MF: What is your background?
AJ: I have a BA in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Oregon. I am the former bookmobile librarian for the Garden City Public Library in Idaho. My husband recently accepted a great position at a brewery in Seattle. I’m a Washingtonian now! I love library work and am currently applying for library positions in the Seattle area.
MF: What made you want to start writing picture books?
AJ: I fell in love with picture books all over again after my son was born 10 years ago. The excitement in his eyes inspired me to start writing picture books. I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. I became more serious about my craft in 2012. I self-published a picture book. (Don’t do that!) I joined SCBWI, enrolled in online PB writing classes, started blogging, and became active in the kid lit community. I still had a long way to go when I signed up for 12x12, joined my first critique group, and started submitting in 2014. Looking back, I realize that I was sending manuscripts before they were ready. It’s a long process, but it is encouraging to see your growth. I feel that my work has become much stronger in the last two years. I was selected for a picture book writing mentorship with Laura Gehl through Writing with the Stars in 2017. My manuscripts also made it to the agent/editor round in PB Party in 2017 and 2018.
MF: How long have you been writing?
AJ: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote a poem for my mom titled Loving Arms when I was in elementary school. It was published in Writing Without Walls.
MF: Have you ever felt frustrated by trying to get a picture book right?
AJ: All the time. I tend to write in spurts. I go with the flow when inspiration strikes and put manuscripts away when I get stuck. It’s amazing what happens when you return to your work with fresh eyes.
MF: When and why did you take Arree Chung’s Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies?
AJ: I wanted to take my writing to the next level and was intrigued by the idea of creating dummies for my manuscripts. I started taking Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies in the fall of 2017.
MF: How did taking Arree’s class change the way you write picture books?
AJ: I think I usually come up with pretty killer concepts, but I have struggled with fully developing my stories. Arree’s class and Jim Averbeck’s class, Writing and Revising Picture Books, have helped me write more well-rounded picture books with a nice balance of heart and humor. I have also noticed that using their tips have helped me write stronger manuscripts faster. Using Post-it notes and index cards may seem simple, but sometimes the little things make a huge difference. Going on creative walks and morning journaling have also helped me immensely. And Jim’s class has helped me see my writing in a whole new way. I have been able to put all the puzzle pieces together and make my stories more satisfying.
MF: Do you feel like industry professionals respond differently to your manuscripts than they did before you took the class?
AJ: Yes. I received my first request for more work from an agent after I completed the first term of Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies. One of my manuscripts was also selected for the agent/editor round in PBParty in 2018. I received requests for my full manuscript from two editors. I am waiting to hear back. There’s a lot of waiting in this business.
MF: Do you have any advice that might help readers find success or joy in writing picture books?
AJ: Sign up for Storyteller Academy classes! I wish SA would have existed years ago when I first started writing picture books. I have taken several picture book writing courses, but SA has helped me hone my craft the most. By far. The secret? Creating dummies. I am not an illustrator and was honestly a little freaked out about making art to go with my words. But I dived in and worked my butt off. I created 8 dummies in 12 weeks, and with Arree’s guidance through my critique group, I felt confident about submitting my manuscript to agents and editors. SA offers a variety of lifetime classes for authors and illustrators. SA gives you the tools to stay inspired and motivated. Participants can engage with other storytellers in the forum and join critique groups. My critique group, KidLiterati, rocks! We meet once a week via Zoom. It has been incredible to get to know them. I can see us sticking together for the long haul!
In short, do the work and join a critique group. I guarantee you will see a difference in your stories.
MF: What’s next for you?
AJ: I mostly write humorous fiction picture books, but I have started to branch out a bit. I recently wrote two lyrical picture books and started researching for two NF picture books. I NEVER write a story to fit an agent or editor’s wish list, but I came across an idea that I LOVE, so I’m giving it a shot. This is my most recent project. I have been following Arree’s and Jim’s classes as I write this story. It’s thrilling to see it unfold and improve. I am excited that my range is developing, and my submission-ready folder is growing! I am also working on a revision request for an editor. Fingers and toes crossed!
My motto is to dream big and never give up. I’m going to give my all until my dream comes true . . . and keep giving more.