Saturday, October 1, 2011

HIGH FIVE #12: Linda Lodding and her Commentary on Too Much to Do

Here with us today is Linda Ravin Lodding, author of her debut book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (details below). Welcome, Linda! And a big HIGH FIVE to you!

Author: Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrator: Suzanne Beaky
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Month/year of release: October, 2011
Word count:  just the right number!
Short summary or blurb:
If you think you’re busy, just take a look at Ernestine’s week: tuba with Mr. Oompah, yodeling with Little Old Lady Hoo, yoga with Guru Prakesh Pretzel, and more. Her well-meaning, busy parents have packed Ernestine’s after-school hours. But Ernestine is about to opt out and do what no Buckmeister has done before: JUST PLAY.

Take a look at Ernestine's book trailer.

Question ONE: What is your bedtime routine like; how do books play a part in that? How often did you read to your children when they were younger; do you feel like you have a special bond with your children because of books?

When my daughter Maja was younger (she’s now 13) reading before bedtime was one of the best parts of the day! Since my husband is Swedish, and my daughter is being raised bilingually, my husband and I would alternate reading to her – one evening I would read English books aloud, the next night he read to her in Swedish.  This way she heard stories in both her languages and  became familiar with the stories of her two cultures.

We even kept up this reading routine for quite some time even after she learned to read to herself. One of the reasons I gravitated towards writing picture books is because it’s not only about reading a story, but about sharing time (and laughs) – together.

Well said, Linda!

Question TWO: What are five of your favorite picture books? Just five mind you…

Only five?! Okay, then. Today’s favorites five are:

1. Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty (2007)
2.The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord (1987)
3.Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (1993)
4.Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell  (2001)
5.This Plus That – Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2011)

I've read Stellaluna and heard of The Giant Jam Sandwich. I'll have to check out the others. 

Question THREE: (multi-part question for us "to-be-published" writers out there) 
A. How did you come up with the idea for your debut book?

Ashamedly, when my daughter was younger, I don’t think I was too wildly different from Ernestine’s mother, Mrs. Buckmeister. My daughter was way over-scheduled for her age and she ultimately  dropped out of her African drumming class at the age 4 because she was too exhausted. Fortunately for me, I found this trend of over-scheduling our kids to be quite funny and I channeled this theme into writing “The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister.” I added in a heaping teaspoon of wackiness, and the book was conceived. Of course it took another ten years for her to be born!

B. What was your road to publication like?

Like many authors, my road to publication was a long and winding one – at times the road offered glimpses of beautiful vistas, at other times I encountered fire-breathing dragons that made me want to run and cower in my writing cave. But I always found myself back on the road because I love to write more than I hate rejection letters.

My debut book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, was one of the first picture books that I wrote and polished. I took that manuscript to an SCBWI conference in Winchester, UK and signed up for a manuscript critique. The editor who critiqued the book loved it. She wasn’t, however, in the position to acquire the book, but she gave me some wonderful editorial suggestions and, most importantly, gave me confidence that I was on the right track.  I then started to submit the book to large publishing houses and the manuscript bubbled out of the slush pile and into the acquisition meeting at two large publishing houses… only to be rejected. But I knew it was just a matter of finding the right publisher and, along the way, “Ernestine” was getting stronger and stronger.

From my publishing research, I had heard wonderful things about this boutique publishing house, Flashlight Press. The book made it’s way to the editor’s desk where it sat for over a year. Eventually, the editor contacted me about working on revisions, and over a year later, she sent me THE E-MAIL! The one that offered me a contract!  Since then, my amazing editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, and her partners at Flashlight Press have been my own dream team. They took my vision for the story and improved upon it in ways that I hadn’t imagined. And Suzanne Beaky, “Ernestine’s” illustrator, brought the story to life with such skill, warmth and whimsy (and the book was a tremendous challenge to illustrate!). I couldn’t have landed at a better publishing house.

While it took about 9-years to get a picture book contract, during those years I wrote fiction and non-fiction for children’s magazines and continued to write oodles of other picture books.   And I now have two more picture books coming out – “Hold That Thought, Milton!” and “Oskar’s Perfect Present” both with Gullane Children’s Books (London).

So we really can get discovered from the slushpile! It just might take two! 

C. How many revisions did your manuscript undergo, if you kept count?

I stopped counting at some point – ha ha!  But suffice it to say that it went through a lot! Each word of a picture book has to be perfect and it has to work perfectly with the illustration. It does take time to get the harmony just right.

D. How many publishers/agents did you submit to before getting an acceptance letter?

I have a spreadsheet somewhere on my computer which keeps track of all my submissions but off the top of my head I’m sure it was near the 15 mark. 

And 15 really isn't considered out of the norm, either. 

E. Did you have an agent?

And I didn’t have an agent – nor do I have an agent now. It’s difficult to get an agent for picture books without being published so I put my energies into writing and researching publishers and editors. Doing the leg-work myself, though, taught me a lot about the business. It’s a hard truth that writers need to also do more than just write, they also have to understand the business of publishing.

So true. Publishing is indeed a business. 

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

I’m just now concocting all the wonderful ways the book can be used in the classroom. Check back on the Flashlight Press website for more information.

The theme of  “The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister” is about the freedom and joy of play. The beauty of play is that it’s not only fun, but it also is educationally important – through play we learn to deal with life’s challenges and think more creatively.

Teachers can use the book in several ways. They can encourage imaginative play by, for example, having children build their own “pop-up playground” -- playgrounds which encourage spontaneous play by using materials found in and around the home such as boxes, plastic jugs, wrapping paper tubes, yarn, fabric, tape, sticks, leaves, tubing…you name it! While it may be difficult for adults to envision the play opportunities presented by, say, a wrapping paper tube, children will inevitably turn it into a magic wand, a space rocket or a Knight’s sword. 

Teachers can also use the book for a jumping off point to discuss problem-solving skills, emotions and the importance of imagination.

Or even to get children thinking about what they want to be when they grow up...

Question FIVE:
 What are some writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?

1.     Be persistent – It took me nearly 10 years to become an “overnight sensation”.  And it took JK Rowlings 17 years working on Harry Potter before she finished it. There will come days when you’re bored and frustrated and want to lie down on the floor and thrash your legs like a 2-year-old having a temper tantrum. But  hang in there because wonderful things can happen if you only stick it out.

2.     Understand story structure – whether it be a 32-page picture book or a dystopian YA series, study story structure.  Read (and dissect) the genre you are writing, take a writing course and/or read many of the excellent books out there on story structure.

3.      Type out favorite books -- As a sidebar to the tip above, if you write picture books, try typing out stories that appeal to you. This helps you to slow down long enough to study word choice, pacing and see how page turns and visuals are used to complement the text.

4.     Learn to take criticism -- and seek it out at every opportunity. Don’t get upset even if you think the criticism is harsh, don’t be offended even if you think it’s wrong, and always thank those who take the time to offer it.

5.     Follow the book biz – read trade journals such as  Children’s Bookshelf/Publisher’s Weekly (subscribe online), join SCBWI, read editor’s and writer’s blogs, connect with writers and editors on Twitter and Facebook (there’s a wealth of information being passed around through social media channels), attend conferences. And for those who prefer to stay in their jammies here a few online conference options:

  • November's PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) hosted by the amazing Tara Lazar - UPDATE: Now called StoryStorm and held in January; also not just for picture books.
  • WriteOnCon (every August)
  • The Muse Online Writer’s conference 

But, above all, try not to get so bogged down in the mechanics of writing that you lose sight of why you love to write. Write with passion and pleasure and the rest will follow.

Thanks, so much Linda for all your wisdom. Your journey was a delight to read. I hope to be joining you some day. Be sure and check out Linda's website

Keep on keepin' on...


  1. Great interview! Congrats on the book Linda and thanks for all the tips. I love to hear success from the slush piles! :)

  2. This is a great story! Congratulations Linda, and thanks for sharing with us.

  3. Great interview, Christie! And congratulations on your success, Linda. Ernestine looks terrific - what a wonderful idea! Best of luck with all three of your books!

    (The Giant Jam Sandwich and Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon were big favorites in our house too :))

  4. and I can't wait to see Oskar's Perfect Present, when it comes out, as it's illustrated by Alison Jay, who I love. So glad things are going so well for you -and great trailer... Glad I'm not the only one to type out other people's picture books. I've typed out loads!


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