How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview with Alayne Kay Christian, author of Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Hey, everyone! Please welcome picture book author, Alayne Kay Christian. Her story warms my heart and I'm more intrigued than ever to read her book now. Joni Stringfield did a beautiful job on the illustrations. Who can resist? Butterflies, grandparents, books, and nature... Thanks, Alayne, for being with us today.


Here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations to you for your debut picture book.

Title: Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa
Author: Alayne Kay Christian
Illustrator: Joni Stringfield
Publisher: Blue Whale Press
Release date: 2009
Word count: 930

When Emily's visit with her grandparents ends, she is saddened by thoughts of missing them. To comfort her, Grandma and Grandpa give Emily a homemade book. This gift teaches Emily to use her imagination, memory, and natural surroundings to help her feel close when they are apart. In a touching role reversal, Emily comforts Grandma by sharing her own secrets for staying close.

Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you.

  1. The Runaway Garden by Jeffery L. Schatzer, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (Mitten Press, 2007)
  2. Quiet Bunny by Lisa McCue (Sterling, 2009)
  3. One by Kathryn Otoshi (KO Kids Books, 2008)
Question TWO: How often did you read to your children when they were younger; do you feel like you have an extra special bond with your children because of books? Did you read to them or with them once they are/were teens?

My daughter is grown with a child of her own. When my daughter was small, we read books every day. We could not go to the grocery store without coming home with a Golden Book. Her books were so important, and our special reading bond meant so much to us, that I saved all her children’s books. Now, forty years later, my granddaughter and I cuddle up and read those very same picture books. Last year, we began a transition as my granddaughter started learning to read. These days, more and more books are being read to Grandma rather than by Grandma. The book collection has grown as I continue to update it with new books for my granddaughter. Just the other day, I imagined my granddaughter cuddling up with her own child one day, reading the very same books that his or her grandma and great grandma read together sixty or seventy-something years prior.

Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom?

1. Younger children enjoy interacting with the story. Before I read “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” during school visits, I demonstrate
motions and sounds that correspond with words from the story. The children love listening for the cues, doing the movements and making the sounds. I would be happy to send instructions for interactive readings to teachers upon request. I can be contacted via my website

2. Last year, I visited a first-grade class shortly after they had studied butterflies. When I finished reading “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa,” the students had a blast teaching me their newfound knowledge about butterflies. I brought a variety of butterfly coloring sheets, and they went right to work creating personalized butterflies.

3. This is the perfect book to read to students around Grandparent’s Day. I have found that children love to talk about where their grandparents live. It is amazing how many long-distance grandparents there are. Children talk about grandparents that live across town, across the country, and in different countries. Some children tell stories of their grandparents living right next door or under the same roof. Some children have lots of grandparents because of step-grandparents and great grandparents. Some only have a few. If a teacher wants to see students light up, this topic will do it.

4. “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” is a good book for students who are beginning to learn about nature. It goes well with subjects such as colors of the rainbow, moon phases, bird migration and earth rotation.  The book within the book presents rainbows, sunrise, sunset, the moon, and the stars. It talks about flowers, wind, birds and night sounds created by frogs, crickets, and owls.

Question FOUR: What was your road to publication like?

“Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” was born out of the struggle and longing I experienced as a long-distance grandparent.  The book was my way of ensuring that my granddaughter felt Grandma’s and Grandpa’s love across the miles. It started out as a handmade book that I wrote and illustrated for her second birthday. It brought tears to the eyes of anyone who read it. After the tears, came the same comment, “You should publish this.” My husband pushed me to publish until I acquiesced.

My initial submission was a simple 398-word gift book titled “Close To You.” I relate my original manuscript to books such as “Someday,” by Alison McGhee and “Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You,” by Nancy Tillman. These are short and sweet picture books that touch the hearts of adults. The first editor who read my manuscript suggested I write it in story form. With more recommendations from a second editor, I did many, many, many edits until it became “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa.” I found it difficult to abandon my original manuscript. However, I took the editors’ advice and turned it into a traditional story by bringing in Emily’s character, giving her a problem, and demonstrating her growth in the end. I appeased myself by creating the book within a book idea. I wrote a wordier version of the content from my original simple manuscript. This new content became the book that Emily’s grandparents made for her – the book within the book. By doing this, I was able to keep the heart of the story that touches adults and entertains children.

Because I had done the illustrations for my granddaughter’s birthday book, I had a clear vision of how this book should look. Not having any say regarding the illustrations was extremely difficult for me. Today, I am happy with Joni Stringfield’s unique illustrations. She uses one style for the story portion and a completely different style for Emily’s book. It is fun to turn the page and enter Emily’s world as she and Grandma begin to read the handmade book.

It was a long, three-year process from the time I began writing my granddaughter’s birthday book to the day that the beautiful hardcover book was released. But it was well worth it. I cried when I got the proofs. I cried when I got the first copies of the book. I cried when I got my first reviews. And I cried each time the book received awards. I cried when my mother told me she found the book in her library system. I still get excited when I find it has been added to another library system, or I learn that sales are doing well. Every little step is exciting to me. I recently found “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” on a California school district’s summer reading list. Guess what I did. . . . Okay, I didn’t cry, but I did get excited.

Question FIVE: What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?

1. Don’t be in a hurry. Before you start submitting, educate yourself. Take courses, read books, read writing blogs, and join picture book writing groups – critique groups, social networking groups, SCBWI, writing motivational groups such as Julie Hedlund’s 12X12, Lora Koehler and Jean Reagan’s Picture Book Marathon, Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month, and so on. Make sure that you fully understand the intricacies of writing publishable picture books. Make sure you fully understand the nature of the picture book publishing industry. Study publisher lists, read their books, and know your market. Make sure you fully understand how to properly format submissions and write a submission or query letter.

2. If you can afford it, hire a good copy editor to check your work for grammar and punctuation before submitting. Buy a style manual such as The Chicago Manual of Style and then use it. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White is also worth owning.

3. Develop a thick skin. You will need it to deal with rejections and critiques. However, you don’t want your skin to be so thick that you reject every criticism offered. Some constructive criticism may actually help you improve your craft. You don’t want to be so sensitive that every rejection letter or criticism you receive breaks your heart and leaves you shying away from writing for months at a time. You don’t want to take every comment to heart because you will be going in circles trying to please everyone but yourself. Surviving the writer’s submission roller coaster is all about balance and trusting your inner voice. When you get a rejection letter or a critique, look at it, have your first rush of emotion, then put it away. When you feel ready to look at it in a calm, open minded, self-discerning way, go back to it and consider edits based on what is right for you. Rejections and criticisms are never about you. They are about words on paper. If many people offer the same criticism, it is worth looking at. However, sometimes people’s rejections and critiques are opinions based on personal preference. This brings me to my final point: submissions are like fishing. Some fish will like your bait and bite; some fish won’t even come near your bait. The submission lake is very large with a lot of bait floating in it, so you must be a determined and committed angler. Fishing takes the ability to relax and be patient while you wait for the right fish to come along. Successful anglers know the waters they fish, which brings us back to the beginning, “Don’t be in a hurry. Educate yourself.” 

What great advice, Alayne! I loved hearing your story. Thanks so much for sharing! Hope you get another book published soon, as I know you have a couple in the works. Congratulations again on your debut book!

13 comments:

  1. Thanks, Alayne, for sharing your story. I love that this personal project became something bigger.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my story, Romelle. I love that this personal project became something bigger, too:-)

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  2. Great interview. I especially like the advice about rejection, criticism, and compliments. They could be dangerous territory if we're not ready to handle them!

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    1. I'm glad you like my story. You are so right, Genevieve . . . dangerous territory, indeed. Being prepared and gaining experience makes all the difference.

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  3. I'm dealing with this issue right now as we just left after a visit from long-distance grandparents. Good point about not rejecting all criticism.

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    1. I think the number of long-distance grandparent/grandchild relationships is growing, as people find it necessary to relocate for jobs and military living. I also believe grandparents get around a little bit more than they used to. It is difficult for all those involved. But there is a plus side to everything. My granddaughter is a third generation long distance grandchild. I know from experience that strong bonds and very special memories can be built even across the miles.

      Regarding writing: Yes, as tough as it may be, it is important to stay open to criticism because once in a while you find a gem that is just what your story needed.

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  4. Great interview! Loved hearing the story behind Butterfly Kisses :)

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    1. Thanks, Susanna. I'm glad to share my story and honored that Christie invited me to share it. Thank you for acknowledging our effort.

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  5. I have been recovering from arm surgery, and I am just getting back in the swing of things. What a surprise to find my interview and these wonderful comments. Christie, thank you for the opportunity to share my story!

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  6. What a wonderful story Alayne! It's nice to learn more about you, your book and your publication journey. Many congratulations!

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  7. I enjoyed getting to know you, Alayne! This sounds like a very sweet book!

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    1. Thank you, Tina. It is a sweet book, but of course, I have an understandably personal fondness for the story:-)

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