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Today on the blog I welcome U.S. author Sherry Howard, who recently had her debut picture book released. Rock and Roll Woods is published by Clear Fork Publishing and illustrated beautifully by Anika A. Wolf.

Let’e meet Sherry, and find out more about her book, inspirations, creative processes, and more…

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Hi Sherry, welcome! What got you into creating books? What influences do you think shape your writing?

I’ve always written. Always. I’d never considered trying to get published traditionally. Then, I had some poetry, short stories, and non-fiction pieces published in online magazines and published in anthologies and another book. I had drawers full of pieces I’d written. I took classes on fiction writing and poetry through Iowa University and other places, and those classes boosted my confidence, and made me think about my writing seriously. Still, my writing was geared toward general fiction.

But my roots are with children. And I wanted to write for children. So I did. I got engaged with other writers, and groups. Eventually, I submitted a young adult novel to Pitch Wars on Twitter, and interacted with those authors.

My journey to writing this picture book was initially driven by my physical vision, and then propelled by a creative vision. Let me explain. I’d been working on novel length manuscripts when my vision started getting rapidly worse. I had four laser surgeries but those all took a while, and in the meantime I struggled with vision issues. Throughout all that time I couldn’t stop writing, so I concentrated on the shorter form of picture books. I found picture books much harder to write, but easier to work with during vision limitations. I’d blow up the print, and cut and paste into dummies.

I fell in love with picture books, and picture book writing. I took lots of classes, joined groups, and wrote more manuscripts than I can count.

What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?

ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is my debut picture book. I just held it in my hands for the first time yesterday. That was an amazing feeling! My family is very involved in my writing. One day, I asked Kamora, then eight, what she’d like to have me write about next. A bear. A bear named Kuda, which happened to be the name of her bearded dragon.

She and I worked on ideas for the book. I always draw on my years as an educator and parent. My older daughter remembers the day when we brainstormed what kind of loud noise would bother Kuda. I’m a poet and I wanted a lot of poetic technique in the writing. (TIP For PB writers: Study Poetry) Unlike most of my manuscripts, ROCK AND ROLL WOODS didn’t change a lot along the way. That’s not the norm with me.

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So, writing is a family adventure in my busy household. Sometimes I have to pay a dollar or two for a beta read, but it’s worth it.

Jack Magnus at Readers Favorite gave it five stars: ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is an entertaining fable about a young bear and his problem with the changes that seemed to have happened overnight in his neighborhood. Howard’s tale helps kids realize that strange and unfamiliar things might not be nearly as bad or scary as they may seem at first.

Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published? Why did you choose this publisher?

The journey with ROCK AND ROLL WOODS has been fabulous with a small publisher I met first on Facebook. I was impressed with her interactions there, and wanted to work with her. Callie Metler-Smith at Clear Fork has become a friend. Mira Reisberg, whose fabulous classes I’ve taken through Children’s Book Academy, was the art director and editor. She and I cut words when it seemed no more words could be cut. And, all you have to do is look at the art to see what a fabulous illustrator Anika A.Wolf is.

How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?

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Here’s a look at a page from the book, a nice sunset with a calming end. Because it’s a little noisy, and needs to wind down. I hope kids will enjoy the romp, and take away an understanding of differences in each other, and understand the kindness of friends. Really, what I want most is for kids to have fun with reading the book—for me, it’s not about a takeaway lesson, but about instilling the joy of reading with a book they can love.

Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?

There’s a link on my web page to find parent and teacher resources to use with the book. The Back Matter on Sensory Integration should be helpful to parents and teachers.

Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?

My writing cave doesn’t exist because I’m claustrophobic. I write anywhere I can get comfortable, but it has to be an open area. I have two iPads so one is always charged. I write by hand sometimes, but much of my writing goes straight on the iPad. With that said, I do print out my manuscripts and use fancy-colored pens to mark them up; use white boards and cork boards; and have a ton of notebooks, post-it’s, and index cards full of scribblings.

The only ritual I have is a candle when I’m trying to get into revision-brain. That’s a different spot for me, so I’ll light a candle and sit at my desk. That means serious business.

The best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is keep working on your craft and surround yourself with writers. If you do those two things, you’ll have the skills and the encouragement you need for the journey.

Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next books or other projects?

ROCK AND WOODS will have another book next year, and I also have a chapter book series with a young chef in the works with Clear Fork. I’ve had a wonderful experience with Callie at Clear Fork, and anyone would be lucky to publish with them. I think she’s open to submissions now. I’m staying busy with some work-for-hire for an educational publisher. And I’m querying a middle grade novel about a ghost hunter, which was just honored on Rate Your Story.

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What about a favourite word or quote?

I love Yoda, and my favorite quote from his wisdom is: Do. Or do not. There is no try. I have my tiny Yoda in my writing area, and consider quotes from him all the time. To me, he’s quite real—that makes me truly a children’s writer! (And, secretly, I AM Yoda.)

Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?

Not many people know I’m an official Kentucky Colonel, honored for my work with exceptional children.

It’s great to visit, and I’d be happy to chat. You can find me at @SherLHoward on Twitter and Instagram, and Sherry Hyberger Howard on Facebook.

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