Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Please welcome picture book author, Irene Breznak

Irene and I first met at a book signing last May at the wonderful independent bookstore "Anthology Books" in center city Scranton, PA. Irene read her book, Sneezy Louise to an enthralled group of youngsters who all took part in achoo-ing in the appropriate places (I confess I did my share of fake sneezing along with the kids). Afterward, the children all got to enjoy making their own special Sneezy Louise craft. Irene has a wonderful touch with kids, words, and story. I'm so pleased to introduce my friend, Irene, to all of you. Her background story, her picture book, and the interview that follow will inspire you.

Irene is donating an autographed copy of her picture book, Sneezy Louise, to a lucky reader who leaves a comment about the interview or the book or just drops in to say, "Hello!" The drawing will be held on Tuesday, February 2nd.

More about Irene. . .

Irene Breznak began writing stories as soon as she could print, however, she made them up long before that. “I spun tales from the moment I could speak”, Irene shares. “From my parents’ perspective, they classified more as ‘fibs’, especially when they included my five siblings and what they did to me. From MY perspective, I was an author in the making”.

Her paternal grandfather, Peter Breznak, had a huge influence in her life with his sense of humor and knack for storytelling. “We would snuggle in his weathered, green armchair for hours while he told me stories of growing up in Czechoslovakia. In that same armchair, we would share giggles, promises and an occasional scheme for a practical joke.”

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Irene is the third of six children. Her father, a first generation born American of Czechoslovakian descent, and her mother, an immigrant from Greece, provided her with a culturally rich and diverse childhood that led to her love of other cultures. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and a Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Development from Montclair State University.

Irene lives in Clarks Summit, PA with her two teenage sons, Zach and Connor, their huge appetites, and a host of furry companions. She also shares her life with Tom, a source of unconditional love and support.

Read more about Irene by visiting her web-site:

Irene's is a first time author and her Sneezy Louise picture book is perfect for the cold and flu season and a wonderful read aloud with a welcome message about manners for preschoolers- 2nd Grade. Tissue anyone?

Poor Louise wakes up with itchy eyes and a wheezy throat: "She knew, she just knew, that this wasn't going to be an easy day. . ."

". . .When her mother serves her the anticipated and dreaded oatmeal with raisins, the girl can't hold in the sneeze any longer and "Splat!" goes her breakfast. Her mother's response: "Geez, Louise! COVER YOUR MOUTH, PLEASE!" . . . Flying papers, ballerinas in a heap, and peas bouncing across the dinner table are the results of Louise's forgetfulness. . . Double- and single-page watercolor illustrations add humor to Louise's tale, while changes in text size add emphasis to the sneezes and their effects. This story of an important childhood lesson is well suited for sharing with a group or one-on-one."—Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI (School Library Journal)

You don't want to miss the fun of sharing this story with youngsters and getting them in on the action along with Sneezy Louise!

Now, what you writers have all been waiting for--Words of wisdom from the pen of Irene Bresnak

Q. What were some of your favorite books as a child?

I was a true Dr. Seuss fan. I loved the silliness of the illustrations, the story lines and the “invented” vocabulary. My parents and siblings were endlessly subjected to replies such as “I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere” (Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss).

The Cat in the Hat was another favorite of mine. I could read it a hundred times and still get anxious over the illustration of mother’s leg striding up the walk knowing that the house was a mess and The Cat was still there. In retrospect, that is how I experienced most books as a child and still do today. The journey I take when reading is so emotional and consuming to me, I live and re-live every moment regardless of how many times I have read the text.

As I got older, although silliness was never quite replaced, my palette added the colors of more sentimental books such as Heidi by Joanna Spyri and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. As a teen, I became a closet classics reader, pretending on the outside to enjoy LOVE STORY and THE EXORCIST while secretly falling asleep to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Today my taste in literature is eclectic. I have a soft spot for fiction that will invite me into cultures unlike my own such as The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver), or A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini); however, I will read anything including an outdated magazine in the doctor’s office.

Q. When did you first decide to become a writer? What was the catalyst/influences?

I have always enjoyed writing. It was a pastime for me as a child. I had a vivid imagination and an emotional memory, so writing came naturally to me. I also loved rhyme, thanks to Dr. Seuss, and was constantly writing poetry. It was early in life, I was approximately 8 or 9 years old, when I realized that writing may be “my thing”. I was in 4th grade and we were given the task to write a mother’s day piece. When I came into school the next day, my essay was posted on the bulletin board for others to read. I was an average student so this acknowledgement was huge to me. In the years to follow, I remained an average student in every subject except Language Arts. So I guess you can say that it was in 4th grade when I decided to become a writer.

Q. How long did it take you to write Sneezy Louise? Do you start with character or plot?

It’s difficult to gauge how long it took to write Sneezy Louise. Writing, as most creative arts, is a process. I went through a ton of revisions and oftentimes put the manuscript aside resurrecting it when the mood hit me. And just when I thought it was complete, I would glance over it one more time, only to get the writer’s “OUCH” (that’s when a writer’s own text actually hurts to read). Then the process would start all over again. All in all, I would say that it took almost 2 years to complete.

Q. Do you start with character or plot?

It varies. Sometimes I get a character in my mind, that won’t leave me alone until I let him or her out onto paper. Sneezy Louise, however, started with a plot. It wasn’t clearly defined at the time but it was there in its infancy. The idea for this book came to me as I witnessed my young son going through a “not so easy day”. I realized the importance of reassuring children that bad days end and emotions, even negative ones, are a natural part of life. In Sneezy Louise, I attempted to convey this acceptance in a subtle but humorous way.

Q. Did you do a lot of drafts before submitting?

Like a resume, the book was forever changing. Louise’s age changed, the scenes changed, the supporting characters changed, the refrain changed and the ending changed. All that remained constant was the byline. There were numerous drafts and after a few rejection letters, there were more drafts and after a contract was signed, there were even more drafts.

Q. Can you share what it was like to go through a revision of the book and what it was like to work with an editor?

I actually enjoyed this part more than I anticipated. I didn’t think that I could handle criticism over something as personal as my writing, no matter how constructive. This anxiety most likely stemmed from my brother reading my diary out loud to the neighborhood (insert smiley face here). On the contrary, the revision process was insightful and matured me as a writer. It was creatively stimulating to hear my story though another’s perspective. As a writer, you are so close to your work that you oftentimes don’t see where obvious changes need to occur. For example, I struggled with the ending and a simple suggestion from my editor put the book exactly where I wanted it to be.

I will admit that I was disappointed over some of the text that was cut out during the revisions but the deletions were necessary. I am a writer and writer’s write. I could go on with narrative text forever but a picture book is a picture book and word count is key. A picture book writer needs to rely on his or her illustrator to aid in the storytelling process. This was a lesson that I had to learn.

Q. Are you in a writers' group?

Writing has always been personal to me so up until recently, I underestimated the value of a writers’ group. Luckily through my involvement in SCBWI, I was taught that value. Writers’ groups provide insight, support, and the artistic energy one often needs to jumpstart the creative battery when writer’s block or laziness hits.

Now that I have said all that, I, along with other fellow writers am in the process of forming a few groups. The holidays have derailed us but we are determined to get on track.

Q. How long were you writing before you got your first book contract?

Since I can remember, I have always had something in the typewriter, word processor and now, laptop. I started submitting to major houses in 1996 but in retrospect, I was not ready. I have learned so much since then and the trends in writing and submitting are constantly changing. A writer needs to keep his or her finger on the pulse and up until four years ago; I did not take the importance of that into consideration. My first contract was awarded to me a little over three years ago.

Q. What are you working on now?

As always, the DOCUMENTS file on my laptop is loaded with “half started” or, better yet, “half finished”, manuscripts. I will always love Picture Books and I currently have three in the works but the Picture Book market is changing and has become extremely competitive. I am trying to dabble in other areas. I started an Early Reader Chapter book currently titled “Three” and have planted the seeds for a Young Adult Novel. The Young Adult arena is so enticing to me and rich with creative opportunity. That being said, I have never written a Children’s Book manuscript longer than 800 words so I have some exploring to do.

Q. Finally, can you leave the readers with one or some tips about the writing craft that made the difference for you?

Over the last few years, I have learned the following about the writing craft and the pursuit of publication:

1. Tap into your emotions and your sensory memory. You want to show your readers your story instead of simply telling them. Lin Oliver, founder of SCBWI, advises to write from your experiences relived, not recollected. This is key for any fictional piece. You want your reader to smell the aromas, hear the sounds and taste the words.

2. Claim yourself an author. If you write, then you are an author. You may not be published yet but you are still an author. The world of publishing does not get to dictate that title to you. As the quote from A Field of Dreams goes “if you build it, they will come”, believe in yourself and your profession and good things will come from it.

3. If published is what you want to be, don’t let the rejections defeat you. Sneeze Louise was rejected by numerous houses before Random House accepted it. Rejections don’t necessarily mean that your work is unworthy of publishing. It simply means that the publishing house has no place for it at the time that you sent it in.

4. If you think that you are a failure because you are not sitting in a lakeside cabin, typing page after page of creative prose while sipping herbal tea, you are wrong. Writing is not romantic although it is often portrayed to be. As rewarding as the finished piece may be, the process is painful. If it doesn’t hurt, you are not doing it right.

5. And last but not least, write. Write. Write. Write. Enjoy the process and don’t write strictly for the sake of getting published. It’s like dancing strictly for the sake of performing in Lincoln Center.

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful book and writing life with us, Irene! We'll be eagerly waiting for a new wonderful tale from you. Please keep us posted! And, dear readers, don't forget to leave a comment by February 2nd, Groundhog's Day! One of you will win a personally autographed copy of Sneezy Louise