2017 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – REBECCA COLBY INTERVIEW BY KENDA HENTHORN

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

2017 TOP 10 List

Captain Bling cover

CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PLUNDER

by Rebecca Colby

Illustrated by Rob McClurkan

1 star

CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PLUNDER by Rebecca Colby, Illustrated by Rob McClurkan:

Captain Bling and his merry crew set off to find treasure, but they get blown off course and end up at the North Pole. When they spy the elves carefully wrapping presents, the pirates think they have found the ultimate booty! They quickly steal the presents and make their way back to the ship. By the time Santa Claus catches up to them, the pirates are well on their way to escaping. But Santa has a surprise for Captain Bling and his crew!

1 star

What better Christmas gift than a rhyming picture book, combining pirates and the retelling of a classic Christmas poem? Author, Rebecca Colby had me hooked with her clever title, CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PLUNDER, and her interesting rhymes moved this story merrily along with several unexpected twists from Santa for Captain Bling and his crew.

 

  • First, Rebecca, CONGRATULATIONS on being names as a Finalist for this year’s Best in Rhyme Award for CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PUNDER!! Combining Christmas and pirates is such a fun and unique mash-up!  How did this concept first come to you and what was your goal for this story?

 

I love humor, and over the years I’ve discovered that one way to ensure a book is funny is to put two things together that aren’t normally found together. The contrast between two normally opposing things fuels humor—in this case, pirates and Christmas.

 

Every year I participate in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo). In 2014, when the event still took place in November, I decided to concentrate on coming up with as many mash-up ideas as I could. With it being the run-up to Christmas, holiday ideas featured heavily on my list.

 

My initial goal for the story was purely to write a humorous story. I knew from the beginning that the pirates would be naughty with a capital N, and seeking to steal Santa’s treasure of toys. But (spoiler alert here) I wanted the pirates to eventually have a change of heart. What I hadn’t worked out at that point was what the catalyst would be for their transformation.

 

  • Your love of rhyme is obvious!  How long have you been a rhymer and what has it taken to get both your rhythm and rhyme to this level of publishing perfection?

 

I seriously took to rhyme twelve years ago when my eldest child was a baby. I decided to embrace those long, sleepless nights she was gifting me with as an opportunity to write picture books and poetry.

 

When I first began writing in rhyme, my ex told me in no uncertain terms how bad my meter was. He suggested I either buy a metronome or give up on rhyme altogether.

 

Feeling confident in my rhyming skills, I refused to take on board his criticism until my local critique group told me the same thing, albeit in a more diplomatic manner.  That’s when I started studying meter and began asking people to read my work aloud, so I could hear where the rhythm was off. Within a few short months, I had developed a much better ear for meter.

 

I should add, however, that this was still not the point at which my work came to “a level of publishing perfection,” as I was still using predictable rhymes and slant rhymes. What helped me most was studying books by other PB rhymers like Julia Donaldson.

 

  • Also, how do you decide whether your story will be written in rhyme or not?

 

Good question! Very often I use traditional rhymes as patterns for my books, so I’ll have chosen a rhyme before I start to write. With Captain Bling, because I knew I was writing a Christmas story, I wanted to use the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem as my model. Had I not been able to make the story fit the rhyming pattern, I would have changed it to prose.

 

Before I get a reputation as only writing to traditional rhymes or songs, I should add that I’ve just sold a rhyming picture book that is not patterned after a traditional rhyme.

 

  • What advice could you give to new or interested writers in Angie Karcher’s Rhyme Revolution group regarding writing in rhyme?

 

First and foremost, find some trusted critique partners. Angie’s Rhyme Revolution attracts rhymers from all over the world and, if they wish to be, she kindly connects them into critique groups. I’d definitely recommend taking advantage of this opportunity, as well as following Angie’s thorough and helpful posts each April, and reading and studying as many rhyming picture books as you can. Also, put a good rhyming dictionary on the top of your Christmas wish list!

 

  • It’s exciting to see that you’ve traveled the world and currently live in the UK!  How has that effected your picture book writing and please tell us about any impacts it may have also had on your US publishing and promotional aspects, as well.

 

I don’t feel my traveling and residence in the UK has adversely impacted on my being published in the US. I tried for years to get UK agents and editors interested in my work, and it was only when I gave up on the UK market and began submitting to the US market, that I realized, actually, my writing ‘voice’ was better suited for the US anyway.

 

As to promotional aspects, it’s harder to get festival and school events here as most of the organizers have never heard of me. Having said that, I’m pretty good at putting myself forward for events. I also produce free teaching resources for my books and am able to promote myself on-line to US librarians and educators that way. The only disadvantage I see is that I’m still waiting to be sent on a US book tour, but, I think that’s a pipe dream for many US-based PB authors as well, unless they write a bestseller.

 

  • And finally, what’s next on your publishing path?

 

As mentioned above, I’ve just sold a further rhyming picture book, however, I’m not yet at liberty to disclose additional information about it. Other things I’m working on include a non-fiction book for adults, stand-up comedy sketches, and screenplays—none of which are in rhyme. Nothing may come of these other projects, but they keep me out of trouble and are allowing me to spread my writing wings, so to speak.

 

Thank you, Rebecca and much continued success!!

RebeccaColby - HEADSHOT

Rebecca Colby’s Website

Rebecca is a children’s picture book author, poet, and screenwriter. Her children’s books are represented by Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Her fourth book, CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PLUNDER, was published by Albert Whitman & Co., 2017.

Buy It HERE

Rebecca’s other books include:

MOTOR GOOSE (Feiwel & Friends, 2017),

IT’S RAINING BATS AND FROGS (Feiwel and Friends, 2015), and

THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE (Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014)

Congratulations REBECCA on

CAPTAIN BLING’S

CHRISTMAS PLUNDER

making the 2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List!

 

 

1 star

Watch for the live, streaming

2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 7:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

KidLitTV Logo - NEW 2017

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2017 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – DENISE DOYEN INTERVIEW BY CATHY C. HALL

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

2017 TOP 10 List

Pom Witch Cover 110 KB

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH

by Denise Doyen

Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

1 star

 

 

When a scary old tree blooms with the most beautiful pomegranates ever seen, the neighborhood kids’ mouths water with anticipation. But the tree isn’t theirs—and it has a protector! So begins the Pomegranate War, a fun, rollicking, rhyming tale of a battle between the sly, plucky young rascals and their wry, witchy neighbor who may have more than one trick up her sleeve. 

1 star

 

Denise Doyen had me at witch. I love a good witch story! And a witch story that rhymes, too? Wicked cool. But I have to admit that I was a little surprised about…well…pomegranates. Possibly because I’m one of those people who didn’t know what a pomegranate was until 2001. And I didn’t actually taste a pomegranate until three years ago.

 

I know. It’s embarrassing. Because pomegranates are delicious! Still, I knew when Denise agreed to answer five questions for an interview that my first question would be pretty basic:

 

Why pomegranates, Denise? I feel like there must be a story there, in choosing such an unusual fruit! (It is a fruit, right?)

 

Hi Cathy, so nice to visit here.

 

Botanically, I’ve read it’s an overgrown berry. Why poms? This story came from a real childhood experience of, well, pilfering pomegranates. So, I guess that choice was made long ago when a group of us kids lusted after some ‘overgrown berries’. I might also have been influenced by the recent popularity of pomegranates (their antioxidant properties discovered.) Seeing pomegranate gems sprinkled on my salad or pom juice in fancy bottles kept bringing that childhood passion to mind. 

Then, trying to vividly recall that passion brought the language of delectable fruit into play. The summer I was working on this story, my older son, Paul, was writing a thesis for an advanced English Lit class. We’d head out to cafés together and work across the table on our respective projects. One evening, he mentioned an apropos poetic work he’d read in his class, “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market

Pom Witch - End Papers

I was enchanted. I saw how Rossetti celebrated each tactile, flavorful, aromatic, colorful aspect of the fruit that her goblins seductively touted. I think we rhymers can get caught up in a running cadence–and let it gallop away with us. Studying Rossetti’s poem gave me the confidence to drastically change tempo, to slow down when I wanted the reader to covet and take notice as the Pomegranate Gang did―with childlike awe: “the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits”.

 

I noticed that your first book, ONCE UPON A TWICE, is also a rhyming picture book. Do your stories always come to you in rhyme?

 

Seems like it. Actually, I search for my next story by recalling books I loved as a child, then I try to glean what it was about them that so captured my imagination. As a kid, I felt a real affection for Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. I recited it by heart. I loved the magical sounding nonsense words that still made sense. I enjoyed the brave boy’s adventure that unfolded like a miniature play, and yes, the end rhymes that wove it all together. So, I tried to incorporate those elements into my story about a bold, wayward mouse in Once Upon a Twice.

 

The qualities I wanted for The Pomegranate Witch came from ballad poems that I adored and memorized, like “Casey at the Bat”, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and “Paul Revere’s Ride.”  Those classic-yarns and their air of nostalgia felt right for the tale I wanted to write about a spooky old farm house, an enchanted tree, the local ‘witch’ and the antics of children caught up in a neighborhood mystery. The meter of a ballad’s iambic heptameter offered a familiar yet dramatic pacing. I added some wordplay and strove to make the rhymes unique. Pondering this interview question, I realize that being able to memorize lovely language felt special and valuable to me as a kid. Rhyme is a great way to cue one’s mind to link: one line of text — to what comes next. Surely, that’s a reason I’m drawn to it. 

 

 

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH is centered on fall, harvest time, and Halloween. Is it harder to sell a seasonal book? And do you have any promotional tricks that will make it a treat to plan school events with a seasonal book?

 

Well, fortunately Halloween is a big book-selling holiday. I received photos from friends showing The Pomegranate Witch featured in their local bookstore’s festive fall windows or Halloween table displays. Illustrator Eliza Wheeler’s cover is so charming and evocative (ditto the entire book.) She added such thoughtful, imaginative layers and visual clues to the text. The pomegranate end papers are to die for. Actually, pomegranates themselves have proven one way to expand the niche of the book. At my book signings, I demonstrate how to open a pomegranate and get at the seeds without making a huge mess! The kids are fascinated (and parents and teachers, relieved.)  The town of Madera featured readings of the book on their Children’s Stage during their Annual Pomegranate Festival. Also, the book’s underlying themes are helpful; I’ve been very pleased to see several reviews noting that the childhood escapade and provocative questions about the mysterious neighbor make the story suitable for year-round readings. That wider storyline–about childhood invention and ‘not judging a book (or witch) by its cover’―were my intended focus, not Halloween.

 

RE: school visits. A favorite interaction: I have students recite the poem’s repeats with me. We practice first. I give them an easy visual cue (I hold up 3 fingers.) Then, at intervals kids can anticipate, the whole audience chants “The pomegranate, pomegranate, pomegranate witch!”

Pom Witch - Year to ear to hear...

What an interesting journey you’ve had to children’s publishing! What’s the best advice you ever received along the way, and what do you always tell those rhyming picture book writers when they’re first starting out?

 

Yes, I’ve sort of ricocheted through the Arts: studying design, a decade as a professional dancer/choreographer, film school, a director of children’s television, a graphic artist during The Mom Years and now, writing for children. I don’t think such branching of creative interests is unusual. I know so many writers who are also musicians, actors who paint, architects who sculpt, dancers who design costumes and clothes, illustrators who are accomplished chefs. Often diverse interests inform each other. For instance, I’m pretty sure my years of tap dancing lessons at Miss Isabel Christie’s Studio sensitized my ear to rhythm, syncopation, stressed/unstressed beats, anticipatory pauses, etc. I am a much better poet because a can tap it out and “feel the beat” in my feet, my bones, my heart.

 

Advice for new, brave, rhyming picture book writers? That old true chestnut: Always put word choices that truly enhance your story, your setting or your characters above your rhyme. And don’t fall to the temptation of overused couplets: tree/me, sky/high, blue/too. I always gather a ton of photographs showing the places, actions, plants, animals or people who I am trying to build my story around.  Sometimes just studying those pictures, looking with a poet’s exactness at all the colors, textures, elements, motions suggested by them, will conjure an original flash, a fresh take or cool description. One of my favorite phrases in The Pomegranate Witch came about this way. I was mulling over a photo of an ancient pomegranate tree, its crown, its bark, the earth beneath and I thought “Wow, those roots undulate like snakes.” Voila. The line in the story now reads, “…dirt ripplesnaked with roots.”

 

My mother (a retired kindergarten teacher) tells stories about how her little language learners used their small vocabularies in novel ways. One of my favorites is when someone knocked on the classroom door and a little girl said, “Teacher! The door is talking.” I mean, how great is that? We language masters need to trick or coach ourselves out of the ruts of everyday usage, look anew, because a flash thought like “the door is talking” is where poetry begins.

 Pom - pom prize

And finally, what’s Denise Doyen staying up way too late and working on these days?

So, as is my habit, I searched my fondest childhood reading moments to come up with an inspiration. I loved Madeline. I wanted to live in Paris, have eleven mirror-like roommates, see carousels, city rivers and stone bridges, and stroll through parks full of kites. I wanted to survive some brief, exciting Incident (that ended with a dollhouse.) So, I’m gathering up those childish wants and feelings, as well as Ludwig Bemelman’s simple, direct language and I’m applying them to a story called “Claire’s Stairs.”  I guess we’ll see what happens…

  

Thanks, Cathy for the interview and Rhyme Revolution for promoting books that rhyme.

 

Big congrats on THE POMEGRANATE WITCH being in the Top Ten list of Best In Rhyme 2017 books! Please go visit Denise’s wonderfully eerie website to read more. As for me, I’ve got a sudden hankering for a sweet treat.

You thought I was going to say pomegranate, didn’t you? But I’m off to find ONCE UPON A TWICE. And yep, a nice juicy pomegranate to go along with it!

 

DOYEN Denise, Headshot 2

WEBSITE 

Buy it HERE

Bio:

Denise Doyen studied creative writing and design at Stanford University (BA) and directing at the American Film Institute (Masters). For many years she worked in the world of children’s television where she directed the beloved Disney Channel series Welcome to Pooh Corner and Dumbos Circus as well as other productions for children including the video collection “The Mother Goose Treasury.”

Leaving show biz to raise her two boys, she embraced Mom-dom while working part-time as a graphic designer. However, her first love was writing. So, when her oldest son set off for college, Denise set off on a new creative career; she studied writing for children at UCLA. She joined SCBWI (Society for Children’s Writers & Illustrators), claimed a chair in Barbara Bottner’s Master Class and was a founding member of GOYA critique group. (GOYA: an Urdu word meaning “the suspension of disbelief that occurs in good storytelling”; it’s also a cheeky acronym for “Get Off Your Ass—and get writing!”) She loves amusing words, especially clever or elegant portmanteaus, and working late, late at night.

Her first book, Once Upon a Twice, a rousing mousey nonsense adventure, debuted in 2009 to starred reviews. It was a Junior Library Guild selection and included in several ‘best of’ lists including Kirkus Reviews “Best Children’s Books of 2009”. The book was awarded the 2010 “EB White Read Aloud Honor,” and Denise won the “2010 Ridgway Honor” for outstanding debut in the world of children’s picture books.

Her second book, The Pomegranate Witch, is loosely based on a childhood experience that she shared around a critique table one evening after Halloween, while the rest of the group was making its way through Los Angeles traffic. When she finished telling the story, her writer friends said, “That’s a book.” And now, it is.

Ms. Doyen lives with her husband, Michael, an attorney, (their young adult sons have flown the nest) and a Bengal cat, Zeek, in Pacific Palisades, CA.

Many thanks to 2017 Best in Rhyme Committee Member Cathy C. Hall for interviewing Denise Doyen about her fabulous new book

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH

 

Congratulations DENISE on THE POMEGRANATE WITCH

and making the 2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List again!

1 star

Watch for the live, streaming

2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 7:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

KidLitTV Logo - NEW 2017