Peg366's Blog

Archive for February 2010


Me at Work

My guest interview today is with the delightful Rebecca Janni and we’ll be talking about her new picture book, Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse.

Peg:     Welcome Becky. It’s so nice to talk with you again. Thanks for taking time away from your busy schedule to chat with my readers.


Becky:    Hi Peg. Thank you for the privilege of this interview — and for always encouraging writers to “write on!”

Peg:     Did you always know that you wanted to write? I read something about you as a young girl and a novel about a pigtailed girl and her horse. Was she an older version of Nellie Sue the main character in your picture book Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse?

Becky: Yes — always!  When I was seven years-old, I set out to write a novel about a girl and her horse — but she was no relation to Nellie Sue and the manuscript is long gone.

Peg:     You and I share a passion for writing picture books. But you also write other genres.

Becky:    Short stories, poetry, grocery lists. I dabbled in journalism for a little while, and I’ve had some fun freelance gigs. I would still love to write a novel someday . . .

Peg:     There will be time for that. 

Peg:    Every writer’s journey is different. What led you to your writing journey? Were your parents and family supportive of your earlier writings? Was there a teacher somewhere along the time that cheered you on?

Becky:    I have amazing parents, and they supported just about anything I wanted to try — except, my dad did tell me that pursuing my fortune in an Alaskan fishery was a bad idea.

Peg:    I think I’d probably have to agree with him on that one. Lol.

Becky:    They applauded everything I wrote, though my mother is a meticulous proofreader. She’s still catching the typos on my website! She’s a huge help. My teachers were more balanced, giving encouraging but honest feedback on writing projects. They kept me going and growing. In recent years, I’ve discovered the limitless support of local writing groups and SCBWI. And my husband — he’s a gem. He always told me I would be published someday, but I thought he was just teasing me about the production our Christmas letters have become.

Peg:     I think it might be a safe thing to say that many authors were first readers. As a child or young adult did you have a favorite author or two?

Becky:  Or ten? I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Cleary.

Peg:    I love Laura Ingalls Wilder as well. 

Peg:    How did those authors impact your writing? Or did they?

Becky:    They taught me to write what I know, to begin from experience. Even if I want to try something fantastical, I start with something recognizable from my own life.

Peg:     I know you have a Masters in English Education, so I’m watching my grammer “p’s” and “q’s.” Did that help you as a writer?

Becky:    Very much. It was a degree that required lots of reading and lots of writing — perfect practice for a writer. I’m crossing my fingers that Mom was telling the truth when she said practice makes perfect.

Peg:     We share a love of picture book writing but have you done books in other genres?

Becky:    I write fiction and nonfiction, short stories and poetry; but I’m not published in any other genres. Not yet . . .

Peg:    Don’t worry Becky. With your talent, it is sure to come true. What type, genre, was your first written piece?

Becky:    Written or published? Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse is my first book to be published. I can’t remember my first written piece. That was a long time ago!

Peg:     I met you at a writer’s conference. You were one of the speakers and I felt drawn to you because of your confidence as you spoke about getting three, mind you three, picture books coming out in the next two years. How important would you say it is for an aspiring writer to believe in themselves and their writing?

Becky:    For me, it’s important to remember that writing has value. Period. I believe that writing is a worthwhile way to spend time. That’s important. If I think my writing must be published to be validated, then I start second guessing myself. But if I write just to write just to write just to write . . . then, I find joy in the journey.

Peg:     How long have you been a SCBWI member? What benefits have you found for yourself as a result of being a member?

Becky: Hmmm. I was pregnant with Jacob at my first SCBWI conference. (I remember, because I felt really hot and I think the people next to me were not happy when I asked to turn down the heat!) Jacob is 4 1/2. So, about five years.  The benefits? Wow. How does the title go? All I ever really needed to know I learned in SCBWI? SCBWI challenged me to grow as a writer and it opened up the wide world of children’s book publishing. But most of all, I cherish the friendships. I have met such wonderful people. I can’t imagine life without them.

For anyone who wants to know more about SCBWI, here is the link.

 Peg:     What do you as a writer get from conferences? Workshops? Contact with other  writers? Critique groups? I know that you have a great critique group. How did you become a member and what has happened since that day?

Becky: Conferences and workshops inspire me to read more, write more, and dream bigger. I always walk away with a list of must-reads, an idea pot brimming with new stories, and a new friend. I actually learned about my first SCBWI conference from a critique group. There’s a lively, open group called DAWG — Des Moines Area Writers’ Group — that meets every second Thursday from 7-9 pm at the Urbandale Library.

If you write for kids or youth and live in the area, please join us. I credit Iowa’s lovely Beth Tubbs for first introducing me to SCBWI and DAWG. And I belong to the critique group of my dreams. Sharelle Moranville, Jan Blazanin, Eileen Boggess, and I meet monthly in person and often online to help each other wade through new ideas, works-in-progress, and general publishing questions. I learn so much from them.

Here’s Becky’s amazing crit group.

Peg:     If you had to give a new writer one single piece of advice, what would you tell them?

Becky:    One single piece? But I have three. Read. Write. Join SCBWI. Not necessarily in that order.

Peg:  As a devoted wife, mother, teacher and volunteer just how do you find the time to write? How important is the support of your spouse and family?

Becky: Sometimes, I don’t. And I hate it when that happens. When I do find time to write, it is only because my family supports me. James is a great dad. He loves to take the kids sledding or to the park. When they go on their outings, I have a date with my laptop. My kids support my writing, too. Once, I heard a bedtime prayer that went “and please help Mommy get her writing time.” I guess they just get me. They understand that I need to write. That’s not to say they don’t hover over my shoulder and offer line-by-line critique or try to take advantage of my concentration. If I’m buried in a manuscript, they ask questions like, “Can we go ice fishing on the neighborhood pond?”  Oh sure, go ahead. . . 

In that case, there’s always after bedtime.

Peg:     The experts say write what you know. For instance, I would have more trouble finding a voice for a “girlie girl.” I was a tomboy. What life experiences have you had that has made you the writer you are?

Becky:    I’ve tasted snow and smelled a summer rain. I’ve gotten close enough to a bull moose to hear him chew and close enough to a bear to hear him sniff. I’ve ridden a bike on the Champs Elysee in Paris. I’ve held a newborn baby. I’ve said goodbye to a best friend. I’ve cried tears of joy,and I’ve had my heart so broken I couldn’t find the tears. I’ve loved deeply. I’ve been loved. I haven’t led an extraordinary life. Or maybe that’s not true. I think just to live is extraordinary enough in itself. If the heart of writing is seeing, then to live is enough.

Peg:  Becky, your life has not been that normal, dear. Most of us don’t get close enough to hear a bull moose chew.

Peg:     Do you have any other published work or a website that you would like to share?

Becky:    We just launched our website on release day, February 23. Check it out @  

Peg:     What other roles do you play in your life? Outside of writing what hobbies do you have?

Becky:    Wife. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. I’m in a book club and a prayer group. I enjoy hiking, biking, and taking long walks with no destination. I’ve discovered that sledding can be fun if you dress warmly enough. I love to watch my children tap dance, and I think, somewhere deep inside of me, there is perhaps a tap dancer waiting to emerge.

Peg:     That’s another book in the making.

Peg:     Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of an author. You’ve written your rough draft.  Did you have any idea that this idea just might be one that would some day become your first picture book?

Becky:    No idea. I hoped. I always hope. I had hoped before, and I will hope again.

Peg:     Now it is time to get down to business. You’ve sent it to your critique group and they’ve offered their takes. You do the revisions which might be one time or several times, depending on your skills.

In your case, you opted to do a critique with one of the greats in the business. Share with us who critiqued your manuscript and the results of that critique?

Becky:    When I heard that Jane Yolen was coming to Iowa, I couldn’t wait to hear her speak. Little did I know that I would be granted a manuscript critique with her. How lucky is that? I learned so much from her talks that weekend, and then I was able to sit down with her one on one. She packed great advice into that ten-minute meeting. She knew exactly what the story needed, and she told me she loved the sassy voice. When I bought her book Take Joy, she signed it “For Becky — because some time you will sign for me! Jane Yolen” There is power in words. Believe it!

Peg:     Now it is time to do your market research. I wondered if you had Dutton as one of the publishing firms to submit to from the beginning?

Becky:    I had done market research for other manuscripts, so I had an idea what publishing houses I might target with this one. And, yes, Dutton was on the list. So, when Jane Yolen recommended an editor from Dutton, I just jumped.

Peg:     You’ve selected the right home for your baby. You’ve check every word. You’ve formatted everything perfectly and then you’ve sent it off. Tell my readers about the wait for the contact from Dutton. How long did you wait to hear something?

Becky:    I expected to wait about six months. Maybe eight. For a rejection letter. I did not expect to see Steve Meltzer’s name in my inbox only two weeks after I sent him the manuscript. He wrote to say he liked the manuscript and wanted to hang onto it until after the holidays. I almost broke my elbow doing cartwheels. Then, about the middle of January, he surprised me with a phone call. He still wasn’t ready to pick up the story, but he wanted to know if I would spend time revising it. He thought it had a lot of potential for their house, but it wasn’t quite there yet. I felt so close, but so far. I worked hard on revising and resubmitted the story a month later. He called the very same day to offer me a contract. My heart still leaps to remember the moment.

Peg:     Did you work on other projects in the meantime? I do magazines and know that the wait can be frustrating.

Becky:    Besides the annual Christmas letter? Just kidding. I usually have several projects on my desktop; there’s always something to do.

Peg:     How were you contacted when Dutton expressed their interest? And who at Dutton was your editor?    

Becky:    Well, first there was an email, then a couple of phone calls from my terrific editor, Steve Meltzer. His first phone call makes a funny story. I was potty training Jacob, and he was in the bathroom doing some target practice. Steve sensed he had caught me in the middle of something, and he asked if he could call back at a better time. “I just put my two year-old on the potty,” I told him. “Could I call you back in five minutes?” I was embarrassed, but he was gracious. I put Jacob down for his nap so fast, he didn’t know what hit him!

Peg:     Once you’ve gotten the contract, mulled it over and signed it, what happened next?

Becky:    More dreams come true. Steve forwarded the portfolio of Lynne Avril, an amazing illustrator with more than sixty children’s books to her name. I loved her work from the get-go. I hoped so badly she would be the one. And she was!  Not only is she a gifted artist, but she’s also a real cowgirl!

Lynne Avril’s work can be seen on her website

Peg:     I’m assuming that there were revisions needed. Tell my readers a little about how that works. I wish I had the time to show my readers what Sara Reynolds, Art Director,  from Dutton showed us at the conference about how the text marries the illustrations.

Becky: Since I had done revisions before contract, there wasn’t as much to do after the contract. We waited until the artwork came in, and then we could better see how the text and illustrations complemented each other. I will say that revisions are never done until the book is on the shelf!

Peg:     Did you get a chance to see the illustrator’s work as the project went along or not? Am I correct that most writers don’t have a lot of opportunity to participate in the selection of the illustrator and have to trust that the editor and art director will make a great selection? Your cover is delightful and obviously that was the case.

Becky:    I don’t know how it works for most writers. I’m learning as I go. But I’m thankful that my editors forwarded artwork at several stages, because the process fascinates me. I got to see first pencil sketches, revisions along the way, and then the delicious full color artwork. Since I can’t draw at all (my kids don’t even pick me for their Pictionary teams), I am awed by the work of gifted illustrators like Lynne. 

 I just received first sketches for another forthcoming book, Jammy Dance, illustrated by Tracy Dockray. They are darling. I keep thinking, “I wish I could do that!” Then again, I have so much fun painting in a different media — with words!

Tracy Dockray’s work can be seen @

 Peg:     Thanks so much Becky for joining me for this interview.  Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse  is available now : or at your local Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

Book: Hardcover| 9.25 x 6.25in| 32 pages

| ISBN 9780525421641

| 23 Feb 2010 | Dutton Children’s | 3 – 5 years

Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse


In Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, Nellie Sue does everything with a western flair. Whether it is cleaning up the animal sty (picking up her stuffed animals) or rounding up cattle (getting the neighborhood kids together for her birthday party), she does it like a true cowgirl. All she really needs is a horse. So when Dad announces at her birthday party, “I got a horse right here for you,” Nellie Sue is excited. But when her horse turns out to be her first bicycle, it will take an imagination as big as Texas to help save the day.

Peg:   Other places were you can meet Rebecca Janni are:

February 27, 2010 3:00 pm: Saturday Storytime, Barnes and Noble, 4550 University Avenue, West Des Moines, IA

March 6, 2010 1:00 pm: Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse release party, Beaverdale Books, 2629 Beaver Avenue, Suite 1, Des Moines, IA

I’ve enjoyed having you and would love to have you back when Jammy Dance comes out.

Becky:    Thank you, Peg. I’ll say your line back to you . . . Writer, Write On!


 Using dummies, are they for everyone? The obvious answer is no …but their value should be based on the need of the writer. They can be helpful in certain cases.

When I first started writing, I never used one. I thought they were just for illustrators and I was not one…so why waste my time. I know…how naïve can someone be. Then, there came a time when I couldn’t figure out if my picture book manuscript was too sparse to be a 32 page picture book. Was my text strong enough to support 13-14 illustrations?

So, I decided to take the chance on using a dummy. That way I could actually see how the text could be seen in my picture book…realizing of course that in truth that is the editor’s call. I took 8 sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper and fold it in half. I took the Institute of Children’s Literature course so I had the picture book dummy form that they suggested. I laid out the text and left spots for the illustrations.

The end result was that my manuscript’s text had enough scenes changes to support the number of suggested illustrations. That fact made me feel a lot better about my chance at getting it published.


Spring Day Animal Hunting

Can the weather that you have in your story effect the mood of your character? You betcha. A setting such as a cold, chilly, windy night where lightening is streaking across the sky and there is ear-popping thunder roaring overhead denotes a totally different atmosphere than a calm night. It seems to lend itself to the character being scared.

 Gentle lapping water against the cliff rocks, with cloudless starry sky, and a bright moon overhead convey the feeling of a peaceful and calm situation. It help your readers to think something is good is about to happen.

My advice to the writer is to consider your setting careful and match it to your story’s description. Make sure the setting matches your story.

I have to admit that this is one of my problems. I often am not sure how to select the correct word form. I have to pull out a reference book to make sure that I am using the right one.

Am I alone? Apparently not. I’m copying this to post on the wall above my desk, so I can refer to it.


For the rest of the article and a whole lot more, be sure to go to



Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid)
Q: Lay, lie, laid—when do you use each?

—Annemarie Valian

A: Don’t forget about “lain,” my friend! All these verbs have two things in common: They begin with the letter “L” and confuse the bejeezus out of many people.

Let’s give this a shot. Lay and lie are both present-tense verbs, but they don’t mean quite the same thing. Lay means to put or set something down, so if the subject is acting on an object, it’s “lay.” For example, I lay down the book. You, the subject, set down the book, the object.

Lie, on the other hand, is defined as, “to be, to stay or to assume rest in a horizontal position,” so the subject is the one doing the lying—I lie down to sleep or When I pick up a copy of my favorite magazine, Writer’s Digest, I lie down to take in all its great information. In both these cases, you, the subject, are setting yourself down. Are you with me so far?


ISBN13: 9780670036202

ISBN: 067003620X

BINC: 7370828
Edition: Illustrated
Age: 3 – 8 years
Grade: Preschool – 3

About the book:

Description: This simple counting book contains spirited rhyming text and cheerful illustrations that capture the unexpected pleasures that a little wet weather can bring. Full color.

Disclaimer: The reviewer has no connection and/or personal knowledge of the author and/or illustrator of the book. Book selections are random.

This review is intended for parents or other significant person in a child’s life who may be looking for suitable books for their children to read or have read to them.

This month I am reviewing is RAINDROP, PLOP! Written by Wendy Cheyette Lewison. Illustrated by Pam Paparone. Published by Viking Books in 2004.

From the bright red raincoat and umbrella to the the green boots with eyes and a mouth that grace the front cover to the boots on the back cover this simple book is sweet. In this simple book the young girl and her dog count things as they go through a rainy day.

Wendy Cheyette Lewison’s 143 word book has easy bouncy rhymes that makes the reader want to continue reading the story and includes counting concepts. Its slightly larger than most books size lends itself to a younger age reader smaller hands.

It starts with:


little raindrop,

dark, dark sky.


little raindrops,

clouds go by.

Pam Paparone’s illustration are simplistically child-like with lots ot bright colors. The little girl’s outfit is in the primary colors of red, yellow, and green while the sky is various shades of blues and greens. There are a variety of animals drawn through the pages that could provide other animals to look for and count . For example, there’s a squirrel in a tree, and a duck in a pond, etc.

As most parents know attention spans vary from child to child. This could be used to help hold even the youngest child’s attention.

At one point, the child character and her dog splash in puddles…just like a live child would do.

Then once the characters make it the house, the text counts backwards from the number ten.


little toes

in a nice warm tub.


soapy bubbles


My thoughts on this book are that the little ones will love it. It is a book that parents or other caregivers can adapt to their own individual child’s abilities to concentrate.


Words to avoid and cut

Was, Were, Is, Be, Been, Had, Have, Very, Just, That,                 

Really, All, Almost, Now, Somehow, Even, Felt,  

Something, Thing, It, There, Seemed, And, As

Of,  Like, Realized (Avoid overuse), Started (Avoid overuse)

Began (Avoid overuse), He/She (Avoid starting a lot of sentences with these)

Today, Rebecca Janni contacted me regarding the interview with her that I had scheduled to do today to post tomorrow.

She requested a couple more days to clear up some other things before doing the interview. First, Rebbeca’s dad is having health issues. Second, she and her family are taking a trip to China to bring their newest addition , a two year old deaf son, home.

I’ll post more as I know more.


I am an aspiring picturebook writer with some magazine credits just no picture book contract yet. I know it is coming and I am more than willing to work for it.

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July 2009

February 2010
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My Favorites:

I love the children's movies Wizard of Oz and the Neverending Story. Both movies make me feel the lesson that hope is alive and well. After seeing UP this past week, it just might have a chance at being added to this list.

I love the cool colors of blues and purples.Those colors are peaceful for me.

I love The Velveteen Rabbit. Even as an adult, I still feel the urge to cry when he becomes real. I know, silly, but a good book can make me laugh and cry as it takes me on a magical journey.

Authors and Illustrators:

Authors, Author/Illustrator, Illustrators that I know and/or Like.


C= Children

MG= Mid Grade

T= Teen

YA= Young Adult

A= Adult


Bonnie Adamson *

Kathi Appelt *

Tedd Arnold


Natalie Babbit

Molly Bang

Bonnie Becker

Jan and Stan Berenstain

Judy Blume

Tracey M. Cox

Linda Crotta Brennan *

Jan Brett

Janie Bynum *

Eric Carle

Pam Calvert

Nancy Carlson

Beverly Cleary

Kevin Scott Collier

Sharon Creech

Doreen Cronnin

Tomie dePaulo

Kate DiCamillo

Kathleen Duey *

Dotti Enderle

Jan Fields *

Denise Fleming

Mem Fox

Kelley Milner Hall

Amy Heist

Kevin Henkes

Ellen Jackson *

Jeff Kinney

Jackie French Koller

Ursula K. LeGuin

Leo Lionni

Lois Lowry

Mercer Mayer

Robert Munsch

Laura Numeroff

Linda Sue Parks

Dav Pilkey

Patricia Polacco

Peggy Rathmann

Bethany Roberts

David Shannon

Aaron Shepard

Donna J. Shepherd *

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jerry Spinelli

Diane Stanley

Chris Van Allsburg

Rick Walton *

Lisa Wheeler

Mo Willems

Karma Wilson *

Audrey Woods

Jane Yolen *

Favorite Websites:

Favorite Blogs:

• ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog
• Alice’s CWIM Blog
• A Fuse #8 Production
• Cynsations
• Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent
• Editorial Anonymous
• Miss Snark’s First Victim
• Writing for children and teens

Favorite Quotes.

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