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I always feel like somebody’s watching me!  Awesome new artwork for I Want A Pet Turkey.43392402_2098568833522944_5046185465804226560_n

Interview – Children’s Author Pat Zietlow Miller

Today we are talking to New York’s Bestseller children’s book author – Pat Zietlow Miller.  Pat has written some really amazing children’s books.  One of her books, BE KIND, has already been released and she has two other books coming out next year, Remarkably You and When You Are Brave.  I was lucky enough to get to talk to Pat about her experiences writing and some of the inspirations that helped her along the way.

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Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you want to become a children’s author?

I’ve loved books since I was a kid. Books took me wherever I wanted to go – safely – and exposed me to people like me, people different from me and people I could aspire to be.  I remember being in my school library at Merrill Elementary in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and trying to find where my book would go on the shelf once I wrote it. Now that I have written books, I always send the Merrill Elementary library a copy because my elementary-school self would have been so happy to have her books on those shelves.

How cool to have your books in the same library that you grew up going to!  So what was your favorite book growing up?

My favorite book was THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin. I got a copy for Christmas one year from my aunt who was a librarian and I read it and read it and read it. I loved that it was a mystery solved by a determined girl. I loved the quirky cast of characters in Westing Towers. I loved that – spoiler alert – Angela was the bomber. I loved that the author lived in Wisconsin, like me. I still have that copy.

I also adored ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY by Judith Viorst. It’s one of the best-written picture books I know, and it’s funny and so true to life. In fact, if you want to write picture books, you should read every one ever written by Judith. She’s outstandingly talented.

Please tell us about the importance of children’s literature and what it has meant to be a part of this industry?

I don’t think you can over-state the importance of children’s literature. Books help children grow up to be the best version of themselves. They offer information, perspectives and glimpses beyond whatever world the child usually lives in. They reaffirm the good things in life and offer hope that the bad things can get better. They encourage empathy and imagination and problem-solving. They build language and life skills. I wake up every morning so grateful that I get to be a part of getting the right book in the hands of the right child just when that kid might need it most.

Wow, I love that saying (probably going to steal it, lol) – “They reaffirm the good things in life and offer hope that the bad things can get better.” 

So, if someone asked you for same wisdom about being a children’s author, what would you say to them?

The best thing I can suggest is to read hundreds and hundreds of children’s books. It’s the best way I know to improve as a writer and respect the children you’re writing for. And, as a bonus, doing this is so much fun that it’s not even work.

When I started actively pursuing writing for kids, I went to the library and checked out every book ever written by some of my favorite picture book authors. I sat on the floor, surrounded by stacks of books and read and analyzed and learned. I still do this.

You’ll find some titles you don’t like, and that’s helpful, too, as you develop your own writing voice. But there’s so much quality work out there. Reading is like your own personal master class in how to be an author. And it costs nothing but your time.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of some of my favorite picture books.

So back to BE KIND, your newest book, what was the inspiration behind the book?  I mean the message is timeless.  Tell us about it and where we can pick it up at?

BE KIND came out in February 2018. It’s about all the ways to kind to one another and how even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference. It’s available in libraries, bookstores and online. I think its message is one that is resonating with people now. It’s being used in a lot of schools, and it made the New York Times bestseller list.

Finally, our last question, and it is a very serious question – would you rather be able to fly or walk through walls?

Hmmmm. That’s a good one. I’m going to go with flying. There are lots of times in my life, I want to be somewhere, but don’t have a good way to get there. Being able to fly could solve that. Of course, if I could apparate, like the wizards in Harry Potter, that would be even better.

Awesome choice!  Thank you so much Pat for talking with us today.  Everyone, be sure to check out BE KIND and look for Pat’s new books coming out next year:  Remarkably You and When You Are Brave.  Thanks everyone!

New Feature

We have a new feature debuting this week called Questions To Inspire.  One of my favorite things is talking to others.  I love stories and I love to hear the stories and inspirations behind other people’s lives.  And one thing I want to do is inspire people.

I want to showcase some really amazing people and how / why they do what they do.  Our first interview is this Thursday, so look out for it as we talk to New York Times bestselling children’s author – Pat Zietlow Miller!

 

Illustrator

Picking an illustrator is a difficult decision.  You need someone who can bring your creation to life; who will take your dream and make it a reality.  I had a tough time working through illustrators.  I talked with illustrators from different countries, different backgrounds, and different ages.  Each had their good points and each had exceptional artistic abilities.  Hiring someone you don’t know can be a little scary, because you don’t know if they will be able to give you the quality and depth you are looking for.  Crazy thing was though, I was surrounded by so many artistic people.

It took a bit of relentless asking, pestering, begging, but I finally convinced my friend J to come on board as the illustrator.  Not only is an amazing artist, but he has also been a key part of Moose Egg Productions throughout the years.  He has starred in puppet videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbjwKp4-_sg) and helped out during a few of the live events we have done.

J has created an amazing character design for the two characters in I Want A Pet Turkey – Matt and the Turkey.  Why tell you about it when I can show you a behind the scene picture of the storyboard and the first page!

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Never Forget

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Dragon Ball Collision

Back in 2011, Funimation Entertainment started their own online retail website called Zstore.  Zstore’s physical location was in a small town called Decatur, TX.  I was fortunate enough to work there from 2002 to 2008.  I started out as internet customer service, where my job was to answer everyone’s email questions and research the shows (i.e. getting paid to watch the anime), to eBay sales, to ending my time there as the shipping supervisor of one of the three warehouses.  Working in a place that sales DVD’s, shirts, and toys of Japanese cartoons, there was a lot of time and ways to get into trouble and the people that worked there and myself were always finding new ways to make work a little more interesting.

One of the biggest sellers of Zstore were the action figures that would be released each season for Dragonball Z, which was the biggest show that Funimation had the rights to.  We would sell thousands of these figures.  Palets of figures would come in and we would ship them right back out.  With that many action figures coming through the door there was a small percentage that would come in damaged – meaning the packaging would be crushed and unfit to sell.  Normally those would be sold on eBay for a special price, but sometimes the packaging was too far damaged to sell and the toy was scrapped.  Inside these action figure packaging would be three small plastic and orange dragon balls (pictured below).  They were hard plastic and what the guys in the warehouse found out is that they did two things:  bounced on the cement floors of the warehouse and hurt when you were hit with one of them.

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Once we found out that they hurt and they would bounce on cement, the game became clear.  Dragon Ball Dodge Ball was born.  Every day, people would find dragon balls and put them in their pocket.  They would wait for the right time and then send one sailing towards someone else.  Once it hit and the ball started bouncing then anyone could grab it and use it later in the day.

One day, Oscar, Pete, and I were busy filling and packaging up orders to be shipped out.  They would pull the orders that I printed out, I would in turn package them up and put shipping labels on them.  We hit a lull as all of the orders were completed so we were taking it easy.  That was when Oscar threw a dragon ball and hit me in the back.  The next thing you hear is ding, ding, ding as the dragon ball started to bounce away.  We all three knew what to do when we heard the sound.

There was a brief pause before we all started towards the runaway dragon ball.  I was closest (since I had been hit by it), Pete was right behind, and Oscar was closing in fast.  The dragon ball started bouncing and rolling toward one of the large warehouse racks filled with merchandise.  If it made it under the rack, it would roll out, but I was determined to get there before it did.  That was when I noticed the large, round metal pillar standing in between me and the dragon ball.  I tried to stop, but Oscar didn’t.  Oscar slammed into Pete, who slammed into me, who slammed into he pillar.  We all three hit each other and I hit the pillar and we all were down for the count.  Oscar sat up laughing, while Pete started to stand up.  I laid there for a second and then started to pick myself up when I turned around to look at the guys.

Their faces stopped smiling and they started to ask if I was okay.  I laughed it off saying that I was fine, just a bit disoriented.  They kept staring.  That was when I noticed the blood running down my face.  My forehead had hit the pillar dead-on and I now had a cut on my eyebrow.  I was fine, but I didn’t look it.  All at once, we knew that I had to get cleaned up and get out of the warehouse without anyone seeing me.  This wasn’t our first accident in the workplace and we had all been warned about goofing off and horseplay.  So I walked through the back doors of the warehouse, Pete gathered my things from my office, and Oscar went to clock me out.  I was able to get out without anyone seeing me and left work early to avoid getting in trouble.

When I returned the next day, everything was fine, except Oscar held up the runaway dragon ball.  He had went and found it after I left the day before.  In a second, he threw the dragon ball and it hit me in the arm.  The game was afoot.

There is no mercy in dragon ball.

Getting A Game Plan

I had the dream, I had the story, but nothing was really happening.  I needed to get serious about it, but I had no game plan.  I had no next step.  So the story took a backseat.  That was until a lunch with the students at Beyond the Sock.

Beyond the Sock is something pretty special.  It brings people from all over the country together working on the same goal:  learn how to make and preform puppets for TV.  In the years that I have been a part of it, I have met people from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Sri Lanka, the Arctic Circle, and all over the US.  It is a crazy five days of the workshop, but it is a blast.

One of the lunch breaks, I was eating at a local restaurant that is walking distance from the workshop.  There were about 10 of crowded around a table talking about everything from shows we had watched previously, places we have worked, to goals and dreams.  I then mentioned my children’s book.  I explained what I wanted to do, but that I didn’t have a good game plan.  The others were very supportive and two really great things came out of it.

First off, a fellow volunteer Jennifer was a full-time puppeteer and an artist.  After talking with her, she helped to draw out some preliminary artwork and character sketches.  Working with her I was able to get a visual on how I wanted the book to look and a better feel of the author / illustrator relationship and work dynamic.

Second, one of the students that year was Jess.  When she heard my story, she instantly offered her help.  We talked and worked out a plan.  She became my editor.  The rough draft was sent over to Jess and after a few weeks a detailed report came back.  It was amazing, very well thought out, very constructive and informative.  She then setup ‘homework’ for me to do on how to get into the writing and publishing game.  I had articles to read and books to buy.

It was because of these two ladies that I Want A Pet Turkey has any forward movement.  They are both on the list to receive copies of the book when it is published.

Light Bulbs

When working in an office, you are entering into a relationship with a group of strangers that you previously would have no reason to be around.  Sometimes you are able to work with people that connect with you and share your same ideas, interest, and humor.  Sometimes you are forced to work with people who are your polar opposites.  Working with people different from yourself is good though.  It can force you out of your routine, develop skills on how to deal with other personalities, and allow you to play some of the best practical jokes ever.

When I worked for Quatris Health, a small re-seller of medical software, I had an office between two people:  Chris, my supervisor at the time, and Karen, another co-worker in the accounting department.  These two could not be more opposite, but they did have one thing in common, they didn’t like using the overhead lighting in their offices, but preferred to use a floor lamp.  For the most part they seemed to work in harmony, never bothering each other.  Until the day that one of the light bulbs died and Chris was left in the dark.

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New light bulbs had been ordered, but before they arrived, Chris decided to borrow Karen’s light bulb while she was at lunch.  The next day, Karen noticed (you read that correctly, she didn’t know that her office was dark for an entire afternoon).  She then took back her light bulb from Chris’s lamp.  When Chris came into work, he waited and took the light bulb back.  Back and forth it went from office to office.  Finally, in our weekly department meeting, it was brought up.  Karen asked if she could please have her light bulb back and wanted Chris to stop taking it.  That was when I offered up a solution.

“Karen, you know what we do in our house?”  I asked.  “We take a sharpie marker and write our names on the light bulb so that we always know where they belong.”

Chris and I were silent after the comment.  Both of us were waiting to hear someone speak up calling my statement into question, but no one did.  A group of professional adults accepted that as a normal action.  It was never brought up again and the light bulb replacements were delivered that afternoon.  All was well in the office.

Skip ahead six months later.

Karen was no longer with the company and we were moving offices.  Everything had to be packed up and ready for the movers.  Since Karen was no longer an employee, Chris and I had to pack up the items in her old office.  As we were packing up the effects from her desk and filing cabinets, Chris was moving the floor lamp out of her office.  He took the light bulb out to disassemble the floor lamp and noticed that Karen had in fact written her name on the bottom of the light bulb.  We kept that light bulb long after it had burned out as a trophy of how gullible someone can be.  I wish we could of asked her about it.  Did she actually believe that people write their names on their light bulbs?

Karma

Karma is a funny thing.  You reap what you sow.  It is a fundamental truth.  You want to be rude to people, don’t be surprised when you are only met with rudeness.  You want to be kind and gentle, and you will notice kindness and gentleness in return.  You want to play a prank on someone and don’t be surprised with the outcome.

The year was 2002 and it wasn’t a great day.  Sure the weather was fine, but the task at hand was steeped with urgency and caution.  James and I were escorting my then girlfriend (don’t want to use her name so I will call her Stacey) to her old house to retrieve a few items left there.  She hadn’t been back in months.  Family issues to the nth degree caused her and her sisters to leave abruptly.  In the confusion of trying to get away, items were left that needed to be retrieved.  We had our mission, get in the house (hopefully no one was home) and get the items.  James and I would go into the house, make sure the coast was clear, let Stacey get what she needed, and get out quickly.

James parked the truck away from the house and we left Stacey in the truck with the doors locked.  We told her if something happens, just drive off and we will meet her at a designated location.  James and I walked to the front door and was able to get into the house.  We called out to see if anyone was home and then checked every room.  Once we knew the house was cleared we decided to go get Stacey.

Before leaving though, James stopped at the door and said, “Let’s play a joke on Stacey.  On the count of three, we both run out of the house like something is wrong, jump in the truck, and drive away.”  We were there to protect Stacey, but the more I thought about it, the more I could see how this would be the best joke ever.  I never claimed to be a wise man.

James counted to three and threw open the door.  We took off running towards the truck.  James had it easy as the driver side door was closer.  I, on the other hand, had to run around the truck to get in the passenger side door.  Did I mention that the truck was parked on a gravel road?  You know what happens if you are not careful when running on a gravel road?  You can fall.  You can fall hard.

I was running full sprint to the truck and the second my foot made contact with the gravel it flew up into the air.  I fell and skidded into the middle of the gravel road.  Lying their on my back, my arm tore up from going across the gravel, I could hear the truck doors open.  James could barely contain himself with laughter about what happened.  Stacey got out and came over to me and asked if I was alright.  When I shook my head yes, still laying there, she kicked me in the side and said, “You deserved that.”  She was right, I did deserve that.  Karma.

Artwork 01

Here is a little teaser of lil’ Matt and his pal Julius.  If you could have any pet, what pet would you want?

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Update 09-24-18

The story so far…

When I started telling this silly little story during puppet shows and at church events, I noticed something pretty interesting:  children really enjoyed the story.  It happened suddenly and took me by surprise.  I would see a kiddo again and they would say, “Mr. Matt, can we hear the turkey story again?”  They wanted to hear the story again.  This silly story of me trying to catch a turkey with a lasso, they enjoyed it so much that they wanted to hear it again.

So, I started telling it and telling it better.  I incorporated more actions, more noises, and stretched the story.  After a few more shows, the story was well-rounded and complete.  It had a message.  It had a plot.  It had the characters.  It just was missing something to make it amazing.

Move to Beyond the Sock.  Beyond the Sock is a puppet workshop that I have been attending (either as a student or volunteer) for six years.  It is hosted at UNT campus in Denton, TX and is taught by Pasha Romanowski (puppet builder extraordinaire), Peter Linz (Sesame Street puppeteer), and Noel MacNeal (Bear in the Big Blue House puppeteer).  Each year I get to listen to these guys tell their stories, impart their lessons, and discuss their trades and each year they talk with passion about what they do and how they got there.  I always over hear a student say how lucky these guys are to get to do what they do, but I don’t believe that is true.  I don’t think they are lucky.  I think all three of these mentors, worked hard and paid their dues with time, energy, and sweat to become who they are right now (I could seriously right many blogs about what I have learned from all three of these guys and probably will).

Each and every year, they impart the same message:  if this is what you want to do, then you have to put in the time and work at it.  No one is going to do it for you.  Practice, get better and commit to your goals.

It was during Beyond the Sock, that I figured out what was missing from my story.  It was mean to be a children’s book.  It was meant to come to life on the page and inspire children.  That was the goal.  That was the dream.  How to accomplish that goal was the next question (which I will talk about next time).

Thanks everyone for taking the time to read this post.  Please go ahead and like it and share it.  I plan on telling more behind the scenes of how this came about, talk about the entire process, and share more stories.

Where It Began

The first thing I tell people when they hear the story of “I Want A Pet Turkey” is that it really happened, well parts of it did.  For years now, I have been able to turn a small story of growing up out in the country of north Texas, living on my own with nothing but fields and woods around me, into something that has entertained and made children and adults laugh.

For three years, I lived by myself in a small pier-and-beam house.  I rented it from one of the founding members of the church I attended.  The house was small, blue, had no central heat or air conditioning (only two window units–both had AC, but only one had heat).  The windows didn’t have locks, the backdoor didn’t have a lock.  Anyone could have broken in, but luckily there wasn’t much to take.  The house set on top of a small basement that was built during the pioneer days.  It had three stone steps to get down there, a stone retaining wall (that was bulging out), and a small wooden pillar in the middle that for some odd reason had 100’s of nails haphazardly sticking out of it.  The basement was dark, cold, and creepy.

In the three years that I lived there, I had more run in’s with animals than most have their whole life.  My house would be visited by longhorn cattle – that dented up my vehicle, buzzards – that stocked me for weeks, raccoons – that hid underneath buckets, deer – that ate my pomegranate tree, lady bugs – that infested an entire room, bees – that swarmed my house, snakes – that came up through the sewer line into my toilet, cats – that came into my house and slept in my bed, and yes, a turkey – that I wanted to catch.

There was a turkey.  I wanted to catch it.  I came up with a plan. It didn’t go well.

The story that I have told to literally 100’s of people is all based on real events.  Wait you haven’t heard the story yet?  Well you are in luck, “I Want A Pet Turkey” is being made into a children’s picture book.  Stay tuned for more information as you see all of the steps that I go through to get this story out into the world.