Monday, February 22, 2010
Meet picture book author, Pam Calvert
Pam Calvert's Bio:
Growing up, Pam always loved books and reading. She'd read most of the classics by the age of ten as she participated in Great Books. This love came naturally as her mother, Carol Culp, a sci fi bibliophile, had an amazing collection of books that kept her satiated with Isaac Asimov, Zenna Henderson, Stephen King, and H. G. Wells. Not only was the love of books an undercurrent in her upbringing but the drive for success and an inherent quest for learning was always shown to her by her parents. Her father, Norman Culp, was an electronic engineer and a Mensa member. He was the inventor of the electronic phone bell--previously, all phones used to have real bells clanging inside them. One day in 1974, Pam remembers her father coming home with a black box that could electronically ring in all sorts of different sounds and ranges. He also helped develop anti-lock brakes, Poloroid cameras, and a microchip that displaces electricity across phone lines so that no longer would lightning strikes ever make phone lines go down again. This creativity of her father's was ever present to her growing up and the desire to make a difference--to be an influence in the world.
Because her family cared so much about science and scientific innovation, she shelved the idea of pursuing literary vocations and decided to become a molecular biologist--a scientist who could make a difference in medicine. She helped in the research of how to prevent cystic fibrosis. But she knew all of this lab work would distract her from becoming the mother she wanted to be and so, she decided to use her scientific talents as a science teacher. She taught physics and chemistry to high school kids. It wasn't until she started writing for running magazines in 1993 that she realized her true calling--that of a writer.
She began writing for children in 1998. She wrote for science magazines initially because of her scientific background and then moved on to fiction as she wrote for Highlights for Children and Guideposts for Kids. Because she grew up in a home that always cracked jokes, humor came easily to her. She used this influence to write picture books. All of her picture books are humorous as are most of her books and stories. Some of her books include Multiplying Menace: The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin, Clue School: Mystery at the Ballpark, and Princess Peepers.
Her newest title is coming this Fall. It's entitled, Multiplying Menace Divides! It's about Rumpelstiltskin taking over the kingdom again and he's got a sassy new accomplice--a diva witch! Together they want to divide and conquer. It's up to ten year old Peter to understand division concepts to outwit the two and save the kingdom. This book shows division at the fractional level. She has another book that will be out in 2011 entitled Princess Peepers Picks a Pet.
Pam now lives in California with her husband and four children.
Thanks, Pam, for sharing such interesting background information about your childhood, parents, and subsequent career in science as an adult. Since you were a great reader, did you also write stories when you were growing up?
PAM: Actually, I tried writing several awful stories and even wrote many comic strips (which I thought were funny). In fifth grade, I wrote a science fiction piece about Martian Mice invading the earth. Yeah, I know. The teacher thought it was dumb, too. I got a C.
Your idea about Martian Mice sounds cute to me. Can you remember the first encouraging comment you received about your writing?
PAM: Yes! I was so excited that I saved it in a file entitled, "acceptances and encouragements". Previously, I'd had articles accepted, but the editors just accepted and paid me. No compliments. The first encouragement happened in 1999 and was from an editor at an international travel e-zine. She said, "You write with vivid and flowing prose." Prose? Me? That sounded so literary.
How long were you seriously submitting stories and articles before you received your first acceptance?
PAM: When I first started writing articles for running magazines, my first submission was accepted (and I got paid) and that's how I knew I could write. For children's writing it took nine months. My first acceptance was by Nature's Friend magazine while I was taking a writing course at ICL (Institute of Children's Literature). For children's books, it took SIX years of submitting.
Thank you for sharing that you took a writing course with ICL. Many of my readers have either taken that course or have taught the course. What kept you going during the times when you were constantly getting rejections?
PAM: While I was waiting for that elusive book contract, magazine acceptances kept me going. But what really kept me going was prayer. I would get frustrated and tell God, "Hey, if you still want me to be doing this, I'm going to need more encouragement here or I'm going to give up!" And I meant it. Usually, in three days, I'd get an acceptance or some encouragement to keep me going. That's why I always tell new writers to submit to magazines first if the frustration of book publishing is overwhelming. A small acceptance can really boost you mentally and keep you writing.
Amen to that! Can you share any advice about what helped you succeed in the children's book field?
PAM: I read tons of books in the genres that I write. I read no less than 300 "Highlights for Children" stories when I wanted to write for that children's magazine. I read no less than 200 picture books before I sold one. I analyzed what elements I liked and what made those stories brilliant and tried to incorporate that into my books. I took classes to improve my writing. I studied humor, which helped me sell almost all of my books. Humor is something people don't often do or do well. In fact, I had one editor tell me in a rejection letter that I didn't do humor well. Ouch! I set out to prove him wrong. There wasn't anything wrong with his opinion--I didn't do it well at the time, but I found funny books and analyzed how they made people laugh. So, I believe writers should find their strengths and determine to be a master, always improving, and, eventually, they'll meet with success as long as they don't give up!
All great tips about mastering the craft, Pam! Can you tell us how you got the idea for Princess Peepers?
PAM: The idea came from a combination of things. A lady asked me if I could write a book about a princess with glasses or if I knew of a book like that because her little girl wouldn't wear glasses since princesses don't. I found that odd, so I did some research and found out that it was indeed true! Princesses don't wear glasses. Immediately, I set out to correct that situation and along the way, help the self esteem of little girls. I knew the hardships of being different--I wore glasses as a child and suffered a lot of teasing.
Kirkus Review of Princess Peepers
Calvert's tale of a bespectacled princess's rocky road to self-acceptance is rollicking good fun. Readers are bound to relish the interplay between what the text describes and the reality of the illustrations as Princess Peepers stumbles about sans specs. The ironic denouement is bound to please princess fans and their practical parents alike.
A sequel, Princess Peepers Picks a Pet will be out in 2011. Princess Peepers needs a pet for a pet show, but she doesn't have one like all the other princesses. Through her blind determination, she ultimately finds the perfect pet. The sketches so far are amazing for this book. SO CUTE! I know little girls are going to love it! Princesses and pets? They go together like hugs and kisses!
I know you do a number of school appearances, Pam. What do you most want students to get out of your visits?
PAM: I want them to be inspired to achieve their dreams. That's the theme of every school visit I do. I also show that math is very fun and interesting when presenting my math adventures.
Pam's web-site and her blog are both amazing--fun and writer friendly! Whether you are a writer or teacher or book lover, you'll definitely want to check them out. She posted a piece on her blog last week that all picture book writers will not want to miss. Pam is very generous with her knowledge of the writing craft.
Please check out Pam's blog:
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com Look for the February 13th post on writing picture books
In addition to learning more about Pam and her books, she has workshop pages for writers on her web-site: www.pamcalvert.com
And be sure to check out all of Pam's books at your favorite bookstore and ask for them at your local library!
In addition, Pam has generously donated a copy of Princess Peepers to one of the lucky readers who writes in and leaves a comment by Friday, February 26th!
Thank you, Pam, for sharing your time and writing journey with us! Now,I'm headed over to look at your fabulous web-site again!