Becky reads to some cowpokes

You’re in for a treat this Monday morning folks: author Rebecca Janni has returned to The Writing Cave to talk about her new picture book EVERY COWGIRL NEEDS DANCING BOOTS.

How did the experience differ with your second book? Anything surprise you?

Well, just like the first book, I was a wreck handing over that manuscript . . . what would my agent and editor think? Would Nellie Sue’s adventures continue? I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and said a prayer.

And again, when that yes came, there was still plenty of revising and editing to do. This time around, there was a little more interaction with illustrator Lynne Avril during the process. I adore her. She has a great sense of humor, amazing creativity, and a lovely spirit.

I guess what surprises me most of all . . . each time . . . is the magic, like artwork that captures the character of my dreams or the mysterious timing of it all. My father was battling brain cancer when I saw Lynne’s final artwork. There is a page where Nellie Sue’s dad scoops her up to dance with him. That image took my breath away, reminded me of twirling in his arms or dancing on his shoes. I knew then and there that the book would be dedicated to my dad, and I had the chance to tell him before he passed away.

I was so sorry to hear about that; I’m glad you got to tell him. What’s next for Nellie Sue and her trusty Beauty?

I’m glad you asked! EVERY COWGIRL LOVES A RODEO is scheduled for release in May of 2012. The story is done, and I’ve already seen first sketches. Lynne might be painting final art right this minute! It’s set at the county fair, and Nellie Sue is hoping for first place at the bicycle rodeo. But competition is tough, and she’ll have to beat the reigning rodeo king, AJ Pickett. My editor calls this story “a love letter to county fairs” – and I just love that!

It is county fair season, which makes me crave a funnel cake! Anyway, now that you’ve done some author events, is there a story or memory that stands out?

Well, I had a blast at the University Book and Supply store in Cedar Falls, IA recently. The event organizers built a campfire out of jumbo blocks and we added flames made of red and orange tissue paper. We roasted marshmallows on pretzel sticks and sang songs around the campfire. The big surprise came at the end, when four girls from the Cedar Falls HS dance team showed up to teach us all a new line dance. So much fun!

That does sound like fun! I’m guessing the fun will continue with your upcoming picture book JAMMY DANCE?

Your timing is perfect, Sarah! Just today, a friend told me that JAMMY DANCE is posted on for pre-order. It’s scheduled to launch on Valentine’s Day, and I predict a pajama party!

I wrote JAMMY DANCE when my oldest two were just toddlers, one and three years old. After baths, they would run around the house all naked and slippery doing what they called “the Di-dee dance!” Well, boy, were they hard to catch. It took parental teamwork to wrestle tangles out of hair and wiggly bodies into jammies. For me, this story is a slice of life. I love Tracy Dockray’s illustrations. I’m amazed at the movement in them. Her pictures dance! Oh, and the dog. I LOVE this dog! Everything he does makes me laugh, from swiping the kids’ dolls to slurping out of the toilet. He’s fantastic!

That sounds delightfully chaotic 🙂 Since we talked cheese last time, do you have a favorite flavor of ice cream?

I LOVE ice cream. Period. Really, pick a favorite? Okay, wait, I know. My all time favorite ice cream is Dad’s homemade. No skimping on vanilla, cream and sugar. Licking it off the ladle and catching a hint of salt. Mmmm, the best!

That sounds delicious! (July is National Ice Cream Month by the way, everyone go eat lots) Thanks so much for stopping by, Becky, and we’re looking forward to more of Nellie Sue’s adventures and dances with jammies. For more information, visit Becky at her website.


I was pretty discouraged this weekend and wrote a post about taking deep breaths and making time for dreams in busy lives, blah blah blah, kind of a downer. But then I came inside from chores on Saturday and found a wonderful, sparkling, adorable surprise:

That’s right, Nellie Sue is back in a new adventure from book club buddy Rebecca Janni! EVERY COWGIRL NEEDS DANCING BOOTS is available June 9, just in time for summer with your own cowgirl.

Nothing gets me out of a funk like a great book, and the fact that it’s from one of the nicest people I know is a major bonus. So do yourself a favor and let Nellie Sue brighten your day.

What books have raised your spirits lately?

Rebecca Janni is the author of EVERY COWGIRL NEEDS A HORSE, the adorable picture book released today from Dutton Children’s Books!

Becky, thank you so much for visiting The Writing Cave. How excited is everyone in your family that release day is finally here?

May I answer with a photo?

Oh, and those aren’t all my kids . . . though I would claim them!

I would say there’s some definite excitement there 🙂 Were you a cowgirl growing up?

I wasn’t a true cowgirl like my amazing illustrator, Lynne Avril, but a girl can always pretend. Growing up, I loved to ride in the back of Dad’s pick-up truck with braids in my hair and his cowboy hat on, snapping my fingers to Elvira or whatever eight-track tune floated out the back window. Dad’s wildest cowboy hat even had a rattlesnake skin band. He’d gone to Wyoming with some buddies, and they decided to try rattlesnake hunting. He served up rattlesnake stew and had the skin made into a band — rattle and all!

And I loved to go horse-riding Nellie Sue style. We lived close to Saylorville Lake, and I would often saddle up my bike and hit the trails.

Your dad sounds like he has some good stories as well! How does your writing process work?

Is there a process? No, I’m kidding. There is a process, but I’m not very disciplined right now. I use the back few pages of my journal as an idea pot. I jot down a few words or sentences about anything with story potential. When I have time to write, I use those ideas to get started. After that, the process is pretty textbook. Rough draft. Revise. Revise. Revise. I’m fortunate to have some gifted writer friends who are willing to offer their “compliments and suggestions” (as my daughter’s kindergarten teacher likes to call them).

What things are you doing to promote your book?

I have a couple of interviews lined up with local media and friendly bloggers (like you!), a handful of book signings, and a few school visits. Our family will soon be traveling to Asia to adopt a little deaf boy, so I have to be careful not to fill the calendar.

Oh wow, that’s awesome. It really is an exciting time for your family! Looking back on 2009, what were your three favorite reads last year?

Fairest of Them All by Jan Blazanin, Mia the Magnificent by Eileen Boggess, and The Snows by Sharelle Byars Moranville

Do you own an electronic reader? Do you have an opinion on ebooks?

I confess — I’m pretty attached to paper. Friends with ebooks tout their transportability — so many novels in one small carry-all — and that is tempting. But especially where picture books are concerned, it’s hard to let go of the whole experience . . . sitting in an easy chair, child in lap, paging through a beautifully bound book. Ahhh. Heaven. 

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Read. Read. Read.
Write. Write. Write.
Join SCBWI and plug into a local writers’ group.
And most of all, love the journey.
Savor what you read. Treasure what you write. Cherish the friendships made in those writers’ groups . . . I know I do.


Super good advice! There’s nothing like having a group of people going through the same thing. What are you working on next?

I have two picture books under contract. One’s the sequel to this first book, called Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots. The second book, Jammy Dance, comes out with FSG. I just saw first sketches from illustrator Tracy Dockray, and they are darling!

Other works-in-progress, but not under contract, range from picture books (fiction and nonfiction) to middle grade to one ya novel. My oldest son keeps asking for a “boy” book, because I think he wants the next dedication.

I’m a cheese freak, so I have to ask: what’s your favorite cheese and why?

Oh wow. Well, I studied in France during college, so any good French cheese takes me back to a special time and place . . . Gruyere, Brie, Cambembert . . . c’est magnifique!

Thanks so much for taking time out of your unbelievably busy life, Becky! Congratulations on your debut picture book, EVERY COWGIRL NEEDS A HORSE and good luck with everything else. Learn more about Becky at her website.

Linda Skeers is the author of TUTUS AREN’T MY STYLE, released today from Dial. Linda, thank you so much for visiting The Writing Cave! It’s always nice to find another Captain Jack Sparrow fan 🙂

First off, you mention on your website that you snort when you laugh (which is awesome). Any inopportune snorting stories to share?

I’ve been trying for years to break this very unladylike habit. Alas, my husband has made it his mission in life to make me laugh so hard at least once a day that I snort. So, he’s winning this battle. *snort*

How do you personally feel about tutus? Is your new book semi-autobiographical?

It’s very autobiographical! I loved catching frogs, digging holes and climbing trees when I was young. Never in my wildest imagination did I see my clumsy, awkward self as a ballerina! I see so many picture books about princesses and ballerinas and wondered if there were other girls out there like me… this book is for them!

Absolutely, hoorah for the tomboys! How does your writing process work?

I’m not sure I have a process! I wish I was more structured but I write at different times in little bursts. My biggest problem is procrastination! I may resort to duct taping my behind to the chair.

Hmm, not a bad idea. When you’re out of your chair, what things do you do to promote your books?

I love doing school visits and talking about books and writing. I’m not good at self-promotion but I enjoy teaching workshops and attending conferences and meeting with other writers.

Looking back on 2009, what were your three favorite reads last year?

Only three? RHYMING DUST BUNNIES because of the quirky humor. Made me laugh (and snort!) out loud. THE HATE LIST because it’s such a dark subject (school shooting) but yet it’s hard to put down — or forget. A WHIFF OF PINE, A HINT OF SKUNK — poems you want to read again and again.

Ooo, good suggestions. Do you own an electronic reader? Do you have an opinion on ebooks?

Don’t have one and I don’t have plans to get one. I like holding a book in my hands. I like the texture, the smell, the whole experience!

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Keep writing and submitting! Take classes, join a critique group, and READ what’s currently being published in your genre.

Great advice! My critique group has helped me so much that I can’t imagine doing this without them. What are you working on next?

A middle grade novel that’s been stuck in my brain for years (I’m pulling it out with tweezers) and a chapter book. I tend to jump from one project to another which means it takes forever to finish a manuscript.

I’m a cheese freak, so I have to ask: what’s your favorite cheese and why?

Cheddar. Love cheddar on Triscuits! Followed closely by pepperjack.

Mmm pepperjack. One of my favorites too. Thanks so much for stopping by, Linda! Check out TUTUS AREN’T MY STYLE and learn more about Linda on her website (be sure to check out the character collection).

Jill Esbaum is the author of seven picture books and her latest, EVERYTHING SPRING, is released today from National Geographic Kids. There are 3 more in the pipeline:  WINTER WONDERLAND with National Geographic, TOM’S TWEET with Knopf (fall 2011), and I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! with Dial. She lives on a farm in eastern Iowa with her family and lots of pigs 🙂

Jill, thank you so much for visiting The Writing Cave. First off, I have to ask, is there any chance some cows will ever join your pigs on the farm?

When my kids were in 4-H, my daughter refused to show pigs at the fair. She begged to participate in the bucket calf program instead. So we did have 4 steers, over the years – Brody, Buddy, Bailey, and Bobbsey (who was a twin). They were more like pets. Huge, hungry pets. Not likely we’ll have more. At this point, my husband’s more interested in DEcreasing his workload.

You’ve clearly got this writing thing figured out. How does your writing process work?

There’s a process?!   🙂

I wish I could report that I write X hours per day, without fail. But my writing habits stink. On Good Days, I might fall into The Zone fairly quickly and write for 3-4 hours before a ringing phone or doorbell has me swimming up through the story murk to wonder if it’s 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. Have I had lunch? Have I missed Gilmore Girls? What am I going to fix for supper? LOVE that.

On Bad Days, I’m staring at the screen wondering how to get from point A to point B, how to get from scene to scene in logical fashion, etc. When that happens, I’m likely to:  a) jump up to toss in a load of laundry, b) find a snack, c) go read a chapter of somebody’s else’s work (you know, as a reward for writing one good line?), d) click into Spider Solitaire, or e) read writing blogs. I can procrastinate with the best of them.

If I’m writing a rhyming pb story, I do a-e above plus sigh a lot – because I know, by now, what a rhyming story has to look/sound like in order to get published. So even in the *go ahead and write crap* stage, there’s an imp on my shoulder trying to convince me that my mojo’s kaput and I’ll never again be able to write another publishable rhyming story. Dang imp.

What things do you do to promote your books?

I send out postcards before signings, do school visits, try to maintain a web presence, and speak whenever and wherever I get the chance. I have a (sadly neglected) blog and am on Facebook. I’m not a Twitterer, even though I can see the terrific promotional possibilities there. I’m just not a chatty enough person for it. And it takes TIME, which is already in short supply. Also, I balk at the idea of trying to keep up with everybody else’s news and comment on it constantly. I have enough of my own stuff to keep sorted in my head – and space is limited in there!

Looking back on 2009, what were your three favorite reads last year?

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (and I would have said that even before it won the Newbery)
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (FUNNIEST and most authentic YA voice I’ve encountered in a long time)
The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (he cracks me up)

I’m going to have to check those out! Do you own an electronic reader? Do you have an opinion on ebooks?

No. I’ve been tempted, but I keep thinking that as soon as I buy one, they’ll come out with The Perfect E-Reader 2.0. Besides, I’m a big supporter of the public library; most of the books I read are from there….Truthfully, I like the IDEA of ebooks, but I’m afraid I’d be too tight to be downloading them all the time. I know, I know. Not a very good opinion for somebody who’s trying to sell books, is it? Oops.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

  1. Don’t write to the market.
  2. Write from your heart, and write the story that makes YOU happy.

What are you working on next?

I’m a whopping two stanzas into another rhyming story. And those two stanzas took me two weeks to write. Hopefully, the rest of the story won’t ooze out at this glacial pace.

Finally, I’m a cheese freak, so I have to ask: what’s your favorite cheese and why?

Sharp cheddar, definitely, alone or on Triscuits. I crave feta occasionally, too. I buy it for salads, then sneak most of it, pinch by pinch, before it ever has the opportunity to meet lettuce. Or, ooooh… warm Kalona cheese curds. Heaven! Great, now my stomach’s growling….

Thanks so much Jill! Learn more about Jill on her website and blog, and check out EVERYTHING SPRING, released today!