Coffee and Conversation with Veronica Bartles, our new PAL coordinator!

Happy Friday, everyone! As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, today we have an interview with our new PAL (Published and Listed) coordinator, the lovely Veronica Bartles, as a way of welcoming her and for you to get to know her better!

Veronica_fun_frog2smVeronica Bartles is the author of the YA contemporary novel, TWELVE STEPS, and the upcoming picture book, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (15 November 2016 from Balzer & Bray / Harper Collins).

Veronica is a member of the OneFour KidLit group; she’s been a mentor in Pitch Wars (both for MG and YA) for the past three years, and she hosts the #PubTalkTV Twitter Party. She’s also an incurable optimist who loves gray, drizzly days, because that’s when rainbows come to visit.

12SFinalTWELVE STEPS: Sixteen-year-old Andi is tired of being a second-class sibling to perfect sister Laina. The only thing Andi’s sure she has going for her is her awesome hair. And even that is eclipsed by Laina’s perfect everything else.

When Andi’s crush asks her to fix him up with Laina, Andi decides enough is enough, and devises a twelve-step program to wrangle the spotlight away from Laina and get the guy.

Step 1: Admit she’s powerless to change her perfect sister, and accept that her life really, really sucks.

Step 4: Make a list of her good qualities. She MUST have more than just great hair, right?

Step 7: Demand attention for more than just the way she screws things up.
When a stolen kiss from her crush ends in disaster, Andi realizes that her twelve-step program isn’t working. Her prince isn’t as charming as she’d hoped, and the spotlight she’s been trying to steal isn’t the one she wants.

As Laina’s flawless façade begins to crumble, the sisters work together to find a spotlight big enough for both to shine.

Princess_FrogsTHE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS: Princess Cassandra desperately wants a pet frog. Unfortunately, she loves them so much that she can’t help kissing them goodnight. And everyone knows what happens to a frog when a princess kisses him!

Before long, poor Princess Cassandra has a castle full of princes, but princes aren’t pets!

(I got to read an arc copy of The Princess and the Frogs at the conference and it’s so super awesome!)

And now, on with the interview: Veronica, what was your favorite book as a child?

The Fire catI made my older sister read THE FIRE CAT by Esther Averill to me so many times that I had every single word memorized. Finally, she got tired of reading it to me and pointed out that I could match the words I had memorized in my head to the words on the page and “read” it to myself. She then spent the next few days/weeks pointing out that the words from this book meant the same thing when they appeared in other books as well. So I could read any book I wanted, just by using the words I already knew. When I came across a word I didn’t know, she pointed out that I could mash together the sounds I knew from the words in THE FIRE CAT to create the sounds of the new words. (Somehow, we kept this whole process a secret from my mom, who didn’t know I could read until I started kindergarten and my teacher made a big deal about it.)

To this day, my sister swears that she was just trying to get me to stop bugging her with my piles of books, but I think she’s a natural teacher, and I’m grateful she took the time to teach me how to love words!

Aw, that’s so sweet! Okay, what about as a teen?

HuckleberryI read absolutely everything I could get my hands on – from the classics to total fluff books, and I think I found something to love in just about every book I ever read. But the books that I read over and over again through my teen years (and still go back to frequently today) were HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by Lucy Maude Montgomery, and A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle.

And now, as an adult?

The Last Fifth GradeMy favorite book changes nearly every single day. The more I read, the less I’m capable of picking favorites. (I am really good at picking the right book to recommend for any friends who are looking for a new favorite.) For me, it all depends on my mood, and which books make me smile. I usually have trouble connecting with books written for grown-ups, and my daughter tells me that’s because I’ll never grow up. But I love just about any every children’s book I pick up. YA, MG, PBs … as long as I have happy endings and a character I can connect with, I’m usually good. Today, I’m swooning over THE NATURAL HISTORY OF US by Rachel Harris, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, NINJA RED RIDING HOOD by Corey Rosen Schwartz, and I HATE PICTURE BOOKS by Timothy Young.

Speaking of books, what is your favorite writing how-to book?

Confession time: I don’t actually read writing how-to books. I have several of them on my bookshelf and a whole slew of them on my kindle, but most of them have never even been opened, and those that have … I rarely make it through the first chapter. And I keep telling myself that I should read more how-to books, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit it’s probably never going to happen. (I think my natural “You can’t tell me what to do!” instinct is too strong.)

Instead, I read fiction as my how-to manuals. If I’m struggling with establishing the setting, for instance, I’ll pull out a stack of books that did it really well, and I’ll read with an analytical filter. “What did this author do? Why are her settings so vibrant?” Or if I can’t figure out how to make my unreliable narrator likeable, I’ll go back to the books where I fell in love with the scoundrels.

The Emotion ThesaursThe one writing book that I absolutely couldn’t do without is more of a reference manual than a how-to book: THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman. (There’s actually a whole series of these books, but the EMOTION THESAURUS is the one I personally pull out time and again.) This book should be in the library of every writer everywhere! I use it whenever I need to find some way for my characters to express themselves other than rolling their eyes and shrugging. 🙂

Where’s your favorite place to work?

I can’t be creative in the same spot two days in a row. I have several different spots in my house where I work: the couch, the dining room table, standing next to the kitchen counter … and as often as possible, I like to get out of the house completely. My most common outside-the-house writing spots are: the public library, coffee shops, Barnes & Noble, and sitting in my car in parking lots while waiting for my kids. But I’ve also taken my writing to the doctor’s office, the movie theater (you never know when an idea might hit during the previews!), and the grocery store (sometimes, those lines are LONG)! And I’m always on the lookout for comfortable places to sit outdoors and write whenever I can find a perfect-weather (not too hot or too cold and slightly overcast so the sun doesn’t hurt my eyes) kind of day.

I can travel with my writing fairly easily, because I write my first drafts by hand on spiral notebooks, with special story pencils that I bought clear back when I was in elementary school, specifically for writing my first published novel. (I wouldn’t even allow myself to sharpen them until I felt like I was experienced enough to take my writing seriously. And even though my first novel has already been published, I still feel like I’m not serious enough about a manuscript if I don’t pull out the designated story pencils to write it with.)

I remember seeing your story pens! Love that. Okay, when did you first decide to be a writer?

When I was in second grade, everyone in my class was required to enter the Young Author’s contest. I slapped together a haphazard story about two kids who found a magic castle and treasure and had an adventure all in the space of a page and a half. I was perfectly content to submit my half-hearted effort and collect my grade, but my mom took her red pen to my story. Several drafts later, the story actually made sense. And I won second place at the state level in my grade! I decided then that I was going to be a famous author some day. (I’m just waiting on the “famous” part.)

How has SCBWI helped you with your career?

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even *have* a writing career if I didn’t have SCBWI in my life. Way back in 2008, when I finally got the courage to sharpen my first story pencil, I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote a long, rambling manuscript with a character that I adored (but not even the tiniest inkling of a plot) and did some internet searches to figure out how to submit it to agents. I sent that manuscript out to ten agents (snail mail only, thank you very much – I avoided anyone who accepted email submissions, because I was sure that the “serious” agents would obviously prefer paper queries), and promptly got rejected by all of them. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, and my manuscript had never been read by anyone other than family and close friends (who all told me it would be a New York Times Bestseller, of course).

I discovered SCBWI in December of 2009 and registered for the New York conference in January 2010. … And this is where I finally met OTHER WRITERS! I learned about the importance of critique groups, how to properly research agents (so I could find one that was the right fit for me and not just *any* agent), how to write a query letter … But most importantly, I made friends with writers who are still my go-to support system when I have those moments when I want to give up.

If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now? 

I’d be a stay-at-home mom and a famous author. … So, pretty much what I’m doing now. (Depending upon how you define “famous.”)

I always like asking this question. You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it? (Key word: frivolous!)

Oh my! I can think of so many frivolous things I’d love to do … but most of them would cost much more than $100. Sky diving … Hot air balloon ride … (I guess I have expensive tastes!)

With a $100 budget, I think I would … Go to a matinee all by myself on a school day (so I could have the movie theater all to myself) and eat lots and lots of popcorn. (With $100 to spend, I could probably do this once a month for 4-5 months in a row!)

As our new PAL coordinator, what are your goals?

My #1 goal is to bridge the gap between brand-new writers and PAL members, so no one ever has to feel like “there isn’t anything here for me.” Because I truly believe that the biggest benefit to being a member of SCBWI isn’t in the classes or workshops or marketing opportunities. It’s the connections we make with other writers.

I still vividly remember that first SCBWI conference I attended in 2010. I was terrified. Didn’t know a single soul, and didn’t know what I was doing. But when the opening session began, a lady sat in the seat beside me and introduced herself. She had a few books under her belt, and she’d been coming to the conferences for years, so she knew her way around. And she helped me to feel like I belonged there.

More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to attend conferences as a published author who knows her way around … and I’ve discovered close friends and a strong support system in some of the just-jumping-in crowd of writers.

For the past three years, I’ve been a mentor for Pitch Wars (an online writing contest that pairs published/agented authors with querying writers to revise and polish a full manuscript plus query letter). Those mentor/mentee relationships are some of the strongest writer bonds I’ve ever experienced, and I’d love to find ways to build those relationships (on a smaller scale) within our region.

How can MD/DE/WV PAL members help you with your goals for our region?

I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you need/want. (Also, I’ll probably be emailing soon with some ideas that I’m working on for your input. Hopefully, you’ll all be as excited as I am!!)

And finally, what is your favorite quote?

So many amazing quotes to choose from! But this one always helps when I’m feeling discouraged: “Forget not to be patient with yourself. It’s OK that you’re not quite there yet. Keep working on it, but stop punishing yourself.” ~ Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Fantastic, thanks for stopping by, Veronica! I’m looking forward to all the awesomeness you have cooking up for our members.

Happy writing and drawing, everyone!

About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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