Welcome to our March PAL Author of the Month, Lisa Harkrader. Lisa Harkrader is the author of humorous fiction for middle grade readers. She is also an artist and graphic designer. Lisa’s newest book, Crumbled!, is the first book in a middle grade series, and will be released by Yellow Jacket (Little Bee Books) this August. Please welcome Lisa, our featured PAL author for March, 2019.
Congratulations on your upcoming book, Lisa! What was the inspiration for Crumbled!?
Crumbled! is the first in a lower middle-grade series, The Misadventures of Nobbin Swill. It’s a mash-up of fractured fairy tale and detective story, about a lowly dung farmer’s son who accidentally becomes Prince Charming’s assistant and helps him track down clues to find out what happened to Hansel and Gretel.
I got the idea for it when I was brainstorming ideas for a short story I’d been asked to write for an educational publisher. I love fractured fairy tales, mainly because as a child, I never understood fairy tales. How could anyone mistake a wolf in a nightie for their own grandmother? I love fractured fairy tales because they take those things that don’t make sense, twist them around, and make them funny. And that’s another thing I love—humor. Funny stories are my favorites. As are mysteries. Mysteries have always been my go-to reading choice.
So, as I was brainstorming, I wondered what would happen if I mashed a fractured fairy tale, a funny story, and a mystery together. The idea bloomed, and I was so excited about it, I kept it for myself. (I ended up writing a story about a boy who invents a dog-walking machine for the educational publisher.) And that’s how Crumbled! was born.
Did you do any research in order to write your book, and if so, what kind of research?
Actually, yes. Even though it’s a fractured fairy tale, set in an invented kingdom, I did a lot of research. In fact, one of the things I’m excited about is that I got to include an Author’s Note about garderobes and dung farming (more often called gong farming, according to my research, but my editor and I agreed that dung would be easier for younger readers to understand). People had to do their business somewhere, and in castles, the bathroom was called a garderobe—basically a latrine built into the outer wall of the castle. The stuff dropped down through a chute, sometimes into the moat, sometimes into a pit. Dung farmers were the ones who shoveled out the pit and carted the dung/gong away.
When you have an idea for a story, how do you go about writing it? Do you use an outline?
I do a lot of what I call prewriting. I make notes, interview the main characters, diagram the plot, create a loose outline. As I’m doing all this, I build up a head of steam, until it gets to the point where I can’t not write the actual story, so I plunge in. The story changes as I go along, but I like having the outline and all my notes as tent poles that hold the whole thing up as I muddle along.
Do you have an agent? If so, how did you acquire your agent?
I do have an agent. I heard about a new agent who was actively looking for clients, so I sent him a letter and a picture book manuscript, and he took me on. He never did sell that picture book, but he has sold six novels for me, so it’s worked out pretty well.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get ideas just from living life. I see something that looks out of place and wonder how it got there. I hear a news story about dogs who wandered into a grocery store and wonder what their motive was (besides the obvious—food). I walk through the mall and think, if I needed to hide a body, that kiosk by the food court would be the perfect spot. I have more ideas than I have time to write. If I need a specific idea for an assignment, I set a timer for 15 minutes, then start making a list of every idea I can think of. An idea I like usually pops up before the timer goes off.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you handle that?
Of course I experience writer’s block! Maybe I know my character needs to be humiliated at school somehow so that she will be too embarrassed to try out for the play she wants a part in. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what, exactly, that humiliating thing will be. As I said before, I’ll set a timer and start listing every possibility I can think of, no matter how ridiculous. The first things on the list are the obvious and trite ideas, but as I force my brain to spit out more and more possibilities, I usually land on one that works beautifully. I also try Googling different words associated with my problem. If those two don’t work, I go for a walk. That usually knocks a few ideas loose. Sometimes I just have to stew on it for a while. It’s frustrating, but I keep telling myself that the answer is out there. I just need to be patient till it finds me.
If you do work for hire, how do you get your assignments?
In addition to writing novels, I do a lot of work for hire, mainly for educational publishers and packagers. I’ve written test passages and items, classroom materials, educational books, textbook passages, and study guides. One of my favorite assignments is creating activities that supplement classroom magazines. I’ve gotten most of my clients from listings on freelance writing websites. I’ve found that if I do a good job for a client—follow their instructions and assignment specifications exactly and meet their deadlines—they will send me regular work.
How does your experience as a graphic designer inspire, and affect your writing?
I find that as I write, the writing gives me ideas for illustrations, even if I’m not actually illustrating the story or book. Thinking about illustrations helps me see the story more clearly and more visually, which I think makes my writing stronger. Being a graphic designer helps in practical ways. I design my own website and promotional materials, plus I’m better able to work with my publisher’s book designer on the book’s layout.
What books were among your childhood favorites and why?
I adored books even before I learned to read. My parents read to me every night, and my favorite book was The Night Before Christmas. I asked for that story night after night, to the point where, when my parents weren’t reading it to me, I would read it to myself. My parents thought I was brilliant, that I’d taught myself to read at age three. Actually, I had just heard the story so many times, I’d memorized every bit of it, including when to turn the page.
When I was in the third grade, my mom gave me my first Nancy Drew books—The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery. She loved Nancy Drew as a kid, and from the very first page, I loved her, too. Our town librarian wrinkled her nose when I asked where the Nancy Drew books were and said, “Those aren’t real literature.” But Nancy gave me confidence and real knowledge of the world. Nancy could do anything, and if she could, so could I. Plus, I was probably the only third grader in Tonganoxie, Kansas, who knew what a bungalow was, and a roadster, and later, after I branched out into the Hardy Boys, a Chinese junk.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about writing?
1. Love the writing. There are so many things about publishing that are completely out of a writer’s control, but the writing itself isn’t one of them. When I can sink into the writing and truly enjoy it, all that other stuff—sales, rejections, bad covers, etc.—go away.
2. Write with verbs. A strong, descriptive verb makes a sentence come alive better than any other kind of word.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m finishing Crumbled! and working on the second book in the series, Croaked!, about an annoying visiting prince who disappears from the castle at the same time a demanding frog shows up.
Thank you for joining us here and sharing your work with us, Lisa. Lisa lives with her family in Tonganoxie, Kansas.
You can read more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisaharkrader.com.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers 2015
Crumbled! (first in The Misadventures of Nobbin Swill series)
Yellow Jacket, August 2019
FORMER Authors of the Month
Ben McClanahan has worked for newspapers and trade magazines, but whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, his love is writing for children. He is the author of two non-fiction educational books and his newest book, We Need Plankton (The Animal Files), was released from Focus Readers last month.
Randi Hacker has worked as a personal assistant to the stars, publisher, educator, librarian, author and video store clerk. She was the editor of The Electric Company Magazine published by Children’s Television Workshop. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Punch and Spy. She is currently the Education Outreach Coordinator at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.
Molly McCluskey-Shipman writes picture books for children. Her first picture book, Emma’s Dilemma (Goldminds Publishing), received an honorable mention in the Purple Dragonfly Book Award. Her picture book Festeva’s Holiday Cheer was released last month from Lift Bridge Publishing. In addition to writing for children Molly has written various manuals and articles for nonprofit organizations and she is active in the Great Plains SPCA.
Amber Hendricks grew up reading everything she could get her hands on, including the morning cereal boxes. That passion melded into writing, and by the age of 11 she was writing and binding her own “books.” Amber earned her degree in merchandising, and over the years has worn many hats. Those include army wife, mother, visual merchandiser, certified pharmacy technician, and childcare professional. But she has always circled back to her first love of telling stories. Sophie and Little Star is her first book for children.
Adib Khorram works as a graphic designer, videographer, projectionist, and more for live events in and around the Kansas City area and nationwide. When he’s not working at his day job, he writes contemporary fiction for young adults.Darius the Great Is Not Okayis his first published book for young readers. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and was selected as a 2018 BEA Young Adult Buzz Book. You can read more about Adib and his books on his website at www.adibkhorram.com/.
Billie Holladay Skelley is the author of children’s books from picture books through young adult, as well as articles, stories, essays and poetry for adults. Her books for young readers have earned awards such as the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Purple Dragonfly Award, and the Missouri Writers’ Guild Best Juvenile Book Award. Her latest book, Ollie the Autism-Support Collie, was released this year in June. Billie is a retired registered nurse who now enjoys focusing her time on her writing. You can read more about Billie and her books on her website at www.bhskelley.com or contact her at email@example.com.
Roberta Lynne Roelfs has always loved reading, and she has been writing stories and poems since she was in the first grade. Today she writes for children under the name R. Lynne Roelfs. Roberta is the author of a magazine story inspired by her dog, Duncan, and has published fiction and nonfiction passages for the educational testing market.You can read more about Roberta and her work on her website at www.rlynneroelfs.com and follow her at twitter @RLynneRoelfs
Constance Levy felt poetry was ‘love at first sound.’ She has been writing poetry since first grade and is still writing today. Her poetry has earned many awards, including a Lee Bennett Hopkins Award and honor award, a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, the National Council of Teachers of English Notable Books in Language Arts, and others. You can find out more about Constance and her books on her website at http://www.constancelevy.com/.
Jan Greenberg combines her passion for art, literature and writing to write award-winning books about art and artists for young readers. Some of her awards include: the American Library Association Notable Book Award, the International Reading Association Teachers’ Choice Award, the Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, the Seibert Honor Award, and the Printz Honor Award. You can find out more about Jan and her books on her website at Jangreenbergsandrajordan.com.
Alastair Heim writes picture books for young children, including THE GREAT PUPPY INVASION published by HMH/Clarion and HELLO DOOR published by little bee. He lives in Kansas City with his wife and three children. You can find out more about Alastair and his books on his website www.alastairheim.com and you can connect with him on twitter at www.twitter.com/alastairheim
Lori Galaske writes for children from the picture book age to middle grade and teens. Her short stories and articles have been published in teen magazines and in anthologies, and she writes an inspirational blog for adults. Her first picture book, THE ALPHABET FOREST, was published by Guardian Angel Publishing in 2017. You can learn more about Lori and her book and her writing on her website at www.lorigalaske.com. Find her on facebook at www.facebook.com/kidlitlife/ and follow her on twitter at @lgalaske.
Carol Murray writes poetry and non-fiction for young readers. Her books for children include Rookie Reader books and storybooks with stickers, as well as having her poetry published in Highlights magazine and in anthologies. Her newest book, CRICKET IN THE THICKET, was released in 2017. You can find out more about Carol and her work at www.carolmurray.net
Jonathan Schkade writes religious books for children, books with titles like Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories and Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Master Criminals. He has published a dozen books for young readers in the religious market. He also writes picture books, MG, and YA for the general market. www.jonathanschkade.com
Nicki Jacobsmeyer’s stories have been published in Saturday Writers anthologies (Missouri Writer’s Guild), and her book, CHESTERFIELD was published by Arcadia Publishing. Her first children’s book, SURVIVING THE IDITAROD: An Interactive Extreme Sports Adventure, was released by Capstone Press in August. You can find out more about Nicki and her books on her website at https://www.nickijacobsmeyer.com/about.
Vicki Berger Erwin has worked as a children’s book buyer and a sales rep for Scholastic, and she and her husband owned the independent bookstore, Main Street Books, in St. Charles, MO for seven years. She is the author of many books for children, including SCOOBY DOO AND YOU, as well as some single Scooby Doo titles. She was also a ghostwriter for several popular girls’ book series. DIFFERENT DAYS, is historical fiction for middle grade readers, and was released this month by SkyPony Press. You can find out more about Vicki and her books on her website at www.vickibergererwin.comz
Laura S. Schmidt writes contemporary fiction and mysteries for young adults. Her first novel, SWEETER THAN LIFE, was published in 2015. Laura has worked as a community education coordinator, and has spent several years as a staff counselor at an agency that supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. You can find out more about Laura and her books on her website at www.laurastewartschmidt.com
Jessica Shaw writes for children from the picture book age through young adult, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in several magazines for children as well as doing work-for-hire projects. She received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI 2016 Magazine Merit Award committee for her poem My Favorite Sounds, published in Ladybug, May 2015. You can find out more about Jessica and her books on her website at www.authorjessicashaw.comz
Patricia A. Miller writes picture books, including nonfiction, historical fiction, and fiction, and she has written several board book manuscripts as well. She has had two nonfiction magazine articles published in Highlights for Children magazine. Her latest article is “A Century of Blossoms,” which appears in the April 2017 issue of Highlights. You can find out more about Patricia and her writing on her website at www.patriciamillerbooks.com.
Clare Vanderpool writes adventure and historical fiction for middle grade readers. Her book Moon Over Manifest won the 2011 Newbery Award, and her newest book, Navigating Early, was a 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Visit her website to find out more about Clare and her books at www.clarevanderpool.com
Claire M. Caterer has been a freelance writer and editor for more than a dozen years. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Woman’s World. She lives in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Find more about Claire and her books on her website at http://www.clairecaterer.com/
Sue Lowell Gallion writes picture books, early readers and chapter books for children from her home in Leawood, Kansas. She is the former Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and is currently Co-Regional Advisor with Kim Piddington for Kansas/Missouri SCBWI. Sue has been published in children’s magazines and educational publishing. PUG MEETS PIG, released in September 2016 from Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), is her first picture book. You can find out more about Sue on her website at www.suegallion.com
Lisa Wade McCormick has written eighteen non-fiction books for children, and her stories have appeared in several children’s magazines. Besides being a children’s book author, Lisa is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years experience as a newspaper reporter and television producer. She is currently the investigative producer at WDAF-TV in Kansas City. You can find out more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisawademccormick.com
Rita Arens is the author of the contemporary realistic young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013), a 2016 Library Journal Self-e Selection. Rita is also the editor of a parenting anthology, SLEEP IS FOR THE WEEK (Chicago Review Press), winner of a 2009 gold National Parenting Publications award (NAPPA) and winner of an honorable mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival. You can find our more about Rita and her books at www.ritaarens.com
Patricia J. Norton is the author of phonics-based beginning readers and narrative non-fiction for children. In 2006, she started a new publishing house, Short Vowel Phonics, to provide phonics-controlled short stories for beginning and struggling readers. You can find our more about Patricia and her books at http://shortvowelphonics.com/phonics/
Amy Houts, Maryville, MO, is a freelance writer and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction books on assignment for educational publishers, as well as working on her own projects. She is the author of over 60 books, many for young children ages 3 to 7. You can find out more about Amy and her books on her website, www.amyhouts.com, or follow her blog at http://www.houtsandhome.com/amys-blog.
PEGGY ARCHER, O’Fallon, MO, loves to talk to students and adults about writing and her books. Readers can learn more about her author presentations on her website at www.peggyarcher.com. They can also check out her author blog, Peggy’s Pages, at http://www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm. NAME THAT DOG! ( Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN# 978-0-8037-3322-0) is also available through Scholastic Book Club and Scholastic Book Fairs.
JANIE CHEANEY is the author of novels for middle-grade readers. Her book, THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book by the Kansas State Library. Janie is also a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and co-publisher of RedeemedReader.com.
HOLLY SCHINDLER‘s first two published works, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt, were both YA novels. Her debut MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, released with Dial / Penguin on February 6, 2014, and her next YA, Feral, is forthcoming from HarperCollins. Find out more at hollyschindler.com
BRIDGET HEOS is the author of Mustache Baby (Houghton Mifflin, May 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0547773575) She lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children. Check out her Facebook page, Author Bridget Heos, or website www.authorbridgetheos.com for updates!
BONNIE HINMAN writes non-fiction books for children. She lives with her husband in Joplin, MO, close to their children and grandchildren. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at http://www.bonniehinman.com.
SHANNON MOORE is the former Assistant Regional Advisor for Missouri SCBWI. You can find out more about Shannon on her blog, Great Books for Children, where she reviews children’s books. http://greatbooksforchildren.com/index.php/about/.
JODY FELDMAN lives in St. Louis where she writes middle-grade contemporary novels for young readers. The first book in her series, The Gollywhopper Games, was an ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults nominee, and received the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award Honor Book for Children’s Literature. The second book in the series, The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion, recently made the St. Louis Post Dispatch Best Sellers list for kids’ books. http://jodyfeldman.com
NANCY POLETTE of O’Fallon, MO is the author of picture books, fiction and non-fiction for middle grade readers, and has four easy readers coming out this year. Nancy is a former teacher of students in K through 8th grades, and is currently a professor of education at Lindenwood University where she teaches Children’s Literature.
ANN INGALLS was born in Cleveland, grew up in Detroit, and now lives with her husband and three children in Kansas City. You can find out more about her and her books, including J is for Jazz, on her website at: http://anningallswrites.com/ann-ingalls/
CYNTHIA COLLINS, from Jefferson City, enjoys writing for the teen and young adult audience. Her debut novel for teens, THE UNICORN TREE, was released by Mockingbird Lane Press in 2012. Two of her short stories published in the quarterly writers’ journal, The Storyteller, received a People’s Choice Award for 1st Place in Fiction. You can find out more about Cynthia and her writing on her website at www.cynthia-collins.com, and you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
KRISTIN BAIRD RATTINI, Foristell, Missouri, is a freelance writer who has written for children’s magazines for 17 years, Kristin has enjoyed the challenge of introducing young readers to a wide range of topics and the thrill of hooking their attention with writing that’s both educational and entertaining. You can find out more about Kristin and her books at: Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristin-rattini/5/900/33a and MediaBistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/fm/PD.asp?user_id=6628
MARGO L. DILL, of St. Louis, Missouri, is the SCBWI Missouri webmaster and a children’s and YA author. She currently has three books out: Maggie Mae, Detective Extrordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies (picture book), Finding My Place (middle grade), and Caught Between Two Curses (young adult). She is also a freelance editor and writing teacher. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com
SUE BRADFORD EDWARDS writes from her home in Florissant, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and son. You can find out more about Sue and her work on her website at www.suebradfordedwards.com, and on her blog, https://suebe.wordpress.com/
VEDA BOYD JONES is the author of 47 books and over 500 articles and short stories. She writes children’s picture books and middle grade novels, fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in children’s magazines. She also writes romance novels for adults. Find out more about Veda and her books on her website at www.vedaboydjones.com
CYNTHIA REEG writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her writing includes fiction, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Her books have been published by Guardian Angel Publishing, and her work has been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her newest book, BUNNY BUSINESS, was released from Guardian Angel Publishing in September 2014. http://www.cynthiareeg.com/index.html
STEPHANIE BEARCE is the author of non-fiction for children and she also writes middle grade fiction. She is a past SCBWI Regional Advisor and is a full member of the Missouri Writers Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers. Find out more at www.stephaniebearce.com
BARBARA STUBER, from Kansas City, brings visual art and writing together as she weaves artwork into her stories for young adults. Her latest book, Girl in Reverse, was an NPR (National Public Radio) pick for the Best Books of 2014 in five categories. Her earlier book, Crossing the Tracks, was an ALA Wm. C. Morris Award Finalist in 2010. Find out more at http://www.barbarastuber.com
JEANIE FRANZ RANSOM, from O’Fallon, Missouri, sold her first story to Seventeen magazine when she was a teen, and has been writing ever since. She is an award-winning author of children’s picture books, and her books have received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. She is also a former elementary school counselor. Find out more at www.jeanieransom.com
JODY JENSEN SHAFFER is the author of 26 fiction and nonfiction books, which include titles like NINJA WARRIORS, INSIDE MY MUSCLES, BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS, and FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Her debut picture book, ROCKY, releases in 2017 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Find out more at: http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com/
ANOLA PICKET is a former teacher and school librarian and writes historical novels for middle grade readers. She is also the author of an I-Can-Read book for younger readers, and co-author of a book for teachers and parents, Multiple Intelligences and Positive Life Habits. Anola lives in Kansas City but loves to travel and finds ideas and inspiration in her travels. You can find out more about Anola and her books at www.anolapickett.com, or meet her on Twitter at anolamarie.
AMY SKLANSKY, University City, is a former editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Amy writes picture books and board books, and is the author of children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her books have received many awards including the Bankstreet College of Education Best Books of the Year, Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council, and have appeared on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers list. You can read more about Amy at: www.amysklansky.com.
CATHY GILMORE, St. Louis, is a picture book author, and freelance editor. Her goal is to help children discover the joy of God’s love through her books. A Certified Catechist of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, she creates stories that bring the gospel to life for children. Her newest book, LITTLE LAMB FINDS CHRISTMAS, won the 2015 USA Best Books Award in the Children’s Religious books category. Read more about Cathy and her books on her website at www.catherinecgilmore.com.