Today we have one of the funniest people in kidlit joining us: Ciara O’Neal. Ciara and I met a little over a year ago when she was first working on her now published picture book Flamingo Hugs, and we’ve been critique partners and friends ever since.
Ciara has offered to giveaway TWO prizes today, so stayed tuned until the end to find out how to get entered.
Thank you so much for joining me today on the Math is Everywhere blog and congrats on having your first book out in the world!
Kaitlyn: Where did your inspiration for Flamingo Hugs come from?
Ciara: Since my life seems to be a series of odd events, this book’s inspiration came during a trip to the ER. As my daughter and I sat in the waiting room, hoping to hear our name called, we played with my flamingo keychain.
My daughter protested the kisses from the tiny stuffed fowl by saying, “No flamingo love for me!” Hours later, while we were still waiting, we brainstormed how a flamingo could actually go about getting the affection she desired. Eventually my daughter even drew (with her non-broken hand) one of the “hats” Flaminga wears in the story!
Kaitlyn: That’s such a fun way to.come up woth a story, definitely better than most trios to the ER. What’s your favorite part in the story?
Ciara: I’m not sure I can pick any one part. However, I can say my favorite thing about working with my brilliant illustrator, Alicia Young, was all the “Easter Eggs” we planted in the book’s illustrations. At one point, my main character digs in the Lost and Found. At my request, Alicia “hid” important characters and items from some of my other manuscripts in the pile. Also, a frog appears on most pages doing silly things. We created a flamingo alphabet for the end sheets. And Alicia even drew my family into the story. (All of my kids, my husband, and me!) She is AMAZING!
Kaitlyn: She sounds amazing! And now I’ve got to know, where does your love of flamingos come from?
Ciara: Ha! Great question! Have you ever watched flamingos at the zoo? They are awkward and tall. Two traits I share with them!
Kaitlyn: Haha! What got you into writing for children?
Ciara: My mother adored reading and writing, especially children’s literature. After I lost her at an early age, writing became something that helped me feel connected to her. Once I became a mother myself, writing kidlit became a way not only to honor my mother, but my children as well. And anyone who is a parent knows the goofy adventures that arise from having little people around!
Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s beautiful that writing is connecting so many generations for you. How does being a mom and teacher influence your writing?
Ciara: I am so blessed to be the mama of five adopted children and have fostered several more. Managing my menagerie at home and at school inspires me to write wacky adventures. Life can be rough we all need humor and heart, right?
Kaitlyn: Yes! Speaking of humor, for many people, it’s difficult to write funny stories, do you have any advice on how you do it since you write funny so well?
Ciara: This may sound odd, but be inspired by joke books! My kids and students love sharing them with me and I can see why. From them, I gain insight as to what kids consider funny. It also clues me into what my age group understands, what they don’t, how to structure punch lines, etc.
Kaitlyn: That’s awesome! I really had fun helping create the Spring Fling Writing Contest with you, how did you think to use gifs as inspiration for the contest piece?
Ciara: As you may know, finding just the right gif for every occasion might just be a passion of mine. So it just naturally sprung up.
Kaitlyn: That definitely make sense, you introduced me to the fun of gifs! You’re also great at finding scholarships, can you tell us a bit about your Highlights scholarship?
Ciara: Highlights was SO generous to offer me a scholarship to Picture Books and All That Jazz! The experience was incredible. The conference I attended offered critique groups, knowledgeable instructors, and a wide variety of lessons on many types of books.
I would highly recommend it! Be sure to check out their page called, “Who Should Attend?” It will help you find the right conference for you.
Kaitlyn: Wonderful advice. Do you have any other advice for new writers?
Ciara: When you finish writing a manuscript, get your kid on! Pull out some blank paper, your stapler, and colored pencils! Get to creating your book. Split your story onto the pages, maybe one to two sentences per page.
This will help you decide what to keep and what words must be chopped. If you can see it in your illustration, goodbye. That sentence doesn’t inspire a new scene on the page, adios! Boring verb, Arrivederci!
Kaitlyn: Well said! Make a dummy for your book can really help you visualize it. What is the thing you think have helped you most in your career so far?
Ciara: My lovely critique partners! They find the flaws and plot holes in my stories. They praise and encourage me. And wow, do they inspire me with their work!
Kaitlyn: Yes, critique partners can really help make your story shine and give you the confidence you need. Now, since this is the Math is Everyone blog, do you think you can you give us some numbers that you think of you think of writing/publishing?
Ciara: How about a mathematical tool? Writing and publishing is a lot like a number line. Some days, you are moving forward. Perhaps it’s only little steps, like counting by ones. Other days, your progress may be measured in leaps and bounds! You might be skipping ahead by 5s, 10s, even 100s.
But other days, it can be like counting backwards or even tripping into the negatives. You’ll hear the path to publication referred to as a roller coaster. It is! Just keep looking for those days where your number line pivots into the positive and hold on tight!
Kaitlyn: That was so beautiful! Writing explained in math terms–my fave! Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author, would you rather go outside and fly a kite or sit by a fire with tea?
Ciara: Adam Rubin wrote my favorite picture book, Those Darn Squirrels. So if he and I went outside, I can’t even imagine the adventures we could have with a kite and its string. The STEM teacher in me is laughing maniacally. You can bet that flying would not be the only adventure that kite would have!
Kaitlyn: Sounds like a blast, count me in! Thanks so much, Ciara, for joining me today on the Math is Everywhere blog.
Author Bio for Ciara O’Neal
Combine humor and picture books. Add in a pinch of nonfiction writing, and a dash of educational curriculum creation…and Voila! You have author, Ciara O’Neal. This mother of five adopted children is also a teacher, book blogger, and a purveyor of puns. She plots world domination with a doughnut in each hand.
Follow her schemes on her website or on Twitter
If you’re wondering, what is Ciara’s book Flamingo Hugs all about? Here’s my review:
With great alliteration and onomatopoeia, this lively adventure is full of funny antics when a flamingo decides she wants to get a hug. The illustrations are vibrant and comical adding more to the story on every page, and if you like comical endings, this book is for you. –Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
If you want to be entered into the drawings for (1) a signed copy of the Flamingo Hugs and/or (2) a manuscript critique for a non-rhyming picture book, make sure to leave a blog comment and you can also retweet this tweet. If you want even more entries, order a copy of Flamingo Hugs here and let us know in the comments that you ordered it.