook
3. Become a follower of the blog
4. Like my Facebook page 
5. Or if you're really feelin' gutsy, you can post a blurb about the perks of the Banana Peelin' series on your own blog. (Two extra points for that!!!)
Please mention which of the following you have done in a comment below. Each promotional act will get your name entered one time, so if you do all five, you'll have a better chance at winning the book!  Best of luck!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Fancy Post

Nothin' fancy in this post...UNLESS YOU LIKE FREE BOOKS and INTERVIEWS and SHARON CREECH! (All unrelated by the way.)

Let us announce the winners for the giveaways held here on the blog over the last couple of weeks...

The winner of Cori Doerrfeld's, Little Bunny Foo Foo is...

                                                                Cathy Mealey

(whose name I couldn't get center for the LIFE of me!)

And the winner of last week's giveaway with Kathryn Fitzmaurice, The Year the Swallows Came Early is...

 Rosi Hollinbeck

Congratulations ladies! WOO, WOO, WOO! (Arsenio Hall arm pump.) Now, if you didn't win, don't fret. This week's author, Deborah Underwood (Eek!) is giving away a copy of her newest book, soon to hit the shelves. So come back Thursday for a chance to win!

And now, I leave you with three things:

The first is a homework assignment I completed in my Digital Media and Online Learning course. I tied in International Dot Day because, well, I'm obsessed with children's literature.  It features some unknown music, kid art, The Dot and my silly family. It's a 30 second clip.

The second is the interview of yours truly that Kathryn Fitzmaurice so kindly conducted and posted on her blog. I mentioned it last week but just in case you missed it, it is still up. I reveal an extremely intimate fantasy I have about myself and a certain chocolate river. So risque, I know. Oh, look. I blush.

The  third is a quote that I loved from Sharon Creech's newest novel, The Great Unexpected, about the power of a story.

"A year or two later a teacher read a story about a young knight on a quest. I remember none of the story except that the description of the knight's shining armor and his sturdy horse and the golden woods drew me in, and while the teacher read, I was the knight on the horse riding through the golden wood. I was that knight as surely as I was ever anyone else. I saw what he saw, felt what he felt, and when the teacher stopped reading I could not move because I was still in the book."  (p. 71)

Wasn't that magical? Now if you haven't, go run an read Sharon Creech's books. Because she is that awesome all the time. =)

Happy writing. Or reading. Or day dreaming. Or napping.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Kathryn Fitzmaurice

I am so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky. In celebration of my first year writing for children, this month has been nothing short of amazing with the authors of my favorite books on the blog. Today, my luck continues with the warm and generous, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, author of The Year the Swallows Came Early and A Diamond in the Desert.

 I fell in love with the characters in The Year the Swallows Came Early on page one and therefore was extremely excited when Kathryn agreed to share her experiences with us. I was even more excited to receive my very own copy of A Diamond in the Desert in the mail, (Still glowing. Thank you, Kathryn!) Not surprisingly, I ADORED it. And I now anxiously  await the release of her third novel, Destiny Rewritten. This woman has talent! (And she is SO nice, which is just icing on the cake!)

Additionally, on this glorious September day, Kathryn and I have a two-for-one deal going on. If you ever get that nagging feeling, like you  can never really get enough of Bananabeth, Kathryn has actually interviewed me over on her blog! So if you want,  you can just flip-flop between us. Kathryn, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, Kathryn. I suddenly have the urge to sing... It's raining blogs! Hallelujah! ...Oh yeahhhhhh....Heeeee...

Eh hem.

 I feel just so honored to have her on the blog today. Please welcome the lovely, Kathryn Fitzmaurice!

Thank you, Elizabeth, for asking me to participate in your banana peelin series.  I am delighted to be included and could share many different moments where I was caught off guard, but one in particular stands out. 

In August of 2009, after my first middle grade novel, THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY, was released, I received an email from my wonderful editor at HarperCollins informing me that the book had been nominated by SCIBA (Southern California Independent Booksellers Association) for their annual book awards.  I was so excited to be included in the nominations along with Michael Grant for his book entitled, HUNGER, and DJ MacHale, for his book entitled, PENDRAGON BOOK 10.  The awards ceremony was to be held the last weekend in October, on the exact same day as a Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators conference in Ventura, CA, where I was scheduled to speak as a spotlight presenter.  As a spotlight presenter, I was to give a ten-minute speech about my road to publication, my personal experiences about writing, etc. etc. There were four authors giving spotlight speeches, all fit neatly in between editors and agents.  


Just so you know, and for those not familiar with southern California freeways, to get to Ventura from my home in Monarch Beach is at least a two-hour drive (without traffic).  Then to drive back down to Los Angeles after my speech was another one and a half hours (again, without traffic).  I had committed to giving the speech months before I knew about the awards ceremony, and was looking forward to being a part of the conference, so I did what any writer would do: I left at five am to get to Ventura before the traffic hit, gave my ten minute speech, (a PowerPoint, entitled Dear Ghost of Eleanor Robinson, about the influence my grandmother, an author of science fiction novels, had on me), and then at lunch time, I left in order to have enough time to arrive in Los Angeles for the awards ceremony. 


I checked into the hotel so I could change my clothes and waited for my amazing agent, Jennifer Rofe, to knock on my door so we could attend together.  When she arrived, we decided to have a quick drink at the bar, (I had water, of course), and we got to talking about this and that, when I realized we were a bit late.  So we immediately rushed to the ceremony only to walk in AS IT WAS STARTING!  Someone (I think a woman) was welcoming everyone at the podium, talking into a microphone, there was applause, and then everything sort of stalled in my mind.  I was SO COMPLETELY and TOTALLY EMBARRASSED.  I had to thread my way through the huge crowd, through tables with fifteen people seated at each one, as everyone in the room watched (at least if felt like everyone).  When I finally found my seat, which seemed to take several minutes, I settled in and waited, listening to the other awards being named.  When the award for the middle grade book came up, Michael Grant was chosen as the winner.  I remember Jennifer turned and gave me sort of a sad face, but deep inside, although I was disappointed, I was really okay.  I got to sit back and listen to his very funny speech, (Michael Grant is a funny guy), and the whole time I kept thinking what an honor it was to be nominated, even though for those few minutes as I walked into that huge room with what felt like hundreds of people watching me find my seat, I completely wanted to disappear!

Kathryn is so incredibly kind and generous, she has agreed to give away a signed copy of The Year the Swallows Came Early ! Please leave a comment below indicating you are interested. The winner will be chosen through and will be announced next week!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Cori Doerrfeld

As a female, I feel I can do it all. I can work, I can blog, I can mother, I can wife, I can neighbor, I can student, I can write, I can read, I can be a fitness goddess.... Ah, well, something's gotta give. We are amazing, us women. And Cori Doerrfeld is no exception. Please welcome the author/illustrator Cori Doerrfeld, a woman who did it all and lived to tell about it.

At some level I feel my entire career as an author/illustrator of picture books has been one banana peel moment after another.  Even though I have published books, that real people can buy at real bookstores, I still somehow struggle to feel successful.  I will say that yes, getting that very first book deal is not easy.  That is often what people want to know from me.  How does one get a book published?  How does one even get a manuscript read by an editor or illustrations seen by an art director? And those are all good questions…but I feel like people don't often think about what happens next.  What IF you get that book deal?  What is it really like to make a living as a freelancer?  I want to share the banana peel moments that I never even saw coming…because I too had never thought beyond my first book deal.

 I did not write my very first published picture book, Brooke Shields did.  And I know that getting to do a book with a celebrity is a once-in-a-lifetime, amazing, true luck experience.  I AM grateful.  But it was not exactly what I imagined it to be.  The book did not lead me to fame and fortune.  First off the fame…no I  never met Brooke Shields.  In fact I never even spoke with her…not even over e-mail.  But that's actually very typical for any author and illustrator working on a book…communication is all done through the editor.  But still…to this day if someone finds out about my book, the first thing they ask is, "Did you get to meet Brooke Shields?" That is what gets people excited, not the book itself.  So naturally I disappoint. 
 As for fortune, I left my full-time job to illustrate the book thinking I would be completely financially secure with a sure best-seller.  Everyone loves celebrities, right?  The reality is that most books don't turn into best-sellers.  I received one royalty check and that is all.  I'm not sure if people consider that as a freelancer,  you truly have no control over whether you make money or not. I know it was a big reality check for me.  The Brooke Shields book was a wonderful experience, but in the end I made more as a nanny…and that income was guaranteed.

 Now the first book did well enough that they hired me to illustrate a second book with Brooke Shields.  This is what lead to perhaps the biggest banana peel of my career.  As I pointed out above, I was in no position to turn down work.  Having left my job, I needed to agree to any book that came my way so I could continue to pay basic bills.  So even though I was about to give birth to my first child, I agreed to illustrate the book.  I know now that I simply didn't understand what having a baby would be like.  Most women take a maternity leave.  Nobody is crazy enough to think that they can give birth and immediately begin work on a very demanding, high-profile job. 
I know now that I was wrong.  I slipped the hardest I ever have in my entire life.  Now for the moms out there, I don't need to go into how exhausting a newborn can be, or how you need to recover not only physically, but mentally, and emotionally.  Life is never the same after a baby is born.  I never considered being up all hours of the night with a colicky baby.  I never considered the strain it would put on my marriage.  I never considered that I wouldn't be able to somehow both care for my tiny infant and create 32 pages of hand-painted, full color art in less than three months.  I guess it is no surprise that I ended up with postpartum depression and a sense of inadequacy about myself as both a creator and a mother that still haunts me today. 
The ironic thing about it all, is that Brooke Shields herself is famous for her battle with postpartum depression.  A fact that didn't really buy much sympathy from the publisher, although they did send me a copy of Brooke's book, "Down Came the Rain".  In the end I did manage to finish the book on time with a small deadline extension.  Seeing the art now is like looking at something painted by someone else.  I cannot even remember how or when I painted that book…but I did. 

My daughter is now four years old, and even has a little brother.  The second time around, I had nothing to work on.  My son's birth and babyhood has been mine to savor.   On the flip-side, nothing to work on does mean no money…but I think being able to treasure the first months of your child's life with even a shred of sanity is worth all the fame and fortune in the world. 

Cori has offered to give away one of my family's favorite books, Little Bunny Foo Foo.  Just leave a comment below describing when you plopped a little too much onto your plate. (This book is fabulous for those times when you DO have too much going on and just feel like bopping something/someone on the head.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Week of Ups

And it's off. My macho manuscript is off to two publishing houses in New York. I don't think I've mailed something to New York since the time I ordered some magic hair potion advertised in the back pages of Teen Magazine!

As you can see, it didn't help.

Fingers are crossed. (For both the manuscript and the long awaited results of the hair potion.)

I would say that this is the "Up" in, Banana Peelin': The Ups and Downs of Becoming a Writer. In fact, this whole week has been an "up": One manuscript as ready as it will ever be in the mail, a new manuscript coming to me in sleep, and a banana peelin' blurby blurb from one of my favorites, Sharon Creech.

But oh wait, it gets better. One of my most cherished writing buddies, Heather Newman, wrote the most flattering write-up about ME,( yes me!) on Marcie Colleen's wonderful Friendspiration series. I was and still am taken aback by the effort and kind words not only contributed by Heather, but also by many other writing friends that I have come to know and love this past year. Thank you so much all of you.

But oh wait, it gets better. This week I have two more things to which I can look forward.

Wednesday, I will be on author, Susanna Leonard Hill's, Would You Read It? series, where I will share an awful picture book pitch that is dying to be pruned. Feel free to come help this sista out by leaving your suggestions.

Thursday, I have the wonderful author/illustrator Cori Doerrfeld, on the blog, sharing her experiences balancing work and a new family. I think as passionate driven people, we have all had too much on our plate. Cori's heartfelt and honest post is part of my month long tribute to authors of my favorite books. In case you don't have your copy of Cori's, Little Bunny Foo Foo, I highly recommend picking one up. It is silly, demented in the best way possible, and beautifully illustrated. A must have for our family!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Banana Peelin' with...Sharon Creech? A Little Blurby-Blurb

So this month marks the end of my FIRST YEAR writing for children.  I have found my passion.  I have always loved children's literature. As a teacher I would try to stuff it down my students' throats. I made whole semester-long units based around a single book. After my own kiddos came into the picture, I finally had a reason to flood our bookshelves with wonderful picture books. Last Fall, inspired by a Literature for a Multicultural World course (Thanks Dr. Bercaw!), I was inspired to create my very own stories. It just made sense. It clicked. Light shined upon my little head and angels sang.  I know I am a newbie, a small, and tender newborn in what literary agent Brenda Bowen calls a, "bunny eat bunny" industry, but please don't judge me, yet.

You see, my goal was to get the authors of my favorite children's books to post this month on the blog. A celebratory event, if you will. Well, I just idolize Sharon Creech. I think her writing is quirky and beautiful, rich and profound all rolled into one. So I contacted her via Facebook. Do you see how I can have a whole blog dedicated to Banana Peel moments? I just set myself up for them. I mean, I was contacting Sharon Creech for Pete's sake! What was I thinking?!

But luckily, she was kind enough to reply with a blurby blurb for which I will be forever grateful! I have adjusted the font size to create the illusion it is longer. =) How's that for more bang for your buck?!

Here's one: Several years ago, while traveling, I stopped in a bookstore. Noticing that Creech titles were well represented, I offered to sign them. The clerk eyed me suspiciously. "Do you have any proof of identification?" she asked. All I had was ID under my (other) married name. I opened one of the books and showed my photo. She studied it. "Doesn't look like you," she said. She did not let me sign my books.

Woo hoo! Yes. Her words graced my inbox inbox! Now, let's all go out and buy her latest middle grade novel, The Great Unexpected, out this week. Be sure to  check her blog or her website for a list of her work as well as her upcoming releases. Did I mention she writes so beautifully that it'll make ya wanna laugh AND cry and sometimes do both at the SAME TIME?!

AND stay tuned this month for real-life, blog visits (of normal length and font size) from authors of some of my most cherished books!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blue Light Anniversary Special

Hear ye, hear ye. By the royal banana peeler vested in me, I announce this month's blue light, anniversary special:

To celebrate my first year writing for children, the authors of some of my most favorite books will be on the blog!!!

Cori Doerrfeld of Little Bunny Foo Foo
Kathryn Fitzmaurice of The Year the Swallows Came Early
Deborah Underwood of The Quiet Book
and this week, a blurby blub from Sharon Creech of Walk Two Moons!

Woot! It shall be a royal, mushy, wonderful mess!