Alright, friends! Ready to take a trip around the world? How about Brazil to visit author, Carola Schmidt?
Let's begin with my obsession, Carola! Tell me about your favorite donuts?
I love to cook, so I think I would create my own donut. It wouldn’t have a hole since I would fill it with lots of dulce de leche. Donuts are not common here in Brazil. But when I go to the US, I ask for Boston Cream donut.
Ummm, I heartily agree to try any donuts you create! Dulce de Leache. YUM!
But wait, what? Donuts are not common somewhere?!
I bet there is a different common treat that I would adore in Brazil. Add it to the bucket list!
I guess that is one of the most fascinating things about being a part of the writing community. I have met so many amazing authors from around the world! That being said, tell us, Carola, about where you live. :)
I live in southern Brazil. My city, Curitiba, is the largest and most populous in my state.
My family is from Prudentópolis originally, which is the main Ukrainian community in Brazil.
My two Babushkas (Grandmas) and many relatives still live there.
Another small town is Carambeí, where my husband’s family lives. Carambeí is charming, like a small European town. My husband's family lives on a farm, and I love to go there.
Most people in the south are descendants of European immigrants. The heterogeneity of Brazilian people creates a beautiful blend of cultural heritages, ethnicities, and memories.
Brazil's agriculture is well developed. So, we have fresh ingredients of all kinds even in the biggest cities. At the same time, even the small towns in the south are a bit cosmopolitan. My region seems more like the US Midwest countryside.
Even with recent troubles, I’m optimistic about my country. It’s a relatively new democracy and still in development. The Brazilian people work hard to have a better place to live. It’s much better today than twenty years ago.
How interesting! I think our blog readers will also find your path to publication intriguing as well. It looks a little different than many authors. You have self published as well as traditionally published, right?
I consider myself a hybrid author, because my children’s books are self-published and my scientific books on pediatric oncology are published by Springer Nature (Switzerland/England).
In a nutshell, what did you think of self publishing?
I loved the freedom I had self-publishing my books. I did’t have to follow the expectations of a publishing house so I coordinated the whole editorial process myself. 'And, I had a say in the art from beginning to the end.
I’m also a children’s book reader, so I understand that there are expectations that must be met as a children’s book author. It includes originality and never underestimating a child's potential. Also, a book should have a wonderful and new adventure that readers (not only kids but also adults) can identify their personal stories with. They should be able to “talk” with a book. Share their own experiences and impressions. It’s not a one way street; the reader should be a part of the plot.
When the author is part of the process, these expectations can be met. Meeting the reader's expectancy guides my process.
I liked both self and traditional publishing, and I’m always available for opportunities on both sides.
"A book should have a wonderful and new adventure that readers (not only kids but also adults) can identify their personal stories with. They should be able to “talk” with a book. Share their own experiences and impressions. It’s not a one way street; the reader should be a part of the plot."
What did you enjoy most about working with your illustrator?
I enjoy his versatility. He’s an artist, and makes his living as a musician, designer and illustrator. We worked closely to develop Babushka and Karina. Babushka needed to be a legitimate Ukrainian Babushka and also, at the same time, every Grandma. Babushka is not only my Babushka, she’s the reader’s Grandma, Oma, Abuelita, Nonna, Yaya, etc. The reader carries a strong emotional lace that couldn’t be broken. So we worked together to develop her, and I appreciate his patience and availability, as well as his respect with the emotional heritage the story carries. Karina could be a reader, their sister, or their cousin. So much that it’s the name of my closest cousin.
Wow, Carola! Your passion shines through. It definitely inspires me. So does your perseverance! Getting traditionally published isn't easy for anyone. But, you have faced many challenges. Can you share some of your journey?
As a Brazilian writer, the hardest part in publishing is not whether to self or traditional publish. It is making sure the book reaches the little lovely hands of our readers.
That’s why I started to write in English. I came across several barriers writing in Portuguese, which is my first language. It’s almost impossible to make a living as an author in Brazil. Literary agents don’t work with new writers, and publishing houses here don’t want newbies.
So, I studied English. Becoming fluent made it easier to become traditionally published with one of the biggest scientific publishing houses. Even self-publishing my children’s books has given me more opportunities than anything in Brazil.
Thanks to Jeff Bezos, I’m publishing and selling children’s books. This is something very beautiful about the American people: if someone does a good job, is a good person, and pays their taxes, they are very welcome to produce their art and work there. And since English is the lingua franca, I can also reach people around the whole world when writing in English.
What are some of your favorite books?
My bookcase has a past with classical reading. I love Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Victor Hugo, Gaston Leroux, William Blake, Milan Kundera, L. Frank Baum, as well as Brazilian literature from 70s: Hilda Hilst, Caio Fernando Abreu, and Clarice Lispector. A Brazilian children’s classical marked my childhood, which is Yellow Woodpecker Ranch (Monteiro Lobato). But lately, I’ve been reading only contemporary writers in order to support their work.
I’m really enjoying various books from Afonso Cruz. He is Portuguese. Many of his books have been translated, but unfortunately not into English yet. I hope his books will be translated soon. My favorite one is “A Boneca de Kokoschka” (Kokoschka’s Doll), which is available in Spanish as “La Muñeca de Kokoshka”.
I’m also really enjoying non-fiction, like Malcolm Gladwell (Business) and Bernd Henrich (nature & biology). There are many writers of all literary genres in my city, Curitiba. They shine but don’t have a real opportunity to become well known. I’m still discovering all that we have here.
I think each book has his perfect moment in my life, so my favorites change a lot.
Who/what inspired you to write your book/s?
The theme of “belonging” has always fascinated me and been present in my writing. When I first arrived from the Ukraine, many people asked me to write my story, as a descendant from Ukrainian immigrants.
So the themes of belonging, home, and family memories were approached in my previous book “Chubby’s Tale: The true story of a teddy bear who beat cancer”.
Each of us has our own stories, history and the desire to belong. I came home from Ukraine with the perception that our memories are like a living tissue that intersects with other people and lives. These intersections form who we really are, our families, and our homes.
Chubby had a good reception. His story even landed on the BookAuthority list of “81 Best Leukemia Books of All Time”, For my next book, I wanted to write outside the theme of cancer.
“Tell me a story, Babushka” was written with my soul. It’s my own voice, and I’m happy to see people relating their own personal stories with this book.
Can you tell us one of your favorite lines from any of your books?
“She hugged her matryoshka and her memories.” (Tell me a story, Babushka)
Carola, it has been a true pleasure having you on my blog. Your perspective and journeys are truly unique!
You'll have to tell me readers, if you don't eat donuts, what do you eat in the mornings?
Don't forget to follow or support Carola!
Click here to learn more about "Tell Me A Story, Babushka".
Follow Carola on Twitter.
Did you know National Pizza Day is February 9th?
Interesting Fact #2: Just four days earlier...
It's National Soup Day on February 4th!
What do these seemingly unrelated days have to do with each other, you may ask?
Melissa is the author and illustrator of two books that fit perfectly with these National holidays. Pizza Day and Soup Day. Melissa has a fantastic sense of humor and her books are great blend of food, whimsy, and cooking with kids. It has been a true pleasure getting to know her and her stories
Okay fellow foodie, if you could be any donut, what would you be and why?
I think I would be a cinnamon sugar coated donut hole, actually, because I'm a pretty small person. If I'm in a room with adults only, I will surely be the smallest person there. It used to really bother me for a long time, but I've come to accept it. And hey, sometimes it is cheaper to buy clothes because I can buy children's sizes! haha. I would be coated with cinnamon, because it is one of my favorite spices.
I have the exact opposite problem. As an elementary teacher, I am usually surrounded by women. I am almost always the tallest...no heels needed :)
Tell us a little about your writing/illustrating journey.
I have written two books, Soup Day and Pizza Day, and I have illustrated over thirty.
I started as an illustrator and have been working full time in the industry since 1999. My first book, Night Shift Daddy, by Eileen Spinelli came out in 2000.
I have been working with the same agency The CAT Agency since I first started my career. My agent, Chris Tugeau, got me that first book.
I had already been a working illustrator for almost a decade before I wrote my first book, Soup Day, published in 2010 by Henry Holt.
I am currently writing and illustrating two books which will be published in 2021.
What inspired you to write your books?
I've always wanted to be a children's book author and illustrator from the time I was a kid. But it was only until after I had my own child that I first wrote a book. He was definitely the inspiration for both Soup Day and Pizza Day. From the time he was little, I have been cooking with him and he has always had a love for food and creating delicious dishes!
Aw! I love where your inspiration came from! It makes my heart melt. When I visited your blog, I noticed that you have some great tips for getting kids involved in cooking. I put a button below for anyone who wants to read more.
Can you share with us a favorite line from a book?
One of my very favorite books is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. The last line is...
"Some day they might want to use it, but really, for now, what more could they wish for? They all had all that they wanted."
It's hard for us to read that out loud without tearing up!
What a fantastic view to have! A sweet lesson in gratefulness, right? One of the fabulous things about you, Melissa, is how you celebrate the moment. Even when you told me about your path to publication, it glowed with hope and a desire to become better!
The hardest part for me was believing that it (publishing) was possible.
When it hadn't happened yet, and it was just an idea, it was hard to act as if I believed - doing all the things I knew I should do, which was keep on working, keep on getting better - even though it wasn't a guaranteed outcome. Even after I signed with my agent, I didn't get any work for a year and a half!
I just kept at it.
I am so glad you did! I have read both your books with my kids and they loved making their own pizza!
I have already learned a great dill from you, but how about a little more?
What is your number one revision tip for writers?
I think it really helps to put things aside for awhile and come back to something with fresh eyes. The time and distance can really help to see your work with clarity and non-judgment. Then you can get to work on problem solving more effectively.
Aside from the wonderful books you have written, you are also a very talented illustrator with a great deal of experience. So one last question, what tip do you have for authors from an illustrator's perspective?
Usually authors don't work directly with the illustrator. The only time I have is when I've worked with my husband, Denis Markell, who is also an author. In that case, I would say that it is important to let the illustrator create their own vision of the story without your input.
Give them the freedom to tell their interpretation of the story without imposing your own vision of what you expect the illustrations to look like. Luckily for me, my husband is really good at doing this!
Yay for supportive husbands! And wives! Thank you for that insight. It is challenging to let illustrators "do their thing", but often they bring our stories into life in a way we could never imagine.
Thank you for stopping by Melissa! It has truly been a pleasure.
Connect with Melissa
Click here to buy Pizza Day. Or here for Soup Day.
Melissa Iwai is the author and illustrator of many books for young children.
Some of her books include Soup Day and Pizza Day, which she wrote and illustrated and Let's Go to the Hardware Store, which she illustrated and many others. She is the illustrator of Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection, an Orbis Pictus Honor book, a 2019 Bank Street Best Book of the Year Listing, and an ILC (International LiteracyAssociation) Teacher's Choice Book. She received her BFA in Illustration from Art Center College of
Design in Pasadena, CA and currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband,
author, Denis Markell, and their teenage son, and Shiba Inu, Nikki.
Everyone knows I have to start with this question first!
If you could be any donut, what would you be and why?
What a fun question! Hmm. I really had to think about this one. I mean, if I’m eating a donut, I want it to be chocolate. Or one of those fluffy, cream-filled ones. Or maybe both.
(I like the way you think, Jodi!)
If I could be any donut, I think I might want to be a French cruller. Not because they’re fancy, but because I’m a people pleaser. Crullers are light and airy and have nooks and crannies to cradle every bit of sugary glaze, so those enjoying said donut don’t miss a single drop of sweetness.
In reality, I think I’m a funnel cake. Sweet, but admittedly a bit of a tangled mess.
Aren't we all funnel cakes in the end? Life is messy, glad you embrace it! Speaking of messy, the path to publication is also complicated. Tell us about yours.
My journey is a bit of a long and winding road. Although I spent most of my childhood and teenage years writing, it was never presented to me as a viable career option. It wasn’t until I started reading to my own boys that I realized how much I missed sharing stories.
I began writing picture books.
I began submitting.
I began getting REJECTIONS.
Although some were positive (what we call “champagne rejections”), I only saw the “no”s. They crushed me. I buried my dream and busied myself writing articles for magazines instead.
Despite my own issues with confidence, my husband Larry and I both recognized how important it was to nurture the dreams of our children. Both boys displayed talent and an interest in the arts at an early age, and we cheered them every step of the way.
“If it were easy,” we’d assure them, “everyone would do it.”
Before we knew it, they were accepting their high school diplomas. Empty nest threatened to hit hard.
“It’s time for you to get back to your passion,” Larry said. “Writing stories for children.”
I shook my head. “It’s too hard to get published.”
“What?” Both boys were incredulous. “Have you been lying to us all these years?”
Busted. They called me out.
Larry issued a challenge. “Hit it hard for the four years the boys are in college,” he said. “Go to conferences, hone your craft, submit your stories. If you aren’t published by the time the boys graduate, we’ll reevaluate the situation.”
So I did.
And I got rejections. And they stung. But I kept at it.
Finally, I took WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN to a conference, where I received two professional and conflicting critiques. (Yes! That happens! This is a very subjective business.) One editor told me I had to make sure the readers knew the dragon was real. The other? She proposed I revise the story, so readers knew the dragon was imaginary.
Needless to say, I was confused and discouraged. I wanted the readers to decide whether the dragon was real or not. I was beginning to feel it would never happen.
I remember thinking, “When (not if) I receive my rejection from Flashlight, I guess I’ll have some rewriting to do.” But I didn’t get a rejection. And my brilliant editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, not only saw my vision, she embraced it and took it to another level.
But it wasn't until she placed it into the skillful hands of my amazing illustrator, Howard McWilliam, that the heart of Dragon was fully realized. After all, in a picture book, the artist tells 50% of the story!
Fast forward four years after Larry’s challenge: Our family celebrated two degrees…and one Dragon.
Because one yes is all you need.
To date, my children’s books include the award winning When A Dragon Moves In (2011), When A Dragon Moves In Again (2015), I Love My Dragon (2019), all three from Flashlight Press and Good News Nelson (2012) which was published by Story Pie Press.
I am currently seeking the representation of an editorial agent, which is another long and winding path of its own.
What do you think was the hardest part of your path to publication?
There are so many challenges, but I think the hardest thing for me was getting out of my own head. And way.
Although the path may be lined with rejections, you can’t let the “no”it-alls define or discourage you.
I know that is something I struggle with when I receive a rejection whether it be "form" or "champagne". Just keep writing, right?
Very inspiring, my friend. Let's keep the inspiration flying. What inspired your books?
My mom worked outside the home when I was a baby. But each night, she’d bring home a book for us to share. Early on, I learned to associate books with love. The seed was planted. Books helped me to make sense of my own world and transport me to new ones. Imagine, I thought, being able to produce something that was such a source of joy, comfort, inspiration, information, empathy and connection.
More specifically, the first Dragon story was literally inspired by a sandcastle that my husband built. Remember how I mentioned Empty Nest? The first time we visited the beach by ourselves, we were admittedly a bit sad.
But Larry decided to bring his sand tools anyway. Of course, the other children on the beach were more than happy to help!
One little guy pushed a piece of seaweed into the door of the castle. Ever encouraging, my husband said, “That looks like a dragon’s tail. Our castle is so cool, a dragon moved in!”
Then, the heavens opened and the angels sang. The idea for When A Dragon Moves In was conceived.
What are some of your favorite books?
May I direct you to the nearest library?
My favorite books.
All kidding aside, I could name hundreds. Thousands! That being said, the book I’ve gifted most is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, which is a story about unconditional love, and “the art” of letting go, all from the perspective of a dog. I read half of it on a plane ride out to a writer conference in California and the other half on the way back, my heart firmly nestled in my throat the entire time (sometimes with tears streaming) and recommending it over and over to the persons sitting beside me. (See? FUNNEL CAKE.) I probably should apologize to them for that.
No, I take that back. The book is that good.
Definitely adding this one to my toppling TBR pile! I love dogs and definitely need to continue mastering the art of letting go! Which leads us into the tip you have for us. What is your number one revision strategy for authors?
Let your story rest (I call it “marinate”) before you make any changes, whether they be suggestions from treasured critique partners, professional editors or self-driven.
Work on something else.
Take a walk.
Take a bath.
In a related note: don’t “save” over the originals (yes, that would be plural – each update is a new original), but date each revision and keep them in a separate file. You never know when you’ll want to refer back to something, keep it the way it was or even use a deleted scene/sentence/character in another story!
After all, there’s only a one letter difference between previous and precious. ;-)
Okay y'all did I not say Jodi is one positive ray of light in the kidlit world?! Here are some ways to catch up with her!
Her website! (Her site really is great. Go click the previews of her books. So cool!)
And did I mention that her book of When a Dragon Moves in Again is about to be released? You can pre-order here.
Comment below or retweet to be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of Jodi's I Love My Dragon!
Go forth and sprinkle joy and kindness!
Confessions seem to be the way I start my blog posts lately.
So I have to admit something that might shock you...
I HATED reading nonfiction as a kid.
There I said it. Truth is, I steered clear of that section like a jelly fish avoids sea turtles.
As an adult, I do cast my reading nets a little wider. Perhaps if I had found a lovely, lyrical nonfiction like Michelle Cusolito's Flying Deep, my imagination and interest would have been captured.
Nowadays, nonfiction for the kid community has become highly engaging. With a greater emphasis on story telling and voice, books like Michelle's have young readers jumping into nonfiction with both feet!
As soon as Michelle told me about her book, I was hooked. Her favorite line is, "the very opening line. 'Imagine you’re the pilot of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible barely big enough for three.'
It came to me in a flash while I was out for a walk and I knew I had found the way into my book."
Even Michelle's favorite books are visually and linguistically beautiful. When I asked her to share some with us, she had a hard time choosing.
This is such a hard question because there are SO MANY! To narrow down my list, here are some of my favorite books to pair with Flying Deep.
Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann
Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy
Glow: Animals with Their Own Night Lights by W. H. Beck
And for older readers: Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact by Jennifer Swanson
Michelle's passion for nonfiction took my own interests in this genre to a deeper level. She said,
"I enjoy writing all kinds of things (fiction and non-fiction), but I really love writing non-fiction. I’ve learned I’m a bit of a research junkie. I LOVE sitting down with a new resource to start reading and learning more about a new subject. I just finished an adult non-fiction book related to a current project. I devoured it. I always have a stack of books from my library, plus a bunch of tabs open on my computer, plus a bunch of websites pinned to my private boards on Pinterest, etc. Also… I write in books that are particularly useful, so if I find a book that is super helpful, I have to buy a copy."
Confession # 2- I write in all my favorite books, too!
Since research is the name of the game, I asked Ms. Michelle, what tools she found best for writing her books. I loved her response!
"Experts. I do as much research as I can on my own: books, films, reputable websites, journal articles, archives, etc. Once I’ve gone as far as I can, then I reach out to an expert in the field. I could not have written Flying Deep or any of my other non-fiction manuscripts without experts."
Sometimes, writing can be a solitary occupation.That little nibble of wisdom was fin-tastic. So, I asked Michelle what was her number one revision tip for writers. She offered up two!
I have two key suggestions here (but remember that everyone works differently. Take what works for you and leave the rest).
(For those interested, Michelle wrote a blog post that describes her process in more detail. It’s a combination of these revision suggestions. Visit her website by clicking here.)