Edward Hemingway and PIGEON & CAT

“Pigeon and Cat don’t have much, but what they do have matters more to them than any material possessions. Friendship. Creativity. Love.”

I have the luck to know Eddie Hemingway, author and illustrator, who lives in Bozeman MT, my home town. And the luck to see F&Gs of his newest picture book, PIGEON & CAT (Christy Ottaviano Books at Little, Brown Young Readers) out as of 6/21/22! I asked Eddie to give readers answers to a few questions, and I do hope you’ll run right out and find this gorgeous, fun new read.

A Q&A

Can you give readers a quick synopsis of Pigeon & Cat? 

I’d love to. It’s the story of a scared and lonely stray cat that rescues a tiny egg and befriends the pigeon who hatches out of it. Cat’s small act of kindness ultimately opens up his life to the world around him, and together the unlikely duo transforms the community in which they live into a better place for everyone.book cover

I love that this story addresses friendship between two unlikely characters. Tell us about their relationship and what it means to you. 

It probably goes without saying that Pigeon and Cat’s relationship is at the core of “Pigeon & Cat”. I feel it represents a certain kind of friendship that we’ve all experienced- that of two opposites who compliment each other and make each other better beings. They also don’t speak the exact same language, but nonetheless understand each other implicitly.

I’m also completely in love with the kind of compassion you are illustrating through Cat’s living situation. (Our two books share the same category.) Where does that come from for you?  

Houselessness is a very real problem for many in this world. I know how lucky and privileged I’ve been to always have had a roof over my head, but I also know that many have not been as fortunate.

It’s so important for me in my work to give kids stories to read that open up their minds and hearts and gently show them things that perhaps they haven’t been exposed to. “Pigeon & Cat” shows kids that houseless strays are ultimately deep down like everyone else, and that they have just as much value and potential within any given community as everyone else in that community. And in the case of these two unlikely friends, their friendship is what moves them forward on such a positive trajectory. Pigeon and Cat don’t have much, but what they do have matters more to them than any material possessions. Friendship. Creativity. Love. I aspire to live my life in a similar fashion.

I love that SO much. And I’m with you. The illustrations are just fabulous. You used to live in the city, right? Is this an ode to city life? 

The book is definitely an ode to city life! Although the city depicted in the book is not New York specifically, it is inspired by my time in Brooklyn and is also the first picture book I’ve done that takes place in a very urban environment. I’m delighted you like the illustrations. I had a lot of fun making all the artwork for the book. I experimented with dripping paint and creating textures with sponges, rollers, and different brushes. And since I love cut paper, I made the silhouette images from hand cut black paper which I then adhered onto the painted panels. When all the paintings were done, I scanned them into photoshop and would often make little adjustments in order to achieve the perfect image that I wanted.

interior page from picture book

And now you live here in Bozeman! Has that been a good place for you to settle? 

Absolutely! My husband and I love it here. There is so much physical beauty in Montana. And I never get tired of the mountains and big sky.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Just THANKS SO MUCH for sharing my book birthday with your readers, Janet! I really appreciate it.

More About PIGEON & CAT

Find the book here!

Attend the book launch event! Super fun!

How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

I was having a conversation with some fellow book coaches recently when one of them described a client who was struggling. But the struggle wasn’t with plot or character or voice. It was with the idea that writing is a slow process, taking as long as it needs to take and sometimes a lot longer than we writers would like.

This writer thought it was time to hurry-the-heck-up, already.

So I thought it might be instructive to give you a couple of answers to my titular question.

How Long Is Long?

Here’s the example for my middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

  • December 2012: The idea for the story comes in the form of an image. After some brainstorming, I begin to draft a synopsis
  • January – April 2013: I begin writing drafts. The numbers of drafts written during that time: 15
  • Remainder of 2013: More drafts: 14 total
  • Winter/spring of 2014: My agent, after sending me revision notes and having me revise and return to her, sends the manuscript out on submission. Kendra Levin at Viking buys the book summer 2014. She sends me her first set of notes in mid-fall 2014.
  • All of 2014: More drafts and revisions both before and after book is sold to Kendra: 22 total
  • All of 2015: More revisions with Kendra: 5 total. The book goes through copyedits: 4 total rounds, ending in April 2015.
  • The book is published in March 2016.

So, let’s recap. The number of drafts and revisions in total: 60. The length of time it took me to write and revise before the book was sold: 18 months. The length of time between the book’s sale to Kendra and its pub date: 18 months.

papers on floor

That’s a lot of drafts.

Total time from idea to book on shelf: 36 months. Three years.

How Short Is Short?

Some books take longer, some take shorter. For example, the book I’m writing right now has been in my head and my working life since the fall of 2010. That’s 12 years, and I may (may, mind you) now have a “final” draft. I didn’t bother to count the number of drafts because it clearly is well over 60. And FYI: I actually sold this book in an earlier form to Kendra, but it fell apart and we had to abandon the novel. Notice that I have not abandoned it – the idea won’t leave me alone. So, I’ve kept revising.

On the other hand, my most recent book, CARRY ME HOME, took almost no time for me to write. I wrote the first draft in August 2019, and I logged 4 drafts. It sold in December 2019 to Krista Vitola at Simon Kids, and we had the final copyedits finished by summer 2020. The book published in August 2021.

That’s only two years from idea to publication, and with fewer than 10 drafts/revisions/edits.

BUT…………I’d been thinking about the idea behind CARRY ME HOME for at least 5 years before I sat down to write. I was carrying the concept of a homeless family around in my head and didn’t write it until I knew how to express what I was feeling about it.

So really, instead of taking a month to write, the book took me 5 years to write. Just many fewer revisions, fewer drafts than usual.

Add to that, CARRY ME HOME is a relatively short contemporary story. THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, and my work in progress are both long fantasies with complicated plots.

So, How Long?

Writing a book takes as long as it takes. Let yourself be inspired and don’t think you will do it all at once. It will take months. More likely it will take years. And even when you think you’re done, you’re almost always not.

A book coach can help you see your way through, and a good book coach will not tell you your book is ready to submit until it is.

Meantime, keep writing!!

I’d like to learn more about book coaching!

Writing and Reading Empathy

Not long ago I had the fantastic opportunity to listen to and then meet Jason Reynolds. Jason is the current US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and he was in Bozeman as part of a tour in this capacity and heading out to small, rural schools, three of which he visited in Montana. He’s also an award-winning author of multiple books for young readers. Because it was a last-minute gathering at our hometown Country Bookshelf, the turnout was intimate.

Lucky me!

Jason Reynolds, Super-Guy

Jason is thoughtful and articulate, especially when it comes to kids and their difficulties, partly because he was a kid with difficulties. He admitted that he hated reading – until he was 17 (“and a half”). He credits his mother with just about everything, but also nods to a singular teacher/mentor who turned him onto books by introducing him to “not-boring” books.

Me with Jason Reynolds

Meeting Jason Reynolds was a thrill – hearing him speak was inspiring.

He also spoke passionately about the need for books to help kids through trauma. And yes, I believe that this is why I write, this is why we need books, this is what kids need.

Not long ago I wrote a post about “Writing Through Trauma”. I want to reiterate some of the points because here we are again, in a time of pain and sorrow.

Writers Addressing Difficult Subjects

I wrote CARRY ME HOME because the difficult topic of homelessness and my own feelings of helplessness wouldn’t let me alone. Chris Barton wrote ALL OF A SUDDEN AND FOREVER about the Oklahoma City Bombing to bring a feeling of hope to a traumatic event. Kevan Atteberry wrote GHOST CAT because he was dealing with personal loss and wanted to relate what he was feeling for kids.

You can find all of these books in my Bookshop here.

Jason Reynolds has written about racism, gang violence, and difficult childhoods because he understands that many kids need to be able to process these stories, stories that he knows only to well, in their own lives.

This is what writers do – we write to help ourselves process the traumas but also to give to readers an example of dealing with trauma. I call this “writing with empathy”.

Write With Empathy

Your writing is important. Readers need your words. Remember that what you reflect on the page can help someone process, and especially when you write for young readers you have an obligation to make your themes, your ideas, your subtext resonate with empathy and compassion.

I suggest that you do the following:

  • Reflect on a personal experience. Use the emotions of that experience to fuel your stories.
  • Do not shy away from difficult subjects, but treat them with care, especially when you write for kids.
  • If you are an author with books on hand, join e.E. Charlton-Trujillo to donate books to the children of Uvalde, Texas.

And if you ever have the chance, go listen to Jason Reynolds.

P.S. – In the next couple of weeks I’ll be offering a giveaway. If you have bought a copy of CARRY ME HOME or pre-order the paperback edition (out August 16!) and let me know, I’ll send you a cool downloadable packet of goodies.

Yes! I bought or pre-ordered CARRY ME HOME! Send me goodies!

Writing Craft Tips: Character

This week – older content on character. I hope it helps!

Voice

Voice is such an important aspect of character so here are a few of these posts:

Backstory

Backstory is one of the key elements to creating a rich and compelling character:

cast of Lord of the Rings

All these great characters – including some real flaws.

Character-driven

I believe all great stories are character-driven. Here are a few of my arguments on that subject:

Antagonists

A great antagonist isn’t a “villain”, flatly evil. A great antagonist has a sympathetic virtue:

I do hope this short links help you find what you need!!

Writing Craft Tips: Plot

This week I thought I’d give you a few links to older content regarding plot that still may be helpful for whatever you’re struggling with. Next week, I’ll link to the tons of content on building characters.

Plot

One of my most popular craft links is to this plot paradigm. It’s available for you to download.

https://janetsfox.com/2014/01/a-plot-paradigm-compilation/

Here’s another on the plot paradigm: https://janetsfox.com/2020/02/planning-to-plot/

One of my favorite plot paradigms is Save The Cat: https://janetsfox.com/2021/04/saving-the-cat/

Where to put backstory? This article will help. https://janetsfox.com/2016/06/bury-the-backstory/

And here’s another on backstory: https://janetsfox.com/2020/02/backstory-what-your-character-knows/

If you are a “pantser” and frustrated with a lack of planning, this may be for you: https://janetsfox.com/2017/11/pantser-revised/

And another on this topic: https://janetsfox.com/2020/01/a-war-of-words-plotter-versus-pantser/

Plot devices to lean on: https://janetsfox.com/2021/02/plot-devices/

Plot, or character? https://janetsfox.com/2022/04/character-v-plot/

plot chart

Tension

Tension is essential to drive the plot forward. https://janetsfox.com/2015/02/tension/

And here’s another on the topic of tension: https://janetsfox.com/2015/03/creating-conflict/

And another: https://janetsfox.com/2015/03/tension-on-every-page/

Knowing your story’s stakes is crucial: https://janetsfox.com/2020/04/whats-at-stake/

Story Theme

Theme is hard to define but you must: https://janetsfox.com/2021/06/theme/

Story Heart

Find your story’s heart and you will find your story’s magic connection with the reader. https://janetsfox.com/2016/05/getting-story-heart/

And here’s another article on the same idea: https://janetsfox.com/2020/01/right-write-to-the-heart/

A similar idea to story heart: https://janetsfox.com/2022/02/personal-life-theme/

And here’s another on the same idea: https://janetsfox.com/2021/07/your-core-value/

I’d love to hear your questions and what you’d like to see for content in the future!

The Working Writer: Systems and Processes

As a “working writer”, I’m learning that it isn’t always about the craft. It isn’t always about the joy of creativity, much as we’d like it to be.

Sometimes it’s about how to manage being creative in the face of all those other things on the to-do list.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned after opening my coaching business in 2020, it’s that I have to have systems and processes. Things to keep me organized. Ways to keep my writing hours sacrosanct, and ways to keep my clients happy and moving forward, and ways to balance those things with family, down time, daily life chores. Plus…in these times, there’s a heavy load of marketing that goes with both the writing and the coaching.

By the way, systems do work for creativity too – and I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post.

Systems That Work for Everything

I think the number one thing that is essential, whether you have another business/job besides writing, or not, is a calendar.

image of computer, desk

My image made with Canva

I happen to use iCal – I like that I can color-code it, I like that it syncs easily with my other systems, I like that I can easily print it out. Google calendar is another option. And of course there’s always good old paper or whiteboard.

I’ve learned to sort out my “marketing” on my calendar – noting what I want to create on this blog, or in my newsletter, and when; what to post on social media and when. Suddenly marketing seems more manageable.

In addition to iCal, I could not do without my Acuity scheduling app. For my business, this allows me to set up boundaries, such as only meeting with clients Tuesday through Thursday, and blocking 30 minutes before and after meetings. Then I can send clients a link (it automatically links to my Zoom account and my iCal) and they can choose from my available times, and it reminds them again before we meet.

And of course, Zoom. How brilliant that Zoom came along just when we really needed it. I use it for personal as well as business, for friendly chats and book club meets, and watch untold numbers of webinars, make school visits, etc.

See my list below for more of my favorite systems.

Processes That Help with Creativity

It’s really hard to be creative when a thousand little things are yammering in your brain. Here’s what I’m doing to give myself creative space.

Every Sunday evening I look at the week ahead. I make sure that if something has changed or popped up, I know it. I make notes. I check the calendar. I print it out. I plan when I’m going to write and when I’m going to do marketing and when I’m going to spend time on life.

At the end of every month, I do the same thing but with that monthly overview. What’s coming up? Do I have a book coming out in six months and if so, what can I do about that now? What I do doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be planned. Do I have a vacation with some free time, when I could visit a bookstore and sign stock, or slip in a school visit?

And thinking 3 months ahead, too, helps with a quarterly overview. Do I want to get that manuscript to my agent by a certain date? If so, how much do I need to work on it each week? Do I have the room to take on another coaching client? If so, when?

My Favorite “Office” Tools

Here’s a list of tools, some of which I couldn’t live without. (In a future post, I’ll talk about some tools for the right side of your brain – the creative tools.)

  • Calendar: iCal, Google calendar, Acuity scheduling, Calendly scheduling, Doodle polls for group meets
  • Meeting: Zoom
  • For small business organization: 17Hats, a customer service management system that automatically organizes my clients, sends bills and receipts, catalogues everything I need from calendar to emails to bookkeeping. Dubsado is another CSM people like.
  • For file storage/sharing: Dropbox, Google docs
  • For backing up everything: Carbonite
  • For making nice-looking graphics for social media, websites, or anything else: Canva
  • For helping me with everything: my virtual assistant (and I can recommend Terri LeBlanc to help you set up any of these systems and make them play nicely together)

Life today is busy, complicated, and demanding of our time and energy. Let systems work for you!

If you have favorite office tools, I’d love to hear about them.

Character or Plot: Which Comes First?

I’m a fan of the Marvel Universe.

I find the dialogue snappy, I love the embedded humor, I enjoy the ridiculous costumes and sets, and even the not terribly well-hidden messages.

But these mindless movies beg one serious writerly question: is the plot or the characters? Do we create plot-driven or character-driven stories and why? (For some of my earlier posts on this, see this one on character, and this one on plot, and then link through to other posts I’ve written on these topics.)

Plot-driven Stories

We know them when we see them. The plots are almost always the same.

  • Bad guy wants to take over the universe.
  • Good guys team up to defeat bad guy.
  • There might be a little spark of romance here and there.
  • There are amazing toys that do amazing/impossible things.
  • The good and bad guys do amazing/impossible things.
  • Usually only the bad guy dies. (If the good guy dies, he/she is resurrected in the next movie.)

These plots are formulaic, which is why I think they resonate – we don’t have to do much thinking to make sense of what’s going on. They are purely plot-driven stories. If we compare them to books, these are they murder mystery series, the spy series, the pulpy romances. They are the James Patterson clones. They often dominate the best-seller lists because they’re like candy – we can devour them happily, with a lasting sugar high. They make their authors a ton of money.

Marvel poster featuring characters

Notice the featuring of characters in these posters.

Character-driven Stories

Character-driven stories are more plot-complex. That’s because when we are really resonating with the character, we find those internal monologues, those changing and conflicting arcs, the nuances and mistakes and foibles of characters intriguing.

The complexity of character requires complexity of plot.

Now, I happen to think the Marvel Universe movies do a great job of character-building, too. Take Thor. He’s super-cute, but he’s super obnoxious (he really can’t die – he’s a god). He lords it over the other strong guys in the room in an offhand but irritating way. And when he falls apart (spoiler alert! – in Avengers: Endgame) Thor gains a ton of weight, drinks himself silly, gives up his throne, and generally feels so sorry for himself that he’s ridiculous but still loveable.

Or Tony Stark. Also obnoxious but that’s because he’s a genius and he knows it. He’s got snappy dialogue and a happy-sappy romance. He’s a hero because he comes up with the most brilliant solutions (in the most annoying ways). He rises to the occasion in monumental fashion in Endgame (no spoiler!)

There are lots of plot-driven movies out there that are just noisy trigger-happy drive-bys. I don’t find these very entertaining in the end. The Marvel movies, in my view, rise above because they have actiony plots but also employ great characters.

Take Lessons From Marvel: Write For Character

Whatever you are writing, you’ll have a protagonist and an antagonist, so even if it’s plot-driven, aspire to be like Marvel. Here is my checklist for your most important characters:

Protagonist:

  • Does your main character have true agency?
  • Are their actions driving the plot forward?
  • Do they make mistakes?
  • Do they make sacrifices?
  • Can you make them both larger-than-life and make their mistakes larger than their triumphs?
  • Can they struggle and suffer even as they aspire to be heroic?

Antagonist:

  • Does your antagonist look/act like a mindless rock monster, or do they believe they are the true hero of the story? (Think Thanos here – he really believes he’s saving the universe from overpopulation by eliminating half the beings in the universe. That is a noble idea, albeit warped.)
  • Can your antagonist outgun and outthink your protagonist until the bitter end?
  • Can we like your antagonist and/or feel sorry for them, even if it’s only for a moment?

Marvel does these character things so well that there are now (count ‘em!) 33 movies, many mega-hits, and still more to come. The next time you watch a plot-driven movie, look too at the characters. I’m betting the more complex the characters, the bigger your enjoyment.

Do you like Marvel movies?

KidLit Bundle Ends Tonight!

Kidlit Writers – ICYMI!

I contributed to this Infostack bundle because I think it’s an incredible deal. For $67, you have access to a wide assortment of inspiring materials, gathered from talented authors, to help you write your best book.

Now, to sweeten the pot I’m adding to the deal: if you have bought this bundle from my link, or buy it today, I’ll throw in my coaching on my Story Heart Workbook for free!

Yes, I want the KidLit 2.0 Bundle!

Today is your LAST DAY to get:

✔ Lifetime access to 10 comprehensive ecourses, ebooks, workbooks, and masterclasses designed to help you plan, write, illustrate, edit, and publish your kid’s book no matter your expertise or level. If you have a kid’s story you long to write, these top tools and resources will show you how to create the children’s book of your dreams with the know-how and confidence of a professional.

✔ Picture Book Manuscript Assessment Discount (plus a bonus course). Don’t let your story languish or get lost in the slush pile! Get an expert picture book manuscript assessment from internationally published author and professional editor Suzanne to learn the techniques and actionable insights you can apply right away to make your book the best it can be.

✔ 12 months access to Masterclass: How to get stunning book illustrations that tell your story for less. Discover how to get the best book for your budget with this insightful and savvy video masterclass complete with an action checklist created to assist both new and seasoned authors alike.

✔ Instant access to 15+ products including workshops, communities, templates, workbooks, coaching, and more worth over $2,000…

Take a sneak peek inside to see everything you get. So here’s the question:
Do you want to…

Gain the necessary skills to write a book children (and their carers) will love?

Access everything you need to know to start to self-publish your children’s book like a pro?

Know exactly how to make your picture book shine, get noticed by publishers and engage your readers?

Then you absolutely don’t want to miss out on this bundle of tools and resources created by KidLit creators especially for KidLit creators!

Check out the full lineup here before it disappears, forever.

Yes! I want the Kidlit 2.0 Bundle!

P.S. Remember, this offer includes my fully endorsed support of Infostack’s products and their industry-leading, 60 day, 100% satisfaction guarantee.

That means you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Don’t miss out.
Get started RISK-FREE today (LAST CHANCE!)

Now Something For Writers

Teachers please note that my big giveaway of 3 classroom sets of my picture book Volcano Dreams is still running, until midnight April 8. Comment below or in the previous post to enter!!
 

For Writers: A Bundle of Tools

 
This week, for you writers I’m also participating in an Infostack.io bundle.
 
 
What they do is hand-curate fantastic collections of premium tools and resources valued at thousands of dollars, and they offer the whole package at a massively discounted price for a limited time.
 
And today, they’re rolling out their latest and greatest bundle for KidLit creators: KidLit Creators 2.0
 
KidLit Creators 2.0 is the ultimate collection of tools, training, and resources for authors who want to write and publish children’s books, for an insanely low price. Inside KidLit Creators 2.0, you’ll find chart-topping ebooks, full-length ecourses, A+ rated services, and more from KidLit pros.
 

My Contribution: Discover Your Story Heart Workbook

 
This Infostack includes my own workbook, Discover Your Story Heart.
 
I’ve spent many hours (years, really) culling what I see as the best prompts and exercises to getting to the heart of your story, fast, and compiling this information into one easy-to-use workbook.
 
Ordinarily you’d have to pay $310 to receive it but for the next few days you can find my entire workbook, plus many more great tools, in this Infostack for only $49. (*Note: On Friday April 8 at midnight this price increases to $67, so for the best discount, don’t wait!)
 
Here is the order link:

Volcano Dreams Book Giveaway

This week I’m featuring a giveaway to help our teachers, who are right now facing such difficulties across the board. This is the one thing I can do to say, “thanks for all you do”.

I have three (yes, three!) full classroom sets of paperbacks of my picture book Volcano Dreams to give away. That’s 25 copies of the book in each set. I’ll add copies up to 30 if you have more kiddos in your classroom.

 

Volcano Dreams: A Story of Yellowstone is my nonfiction picture book for ages 5-9, illustrated by Marlo Garnsworthy, published by Web of Life Children’s Books. It tells the story of the Yellowstone super volcano with scientific accuracy (I have a Master’s degree in geology) and is bookended by images of the myriad animals that live in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Here’s a short video about the book:

If you are a teacher with plans to teach earth sciences and/or natural history and/or western ecosystems, Volcano Dreams can form a part of your curriculum. I’m putting together a text set for the book, which should be available by mid-April, to help you create lesson plans. Additional ideas can be found here, in the exercises I’ve already developed for this book.

To enter the giveaway, please comment below with your name and school. You can also enter this giveaway on Twitter. Extra points for subscribing to my mailing list (where you’ll hear other teacher-friendly information; just click the link at the bottom of the page) and for Title 1 schools, so please let me know if that’s you. Giveaway ends April 8 at midnight.

A special note: my second picture book, Wintergarden, will be out from Neal Porter Books in the fall of 2023, illustrated by Jasu Hu.

And again – thanks for all YOU do.