Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Talented and Prolific Nancy Carlson

Nancy Carson
Photo Credit: Craig Perman

I am very excited to have the amazing author-illustrator, Nancy Carlson, on my blog today! I have known Nancy for a number of years through my work at Stages Theatre Company, where many of her books have been adapted for the stage. I was fortunate enough to be the playwright and lyricist for HARRIET AND WALT, a delightful story about an older sister with a tag-along younger brother. As the oldest of four, I was all too familiar with the expectations and responsibility that being a big sister can sometimes require.

Nancy has written and illustrated more than 60 children's books since 1979. Her most recent book is SOMETIMES YOU BARF. Publishers Weekly had the following review for Nancy's book, I LIKE ME! "The foundation of a healthy self-image, the cornerstone of a happy and successful life, is what Carlson's work is all about." For more information on Nancy's books, visit

JK: What do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

NC: I like to get outside and hike or ride my bike.

JK: What are you currently working on?

NC: I am working on lots of new ideas but none I can talk about yet. I am not sure at this point which will actually become a book. That said, I am very interested in trying my hand at some non-fiction books for the very young.

JK: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing or illustrating?

NC: Go look at art, travel and hike. I also love to spend time with my granddaughters Charlotte and Lillian!

JK: When did you know you wanted to draw and write stories?

NC: I decided to be an illustrator and author in kindergarten! I have been drawing since I could first hold a pencil. My parents read to me so I have always loved picture books.


JK: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written or illustrated?

I really can’t pick a favorite because they are like my kids. I think my new book, SOMETIMES YOU BARF, is pretty funny and kids seem to like it a lot!

JK: (Sidenote) Kirkus Review said SOMETIMES YOU BARF is "A delightful and helpful treatment of a somewhat taboo topic."

Nancy teaching

JK: You have such a definitive style as an artist. Your use of colors and textures is always delightful. How did you come about your unique style?

NC: I have always loved color and patterns because of my favorite artist, Matisse. I approach each illustration hoping that it can stand alone as a piece of art. As an artist, my art has changed through the years and it is still changing. The fact I do a doodle a day that is posted on my website has helped my art evolve and change as an artist. The act of drawing each day has also helped me with book ideas and character development.

JK: How many books have your written?

NC: I have 67 published books. Out of that number I am not sure how many I just illustrated, maybe 10? Also in that count I actually wrote one book, T FOR TWIN CITIES, but I did not illustrate it.

JK: Who is HARRIET AND WALT based on? Did the story really happen?

NC: Kind of I do have a little brother named David Walter that I used to have to watch and take with me when I played outside.

JK: What is it like to see one of your stories come to life for the theater?

NC: I love it. I have never been disappointed. I am usually a bit nervous on opening night I have to admit!

HARRIET AND WALT at Stages Theatre Company
Photo Credit: Bruce Challgren

JK: How has the world of picture books changed since you began?

NC: Picture books seem to attract a younger audience now than when I began. That is affecting the subject matter in picture books. I also notice there are a lot less words than when I started writing.

HARRIET AND WALT at Stages Theatre Company
Left to right: Scout Peterson, Noah Paquin, Megan Collins
Photo Credit: Bruce Challgren 
JK: What advice would you give someone just starting out in the world of picture books?

NC: Join writing groups, know your audience i.e. child development, less is better so edit your work as much as possible and don’t give up.

JK: Thank you so much, Nancy! Check out Nancy's links, and information about HARRIET AND WALT, the musical, below!

For the link to the musical adaptation of HARRIET AND WALT, please visit Samuel French's website below. You will find information about the script as well as song samples.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Just Write It

It's always rather terrifying to put your work out there. Not everyone is going to love or even like everything you do. (To read a humorous story on how I first discovered this as a child, please visit: Adam Szymkowicz: I Interview Playwrights Part 783: Jennifer Kirkeby)

On the other hand, if you don't share your creations, there is 100% certainty that you'll never know the impact you may have. Don't we all want to share our stories in some way?

I've written many plays, and I recognize how fortunate I've been to have seen them produced. These experiences of collaboration have taught me so much. What works, what doesn't, what could have, and what should have. I've learned to trust my gut in ways I didn't used to, and that's empowering.

Sometimes the audiences are very vocal. In my case, it's mostly families and children. And believe me, children will let you know what they think! You can see it before you hear it. The restless movement in their seats, or the stillness and huge eyes. Then the voices. I've heard everything from "Is this EVER going to be over?" literally shouted from a poor little guy who couldn't handle anymore dancing fairies, to "This is the BEST show I've ever seen! How did you make it?" from a little girl was enchanted with the very same musical.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Stages Theatre Company
Photo by Bruce Challgren

The Mitten by Jan Brett
Stages Theatre Company
Photo by Bruce Challgren
I recently sent in a page of a middle grade novel that I'm working on called The Phoenix Theater to Literary Agent, Alex Slater of Trident Media Group through Kathy Temean's wonderful blog, Writing and Illustrating. It's called Free Fall Friday, and people submit the first page of what they're working on and if chosen, are critiqued by an agent. Not only was Alex very complimentary which was wonderful, but reading his thoughts on other's work was just as helpful.

So, just write it. There are eyes and ears just waiting to read and listen to what you are working on! Here's the blog :

           Jennifer Kirkeby / THE PHOENIX THEATER / Middle Grade

Tears of happiness welled in Annabelle’s eyes as she beamed at the standing audience, still clapping enthusiastically during the fourth curtain call. She squeezed her parent’s hands as they took another bow. The audience roared. She squealed, and her parents laughed.
Annabelle had never felt so proud in her ten years of life. Not only had she just played her first leading role as the streetwise Ginny in the 1920’s production alongside her parents, but her father had also written and directed it. And if tonight’s audience reaction was any indication, Always was destined to be a huge hit.

She searched the fourth row and found her nanny, Marion, grinning back at her. She was brushing away the large tears that rolled down her dark rosy cheeks. They winked at each other as they had promised they would.

The photographers began their flashing frenzy, shooting blinding white light with every click. Each one hoped to capture the photo chosen for tomorrow’s paper. Her father thanked the audience and invited them all to the opening night party.

Annabelle would wonder about the following moment for years to come. How it began, why it happened, and if there was anything she or anyone else could have done to prevent it.
She smelled the smoke before she saw it. At first, Annabelle assumed it was the obnoxious stage manager, Thomas, who was forever puffing on one of his stinky cigars. But when she looked offstage left, ready to give him a death glare, she knew instantly that no cigar could create the black billowing smoke that was rolling in from under the door.

Here’s what Alex had to say: 
THE PHOENIX THEATER by Jennifer Kirkeby
This is an excellent opening page. The writing is clear and concise, the action is captivating and inviting, and the tension demands the reader read on. I liked the way the play’s name is revealed in a stylistic and natural way. I like the expressive language: “flashing frenzy,” “blinding white light,” “black billowing smoke.” Most of all, I like the way the author sets-up the tragedy that unfolds. It’s a useful device that is employed well here: introduce the moment from the future, as a point in history, thereby captivating the reader with curiosity: what event could stand so tall in a character’s memory? Then, introduce the moment in all its horribleness. Therefore, the reader sees the moment as the character sees it: epic, irrevocable, and in the past. This is a great example of how to tease the reader in the opening pages, which is an effective technique.
Here is more info about Alex:
He is looking to build his list. When asked how he became an agent at Trident, concentrating in the expanding children’s, middle grade and young adult businesses, Alex simply replies, “It was only natural.” While karma is not an established business concept, it is clear that Alex’s career arc led him in this happy direction.
Start with Alex’s love of fiction, and in particular the stories that captivate the minds and imaginations of young people, from those so young that books are read to them, to young adults who get captivated by creative fiction. “I love to let myself go, and become the reader, whether the story is directed at a ten-year-old or a teenager,” says Alex.
Next is Alex’s experience at Trident, where he has been since 2010. He became a very successful agent representing the company’s children, middle grade and young adult authors in many licensing arrangements in the global marketplace for translation and in the English language in the U.K., having placed books with publishers in dozens of countries. Alex was Trident’s representative at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, as well as the broader-based London and Frankfurt book fairs. His experience in representing fiction in these areas showed him what elements in stories work well, and how to maximize the value of what an author has created.
He is now building his list domestically at Trident, while keeping his focus on these areas.
Alex’s plan is to, “Look for stories that will rise above the rest with characters that will be remembered well past childhood, with the potential to cross over to other media and formats,” such as programming, games, motion pictures and merchandise. “Trident is the leader on taking advantage of the latest opportunities presented by changing technology,” says Alex, and, “I will be there to help make the latest innovations happen for my authors.”
“I believe that the most successful writers have a bit of the dreamer in them.” And Alex passionately believes that he can help turn their dreams into reality.

Twelve Dancing Princesses
Stages Theatre Company
Photo by Bruce Challgren

I'd love to hear from you. What have you done recently that took you out of your comfort zone, and are you glad that you did?

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