Interview Question and Answers (part 1)

First, I want to give a huge THANK YOU to Susanna Leonard Hill for inviting me onto her website to promote Listening to the Stars.

You can read the official interview here. But I have also repeated my answers to her lovely questions below.

What drew you to this subject?

The first question people ask when I tell them I wrote a book about Jocelyn Bell Burnell, is 

“who’s that?”

When I explain that she’s an astrophysicist who discovered an astronomical marvel called pulsars, they ask, 

“Why haven’t I heard of her?”

Exactly. Then when I mention that she wasn’t awarded a Nobel Prize for it (it went to her male colleagues), they stare in wonder and say,

“Haven’t I heard this story before?”

Yes, sadly. Women such as Rosalind Franklin (who worked on the structure of DNA with Watson and Crick), Chien-Shiung Wu (who worked on the Manhattan Project), and Lise Meitner (who helped discover nuclear fission), were rarely acknowledged for the incredible contributions they made to science. But one of the reasons I love writing picture books is to get these stories out there. Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s story, like those of so many women who work in the STEM fields, should be read, discussed, treasured, and celebrated. 

Which do you prefer writing, fiction or nonfiction?

Great question! But I can’t answer it—it’s like choosing which child is my favorite. 

I’m drawn to telling stories and I tend to pounce on whatever idea strikes me at the moment. Which means I usually have a few picture book ideas in progress at once. Sometimes I can’t get a rhyme out of my head and other times I hear a story on the news and think I MUST research it further. I let my haphazard brain lead the way!

The nonfiction appeals to my inquisitive and curious nature, the fiction to my creative side. I’m sure there’s a right brain/left brain comment that could be made about this! Hmmm, Righty wants to go to the Library while Lefty wants to pick daisies…  I sense a new picture book idea percolating!

I have four more nonfiction and three fiction books coming out in the next two years, so luckily I don’t have to choose between Righty and Lefty! 

Do you have any advice for other writers on getting published? 

I do not have a traditional publishing story. Like many writers, I spent years getting rejections (I still do). I’ve never had an agent (ahem, see what I mean about rejections?) but I’ve been persistent about following up every opportunity possible when it comes to my manuscripts. Sometimes that means:

  1. Pursuing every lead with editors or publishers you meet (for example, I met an art director at a conference. He didn’t think the first story I pitched was right for his publishing house, but I followed up with another in an email, and that one will be published in 2022. I could have just licked my wounds and retreated after the first rejection but sometimes perseverance is key.)
  2. Believe in your work, but be flexible enough to alter it. Editors often know the market better than writers. Sometimes it takes (what feels like) hundreds of rewrites to get to the final product. Why start out with a fixed, single-minded vision when collaboration (with awesome editors and amazing illustrators!) is so much fun!?
  3. Most writers jump into querying agents/publishers too quickly. The dream of being published is powerful, but I have found that taking classes or joining writing groups and listening to the advice of teachers and peers when it comes to how to improve my work is invaluable. Learn to tell the difference between a first draft and a polished draft by getting the manuscript in front of readers. Their opinions or critiques can open up a whole world of ideas, and, eventually, make you a better writer.   

Thanks for listening, kidlit folks, and I wish all of you success of your own writing journeys! 

Toodle Pip!

Book BIRTHDAY!

WELCOME TO THE WORLD my little darling. May you grow and succeed. May you touch the lives of others. May people respect you and cherish you. And perhaps, when you’re a little older, may you go forth and multiply.

My wish for you, little one, is that someone, somewhere, will open your covers;
turn your pages;
learn from your words;
marvel at your images;
and be inspired by your story.

And your little story will grow, and inform, and shape their imagination;
spark their curiosity;
ignite their passions;
and encourage their own journey.

Thank you to everyone–editors, illustrators, publishers, and family who made this labor of love possible.

Listening to the Stars: Jocelyn Bell Burnell Discovers Pulsars is available now.

Enjoy!

Toodle pip and cheerio,
Jodie

Blog Tour April 2021

Why hello again my trusty peeps.

This is just a quick note to say …

I’M GOING ON TOUR!

Ok, so it’s not an actual book tour and I’m about 30 years too late to be a roadie for The Grateful Dead. Instead I’m doing the twenty-first century covid crisis type of tour:

A BLOG TOUR.

(Honestly, I’m not really sure what that means. You too? Oh, good, we’ll experience it together.)

Essentially it entails visiting some lovely writers’ blogs, answering a few Q&A’s, humble-bragging just a wee bit about a certain book I have coming out soon, and then thanking them copiously for getting the word out and supporting other writers.

So how does it work?

Well, here’s a nifty little chart.

DateWebsite / blog I’ll be visitingWho runs it?
April 2https://susannahill.comSusanna Leonard Hill runs a lovely site and participates in “Perfect Picture Book Friday.” She’s invited me to answer some questions about why I wrote Listening to the Stars
April 10https://viviankirkfield.comVivian Kirkfield is a very sweet writer of fiction and nonfiction. I’ll be featured on “Will Write for Cookies” answering her 5 questions for writers.
April 23https://writersrumpus.comWriters’ Rumpus (what a fun name!) is comprised of a group of writer/bloggers in the Boston area. I’ll be interviewed by Marianne Knowles (who works at the Museum of Science) about my lifelong fascination with/fear of Van De Graaff generators. (That’s a MoS joke. No, I’ll be talking about the life of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell of course!)
Spreadsheets baby!

Please visit these wonderful sites and support children’s book writers by buying and reviewing their books! I’m hoping to hear back from some other website owners about additional dates, so keep your eyes peeled for more info.

And join me on my first ever blog tour!

For now, TOODLE PIP AND CHEERIO!

WINNER WINNER (Chicken Dinner)

I’m really excited to announce that I won a contest! (I NEVER win contests, except that time in Florida in 1982 when, as an 8-year-old, I won a bottle of wine at the senior citizen BINGO night…My Nana thought it was hilarious. I wasn’t allowed to drink the wine. I’m still upset about it. )

Luckily, this wasn’t that kind of contest.

#PBParty is a contest that I’ve entered for a few years now. It was hosted this year by Mindy Alyse Weiss on her blog. Over a thousand writers entered their manuscripts and 50 were chosen to be shown to editors and agents.

I’m super excited and looking forward to the selection round. Keep your fingers crossed that my latest manuscript (Dig It, Digby!) will get some lovin’

I’ll share the results when I know more. And maybe I’ll be allowed to drink the wine this time. I’M GOING TO DRINK ALL THE WINE!

PS, thank you to all the judges for choosing Dig It, Digby! I’ll share the wine with you, I promise.

xJODIE

Starred Reviews!

Hello fellow pandemic warriors!

Raise your hand if you’re holding on by a fingernail.

Yup, my sanity was always pretty precarious but I think it’s finally left the building. It must be enjoying a mighty fine cocktail with Elvis and a Dodo bird right about now.

I figured what the hey, let’s pack up and move an entire house worth of possessions, plus get a brand new puppy, all while homeschooling and avoiding the plague. Smart move.

Sooooo, moving on… Some very exciting news for Listening to the Stars, which is coming out IN ONE MONTH!! The kind people at Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal have both given the book their highest honour, a starred review! I want to say a huge

to both organisations for their incredible comments about my book.

Here are some snippets of those reviews:

“An Irishwoman and a radio telescope change astronomy forever. …

“‘Does the galaxy have a sound?’ asks the first line of this elegant biography. …

“Well-chosen similes illuminate fundamental concepts, backed by Badiu’s rich, celestial blues and purples. Frank discussion of the sexism Burnell faced leads into a hopeful note about her efforts to support young women in astronomy. …

“As gorgeous as it is informative.”

–Kirkus Review March 1, 2021 STARRED REVIEW

AND

“Parachini’s historical picture book spotlights the Irish astrophysicist Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b. 1943), who discovered the first radio pulsars…

“The lively art complements the text, creating a sense of openness and balance in its use of stars as a driving thematic motif. This book could be read in a science unit that emphasizes the empowering message that everyone can study STEM fields. …

“An inspiring picture book biography of an inquisitive girl who became a world-renowned scientist, told in ­accessible language.”

–School Library Journal March 2021 STARRED REVIEW

Well, that’s me blushing!

Thanks all! ⭐️😁😆⭐️

(Next week I’ll tell you all about my exciting BLOG TOUR coming soon!)

Ciao for now.

Getting Published in KIDLIT is Easy, Right?

Hello writers. I know it’s actually autumn because I’m wearing fuzzy slippers, I’ve been craving soup, and I’ve made my first batch of pumpkin chocolate chip bread yesterday. Oh, and I looked at a calendar. Holy heck how did it get to be mid October?

Which brings me to two complete non sequiturs for today’s post. First, how absti-tutely simple it is to write picture books. (Ironic eye-roll.) And second, how other websites like PBSpotlight help writers connect with super nicety-nice critiquer-folk.

This week I have been asked multiple times how to get published.

Friends, or friends of friends, or barely friendly acquaintances have been coming out of the woodwork saying that they’ve “written a story” and their mother ( or “kid,” or “sister,” or “husband’s boss,” insert as appropriate) LOVES it and thinks it should be published. Like, now. In time for Christmas. So they can give a copy to all their grandkids. And want to know how to make that happen.

I wish I had an answer that they would like to hear.

But like all creative professions, writing and publishing takes three things: time, effort, and skill. And the third one only comes long (long) after the first two.

But who am I to crush dreams, right?

So I tend to give the same advice that I have mentioned on this blog, and will mention again here in case anyone else is thinking that they can whip up a kids book in the time it takes to make pumpkin pie (ohh, pie.)

(Have I mentioned that not enough people in the UK understand the incredible-edibleness that is a good pumpkin pie? But I digress.)

Here’s what I suggest to all those who have written something and want it to magically become a booky:

  1. Read, read, read other books in the genre you are hoping to write in to see what styles are marketable and what storylines have been done before. (Agents and publishers may be inundated with “pet” books, for instance, and are often searching for a more intriguing subject matter, or a very new stance on a tried and true subject.)
  2. There are some amazing online sites (many free) that cater to new children’s writers. Here are a few that will help get your juices flowing and will teach you a thing or two about the field, before you jump in with both feet: Mr. Schu’s Watch. Read. Connect; Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids while raising them; Writer’s Rumpus; Kidlit 411; MG Book Village; Teachers Who Read; and PBSpotlight (more on this one below).
  3. Finding a group of writers to help critique your work is invaluable to any new writer. There will often be other writers in your location that are looking to create a group and finding them may take time but joining a society or writing program would help. Constructive criticism, like you learned in third grade, is constructive if it’s given well and RECEIVED with gratitude. Sometimes you need a thick skin in this business, and sometimes you need to buckle down and throw away everything you thought you loved about your manuscript. Them’s the breaks.
  4. Perhaps look into SCBWI (the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for a wealth of information and inspiration. If expense is an issue, there are many other online groups that help guide new writers. Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 for instance.
  5. There are plenty of conferences and writing seminars that can be done online (or in person after covid) that will teach you the ins and outs of writing for children. Try the Writing Barn, Highlights, or even your local university, which may have non-MFA track courses. CityLit in London has incredible writing classes on kidlit.
  6. Self-publishing is a thought too. Most writers don’t pair up with illustrators until after their story has been sold to a publisher, but if your book doesn’t need illustrations, check out the many self-publishing options. I’ve never done it so I’m not the best person to ask about this because picture books are always highly illustrated and the publishers have always chosen illustrators for me (writers often don’t get a say in who will illustrate their work).
  7. I’m still struggling to find an agent (after 10 years of writing!) so keep at it and don’t give up, but know that it is a HARD and SLOW process. (My latest book will. be published 4+ years after I wrote it, and that’s typical.)

Now, on to the second point that I was going to make. This post is more than a plug for a competition called #PBCritiqueFest, sponsored by Brian Gehrlein at PBSpotlight . It’s actually a plug for getting other people to look at your work and tear it to shreds. Ok, harsh! What I mean is, the BEST thing you can do for your writing is to involve as many people as possible in the process. I know your first instinct is to crawl into the Cave of Introversion and hide your work from the world (while also craving publication), but critiques and critique partners are experiences (and people) to be cherished.

Getting a foot in the publishing door is the hardest thing that many writers will go through. It’s a path lined with rejection and failure, to be honest, but also filled with great new kidlit friends and mentors. The children’s book community is a supportive, friendly place and is mostly comprised of people who want to see books in the hands of mini readers.

Which is where sites like PBSpotlight come in. Competitions/twitter pitch parties/etc are great for social media recognition but in the end they are all about getting manuscripts in front of readers.

So if you’ve written that manuscript, and your mother thinks it’s great, GREAT. You’ve taken the first step. The first of many many steps. Now help yourself out by seeking out someone you trust who will alert you to its flaws. Because that way you can make it BETTER.

Here’s to better books!

Happy writing.

Ever tried. Ever failed.

No matter. Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better.

Samuel Beckett

Skully and Bones

Hello October!

September is always the most beautiful month to be in England–Indian summer days, bright sunshine, spectacular sunsets–but when October rolls around all of that seems to disappear with a POOF!

(It’s been raining for two straight days here. I’m going to need a rowboat soon…)

Luckily however, I love everything that comes with autumn. Pumpkins, crisp apples, and HALLOWEEN!

So, to get in the spirit, I wrote a little something. This story is for a 200-word contest called #FallWritingFrenzy. It’s sponsored by kidLit author Lydia Lukidis and author/agent Kaitlyn Sanchez.

You can see the rules here.

Please check them out, get involved, and support the other writers by visiting their sites too.

So without further ado, I give you…

all images courtesy of UNSPLASH

SKULLY AND BONES

“Dear Skully,” said Bones 
on one Halloween night,
“deep down in my toes 
I feel something’s not right!
"The pumpkins sit grinning, 
the black cats are meeting,
while fairies and ghosts 
flit about trick-or-treating.
 
"Yet something inside of me’s 
feeling quite airy
instead of hair-raising,
spine-chilling, and scary.
 
"My hip bones and knee bones 
and fingers and spine
are right where they should be
and doing just fine.
 
"But where is the rest
of my innards and skin?
If I’m nothing but bones,
THEN WHAT’S HOLDING ME IN?"
“Oh Bones,” replied Skully
“there’s no need to worry.
Whoever has made us
was just in a hurry.
 
"These kids seem like whizzes 
at costumes and crafts,
Let’s ask them to patch up
two bungled rough drafts.
courtesy of Pexels
“Try stuffing our nothing 
with candy and treats,
or please let us borrow 
you ghostly white sheets!”
 
But all of the children who 
saw them just w a i l e d.
“It seems our request,
my dear Skully, has failed.”
So Skully and Bones
were both left without parts.
No noses to sniff with,
no quick-beating hearts.
 
And crept through the town
on that dull Halloween,
two lanky no-bodies
with air in between!

There you have it…a 200 word story about skeletons who are missing their insides. Maybe if I turn this into a proper picture book I’ll give them a happier ending!

Happy writing all!

COVER REVEAL!

OH, hello! Remember me? It’s been a while. In my defense, there was this worldwide pandemic thingy that took my mind off this site for a while. But I’m back, baby! (I would say “better than before” but that’s not really the case…)

And BOY do I have some news! While the past few months have not been good for my creative output (I’m looking at you, homeschooling), it HAS been a good time for getting books accepted for publication. I’m happy to announce that I’ve sold five (5, count ’em) manuscripts to publishers. Three will come out in 2021 and the other 2 don’t have dates yet.

(Insert smug face here 😉 )

The first three are NONFICTION. I’ve been branching out recently and trying my hand at writing nonfiction for kids. Turns out I LIKE IT!

(I wanted to insert a gif here from the Life Cereal ads back in the 80s when they say “Mikey likes it!” but I guess that’s too old school for giphy…)

So. anyhoo, for all my (zero) followers, here’s the latest super impressive cover for my next book. It was illustrated by the amazing Alexandra Badiu and you can see more of her lovely work at

www.alexandrabadiu.com .

The book is a biography of an amazing woman named Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Who? You ask. That’s exactly why I wrote the book. No one has heard of her, and her story NEEDS TO BE TOLD!

Jocelyn is an astrophysicist (yes, she’s alive and well at this very moment), who made what scientists consider the greatest astronomical find of the twentieth century. While a grad student at Cambridge, in the 1960s and 70s, Jocelyn identified the first four neutron stars ever. Einstein and other scientists had been speculating their existence since the 1930s, but no one had ever found proof. Until Jocelyn.

So why don’t we know her name? When the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded for this discovery, it went to her adviser on the project, Anthony Hewish. Jocelyn’s name was left off the list.

When I first learned about Jocelyn, I was inspired by her graciousness in the face of this massive oversight, as well as her persistence and dedication. I knew that her story—like those of Rosalind Franklin, Lise Meitner, Chien Shiung Wu, or other female scientists whose contributions were overlooked throughout history—needed to be told.

So. Here. It. Is!!!

Isn’t that a sight for sore eyes?

Many thanks to Albert Whitman & Co for choosing to publish Jocelyn’s story.

The book will be available at all fine bookstores on April 1, 2021, and you’ll be able to pre-order it online soon. (I’ll write more about the process of writing this book in a separate thread.)

I’ll leave you with this:

Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you.
Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Happy writing!

World Book Day!

When I was a kid, did we ever have a whole day that celebrated books? Let alone a whole WEEK? I don’t ever remember this much hullabaloo around the pure unadulterated enjoyment of reading (or about the drastic need to encourage nonreaders to pick up a book, or to make sure every child, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, has books to read).

I was a bookworm, a “nerd,” but I learned early on that I needed to hide that fact from other kids for fear of the torturous bullying that being “bookish” caused.

I didn’t have the self-confidence to stand up to my tormentors, so, red-faced, I would lower my hand in class after being laughed at for answering yet another question about the assigned reading. And stay silent.

Thank goodness for adulthood. And for perspective.

Though now I’m watching my daughter come home in floods of tears after being laughed at for having her nose in a book, and it all comes back to me.

I try to teach her to be strong, and brave, and gritty, and self-accepting, and yet, inside, I’m wishing I could punch all those kids in their measly little faces.

Anger management issues aside, I’m excited at the fact that at least on one day a year, books are celebrated. Here in the UK, all school age kids get a free book! What a tremendous program and one that should be encouraged (and funded).

Yet public libraries are closing, school libraries are underfunded, and reading for pleasure is in decline. Here’s the latest research:

Nielsen Book Research’s annual study of children’s reading habits found that only 32 percent of British kids under 13 are read to daily by an adult for pleasure, down four percentage points in a year and down nine percentage points compared with 2012. Being read to is a gateway for children to read for pleasure independently but the National Literacy Trust found in a separate report that that activity in eight to 18-year olds has dropped to 52.5 percent from 58.8 percent in 2016.

https://reaction.life/reading-sharp-decline-thats-bad-news-future/

The statistics are grim.

But when I talk to other people, I hear Word Book Day labeled as “every parent’s nightmare,” rather than the unique opportunity that it is. There’s one word that seems to put the fear of all things holy into parents, and that’s “costume.”

The idea of dressing up as a book character is viewed as tedious rather than thrilling.

(Dressing up for a Where’s Wally (Where’s Waldo) fun run with the munchkins.)

I get it.

Parents are busy, and time is short, and money is tight.

But World Book Day is Halloween, but for BOOKS. What could be better than that? All the fun and none of the cavities!

When my daughter this year decided to go as Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she spent most of the morning sticking large wads of blu-tack (poster putty) behind her ears, pretending it was gum. I am loath to think of the amount of tears that are going to be shed tonight when we try to remove that sticky mess from her hair! But at that moment she was in her element, and it was a glorious sight. One made possible by books.

So I will try to remember this as I talk to students, and laugh at the silly costumes that they have worked hard on, and enjoy the moment.

Because it’s a celebration of reading. Which sounds like the kind of holiday I would have dreamed up as a kid.

And then I’ll sit down and dream about my next children’s book …

… and consider which pair of scissors I’ll be using tonight on my daughter’s hair.

(Willy Wonka, last year…)

Perk UP!

Hello there fellow writers! January has been an amazingly productive month for me. I’ve written three — count ’em 3! — new drafts of books, and revised 4 others! Phew! I’m pooped.

water!

But this isn’t about patting myself on the back.

Nope. I wanted to share some of the reasons and resources that have helped to make it such a productive month.

First, work has been slow. I’ll admit, that’s not a great thing (um, hello tax man. I’ll get you that check soon…) but it has allowed me to actually get my BIC and Focus. Butt in Chair time is critical, yes, but what also works for me is Deadlines.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

I wrote one of those 3 (have I mentioned THREE) manuscripts in two days for an editor who wanted to take it to a Creative meeting. Boy did THAT news light a fire under my bum.

But there are also a few other things that helped.

  1. Having a critique group. These guys keep me level-headed and accountable. If it’s my turn to post, I post. There’s no point in having wonderful writers ready and willing to give you their honest feedback if you don’t have anything to send to them. So I keep writing!
  2. Storystorm. If you haven’t joined, and you want to know anything about the picture book industry. Take a look at Tara Lazar’s free resource: Storystorm.
  3. 12×12. Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge asks its members to write one new draft each month of the year. Plus it provides webinars and activities to keep you motivated.
  4. Other resources that I use to stay inspired:

http://www.kidlit411.com

http://resourcesforchildrenswriters.com

https://www.nffest.com

https://www.scbwi.org

https://literaticat.tumblr.com

https://mswishlist.com

5. Plus a bunch of writer blogs including:

https://susannahill.com/blog/

https://viviankirkfield.com

6. There’s also CONTESTS as well (like #PBPitch if you’re on Twitter) that can lead you to agents and editors.

7. And finally, Some of the best lessons I ever learned came from classes. Especially https://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/history-culture-and-writing/writing/children-s-writing

I’ll keep adding to this. Because I get asked A LOT “I’ve written a book, what do I do next?”

My biggest piece of advice:
Don’t write in a vacuum.
It’s dark and lonely in there.

(ok, here’s the real quote…)

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

Until next time…