A New Year: Time to Review Your Vision Board

 

By

Gloria Reichert

 

A new year calls us to assess what is going well in our lives and what might need to be revised or changed. This emphasis on reassessing provides an opportunity to reexamine our goals and the dreams we have for our futures. If you have created a vision board to help you achieve your goals, now is the time to take a look at it.

What successes did you have? Did you get that book deal? Make plans for a writing retreat? Become more organized? Take a course? Clean the basement? Earn more money?

What goals still remain? What new goals do you have? These can be part of a new vision board for this year. Details for making a vision board and the philosophy behind them can be found in this blog’s archives in the article Nothing Happens Lest First You Dream: Vision Boards posted in March of 2022. Here are the highlights about making vision boards.     

First, set a timer for 10-15 minutes. In this time, list all of the goals you wish to achieve in the coming year. Include all areas of your life – not just writing.    


Next, read through you goals. Analyze them and think about how you might categorize them. Categories might be things like Long Term Goals, Short Term Goals, Financial Goals, Self- Care Goals, or Writing Goals. Then, set a timer for 20 minutes and categorize the goals. Decide what it is that you most want to achieve.

         Now comes the fun part of actually creating your new vision board. Create a collage of pictures, text, artifacts, stickers, and drawings. Examples of vision boards are available on Pinterest and Etsy if you need some guidance. On-line templates are available for those who wish to complete a vision board digitally.

          Decide on a key word to guide you through the coming year. Examples are focus, bravery, dedication, success. Choose a word that is important to you and make sure to include it prominently on your vision board.

Place your completed vision board in an area where you will see it every day. Some folks put them on their phones or laptops or in their journals.


As the year rolls on, look at your vision board often. By viewing these goals frequently, your subconscious mind will work on them. Believe that you can achieve your goals and be willing to put in the necessary effort, so that at this year’s end, you will be able to look at your vision board and marvel at what you have achieved!

Good luck with all of your endeavors! 

   

Launch 2024 with an Explosion of Ideas!

 

by author/illustrator Wendy Fedan, our guest blogger

 

     It seems appropriate for the New Year to share some resources with you that have helped me over the past several years to come up with more book ideas and marinate myself to create goals toward my book business. I join many different online communities, programs and workshops to help motivate me as a writer. Writing is such a solitary practice and I often need that extra PUSH from the outside world to motivate me to get my rear end in gear and get another book done! I have found each and every one valuable to help me through the year. I encourage you to check these resources out for yourself and see if any of them seem worthwhile to try out.

 

JANUARY:

STORYSTORM (formerly called Picture Book Idea Month)

 
     This is a blog that runs ONLY through the month of January, so hop on this quickly if you want to try out this free 31-day challenge.

     Run by author, Tara Lazar, this challenge has encouraged me to keep a journal of ideas through the month of January. The object of the challenge is to come up with a story idea every day. I’ve gone through the challenge for many years now, and no - I have not always won the challenge, but I don’t let that get me down. Regardless of whether I successfully finished the challenge, I still ended the month of January with more story ideas than I had when I started. It’s interesting what happens when you force yourself to come up with ideas. Most ideas won’t go anywhere, but you are guaranteed at least a handful of ideas with promise.

     This challenge is one of my personal favorites. Some pitiful ideas I simply jotted down in order to check that day off, but I would go back to those bad ideas later and find a smidgen of worthiness that would stem off into another book idea. You just never know what a bad idea can possibly morph into.

 

JANUARY through DECEMBER

12X12 CHALLENGE (12 picture books in 12 months)

      This is a paid membership challenge so it could be less appealing for you, but if you are gung ho about really making progress this year (or some year), it’s a good challenge to try. It’s very intensive, but if you are truly dedicated I highly recommend doing it. You receive critiques on your work from your peers and you also receive some perks to have your work looked at by actual publishers. I have tried it myself and never actually finished the challenge, but it was worthwhile to learn what this community is all about and I received some valuable feedback on a book I eventually self published.

 

APRIL, JULY & NOVEMBER

NANOWRIMO & CAMP NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month)

      NaNoWriMo is a month-long free writing challenge which is simply to reach a word count goal within the span of a month. Although this challenge is meant for novel writers, you can set any goal you really want for yourself. The standard NaNoWriMo goal is to write 50K words in a month. Personally I have never gotten better than 40K words, but the way I see it, if it wasn’t for the challenge, that is 40K more words than I would have written if I had NOT tried the challenge. There is an online community forum to find peers to help encourage you along the way, and my personal favorite part of it is the opportunity you’ll find in the forum to swap postcards with as many fellow writers as you want to send encouraging words to by snail mail - and even care packages. There are some months that the postcard swaps are all I really do - and it’s inspirational enough just sending encouraging notes to my fellow writers.

      Remember, you can join in on these challenges, but try not to judge yourself too harshly if you poop out halfway through them. Have fun with the challenges and simply let your imagination run free. Even the worst idea can be modeled into something, whether it’s a new character, a different story angle, a location you’ve never thought of before - simply because you pushed yourself to think of another idea in order to meet that challenge.

I wish you a productive new year filled with exciting new story ideas!

 


Wendy Carrick Fedan is a freelance illustrator working in Amherst, Ohio. She has self published ten books of her own and has designed and illustrated eight books for other self published authors. Her books have won several awards in recent years Including The BookFest Awards, Mom’s Choice Awards, Reader’s Favorite, and Northern Lights Book Award. She has her own publishing label called Create-a-Way Design & Publishing and acts as a Book Shepherd to many other writers looking to self publish. You can find Wendy on her Facebook page, LinkedIn, Instagram, and her website.

'Tis the Season! Check out these holiday children's books!

                                        

                                           




Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas

by Matt Taveres

A heartwarming Christmas story about helping others.

Ages 4-8.




                            Finding a Dove for Gramps                                            
          A story featuring the Audubon Christmas

            Bird Count by author and literary agent,

      Lisa Amstutz. Ages 4-8.








I Heard Christmas Whisper

by Janice Garden MacDonald

A scruffy dog and a Christmas tree

make friends, but what will happen

when Christmas is over?

Ages 2-6.





The Very Hungry Caterpillar's
8 Nights of Chanukah

by Eric Carle

Follow the Very Hungry Caterpillar

through 8 nights of Chanukah in this

board book for ages 1-3.









The KIDS Book of Challah

by Rochie Pinson

Bring the whole family together for some

warm holiday baking.

Ages 8-14.






                   Awe-some Days: Poems About the Jewish Holidays

by Marilyn Singer

    An introduction to all the Jewish holidays and

traditions through poetry.

Ages 5-8. 









Celebrate Kwanzaa

by Caroline Otto

Celebrate family, friends, and community

with this book from National Geographic.

Ages 6-8.







The Night Before Kwanzaa

by Natasha Wing & Kirsti Jewel

A Kwanzaa story written in the style of

'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Ages 4-6.








The People Remember: 
A Kwanzaa Holiday Book for Kids

by Ibi Zoboi

This lyrical picture book teaches history

through the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Ages 4-8.

The Writing Life: Putting Yourself Out There

 by Jean Daigneau


When I sold my first two picture books over 20 years ago, I couldn’t know

 that not only would those books never be published, it would take almost 20

  more years to see my first book in print.

Happily, just over 2 years later, my second nonfiction book was published by

Chicago Review Press as well.

Early on my writing journey, I attended a writers’ event where picture book author Eric Kimmel put a scenario to the attendees. Kimmel had us imagine having a crystal ball and seeing a future where we would never get published. Only if we continued to write anyway, he said, would we have what it takes to pursue publication.

            If anyone had told me then what a roller-coaster

 ride pursuing publication would be, I might not have

 believed it. Actually, I’m not sure I would have stuck it

 out. Over those years, through rejection after rejection,

 my late husband always asked, “But are you having

 fun?” whenever I complained about the challenging,

 changing world of children’s publishing. My answer

 always sounded like, “Oh yeah! I’m learning amazing stuff. I’m having fun. I’ve met interesting

 authors, editors, and agents. I’ve made wonderful friends.”

            Writing then and even more today is a lot about taking risks. It means putting yourself out there and taking advantage of opportunities you might not otherwise have considered. It means getting involved in writers’ organizations, attending events whenever possible, finding critique partners, and giving your writing as much priority as you possibly can. It means taking rejections with a thick skin and getting back to the keyboard the next day and the next and the next.

While it took me two decades to get a book

 published, I’ve sold greeting card text, educational

 testing material, nonfiction children’s poetry and

 crafts, and adult freelance articles. I’ve appeared on

 local television and radio and presented at writers’

 events, and I write a quarterly column for

  Children’s Book Insider. I’m blessed to be

 represented by Vicki Selvaggio of Storm Literary

 Agency. None of these opportunities were on my radar when I first considered publishing.

         Today, writing is more challenging than ever. The industry has faced challenges, not the least of which was an epidemic. My critique partners and I often question why we write. But then one of us usually answers, “Because we can’t not do it.” As hard as it is to admit, Eric Kimmel was right. These days, I’m sticking my neck out further with an adult project. This story came to me because of a family connection, and I never saw it coming. While I regularly remind my co-writer, “I write for kids,” I know I’d be foolish not to at least try.

            Because, in the end, it’s about putting myself out there. Day after day after day. The worst that can happen is that I never see this project published. But then again, maybe someday I will.

Jean also co-owns a freelance critique editing service, Two-4-One Kid Critiques, LLC. Learn more about Jean on her website: https://jeandaigneau.com/


TIPS TO TICKLE THEIR FUNNY BONES

 

                           By

                  Gloria Reichert


At a recent conference, a presenter reminded us that one way to make our picture books stand out in a crowded market is to use humor. But how do I do that? If you, like me, are not naturally funny, writing humor is HARD! Wanting to improve my humor writing skills led to some research. So whether you wish to write a totally hilarious book or just insert a small amount of humor into your story, here are some helpful hints.

1. Immerse yourself in all things “funny.” Read the most current funny picture books. Watch comedy and funny movies on TV. Read kids’ joke books.

2. Research humor theory by reading books and watching webinars on the topic of what makes people laugh.

3. Most picture books are concept driven, so develop a funny concept that appeals to kids. Remember that current funny picture books tend to be edgier and sometimes irreverent, so thinking outside the box can lead to much humor.

4. The characters do NOT need to be kids. Some of the latest funny books have dragons, crayons, and even a mutant potato as main characters. So let your imagination go crazy!

5. Be willing to take some risks with your story structure. Many humorous books do not follow the traditional “Rule of Three.” The Day the Crayons Quit is told via letters. The Book with No Pictures makes the reader the main character. Some books are even interactive.

6. Use situational humor by putting your characters in funny, unusual settings and create some funny scenes as they interact with their environment and other characters.

7. You must include the element of surprise. This is vital. The reader must be surprised. Humor happens when one’s expectations are violated, so set up a normal expectation for the reader and then misdirect things so the expectation is not met.

8. Page turns can lead to surprises, so use then thoughtfully.

9.  Ramp up the humor with puns and jokes that relate to your topic. Include recurring jokes and word play. Dialogue can sometimes enhance the humor, as in Tammi Sauer’s Me Want Pet!  Cave Boy tries to convince his parents he needs a pet and uses short, snappy “cave language” throughout.

10. Incorporate figurative language – alliteration, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, exaggeration, and rhyme. Keep a thesaurus close by and check out Rhyme Zone online.

11. Use inherently funny words. Bungalow, pantaloons, bamboozle, kerfuffle, and catawampus are sure to elicit some chuckles. Just hearing the word “underwear” makes kids laugh. A great resource is the book Absurd Words by Tara Lazar.

12. Lastly, craft a funny ending – hopefully with a twist – and tie it back to the beginning of the story somehow.

All of this seems easier said than done, but if we start small, try a few tips, and see how our sense of humor can fit in, we will be progressing and growing in our ability to write humorous picture books which will help kids in many ways.  

 



September Happenings

  


For children's writers living in Northeast Ohio, September means it's time for the annual conference hosted by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI.

This year's conference, Make Your Story Pop!, will be held on September 29th and 30th (National Chewing Gum Day.) The conference offers great opportunities to meet agents, editors, and authors, to network and meet old friends, and to get inspired to keep learning and writing and illustrating for the people we care most about and write for: children!

Serving on the faculty this year is the Six Pen's own Lisa Amstutz, agent with Storm Literary Agency and author of over 150 books!

Lisa will be teaching an intensive workshop Friday afternoon on writing engaging nonfiction for kids. She'll also be leading one of the Saturday sessions about writing query letters and talking about what agents look for.

A former outdoor educator, Lisa specializes in topics related to nature, sustainability, and agriculture and is passionate about sharing the wonders of nature with young readers. Her background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology.

Lisa brings a great deal of experience to the faculty. She has been writing professionally since 2005 and spent eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors as well as publishing companies. 

She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor and in several other board positions for SCBWI: Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story.

If you are coming to the conference this year, make sure to meet Lisa. Learn more about Lisa on her website: https://www.lisaamstutz.com/



Just in time for fall, Lisa's book, Applesauce Day just launched in paperback! Check it out here.

 Applesauce Day is here! Maria and her family visit an apple orchard and pick apples. Then it's time to turn the apples into applesauce. Every year they use a special pot that has been in the family for generations. Follow along as everyone helps to make delicious applesauce.

For a clever, fun book about ordinal numbers, you'll love Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton's book, Who Knew? Under the Apple Tree. Available on Amazon.


Nature gives us many signs of the changing seasons, if we pay attention and use our senses like animals do. Author Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton's poetic language seamlessly weaves together the arrival of fall, animal communication, and counting with ordinal numbers. Steph Marshall's bright, bold illustrations capture the animals' actions as they enjoy a fall feast.


On August 14th, Six Pens author Gloria G. Adams launched her new book, Munch! Crunch! Bugs for Lunch! A nonfiction picture book for ages 8-12, this book is all about entomophagy, the practice of eating bugs. Find out what kinds of bugs kids around the world eat and what they taste like.

Gloria will be selling and signing copies of her new book at the following locations:

Author Alley, Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, Ohio, September 9, 2023.

NorthCoast Indie Author Expo, Avon, Ohio, September 24, 2023.

The SCBWI annual conference, Warrensville Heights, Ohio, September 29th and 30th, 2023

Buckeye Book Fair, Wooster, Ohio, November 4, 2023.

Check out other books by Gloria on her websites: www.gloriagadams.com and www.slantedink.com


All of us at A Song of Six Pens are busy working on our writing projects this fall. 

What will you be working on?






Welcome our Guest Author, Michelle Henrie

 

                                                


My Writing Journey

Michelle Henrie

 

             Third time is the charm, right? At least that became the plan after quitting twice.

            When I first decided to write, I had two small children and wrote picture books. They’re over a thousand words! I never submitted them to agents because I was frightened of rejection. At that time, I was battling depression, and writing was my outlet. I was on the fence about publishing because others would have to read my work.

            Ten years later.

            With four kids and a teen boy who hated reading, I started writing a young adult fantasy about powers from a meteor that hit the earth. He loved it and always begged for more. But I knew my villain was as sturdy as wet paper. Discouraged, I started a blog to review books and see what made them work. Wow! I learned a lot about what I liked and what worked for me. But was I ready to write again?

            Four years later.

            I’d had surgery and was lying in bed. For two years, I’d had an idea forming for a novel. With a notebook, I wrote everything I’d imagined in two weeks. Then I upgraded to my computer. But I kept this a secret from my husband and everyone for six months. Within nine months, I had 105,000 words. The first person I shared it with was my mom—she encouraged me to keep working on it and thought it was good. (Go ahead and roll your eyes.) I gave it to my husband, and he said he was confused and that it didn’t make any sense. The only fantasy he'd ever read was Harry Potter—surely, he was wrong. I donated money for a published author to read my novel. She hated it. Couldn’t say a kind word to a newbie. Her caustic review sent me into a spiral.

            That’s when conferences started. And I put that on your basic wash and repeat cycle. I grew a thicker hide. Learned about sentence structure. How to use sentence fragments for impact. And I reviewed so many chapters with other “budding” authors. We worked so hard, but that doesn’t guarantee success.

            But no one can define my success except myself.

            That’s when I became an author without the “newbie” or “budding” or “wannabe” attachment. I’d written six novels, bunches of picture books, entries for Writers of the Future (and received some awards), and one graphic novel.

            Seven years later.

            I changed my approach on Twitter. My goal was to become noticed, and to do this, I hunted for writing tips. By posting and reposting, agents started following me. I branded myself: I’m always kind to others and supportive, I love art, and review tons of ARCs.

            Then I got an email! An agent wanted to talk.

            As per industry standards, I contacted all the other agents with my manuscript, letting them know I had an offer on the table and if they were interested in representing me, they needed to get in touch.

            I got another email wanting to set up a conference call. This agent told me upfront she wasn’t necessarily offering representation…

            Okay.

            Please, cue Jaws’ theme song.

            Da-da, da-da.

            After we discussed the manuscript and goals for my career, she gave me an offer.

            I couldn’t believe I had such a difficult decision. And after much consideration, chose the second agent but deeply respect the first. It came down to the vision the second agent had for my manuscript.

            Now, I’m in the querying trenches with publishers driven by my agent.

            One year, five months later.

           We haven’t had a hit yet. And I’m revising the novels and picture books and writing new manuscripts. I adore working with my agent, but how to choose your agent is another story.

Write because you love it!

Check out Michelle's website: https://www.michelle-henrie.com/


Meet Guest Author, Sabrina Fedel

 Sabrina Fedel is an award-winning writer and author of the YA novel, Leaving Kent State.


Recently, a poet friend from my MFA in creative writing program reached out to me for some advice on writing for kids for a teacher colleague of hers who has a first draft of a story and doesn’t know what to do next.

 My first response was that I’d be happy to try to help. My second was to say that my advice would really depend on what this writer wants from her writing. It’s easy to assume that everyone writes with the hope of being published, but that’s not true for everyone (as David Rogers writes about in his blog). As Rogers points out, there is even evidence to suggest that writing solely for internal goals improves one’s creativity and enjoyment of writing.

 But the reality is that most of us would love to see our name in print, to share our glorious stories with others, and to have them want us to share these darling creations with them. Most of us would probably also like to get paid for this. While I adhere to the premise that you are a writer if you write, I also waited to call myself a poet until someone actually paid me for a poem. Do as a say and all that. Some of us dream of being able to make a living as a writer, even if we don’t also dream of being famous. Some of us want it all, the whole Steven King experience.

So, the first step to figuring out how to be a “writer” is to find out what goals a writer actually has for their writing. The second step is for a writer to "know thyself." Writing with the aim of being traditionally published is a very different path from being self-published. It’s important to understand the differences to assess which path is the right one for you. Both paths have their benefits and drawbacks. For some, one or the other may be the right direction. For others, they may get traditionally published and then decide to self-publish. Or vice-versa.

Setting goals will also help a writer figure out what they need in their creative process. For me, a writers’ group is essential. Being part of a writing community is essential. For others, it may not be (though most of us should be open to critique, because even the best writers can improve from seeing their work through someone else’s eyes. It’s fun to think of Jane Austen concocting her stories alone in the countryside, but her family listened to her drafts and likely gave her feedback). I highly encourage you to find your community. With the internet at our fingertips, it can be done much more easily than in Austen’s day!

Finally, I think a writer needs to understand how important writing is to them. For me, writing is something I need to do. It’s a source of joy, self-understanding, and solace in a world that I often don’t understand. It keeps me grounded and present. It helps me get up on the days when getting up seems too hard. As country singer Luke Combs says, I’d still be doing this if I weren’t Doin' This

But, if writing isn’t all that to you, that’s okay, too. The important part is to understand what you want out of your writing journey and what you need from it. For some, the difficulties of getting traditionally published are extremely disheartening. I’ve been there myself. And it’s okay to quit when you get to that point, and it’s okay to keep going because you still want to write even if no one ever reads your words outside of your writers’ group. But understanding what you need, and what you are willing to go through to try to achieve your writing goals, is an important part of the journey. Because goals are just that, something to aspire to. Once you’ve brushed off the eraser marks from the page, the important part is whether you want to start over, no matter what. The important part is to know whether the journey is as important as the finished product.

 Happy writing!

Learn more about Sabrina on her website.

Twitter

FB

Meet Children's Author & Illustrator Merrill Rainey

 An interview by Gloria G. Adams 

We are thrilled to have illustrator, author, paper engineer, and Master Doodler Merrill Rainey as a guest on our blog this month!

Hi Gloria, Thanks for having me!

Merrill, can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a children’s book and magazine illustrator? Is this something you always wanted to do?

Let’s start with your second question first, as it is a good one and is something I’ve been thinking about over the last year. The simple answer is that I have come to the conclusion that being an author/illustrator is something that chose me. Creating books and products for young people seems to come second nature to me. It’s just something I know how to do. I’ve always been an artsy/crafty person and my childhood was full of moments of creation, and imaginary play. 

These childhood moments are what laid the foundation for the things I am creating today! When asked, I also like to tell people that I enjoy creating for children because I have never lost my inner child! So, I create the things that my inner child would want to see on the shelf.

I started working towards my illustration career while attending Kent State University. I graduated in 2003 with a BA in Visual Communication Design with a background in illustration. At that time, I had interned at the Akron Beacon journal doing editorial illustration and design work and had a few opportunities to even illustrate a few featured sections. It was an amazing internship, and after graduation, working for a large newspaper seemed like where I wanted to be. However, the newspaper industry took a turn for the worse, which left me looking for different work, specifically anything with the description of illustrator in it. I can even remember applying to the Yellow Pages to illustrate and create the ads that showed up in the coupon section.

  For a while, I worked as a Graphic Designer by day and worked on my portfolio at night. In 2007, I signed with the Tugeau 2 agency, working mainly on educational illustration assignments. Then in 2010 when my son Chase was born, I finally got my first big kid’s magazine assignment from Jack and Jill Magazine. This was just the start, and soon after the completion of that first job, new assignments started coming in regularly. At this time, I was still working my full-time job. After working an 8–10-hour day at the office, I would go home, we’d have dinner and put Chase to bed after which I would go back to work on contract work until about 4 or 5 in the morning. Then, I would sleep a few hours and go back to my day job. This went on for a few years. I am not quite sure what the heck was I thinking, or how I managed this for so long, but what it came down to was that I truly wanted to succeed more than anything else! By 2012, I was eventually making enough income to quit my full-time job and start working for myself.

Fast forward a few years to 2017… a lot of things had happened in that time from the loss of a few family members (that’s still a hard one), an addition of a baby girl to our family, to taking over as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Northern Ohio Chapter of SCBWI. It was also when I connected with my current literary agent Teresa Kietlinski of Bookmark Literary. Working with Teresa is where all of the magic started coming together, we refined my portfolio, started pitching ideas to publishers, and now, almost 7 years later we have 6 books together with 2 more on the way.

I will note that through all of this, without organizations like SCBWI and The Highlights Foundation, I would not be where I am today.So many key moments in my career, like meeting mentors and publishers, have happened because these organizations exist, and I will forever be thankful!

 Who are the people who have influenced your work the most?

My kids! They reopened my eyes to remember what it was like to be a child. They helped me to remember what it is like to grow up and to experience pure joy and innocence again. Observing them daily gives me a firm understanding of what it is like to be a kid learning to navigate and find one’s self in the world.

 

Throughout the last 10 years I’ve been offered a few opportunities to go back to work again for various companies, but I decided not to, mainly because of Chase and Zoey. We may not have everything that all of their friends do, but I want them to see that if you work hard for what you want, you can achieve anything. When they are my age, no matter what they end up being, I hope they follow in my footsteps and know that they can achieve anything by working hard. I want them to realize that some things are more important and more valuable than the latest toy or technology on the shelf.


 

What exactly is a paper engineer?

Paper engineering is the art of taking flat sheets of paper and turning them into something 3D or 4D. It’s similar to Origami but we paper engineers use scissors and glue. :-) It really is very comparable to architectural, or mechanical engineering. I just use paper to create my final products. When it comes down to it, we engineers (no matter what kind) use the same precision and creative thinking to build products for our end users.

 Some of my favorite paper engineers are Matthew Reinhart and David A. Carter.

I’ve read that one thing you want to do is to show kids how to see things differently. This really resonated with me. Can you tell us how you feel your books accomplish this?

The Color, Cut, Create series was created specifically to get kids to see a sheet of paper and know that by folding and bending it, they can turn it into anything they want. Odd Dot and I spent a lot of time trying to make sure that the kids using these books would have a successful time creating. It was also designed to indirectly educate the user. For example, in the Dinosaur World book, all of the dinosaurs are built the same way. My hope is that once the user has built one or two of them, they will know how to build all of them. Then, when they realize they are missing a particular dinosaur that they want in their world, they will now have the ability to create it themselves!

As I mentioned above, my siblings and I spent a lot of time using our imagination and creating things while growing up, and I want to make sure that today’s generations have the same childhood opportunities I did.

 I’d like to hear more about the “lunchbox doodles.” What a great idea! And why do you call yourself a master doodler?

I have one answer for both questions! The master doodler tagline came from years of creating drawings for my son Chase’s school lunches. I caught wind of this idea from another dad’s blog who put a drawing in his kids lunches for 16 years. I thought that was awesome, so I gave it a try. It not only gave me the opportunity to make Chase’s day, but it also gave me the opportunity to test how fast I could draw something or come up with new characters, as well as try out new pens, markers, etc. 

I had a pretty good run with drawing a doodle every day for almost 6 years (Pre-K–4th grade), until  COVID. COVID got me out of the habit of doing this every morning. Even though it doesn't happen every day anymore, I do still try to get a few doodles drawn now and then during the school year for both of my kids.

For those who want to get better at drawing and become a master doodler, my advice is to draw with a pen or Sharpie. Something that you can’t erase. Doing so will help you to be more confident and precise with your pen strokes.


 How much work/time goes into creating one of your books?

It depends on the book, but on average from start to finish it’s about two years. That timeframe is after the book idea has been acquired from a publishing house. That two years doesn’t include all of the time and prep-work beforehand leading up to the acquisition of the title (which can sometimes take years.) I’ve been working on a few stories for almost five years now and still haven’t completely figured them out. When I present to kids, I talk about and emphasize how trial and error is part of this process and to not give up if your idea doesn’t work out the first time. Reworking projects is just a big part of the whole writing and illustrating process.




How did having your work displayed at the Mazza Museum come about?

For a few years, I was working in cut paper collage work for some of my magazine illustration jobs. After a while, I started to collect physical pieces of artwork from these assignments, and I didn’t know what to do with them. So, I reached out to Ben Sapp at the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum about donating a few pieces. He graciously accepted and even offered that we could also do a small gallery show of the work. This was definitely a career highlight for me! It also gave me a little piece of mind that some of my cut paper works will be archived for as long as they will last for future generations to see.

 You are currently the Regional Illustrator Coordinator for the Ohio: North Society of Book   Writers and Illustrators. What are some of the things you do in your position with SCBWI? 


I have been the Illustrator Coordinator for seven years now and I have loved every minute! My main goal in this role was to give back to a community and organization that had presented me with so many opportunities that helped me advance my career. When I stepped into this role, I focused on bringing in opportunities for the illustrators in our chapter to be seen by agents, editors, and art directors. I’ve also tried to focus on inspirational or educational experiences for our members. I spent a lot of time trying to build a cohesive look and feel to our local chapter by encouraging a consistent look to all of our events and graphics. It has been a wonderful experience. However, with that all said, at the end of this year I will be stepping away from this role. My time and energy is currently needed elsewhere, but I look forward to bringing in a new spark to help continue building what I have been working on for our region.

You’ve done work for hire for several magazines, been published traditionally through Odd Dot and Harper Collins, and have also published independently. Can you tell us your experiences with each and what you learned from them?

Having published both traditionally and independently, I can say that they both have been a lot of work. No matter which direction you decide to go in your publishing career, it takes your all to do it right! It takes a lot of time and effort to market your books, whether on social media or promoting at public events. It also takes a lot of time to review and edit your own work. You have to be involved in every step along the way…you are on 24/7!

If I had to choose one way to publish, traditionally vs. independently, that would be to publish traditionally. Here is why: per my experiences, publishing traditionally has allowed me to be able to work with a team of experts who know the best way to build my books so that they will be the highest quality, most user friendly, and actually get into the hands of the end user. It has allowed me opportunities to learn how the publishing world works. It doesn’t always work right, or in your favor, but I’ve gained invaluable knowledge on how to navigate situations that might arise with my next project or publishing experiences.

 Are you ever planning on writing a graphic novel? (Or have you already written one?)

I have a few in the works, but nothing finished yet. Some stories just take longer to find their voice. Currently, I am illustrating the new Jack and Jill Protectors of Safe Tomorrows comic found in Jack and Jill Magazine. I am also working on a hybrid picture book/graphic novel with Hippo Park currently titled On The Air With Dr. Doodle Bug.

  What upcoming projects can you tell us about?

I am currently marketing my next illustrated picture book which is a reimagined Florence Parry Heide classic picture book titled Giants Are Very Brave People, set to release on August 1st.

I am also working on two new projects. One is another paper craft book with Odd Dot titled Building Block Books: My First Town. This book is a take on the classic children’s building blocks where young builders will punch out, build, and stack a 3D city of their own. And I am working on, as mentioned above, a hybrid picture book/graphic novel with Hippo Park currently titled On The Air With Dr. Doodle Bug.


 


What’s your best advice for aspiring illustrators for children’s work?

If you really want it- Stick with it! Know that this career path is not your normal 9-5 job. It’s a constant hustle trying to figure out new projects, while working on current projects, and figuring out ways to market your work. Also, learn how to speak for yourself and your work, and never quit learning new skills or refining your craft.

 

Short and Sweet

Pantser or Plotter?    Pantser

Guilty Food Pleasure?     French Fries and Cookies

Favorite Hobby?    Urban Sketching or antiquing for the perfect treasure!

 Cat or Dog Person?    Dog

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?  My Dad (we lost him when I was 12.)

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?  When I first started out, I used to like to work between the hours of midnight and 5 am. Mainly due to the world being complete shutdown so I could just focus on my work. Now, it’s the morning hours, and sometimes late afternoons.

  

Website: https://littlerainey.com/ 

Instagraminstagram.com/littlerainey

Upcoming events and workshops: https://littlerainey.com/events


Join Merrill at the Highlights Foundation Summer Camp in Illustration: Highlights Foundation Summer Camp in Illustration

Preorder Giants Are Very Brave People: https://gatheringvolumes.com/item/FtG3jpk3T0QnEpiV1yFSiw

 Books by Merrill:

ROAR! I’m a Dinosaur https://gatheringvolumes.com/item/MEgaIBq6_d8BsF3VDGIFqQ 

OINK! I'm a Pig

 Color, Cut, Create • Dinosaur World https://gatheringvolumes.com/item/pAG4rDFNcoyEF-nfP4FOPg

 

Color, Cut, Create • Horse Ranch https://gatheringvolumes.com/item/pAG4rDFNcoymdRXoahNwOA