Picture Books and All that Jazz with Darcy Pattison

By Alison Green-Myers


Darcy Pattison is a superheroine. And I’m not talking about the tight-wearing, rescuing damsels in distress kind of “superhero” but a teacher, mom, and highly sought after professional speaker who writes fiction and non-fiction books for children, trade and how-to books for educators and writers. She writes two blogs, Fiction Notes (darcypattison.com) and TheCoreStandards.com. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired after just reading those achievements. Can you imagine this woman’s To-Do list?

We are thrilled to have Darcy on the blog with us today. And what’s more, you’ll find out how you can work with Darcy to achieve Picture Book GREATNESS (See question #4)!

1. Darcy, Thank you for stopping by PennPoints. I understand that you spent time as a conference director for the Arkansas chapter of SCBWI. Since we like to spread SCBWI-love here on the blog, maybe you could tell us how SCBWI has influenced your writing, teaching, and publishing careers?

I started the Arkansas chapter of the SCBWI and served as Regional Advisor for six years; then continued as the Conference Director for another six years. It was an amazing experience because at the time, I had small children and couldn’t travel to New York City or pay for big conferences. Instead, the world of children’s literature came to me. I met so many authors, illustrators, art directors, editors, publishers and amazingly creative people. Those experiences are the foundation of my career. I always recommend that people get involved in their local SCBWI and volunteer to get the most out of it. It’s work, yes. But the benefits are enormous.

2. We here at PennPoints couldn’t agree more. We feel what you give to SCBWI, you get back in spades! Speaking of giving, you are quite a generous contributor to the great big world of Children’s Book Publishing. You wear so many hats: writer, teacher, speaker, editor, publisher. How do you decide which project to pounce on next?

My passion is two-fold: writing for children and teaching writing. I never get distracted from those two goals. But I do go back and forth between them. And writing for children includes fiction and non-fiction picture books and middle grade novels. Within that, a project has to grab me and keep me interested. I have way too many Starts that just go nowhere. But a Finish means a connection to something that matters to me.

3. Darcy, I had the opportunity to attend one of your workshops at the NY SCBWI Conference in 2012. The workshop highlighted social networking for authors, as well as tips for creating a stellar book trailer. Do you feel that book trailers are still a viable way for authors to introduce readers to books?

Yes! YouTube communicates with millions of people each day. The Book Trailer Manual (booktrailermanual.com) talks about how to approach a trailer and get it noticed. Looking at trailers, I see three aesthetics: the movie aesthetic, the slideshow or Powerpoint aesthetic and the YouTube aesthetic. Authors usually can’t afford the movie aesthetic. The slideshow/Powerpoint aesthetic is generally accepted in the business and academic world. But your best opportunity is the YouTube aesthetic, the world where kitties and crazy jokes work best. For inexpensive trailers, check out Fiverr.com

For my picture book, PRAIRIE STORMS, I ask these questions:
What does a dog say? Bow-wow-wow.
What does a cat say? Meow.
What does a skunk say?
What does a buffalo say?
Watch this video to find out the sounds make by prairie animals: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaUirE0ed6Y&list=PL9421F5F04AB50BBF&feature=share)

4. The EPA SCBWI opened our registration for our retreat at the Highlights Foundation this spring. I notice that you and Leslie Helakoski have a retreat scheduled for this June at the Foundation. Can you tell our readers a bit more about this workshop and how they might attend and work with you?

The amazing and humorous author-illustrator Leslie Helakoski (http://www.helakoskibooks.com/books.htm) and I taught at the same retreat last year and decided to offer a picture book class together. Authors will work on word choices, story structure, pacing, addressing different audience, and the possibilities—and pitfalls—of rhythm and rhyme. We’ll focus and shape vague ideas into a lively story with great illustration possibilities and interactive read-aloud fun.

Visiting editor Stephanie Pitts from Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House (https://www.facebook.com/schwartzandwadebooks) and celebrated author/illustrator Henry Cole (henrycole.net) will also be joining in for an all-inclusive intensive weekend of writing, dining, sharing, and creating.
We expect this to be intensive. Don’t come if you’re shy about working hard or uncertain about following your passion for a story. We’ll work with you until you get the story right.

5. Darcy, Thank you for visiting the blog today. One last question, and this one should be easy for a woman with a “writer’s tool bag” as big as yours. Can you give our readers a quick writing exercise or prompt to get their creative juices flowing this morning? Ready. Set. Go!

Here’s a favorite exercise, adapted from Dona L. Hickey’s amazing book on voice, DEVELOPING A WRITTEN VOICE. (p. 36-45)

When you think about using monosyllable words, what kind of writing do you think will result? Easy reader. Young audience. Primer. Dick-and-Jane. Fables. Psalms. Mottos. Cryptic wisdom or epigrams.

Try writing something with these rules:
1. Write something that only includes monosyllable words.
2. No sentence can have more than 10 words. Fragments are fine, as are one word sentences.
2. Vary the endings of the sentences by alternating words ending in a hard or soft consonant. Hard consonants include d, g, k, t, z. Examples: Dog, odd, hard, pig. Soft consonants include l, m, r, s, w. Examples: girl, glass, cream, curl. If in doubt, listen to the word and make a choice.
3. Work to create a smooth rhythm in the work.

I know what you’re thinking! This sounds crazy. So let me quote an example by Winston Garland from Hickey’s book (p. 39-40)

“My dad’s mom is a pink old girl. Pink hats on hot days. Pink blush, pink lips. Her hair is curls of cream. To tell a tale is her art. Each move a part of the play. Last night she had guests. She wore a thin lace dress down to the floor. She sat in a large chair in the hall. To each guest—a smile or a kiss on the cheek. They held her hand. She spoke to the thirst in their eyes. Her tales pull fine mad men from the dust. She had a love of cake. And when a crumb dropped past her wrist, she rose. She’d sweep it from her dress. Her blue eyes pink, then lift wide. They lock you in. Strong and deep. The guest’s soft eyes do not see. See the death in her lungs. The black that preys on pink. But soon the guest is gone, the tale told. In her bed, there is no cheek to kiss. One night, she will turn her breath to death’s touch. Then I will sit in the chair in the hall. I’ll drop a crumb. And tell the talk of a fine pink girl.”

Think about how this exercise could relate to your writing of picture books. And join us at the Highlights Foundation workshop June 12-15, 2014. For registration information, see this site (http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/workshops/picture-books-and-all-that-jazz-2014/)

Author, blogger, writing teacher, and indie publisher, Darcy Pattison (www.darcypattison.com) has books in eight languages. Recent nature books for children include: WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS (Mims House), first place winner in the Children’s Picture Book category of the 2013 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and a Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly; DESERT BATHS (Sylvan Dell), an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book 2013; and, PRAIRIE STORMS (Sylvan Dell). Her picture book THE JOURNEY OF OLIVER K. WOODMAN (Harcourt) was starred by BCCB and Kirkus, and was an Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature Honor book and is included in an HMH reading textbook.

Forthcoming books include ABAYOMI, THE BRAZILIAN PUMA: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub, SAUCY AND BUBBA: A Hansel and Gretel Tale, THE GIRL, THE GYPSY AND THE GARGOYLE, and VAGABONDS. Other ebooks for writers include Start Your Novel, How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, and The Book Trailer Manual. Darcy Pattison is the 2007 recipient of Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards for her work in Children’s Literature. For a free ebook, AFTER THE FIRST DRAFT, see her website darcypattison.com.


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2 Responses to Picture Books and All that Jazz with Darcy Pattison

  1. Thank you for this interview with Darcy. I enjoyed it very much. I love Darcy’s books.

  2. Pamela Tuck says:

    Enjoyed the interview and Darcy’s insight. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.