Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Writers Wednesday

I’m delighted to introduce Lynn Plourde and her newest picture book, Bella’s Fall Coat. You may be familiar with some of Lynn’s 30 other titles which include:  You're Doing That in the Talent Show?!, You're Wearing That to School?!, Wild Child, and Pigs in the Mud in the Middle of the Rud.

Bella’s Fall Coat is charming look at one of childhood’s dilemmas -- the desire to have the joys of our youth remain unchanged. This is a perfect time for this heart-warming story that celebrates the marvels of fall and invites us to experience this special time of year through the eyes of an adorable little girl.

The language is as crisp and bright as a fall morning. The illustrations by Susan Gal are rich with autumn’s colors and fill the pages with warmth and movement.

Sure to become a read-aloud favorite.

You describe yourself as a "teaching author." What's your favorite school visit anecdote?
Two, one heart-warming, one funny. After doing a whole-school assembly, I was presenting writing workshops to smaller groups in an amphitheater with a hallway along one side. I was between groups and one boy kept walking back and forth in the hall, so I finally asked if I could help him. He shyly tripped over his words as he answered, “I just, well, I needed you to know that I don’t, well, I don’t like to read. But when I heard you today, I decided I’m going to give reading another chance.” My heart burst.  As for the funny one, I was at a school that had pods and the only bathrooms were for students. So I used it and when I came out of my stall and was washing my hands alongside a girl, she kept looking at me, and finally said, “I’ve just gotta ask. Can I have a piece of your hair for a souvenir?” I laughed and offered her an autograph instead—after we left the bathroom!

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
It just all feels like “my life”—all mixed together. As a writer, it seems I’m always working (like answering these interview questions at 11:00 pm) and at my desk at all hours. But even when I read, I’m “working” by watching how other authors do their craft. When I’m out and about running errands or getting away with family, I’m an idea detective or character detective or dialogue detective. Sometimes it might be nice to turn off the author switch, but then again I’m not sure I could or should since I love what I do and it’s such a big part of who I am. I can’t turn off my woman switch or my Mainer switch or my wife or mother switches—so it makes sense I can’t turn off my writer switch.

What do you do when you are not writing or visiting schools?
Reading, going for walks, playing with plants, kayaking, snowshoeing, and I have my first grandbaby. He’s one year old and the joy of my heart so I’m playing on the floor and reading board books and rocking him and talk, talk, talking to him as his Memsy (grandmother) who also happened to be a speech therapist for her first career.

Briefly, what's your book about?   
Bella’s Fall Coat is a love story—love between a grandmother and granddaughter, love for favorite things, love for a season, love for the here-and-now.

What led you to write the book? 
As a Mainer and one whose birthday is in October, I have always loved, loved, loved fall. It’s like Mother Earth is throwing leaf confetti on us. The colors are gorgeous, the air is invigorating, the foods are nurturing. I feel most alive in fall. One of my very first picture books was Wild Child, a mother-child fall story dedicated to my daughter when she was little and our “wild child.”  Fast forward 18 years and now I have Bella’s Fall Coat, a grandmother-grandchild book dedicated to my first grandchild. I love the patterns and happenstances of life.

What would you like readers to take from it? 

Joy! I hope they find joy in the glorious illustrations by Susan Gal. Susan’s art is so alive and vibrant and spontaneous just like the main character Bella. I hope readers are so inspired by the book that they will PUT IT DOWN—truly, and go play in the fall leaves, pick apples, make a leaf collage, make an apple pie, celebrate fall!

What are your current/future projects?
This year, 2016, has been a book bonanza year for me with four new books. Besides Bella’s Fall Coat, I also have You’re Doing THAT in the Talent Show?!  with best friends Penelope the hippo and Tiny the mouse performing in the school talent show together. And another picture book is Baby Bear’s NOT Hibernating that tells about a baby black bear who doesn’t want to go to bed (hibernate) and tries to stay awake all winter long, plus there are black bears facts in the back of the book. I’ve also had my first middle grade novel published this year—Maxi’s Secrets (or, What You Can Learn from a Dog) which is about “fitting in” and tells the story of a giant deaf dog and her very small boy. Also, I’m starting work on another middle grade novel and am trying out several new picture book ideas.

The Process
What motivates you?
JOY! I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which is about decluttering your life and asking the simple question, “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is ‘no,” then let it go. If the answer is “yes,” then it’s a keeper. But I ask this “joy” question not just about the objects in my life, but about how I spend my time, who I spend time with, writing projects I commit to, all aspects of my life. It’s a simple question that has made a profound difference in my life. I turned 60 and I want the time I have left on this earth to be filled with joy.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
My writing process is messy and so is my desk and my routine. One of my strengths as an author is being creative. And creativity is not a straight-line journey. So I scribble on paper for a picture book with arrows going every which way as I think of idea after idea for a book. I have sticky notes all over my desk with ideas. But I also read-aloud when I write—sentence after sentence—and my ear tells me what works and what doesn’t (I may not know how to fix it, but at least, I know it needs to change.) I wish I were more organized, but I’m learning to embrace my messy, creative self.

With thirty picture books published, have you found there are certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Yes—Maine, nature, family, and school.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Jane Yolen—she’s had over 300 books published. She shows up to do the hard work of writing day after day plus she’s written poetry, picture books, fantasy, history and more, oh my! Eve Bunting also shows up to do the hard work day after day, year after year. And William Steig—I love Doctor Desoto and so admire Steig who received Caldecott and Newbery recognitions. To be the best in art and in words is truly awe-inspiring. All three of these put their passion down on paper!

Advice for Writers
What have you found to be the most important elements of good writing when creating your picture books?
I’m still learning that less is more. I always write too long and have to cut about a third of what I write. It’s not just about trying to be less wordy, but also learning to trust the illustrations to tell the story and to trust readers to “get” the story. Also as a reader and as a writer, I crave voice. I think “voice” is the hardest thing to teach and to learn—it’s just somehow there . . . or not. I know it when I see it, but there’s no formula for writing with voice. I think voice comes from trusting yourself, deep inside, and that can be hard.

Please talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers. 
Read your writing aloud. Or better yet, have someone else read your picture book manuscript aloud to you and listen for the places that sound “off.” You don’t have to worry about knowing how to fix the “off” places—first, you have to find them. Also, take your time. I have such a hard time following this advice myself. I get excited about doing a revision and getting it back to my agent or editor; but when I rush, my revisions are more surface revisions, not deeper revisions that the story deserves and that come with mulling and stepping away from the story for a time.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Write what you read. What kind of books do you most enjoy reading? Mysteries? Fantasy? Poetry? Nonfiction? Whatever kind of books you most enjoy reading, that’s the kind of writing you’re likely to be best at.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
In Bella’s Fall Coat, Bella talks about her favorites and wanting things to last forever. I hope readers young and old think about and talk about their favorites and what they wish would last forever. Our favorites and forever things say lots about who we are and bring us JOY!

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