Tuesday, March 23, 2021

GOD BLESSES ME by Della Ross Ferreri

Della Ross Ferreri is a teacher and children's writer. She is the author of picture books, board books and early readers. Della's latest book, GOD BLESSES ME, is an engaging and sweetly-illustrated lift-the-flap board book for toddlers.

I interviewed Della with my top five questions.

1. What was your best source of inspiration that led to a picture book?

Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Val. That's a fun question because my best sources of inspiration are my kids! The funny or quirky things they do and say often spark my creativity. 

My 2019 picture book, BEEP! BEEP! SPECIAL DELIVERY, features an adventurous little boy who drives his truck on an imaginative journey. This story was absolutely based on my son when he was a toddler. He was truck obsessed, always zipping and zooming his little truck around the house or backyard. 

My 2019 board book, HUGGLE WUGGLE, BEDTIME SNUGGLE, highlights the sweet relationship between a father and daughter which definitely mirrored our own bedtime silliness. Now that my own kids are older, I find inspiration in reading stories or freewriting or sometimes an idea just pops into my head out of nowhere -- in the shower, taking a walk or driving to work. 

My latest book, GOD BLESSES ME, came to me on  a day where I was overflowing with gratitude and feeling blessed about the big and little things in my life.

2. We hear frequently that a serious writer should have their butt in the chair for eight hours every day. What is your writing schedule like? Do you feel guilty when you write less?

As a full-time teacher, it's challenging to squeeze in writing time. I work in short bursts, mainly at night or on weekends, and can only put eight hours of butt in chair in July and August. I try not to feel guilty, except, of course, when I piddle away too much time  on social media or watching TV. I have to work on that! A bit of fun news is that I attended my first writing retreat in the fall. I can't wait to get away again to focus on my creativity.

 3. As a writer, what have you learned through experience that you did not learn through books or outside sources, if any?

Writing for children is certainly an on-going journey. I continue to grow and develop as a writer and have drawn from many sources over the years -- books, classes, webinars, editor critiques, agent feedback and writing groups. One thing experience has taught me is patience -- patience to keep working on a story, layer by layer, word by word, and most importantly, patience to let a story sit for a while so I can pull it out and look again with fresh eyes. Experience has also taught patience with myself -- patience in accepting that story problems and writing challenges are par for the course, and that solutions will bubble up with time. 

4. Were there disappointments with any of your books? Projects canceled or editors left and projects abandoned? 

Several manuscripts have come really close, but the biggest disappointment was when a certain picture book was on the verge of an acceptance and the publisher changed their mind. I was so bummed. The silver lining, however, is the editor who was gunning for the story asked if I would be interested in connecting with an agent in the hopes that the manuscripts could be shopped for a new home.                                             

I'm incredibly grateful for that referral as it ultimately landed me my agent! As for that picture book manuscript? I'm converting it to a beginning reader chapter book/graphic novel. That's another thing I've learned from experience -- never give up!

5. Finally, any recent good news or new projects on the horizon?

We have board books, picture books and chapter books on submission. Although, it's too early to know if an offer is coming in, there is editorial interest on a couple manuscripts so hopefully good news is forthcoming.

This was a fun interview, Val. Thanks for featuring me on your blog!

In 2019, Della had three children's books published: PRECIOUS BABY, a sweet board book for new parents to share with their baby; BEEP! BEEP! SPECIAL DELIVERY, an action-packed picture book for truck-loving kids; and HUGGLE WUGGLE, BEDTIME SNUGGLE, a playful daddy-daughter bedtime board book. In addition, her stories and poems have appeared in Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, Ladybug, Babybug and Clubhouse Jr. As a co-founder of CWHV (Children's Writers of the Hudson Valley) she helps organize local writing workshops and conferences.    

Della lives in Hyde Park, NY. She is married with three children and two  guinea pigs. Besides writing and teaching, Della enjoys reading, movies, traveling, disc golf, leisurely walks and cheering for her family at running races, basketball and baseball games. 

For more information about Della, visit her website:  www.dellarossferreri.com             



Friday, February 12, 2021

Picture Book Workshops

Some writers have an innate sense of picture book structure. Maybe they’ve taken a few workshops or attended a few conferences, while others have figured it out by studying hundreds of picture books or reading countless books on craft.

But, if you’re like me and have written and submitted enough paper manuscripts to deforest a small park, it can be frustrating. (Fortunately for me and our planet, most submissions are now electronic.)

Perhaps the answer lies in more revisions, brainstorming better ideas or instruction. That said, I’m a devote fan of the Highlights Foundation Workshops and have attended many. They are offering an online picture book workshop on plotting from April 5 to May 6, 2021. 

Click the link for more detailed information.

Below is a bonus link from Diana Murray, who was on the Highlights' faculty for their Getting to Know Your Rhyming Picture Book Online Course plus Onsite Retreat.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Why Do Writers Need Critique Groups

Besides ideas and a burning desire to write, writers should have a critique group or partner. Critique groups or partners serve an important role by being objective, non-emotional readers. They are detached from your words which make it easier for them to spot weaknesses in your manuscripts such as logic problems, pacing or plot problems.

But be careful. New writers tend to have blind faith in their critique groups or be doggedly obstinate about their writing. By that I mean, the new writer doing everything or nothing their critique group suggests. Doing either one is a bad idea. The key is balance. One must be open to changes and at the same time know when to trust their gut and hold firm. Trusting your gut comes with time and experience.

For example: if you’re writing a story about a little girl who dances with unicorns every night and your critique groups says it should be dragons because they’re “hot right now” or make it dinosaurs because “all kids like them.” Don’t do it. Unless you feel as passionately about dinosaurs or dragons as you do about unicorns.

Write what you feel passionately about. If you write to follow trends, it will show in your manuscripts with a lackluster prose.

Finding a critique group or partner is hard, but necessary. Not only should they write in the genre that you do, but they should have some experience with writing or critiquing.  If you write romance novels and your critique partner writes nonfiction picture books, you’d be better served to find someone who at least writes novels.

You may go through several critique groups or partners, but eventually you’ll find a match. When that happens, treasure them!

When you’re done with your manuscript and are happy with your revisions based on your critique group, beta reader or gut, let the manuscript sit for a while. When you go back to it, you’ll have fresh eyes and will do more revising.  

 Before submitting your manuscript, check out the following link.



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Yellow Flags for Finding an Agent or a Date

This is not a scientific approach to selecting an agent or an online date, but a more visceral method. We’re going with the gut! I’m having a little tongue in cheek fun with this post.

1. Do they pass the stink test?

Agent - Does the agency have a website? Does it list an address, clients, book sales, submission information, contact numbers?

Date - Is the person always asking about your bank account, investments and how much cash is in your wallet? When you call their phone, do they only answer in whispers? 

2. Do they promise more than they can deliver?

Does the agent tell you “you're the next Stephen King or J.K.Rowlings”? If so, run away! Be suspicious of hyperbolic compliments.

Is their profile picture a beauty queen or handsome beefcake, but when you see them you check your cell phone for an eye screening test?

3. Do they take more than they give?

Does the agency charge reading fees, submission fees, a higher than standard percentage for representation?

Is the date high maintenance? Do they always complain about the movie, dinner, your appearance, along with a hundred other objections? Is the date always late, never happy, a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately person”?

4. Are they what they represented themselves to be?

A legitimate agency with real clients, book sales, etc.

Is the date as active as their bio says they are or is the date really a couch potato who claims to sky dive, BASE jump, and wrestle bears with their bare hands? (Former lives don’t count.)

5. Once you've signed on with an agent, do they cause more grief than pleasure?

Do you have to make repeated phone calls about royalty payments or status updates to the agent? Do they return your calls or emails?

Does the date’s negative attitude about everything have your friends on a suicide watch?

6. Final words of caution

Beware of agencies that send snail mail correspondence with flowery fonts, multicolored inks and envelopes full of confetti (so you can clean up the party after you open the envelope).

Beware of gents or ladies that keep an overnight bag in their trunk. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

DUDLEY'S DAY AT HOME by Karen Kaufman Orloff

"What does Dudley do all day while we're away?" a little boy named Sam wonders. Mom explains that Dudley does ordinary dog things: he eats, he naps, guards the house, and plays. But in Sam's  mind, Dudley's day at home  is anything but ordinary. Fun pictures by illustrator Renee Andriani depict Dudley cooking up pancakes, playing games with the cat next door, and an array of other silly things. Hmm...is this really what Dudley was doing all day?

I interviewed Karen Kaufman Orloff, author of  DUDLEY'S DAY AT HOME, and listed my top five questions.

1. What inspired this story?

Our dog, Bailey, most likely!  Bailey passed away a few years ago, but she was the most fun, loving pet. She always seemed more like a person to me than a dog. So, I often wondered what she did when we were out and she was hanging out by herself at home. Of course, I let my  imagination run wild!

2. What is the longest time you have worked on a story before you submitted it? The shortest time?

That’s a little hard to say, because I’ve written so many stories – both novels and picture books (many are still unpublished) that I think I’ve forgotten!  I will say that I never submit anything to an agent or publisher until I run it by my writer’s group and get their input. That’s invaluable. Then I tend to keep rewriting over and over until I love it. So to try to answer your question, the longest time could be a year or more, and the shortest time is probably more like a couple of weeks.

3. Did you study English in college? If so, do you find that helpful in your writing?

I did. I started out as a journalism
 major, but found  
I didn't  have the  temperament  to become an  ace 
reporter. So  I switched  to English at my college,
Hofstra University. I took several creative writing 
classes and   always  enjoyed  them. I even took a screen-writing class.                                                                     
I  also learned  a good deal about the publishing
business because, as it happened, Hofstra had a
brand  new publishing  studies  program  at  the  
time, which  became  my "concentration"  within the English Department. I had always loved writing, and studying publishing, editing, and creative writing in school made my dream of being a real writer one day more possible.

4. What is your best advice or suggestions for newbie authors doing school visits?

I love doing school visits because I love interacting with the kids. I personally enjoy smaller groups for that reason. So that’s one thing I would suggest to authors just starting out. Try to keep the groups small, if possible, so you can really talk to the kids, answer questions, ask them questions, etc.  

Also, have a general idea of what your presentation will consist of, but know that sometimes, depending on the group you’re talking to, it can morph into something else.  And finally, keep it light! Kids love humor, so try to be funny, personable, and interesting.  When you’re not sure what to say or if you still have time left in your presentation –wing it!  Have the kids ask questions. They always come up with great ones.

5. Do you have any parting writing advice?

Really, the best advice I can give is not to be critical of yourself
when you are writing a story. The first drafts (or second or third, etc.) are usually terrible, but it doesn't matter. Just get the story down and then go back and rewrite like crazy. 

Rewriting is so important because it will polish your story. The goal is to make it SEEM like it came right out of your head that way, but you'll know you worked on it like crazy many times. It's kind of like Fred Astaire, I guess. He made it look so easy, but you can imagine all the hours of practice it must have taken him to do a dance. 

Karen Kaufman Orloff is the author of many children's picture books, including the award-winning I WANNA series (I WANNA IGUANA, I WANNA NEW ROOM, I WANNA GO HOME). Some of her more recent books include SOME DAYS; GOODNIGHT, LITTLE BOT and MILES OF SMILES. DUDLEY'S DAY AT HOME is her 12th book. 

Karen lives in the Hudson Valley with her family and enjoys visiting schools and libraries. Her books are available at your local booksellers.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

My Top Ten List for Character Building

We can all agree that building characters your readers will care about is essential for good story telling. If the reader doesn't care about the characters or what happens to them, they'll stop reading. Been there, done that. I admit, I felt guilty for not finishing the novel from a well-known author; I was more than two-thirds of the way through. The only reason I read as much as I did was because I was told "it gets better." But it didn't.                                              

We've all seen lists on character building. My list has some examples, and I hope, thought provoking questions.

1. What is your character’s perspective? Are they a Pollyanna or a Debbie Downer?

      2. What assumptions do they make about people? Do they give them the benefit of the doubt or assume they are trying to rip them off, get more money from them or use them?

3. What do they value? Money/material things, family/friends, education, service or caring for animals?     

4. What’s their moral code? The end justifies the means or it’s okay to cheat or steal as long as they don’t get caught?

5. What’s their impossible dream? If your character’s dream was to be the first woman on Mars, it’s not impossible, but the odds are against it, hence my term the impossible dream. But it says a lot about their character. 

6. What’s their belief system? Are they someone who feels they don’t deserve to be happy, but find themselves deliriously happy in a new relationship? How will they react when their belief system collides with their new reality?

7. What’s their biggest secret?

8. What line won’t your character cross?

9. What keeps them up at night?

10. What’s the worst thing they’ve ever done?

Photo by Heino Elnionis on Unsplash


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Writing Tips and Books on Craft

No matter what form of publishing writers strive for (traditional, self-publishing or hybrid) or what genre or age group you write for, you need to learn the craft of writing. This can be achieved through college and graduate level courses on writing and studying children's literature. 

But that is not practical advice for many writers. Many writers, I dare say most writers, take online writing workshops, local writing courses at their community college, attend writers' conferences, read writer blogs or read books on craft.

I also suggest joining twitter. There is an active writing community and it's a good source for locating writing workshops. Use the hashtags #WritingCommunity, #WritingConferences  #WritingWorkshops #WritingClasses

Spend time at the library reading, especially, if you are interested in writing board books, picture books, easy readers or early chapter books. I still recommend reading some craft books on picture books so you know what to pay attention to while studying the younger formats.  

For middle grade, young adult or adult, pay attention to the following: viewpoint, dialogue, pacing, rhythm, setting, sentence structure, descriptions, characters, chapter structure, escalating tension, climax, resolution and denouement.

By reading books on craft, in addition to explaining the different elements of writing, you’ll learn how to study picture books and novels with a critical eye.

My favorite craft books for novel writing are listed below:



DIALOGUE by Gloria Kempton

PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell



SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl B. Klein

 My favorite books for picture book writing are the following:


SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl B. Klein. (Cheryl uses a clever device to explain and demonstrate how to write a picture book.)

My last reference book is THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman. This book lists the pitfalls and common mistakes on your first five pages. It’s important to note that whatever mistakes you made on your first five pages, you probably made throughout your manuscript.

Remember, writing is an apprentice program. You learn by doing. Read and write often. With patience, dedication, hard work and perseverance, you can become a writer and a published author.