Monday, January 14, 2013

Talent, Pluck and Love, Oh, My! PLUS a Book Giveaway for Valentine's Day!

What a pleasure to introduce our readers to the talented and determined award-winning author Brenda Ferber, my unforgettable Ragdale Picture Book Workshop student, and her newest book, the picture book The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial). 

Brenda’s original story, lively writing, Positive Mental Attitude and incredible open-mindedness marked her as The Real Thing; she soaked me up and wrung me out as if I were a sponge.  I knew her moxie and PMA would help her keep the Faith and I was right: The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever collected around 70 rejections!

(Note: that particular Ragdale Workshop’s roster boasts three published children’s book creators (one an illustrator), two MFA in Writing for Children holders and two oh, so close pre-published writers.)

Brenda is the author of tween novels Julia’s Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire (both Farrar, Straus & Giroux).   Her newest book tells the story of Leon who’s hopelessly in love with Zoey Maloney.  But the valentine he creates for her wants nothing to do with Leon’s mushy sentiments. The valentine thinks this holiday is all about candy, and he runs away rather than suffer the embarrassment of saying "I love you." As Leon follows the valentine through town, boys, girls, and teens join the chase and chime in on their perspectives of love until finally, the conflict comes to a heart-pounding, sweaty-palm conclusion in of all places – a candy shop. 

Brenda’s website offers a free (totally adorable) downloadable activity kit to go along with the book.

Check out her invitation to join her in celebrating the book’s release by participating in a Random Act of Kindness and Love by February 14.

Finally, be sure to read how YOU can win your very own autographed copy of The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever in the Book Giveaway that follows the interview.

Enjoy and learn from one of our Children’s Book World’s Bests!

Esther Hershenhorn

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What inspired you to sign up for my 2004 Spring Picture Book Workshop at Ragdale?
I had written what I thought was a picture book manuscript that was receiving its share of rejections, so I knew I wanted someone with a great critical eye to tell me what I could do to revise it. I learned a ton from your workshop, and I ended up deciding that what I had written was not actually a picture book but rather a short story. It didn’t quite have that re-readability factor, and there weren’t enough different moments to illustrate. I could have revised it to try to make it more “picture booky,” but instead, I decided to send it to Ladybug magazine, and they bought it! That story, “A Cheer for Charlie,” was the first thing I ever published.

Do you recall any specific ways the class helped you?
I remember you telling us to study a picture book thoroughly, not just the words and pictures, but also the end papers, the flap copy, everything. Since then, I always look at the Library of Congress description on the copyright page, I always check out the author and illustrator bios, I always read the flap copy, and I always take note of end papers. Not only do beautiful endpapers (as opposed to just a solid sheet of color) indicate that the publisher has put extra care into the book, but they also set the reader up for what’s inside. I have to say that I was so pleased with the end papers for The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever. The candy hearts set the perfect tone for what’s to come when you turn the page.

You eventually went on to publish, but first the middle grade novel, Julia’s Kitchen (FSG), which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers , then Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinare (Farrar Straus & Giroux).  Why and how did you move from writing picture books to writing middle grade fiction?
The truth is, I always wanted to write children’s novels, but I thought that picture books would be easier. Silly me! I had this crazy fantasy that I’d whip out a few picture books, develop a relationship with an editor, and then easily write and sell novels. Not one part of that fantasy was accurate! First of all, writing picture books is way harder than writing novels (for me anyway), and even though I wrote this picture book before I wrote my novel, I wasn’t able to sell it until after I had sold two novels, and even then it wasn’t to the same editor. Second of all, no matter how many books I write and sell, it never gets any easier. But I have to admit, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the challenge.

The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever has remained in your heart despite years of rejection.  What kept you on task and what kept you believing, in this story as well as in yourself as a picture book writer?
Yes, I collected around 70 rejection letters over the course of five years for this book! The thing that kept me believing in this particular story was that I truly loved it, and I could imagine it finding a large audience. Right after college, I worked at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and I learned there the importance of Big Ideas – specifically how to recognize when you have one and when you don’t. I believed Yuckiest Stinkiest was a Big Idea, and I knew I just had to find the right editor to see it that way. Happily, Kathy Dawson ended up being that person! Meanwhile, two things kept me believing in myself as a writer while collecting all those rejection letters. First, I’m sort of insanely optimistic, and I saw each rejection as getting one step closer to acceptance. Second, I absolutely love to revise, and I used any and all personal comments on the rejection letters as fuel for my revision. Just about everything except the initial concept changed in those five years, and the story is so much richer, funnier, and heartfelt, thanks to rejection.

You’re not only a Student Success Story – you’re a Teacher Success Story!  What insights that you gleaned from the learning process do you make sure you share with your learning writers?
When I was revising my first novel, Julia’s Kitchen, with my wonderful editor at FSG (Beverly Reingold), I learned the most important thing I’ve ever learned as a writer, and I try to pass that on to every student I have the privilege of coaching: Be authentic. It sounds simple, but it’s not. You’re making up a story. It’s pretend. But when a reader comes to it, it has to be 100% truthful, 100% believable. Every thought, every description, every action, every emotion, it all has to be real. So I tell my students (and myself) to imagine that you’re writing a true story. It’s a story that happened to a friend of yours, and you’re telling your best friend about it over coffee. If there are any places in the story where your best friend would say, “What? No way? I don’t believe you. That couldn’t have happened!” or, “That doesn’t make sense. What are you talking about?” then you are not being authentic, and you’ve got some revising to do. Even with a picture book like Yuckiest, Stinkiest, where a valentine comes to life, the emotions and actions need to be authentic. The valentine needs to act like a real person who is terrified of expressing emotions, and Leon needs to be a believable boy who wants nothing more than to share his love with the girl of his dreams.

How do you balance your full-time writing job with not only marketing and teaching but also mothering three adolescents?!
I just make the commitment to do it. I try to write every day. Of course some days and weeks are harder to find the time than others, and I get frustrated when I don’t write as much as I want. But I remind myself that being a mom is my first priority, my first love, and such a privilege. In a minute, my kids will all be in college, so I might as well appreciate the chaos, laughter, and very full schedule in my life right now.

Can you describe your elation and sense of satisfaction when you first held the f & g’s (folded and gathered pages) of The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever?
That was amazing, but the biggest thrill came before that when I saw a pdf of the whole book. I was blown away by Tedd Arnold’s hilarious and heartwarming illustrations. I’d been a fan of his since my kids were young and we had all fallen in love with his book, Parts. I could hardly believe he was illustrating my story! When I opened that pdf and saw his vibrant illustrations and Sunday-comic-style approach, tears sprung to my eyes because his art exceeded all my expectations, and I knew that the book would find the audience I had dreamed of all those years ago. 

Book Giveaway
Win an autographed copy of Brenda Ferber’s The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever! (Dial)

To enter our drawing, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog. (If you’re not already a follower, you can sign up now in our sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.)  

You may enter the contest one of two ways:
1) by posting a comment below OR
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Whichever way you enter, you MUST:  (1) give us your first and last name  AND
2) tell us how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs) .
3) If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment.  And JUST FOR Fun, share your favorite Candy Hearts Valentine inscription!
This contest is open only to followers who can provide a mailing address in the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. The entry deadline is 11 p.m. (CST) next Monday, January 21, 2013. We'll announce the winner on Wednesday, January 23. Good luck!


Tabitha Olson said...

Great interview! Thanks Esther and Brenda!

Sheila said...

What a wonderful story! Thanks to both of you. I'm looking forward to sharing your picture book, Brenda, with my grandchildren.

Pam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pam said...

This is Pam Courtney! I'm a follower of this blog via email. My email is: I think my favorite Valentine inscription was from one of my students a long while ago: Ms. Pam, my mom says I have to share my stuff with you. Happy Day. The End. How hilariously cute is that. He wanted to keep the candy his mom had bought. Love it!

Okay, how absolutely great is this title? Oh, I can just imagine reading this title to my group and the giggles that will ensue! This post is a testament to sheer will and belief in oneself. When you know that you know, no one can make you doubt it. Thank you for this inspirational interview, ladies!

Sylvia Liu said...

This is a great post, and what a lesson in perseverance! I'm very inspired; and great to find this blog in the Mother Reader comment challenge.

Margaret Simon said...

I love reading about Brenda's process and putting away some of her wisdom about writing. Thanks for sharing this precious book with us.

Lori Degman said...

Terrific interview, Brenda and Esther! You really do need a positive attitude in this business!!

I'd LOVE to win a signed copy of your book, Brenda - it sounds adorable! My name is Lori Degman; I follow this blog through emails; my email is Lori [at] Loridegman [dot] com. My favorite valentine inscription was written by my brother-in-law for his mother: "I love you more than toast!"

Kathy Mirkin said...

Thank you for a terrific interview, Esther.Congratulations, Brenda, on your book's release. Yay!

Margo Dill said...

I am Margo Dill. I would love to win this book--my daughter would go nuts for it. I know I for sure follow you on Networked Blogs, possibly on GFC, to. My email is margo (at) and my favorite candy heart inscription? Well. . .BE MINE! :)

Bridget Magee said...

This book sounds fantastic! Great interview, too! I'm keeping my PMA in check everyday...=)

My name is Bridget Magee. I found you through Poetry Friday posts (links). My email is bonbons[dot]bridget[at]gmail[dot]com
My favorite Candy Heart inscription has to be: U R Sweet!

Ellen Reagan said...

Terrific interview, Brenda and Esther. Loved what you had to say about truthfulness and authenticity, Brenda.
And now I'm starting out my day filled with your infectious optimism!