Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Tying together poetry, parenting, and advertising in a neat little package

Archive for the tag “children’s books”

When it rains, it pours – and I’m drenched!

They say when it rains, it pours. And whoever “they” are…they know my life pretty well.

Freelancers often never know what their days are going to look like. Will I have several gigs, a few gigs, none?

Being a freelancer as well as a stay-at-home parent, this is doubly true. With the responsibilities of parenting compounded by the responsibilities of my work, I really never know how busy I’m going to be one day to the next. Some days are slower than others; it’s the way my world works. A few days ago, my world got very, very busy.

HS Fair logo - digital

I had no sooner started work on a new (and rather unusual) poetry-picture book when I found out brochures were ready for the upcoming 100th Hopkinton State Fair, taking place Labor Day weekend in Contoocook, New Hampshire. I’m not only the official announcer for the fair – I work all weekend, wandering the grounds with a microphone reminding people of what’s happening – but I also oversee all the radio broadcast purchases and production, and now that the events had been finalized, I needed to jump into high gear:

  • I have announcer notes I needed to update from the previous year (and with 4 days of agriculture events, live music, demonstrations, family entertainment, and grandstand shows, it took me over 4 hours just to do that)
  • I needed to write radio commercials – eight, to be exact – plus several short “live reads” for when the radio jocks talk about us on the air.
  • I needed to update all the telephone on-hold messages, which required that I write 3 pages of text before recording anything.
  • I needed to confirm with all the radio stations that they have everything they need to begin their promotions
  • I still need to voice and produce those eight radio commercials, and voice the audio for the TV commercial…that’s on tomorrow’s “to-do” list.

I mention all of this not because I want anyone to think I’m trying to show off what I do – but to understand that all of this was done in two days’ time! And now that that project is (almost) complete, I have a book manuscript co-authored by a client of mine I need to proofread! So far, I’ve gotten through Chapter 1. It’s a good book, but it takes longer to read it when one is scanning with an eye for grammar, syntax, and such.

What about that picture book?

I hate putting things on hold, but that’s what you have to do when you’re a stay-at-home parent with only a few hours of each day available to work. I’ve got the beginning of the picture book started, so reading it helps me get into the groove – but I probably won’t resume writing it until later this week, hopefully.

I still need to update my list of folks to whom I’ve submitted other manuscripts, and see if there’s someone out there who might be looking for a manuscript I have to offer.

Oh, and I have some short voiceover projects I need to attend to, as well. That’s the career that allowed me to stay home in the first place, so I really can’t neglect that!

First things first, though!

First, I have two kids who want to play with me, so that takes precedence. I don’t always have the luxury of playing with my 5-year-old son and nearly-2-year-old daughter (I do have dishes, laundry, and other chores to take care of!), but I try to make the time whenever I can.

My son isn’t into playing “games” like kicking a soccer ball or throwing a Frisbee per se – he’d much rather pretend we’re Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or wild lions or dogs or robots or whatnot – so playing with him is a much more physical activity than one might expect!

As for my daughter…well, she’s happy playing whatever her brother is playing.

And I can’t complain. A few years from now, he’ll probably grow tired of playing with me and spend all his time with friends, classmates, and girls. And of course, I can’t blame him. It’s way things go, right?

So as long as he and his sister want to play with me, I’ll do my best to keep up with them.

The laundry can wait.

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Don’t just “play” with your kids…

I think I’ve finally realized why I can identify with kids – why writing for children, being a stay-at-home parent, and cracking up at the same Spongebob episodes I’ve seen a million times all seem to suit me.

And it’s not just that I’m a “big kid” myself, as they say.

Sure, I enjoy playing with my kids – I always have – but I learned something at my book signing earlier this month that I don’t think ever occurred to me…

I play “like” my kids

When my 5-year-old wants to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” I don’t just say I’m Shredder or a robot or something and then half-heartedly chase the little dude.

Honestly, I’m not even sure which turtle he’s supposed to be – but I’d still watch out, nonetheless.

I act like Shredder, running around like a nut, throwing myself on the ground, and even slamming into our parked car or the fence and spinning ridiculously around and around until I collapse at his feet.

When the 23-month-old wants to dance, I don’t just stand there and shimmy back and forth – I bounce and run and shake myself to near-unconsciousness just as she does.

And when a friend’s 4-year-old tries to “zap” me with some sort of invisible instrument, I completely throw myself into the role of victim – which is what happened at the book signing.

Kids aren’t as easily embarrassed as stuffy grown-ups

Here’s what happened: a friend of mine who had stopped by the bookstore while I was signing brought his grandson, who was a typical, wired, fun-loving 4-year-old boy. As you might guess, he was very much excited to be in a place that had so many items not nailed down.

In typical 4-year-old boy fashion, he started pretending to “attack” me somehow – either with a magic stick or repulsor ray or live electrode or whatnot – so I briefly played along.

I stood up and started spinning around, jumping up & down madly while making some sort of crazy sound (seriously, I make this stuff up as I go, so don’t expect me to remember half of whatever I do). The little boy was quite amused, giggling loudly – but my friend just turned around and rolled his eyes away from me, jokingly noting that he couldn’t tell which of us was the kid.

I took that as a compliment.

She asked, so yes, I put it on my head, too. Unfortunately, there was no one else there to capture this moment in lunacy, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The take-away:

It was then that I realized he and I must have very different ways of playing with kids. If his grandson asked him to be Hulk or Iron Man or Queen Elsa (don’t laugh, it has happened), I don’t know how he’d respond. Personally, I know what I’d be doing: “Hulk-Smashing” things left and right, zapping my opponent with my repulsor rays, and trying to freeze my little pal in his tracks.

That’s why, for the past week and a half, I’ve been rolling around in my brain what it all might mean. Is there a wrong way to play with kids? Is there a right way?

Of course, the important thing is that you play with them, period. But I definitely learned there is a difference.

And I learned that it’s not enough simply to play with them.

Play like them!

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

First book signing: that’s a wrap!

I’m sure many of my fellow writers who have had numerous books published view book signings as old hat, but it’s something pretty new to me…and I loved it!

Lullabye coverThis past Saturday, I spent two hours at the local Books-A-Million store (the folks who bought up most of the old Borders locations) signing copies of the book, Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed, 2015). We had close to 25 folks stop by, and for a beautiful, hot, summer day, that was a decent turnout.

Lullaby, as you probably know if you’ve spent more than a few minutes on my blog, is the very first children’s book I have the pleasure of being a part of. It’s both a board book – designed for very young children – and it’s also a poetry anthology featuring 30 poems from such luminaries as Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Charles Ghigna, David L. Harrison, Marilyn Singer, and many others.

My poem, “First Tooth,” is included in this amazing collection, which was recently selected as an ALSC Notable Children’s Book for Summer 2015. It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of something like this – and it is also a bit reassuring, as writing for children is a career path for me and not a mere hobby. In fact, I’ll have 9 poems in 7 different publications between this year and next, with my debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press) slated for Fall 2017.

Things seem to be heading in the right direction!

Signing one of the first books of the afternoon, with my manager (kidding!!), author Deb Bruss (“Book! Book! Book!”, “Big Box for Ben”)

The table looked so spiffy and professional, I almost didn’t realize it was for me!

One of the folks who stopped by was fellow former radio dude Mike Morin. Mike hosts a podcast series which can be found at (Yours Truly will be joining him in a couple weeks!)

I do have to admit I was surprised when I walked into the bookstore; I was going to look for my table toward the back of the store in the children’s section, but they had it all decked out right in front, about 20 feet from the registers. At least 3 staff members purchased copies, which was heartening.

I think one of the most satisfying moments of the event came when I overheard one of the female employees behind the checkout line chatting with a customer who had just purchased a copy. They were talking about the book and “the author” who had just signed it, and the clerk (whom I hadn’t met until that day) said, “He’s a really nice guy.”

Made me smile.

NG Book of Nature Poetry coverThe folks at Books-A-Million are thinking of doing another signing when The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, Oct. 13, 2015) hits stores this fall, and I can’t wait. In it, I have a poem about Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees – and if you don’t know what those are, wait til you see the photo!

I will have another poem in an educational book written by Laura Purdie Salas for Capstone, likely due out before the end of the year, and a poem in Kenn Nesbitt’s anthology, One Minute Til Bedtime (Little, Brown for Young Readers, 2016). I already have poems in two other books that are currently out: Dear Tomato (Carol-Ann Hoyte, 2015) and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books, 2015).

Perhaps at some point in my career book signings will get old.

For now, though…bring ’em on!

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday is here – with AWESOME news!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllA town-wide brownout that fried my computer.

A family of four battling the worst cold we’ve had in years, simultaneously.

Parents in ill health.

Such are the tribulations I’ve been dealing with over the past two weeks, which is why my blogging has been at a minimum. I apologize for being nearly invisible lately! Fortunately, the computer is back up & running (thank you, Dell tech support!) after hours and hours of re-installs, the family is starting to get over our illness, and my folks seem to be fairly stable…so I’m thrilled that I can finally make the announcement:

I’ve got a book deal!!

It is a pleasure and an honour to announce that I have signed a contract with Boyd’s Mills Press (one of Highlights magazine’s book publishing divisions) to publish my very first full-length picture book, Flashlight Night! I’m also very proud to have the wonderful and highly-esteemed Rebecca Davis as my editor…and now that the manuscript is approved and we can move forward, we’ve been discussing possible illustrators. A few have come to mind, so we’re hopeful one of them will work out!

boyds logo

What is Flashlight Night about? Well, let’s just say it’s a poetic adventure that’s not what it seems. I’ll tell you more as we get closer to publication, which we hope will be in 2017. Keep checking back here for updated posts!

(Now then, if you’ll allow me to pull myself off the ceiling, I’d like to share today’s Poetry Friday poem…!)

This is a tanka – a Japanese form that is similar to haiku but is two lines longer and actually predates the haiku – and was written rather quickly (about half an hour) as part of a Facebook challenge. I was tagged to share four poems in four days by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, the daughter of Jane Yolen and a fine author/poet in her own right, with the requirement that I share each one on my Facebook wall.

Now, I didn’t have to write four new poems, I just had to share four poems – so I simply could have posted some of my favourites of other writers. But that would have been too easy! Instead, I borrowed Heidi’s plan to write four poems about spring on her farm and decided to write four poems about springtime in the woods. The first one I wrote I shared on my wall yesterday (Thursday) morning; the one I’m sharing today is the second of four. Hope you like it:

New Hampshire, Spring

Drone bees search a queen;
tom turkey struts the treeline
white-tailed buck defends
while sparrow sings a ballad.
All woodland, looking for love.

– © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2015

What will I write tomorrow? No idea! But feel free to connect with me on Facebook (or Twitter, Pinterest, or anywhere else you may find me) and we can keep up with each other!

As you probably know from the title of this post, I’m hosting Poetry Friday today – so please leave your links in the comments and I’ll update the post throughout the day. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone is up to!


Laura Shovan shares an excerpt from a new medical poetry anthology (yes, you heard right!) at Author Amok.

Robyn Hood Black provides a recap of a meeting of the Haiku Society of America and a short review of a book of author Jack Kerouac’s haikus at Life on the Deckle Edge. (Kerouac wrote haiku? Who knew??)

Fellow Granite Stater Diane Mayr recaps her time spent – and a poem written! – at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival at Random Noodling; meanwhile, over at Kurious Kitty, a touching Mary Oliver poem pays tribute to one of Diane’s co-workers.

Laura Purdie Salas find inspiration for her “poetryaction” series of poems from Jamie Swenson’s book, If You Were a Dog, at Writing the World for Kids.

What does Pompeii know? Linda Baie shares a poem about that exact question! It was written by a 5th-grade student, and you can see it at Teacher Dance.

Tara at A Teaching Life shares a poem by Gregory Djanikian that seems to speak to all those affected by the end of the school year – the students that are leaving, as well as the teachers that are saying goodbye.

Over at A Year of Reading, Mary Lee Hahn also says goodbye to another school year with her original poem.

In the “Haiku Garden” of Today’s Little Ditty, Michelle H. Barnes features a haiku by award-winning writer Loree Griffin Burns.

I love to hear about young children writing – and Jone MacCulloch recently received a poem from a first-grader, which she shares at Check It Out.

Sally Murphy spent three days at a young writers’ festival and was poetically inspired!

Donna Smith is very proud of a 2nd-grader she’s been working with, who just wrote her very first poems! She shares them both, along with two original poems of hers, at Mainely Write.

Penny Parker Klosterman features another familial collaboration – this time, it’s Julie Rowan-Zoch and her son, Aaron with a funny springtime poem. (although it’s not really that funny for the main character!)

Have you ever “doodled while you listened?” That’s what Heidi Mordhorst is doing over at My Juicy Little Universe, as she shares a page from her writer’s notebook.

If you’re a fan of nursery rhymes, be sure to check out Irene Latham’s review of the new anthology, Over the Hills and Far Away, at Live Your Poem.

It’s Chalkabration time at Reflections on the Teche, where Margaret Gibson Simon shares some poems in chalk that her students wrote just as the school year was coming to a close.

Keri Collins Lewis accepted a poetry challenge from Nikki Grimes and shares her success at Keri Recommends.

This Sunday is Bob Dylan’s birthday, and Jama Kim Rattigan is celebrating with all things Bob…and a meatball recipe! (Yes, there IS a connection) Visit Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the details.

There’s still no water at the No Water River…but there IS Douglas Florian! Renee LaTulippe interviews the author/poet/artist/illustrator/all-around good guy about his brand-new book, How to Draw a Dragon.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater shares an original poem about writing at The Poem Farm – and is hoping you’ll share your notebooks!

What do Edwin Markham and Mark Knopfler have in common? Aside from the obvious “mark”s in their names, they have Tabatha Yeatts – who shares some words of wisdom from these two gentlemen at The Opposite of Indifference!

At There is No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town, Ruth is gearing up for her daughter’s last day of high school and shares a poem from the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

Catherine Johnson is celebrating Armadillo Day (ok, that’s a made-up thing, but they  SHOULD have its own day, shouldn’t they?) with poems by Eric Ode and Douglas Florian, and her original artwork.

Fats Suela shares two poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, one of the world’s most popular and influential poets (and a favorite of author/poet Kwame Alexander). Head on over to Gathering Books for the poems as well as background info on Nye and her writing.

At Dori Reads, Doraine Bennett reviews Susan Van Hecke’s Under the Freedom Tree and also shares a poem from it.

Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry is a new book out by Vern Klousky, and Lorie Ann Grover shares a snippet from the book at ReaderTotz.

Lorie Ann also shares an original haiku at her blog, On Point.

Holly Thompson interviews Margarita Engle in Sylvia Vardell’s latest Poet-to-Poet interview series…check it out at Poetry for Children.

You can also visit Holly’s blog, Hatbooks, to read more about her interview!

Little Willow shares a piece from Martha Brockenbrough’s novel, The Game of Love and Death, at her blog, Bildungsroman.

Last but certainly never least, Joy Acey is in the middle of the same “4 poems in 4 days” Facebook challenge that I’m a part of, and she already has two poems up on her blog, Poetry for Kids Joy.

THIS JUST IN! Carol Varsalona is discussing inspiration, process, and notebooks at Beyond Literacy, as she takes part in Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Sharing Our Notebooks” project.

ALSO JUST IN! At Pleasures from the Page, Ramona is enjoying several poetry books by Barbara Esbensen and shares one of Esbensen’s poems – just in time for the end of the school year.


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Crayons, scallops, and truth: What I learned at ‪#‎NESCBWI15

NESCBWI15 logoAnother NE-SCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) Conference is in the history books, and as always, it was an exciting, fun, information-packed smorgasbord of opportunity!

One of the biggest benefits of the conference is the networking – agents, editors, and fellow writers all converge on this one location and get to meet, chat, and dine with each other, which is worth the price of admission in and of itself. The varied workshops and high-profile speakers are also huge draws, of course. And this year, I had an additional reason to attend: The Marguerite W. Davol Picture Book Critique Scholarship for pre-published authors!

As I explained in a previous post, I was awarded this honor based on a manuscript I submitted last year, and the judges felt it was strong enough to deserve some special recognition, which was very humbling. I’m so proud of that manuscript!

So as you can see, I had plenty of reasons to want to attend; by its very nature, the conference is immensely educational, but I wanted to share a few choice tidbits of wisdom gleaned from the experience. This list is by no means exhaustive, and even what you read here is a fraction of a fraction of what transpired:

 Working on your craft is the only way to succeed. Beekle
And don’t do it for any other reason than because you’re passionate about it! 2015 Caldecott Award Winner Dan Santat was the Saturday morning Keynote Speaker, and his tremendous talent (and dry wit) kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The author/illustrator also revealed a revelation he had a few years ago, while watching the TV Show, “Mad Men:” one does not need to like a character to like a story; one simply needs to understand the character(s).

2) I have a good voice for middle grade. One editor in attendance mentioned this to me following a quick story synopsis I scribbled down during a workshop session. I’ve written poetry, poetry collections, short stories, and picture books…but never anything long enough to require more than one chapter! I’m going to need to think about that.

3) Scallops are expensive. Well, I kind of knew that already anyway, but that fact became abundantly clear to me Friday night, when a small group of us left the conference center and dined at a nearby Mediterranean restaurant. I order a $13 scallop appetizer and received…two scallops. Two. As in, one…and then just one more. Admittedly, they were quite good – but I’m not sure they were 13-dollars-good.

4) Be True. This was actually the title of author Jo Knowles’ Saturday evening Keynote Speech, and a very moving, inspirational speech it was. Jo related her own story of a young, shy girl who wanted to be a writer, lessons coverwho credited the SCBWI as well as (and even more so) one special teacher with helping her achieve success.

Regarding her first YA novel, Lessons from a Dead Girl, she learned that the book just wasn’t ready until it was true. Until her characters, the story line, everything felt true…the manuscript went nowhere. So one of the most important questions a writer should ask themselves is, “Is it true yet?”

5) Understanding Common Core Standards for English Language Arts is not as hard as it seems. My thanks to fellow NE-SCBWI member Michelle Cusolito for an informative workshop geared towards helping authors doing school visits. Learn more by joining her Facebook group!

6) If you don’t take the crayons out of the box…nothing happens. Australian children’s writer, animal expert, musician, and 2010 SCBWI Member of the Year Christopher Cheng was the Sunday morning Keynote Speaker, and shared this nugget. He’s right – if you want to create something, you have to take action!

That doesn’t just mean one needs to write; it means one needs to be aware. In his view, “everything has a purpose” and it is up to the writer to determine what that purpose is and the extent of its usefulness. He didn’t explicitly state that this mentality translates to the concept of “mindfulness”…but as a writer myself, I’d say it certainly does!

Poetry Panel, from left: Heidi EY Stemple. Leslie Bulion, Richard Michelson, Jane Yolen

7) Book marketing just took a new, creative turn for the better. While chatting with author and fellow New Englander Julie True Kingsley, she told me about a new start-up venture she is involved in: If you are an author and want to bring your book into the digital age via interactive games and video, I encourage you to check it out! A reader scans your book cover into their smartphone or tablet, and can immediately start interacting. Very cool stuff.

8a) Reluctant readers aren’t really “reluctant” – they just haven’t been given books that interest them yet. CrossoverThis is something else that didn’t come as a surprise, really, but it was something important of which to take note. Boys and girls share many interests, and it’s important to not try to pigeonhole boys with our preconceptions of what they will like.

During Newbery Award-winning author Kwame Alexander‘s writing workshop – as well as his Saturday lunchtime speech – he reminded those in attendance to take advantage of opportunities that come your way. “Say YES!” was his takeaway message, and his words on authenticity echoed Chris Cheng’s and Jo Knowles’.

8b) What a difference a year makes! Those were the words uttered by poet and artist Richard Michelson while we were chatting during a book signing. Richard and I were admiring the long line that led to Kwame’s table, and Richard remarked that he had been with Kwame at a signing last year and no one knew who he was…but now thanks to The Crossover, he was the hit of the weekend!

Heidi & Me - spread-mates

Heidi EY Stemple and I, with her poem on the left and mine on the right!

9) If you’re going to a conference that fellow writers will also be attending, bring books with you! I couldn’t believe I left copies of Lullaby & Kisses Sweet, The Crossover, and others at home! After I had arrived, my absent-mindedness dawned on me. Heidi Stemple, with whom I share a spread in Lullaby, knows this.

After a poetry panel discussion with her, Jane Yolen (her mom), Leslie Bulion, and Richard Michelson, we chatted and I signed her copy. I’ll probably have to wait until next year’s conference to see her again and have her sign mine!

10) Monsters are a euphemism for disability. I had never considered this before, but author Tim Weed made an excellent point during his workshop on image systems in middle grade an YA fiction. The creature with the hunch, the creature with the strange face, the creature who can’t speak…all find their origins from the same place.

11) Networking is as important as attending the workshops.

Me, Deb, Janet, Craig (NESCBWI)

From left: Craig Munson, Janet Costa Bates, Yours Truly, and Deb Blake Dempsey

This is not something I learned – it’s something I preach! If you have ever considered attending an SCBWI conference, I highly encourage you to do so. I wouldn’t be at this stage of my career had it not been for networking, saying hi, chatting with people, striking up conversations, listening to what fellow attendees are talking about. Yes, I’ve learned a lot from the workshops – but it was one simple, short, casual conversation that started me on the way towards publication.

Will I see you there next year? The dates are already set for 2016: April 29 – May 1. If there’s another SCBWI conference closer to you, by all means, register! And for more info on where to find local SCBWI chapters or critique groups, log on to Hope to see you at one someday!

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

National Poetry Month: Interview with Margarita Engle

National-Poetry-Month-Logo (2015)

I’m very excited to share another interview today – not just because it’s National Poetry Month, but because it’s with a woman whose writing I truly admire: Margarita Engle.

MargaritaA Cuban-American living in central California, Margarita was the winner of the very first Newbery Honor awarded to a Latino. Her award-winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and The Lightning Dreamer, winner of the prestigious PEN USA Award.

I first came to learn of Margarita’s work about 5 years ago, when I stumbled upon her historical novel-in-verse, Hurricane Dancers, about the first Caribbean pirate shipwreck. It was the first novel-in-verse I ever read, and I was captivated by the way she used poems from the perspective of each character to move the story.

I’m honored to have Margarita join me today:

First of all, thank you for taking the time for this interview, Margarita – you’re so busy, I can’t imagine how you find any time to write! Three books published in just the past 2 months with more on the way is rather prolific! Seriously, how do you find the time??

Thank you for the invitation to explain that when three picture books are released within a few weeks of each other, it doesn’t mean they were written at the same time. Actually, they were started years apart, but some took longer to be accepted, edited, and illustrated. Release dates for Orangutanka, Drum Dream Girl, and The Sky Painter just happened to coincide, after following widely divergent publishing pathways! As far as finding the time to write, I try to stick to a calm, quiet routine of scribbling a few pages each day.

Well, certainly, publishing is an up-and-down, stop-and-go kind of industry – a book you write today might get picked up and released next year, while one you wrote 5 years ago may still in production! But finding the time to write is only part of the battle…how do you find your topics? Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you know if a potential story idea has what it takes to be publishable?

My historical verse novel topics generally emerge from a combination of reading, travel and daydreaming. Picture books are a bit different. They usually don’t require years of research. Orangutanka, for instance, was already writing itself in my mind even while I was standing in the rain forest, watching wild orangutans at a refuge in Borneo. Drum Dream Girl just danced right into my head after I read about Millo (Castro Zaldarriaga, see below) in a book by her sister.

The Sky Painter was more like a verse novel. I’m a botanist, agronomist, and birdwatcher, so I love writing about great Latino naturalists who have been forgotten by history. However, this one required a lot of research, and was difficult to find a publisher willing to accept a book about someone who was not already “famous enough.”

The problem with the industry’s general prejudice against biographies of people who aren’t famous is that women and minorities were left out of history books. If their accomplishments are ever going to be recognized, we have to start telling their stories now.

OrangutankaDD GirlSky Painter

The follow-up question then has to be, how do you decide what form the story should take – picture book, verse novel, picture book-in-verse, etc.?

Thankfully, that is rarely a struggle. It’s actually one of the truly satisfying stages in the process. I love to experiment, try it this way, try it that way, and ultimately allow the characters to decide. Their voices and the events in their lives offer a certain rhythm. When it feels natural, I proceed.

I need to ask a question that I think only fellow writers will truly understand: do you feel that winning the Newbery helped you gain more confidence in your writing…or did it have the opposite effect, by making you feel the pressure to maintain that level of writing? (If it was me, I think I’d be so nervous about writing my next book I’d never get it done!)

It’s a mixture.  I alternate between days of confidence and months of timidity. The truth is I write best when I’m convinced that my work is unpublishable, and no one will ever read or judge it.  That gives me complete freedom to experiment!

Good point. Nothing is more freeing than knowing you have nothing to lose.

We write well when we don’t worry about being judged. My creative writing professor, Tomás Rivera, told me to write in the moment, for myself, rather than thinking ahead toward publication, something that comes much later, if at all.

Speaking of publication, you’ve become well-known for your verse novels – Hurricane Dancers was the first of that genre I’d ever read, and I was blow away! – but you also apply that format to some of your picture books. Hurricane dancersHow do you go about finding those nuggets of gold you need to craft the individual poems, in order to tell the larger story?

Thank you! Hurricane Dancers is my most complex verse novel. For a simple picture book made of linked poems, I’m generally writing a biographical story. Each poem is a different stage in the character’s life. I don’t know any other way to carry him/her gracefully through time, without adding a lot of clunky facts and figures that I’d rather omit.

Orangutanka is a bit more lighthearted than some of your other books. What was your process for deciding its tone and structure?

I actually love lighthearted picture books, but most of them never find publishers. I have drawers filled with collections of poems on cheerful themes, but in the U.S., there seems to be an expectation that all my work has to be serious. (Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish is doing very well in Japan – maybe I should move!)

Orangutanka came out in the form of tanka because it’s the form I often use as a travel diary. Visiting a wildlife refuge in Borneo was so profoundly moving, I needed a sensitive form, but also playful, like young orangutans.

Your other new book that just came out is Drum Dream Girl, a biographical picture book about a real-life Chinese-African-Cuban girl, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who wanted to be a drummer at a time when that sot of thing was frowned upon. How is writing this type of book different from writing a verse novel? (Some people would say shorter means it’s easier – but anyone who writes for a living will tell you shorter is often much harder!)

Drum Dream Girl is more of an “inspired by” story than a true biography. I didn’t want to load it with facts and figures. I just wanted to evoke the spirit of Millo’s courage, as a ten-year-old girl defying Cuba’s taboo against female drummers. I wanted to avoid discussing the taboo itself in any detail, because it’s part of an extremely complex West African religious tradition that would be confusing for young children.

Many of my picture book manuscripts are extremely short, but sometimes an editor asks me to add detail, and then they have to grow. Fortunately, this one stayed in its original form, leaving plenty of room for Rafael López’ spectacular artwork!

Surrender TreeSilver peopleLightning DreamerPoet Slave

What would you say is the most important consideration a writer needs to make when crafting a verse novel, as opposed to another genre?

The heart is the most important consideration. The heart of the story, the heart of each poem, the heart of each character. I love the verse novel format because like a haiku, it has room for universal emotions, without all the clutter of too many facts and figures. However, I do need to research my subject thoroughly. I need to know those facts and figures, and then I need to choose which ones are truly important to me. The rest can be left out completely, or distilled into a brief prose historical note at the end.

Please tell us about your upcoming new book, The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. What drew you to this particular person?

I love writing about great Latinos who have been forgotten by history, and I love writing about people who are independent thinkers, willing to try something new. Fuertes pioneered the painting of living birds in flight, instead of killing them like Audubon. I think that’s a creative approach that will inspire children! Just because someone is taught to do something destructive, that doesn’t mean he/she can’t figure out a better way to accomplish the same goal.

Ornithologists consider Fuertes to be the best bird artist who ever lived, and he was also a great conservationist at a time when women still wore whole birds on their heads – hats were not just ornamented with feathers, entire specimens of rare and endangered species could be spotted on hats in fashion shows! He talked to women’s clubs, asking them to use ribbons or other decorations, instead of dead birds. It sounds absurd now, but that was the reality of the time. It makes me ask myself: what are we doing now that will seem horrifying in a few decades? How can we change?

Finally, I’d love to know more about your upcoming childhood memoir in verse, Enchanted Air. How different was writing an autobiography from writing the biography of someone else, and how does a writer find the objectivity needed to determine what works and what doesn’t?

Enchanted AirEnchanted Air is subtitled Two Cultures, Two Wings. It’s the story of my childhood summers in Cuba, where I bonded with my mother’s extended family, and fell in love with tropical nature.

It’s also the story of the Cold War, and the loss of travel rights. I know the Missile Crisis affected every child of my generation, but it affected Cuban-Americans in a unique way. Writing this book was excruciatingly painful. I won’t be able to read certain parts out loud without crying. I don’t claim to be objective about something so personal and emotional.

By the way, are there any subjects or even genres you haven’t tackled yet, that you would like to?

That’s a long list! My one great unfulfilled wish is a bilingual picture book. I keep writing them, but none are ever accepted. I also wrote a magic realistic middle grade book that has not found a publisher, but I enjoyed experimenting with fantasy. I’m also enjoying experimenting with a historical verse novel set in my home state of California. I would love to try a collection of natural history poems. I haven’t yet tackled the subject of contemporary Cuba.

Well, thank you so much, Margarita! I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

For more info on any of Margarita’s books, check out her website HERE or simply click any of the book covers above!


Poetry Cubed logoBy the way, you have one week left to send me your “Poetry…Cubed!” entries for a chance to win one of two books! Last week I shared a new poetry challenge…and I’m looking forward to seeing what you can come up with! It’s my take on the Food Network show, “Chopped!” – but instead of using surprise ingredients from a basket to create a meal, you need to use three photo prompts to create ONE fantastic poem!

(Don’t worry, you won’t be graded…winners will be chosen at random. Get all the details HERE!)


By the way, Irene Latham’s annual Progressive Poem is…well, progressing – very nicely! A different writer adds a line each day, and today Tara at A Teaching Life adds her touch to the adventure. On April 30, we’ll see where it ends when Yours Truly caps it off with the final line.

You can follow the 2015 Progressive Poem at the following blog spots:

2015ProgressivePoem1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: my contribution!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThe last couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing some poems I wrote that didn’t make it into the newly-released Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books). Today, I’m sharing the poem that DID make it in!

The latest in the Poetry Friday Anthology series just came out on March 14 (Super Pi Day!) and I’m so happy to be a part of it. PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030Published in two versions (a student edition with illustrations and a teacher’s edition with additional information on poetry and lesson planning), the book is comprised of 156 poems in English with a Spanish translation for each poem.

That’s a lot of poetry in one book!

Mine was written in honor of National Cereal Day, which was March 7. Here are both versions of the poem:

Picky Eater

I love my Fruit Loops,
love my Trix,
love Cheerios
and even Kix.
I really like
my Apple Jacks –
but please don’t give me
Sugar Smacks,
or stars or squares or flakes                    
you’ve found –
I only eat, you see,
what’s round.


Exigente Para Comer

Me encantan mis Fruit Loops,
Me encantan mis Trix,
Me encantan los Cheerios
y hasta los Kix.
Y también me gustan
mis Apple Jacks –
pero, por favor
no me des Sugar Smacks,
ni estrellitas, ni cuadritos                    
ni copitos encontrados –
solo como
lo redondo.

– © Pomelo Books, 2015, all rights reserved (Note: cereal brand names are trademarks owned by their companies)

mmpoetry2015-logo-mainBe sure to “check out” the complete Poetry Friday roundup at Ms. Mac’s place, Check It Out! Also, please “check out” the #MMPoetry 2015 tournament that is coming down to the wire at Ed DeCaria’s Think, Kid, Think – only FOUR authletes remain, and Yours Truly is not feeling very happy about having to vote for two of his four friends and not for the other two!

Now, if you don’t mind, there are still a couple of puddles outside that need jumping-into…have a great weekend!
Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Coming to terms with self-doubt (but wait – have I REALLY come to terms with self-doubt?)

Being a creative type, while liberating, has its pitfalls. One of those is self-doubt – and I’ve got it bad.

At least, I think I do.

The problem is, when you’re your own boss, you make the rules. In a normal type of self-employment, that’s to be expected. In my voiceover business, for example, I audition for gigs, I record scripts, I produce commercials, I correspond with clients, and I’m done. Granted, there’s a bit of creativity in there, but usually I’m voicing scripts the way the client wants, not the way I want. That’s fine.

But when it comes to writing…we’re talking a whole different situation.

Being objective in a subjective career

"What if?"Writing requires you to come up with an idea, debate the merits and pitfalls of said idea, write a story, essay, poem, song, etc. utilizing that idea, and then revise what has been written so many times that you begin to wonder if any of it was ever a very good idea to begin with.

Neuroses, anyone?

Seriously, I’ve always been my own worst critic and do a pretty decent job of self-directed revisions, but now that I’m on the verge of possibly making a career out of children’s writing, I’m writing much more than I ever did; consequently, I’m much more critical of my writing than I ever have been.

It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong…but being new to this, I’m still trying to get a feel for where and when I can stop.

“The self-doubt runs strong in this one…”

I write a poem and feel pretty good about it. I go back to it a day later and change a line. Later that same day I change a word.

The next day, I change another word and delete two.

Two days after that, I make another tweak.

By the end of the week, I’m wondering if it’s really done at all, or if I’m just being ridiculously picky and need to send it out. Then I change a word. A year later, all bets are off as to how many changes the poor thing will have to endure.

And that’s just one poem. When it comes to picture books…

The bigger the project, the more uncertainty

ID-100181950 (glasses-book)“Is that the best title?”

“Is the concept original?”

“Is it too wordy?”

“Did I already use that word?”

“Should I use a different word?”

“What’s another word I could use?”

“Is this even sellable?” 

And it goes on. You can probably see why writers are a bit of a different breed.

Coming to terms

I remember asking the illustrious Tomie dePaola about self-doubt a few years ago. I told him that most of the time, I write a poem or story that I like, that gets edited and revised to the point where I’m pretty happy with it. But every so often, I’ll write something that truly amazes me, that surprises me, that makes me question how I even managed to write such a thing.

“This is incredible,” I’d think to myself. “I don’t know how I did it…but this is really, really good. It’s so good, I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to write anything as good as this! This thing right here is probably the last really good thing I’ll ever write…oh, no!” 

Then I’d come up with something new within a week or two.

So I asked Tomie if he ever felt this way, if he ever had strong self-doubt…and if so, what he did about it. His response?

“First of all, you need to have a drink!” he said.

He agreed, though, that we all tend to view our creations like concerned parents – a “what-if-our-baby-isn’t-ready-for-the-world” sort of mentality – and that it’s natural. But once you’ve been doing it for as long as Tomie has, you become a little more comfortable with your decisions.

It’s all about experience – as is the case in any industry – and having only been in this industry five years or so, I’m still learning. I suppose that once I have (or rather, IF I have) a half-dozen books under my belt, the self-doubt will fade and I’ll start to feel a little more confident in my ability to know what’s going to work and what’s not.

At least, I hope that’s true.

I think I need a drink.

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: We missed National Cereal Day!

Poetry_Friday logoIt’s been so crazy around here lately – between book releases, manuscript revisions, and the #MMPoetry March Madness competition – that I completely spaced on this most awesome of holidays!

The reason I’m celebrating is because I have a poem included in the newest Poetry Friday Anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, which is due out in just a few weeks, and the poem is about National Cereal Day – which was last Saturday, March 7.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030I have to admit…as much as I try to be healthy, I’m still a kid at heart, so my favourite cereals are the ones I’m not supposed to eat. Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, and any Monster cereal that I come across are destined for my pantry. And when someone decided to make Lucky Charms with CHOCOLATE and someone else put MARSHMALLOWS in Fruit Loops…well, let me just say I wanted to shake their hands.

But what ever happened to my old favourites? Those great, long-lost bits of corn meal and sugar that are woven into my memory and are a part of the fabric that IS Matt Forrest Esenwine?? (And I’m not using hyperbole – with all those preservatives, they really ARE part of the fabric of my body at this point)

DonutzI’m talking about KaBoom; Quisp; Moonstones; Grins and Smiles and Giggles and Laughs; Q-bert (yes, the video-game hero had his own cereal!); Oreo-O’s; and the venerable Donutz!! Can I get a holla?!?

OK, well, before I go too far with the reminiscing, I’d like to share the poem I wrote that DIDN’T make it into the PFA for Celebrations. After all, once the book comes out, you’ll see which one did make it…so this is like the free toy surprise inside the box! Hope you like it:

Cereal Legend

Little Horatio Magellan Crunch
never knew what was going to happen…
one day, he would sail the seas
and all the world would call him, “Cap’n.”

– © Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2014

And yes, that’s Cap’n Crunch’s real name! I don’t make stuff up, you know. I felt I should contribute something connected to my home state (the cereal was developed by a New Hampshire resident), but alas, it didn’t make the cut. And to be honest, I never even really liked Cap’n Crunch when I was young. Even as an 8- or 9-year-old, I knew there was something just plain wrong with the texture.


I used to LOVE these…oh, Hoots, wither hast though gonest?

So what were YOUR favourite cereals as a kid? Pebbles? Super Sugar Smacks? Honeycomb? (remember Strawberry Honeycomb?) How about those lost classics like King Vitamin, with the creepy-looking dude on the box…or Baron Von RedBerry – a Monster-cereal knockoff that I still wish they’d bring back? I’d love to hear your comments, below.

For today’s complete Poetry Friday round-up, please visit Laura Shovan at Author Amok, and please be sure to check out the Madness that is the #MMPoetry competition over at Ed DeCaria’s place, Think Kid, Think! mmpoetry2015-logo-mainI lost in the first round, but it’s still a lot of fun and the competition continues throughout the month.

Be watching for the PFA for Celebrations, and I’ll be sharing more poems that didn’t make it in in the next couple weeks!

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Priorities, priorities…

The other day I was looking over my blog stats when I noticed something that surprised me. It had nothing to do with demographics or popular posts or click-through rates. It had to do with content.

DSCF2068 (Mic - Katie)I discovered that it has been quite awhile since I posted anything relating to voiceovers, audio production, or advertising – which, if you notice the little tagline below my blog’s name, is supposedly one-third of what this blog is supposed to be about.

How long has it been? Not since last OCTOBER.

What gives??

Aren’t I supposed to be sharing news, thoughts, tips, insights, and anecdotes about my three areas of interest? Well, yes – but lately I’ve only been able to really focus on two of those areas: the most productive areas, actually.

Understanding priorities

I have said it before in this blog and I’ll say it again…my family is always my priority. Now, some days, getting a piece of production done on time takes precedence over anything else I may need to do – but I’m not shirking my responsibilities towards my priority. Making money and paying my bills is a necessity to taking care of my family.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

But balancing family with a voiceover career AND a writing career can be tricky – particularly when both careers are growing. In the past year or two I’ve been able to develop my voiceover business – recording my first audio book and connecting with a new ad agency. I have a small stable of regular clients, plus I have just learned I’ll be working on a special radio broadcasting project, the details of which I cannot divulge yet.

Lullabye coverIf things in the voiceover world have been going well for me, my children’s writing world has been going gangbusters! I have poems in two brand-new anthologies, Lullaby and Kisses Sweet (Abrams/Appleseed) and Dear Tomato coverDear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems.
I’ll also have poems in the Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo) due in April and The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books), due this fall.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030AND I’ll have a poem in an upcoming issue of Highlights magazine!

There’s more going on behind the scenes, as well – I hope to share some news soon – but suffice it to say that my decision to jump into a children’s writing career five years ago is starting to bear some fruit.

So what’s a guy to do?

I find myself asking that question regularly. I have voiceover gigs to do, poems and picture book manuscripts to write, and as a stay-at-home dad, a family to take care of (and a load of laundry I need to get done). There is only so much time in the day – so what gets pushed to the back burner?

The blog.

I hate saying that, because this blog has been invaluable to me for networking purposes, audience-building, and as a source of (hopefully) useful information. I hate to say my blog is a low priority, but compared to the nuts and bolts of life, it is!

Earlier today, I completed another picture book manuscript. I also wrote a poem for this year’s #MMPoetry March Madness Poetry Competition, spent the morning running errands, took a walk with the kids, made homemade vegan chili (which is so good, it fools my fellow meat-eaters), and put the 18-month-old to bed. I’m writing a blog post right now, and as soon as I’m done I’ll be emailing one of my audio production clients about scheduling studio time, then reviewing the picture book manuscript to make revisions.

I’m kinda busy.

The fine line

There is one: the line between prioritizing and just letting things slide. I’ve been trying to be careful not to let the quality of my posts suffer (I suppose you’ll have to be the judge of that!), even if I have been posting fewer of them than I did last year.

I recognize that I cannot always do everything I want to do…but I do try to accomplish everything I need to. My family comes first, of course – but my writing has surpassed voicework for second place. It feels strange to say that; however, good things are happening right now in my writing career and I cannot slow down.

I don’t dare!


The madness is back! Click the logo to learn more about this fun, exciting, and interactive competition. (School classrooms can still sign up!)

If I put the brakes on my writing career just so that I can maintain my voiceover career, how will I know what might come of my writing? Likewise, if I completely dismiss my voiceover career, I’ll be giving up something I enjoy, that I’m good at, and that pays the bills.

I left radio in 2012 to build both careers, and I’m in the position of having to figure out how to grow them simultaneously. Right now, one is growing faster than the other, and it’s up to me to strike that balance we were talking about.

Hopefully I’m setting the right priorities!

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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