Thursday, July 28, 2011

You Can't Eat a Princess Review and Interview with Author Gillian Rogerson

As I've mentioned before, I write book reviews for the Sacramento Book Review. I only review books for kids -- young adult, middle grade, and picture books. It's great fun and I get to read many books I might not run across otherwise. Recently I reviewed a fabulous picture book called You Can't Eat a Princess. It is now my granddaughter's new favorite book. When the review ran, the author, Gillian Rogerson, left a comment thanking me for the review. I wrote right back and asked if she would be willing to do an email interview for this blog. She agreed! Yay!! So today you can read first my review and then the interview with the wonderful answers Gillian sent in response to my questions. Enjoy!

You Can't Eat a Princess
By Gillian Rogerson with illustration by Sarah McIntyre
Price Stern Sloan, $9.99, 32 pages
Everything was perfect. Princess Spaghetti’s birthday was coming up. There were chocolate sandwiches, chocolate milkshakes, and a wonderful chocolate birthday cake nearly as big as the princess herself. Nothing could possibly make the party anything less than perfect … except, the king’s disappearance! His throne was empty. Princess Spaghetti found a note from aliens from another planet. They had kidnapped the king and taken him to their planet somewhere in space. It’s a good thing the princess has the royal soldiers at her disposal. But when they are all busy or afraid of catching cold, Princess Spaghetti has no choice to but to go into space to save the king. How will she find the right planet? Can she save her father? What secret weapon does a little princess use?

“Said one alien. ‘We love princesses here.’ ‘I like mine with chips,’ said another alien.’”

Sarah McIntyre’s charming illustrations are the perfect completion for Gillian Rogerson’s sweet and funny story. Little girls (and boys and moms and dads) will delight in this extraordinary adventure. One could not ask for anything more than princesses, aliens, and chocolate swirled together in an appealing birthday surprise.

Your latest picture book, You Can’t Eat a Princess, is a delightful romp. How did you come up with the idea for it?
I had an idea of using a princess in a story for a while. I pictured her in different scenarios and I suddenly thought of Space. Then I began to wonder what she was doing in Space and the idea of a rescue mission soon came to me. I thought that the princess just had to meet aliens and the dialogue line of, “I like mine with chips” popped into my head.
Princess Spaghetti is a pretty spunky little girl. Did you model her on someone?
I work with young children, age 4, 5 and 6, and all of the girls could be models for Princess Spaghetti! They don’t take any nonsense from the boys and they love making up their own adventure games.  I’ve even seen some of the boys dressing up in princess clothes because they could see the girls were having so much fun. 
 What kind of response have you had from the book so far? Are you hearing from children? Will Princess Spaghetti have her own Facebook page soon?
The book has had a wonderfully positive response. There have been some brilliant reviews. I particularly like reviews from young children as they are so honest! When I’ve been to schools to read the book, the girls love Princess Spaghetti and how brave she is, and the boys love the part where the aliens want to eat her! Quite a few schools in England have had topics based around the book. One nursery had decorated their entire hall with aliens. Although it was a 2 hour drive away I went to see them. One of the little girls screamed, “It’s Princess Spaghetti! She’s here!”
I had a lovely fan letter from a girl aged 6. She has some good questions for me. I sent her a reply and a signed book.
There has been talk at the publishers for a website devoted just to Princess Spaghetti. We shall have to see what happens. I’m not sure if characters are allowed on Facebook. I read a piece recently about a teddy bear that had tried to join Facebook but he wasn’t allowed in.
 Was Princess Spaghetti invited to the Royal wedding? She’s every bit as cute as those flower girls and she’s a princess!
She was invited but she had to stay at Cupcake Castle to sort out a pirate problem. However, the idea of a Royal wedding could be a good plot for a story…
 Getting a picture book published in the states is really, really difficult. Even finding an agent who will handle picture books is extremely hard. What is it like on your side of the pond?
Very difficult. It took me over 5 years of submitting stories before I got my first offer of publication. I did try an agent in the early days but was told to come back when I had had some publishing success. I was determined to be published and kept submitting stories and learning all I could about writing. My first publication offer was for ‘The Teddy Bear Scare’.  I received a publication offer for my second book, ‘Happy Birthday Santa’ within 2 weeks of sending it to the publishers! So, you never know how long it could take for you to receive an offer.
It was at this stage that I got my lovely agent, Eve. She has been so supportive and is really pleased that Princess Spaghetti is doing so well.
Gillian Rogerson
Was You Can’t Eat a Princess published earlier in England? What was the process like for you to get your book into the hands of an American publisher?
‘You Can’t Eat A Princess!’ was published here in March 2010 and was an immediate success. It wasn’t long after that my publisher told my agent about the sale to America. So, I didn’t have to do anything! Sometimes, luck is on your side. I am so pleased that it is out there. I can see from Google searches that this book is the subject of story time in many stores across America.
I have only been to America once and the thing that really impressed me was the friendly attitude of everyone I met and the thought that ‘anything is possible here’. I think that’s why Princess Spaghetti is doing so well as she doesn’t let anything stop her from achieving her goals.
 Oscar Wilde famously wrote in The Canterville Ghost, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Your latest book is published in the States, but the first three in England. What did you have to change about the way you write picture books for the American market?
My agent for this book was American and she edited the book with an American and English market in mind. There was one major change I had to make. King Cupcake was originally called King Pudding. In England, ‘pudding’ means any kind of dessert. When I pictured the king I thought of him like a small round Christmas pudding. But my editor explained that pudding didn’t have the same meaning in the USA. Also, Sarah McIntyre, the illustrator is American so I have all the help I need in making Princess Spaghetti suitable for an American market.
 How was the experience different for you working with an editor here as compared to your British editor?
I didn’t need to work with an editor at all as the American version is exactly the same as the British version.
Your earlier three picture books – The Smallest Hero, Happy Birthday Santa!, and The Teddy Bear Scare! – all have different illustrators and You Can’t Eat a Princess still another. In the U.S. it is quite common for the author and illustrator to never meet or even talk. The decision is made by the publisher. How does that process work in the U.K.? Did you have any say on the illustrator for any of your books?
The publishers have always asked for my opinion on the illustrators. I have been extremely happy with each one. I was a bit worried about seeing a picture of Princess Spaghetti as I had a definite picture in my mind. But when I saw the first illustration I was delighted – she was perfect!
I am great friends with Sarah, the illustrator, and we have met a couple of times. We started out with emails and then a few phone calls. There was a comic convention in the town where I live and Sarah organised for us to have a table. I met her at the station and when we first saw each other we just stared at each other. We both had the same thought, “I can’t believe it’s you!” We got on really well and still keep in touch. We met again at an awards ceremony and when we saw each other this time we screamed and ran towards each other. No dignity at all.
 Sometimes we hear real horror stories about writers having their hearts broken when they see the illustrations for their manuscripts. I’ll bet you were thrilled to see Sarah McIntyre’s whimsical drawings. She’s such an amazing illustrator. Every time I read You Can’t Eat a Princess I found new, funny details in the illustrations. I see she is illustrating You Can’t Scare a Princess which is coming out in September. How much communication have you had with her on these books?
We get on really well and Sarah sends me previews of the illustrations. She is utterly amazing and works so hard. The thing I love most about her work is the small details that she puts in. Sometimes, you don’t spot these until a second or third reading of the book. I have my copy of ‘You Can’t Scare A Princess!’ and the detail is astounding. I’m still finding extra details now. I’ve read the story to the children I work with and their mouths were wide open as I read. Afterwards, I heard some of the girls arguing over who will play Princess Spaghetti at break time.
 Do you have other adventures planned for Princess Spaghetti? I certainly hope so.
I have already sent a batch of further adventures to the publishers. I have many more ideas in mind, some of them my own and some from the children I have visited. I have to make sure that the stories appeal to girls and boys. When I first started writing, one of my dreams was to create a strong character that could have many adventures. I’m so pleased that Princess Spaghetti is proving to be a popular character and that children want to hear more about her.
Do you work with a critique group? If so, is it in person or on line? What is that like for you?
I don’t work with any critique groups. Although I have had a few writers asking me for help – which I am always happy to give. It’s so hard trying to become a published writer. I tell people that their story could be the next best seller that we are all waiting for so they mustn’t ever give up.
 What advice do you have for picture book writers who haven’t yet found success in getting their manuscripts published?
Look at the market. See what is being published but don’t write the same kind of stories. Publishers are always looking for something new and different. Look at author websites as a lot of authors give advice.  For picture books, when I’m writing I split my story into 12 parts as this is how a picture book is usually published – on 12 double page spreads. You need a problem set up by page three/four; it gets worse through to page nine/ten and then have a solution in the last few pages. Don’t worry about describing everything as the illustrations will tell half of the story.
 What was the best advice you ever received on your writing journey?
Every rejection is a step towards success. I used to picture my rejection letters as actual physical steps towards the day when I would become published. Receiving rejection letters/emails means that you truly are a writer. The only time that you fail is when you stop altogether.
Picture your success. Go into book shops and see exactly where your book will go. Google yourself and imagine your name on the front page. Get some business cards printed with ‘author’ on. The more you picture your success, the more committed you are to making it happen.
And, of course, never ever give up.
 Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Have fun with your writing. Write like no one is going to read it, just you. You can worry about editing changes later if you need to. I had a lot of fun writing, ‘You Can’t Eat A Princess’, I thought the story seemed too silly and I wasn’t sure anyone would like it – but they did!
Thanks so much for answering my questions. 
If you would like to read more of my book reviews, please click on this Sacramento Book Review link to see other reviews I have written. Leave a comment if you will. They love to get comments. I do, too. So please leave a comment at the end of this post. And if you are reading this in your email, please click on the title of the blog so it will take you to my blog and you will be counted. Have a great day!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Good Books -- Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt and The Lost Mother by Mary McGarry Morris

This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.  ~ Oscar Wilde

As you may have read in my last post, I’d been having more days like this one of Oscar Wilde’s than I’d like, but just lately, I have to say, “I’m back!” I’m writing a lot and ideas are flowing. This is much more fun.

While I was in the mother of all funks, I did a lot of reading. Two of the books I read made me think a lot about my second novel on which I’m doing re-writes. Both had twelve to thirteen-year-old protagonists,  likable and engaging characters. One was written in first-person point of view, while the other was close third-person occasionally drifting into omniscient observer. Both feature dysfunctional families that are completely believable and are set in intriguing times and places. One was marketed as a middle-grade book, the other as an adult book. This is particularly interesting to me because I’ve had beta readers from eight to eighty-four. (Not kidding.) Everyone seems to think the book suits them fine. The eighty-four year old was shocked when I said it was written for middle-grade kids. She was sure it was for adults. But I had a thirteen-year-old boy who read it three times and loved every bit of it. I wonder if I’m marketing it correctly to agents and editors. But enough about me; let me tell you about these two wonderful books.

Okay for NowOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt is simply one of the finest, most compelling books I have read in a long time. The voice of Doug Swieteck is as clear and direct as any first-person story I have ever read. I hear Doug’s voice in my head, speaking directly to me, as if we had been best friends for years. His father, who doesn’t have many good days, if you know what I mean, is fired, and the family has to move to a small town which will henceforth be referred to as “stupid Marysville.”

My father gave me a box that still smelled like the bananas it brought up from somewhere that speaks Spanish and told me to put in whatever I had and I should throw out anything I couldn’t get in it. I did — except for Joe Pepitone’s cap because it’s lying in a gutter getting rained on, which you might remember if you cared.

Gary D. Schmidt
Doug’s mother is sweet and loving and absolutely incapable of standing up to her abusive husband. His brother Christopher is terrified of who he will become and takes his fears out on everyone around him, but mostly Doug. His other brother, Lucas, is in Vietnam at the beginning of the book, but comes home badly damaged – physically and emotionally.

Doug finds a couple of allies at the public library in stupid Marysville and discovers his own artistic talent when he finds an Audubon book on display there. The beautiful prints in the book inspire him, and the librarian, Mr. Powell, engenders Doug’s artistic gifts. He struggles through being the new kid at school and the suspicions of the townspeople after a theft occurs. He struggles at home as Lucas comes home from the war and as his father becomes more abusive and Christopher becomes angrier, taking it out on you know who. When his father’s cruel abuse is revealed to everyone at school, you wonder how Doug will survive this latest horror. But he is a survivor and this up-lifting story is full of strength and beauty. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I love it and will read it again soon.

The Lost MotherThe Lost Mother by Mary McGarry Morris is one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read. I remember years ago reading She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and feeling blanketed by sadness the whole time I was reading it, yet it was beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down. The Lost Mother had much the same effect on me. Told mostly through the eyes of twelve-year-old Thomas Talcott, this tale is set in Vermont during the Great Depression. Thomas, his eight-year-old sister Margaret, and their father, Henry, an itinerant butcher, end up living in a tent after they lose their home and Irene, wife and mother, shattered by the death of her third child, leaves. The children never give up hope their mother will return to them, but it’s clear to the reader there is little hope for that or for much of anything. Perhaps their stubborn hopefulness is the most heart-breaking thing in this book.

Mary McGarry Morris
The children are shuffled between a drunken aunt who doesn’t want them, the Farley family, the richest people in town, who want Margaret for her beauty and as a companion for their disabled, pedophilic son, and a wonderful woman named Gladys who is helpless in the face of her cruel father and the Farleys. Mr. Farley sets Henry up to end up in jail, and the Farleys take the children in. Things get so bad and so dangerous for Margaret, that she and Thomas steal money and run away to find their mother. Her circumstances seem great, but they soon learn a dark reality. She keeps them awhile, but it is clear to the reader, if not the children, she is not interested in being their mother. She finally ships them to a local orphanage. (My mother was sent to orphanages a couple of different times during her childhood, and this book gives a very true picture of such places in that time. It was very hard for me to read.)

Years later, he would realize watching his own children, then his children’s children, that it wasn’t just him, but everyone it happened to. Because that’s what growing up is. That’s what it feels like. Like being alone. And strong. Even when you don’t want to be, or think you can’t. You just suddenly are.

This is a story that will touch something deep inside everyone who reads it. It’s a story for all of us. Those who have had a good life will more deeply appreciate it. Those who have not had such a good life, will wonder again how one can be strong enough to survive. But it gives us all hope, and that’s a good thing.

Back to the question of who are these books for – middle-grade, as are the protagonists, or adults. I loved both these books. I’m not prepared to hand either of them to my nine-year-old grandson, but I can happily recommend them to just about anyone else. Enjoy! 

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Mother of All Funks or Putting the Fun Back in DisFUNctional

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~ MarianneWilliamson

I haven’t blogged for a while. I have been trying to work myself out of a writing funk of Biblical proportions. So what have I been doing about it? Well, I’ve tried to read my way out of it and have read some awesome and some not-so-awesome books, but awesome or not, I've learned a lot along the way. I’ll be blogging about some of those books in future days. Lately I have been putting my butt in my office chair and staying there for good chunks of time, working on stuff. I’m making some progress and feel the veil lifting, but I still don’t feel I have dispelled the funk completely. But I ran across the above quote recently and thought it was well worth repeating. I don’t remember where I saw the quote, but it resonated with me. I think there’s a lot of truth in it. I don’t know anything about Marianne Williamson except that she is a self-help lecturer. You can look her up on line if you are so inclined. But I like the quote and it’s helping me to stay focused on overcoming the funk.

I went to a writers’ conference in the spring and submitted fifteen pages of my second novel for critique. Unfortunately, it was about then my writing funk began. An editor at a big house read my pages and gave me great comments – very encouraging with some specific suggestions. She said she would like to read more! We could submit up to forty pages. Heck. This is a great opportunity. I had six months to submit to her. I spent a lot of time thinking about what needed to change, what was useful for my story, and what wasn’t. I liked most of what she suggested. I thought it would make my story stronger. But I was in a funk and had trouble working on it. I had a chance to workshop the opening five pages with some published writers and did that. Things got better and so did my story. I worked on it in fits and starts. I finally decided it was just about ready and spend a day polishing, trimming, adding, cutting, pasting, moving things around, and printed it and sent it with a lovely letter before I lost my nerve.

Did I wait a couple of days and give it one more careful read before I mailed it? No. I was done. Did I run it past my critique group one more time? Did I ask my brilliant daughter Maggie or my terrific sister Tudy, two wonderful editors, to read it one more time? Did I even ask my sweet Baboo to give it a quick look? No, no, and no. I sent it off and didn’t look at it again for a week…when I found the boneheaded mistake where I cut and pasted a sentence EXCEPT I forgot the cut part!!! So I had the same sentence beginning two paragraphs in a row. Did I do this unintentionally OR…is it just me being afraid of being powerful beyond all measure? Sometimes I wonder.

I now have an imprint of my keyboard across my forehead. This quite possibly could be a permanent condition. I haven’t heard back from the editor yet. I probably won’t for quite some time. If and when I do, I’ll post something here, but in the meanwhile, I have to wonder if I don’t sabotage myself sometimes in this business. So I’m going to be smarter about this. I’m going to always ask for others to give me some feedback before I send stuff out. I’m going to open myself up to the good advice and experience of my careful editors and critique partners. I’m going to be more patient and more careful and more persistent. So future submissions will be better and give me a greater chance for success. Maybe it’s time for me to let my little light shine. Thanks, Marianne, wherever you are.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Something We Should Read Every Now and Then

Today, I leave the writing to one of the greatest writers in our history, Thomas Jefferson.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Signed by Fifty-Six Brave American Men in Congress on July 4, 1776.

Happy Birthday, United States of America. Let freedom ring.