Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Interview with Circus Train author, Jennifer Cole Judd

Welcome to The Storyteller’s Scroll, Jenn. 

I’m so pleased to have you as a guest today. I thoroughly enjoyed your picture book, The Circus Train and would like you to share a little bit about yourself and your writing goals for my readers.

 The first few questions relate to your “writing life.”

1. How long have you been writing?  

Thanks so much for having me, Gayle!  I have been writing for a long time--my very first poems I wrote when I was around five years old.  My mom still has  scraps of paper with a poem I wrote about Christmas, Halloween, and, interestingly enough--a train! (Only this one was a train to heaven, not the circus--still kind of a cool train, but without the prancing poodles.)

2. Where do you write?  

I have a little desk space right next to my laundry room with my computer, a pinboard of quotes and inspiration, and a picture of a lovely view of Ireland (it doesn't have a window, so I have to improvise). But I do sometimes scribble ideas on scratch paper, notebook paper, etc.  I have been known to talk into my phone if an idea bonks me on the head while I'm doing my other jobs (including carpooling a circus of kids around town). 

3. How long ago did you get the idea for Circus Train?  

The inspiration for CIRCUS TRAIN came way back in 2006 when I took my young family to the circus one August afternoon. Watching my preschool daughter's eyes widen and hearing her gasp or giggle with each new act was an experience I wanted to bottle up and open again and again...I came home with that imagery fresh in my mind.

4. When did you start the first draft and how long, from that point, until the book was completed? 

CIRCUS TRAIN began as a poem--short, tight verses that focused on the sensory experience of a day at the circus. At the time, I was also in Anastasia Suen's Intensive Picture Book Workshop (a wonderful course!), which helped me learn the bones of picture book writing, and flesh the story out to picture book length.  

I was only just beginning my journey as a children's writer back then, and my focus had been on poetry (and still tends to be my focus).  I was still new and shy about submitting back then, so I only subbed it twice before I decided to put it on the shelf.  

I put it on the shelf so long that I didn't pull it out again until 2012, as a matter of fact.  Talk about fresh eyes!  This time, however, I had had six years of writing and learning the craft a bit more (plus some really awesome critique partners) that helped me get the story in shape to send out again.  

Still, I was thrilled and (honestly) shocked when my editor contacted me to say they wanted to acquire the book, a few short months after submitting it. Definitely a (happy) surprise!

5. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?  

I have learned that the publishing process takes a long time--CIRCUS TRAIN was acquired in 2012, but wasn't published until 2015.  Having patience is definitely part of the experience! Book promoting has also been a big learning experience for me; fortunately there are wonderful resources available to children's writers now, from SCBWI to great online groups like 12x12, PiBoIdMo, ReFoReMo...learning how to be a partner in the success of a published book has been an exciting (if sometimes overwhelming!) process.  I definitely recommend that all writers start early, getting involved and learning the aspects of the trade.

6. Can you share a favorite circus memory?  

Definitely, my favorite experience was that day that inspired the book.  When the clowns, walking on stilts, fired streams of confetti into the crowd and my kids squealed, well, that was kinda magical. Along with our bright blue tongues from all the cotton candy we ate that day.

7. If you were a circus performer, what would you be and why?  

In my dreams, I would be a trapeze artist--I think it's the closest thing to feeling like you're flying, and I have always wished I could fly! 

But if I were to get hired based on talent alone?  I would definitely be a circus clown--I am really good at tripping, being goofy, and cramming lots of people into a car.
8. What’s next for you, Jenn? Will you write another picture book? Or maybe a poetry collection or something in between? 

I've been focusing on poems lately, with a few picture books percolating at varying degrees.  I've been feeling the pull to write something lengthier as of late, too, but we will see if my attention span will hold out for that!

Thanks so much for sharing your precious time. Please list the links below so my readers can easily access your book for purchase.

Where to buy the book:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All Aboard the Rhyming Circus Train

The Circus Train gives quite a ride.
It takes the child right inside
the circus tent, with lights aglow.
Get ready for “The Greatest Show.”

Like elephants that love to dance,
and fancy horses in a prance.
Dogs on balls. A tightrope girl.
Acrobats that spin and twirl.

Trapeze ladies flying high.
Clowns with faces full of pie.
Done in simple perfect rhymes
It will be read a thousand times.

Once you board the Circus Train
You’ll love to ride it all again.

Circus Train is a wonderful book for children, parents, and Pre-K teachers. Jennifer Cole Judd’s simple rhyming text is a treat for children’s ears and the story is a great introduction to young readers of the fun and stimulation of a circus. Parents reading to their child will have many discussions about the characters found in the colorful illustrations. And Pre-K Directors could most definitely incorporate it into other curriculum lessons like math, science and social studies. Great job, Ms. Judd. Looking forward to more.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

GPS for Your Novel’s Main Character

GPS for Your Novel’s Main Character 
Map Your Way Into Their Personality

Gentle Passionate Sassy/Snarky
Had a session with my critique group today, and we discussed how to get into our character’s heads to make their story more believable. This led me to come up with a list of ways to achieve that goal.
1.    Write a daily journal in your MC’s voice for a week. You may find he/she is giving you an insight to their problem.
2.    Or you may find the solution to something that has been preventing you from moving the story forward.
 3.   List the their most obvious traits that make them a complex character and let it come out in their dialogue and attitude.
4.   If that doesn’t work read through your favorite YA novel, or one that is in the same genre as your WIP, and write a few sentences about the protagonist using the following prompts:
a.   What is their problem?
b.   What is their motivation to obtain a solution to that problem, including internal and external motivators?
c.    What traits make them complex (and either help or hurt their quest to solve their problem)?
d.   What conflicts arise because he or she tries to solve their problem?
At the end of this writing exercise, you’ll have a rough road map of the character (and also how the protagonist’s choices influence the plot). Once you see an example, you can begin to develop your own character road map and define the elements that create a living, breathing protagonist. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When is a Poem Not Ready for Publication?

April is Poetry Month and as I prepped for a middle-school poetry workshop I’ll be teaching later this week, I pulled out my two unpublished poetry collections. One deals with dark fantasy and another deals with fractured fairy tales. What I found out? Only one was ready for publication. Why?

Let me start from the beginning.

We’ve all learned to write our first draft, revise, revise, revise, then share with critique partners, revise again, and hopefully it will sell.

Sometimes that works

But what happens if the poet can’t see what’s wrong with the poem? Even after he/she has followed all the steps.


You can’t drink a magic elixir to make you recognize the flaws in your work. So let’s go through the basic list. . .

RHYME  perfect rhyme, no slant rhyme or inversions to force the rhyme.

perfect rhymes - clown, crown, down, drown, frown, gown, noun, town

slant rhymes - done, brawn, bone, bummed, broad, crowed, ruin

METER -  perfect, flows from the tongue with ease. Meter is determined by the number of STRESSED or ACCENTED syllables—regardless of the number of syllables—in each line.

RHYTHMthe pattern of STRESSES in a line of verse.

So, with rhyme, meter and rhythm all working, what would make the poem not publishable?

Ask yourself the question . . . WHO is the poem for?


1.    Vocabulary MUST be age appropriate. (Just because the word rhymes perfectly, does not mean the child will understand what the word means.)
2.    The writer MUST use concepts already familiar or easily interpreted by the child reader.
3.    Your poem MUST not be too long.

Are you sure your 300-word poem isn’t really a picture book?

These are just a few things to consider as you write a poem or poetry collection for children during this month of Poetry.


AND THE CROWD GOES WILD: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems

Left column is one poem. Right column is another and when read horizontally it makes a third poem.

@ Gayle C. Krause 2012

A football--                                         A team--
glides                                                 collides, as the ball rides
through the air                                    into the end zone,
to                                                      score!
excited hands,                                     fans
waiting,                                              anticipating
for its                                                 official call on fourth,
TOUCH                                               DOWN!


Energized to Write for the New Year

 So happy to be attending the SCBWI National Conference this week. My peer critiques went well two nights ago, and energized me to see the p...