Monday, September 1, 2014

It Takes A Village To Publish A Picture Book, Part One

(Courtesy of

As the release date of my debut picture book, THE STORY CATCHER, draws closer I learn more about all the hard work being done behind the scenes by my publisher, Anaiah Press (

When I first signed my book contract I was wondering why it takes so long from acceptance to finished product. I was naive to the process and had a lot of questions of my editor, Jessica Schmeidler. To give Jessica her due, she was and continues to be very patient with a newbie author who is trying to learn the business side of writing as quickly as she can.

Picture books by their very nature require actual pictures to help carry the story and Anaiah Press spent many months searching for just the right artist to bring my story to life. Then that illustrator went to work creating the initial sketches to supplement the story line. I had the chance to see some of the initial sketches and to be honest, I had some trouble imagining what the final illustrations would look like. Back to Jessica I went and she gave me a quick lesson on the type of illustrations my book would have. No stick figure for little Addie but no 3-D creation either. That was an illustration decision Anaiah Press made I could live with!

I'm sure a true artist could explain things better than myself, but the way I understand it, those initial drawings will then become a series of painted drawings to complete the picture book before being converted into a digital format for the ebook and print copies.

All this takes time to get it right. I guess that's why writers have to have a lot of patience. I haven't seen the final galley proofs yet but I know they will be gorgeous because I trust both my editor and my publisher to know what they're doing. 

I can hardly wait for the day when I am able to reveal my book's cover. Until then, I'll try to be patient and count my blessings for the village of experts willing to publish my picture book.

Friday, August 29, 2014

TALES FROM THE BAYOU: Crawfish Boils & Mudbug Races

Anyone who tells you crawfish taste like lobster is wrong. Crawfish tastes better and if you ever lived in the bayou areas of southern Louisiana you would probably agree with me.

Outsiders to life in the swamps might look at this picture and think, "I would never eat that!" But if you come from a poor family and wonder a lot where you next meal is gonna come from, that plate represents some tasty times in the Lavergne family while I was growing up.

There was a small creek cutting through the back yard of a house I lived in as a child and after a heavy rain, I would run out back with my siblings to check for crawfish holes. Those crafty mudbugs would bury themselves deep into the wet ground and there were only two ways to get them out. One was by tying something like a small piece of bread to the end of a string before lowering it into the crawdad hole. If you were lucky, a crawfish would clamp down on the bread with one of it's claws and you could pull them out of the hole. Crawfish are ornery critters and almost always refuse to let go once they've latched onto something.

The other way (one I NEVER chose to join in on) was to walk barefoot through that creek and hope a crawfish would find one of your toes appealing enough to clamp onto it! I use to watch my brother and sisters walk the creek trying to catch crawfish but was never foolish enough to try it myself!

Every so often my father would bring home huge bags of crawfish for the family. I'm not sure if he bought them, trapped them himself, or if they were a gift from someone taking pity on us. No was three hundred pounds of instant fun for us.

For racing, I would pick whichever one seemed to be crawling around the fastest and then pit it against my siblings' choices. For fighting, the champion would be the one with the largest pinchers. Either way, they all eventually ended up in a large caldron of boiling water flavored with crawfish boil seasonings, new potatoes and corn on the cob.

Then there would be a mad dash to cover our dining room table with multiple layers of newspapers as Mother began dumping pan after pan of delicious crawfish onto the papers and everyone could eat their fill. Tails were pulled from whatever was left over and put in the freezer for later. Many a night Mother would watch her TV shows while cracking open the shells until her fingers bled just so her children could have food for another day.

I didn't realize the sacrifices my mother made back then but I do now. There aren't many crawfish holes around the hills of Tennessee but whenever I do get the chance to enjoy some crawfish, I always remember the wonderful crawfish boils made possible by a parent doing everything she could to keep her children fed.

Thanks, Mom.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Title: Petite Rouge, A Cajun Red Riding Hood
Author: Mike Artell
Illustrator: Jim Harris
Publisher: Puffin Books
Ages: 4 to 8

"Back in de swamp
where dat Spanish moss grow,
I heard me a story
from long time ago

In a little ol' house
dat been built outta wood,
live a girl people call
Petite Rouge Riding Hood."

Synopsis: It's a Cajun twist on the fairy tale Little Riding Hood as Petite Rouge Riding Hood travels through the swamp to visit her ailing Grandmother. It's not a wolf to greet her but a crusty, crafty alligator named Claude trying to trick the little Cajun girl out of some tasty gumbo and boudin. It will take a sneaky cat and a quick-thinking girl to save everyone from becoming lunch on the bayou for that old gator!

Why you should read it: Being Cajun myself and growing up in the swamps just south of Lafayette, I could certainly relate to the characters in this delightful book. Mr. Artell does a great retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood and artful Jim Harris' wonderful illustrations help readers to visualize life on the bayou.  It brought back lovely memories of growing up in southern Louisiana and being a part of the fascinating Cajun people living there!

Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

How The Scouts Helped Prepare Me For My Upcoming Book Release

When my son was growing up I did what any single mom might do…I let him join the Scouts. I wanted strong male role models for him and thought participating in Scout activities would help him safely explore the world around him. I still remember going to our first roundup meeting when he was in first grade. His group was called the Tiger Cubs at that age and imagine my surprise when my son decided to nominate ME as their den leader! I had never done anything like that before in my life, but with my son’s encouragement I decided to jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride.

While it was a little scary at first leaping into the unknown. I soon discovered not only were there others just starting out like myself, but also plenty of people along the way who were eager to show me the ropes. Soon I felt like an old pro at this scouting thing. I also learned some valuable lessons along the way…


I quickly realized the eight boys in my den just wanted to have fun. Whether it was cleaning up the local park or working on birdhouses at the local Home Depot, as long as they were enjoying themselves it was worth their effort to show up for the meeting.

            Like the Boy Scout motto, I tried to always be prepared for each den meeting. I would do my research on the topic for that week, make sure I had everything I needed to have a successful night, and went into each meeting with the right mindset, even if that meant leaving the day’s frustrations at the door. Those children came to me with high expectations and they deserved the best of myself I could give them.


             There were some times when I couldn’t run the meeting all on my own. The plans for the night required more than I could handle and I would ask for assistance from another parent. I’m a fiercely independent person but not dumb enough to think I can always do everything on my own so I wasn’t too proud to ask for help when I needed it.


            In Scouting…as well as martial arts…you are expected to be courteous at all times. The world can be an ugly place to live in, but you can always be the one to shine a little kindness on someone else along the way. No matter where we went, I always expected my scouts to be remembered for their kindness and willingness to assist others in any way they could…even if to just say thank you!

My son had a good time during his years in the Scouts. He moved up in rank from Tiger Cub to Wolf, Bear, and Webelo before graduating into Boy Scouts where he went on to become an Eagle Scout at age sixteen. At his Eagle Scout ceremony, I was given a badge of honor as well for taking the journey with him. At the time I didn’t give much thought to all that I had learned during my scouting days but now I can look back and realize I was also being prepared for becoming a published author.

Outside of training and teaching TaeKwonDo, returning to my writing after a twenty-year hiatus is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I can’t imagine my life without my writing now and look forward to what the next twenty years might bring. My time in the Scouts as Den Leader and then Trainer where I taught the incoming parents how to become the next Den Leaders prepared me for being highly organized.

With the upcoming release of my debut picture book, THE STORY CATCHER, there are certain things that have to happen in a timely manner in order to increase the chances of a successful book run. I’m currently working with my publisher, Anaiah Press, and my publicist to make sure all my ducks are lined up and ready to go come next January. I’m also reaching out to the many, many people I have met along the way these past four years and thanking them for all their love and support. I did not travel this path to publication alone and I would be remiss if I didn’t show my appreciation for all the kindness shown to me along the way.

Beginning next week I will be talking about what specifically Anaiah Press and I have been doing to get ready for my book release. As a new author I’m a little surprised to learn of all the “behind the scenes” work needed done before the first book rolls off the presses. It’s exciting and a little scary for an introverted spirit like myself but just like during my scouting days, I’m planning to jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride!

Friday, August 22, 2014


Growing up in a poor family didn't give me many chances to cater to my sweet tooth. I am a chocoholic from early childhood when I drank mug after mug of hot cocoa on a cold rainy school day while drying off in front of a fire.

Occasionally my mother would scrap enough change together to give each of her children a nickel and we would walk down to the corner grocery store to fill a bag with our choices for the day. As much as I loved chocolate, I knew even at 4 or 5 years old that sweet tarts and bubble gum at 3 or 4 pieces for 1 penny would last longer than 1 Hershey's kiss for that same penny.

But those candy trips didn't happen often so my sweet tooth had to be satisfied with whatever my parents could cook up at home.

My father spent many years as a cook for offshore oil drilling rigs and he was better suited for preparing meals for 100 people instead of the 6 in his family. But occasionally he would decide to make homemade lollipops for us kids.  If I think about it now, it probably wasn't too hard a task to mix the few ingredients together and pour it onto sticks lying on sheets of wax paper but to me, it was like someone had dropped me smack dab in the middle of Willy Wonka's factory.  Oh the anticipation of waiting to be told I was able to grab my own sucker. To finally clutch that lollipop and be able to bite into that crunchy sweetness was well worth the wait.

But it is my mother's donuts that I remember most growing up. Mother's attempt to provide a special treat for her children came with good intentions but it was the execution that always seemed to be lacking.  Preparing the dough didn't take long but when it came to the actual frying of the donuts, Mother had to use the only thing available to her. That was usually old bacon grease or old oil used to fry chicken or fish and then stored in a metal can on top of the stove. Let's just say those donuts came out of the pan with an unusual flavor added to what should have been a sweet treat and not even a hearty dunking in sugar afterwards could quite mask the aftertaste.

There was no complaining allowed in our house where food was concerned since it tended to be a rare commodity so I always said thank you and made the most of a sticky situation. But you can bet to this day if I'm going to indulge my sweet tooth by buying a donut, it WON'T be the fried kind!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BOOK NOOK REVIEWS: Jennifer Plecas

Title: Pretend
Author/Illustrator: Jennifer Plecas
Publisher: Philomel Books
Ages: 4 to 8

Synopsis: Father and son bond on the high seas of their imagination as a couch becomes a ship and a staircase becomes a mountain for two adventurous travelers to the land of pretending.

Maybe you should read it: The artwork and story line is simple but, something seemed to be missing from the telling of this tale. I get the concept of one young boy wanting his father to step into the world of pretending with him but for me the action seemed somewhat forced and I wasn't sure if at one point Dad wasn't a bit bored by the continual role playing his son was expecting from him. The overall tone of the story was sweet but it left me wondering if this book might be an acquired taste for some readers.

Like-O-Meter Rating: 3 out of 5...take it or leave it!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Making Your Twitter Pitch Sparkle by Author Emily Ungar

This entire sentence is all the room you have to create a Twitter pitch--so you need to make every space count, and don’t forget the hashtag!

It’s true. The entire sentence above is 140 characters, the maximum length of a Tweet. It may sound like plenty of room to attract the eye of an acquisitions editor or literary agent, but once you get to typing, that’s not quite the case. You have a lot of elements to cram into your Tweet. But once you include the basic info, you’re not done yet. This isn’t like high school homework, in which you’re doing just enough to get by. You need to include words that stand out in an endless Twitter feed. Because when you’re looking in a jewelry case, won’t your eyes automatically land on the most sparkling gem?

Get the Basics Down

When you’re pitching, you need to lay the groundwork first. Be sure to include:

Hashtag. Please don’t forget this! Pitch contests include a very specific hashtag. If you don’t use it, no one will see it. Watch for typos, too. #ThrowMeAnElevatorPitch can accidentally become #ThrowMeAnElevatorPinch. Not only will your pitch go unseen, you’re asking for trouble. Because no one wants to be pinched on an elevator.

Genre/Category. Many pitch contests include multiple categories. Know the common abbreviations for the audience you write for. The most common are: PB (picture book), CB, (chapter book), MG (middle grade), YA (young adult), WF (women’s fiction), NA (new adult), SF (science fiction), and UF (urban fantasy). Use the appropriate acronym so you’ll be seen easily and look like you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t). This is also a space saver. If you write out MG instead of middle grade, you’ve just saved yourself 10 characters to use on a more eye-catching word.

Follow the rules. In most contests, the only users who “favorite” Tweets are the editors and agents who are looking to read your material. Don’t get anyone’s hopes up or generate confusion. If there’s a pitch you’d like to support, don’t “favorite” it. Retweet it to help those editors and agents see that pitch.

Polish Your Gems

Bring Out the Quirks. Sorry, but “young woman in love must save boyfriend from impending doom” is a yawn. Even if that is a quick summary of your plot, you’re selling yourself short. What’s special about your main character, plot, or stakes? Does your main character only walk on stilts? Will her love interest be forced to forever live inside the windmill at a miniature golf course if she doesn’t fight the villain? Be specific, and throw out anything that’s different. Being vague will not earn you as many pitches. Make it quirky. If it’s not quirky, at least make it different. 

They’re not Blue Stones. They’re Sapphires! In a Tweet, every word counts. How can you make your Tweet sparkle? You’re a writer, so this is no time to slack on creativity. Use eye-catching words and concepts that aren’t conventionally paired together. The “blonde cheerleader” is a cliche, but “blonde cheer priestess” is probably not. Make someone do a double take when they read it!

As Twitter pitch contests gain popularity and help to match more and more writers with editors and agents, the art of crafting the perfect pitch is constantly evolving. Be creative, be brief, and follow the rules. Good luck throwing out that first pitch!


On the same day she turns twelve years old, Savannah moves away from everything she’s known in sweet, sunny Georgia to preppy Washington D.C. Not only will she miss her best friends Katie and Tessa, Savannah will start a new school. She soon discovers that her schoolmates love to brag—about their clothes, their parents’ governmental connections, and even who has the in with the school authorities.

Unhappy and lonely, Savannah decides if she can’t make life better, she can at least make it sound that way. Soon she is living in the childhood home of George Washington, riding in the limo of the vice president’s daughter, and even moving into the former Luxembourg embassy.

All is well until she learns that her true friends from Georgia are coming for a visit. Now Savannah must create the life she’s been talking about in her letters—and fast! Will Savannah find herself or lose her friends?

**Available for purchase through Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon**

Emily Ungar is a graduate of Indiana University, where she majored in journalism. After living in seven different U.S. states by the time she finished college, she now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband and very curious twin toddlers. When she isn’t chasing after her twin boys, Emily loves to curl up in a chaise lounge with a book in one hand and a lemon cupcake in the other. Emily loves connecting with her readers, so she welcomes you to say hi on her blog at