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An interview with children's author Penelope Anne Cole

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Before writing and reviewing children’s books, Penelope Anne Cole taught at every grade level. She also tutors elementary, middle, and high school students. Reading to children to help them read on their own and love books is a special joy for Ms. Cole. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Fremont Area Writers Group of the California Writers Club. She is a Certified Phonographix Reading Therapist with Read America, has a California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, a Liberal Arts B.A. (English Major), and an M.A. in Education. She lives in Santa Clara, California with her family and their rescued dogs and cats.

Ms. Cole's Magical Matthew (2012), is the first in her Magical series. Magical Mea is the second (2013). Mágico Mateo (2013) is the Spanish Version of Magical Matthew; Magica Mea is coming soon. Next in the series is Magical Mea Goes to School, then Magical M and M. Magical Matthew won Readers' Favorite Bronze Medal, Creative Child Magazine Book of the Year Award, and NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award. Magical Mea won Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award, NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, and was a Readers' Favorite Finalist.

About the book:

Matthew has a secret. In Magical Matthew, a young boy with magical powers secretly fixes things for his family and friends. Later, Matthew expands his magical good deeds by fixing things in his neighborhood. His close friend Lily suspects something is special about him. Worried that Lily will guess his secret, Matthew confides in Grandma Nonie. Should he share his secret with Lily? Matthew must decide whether to tell her the truth or not.

This is a sweet story about using your gifts and talents to help others. It also deals with differences, challenges, and changes as one grows up.

Title: Magical Matthew, Magical Mea

Genre: Children’s books

Author: Penelope Anne Cole

Website: http://penelopeannecole.blogspot.com

Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing

Purchase link: http://www.guardianangelpublishing.com

www.amazon.com; www.barnesandnoble.com

Q: Congratulations on the release of your book, Magical Matthew. What gave you the idea for it?

A: I was inspired when my neighbor’s autistic son celebrated his tenth birthday – double digits! He’s no longer a single digit child. How magical a milestone that is! By the time I walked home, I had the idea of a boy with secret magical powers who fixes things for his friends and family. Then I added other characters, problems, some plot twists, and a surprise at the end, that led into the second book.

Q: When did your passion for children’s books begin? Did you have a favorite book when you were a child?

A: I don’t remember many individual books from my own childhood – we had the Childcraft Books and I loved the rhymes of Mother Goose Tales, the Fables, and Fairy Tales. When my own daughter was young, I read to her all the time, usually when she was taking a bath! She loved stories, so I went out and got all the ones I’d been using as a teacher, plus any others that looked good. I’d read them to her with expression and special voices – to bring the characters to life. We have warm memories of those stories, such as the Dr. Seuss books and Frank Asch books.

Q: Did you take any workshops or courses before you started writing?

A: I was a literature major in college, so had read, discussed and wrote essays on most of the classics in American, English, French and Russian Lit. I took a one day college workshop course that was very motivational. But mostly I’ve been writing all my life, much of it in memoir form and journals. When I was in elementary school, I wrote several short stories featuring kids with problems they struggled with and tried to work out. I wish I still had those first stories from my elementary years.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any difficulties along the way?

A: After getting my rough draft down, I generally work on the story a little bit each day. I have to try different words, and get the dialogue right. Then after I thought it was done, I submitted it and my publisher said to take out “just, so, was, were” – to make it more active. I had a lot of rewriting work to do!

Q: What do you find most challenging about writing for children?

A: It’s hard to put yourself in the children’s world, since I see so much from my own perspective as a parent and teacher. Also, I write the story however long it needs to be and nowadays my style of “storybook” isn’t as popular with publishers as are the much shorter picture book length stories. When I describe my book, I tell people it’s a storybook with lots of pictures, not a picture book.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I used to be a morning person, when I worked full time, before I started writing children’s books. Now that I don’t work full time every day, I can write later at night, when there are few distractions, with longer blocks of time to work in. With my daughter at college, there are even fewer daily distractions.

Q: Tell us about your publisher and how you found it.

A: My publishing story is pretty much backwards. I wrote the story, found my artist, Kevin Scott Collier on the internet. Then after the artwork was done, asked him who I should submit it to for publication. Kevin introduced me to his publisher, Lynda Burch, of Guardian Angel Publishing. She loves his work, liked my story, and we went on from there.

Q: What was it like working with an illustrator and how much control did you have over the artwork?

A: My book isn’t exactly a picture book; it’s a storybook, with nineteen illustrations by Kevin Collier. He is wonderful to work with. I gave him notes on what I saw in each “scene.” Then he’d send me a sketch and we’d discuss any changes, if it wasn’t what I saw in my mind. I love seeing the story brought to life with each new illustration. I can’t imagine not having that kind of a relationship with my artist. He’s illustrated five books for me.

Q: How do you define success?

A: That’s a hard question. Success is seeing and holding your work published in book form and hearing friends and family say how much they like it. Then even more success comes in the form of positive reviews, awards, and supportive interviews. I felt very successful when one friend’s son said “I like this author. I like these stories. I want more.” So sweet to have my very own fan! But I suppose the ultimate sign of success is if the book sells well, so I need to reach more of my intended audience – later kindergarten, first, second and third graders – to increase sales.

Q: Do you think that becoming an author entails sacrifices?

A: Any artistic endeavor takes time and effort, sometimes hard work (though it may not seem as hard in looking back). There are few overnight sensations. It’s a busy and long road from writing to publication to marketing. For me, the hardest part is marketing. That requires a lot more time, effort, and money than I’d expected. I guess you sacrifice some of your time and some of your money. And all work takes time and effort. If you’re working to a deadline, then a lot of daily stuff gets pushed aside. I think it would be very hard to be an author with a young family – there would be no time to write when you wouldn’t feel just a bit guilty being away from your family.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring children’s writers? Do you know of any helpful resources you’d like to share?

A: I will tell them what everyone else has told me. Don’t expect overnight success. Expect rejection and frustration at almost every step in the process. Hone your craft: read good books to write good stories. You must be familiar with what’s out there now, which books the critics like, which books are winning awards, which books children like to read, plus which books parents and teachers like to read to kids. Attend workshops, conferences, book fairs, join with other writers in clubs, critique groups, and social gatherings. Nowadays you need social media to get the word out, so the sooner you “build” your social media platform, your network, your online presence, the better off you’ll be. Write every day because you love it, but realize that even though writing is an art, a creative endeavor, publishing and selling books is a business. You need to join in both parts of the process.

Q: What’s on the horizon for you?

A: Magical Matthew is the first book in my Magical series. Magical Mea, is the second book. It’s about Matthew’s little sister, who is a trickster. Magical Mea was published seven months after Magical Matthew. Mágico Mateo, the Spanish Version of Magical Matthew, is out now, too. Magica Mea I hope will follow later this year. I have the next two books with Guardian Angel Publishing, Magical Mea Goes to School, and Magical M and M, that I hope will be out later this year. I also have a Halloween counting book, Ten Little Tricksters, that should be out for this Halloween. I have a couple of middle grade chapter books that I’m working on, but I don’t know when they’ll be ready, The Dreamland Candy Caper, and The Raccoon Witches of Calhoun County. I have two young adult books in process, too, The Perfect Home, and The Young Amazons, that need more work. And I have another picture book, Oh No, I’m Eating Dinner at My Best Friend’s House.

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