Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: The Fate of the Folk Tale

Anyone who knows me probably knows about my passion for folk tales, fables, fairy tales, and oral history.  And, I love new twists, adaptations, versions, and 'the other side' perspectives on age-old tales.

But lately, I've run across numerous publishing houses that specifically forewarn: we do not publish folk tales or fables of any kind.

So, I headed into the library awhile back to browse the folk tales and fables section of the children's area, to see what I came up with.  So yes, there are about a hundred Cinderellas.  But when it came to African folk tales, and multicultural ones, I didn't find as many–especially recent ones.

What I did notice was that a lot of them were published more than 10 years ago...or self-published/published non-traditionally.  I found an Italian folk tale of the Goat-Faced Girl (self-published) as well as several volumes of international folk tales from around the world, but not published by any traditional children's press (mostly regional or small educational publishers).

Right now, I'm working on a few Gambian folk tale adaptations–mostly Wolof, Fula, and Mandinka stories.  It's challenging, especially considering that there are only about 5 or 6 published works ever to document the many, many oral stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.  A lot of my material is sourced directly from Gambians–retelling stories their grandparents told them. I work on this collection of folk tales and fables, I wonder:  is the market for African folk tales dead?  If so, who is interested in preserving these stories?  Are there publishing houses still open to multicultural folk tales, or twisted and adapted well-known ones?

Do you love to read folk tales?  To write them?  To twist them around and adapt them into something new?  Your thoughts are welcomed on the Fate of the Folk Tale!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mommy Monday: Tapping the Fountain of Youth

There's never a dull moment with these kids around!
If you've got children, you've got stories.  And not just real-life ones, either.

When I've needed a fresh, new idea for a picture book or short story, I have turned to my household fountain of youth:  my children.  They always come up with something I never would have thought of. 

For example, I once asked my daughter what I should write about next, and she said, "Two Elizabeths." 

The possibilities started dancing in my head.  Twin princesses?  A princess and a pauper with the same name?  A historical fiction of Queen Elizabeth with multiple personality disorder?

That idea eventually transformed into a whimsical, rhyming poem/picture book manuscript called "The Dirtiest Princesses," in which Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II (twin princesses who acted nothing like real princesses) prefer madness and mayhem over their royal bath.  I've not sent it out, but my daughter requests it again and again!

And her latest requests?  Anything with sharks, or mixing strange foods together.  Humor is definitely on her list.

In addition to tapping the fountain of youth for ideas, they're also tapped for support and encouragement.  Recently, when I carried my first-ever submissions to the mailbox, I asked them what they thought - would the publishing houses turn mommy's stories into real, color picture books?  My two-year-old always says "yeah!" and I get a big hug.  My five-year-old also said yes.  But, then after she thought it over, said "But if they don't you still can read us the stories, right?"


Being a mommy and a writer is really nice sometimes.  Are you a mommy writer?  Do you read your stories to your children?  Ask them for ideas?  Challenges and celebrations, I welcome stories from mommy writers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Focus Friday: Keeping Track of Submissions

A few weeks ago, I sent out my first two picture book submissions.  Yay! 

As someone who typically works on a for-hire or flat-fee basis, it's quite interesting to me to write something that I'm not sure will ever be published...and another ball game to send it out to the 'slush!'  How do I keep track of those outgoing manuscripts (and incoming rejections?  LOL...hopefully not, we'll's true, I've not gotten a rejection letter yet).

Anyway, I keep track of my submissions with a Numbers (Excel) spreadsheet.  I created it on my own, and it contains the date mailed, title, editor and publishing house, and also has columns for the expected response date, actual response and date, and even the file names for the manuscript and the cover letter.  I really think that as I submit more work, it will be very useful in helping me stay organized.

Recently, however, I learned that many of my writer friends use an online tool called Duotrope.  It not only keeps track of submissions, but you can report actual response times of specific publishing houses.  I've checked it out briefly, and may use it in addition to my own spreadsheet.

What do you use to keep track of your submissions? 

Have you ever lost track of a manuscript, only to get a surprise rejection or acceptance in the mail? 

I'm curious to hear others' stories, as I've decided that on occasion, I'm stepping out of the write-for-hire and educational publishing world to submit my slush.

Post your comments below!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Building Libraries in The Gambia

Imagine growing up with very few books.  Maybe going through your teenage years never reading a novel.  Not because you didn't want to, but because there was no library or bookstore near you. 

For years, that's been a reality for women and students living around Njau, Gambia.

(If you're not familiar with Njau, Gambia - and my extra special connection to many villages in Africa's smallest country - click here.)

Building a library there has been a dream of many Gambian women I work with, and it's also been dream of mine for years.  And in February of 2012, it's likely to become a reality.  You can't imagine how I feel.

I'm partnering with A Hand in Health, a Minneapolis-based organization, to assist them in the building of not just one, but seven, libraries in and around Njau.  Three libraries will be in elementary schools, and two in middle/high schools.  The final library will be at a women's resource center.

This post is both a celebration and a call for book donations.  Currently, A Hand in Health along with Books for Africa has secured more than 20,000 children's books and several health and women's empowerment titles to send to the villages around Njau, Gambia.  Megan Meyer, from Hand in Health, and Isatou Ceesay, Gambian project manager, hope we can more than double that before the container ships later this year.  If all goes well, I'll be in The Gambia when the container arrives, ready to assist, inventory, shelf and tag these books!  (If you're interested in traveling to Gambia with me in February to build libraries - email me).

Got a great children's book to donate to kids or women in Gambia, Africa?

Here's some info:

You can also view this information at A Hand in Health's "Donate" tab - click here.

Drop Off or Mail-to Location:
Books For Africa Warehouse-St. Paul 

715 Minnehaha Avenue East 

St. Paul, MN 55106

The warehouse is located in the old Stroh’s Brewery complex that is just north of I-94,
just east of downtown St. Paul.  MAKE SURE ALL BOOKS ARE LABELED "HAND IN HEALTH" so they get on the right container.

Warehouse Hours:
•Wednesdays 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. at the St. Paul warehouse
•Mondays-Thursdays 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. at the Atlanta warehouse
•The first and third Saturdays of every month from 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Book Donation Requirements:
If you mail books, please do not send boxes that weigh more than 50 pounds and do not include any packing materials such as newspaper, plastic wrap and peanuts.

*** Please print out a sign saying “Hand in Health” and tape to all boxes of books dropped off at or mailed to the warehouse.

***Please e-mail the project director at with the number of books donated so we can keep a running tally!

***Acceptable books are new or gently used and relevant to an African reader.  Including:

Quality children’s picture books and easy-readers (in good condition)
15 years old or newer popular fiction and nonfiction reading books (soft/hard cover).
1995 or newer publish date elementary, secondary, and college textbooks (soft/hard cover).
1995 or newer reference books such as encyclopedias and dictionaries.
School/office supplies—paper, pencils, pens, wall charts, maps, etc.

Please do NOT send:
•Magazines or journals of any kind.
•Home decorating, wedding, or cookbooks.
•Ethnocentric books, such as the biography of Abraham Lincoln or the history of Ohio.
•Foreign language books except for French books. French novels/dictionaries are welcome.
•American history or civics.
•Music books for K–12.

ALL AUTHORS, SCHOOLS, LIBRARIES, ETC. WHO LET ME KNOW YOU'VE DONATED BOOKS WILL GET A PUBLIC "SHOUT-OUT" ON MY BLOG!! (so don't forget to contact me if you donate books - especially signed copies!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Blog Structure

Last week in my post called "Dreaming Bigger..." I had announced that I would create a new structure for my blog posts and tags.  Well, check off the list!

Beginning in two weeks, you'll see:

Mommy Mondays - posts about the greatness and the goobers of motherhood, including book recommendations for mommies and their children, and interviews with other "Author Moms."

Worldly Wednesdays - A celebration of books, folk tales, and stories from around the globe.

Focus Fridays - updates on what I'm writing/revising, publishing tips and tricks I've picked up, and writing resources I've found helpful (or completely useless).

And, of course, special posts in between for all that miscellaneous mishmash.  I'm getting (somewhat) organized, people!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dreaming Bigger...

Today, I logged into my Twitter account for the first (and only) time since I created the account many months ago.

I fumbled my way through finding a few fellow authors on the site, and came across a tweet by author Stephenie Hovland:  "Goal setting today. Dreaming bigger and making lists."

Good tweet, Stephenie.

I've been wanting, for some time, to make mid-year goals (which of course, means making lists).  Well, the year is mid-way.  And who doesn't want to dream bigger?

So, although I haven't tweeted or retweeted anything, and I have a lot to learn about hash tags and @ signs, I did come away with a tidbit of inspiration. 

Now, here is my first goal and list!

Goal:  To offer my readers, fans, friends, and those who stumble upon my blog, something worth reading.
List:  I will come up with a three-day structure for posts (e.g. Monday is for Mommy Writers; Tough Revision Thursdays, Funny Story Fridays...).
Deadline:  3 weeks.  By next week, I want to have the first checkbox on my list checked.  The following week, I will begin planning specific topics.  By the end of June, you'll see the first posts in my new structure!

I'm off to dream bigger.  Thanks, Stephenie.  Thanks, Twitter.
Eventually, I'll find something worth "Tweeting" about!  But meanwhile, you can follow my silence until I eventually open my mouth...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Should Picture Book Authors have Agents?

I'm preparing my first-ever manuscripts to send off to traditional picture book publishers today.  (Actually, I began this process in January).  I plan to send them within a week.  The work has been exhausting - trying to find the appropriate market, only to realize they are closed to submissions unless you have a fairy godmother/agent.

A lot of writers I know say they love their agent, and are so glad to have one.  The majority, however, are YA authors.  While I hope to finish my YA novel some day, I'm primarily a picture book author for now.  I've been told it's harder to get an agent when you write mostly or exclusively picture books.   I combed the entire agent list provided by the SCBWI and came up with 22 "possible" agent matches.  Upon visiting their websites, I've narrowed that selection to 14.  Since some of them prefer to read material that has not been submitted to publishers, to whom should I first send off my work - an editor or an agent?  Or both at the same time (although I'm a stickler for rules...)?

What do you think?  Is this true?  Are agents only for novel writers?  Do you have an agent?  What's your story?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is the Story of the Three Little Pigs Racist?

This morning, an "anonymous" reader on my blog posted a comment that The Three Little Pigs is "overtly racist."  Wanted to cry.  I could have just deleted the post, of course, but anyone who knows me understands that I am a person of integrity and would never want to squash a legitimate debate over something as close to my heart as discrimination against anyone.

A few months ago, I was hired by iStorybooks to rewrite the old, public domain version of The Three Little Pigs.  I modified Andrew Lang's story of The Three Pigs from The Green Fairy Book.  As usual with retellings, my assignment was to make it suitable for children (2 sentences or so per page, appropriate vocabulary) without changing too much from the original tale.

In Lang's version, the pigs are Browny, Whitey, and Blackey.  The pigs were distinctly different colors (although pigs/sows/hogs naturally are), and all boys.  I didn't think that was very appealing.  So I changed the story so that the pigs all became pink (you can see the illustrations) - one color.  But I did keep the name Brownie for one pig, because he liked to play in mud (the one who built his house of mud and straw).  Hence, he is always the color of mud in my text.  I wanted at least one character to be a girl, so I made the middle one (who, in the original tale, is very greedy and actually built her house of cabbage) a girl and named her Pinky (perhaps that's a gender stereotype?).  I didn't take out the fact that she was very greedy.  I named the wisest pig Max.  He has no color reference whatsoever (I kept the names Blackey and Whitey out of the story).

Obviously, I considered my retelling to be much cleaner and sillier than the original.  And, I had nothing to do with the illustrations, but you'll see that all pigs are the same color (pink).  Brownie is just usually covered in mud.

Is my retelling racist as the anonymous comment accuses?  Obviously, I didn't write it that way (hello...we are a brown, black, and pink family...)?  Or, is the original story racist (even though Blackey is the wise pig)? What do you think?  Is the original story or my retelling sending bad messages to children? Or does the overall message of hard work, planning, and sharing prevail?

So far, I've gotten nothing but good reviews and comments on the book.  But I am curious to know what others think about the reader's post that the book is "overtly" racist!

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