Monday, January 7, 2013

Interview with Pam Calvert: Author of Princess Peepers

I met Pam on Facebook. I reached out for an interview, and she graciously agreed. I'm so glad she did. 

She not only gives some great advice for writers, but lists some great classes to take which have helped her break into the publishing world. 

Below are the questions I asked her:

 1. Describe your writing in 5 words: (um..that's 6, but it's okay)

   Humorous, kid-friendly, educational, creative, fantastical, fun

 2. Where's the best place to get a cup of Joe/Tea in your town?

I love to go to Vintage Garden Tea House in Montgomery, TX. They serve high tea and have the most scrumptious broccoli salad on the planet!

 3. What is your process for writing? Do you use an outline? Write linearly? Write action scenes first?

Picture books are different from novels. I like to write down my ideas and start a plot outline on a story board pad. 

See this article on how I start:

Then I write it from there on the computer. It takes one to three days to complete. Several weeks to revise.

For a novel, I will write out character sketches and an overview of the story synopsis. Then I'll do a beginning, middle and end paragraphs. After that, I'll start writing the first three to four chapters. 

After that, I'll do a chapter by chapter outline to keep the story from getting out of control. Stories can tend to be dream-like and scamper off the trail. An outline really helps you to see the end!

 4. Humor is one of the toughest things to convey in a book. Where do your funny ideas come from? Who do you test them on?

I study humor as a rule. I keep an eye out for things I think an elementary school kid would love and I write down the ideas or titles that pop into my head. 

I test my stories out on my kids. If they laugh, I know I've done my job. I've also tested out my stories on my kids' friends and when I do school visits, I have written stories just for those programs. 

The most humorous things are when you can surprise your reader or give your reader an inside secret that the main character may not know about--like when Princess Peepers thinks a horse is a princess (and that she has bad breath!!!)

 5. What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?

I get up at 6 am and I eat yogurt and drink coffee for breakfast. I'd probably sleep longer, but I have to get my kids off to school. :-)

 6. Do you belong to any writer's associations? Which ones and why?

I belong to SCBWI and Author's Guild. Authors Guild helped me when I didn't have an agent and a licensing option came my way. SCBWI was very helpful in the beginning of my career and their conferences now are a way for me to connect with other writers that I've gotten to know over the years on the internet.

  7.  Do you have an agent? If yes, why? If no, why?

Yes, I have an agent. I decided I needed one when I started writing middle grade novels. You just cannot get a read by the bigger companies without one. My agent also helps me to focus on what I need to be writing throughout the year. I can get sidetracked and she really helps me figure out what I need to be doing. She also helps me through the rejection sting and also lifts me up when I feel low.

 8. Who is your biggest cheerleader?

My husband is my biggest cheerleader. Then my kids, friends, family, and agent! :-)

 9. Did you take any great writing classes that you'd like to promote?

The first writing class I took which I would recommend to anyone first starting out would be Institute for Children's Literature. That got me published in nine months and all the magazine articles and other publishing acceptances helped me not to quit when books didn't pan out at first. 

The next one all aspiring picture book writers should take is Anastasia Suen's Intensive Picture Book Workshop It's worth every penny and I sold a picture book almost instantly after I took her course.

 10. How do you promote your books? What/How has been the best way with the most results?

Word of mouth is the best way to promote books, imo. If you write a great book, it will sell! But every writer should have a website. That's where readers connect with me, and I get most of my school visits from the site. 

I also have a Facebook page for Princess Peepers because of her popularity where people can post pictures and ideas for costumes, activities, and parties pertaining to the book. 

I also have a blog, but I haven't paid attention to it like I should. I do believe a writer should have a different blog to promote each book. I just haven't done it. Mine is a catch-all. I mainly have it so my readers can see what I've been up to. A New Year's resolution is to revamp that blog!

 11. Was there a teacher in your past, in elementary, middle, or high school, that helped you become the writer you are today?

I participated in a program in 5th grade called Great Books and read most of the classics at age 10. I can tell you that shaped my love of literature and my thirst for writing.

 12. You say you belong on an island. Which island would you choose to shipwreck on? And what would you write about while there?

Hawaii--Kauai specifically--I used to live in Honolulu and Hawaii is Eden on earth. I also love Palau where you can swim with jellyfish that don't sting. I would revise my middle grade adventure novel that is set in Guam. We do hope to go back to live in Guam and it will be the first thing I write once I get there.

 13. What is your children's writing page about?

I go over steps to get published. This was from my observations and how I did it. I'm sure others went about it different ways. Times are changing and there are many different ways to getting published now. 

But the most important step is to get educated in writing for children. No one should negate that step. When you're an adult, you can't possibly understand what delights a child unless you read. Reading over 200 picture books is a step in the right direction. Taking classes is paramount even if you plan on self-publishing.

 14. What's the funniest thing a child has asked you about your books? Characters? Or writing?

Oh my! There have been tons. One cute thing a child wrote to me was after a school visit they said this: 

"I haven't read all your books but I'm thanking they're still good." 

Kids are so awesome! Another time after a school visit, a kid forged my signature on pieces of paper and sold them at 2 bucks a pop! Oh my!

 15. When you go to a school visit, what one thing do you take along that will help to keep the kid's interest the whole time?

Well, I take a whole bag of stuff and I do different presentations, depending on what the school chooses. 

For Peepers, I have costumes for the kids and go through a new Princess Peepers story for them to act out which teaches parts of a story. 

I also open and close my act with explosive science experiments that show them how I became an author and how they can achieve their dreams. They love this! 

For multiplication presentations, Rumpelstiltskin visits their school with a magic multiplying wand and "he" multiplies their noses. Kids love the "threat" of impending doom. Tee hee!

 16. Please give 3 points of advice for a newbie writer.

1. You must love to read before you can write. I can't tell you how many times I've talked with people who are writing children's stories but don't have the desire to read children's stories. What?

2. You should focus on the genre you love best, study it (as in read TONS of the genre) and then write your story.

3. Don't give up. Rejections are a part of the trade. 

I have a whole section devoted to rejection on my website--  

I don't post my rejection anymore, but there are tons of archived years full of hundreds of rejections. Enough to make you feel better, I'm sure.

 17. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

If you've read my books (and love them!) feel free to write a review, link, repost pics off my site! I won't mind!!! LOL! 

I've seen mothers post about my books, showing their children enjoying them, drawing pictures, learning math. There's nothing better in promotion than that.

 18. What do you think about the publishing world today? What's changing for the better? For the worse?

I love the trend toward e-books and self-publishing. I've always thought e-books were the future. 

Back in 2000, Jean Chalopin, creator of Inspector Gadget and DIC, came to me and asked that I take a chance on his company and write stories for him. Those were some of the first e-books for kids around. Unfortunately, he was about ten years too early and so the company failed, but working with those editors taught me a lot about writing for children. 

I love that a writer can take a great product and deliver it to the masses the way they envision. And it can become a hit. There's nothing better than that.

 19. What one word best describes you?


 20. What are you working on right now?

I'm working on a YA contemporary novel that is a role reversal of one of Shakespeare's little known plays. I'm also revising a few picture books, hoping to get them back out on submission soon.

 21. What other titles are under your writer's belt?

The six titles I have out are:
Princess Peepers, Princess Peepers Picks a Pet, Multiplying Menace: The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin, Multiplying Menace Divides, The Mat Maker and a work for hire book I did for InnovationKids entitled, Clue School: Mystery at the Ballpark. I've also written for several magazines such as Highlights, Odyssey, and Nature Friend.

 22. Any big news?

Multiplying Menace series has sold to China this year and became a Scholastic's Marilyn Burns Math Reads title. I don't have any new book sales to report, but I don't give up easily. God put me on this path of writing and has given me inklings of hope along the way. Without that, I would have given up long ago.

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