Writing Groove (w/Guest Blogger Miranda Paul)

I want to start out by saying I met Miranda a few years back, we were both taking an online picture book class. Then we ended up at Whispering Woods (an amazing picture book retreat with Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers) and were bathroom buddies. She was working on this manuscript then, and it was really good. I knew she would go far. Miranda is an amazing person with a huge heart. She will change the world with her writing.  And is already making a difference in the lives of authors with Rate Your Story.

I asked her if she would do a blog post figuring I could ask her lots of deep and intriguing questions. She said yes, but she wanted to do a playlist. What is more deep and intriguing then a glance into someone’s music preferences? 

And she wanted it published today because of the significance. It’s Happy Gambian Independence Day.

So please welcome my guest blogger today, Miranda Paul! I hope you are as inspired by Miranda as I am.

Miranda Paul’s Author Playlist / Soundtrack for her new book,
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
Guest Blogger Post: Miranda Paul


Although it’s usually young adult authors who come up with unofficial “playlists” for their novels, I wanted in on the fun. Music is a big inspiration to me, and this book is one that tells the story of an entire village where life is changing for the better. Here is a list of songs that I listened to while writing and revising One Plastic Bag, or gearing up for the book launch this weekend at my local B&N.

1.)  “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan
This video and version of the song, remade for the 2010 World Cup, is one of my go-to tunes for inspiration. One Plastic Bag was released during the same month as the Gambia celebrates its 50th Independence Day (Feb. 18, 2015). Flags are a symbolic way to rally or unify people, and this song reminds me of the Gambian flag whose colors (red, blue, green, white) stand for the sun, the river, the forest, and peace.


2.)   “Brave” by Sara Bareilles
When I interviewed the women of Njau, I asked them what the most significant change in their lives was since starting the project. Almost all of them answered “confidence.” There’s more to their stories than is included in One Plastic Bag – stories of bravery and speaking out and overcoming challenges. This song, to me, represents how through this project the women of Njau have learned to “say what they want to say, and let the words fall out, honestly.”


3.)  “Am I Wrong?” by Nico & Vinz
This music video, though filmed in Botswana, reminds me a lot of Gambia — from the “gelly gelly” public van taxis to the ingenuity of making toys out of available items to the traditional dancing. The message of “thinking outside the box” coupled with the infectious drum-beats never fails to get me jazzed up and inspired to work on a project. It’s hard for me to listen to it and not get up and dance.


4.) “Africa” (Afriki) by Habib Koité & Bamada

Years before I’d written One Plastic Bag I worked in the fair trade industry. Habib Koité’s CD came into my possession during that time and his Bambara background and language reminded me of stories that Isatou had told me about her grandfather and his sister, who had fled violence in Mali. This and other CDs became ways for me to connect to the sounds of West Africa in between travels there.


5.)  “We Are Here” by Alicia Keys

This video shows the strength of one voice and the powerful simplicity of a heartfelt message. The lyrics, which state, “We are here for all of us” remind me of how Isatou speaks when she lays out her vision for Njau, for Gambia, and the future. Just as Isatou works in Gambia to get people talking about tough issues, Alicia Keys also does in this song. It reminds me that making art — books or otherwise — is a reflection of both the outside world and our inner hope.



miranda and friend

Thanks for letting me share and I hope these songs inspire you to go out and “be the change” in your part of the world. In fact, that local book launch I mentioned isn’t just limited to locals. Anyone can participate in the online Bn.com fundraiser — buy anything and use code 11517257 at checkout from 2/21-2/26 and 20% of your purchase will benefit Books for Africa, Inc. (More info here.)

Author bio:

mirandaMiranda Paul has been an avid recycler since elementary school, when she won a contest by transforming a discarded cereal box into a beautiful holiday ornament. She still loves rummaging for treasures but now spends most of her time teaching and writing. Over the past decade, Miranda has traveled to the Gambia as a volunteer teacher, a fair‐trade and literacy advocate, a freelance journalist, and more. Miranda lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with one husband, two kids, ten bookcases, and a hundred new ideas. Find her online at www.mirandapaul.com and find out more about this book at www.oneplasticbag.com.


Debut Author Interview, Mardi Gras Style!

This week we are so excited to welcome debut picture book author Keila Dawson! Keila’s book, The King Cake Baby, is her debut picture book. And she’s having the best author tour ever! With a book fit for New Orleans and Mardi Gras, she’s gotten to spend time signing books in the city of crawfish, purple and gold beads, and of course, King Cakes! Thank you Keila for stopping by my blog to answer some questions. I am so excited for you and your book.



What inspired this book?

The inspiration to write THE KING CAKE BABY came from two different experiences. The first inspired me to seriously consider writing. It happened while on a trip with girlfriends.  We all shared things we’d always wanted to do but had not accomplished. I said I wanted to write a children’s story and have it published. But I didn’t have an idea.  The second experience inspired the story idea.  In January 2013, just like the old woman in the book, I decided to make a king cake during Carnival season. When I went to the kitchen drawer to get the baby that belonged inside the king cake, I couldn’t find one. I panicked. I wanted to mail the cake to my daughter who attended college out of state. But without a little plastic baby to hide inside, it wouldn’t be a king cake! And I said out loud something like, “I know you were in there baby where’d you run off to?” And thought, that’s it, there’s my story idea, a New Orleans gingerbread man tale retold.

How long did it take you to write it?

I wrote the first draft the same January night the idea came to me. I started subbing the manuscript to publishers by the end of that month.

How did you know which publishing house to send it to? What was your research process like?

At first I didn’t! I probably did what most newbies do who don’t know what they don’t know about children’s publishing. I looked up the names of some big well known houses and subbed. In the meantime, I found an online resource, Children’s Book Insiders (CBI). I thought CBI’s advice to find other writers to critique your work was pretty sound. With a little more research I read about a group named the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I contacted the group leader that I met in my area and she invited me to a meeting. I had no idea that meeting children’s authors was that easy! They gave me advice about how to get my manuscript submission ready and taught me how to look at a publisher’s list to determine if my story fit.

And I read other gingerbread man tales. At the time I could not find any children’s picture books set in New Orleans or any story using the little plastic baby we put inside king cakes during our Mardi Gras season.


How did you go about preparing your manuscript for submission?

I was fortunate to attend my first SCBWI meeting on the night the group designated as critique night and read my manuscript. I couldn’t believe professional authors were taking the time to help a complete newbie. And it felt wonderful to have them tell me they loved my story idea. I savored every word of advice given to improve it. They taught me about the power of three, and told me to reduce the word count by cutting scenes.  I continued to independently research and read everything I could find about these topics. Here’s the power of three I used: research, revise, repeat!

What did you learn along your publishing journey?

  • I learned how much there is to learn and how very little I actually knew. If I want to continue to publish stories with a broad appeal and not just regional appeal, I need to learn more about the craft.
  • I learned there is a lot of industry related vocabulary, like solicited vs. unsolicited, query, slush pile, spreads, spot art, etc., not to mention the physical parts of a book!
  • I learned about contracts and negotiations.  Authors must learn about the business end of publishing.
  • I learned how to establish an online author platform to include a website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. I designed my own website. It’s basic but gets the job done and I can manage it on my own. I sold my first book on LinkedIn the other day. Leave no stone unturned!
  • I learned a great deal about marketing and networking.
  • I learned authors must work jointly with their publicist and sales team to create a successful launch. It’s a give and take. No one person or group can give or take all, you must work together. Be kind, be courteous, your book isn’t the only one on their list that requires promotion. Follow up is necessary, taking responsibility is smart, but collaboration is key. There goes the power of three again!

What’s next?

While in New Orleans on my book launch tour, I submitted another story to Pelican Publishing. Fingers crossed, it too will be acquired and fulfill my contract obligation. I have many manuscripts in various stages that need attention. And I am also seriously considering looking for an agent.


Thank you so much Keila and I look forward to your next book! And congrats on being #1 New Release on Amazon in Children’s Religious Holiday Books! 

It’s Almost Time for Daylight Savings Time, Skype Visit Giveaway

Tick, tick tock. It’s Almost Time.
For Daylight Savings! This year, let’s celebrate with a free Skype Visit to a classroom!

Purchase a copy of my book, It’s Almost Time, from an Usborne Books and More consultant,  or purchase the Demibooks ebook version from an Usborne Books & More website. Contact your Usborne Books & More Consultant with the subject “Daylight Savings” with your information. If you don’t have a consultant, you can contact me with a copy of your receipt. On March 8, Daylight Savings, I will do a drawing for a free 30 minute Skype visit. I will customize it for the age group. I look forward to Skyping!