Today I’m thrilled to kick-off Connie Arnold’s blog tour for the release of her latest book: OLIVE AND THE GREAT FLOOD.
This is a Noah and the Ark story told from the point of view of the dove:
Olive is a gentle friendly dove who wants to help her friends Noah, his family and the other animals with her on the ark. She tries to soothe them during the rain and has an important assignment, to discover when it’s safe to venture from the ark after the flood.
With fun rhyming verses and bold artwork, kids are sure to love Olive. I appreciated her up-beat outlook (despite the hardships of the ark), and her spirit of serving others. It’s not just about enduring the hard stuff, but enduring it well. (Definitely something I strive to do).
Connie agreed to answer a few questions here today. Those who comment will be entered into drawings for two prizes, a signed copy of Connie’s first children’s book, ANIMAL SOUND MIX-UP, and a gold dove windchime. Just saying, but the windchime is beautiful! Visit her blog for the details.
And here we go!
Me: Congratulations on the publication of Olive and the Great Flood! So what inspired you to tell this story from the perspective of the dove?
Connie: I have read this story many times before, heard it as a small child and was always fascinated about all those animals going onto the ark and surviving the flood. Children always seem to enjoy animals and stories about animals. I see things a little differently now that I have grandchildren and have started writing for young children. It just struck me how important the dove flying out to bring back the olive leaf was to the story, and she suddenly had a personality and a mission! Me: The dove is essential, for sure! And I love the character you created in Olive. Your readers can see Olive’s efforts to help others and that she takes pride in the important job she is given. Have you ever had an Olive in your life—someone who influenced you by their service and good attitude? Can you tell us about him/her? How did he/she influence you?
Connie: A teacher I had who was always cheerful and seemed to really care about each student influenced me in a positive way. As a shy, quiet child it was hard to express myself to others, and she encouraged me in gentle ways much as Olive gently soothes the animals on the ark. Me: And now look . . . you are sharing your voice with countless others! My High School English teacher was like that for me. She probably has no idea the impact she made. Hmmm . . . must amend that. Anyway, so now that you have the opportunity to influence others, what do you hope your readers will take away from Olive and the Great Flood?
Connie: I hope a sense that even the small things you do during your life can make a big impact on others. Doing your best and helping others can give your life greater meaning and joy. Also, remember the promise of the rainbow and God’s love! Me: I completely agree! The small things really add up. We shouldn’t be afraid to do what we can because we think it’s too small, or wouldn’t have a big enough impact.
So as I writer, I also wanted to talk a little about you and your writing process. It’s such a personal thing for each of us. What inspires you in your writing? Or put another way, how do you develop your ideas?
Connie: My grandchildren and other children inspire my writing for the young ones. Once an idea is born, it grows and blooms into a story or dies a natural death. I think you and other writers can relate to that. When it grows and develops it is worth all the efforts of changing, redoing, editing, cutting and writing again that make it be worth reading and enjoying. Me: I can definitely relate. Many, many ideas never make it past the idea stage. But the ones that do are without a doubt a labor of love. Even so, I still struggle sometimes getting the story into readable shape. How about you? What has been your biggest struggle as an author?
Connie: My health and energy level have caused a struggle at times. I have lupus and some other issues that leave me very painful and drained at times. It is hard to focus and be productive at those times. I find the promotion of my books much harder than the writing actually.
Me: My aunt has lupus, so I’ve seen how draining that can be. It just makes me all the more amazed at your accomplishments and determination. And I can definitely see that about promotion. I feel I’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of me where promotion is concerned. So with all you are doing, what legacy do you hope to leave as an author?
Connie: Since I feel that my writing ability and being a published author are because of God’s help and blessings, I hope to leave inspiration, joy and a blessing to those who read what I have written. Me: What a great legacy. If we could all just leave the world with a little more inspiration and joy, this world would be a better place. Okay, and now a fun question or two: If you could get any book signed by the author (alive or dead), what would it be?
Connie: Can I say the Bible? It is one book, but think of all those authors. Wouldn’t that be fantastic!
Me: It would be! A worthy choice, for sure! Actually, given the topic of your book, I had a feeling you’d say that. 😉 And of course, because this is me, you knew I had to ask this . . . what would Olive’s personalized license plate be? 😀
Haha! I love it! Thanks so much for letting me be part of your tour. 🙂 And to the rest of ya’ll, don’t forget to comment for a chance to win the aforementioned prizes!
Okay, maybe it’s not as secret as I like to think. I love picture books. Like LOVE. I check them out at the library by the dozens, and tell myself they’re “for the kids.” Ha! Nope. Definitely for me.
But the real secret is that I want to write picture books. I have played at it for years. Studied the greats endlessly. Taken classes at conferences. Paid for critiques by professionals. Even written several ugly drafts of would be stories. But I could tell I had a long way to go.
So when my lovely CP (Dee Romito) told me she had signed up for an online picture book writing class called “Making Picture Book Magic,” I was all ears. And then, THEN, she told me it was by one of my favorite author/bloggers (who I also consider a friend), Susanna Leonard Hill. I didn’t even know she had a class! So of course I signed up right away.
Her class is so popular, I had to wait a few months to get in, but let me tell you, it blew me away! It’s not even that she told me anything I didn’t already know. But the way she broke everything down into the perfect sized daily lessons was awesome. It felt like I had a friend walking me through the process from start to finish. I felt productive. Capable. Excited to write!
And even better, as part of the lessons, there was a facebook group where we could share and discuss with the other participants and get feedback from Susanna (and each other). And let me tell you, the feedback was pure gold. GOLD. And not just the feedback on my work. I learned tons reading the feedback on the others’ work.
Honestly, the money I paid for Susanna’s class is the best spent money I have ever put into my writing career.
I was so excited by the class, that I asked Susanna if she would be my guest on the blog and answer a few questions. And she said yes! So I welcome Susanna to my blog.
Me: When did you begin your Making Picture Book Magic class, and what inspired you to do so?
Susanna: I started Making Picture Book Magic in February 2012, after I’d spent the better part of 9 months writing the course, beta testing it, and commissioning art to decorate the lessons and inspire writers. I got the idea for the class because I do critiques for people on a pretty regular basis, and I found that many of the manuscripts I received from beginning writers were showing similar types of problems. It got me to thinking that maybe I could offer a class that covered some of the basics. I wanted the class to be interactive so that people would have the opportunity to ask questions, not just generally about writing, but specifically about the stories they were working on. I wanted writers to be able to learn from each other as well as from me. I wanted the class to be affordable, because lots of writers don’t have a lot of money to spend on such things. I also wanted it to be something the average person could manage in the small amounts of time they could find in their busy life. So that was my aim. You’ve taken the class, so you can say if you think I succeeded or not 🙂
Me: Yes! You definitely succeeded. I particularly loved being able to ask specific questions about my work. So helpful!
So let’s talk about your writing. One of my favorite books of yours is Can’t Sleep Without Sheep. My kids and I (and my husband) were cracking up! I think the cows were my favorite. Where did you get your inspiration for that book? How long did it take you to write it?
Susanna: I’m so glad you like Can’t Sleep 🙂 I owe that story to my son and a mattress commercial. (And yes, I know the main character in the story is a girl, and there are no mattresses to be seen :)) When my son was little, he wasn’t big on sleep. Every night he’d get in bed and have what he called his “thinking time.” Many nights, long after I thought he was asleep and had gone to bed myself, he’d come into our room wide awake and full of questions. “What’s the temperature of the sun?” “How many teeth does a t-rex have?” “Where does the wind come from?” To which I would answer knowledgeably, “Uh….” I’d take him back to bed, tuck him in, and tell him to count sheep, sitting beside him in the dark while he did so until he finally drifted off. When I got to writing the story, for some reason (maybe so he wouldn’t know I was talking about him :)) I changed the main character to a girl. But by itself a story about a child with a busy mind who couldn’t fall asleep was not enough. I had that part rolling around in the back of my mind for a while, unwritten, unfinished, because I knew it needed more. Then one day, when I was driving the kids to school, a commercial came on the radio. It said something like, “Tired of counting sheep? Buy our mattress!” And I thought to myself, what if instead of getting tired of counting sheep, the sheep got tired of being counted? And that’s when I finally had a story 🙂 The actual writing only took a few hours, but I’d been thinking about it for ages.
Me: It amazes me how much of ‘writing’ is really ‘thinking.’ And I love hearing how a story is born. So fascinating!
Seven of your picture books have been published. Have you ever considered dabbling in longer stories? Why or why not?
Susanna: I have considered it! In fact, I have attempted it! I have 4 completed novels (and by completed I mean I got to “The End” but boy do they need work!) and about 10 others in various stages. I am the queen of jumping in, writing 30-45 pages, and then realizing I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. But I would love to figure it out, so I’m still working on it 🙂
Me: Haha! Sounds familiar. I always feel bad about the unfinished books of mine. Maybe someday I’ll go back. 🙂
Through your blog, you began the Perfect Picture Book database a couple of years ago. It is so useful, and I’ve learned of so many great books through it. Can you tell us a little about this, and what inspired you to start it (I seem to be all about inspiration today!)?
Susanna: My younger sister-in-law is actually responsible for inspiring Perfect Picture Books. She asked me a couple different times if I knew of good picture books about one topic or another, and it got me to thinking that there were probably a lot of parents out there who didn’t have the kind of background we writers have in what’s out there for kids to read. I thought it might be helpful if they had a place to go where they could find excellent, highly recommended picture books on various topics and themes. Then I thought I could take it a step further (as long as I was doing it anyway :)) and add resources to the reviews so that parents, teachers and homeschoolers could easily find ways to expand on the use of picture books at home and in the classroom. I knew it would take me a REALLY long time to build up a data base by myself, so I threw it out into the blogosphere to see who might want to do it with me, thereby finding a terrific group of people who show up every week with great picture books to share. (I have to publicly confess, though, that keeping the list properly updated is a HUGE job and I have fallen woefully behind. I am working on catching up, but the data base always lags well behind the books that have been done! If anyone happens to be looking for an unpaid job, call me :))
Me: Hmmm . . . I might just be contacting you myself. What a great thing to be a part of!
Okay, okay, I’ve taken enough of your time, but I have to throw out a couple of fun ones. First, I have shared many a dessert with you on your blog. What, amongst all your offerings is your very favorite?
Susanna: Asking me to choose a favorite dessert is like asking me to choose a favorite child, Janet! How can you?! Let’s see… How about three favorites? 1. Gingerbread with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. 2. Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. 3. Chocolate mousse cake. Oh, and brownies with coffee ice cream. Okay. That’s it. Oh, except there’s nothing like a freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookie! Okay. That’s really it. Oh, except fresh cider donuts, especially this time of year, which aren’t technically dessert, but really you can eat them any time! Okay. I’ll stop. But now I’m hungry. What have you got? It might be a new favorite 🙂
Me: Haha! I do ask the hard-hitting questions, don’t I? And yum. Now you have me drooling. Fresh cider donuts sound amazing right now! Alas, all I have to offer is a bucket or two of Halloween candy.
So, on to the most important question of all (I mean, this is ME, you had to know this was coming) what would your personalized license plate be? Or if you’d rather, you can tell us the personalized license plate for one of your characters. Punxatawny Phillis might have quite an interesting one. 🙂
Susanna: Oh gosh! This is a hard one! I’m not good at these. Maybe WRITRGRL? Or GHOGSRUL? Or LUVCHOCL8? 🙂 Maybe you’d better think one up for me!
Me: Oh dear. I’m afraid you’ve used too many letters in those plates. You are only allowed 7. 😉 Let me offer some suggestions: PBWRITR; GHOGPWR (Groundhog power); I ROCK; I WRITE or perhaps LVDSSRT (Love Dessert). What do you think?
Susanna, thanks again for stopping in! And I hope you all have a great day. 😀
Susanna Leonard Hill grew up in New York City with her mom and dad, one sister and two brothers, and an assortment of cats. Her first published book was The House That Mack Built, released by Little Simon in 2002. Since then, she has published six more books: Punxsutawney Phyllis (Holiday House, 2005), Taxi! (Little Simon, 2005), No Sword Fighting In The House (Holiday House, 2007), Not Yet, Rose (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009), and Airplane Flight! and Freight Train Trip! (Little Simon, 2009.) Can’t Sleep Without Sheep, released Fall of 2010 (Walker Books), is illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, and Jeff Ebbeler is illustrating April Fools, Phyllis!, released in 2011 (Holiday House).
Back in August, one of my super sweet CP’s (Critique Partner’s), Angela Cervantes, published her debut middle-grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found with Scholastic Press. If you haven’t read it yet, you should! It is a touching story about a girl trying to find her place when her life is flipped up-side down. Here’s the blurb:
Gaby Howard Ramirez loves volunteering at the local animal shelter. She’s in charge of writing adoption advertisements so that the strays who live there can find their forever homes: places where they’ll be cared for and loved, no matter what.
Gaby has been feeling like a bit of a stray herself lately. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras, and Gaby is stuck living with her inattentive dad. She’s confident that her mom will come home soon so they can adopt Gaby’s favorite shelter cat together. But when the cat’s owners turn up at the shelter, Gaby worries that her plans for the perfect family are about to fall apart.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a crier, but this one had me all choked up. I’m not an animal person, but she had me falling in love with each stray as I read the adoption advertisements. Gaby is a spunky character full of heart, and I’m certain you’ll fall in love with her like I did.
I begged asked Angela if she’d be willing to do an interview with Girlie (my 4-year-old daughter), and she obligingly agreed.
So this is Girlie, and I’m going to let her take it from here:
Girlie: I don’t know who you are. Who are you?
Angela: I’m Angela Cervantes and I’m author of Gaby, Lost and Found, which was published by Scholastic Press. 🙂
Girlie: I like to play Diego Wii with my friends. What do you like to do with your friends?
Angela: I enjoy going for coffee with my friends and playing tennis or baseball with them.
Girlie: I’m trying to make people happy by playing with them and sharing my stuff. How do you make people happy?
Angela: I think sharing things is a great way to make people happy. I’m going to have to do more of that. I also think people really like it when you’re a good, honest friend to them and you remember their birthdays.
Girlie: People can be nice to each other and don’t throw a fit. Is the girl with the cat in the backpack nice and doesn’t throw fits?
Angela: The girl on the cover is Gaby and she is super nice. She’s also brave, smart and a serious animal lover. She’d do anything to help a cat or dog if it were in trouble. I think the only time she throws a fit is when she feels an innocent animal has been poorly treated. I don’t blame her really.
Girlie: I like the kitty on the cover. I don’t have a kitty. Do you?
Angela: I don’t have a kitty either, but I’m glad you like the cat on the cover. That cat is named Feather. In this book, we find out that Feather was named Feather by the folks at the animal shelter because when she was brought into the shelter she was as light as a Feather. She and Gaby become good friends.
Girlie: You look cute in that picture and I like your skirt. Do you choose your own clothes? I do!
Angela: Thank you! I do choose my own clothes. I love picking out cute stuff to wear. I love bright colors like red, purple, pinks and yellows.
Girlie: Did you sign the book? Do we get to keep it?
Me: Sorry Girlie, I know you love this book, but we have our own copy. We’re going to give these ones to some people who haven’t read it yet.
Angela: I am always happy to sign a book for anyone who wants it. 🙂 It’s one of the nice perks of being an author.
Me: Angela, thanks so much for answering all of Girlie’s questions. She loves your book and keeps sneaking it from my room! But I have a couple of questions for you, too. As you know, I re-joined our critique group shortly after you got the offer from Scholastic, so I missed the whole writing process. How long did it take you to write Gaby, Lost and Found? And would you tell us about your revision process, too?
Angela: It took nine months to write Gaby, Lost and Found and another two years of revision. I believe the real magic happens during revision and I enjoy it. For me, it’s not as intense as the writing process. I go into revision knowing I have to chop away stuff. I go into writing never knowing what will happen so I definitely prefer revision. Although it can be painful– especially when you have to take out a character (I had to remove two characters from Gaby, Lost and Found) or remove a favorite scene–but it’s necessary if you’re committed to making the story stronger.
Me: Oooh! I love knowing secret stuff like about books, like characters that didn’t make the cut. I may have to hear about these characters at our next meeting. 🙂 Okay, so last question. I kind of have this thing about personalized license plates. So, if Gaby were old enough to drive, what would her personalized license plate be?
Angela: Gaby’s license plate would be GRLPWR.
Me: I love it! She definitely lives up to that. 🙂
Angela Cervantes is a poet, storyteller, and animal lover. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in various publications, including Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. When Angela is not writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband in Kansas and eating fish tacos every chance she gets. Gaby, Lost and Found is her first middle-grade novel. She is currently at work on her second book.
Now for the Giveaway! I have two signed (paperback) copies of Gaby, Lost and Found to give away to two lucky visitors. Just enter in the Rafflecopter below! The giveaway is open through March 31st. Good luck!