Join me in welcoming up-and-coming picture book writer Kim Pfennigwerth to my blog. I met Kim at a NJSCBWI conference several years ago and wanted to celebrate her recent success in getting an agent as well as pick her brain on her interesting writing process. (Many of her first drafts are first thought of in rhyme!)
Laura: First off, congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about your agent and how you found each other? What advice or encouragement can you offer for picture book writers interested in finding an agent?
Kim: Thank you, Laura. It has all been very exciting and I am thrilled to be part of your blog today. I would also like to congratulate you on Goodnight, Ark! coming out next August. It’s wonderful seeing your story coming to life.
I met Liza at the NJ-SCBWI November Craft Weekend. I had sent a rollicking picture book manuscript for a one-on-one critique. She loved it and during the critique asked if we could talk more. After we did she expressed a strong interest in my writing and me. I’m pretty sure I was literally telling myself to breathe. We talked again shortly before she left Sunday afternoon and she offered to represent me. It was a fairytale weekend.
Advice for finding an agent: Don’t send out manuscripts until you have done more work on your writing than you ever thought possible. Revision is the hardest part of writing but revise, revise, revise, and then revise again. Once you think it is polished get a few more critiques on it and then send it out. There is no fast e-z pass for this.
Laura: One of the first things that impressed me about you was your incredible involvement in our local branch of the SCBWI. Tell us about the role SCBWI has played in your development as a writer and how you manage your time as a devoted volunteer and dedicated writer?
Kim: I am a huge advocate for the SCBWI and very happy volunteering for it. I first found the SCBWI while living in Nebraska. Moving back east I was thrilled with the multitude of opportunities the NJ chapter offers.
To co-chair the Volunteer Coordination for our big June conference and other events is a challenge but we have fabulous volunteers who step up to help.
All SCBWI chapters work hard. I have travelled to at least seven states for other workshops or conferences. It is networking, therapy, and skill-learning all in one.
I also moderate two hardworking and dedicated critique groups. All the members were found through the SCBWI.
Time management though is always a balancing act. A zillion things gobble up our time.
I try to dedicate a minimum of two hours for writing a day. On really busy days I set a timer for 30 minutes and I don’t step away from the chair until that timer goes off. Many times at the end of the 30 minutes what ever felt ‘pressing’ often can wait at least another 30-45 minutes more.
Laura: Now on to your writing process. Can you tell us a little bit about how you get your ideas as well as how you nurture them into full-fledged stories?
Kim: My ideas come mostly through life. I have four children and two grandsons. There is a lot of fodder there. But I also try to keep my eyes and ears open to see where a twist could be. Ever see a sign bent in a funny place that changes the meaning? Watch someone walk their dog and their sizes are so opposite? I have stories like that. Stories are all around us – it’s our imagination that gives them flight.
Nurturing them once again takes time. Our children don’t sprout from age 1 to 4 in a moment’s time and neither do our stories. I try to ask questions for new perspectives: ‘What is this story about?’, ‘What IF?’ (x instead of y), ‘What do I know about the character?’, ‘What don’t I know about the character?’ and ‘What else?’ (what else could change, what else could happen, what else is needed.)
Laura: Once polished and ready for print, your picture books are in prose, correct? Yet you often write part of your first drafts in rhyme! Have you always been a rhyming drafter? I’m curious how you came to rely on this fascinating strategy and how rhyme has helped hone your story-telling skills.
Kim: I’m a frustrated poet. I have been exposed to it from an aunt, cousins, siblings, and my father wrote humorous Roses are Red poems in every card he gave us. Years ago cousins and I wrote rhyming email challenges – nothing could be in prose. Thankfully all those old computers have died.
So the answer is yes, my polished stories are in prose but I am often a rhyming drafter but not fully drafted. Lyrical or rhyming paragraphs take off and I’ll write as far as I can. Sometimes it can be a paragraph or two to start and jump to the middle with another paragraph and then a paragraph for the end.
I think the rhyme presents the story or problem in a different way. Often funnier or more poignant. Thank goodness all first drafts are rough! Then I move to shape the plot and heart of the story and where to build the tension. That’s when prose comes in. It helps me grow the story but when cutting word length as short as possible sometimes I can cut too much so those lyrical or rhyming lines remind me where a story started.
Laura: Now that you have an agent as well as a winning strategy for writing stories that shine, can you tell us what your next step is?
Kim: Besides continued writing and polishing, I will be learning more about creating websites and waiting for the fabulous news of a manuscript going under contract. Plus you’ll find me at many NJ-SCBWI events!
Laura: Wow! You’ve given us a lot to think about, Kim. Thanks so much for sharing your writerly insights with us. To keep up with Kim’s writing journey be sure to follow her on Twitter: @kpfenni.
Kim: Thank you again, Laura. This has been so much fun! Happy New Year!