Sunday, November 19, 2017

My interview with rhyming author Matt Forrest Esenwine

As a member of Angie Karcher's Rhyme Revolution committee to pick the best rhyming books of 2017, I was honored to interview author Matt Forrest Esenwine about his Top Ten rhyming adventure book, Flashlight Night.

Interview with Matt Forrest Esenwine

  1. Congratulations on the great reviews for Flashlight Night!  This is your first picture book, but have you had other rhyming work published?

Thanks, Deb! Yes, I’ve had numerous poems published over the years. My first was back when I was in high school – I sent a free verse poem to the local college’s literary magazine and they liked it enough to publish it! That set me on my path. Since then, several of my poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies.

Up until 2009 or so, I was only publishing poetry geared for adults – primarily free verse – but I had some children’s poetry I’d written and didn’t know what to do with. A friend told me about SCBWI, I joined a local critique group, and began studying the craft as well as the market (a hugely important and often underestimated aspect of writing for children). My first children’s poem, “First Tooth,” was published in Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed, 2015) and between that poem and all the others I have – or will have – published in books, online journals, and ‘Highlights’ magazine, the grand total comes to about 24! Granted, in publishing, the wheels turn slowly, but I’m extremely grateful I’ve been able to get this far so quickly.

  1. Your voice talent background taught you to pay attention to how written words sound when read aloud. Was this helpful to you in writing picture books?

Yes, it was…but what was more important was my ability to write radio copy (e.g., commercials). When writing a 30-second or 60-second radio commercial, one needs to create interest on some type of emotional level; introduce a problem; offer a solution; and then conclude the message. Sound familiar?? It’s a story! So no matter whether it’s a commercial, a poem, a picture book, or a novel, the general structure is very often the same – it’s how one varies that structure and what one does with it that makes the difference.

  1. Which do you find more challenging when writing, perfect rhyme or perfect meter?

Perfect rhyme, no question. Perfect meter can be difficult, yes, but if one is writing in accentual verse rather than syllabic, it’s the rhymes that are going to be front and center to the reader. As long as the text flows, make sure those rhymes are as good as they can be.

  1. Rhyming books are often a hard sell, partly because they’re tough to translate for foreign markets. What would you say to encourage those of us who write in rhyme?

I know of a number of folk who’ve written rhyming picture books that have been translated into other languages, and they usually end up as non-rhyming picture books. This is another reason why having a solid, universal story – and text that can be appreciated even in prose –is so important.

  1. Can you share some creative marketing ideas you’ve used with Flashlight Night?

One of my first book signings was at night, and we displayed the book on a projection screen so everyone could see. I talked about the book a little bit, then showed the kids some shadow puppets on the screen, and everyone left with a small flashlight of their own!

I also contacted a local hospital’s gift shop, because I felt ‘Flashlight’ was the kind of quiet adventure book a young child might enjoy while staying there. The manager loved the book and ordered a case, and we scheduled a book signing during the “lunch hour” (a very loose term when it comes to hospitals). Before the signing I visited the on-campus preschool and read to three groups of young children, and by the time the signing rolled around many of their parents were requesting copies! In fact, we sold out of all the books in an hour - and I’m hoping to get back there before Christmas for another go-round!

  1. What’s the most fun you’ve had since your book came out?

I’ve really been enjoying the signings, actually. Eventually when I’m old and grizzled (which may not be too long from now) and have a wall of books to my name I’ll probably become haughty and supercilious…but for now, I’m having fun meeting people and chatting with them about the book, my contributions to various poetry collections, and children’s publishing in general.

  1. What’s next for you in your writing career?  Will your next book be in rhyme, too?

This spring, I’ll have my name associated with two books! My second picture book, “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur” (Pow! Kids Books), which I co-wrote with author Deb Bruss (“Book! Book! Book!”, “Big Box for Ben”), is scheduled for a March release. It’s about a couple of kids trying to put on a birthday party while their dinosaur friends – in the interest of helping – destroy everything. It includes a short glossary at the end so readers can learn more about the 14 different dinosaur species in the book…and yes, it’s rhyming!

I also am extremely grateful to Lee Bennett Hopkins for asking me to contribute a poem for his newest poetry anthology, “School People” (Boys Mills Press), which is being published by the same folks who published “Flashlight Night.” “School People is a collection of 15 poems about all the grown-ups that kids meet when they go to school: teachers, principals, the lunch crew, etc. Lee asked me to write a poem about the bus driver, so I’m really looking forward to seeing all my fellow friends’ and writers’ poems!

Thanks, Matt!  We’ll look forward to reading more of your writing and rhyming!

Thank YOU, Deb – and also thank you to Angie and everyone for including our little book in the Top 10!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Seeing a Book as it Comes Into Being

    In August I met with my writer friend Nancy Flood, and she shared pages and sketches from her newest book with me.  As a writer, it is so exciting to watch a book take shape!
    Nancy is having great success with her book Soldier Sister, Fly Home, a middle grade fiction set on the Navajo reservation.  Nancy and her husband Bill lived in the Navajo nation for many years, and her book is authentic, funny, and touching.  She has also been so very encouraging as I struggle with my Chipeta story.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ute Museum Opens, More Chipeta Beadwork!

    On June 10th I drove to Montrose, CO for the opening of the remodeled Ute Museum.  One of the translations of Chipeta's name is white singing bird, and I couldn't believe my eyes as a cloud shaped like a white feather stood above the museum!  I was thrilled to finally see the shirt she beaded for her husband Ouray to wear to Washington, D.C.
    It gave me the inspiration to continue trying to get her story told, in a book for young children.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sigh....Chipeta didn't do lunch

  I nudged the agent, and the editor she was hoping to meet with had health issues, so the lunch didn't happen.  The agent said to keep submitting it elsewhere. I wrote back and asked about the story where I'd made the revisions she asked for, but no reply.  I've been holding off submitting these stories since I heard from her March 7, but guess I'll get back in the saddle again. This business is such a rollercoaster!
UPDATE--On June 19th, the agent e-mailed that she wished me luck but did not feel she was the agent for me. Sigh...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Chipeta in New York

Oh, my!  I received an e-mail from the interested agent.  She's having lunch with an editor who is looking for bios to turn into graphic books for young readers, and the agent said she would mention my Chipeta story!  She didn't say anything about the other stories I sent her when she liked Confetti the Yeti and asked for more of my work.  But it still makes me smile to think of dear Chipeta being discussed at lunch, in New York City!
And, she apologized for taking awhile to get back to me!  She is the absolute nicest agent.  I so hope she signs me at some point!

Monday, May 8, 2017

19 years of Awful Waffles!

   I was out of my little easy readers so I ordered another set, and realized that the first one, Awful Waffles, came out 19 years ago!  I'll have to celebrate next year.  The good news is--all five are still in the current 2017 catalog! 
   I lined up my books and some of the magazines I've written for (to get a photo for my facebook author page) and my newly adopted ten year old cat Maggie May checked them out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hearing Crickets (and not hearing about submissions)

  Well, like Tom Petty says, "The waiting is the hardest part."  I heard from the agent on March 7 and I'm hoping to hear again soon.  According to Submittable, my October submission to Highlights is still "In Progress."  I attended an SCBWI event a few weeks ago which allowed me to submit to one of the editors there--and I'm hearing crickets.  I had what I thought was a wonderful time with a guy who looks a lot like Hemingway--and he hasn't called since.  Sigh....
    But, I'm making some progress while I wait.  I bought a domain name, although I'm not sure yet how to make the most of it.  I found a manuscript I wrote 16 years ago, and it needs work but it's worth editing.  I realized I own the rights to a long poem which appeared in Spellbound years ago, so I may send it out.  I sent a short "action rhyme" poem to High Five.  I've been going through old notebooks and hand-outs from conferences past.  I hosted a meeting of our local writers, and I started volunteering to shelve children's books at our nearby library.
     When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  When life gives you crickets--well, I'm not sure, but I will try to use my time wisely!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sigh...another rejection...wait! What?

   I had just finished a fun talk in my grandson Charlie's kindergarten
when I came home to my daughter's, feeling great, and found an e-mail from an editor I'd submitted to recently.  Really? A rejection on my vacation?  But then I opened it and found this:


Today at 10:37 AM



Thanks so much for sending CONFETTI THE YETI my way! I love your message and the art potential here, and you've been especially successful because it's difficult to make rhyme compelling these days! I do have a few tweaks in mind, so have a look at my thoughts below and please let me know if you would be willing to revise CONFETTI with these in mind:


Instead of placing Squirrel as the sole overt antagonist to Confetti, perhaps the whole forest could take over asking Confetti questions--they could ask innocently, curiously, or in some cases suspiciously/aggressively, but I want to make sure that we know being agender/bigender/etc. isn't something that should automatically put someone on the defensive, and also that it's okay to ask (respectful) questions out of ignorance/curiosity.


I suggest ending the book on "Confetti's not ready to choose only one!" I know you're going for a bedtime story ending, but I think the last stanza ends up feeling tacked-on. Better to end strong with your message at the forefront.


"“No, I don’t,” says Confetti. “That’s where you’re wrong.

need to be healthy, I need to be strong,

but I don’t need to choose if I’m he or I’m she.

I’m smart and I’m funny, and totally me.”


 <<<<I just LOVE this stanza. Perfectly encapsulates the attitude we should have about our bodies.


Regarding the race versus the dance: the section between "I know...!" and "soft place" gets a little narratively muddy/choppy. Maybe instead of canceling outright, Confetti could inspire everyone to ditch the teams/competition and race together while cheering each other on as individuals (a marathon rather than a relay, perhaps), then end with a celebratory dance? (This could even be gotten across primarily in the art: perhaps we see other animals removing their team shirts, or customizing them--rolling up the sleeves, cutting out the neckline flashdance-style, writing messages on them, tying them at the waist, etc.)


If you have any questions or want to run something by me, please don't hesitate to email me and ask. I'd also love to know what else you're working on! I look forward to hearing from you.



AAAAAGH!  I couldn't believe it!  She likes my rhymer about a creature who sees no need to choose a gender!  She took such a careful look at it. Then shortly thereafter, she sent another e-mail saying that she'd run the story by her gender-queer co-worker and that person had one suggestion. She shared my story!  Such a good sign!
   I was excited, but I still thought it couldn't be true, there must be something wrong somewhere.  I checked SCBWI and found out that the publisher, Stonesong, is "very legit." Yay! And Alyssa is experienced and seems like a good person on Twitter.
  So I implemented the changes, picked out four other stories, and sent everything off.  Now.....the w  a   i   t   i   n  g begins.  But I am so hopeful!!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

50 Words? Wow!

Dr. Seuss could do it, writing a classic using only 50 different words.  Today on his birthday, Vivian Kirkfield challenges writers to come up with a story using 50 words TOTAL!  Thanks, Vivian--using #50preciouswords is a challenge indeed! Here's mine:

Rules Unbroken

“No Picking!” said the sign. “I want that rose for Mama,” said Charlie. “But she says, ‘follow the rules.’”  “My Nana loves roses,” said Olivia. “But that rule…” “That beautiful rose would delight my wife,” said the old man.  “But rules are rules.” That night, hail destroyed the unpicked rose.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Valentines Day entry

  Excited to enter Susanna Leonard Hill's Valentine story contest!  This year's story must be under 214 words and involve a cake and confusion.  I've entered a rhyming story, 90 words long:  (and if it sounds a bit familiar, it is similar to the non-rhyming story I submitted last year.)


                                                           The Heart-Shaped Cake

By Deborah Holt Williams


My name is Jake.  I like to bake.

I want to make a heart-shaped cake.

But how? I don’t see how I can.

I don’t have a heart-shaped pan!


Check the cupboard, see what’s there—

A pan that’s round and one that’s square.

Hmmm…I know what I can do!

Cut the circle cake in two.


Turn the square cake just a bit.

Arrange the circle halves to fit…

When frosting covers every part,

My cake will be a perfect heart!