Giveaways

Writing and Illustrating Funny Poetry For Kids – Author Interview with Vikram Madan, and Giveaway

At Mixed-Up Files today, we’re thrilled to have author-illustrator Vikram Madan. Vikram talks about his new book A Hatful Of Dragons that comes out on April 21, 2020. He also shares his exciting publishing journey along with other writing tips.

                                                           

 

  1. Tell us about A Hatful Of Dragons. What inspired you to write the book?

A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems’ is a quirky, eclectic collection of funny rhyming poems woven together with rich illustrations featuring recurring characters and sub-plots – a double dose of visual and literary fun for all ages 7 and up.

As a kid I loved both cartooning and writing poems but never thought of combining the two till I encountered, much later in life, Shel Silverstein’s work. I was instantly attracted to the concept of words and images working together to create a funnier experience. So much so that ‘A Hatful of Dragon’ is my third collection of self-illustrated funny poems featuring intertwined words and drawings.

 

  1. What would you want readers to take away from A Hatful Of Dragons?

I would love for readers of all ages to come away from this book with the idea that you can have a lot of fun playing with language and also with a desire to read more rhyming poetry.

 

  1. What were some of the most fun and challenging parts about writing A Hatful Of Dragons?

The poems in my original manuscript were largely disconnected from each other. While shortlisting the poems, Rebecca Davis, my editor, instinctively zeroed-in on the uniqueness of creating cross-connections between poems. As I developed the illustrations for the book, I had a lot of fun thinking of ways to interconnect the poems visually. For example, a main character in one visual might show up later in the book as a secondary character in another visual, helping create a cohesive, but weird, universe for the characters. I hope kids will have fun closely inspecting the illustrations for cross-connections.

The most challenging part of the book was stuffing 13.8 billion poems into 64 pages. 🙂

Actually I found doing the illustrations to be a challenge as I underestimated the sheer physical work required to get through multiple rounds of revisions and changes. Somewhat like running a marathon, most enjoyable, not while you’re doing it, but well after it is done. 🙂

 

 

Another challenge was coming up with a distinctive title for the book. The title poem ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ did not exist in my original manuscript. We thought of titling the book ‘There’s a Dragon in My Wagon’ but an internet search showed half-a-dozen books already had that title. Many other title poems from the manuscript did not pass internal sales and marketing reviews. I finally proposed ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ and once that title was approved, I had to then write a title poem from scratch worthy of the book. Talk about pressure! 🙂

 

  1. You began your writing career by self-publishing your work. How did the experience influence you as a children’s writer? How did you make the transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing?

Prior to self-publishing, I spent a decade trying to have my rhyming picture books and themed poetry collections published. I found agents and publishers reluctant to consider poetry. With rejections piling up, I actually gave up writing and submitting for a few years. However the itch never went away. In 2012, I spent a summer writing a fresh collection of poems. I decided then that if no one would publish my poems, I would publish them myself, which led to my first collection ‘The Bubble Collector’.

 

Once ‘The Bubble Collector’ was out, I realized writing the book was the easy part. Marketing, distribution, getting anyone to notice a self-published book, was incredibly hard (more so for us introverts!). I learnt that if I didn’t do the hustle, no one else would. With perseverance and leg work, I was able to get the book into local bookstores, gain a few favorable reviews and endorsements, and conduct some school visits. The book went on to win a 2013 Moonbeam Book Award for Children’s Poetry and was invited to apply to the 2014 WA State Book Awards. All in all, for a self-published poetry book, it did quite ok. The ‘hustling’, however, left me with deep appreciation for traditional publishing.

Upon completing the manuscript for my second collection (in 2015), I decided to give the traditional channel another shot. It took a year of querying agents before one, Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studios, expressed interest in the manuscript. (The modest success with the self-published book really helped my pitch). It took Rosemary another year to find a publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane. The publisher scheduled the book for a 2020 release, five years from when I finished the manuscript. Despite the slow pace of traditional publishing, I’ve really enjoyed working with my editors, Rebecca Davis and Barbara Grzeslo – the book is so much better than I could have made just by myself – and I’m looking forward to it being available everywhere without having to knock on doors, one at a time. 🙂

And since the second book was going to take five years, I squeezed out another self-published poetry collection, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, in 2018, which went on to win a 2019 Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

 

 

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Although I was writing and drawing from a really early age, I didn’t take my art seriously because I couldn’t see how to traverse the gap between what I made and what I admired. With no insight into the creative journey, the learning process, the blood, sweat, and tears that every piece of art demands, I did not believe in my own abilities. My epiphany came when one day, as an adult, I accidently wandered into an exhibition of original Dr. Seuss manuscripts. Typewritten sheets covered with frustrated scribbles, crossed out over and over again in search of better options. I was stunned to realize that the ‘genius’ was in the incessant revision, the twenty attempts before something worked, the trying, trying, trying and not giving up. Looking at those manuscripts was the first time I thought to myself, “Wait, if this is how it’s done, then maybe I can do this too!” Thank you Dr. Seuss – I wish I could have sent my younger self to see that!

 

  1. Do you have any other advice/tips for writers?

In visual-art circles the running joke is that ‘Only the first fifty years are the hardest’. In other words, the ‘successful’ artists are the ones who find ways to persist. The same is true for writers. Patience, persistence, working on your craft, and never giving up! (And if you do feel like giving up, read a book, any book, by creative coach Eric Maisel).

 

Here’s a cool flip-through video that Vikram made for the book: https://youtu.be/XswGM2FLlBM

Seattle-area Author-Artist Vikram Madan grew up in India, where he really wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up an engineer. After many years of working in tech, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart into the visual and literary arts. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, he writes and illustrates funny poems. His books include ‘The Bubble Collector’, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, and ‘A Hatful of Dragons’. Visit him at www.VikramMadan.com

 

Want to own your very own ARC of A Hatful Of Dragons? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on March 2, 2020 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

 

 

STEM Tuesday– The Human Body — Interview with Author Sara Latta

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

 

photgraph of author Sara LattaToday we’re interviewing Sara Latta, author of Body 2.0: The Engineering Revolution in Medicine, among several other titles. The book features modern biomedical engineering challenges, some of the STEM professionals who do it, and people who have benefited from it. (Check out the Kirkus review here! If you subscribe to SLJ or Booklist, you can see additional reviews at those sites.)

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano: What’s the book about—and what was most important to you in deciding to write it?

Image of book cover of Body 2.0 by Sara LattaSara Latta: Thanks for having me on your blog! Body 2.0 explores the ways in which engineering, science, and medicine are coming together to make some remarkable advances in the fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, neuroscience, microbiology, and synthetic biology. I begin the book with a brief history of biomedical engineering—arguably the first known example of which was a wooden toe found on an ancient Egyptian mummy—but primarily the book focuses on cutting-edge research and the scientists at the forefront of the research. That was important to me; much of the work I write about hasn’t even reached clinical trials. I wanted to show readers that they could jump into this research at a very exciting time.

 

CCD: Did anything about your sense of what was most important change as you developed the manuscript?

SL: I don’t know if it was most important, but at some point during the interviewing process I came to the realization that telling the story of the ways in which the scientists and engineers came to this point in their research would be really interesting to my readers. Several of them said they initially wanted to be medical doctors because they wanted to help people, but they didn’t have the stomach for it. One was an athlete who was inspired by his own injury; another transferred her love of Sherlock Holmes and detective work to scientific sleuthing. So I decided I had to create a separate section telling their stories.

CCD: What in the book most fascinated or surprised you?

 SL: Well, there was a lot! I’d been fascinated by brain-computer interfaces for several years, and even tried writing a sci-fi YA thriller using that technology a while back (it’s still in a folder on my computer). It’s really astounding how quickly work in the field—and other fields in the book as well—has progressed. I think that the work in synthetic biology holds enormous promise, not just in biomedical engineering but in other fields as well. The New York Times recently published an article about using photosynthetic bacteria to make concrete that is alive and can even reproduce.

CCD: I’d like to ask you a bit about your decisions about addressing ethics in Body 2.0. If I counted correctly, you spotlight three particular areas where scientific investigation and technological advancements raise important issues. Can you say a bit about your decision-making process about how much and what to spotlight, and your lasting impressions of the ethics related to this field?

SL: I told my editor going in to this project that I wanted to highlight some important ethical issues that some of this work raises, and she said “yes, absolutely.” It’s important to think about unintended consequences. I use the example that the discovery of petroleum as a cheap and plentiful source of fuel in the 19th century revolutionized the ways we lived, worked and traveled—and now we are paying the price with a global climate crisis. So I asked the question, what does it mean to be a human being when your brain is in a symbiotic relationship with a computer? Will these new technologies be available only to those who can afford them? One of the pioneers of gene editing recounted being jolted awake by a dream in which Adolf Hitler expressed interest in her work. It made her realize that “the ability to refashion the human genome was a truly incredible power, one that could be devastating if it fell into the wrong hands.”

CCD: As an author, what did you find most challenging about completing this book?

SL: Organizing all of the interviews and research I did for the book! I relied heavily on Scrivener and Evernote to bring it all together.

CCD: Can you say something about how you hope this book might impact readers?

SL: Biomedical engineering is all about improving the quality of life for people with diseases or injuries, whether it’s helping a person with quadriplegia become more independent or growing a bladder for a kid with spina bifida. I hoped to inspire idealistic young people interested in science, medicine, or engineering, who are also interested in making a positive difference in the world.

 

Win a FREE copy of Body 2.0: The Engineering Revolution in Medicine!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, author of National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas, Running on Sunshine, andA Black Hole is NOT a Hole, among several nonfiction books for kids. As a STEM Education Consultant and co-founder of two STEM education organizations, STEM Education Insights and Blue Heron STEM Education, she develops STEM curricula, supports STEM education research, and provides professional development for teachers. Along with several STEM Tuesday contributors and other great authors, she’ll be participating in NSTA’s Science and Literacy event in Boston this spring. She’ll also be co-presenting with author Cheryl Bardoe.  Grab a sneak peek now, but better yet, stop by and say hello!

 

 

Cogheart Adventures: Interview & GIVEAWAY with Author Peter Bunzl

In the fall of 2014 I attended my first SCBWI-British Isles conference and met Peter Bunzl. Another Scoobie (as SCBWI is affectionately known in the UK) friend was in his conference critique group and introduced us when it was over. A second friend was in the same group and said that Peter’s excerpt had literally made her cry. Soon we all joined together in a middle grade critique group regularly meeting up back in London; and I too was immediately taken by Peter’s steampunk adventure novel about a girl and her mechanical fox searching for her missing airship pilot and inventor father.

A few months later we celebrated Peter getting an agent, and a few months after that we celebrated COGHEART being sold as the lead title in Usborne’s 2016 list. It came out in September 2016 and was simultaneously chosen as Waterstones Book of the Month; a huge deal for a debut. Four years later Peter’s fourth COGHEART ADVENTURE book, SHADOWSEA has just been released in the UK, and the award-winning first three volumes —COGHEART, MOONLOCKET, AND SKYCIRCUS are now available in the US with Jolly Fish Press. (SEE BELOW FOR HOW YOU CAN WIN ALL 3 BOOKS.) I am so pleased and excited to welcome Peter Bunzl to The Mixed Up Files!

The 1st Cogheart Adventure Moonlocket: Cogheart Adventure #2 Skycircus: Cogheart Adventure #3

 

MD: Hi Peter, thanks so much for joining us!

PB: Thank you for having me, it’s lovely to be here!

MD: The world in the Cogheart adventures is so much fun with mechanicals (mechanical animals and people) and other distinctive and unique details. How did you come up with the world of the Cogheart adventures and did anything help you with your world-building?

PB:  Thanks! The inspiration came from reading about the clockmaking geniuses of the 18th and 19th Century who built the first automata and androids. It was their desire to create artificial life – or an illusion of life – which really chimed with me as a writer and animator. Someone who’s primary goal it is to make people believe in imaginary characters with all their heart. 

Those tales of clockwork robots and their creators helped me envisage a fictional Victorian world where mechanical-people and humans lived side by side. A world which begged the question: What makes us human, and could that spark of life ever exist inside a machine?

MD: Your story worlds are a cool mix of imagination and historical accuracy. When you are planning and writing a book, what kind of research do you do? Do you use mood boards or other visual prompts?

PB: Research plays a big part in the crafting my stories. I use Pinterest to save inspiring images and create mood boards for my projects. I collect Victorian photos of interesting looking people and locations. I also use Evernote to save research documents. Historical descriptions of the places the characters visit etc.

For the steampunk aspects of the story, I read about real airships, like the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg. There’s lots of zeppelin battles in the Cogheart Adventures. I didn’t stick to the physics of flying, because I saw from great steampunk that you don’t have to, but I tried not to go too wild as this is an alternate reality not a total fantasy world.

In terms of the Victoriana, I wasn’t a fanatical researcher, quite the opposite. I prefer fiction that give a flavour of the era, rather than dry history books. So I read a little bit of Dickens for the atmosphere, Treasure Island for the adventure, and some Penny Dreadful type books like: Hooligan Nights and Mord Em’ly – for their sensationalist accounts of Victorian street life.

MD: Did you intend Cogheart to become a series? Once the emotional arc was completed for the characters at the end of the first book, how did you navigate creating compelling emotional journeys for your characters in each of the subsequent books? Did you find it difficult?

PB: In the beginning, I never intended to write a series after Cogheart, but when my agent, Jo Williamson, originally sold the book in the UK it was for a two book deal and it became apparent that the publisher wanted a sequel.

The lucky thing was, after writing the first book, I had a lot of different left-over bits and pieces that never made it into the story. And those became the basis for each of the subsequent adventures.

The obvious choice for the second story was to make it more about Robert’s family, because his history had barely featured in Cogheart. So that became Moonlocket. I had an idea that I wanted to write about a magician and a mysterious locket and that fed into the story too.

I had a couple of other left-over scenes from Cogheart. One where the characters visit a travelling circus. This eventually became Skycircus. There was also a pitch that the publisher turned down for book 2, that eventually became the basis of Shadowsea.

The moral of the story is nothing is ever wasted. So don’t throw your excess ramblings!Shadowsea, the 4th Cogheart Adventure

MD: Had you always intended to write for children?

PB: I actually set out to write for Young Adults first of all, but along the way my story turned into a children’s book because the plot and ideas were much more suited to that age group.

As soon as I realized that was the way it was going I wrote a little Post-it for myself with the words: MARVEL, MAGIC and HUMOUR on it. So I knew the things I needed to add more of in the edits.

The more I wrote the more I discovered that my ideas fitted well into the middle grade bracket. Before I was writing, I worked for ten years in the animation industry on various projects. I wrote and directed my own short films on the side and my scripts often featured child protagonists, so to me it didn’t feel a great leap from that to writing children’s fiction.

MD: How do you find the words and rhythm that characterize your stories?

PB: I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this question before! Thanks.

I suppose it has a lot to do with voice. Your voice as a writer, but also the specific voice of the story, which is either directly the character’s, in a first person book, or in a third person’s story like the Cogheart Adventures, it is part character-voice and part narrator-voice.

As you write a book, you start to get a strong idea of which of those is required, where and when. It has a lot to do with how the book sounds as you read it in your head during the editing process, and with who the characters are.

The Cogheart Adventures are written in third person, but the narration is always close to our heroes. Apart from the prologue, you never see or hear anything they don’t themselves. I would describe that style as ‘close third person’ or  ‘over the shoulder’.

It has moments of free indirect style, where the narration is almost directly Robert and Lily’s point of view and you try to weave their words and thoughts into what they are experiencing. And moments which are more straight up narration.

Narration can’t be too intrusive, in my opinion. For me it should paint an exciting visual picture, but fade into the background in terms of its opinions. Although I feel it can be more stylized at the beginning and end of a story, where you’re trying to draw a reader in or wrap things up.

MD: What authors or creators have had a strong impact on your work?

PB: As a young reader I adored the quirky British fantasy of Diana Wynne Jones, Roald Dahl and Joan Aiken; I was forever popping into the bookshop to see when the next Terry Pratchett was coming out. More recently I loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and his Sally Lockhart books, plus I enjoy a bit of Dickens, and greatly admire Mervyn Peake’s incredible Gormenghast stories.

They all influenced me in countless ways – some for plotting, others for character or worldbuilding; or poetic language, strange names and humour. When a stunning sentence leaps out at me from a book I underline it so I can refer to it later when I need writing inspiration.

MD: Your attention to detail and the images you create are often very visual. Do you find that your past work as an animator and filmmaker influences your writing?

PB: Coming from a background of animation and film, means that I will see the story very vividly in my head. As I write it unspools like a movie.

My years studying film also taught me a lot about story structure. How to tell a story economically and cinematically. There’s a grammar in film in the way you structure a sequence of shots that’s similar to the way you structure clauses and sentences in fiction. I’ve read some great books on both editing processes that highlight those similarities.

Each shot, or each sentence, should ask a question that’s part-answered and part-added-to by the next one and the next one. And yet each answer also withholds information until you’re ready to reveal it. That’s basically how to create the illusion of a developing story with suspense. It’s when you have the elements in the wrong order that it jars and seems off.

MD: What do you enjoy most about being a full-time children’s author and what do you dislike?

PB: I love meeting readers. Especially kid readers, because if they enjoy your book they’ll tell you so in no uncertain terms. They say things like: “You’re my favourite author of all time!” “Better than Roald Dahl!” “One of the best books I’ve ever read!”

Those kind of comments are ace, especially if they tell you personally or write you a letter with pictures of the characters they’ve drawn. All of their feedback is such a joy and it’s one of the best parts of writing children’s books.

The worst part is when you see a disparaging adult review online. Especially when they say things like: “I tried to read this book, but it seems like it was written for kids”. Don’t read bad online reviews, that’s my advice. Somehow they stick to your brain much more than the good ones. Maybe it’s their spikes that make them sticky.

MD: Your record of four books in four years is remarkable! And these are not short chapter books, these are 140-page middle grade novels with tight plotting and beautiful language.  The UK tends to have a much shorter lead time for publishing than in the US, which is exciting in terms of seeing your book come out with a relatively short turn-around, but it also must be an enormous amount of pressure. What advice do you have for other writers—whether they are just starting out or already mid-career— in terms of ‘just getting it done?’ What does a typical day look like for you?

PB: Write what you love, not what you think the market is looking for. That way you will always have some joy in doing it, even on days when that joy is buried deep and seems unaccessible.

In terms of my writing process, I sit down at a desk and try and write for a few hours each day. I write on the computer and I use Scrivener, because I love the way you can keep all your documents and chapters together but separate. It lets you see the structure of your novel in one window and jump between different parts.

When I’m not writing I have a notebook for the ideas that come at odd times, and a writing diary where I try and keep track of my word counts and how it’s all going – just a short note for each day, so I know if I’m on track or not. That way you can assess your own progress. Give yourself a small gift if you hit your goal for the week or month, and a bigger gift if you finish the whole book.

MD: I’ve noticed that boys and girls equally enjoy your books. Can you speak to any secret sauce you’ve put in, or why you think your books are so appealing across what are sometimes considered traditional gender lines?

PB: I have no idea why this is. I think maybe because the books have both a boy and girl hero, who are equally brave and courageous, equally strong and equally good at problem solving and getting each other out of trouble.

I really don’t think books should be gendered anyway. As long as it’s age appropriate, boys and girls should be able to read anything they like without the publishing industry, or parents, deciding: “oh, pirates and space are for boys” or “princesses and cooking are for girls”. It’s nonsense. What’s more important is writing a good story that’s inclusive and empathetic and can appeal to everyone.

MD: Peter, thanks so much again for joining us at MUF. Your insights into your work, the writing process and writing philosophy are fabulous. Is there anything you’d like to add about your books to the writers, librarians, teachers and avid readers that enjoy our blog?

Peter Bunzl: Author of the Cogheart Adventures

PB: Thank you. If you are looking for more information about my books, I  have a website: peterbunzl.com which has updates and links about all my books. It also has a great amount of teaching resources, created by me and the publisher and by teachers who sent me their brilliant suggestions and ideas. I am pretty active on twitter: @peterbunzl and instagram: @peter_bunzl so feel free to say hi over there too!

Thanks again Peter! Cogheart Adventures are available wherever fine books can be found.

Jolly Fish Press is giving away a copy of all three books to one lucky winner! Enter BELOW for a chance to win.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

(This giveaway is only available in the US.) The contest ends at midnight on February 19th and the winner will be announced on February 20th.  GOOD LUCK!