Welcome to the five hundred and seventy-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author and poet Sherrill S Cannon. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Sherrill. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sherrill: Hi, Morgen. I am a children’s author, Sherrill S. Cannon, and I live in the United States. My primary home is in Pennsylvania, but my husband and I are retired and spend half the year in our RV, traveling to Florida and then to California and back home. I have been composing poetry since I was four years old. (I can’t say writing, since my mother had to write them down for me.) Now that I am retired, I am able to get my books and plays published.
Morgen: How lovely that you started so young. I didn’t ‘find’ creative writing (an evening class) until my late 30s but most of my writing group are retired and many say they have always wanted to write but have never found the time, which is a shame because 300 words a day = 100,000 novel in a year. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Sherrill: I write rhymed children’s stories for ages 3-8, and most of them are about establishing good manners and learning about consideration for others. I also have written a lot of poetry, since I love to play with words as well as the challenge of rhyme and meter, some of which has been published in several anthologies, and plays for children, which also are primarily in rhyme.
Morgen: What fun. I have written very little for children but the family next door have three of varying ages so maybe I should give it a go. What have you had published to-date?
Sherrill: I have four published children’s books, with several more waiting in the wings, and six internationally published children’s plays. Interestingly enough, my plays are through www.lazybeescripts.co.uk – and my stories apparently are gaining popularity in the UK as well.
Morgen: You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Sherrill: My publisher, SBPRA, is more of a “help-publish” publisher. I had to contribute a small amount for my first book, Santa’s Birthday Gift, plus pay for my illustrations – but for each succeeding book, I have had to contribute less. Now I can just contribute to the marketing of the books, which is the other half of being an author! After spending some time in my earlier days (there are quite a few of them, since I am now 72!) submitting my stories to publishing houses who either told me they weren’t accepting unsolicited manuscripts or that I needed an agent (who then told me that they weren’t interested in representing unpublished authors!?!) I decided to try online submissions, where I found SBPRA. It was the best decision of my life!
Morgen: I’m so glad it’s worked out for you. You (I) do hear some horror stories. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sherrill: Yes, all my books are now eBooks – and Peter and the Whimper-Whineys is an App as well. I didn’t convert them until the Nook came out with a color version, since I feel that children really need the color illustrations to hold their interest. Now I still feel that children need an actual book, to hold and leaf through and take to bed with them – but the eBooks are great for trips and entertaining kids when it is easier to take one source along. And children are so tech-savvy now, that toddlers seem to be able to manipulate the iPhones and iPads and Kindles and Nooks better than I can!
Morgen: It’s the old saying (well, not that old as they’ve not been around all that long by comparison) that if you want to know how a computer works, ask a child. I’d love a guest blog on creating an App. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Sherrill: My favorite book will always be Santa’s Birthday Gift – because it was the first to be published, and the one that I feel that I was inspired to write. After I read the story of the Nativity to one of my grandchildren, she looked at me and said, “But where’s Santa?” I thought to myself, Yes indeed, where is Santa? That night the entire story came to me in a dream, and when I sat down to write it the story just flowed (in rhyme)… So to me it will always be a very special book. (My books are in rhyme and too short to be films.)
Morgen: I like your granddaughter – she’s switched on. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sherrill: I always determine the titles and covers of my books. That is one of the great advantages of working with a small publisher and an illustrator of my choice. My illustrator, KJ of the Kalpart team, is absolutely awesome and I am very happy whenever someone decides to judge one of my books by her covers! Small children who can’t read have no other way to choose books, and parents are aware of that. Kalpart has illustrated all of my books – we work together online, since she is located in India – and we are already preparing for my next book.
Morgen: The joy of the internet, don’t you just love technology? You mentioned your next book, what are you working on at the moment / next?
Sherrill: My next book will still be about manners, and will incorporate some of the characters from my most recent two books, The Magic Word and Gimme-Jimmy. I hope the new one will be released early in 2013. My last book, Gimme-Jimmy, actually has the covers of The Magic Word and Peter and the Whimper-Whineys embedded in the illustrations, and the main character Elisabeth of The Magic Word makes a cameo appearance in one scene. My readers have seemed to enjoy that! I also have three or four other finished books, ready for publication, which are not quite so branded by good manners, but which teach other commendable traits.
Morgen: I love it when minor characters become main characters and vice versa. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sherrill: I write every day, but not stories. There is a tremendous amount of social networking available for authors today, and keeping up with all of it is challenging. Launching a new book is even more time-consuming, since one needs as much exposure as possible – including submissions to reviewers and contest entries, all of which help promote a book. The children’s book market in particular is overwhelmed with new books – especially since the entry of self-published and eBooks – and it is difficult to get a new book noticed. Blogs such as this one are invaluable, since it lets me introduce my books to new readers, and I thank you for this opportunity!
Morgen: Oh, you’re very welcome. Doing this blog made me realise just how many authors there are out there; I’m booking into next July (no.772 is the latest) and I think I’ve only touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sherrill: This would probably be a better question for a novelist. My stories are all an attempt to teach something to small children, usually manners and consideration for others, disguised as fun stories. So my stories start with that premise and develop from there.
Morgen: It is a question I ask novelists but I think in the respect of how we write, most of us do get an idea and see where it takes us, as you do. I think it’s more fun that way although it doesn’t work for everyone. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sherrill: I do try to use some of my family names for my characters, usually middle names since I don’t want them readily recognized in my dedications and acknowledgements. Many times, however, I just use names that fit well into a rhyme-scheme!
Morgen: I like that idea. How thrilling must being a character be? Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sherrill: My editing is pretty well done as I go along. I am very cognizant of the restrictions of rhyme and meter, however I will use slant-rhymes (like self and help) along the way to break up monotony – or just to be able to convey what I want without being totally constrained. Don’t forget that Dr. Seuss just made up words – not only for the names of his characters – to help his rhyme and meter flow. (Not that I’m claiming to be Dr. Seuss – especially since he could also draw!! – but I like to think that he would like my books!)
Morgen: Wouldn’t that be great. Some poems etc. can feel like they’re trying too hard to rhyme just so it scans – it you don’t notice something rhymes, or it flows so well that it jingles along then the author’s done their job. Do you have to do much research?
Sherrill: Not very often, for children’s books. However I had one other story published in an Anthology many years ago titled David’s A.D.D. where I did quite a bit of research and interviewing children with A.D.D. and their parents before I submitted it for publication. Also, in several of my children’s plays, which I write with my daughter who is an elementary school teacher, I do quite a bit of research. Many of the plays are written around lesson-plans, so they have to be accurate.
Morgen: And things change quickly, don’t they. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sherrill: I have written a couple in first person because the story seemed to fit better from that perspective, and my next book will be that way. The ones I have had published are third person. I’m not sure I could manage to write in second person.
Morgen: Second person is often quite dark so maybe not so good for children’s writing. Perhaps a children’s writer reading this could say if they’ve used it. You mentioned your poetry, has the children’s writing taken over?
Sherrill: I still love to write poetry – mainly trying to put feelings into words, and using rhyme and meter most of the time. That doesn’t seem to be very popular nowadays. I don’t think that poetry should be prose chopped up into short lines, but then I’m definitely old enough to be old-fashioned!
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sherrill: I have a large collection of my poetry which I hope will see the light of day after I no longer can. My children will have the collection and can do whatever they see fit with it!
Morgen: I hope they do something with them. I do believe there’s an audience out there for everything (that’s well-written / edited). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sherrill: I have had several rejections, but less than many authors since I didn’t really submit very often. I tried to follow the rules about no simultaneous submissions, and spent a lot of time in limbo! It’s hard to not take a rejection personally. After all, it actually is a rejection of a part of an author’s “self” – and I am sure most authors will agree about that. But it is also hard to get a bad review – or to have no sales – so there are lots of ways to damage an author’s ego. I think you really have to believe in your work (and get it edited for grammatical and punctuation mistakes before you ever submit anything!) – and then have faith in yourself. Just don’t sit around and wait to be “discovered”. If you get a rejection, then submit somewhere else!!
Morgen: Absolutely. I’ve only had 20-something rejections because I don’t submit very often. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Sherrill: Yes I enter competitions, because if you can win an award, they are an excellent way to get your book noticed and give it credibility. Especially for children’s books, an award can reassure a parent that the book is well written and has a positive message for children. I just wish there weren’t such restrictions on book entries in some of the more prestigious contests. Many of the bigger ones – like Caldecott and Theodore Geisel – require only United States authors and illustrators. Newbery and ALA have the suggestion that the publisher of the book has to be an “approved” publisher, (which usually excludes small press and self-published authors) even though the book itself is supposed to be judged on the author. Even the Children’s Choice is decided by the ALA, mentioned above. I like the Readers Favorite, the Reader Views, and the Indie Awards as seeming to include a better variety of submissions. The Magic Word won a 6th award – International Book Awards (IBA) Finalist – so now there are 10 awards.
Morgen: Wow, congratulations. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sherrill: I do not have an agent, although I have the impression that they are required in order to get one’s book at least looked at by the large publishing houses. Since I had as much trouble finding an agent as I did a publisher when I first started looking, I decided I was wasting too much time.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sherrill: I do a lot of marketing (including writing blogs like this one!). It really helps for readers to get to know authors, and the only way to get one’s book noticed is to find ways to share them. I love the Google-Alerts which you can set up to let you know when there is something written about a “whining child” for instance – and then you can see if you can suggest on that site that you have something that might help solve the problem – such as reading Peter and the Whimper-Whineys! I have joined a lot of blog sites, and actually found quite a few new friends, that way! I also find them by responding to offers for guest blogs, so I can reach a greater reading audience (like my new friend, Morgen with an e!).
Morgen: I have Google alerts for Morgen Bailey and Morgan Bailey and it picks up the occasional gem, although most of the former are my postings, because there are so many of them. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sherrill: My favorite part, without question, is reading my books to children. I love to go to the schools, and libraries, and small stores, and even big ones like my local Barnes & Noble, and read to them. I guess I love their questions and comments afterwards as well. Children are so wonderfully open and enthusiastic, and I truly love sharing with them! My least favorite aspect is the feeling that there is never enough time to accomplish all that I would like. I was totally surprised – and thrilled – when Santa’s Birthday Gift won its first award, which was my first award, and I have been consistently surprised and honored with the rest of them that have followed.
Morgen: It must be great meeting your audience face-to-face. My debut eBook is set in the town I live in so I will, at some stage, have it printed and promote it here (I’m too busy at the moment with another novel and short story collections to get online, then I’ll more to promote). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sherrill: I think the most important advice, at least for authors just starting out, would be to pick your genre and write within it. Write about what you know and love, in the easiest way it is for you to write – because then your works will flow, and be sincere, and have meaning for others as well. This will also help you later on when you need to market your books.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Sherrill: Dr. Seuss would be my first pick, and then the poet Sara Teasdale, and of course I would have to include Morgen Bailey since she arranged it all – and then I would suggest we all go out to dinner and they could choose what they liked (since I grew up in a hotel, and fixing dinner is not one of my favorite things…)
Morgen: Yay! My first (I think) invitation. Going out to dinner would be lovely, especially if it’s to a buffet. One of my favourite restaurants here in Northampton is a buffet with Chinese, Italian, Indian, Japanese, French, English, …um, probably others. It’s fab because there’s no looking at someone else’s plate and wishing you’d ordered what they have. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sherrill: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – which is really “treat thy neighbor as thyself”… (keeping in mind that thy neighbor is not just the person who lives next door.)
Morgen: I try to be like that. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sherrill: Does acting as my husband’s “administrative assistant” count? He has a consulting business, so I do his formatting and bookkeeping, etc.
Morgen: The other kind of books. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sherrill: I love to read, but that’s pretty close to writing! My husband and I (we’ve been married 52 years) love to enjoy living and traveling in our RV, and we also like bike-riding and taking walks.
Morgen: 52 years, wow. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Sherrill: The most important books would be a Dictionary and a Thesaurus, followed closely by Harbrace’s Grammar (or similar book).
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sherrill: In addition to Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/Author-Sherrill-S-Cannon) and my website (http://www.sherrillcannon.com) I use Twitter (https://twitter.com/sherrillcannon). I also recommend http://www.Bookbuzzr.com for a great place to get your books noticed, as well as http://www.jacketflap.com and http://www.redroom.com and http://www.bookhitch.com.
Morgen: Thank you for those, Sherrill. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sherrill: I think we will find more and more print-on-demand books, more eBooks, and less big publishing houses. I think, however, that writing is still a profession where it probably isn’t a good idea to give up your day job! With more and more books published, only a very few are going to become self-sustaining, much less millionaires.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Sherrill: Here are all the links for me and my books (sounds like a song!)
Published Name: Sherrill S. Cannon
Website and Blog: http://www.sherrillcannon.com
Author Link for All Books: http://sbpra.com/sherrillscannon
Book Title: Gimme-Jimmy (ISBN 978-1-61897-267-5)
Link to amazon: http://tinyurl.com/Gimme-Jimmy
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Summary: Jimmy is a bully whose favorite word is “Gimme”, who has to learn to share
Book Title: The Magic Word (ISBN 978-1-60976-909-3)
Link to amazon: http://tinyurl.com/TheMagicWord
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Summary: Elisabeth needs to learn The Magic Word “please”, and to use it every day
Book Title: Peter and the Whimper-Whineys (ISBN 978-1-60911-517-3)
Link to amazon: http://tinyurl.com/PeterandtheWhimper-Whineys
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Summary: Peter and the Whimper-Whineys helps parents cope with whining in a fun way.
Book Title: Santa’s Birthday Gift (ISBN 978-1-60860-824-9)
Link to amazon: http://tinyurl.com/SantasBirthdayGift
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Summary: After reading a story of the nativity to a grandchild, she asked “But where’s Santa?”
Morgen: Thank you, Sherrill – I’ve listed them on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/childrens-ya. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sherrill: I’d like to offer a few words about my plays, which are all available in the UK and have been performed internationally – not only in the UK and the US, but in Germany, Cambodia, Ireland, United Arab Emirates and Botswana (so far). They are all for elementary school classrooms, and each student has at least one line. They are available at http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk:
Have You Seen My Little Lamb?
Mary has brought her lamb to school and now the lamb is lost. Mary, with the help of Mother Goose, meets many storybook friends as she searches for her lost lamb. (Grades 1-3)
The King’s Spell
Something is not right in Mother Goose Land, when Old King Cole casts a spell on the characters. Mother Goose wanders through the kingdom finding everything mixed up until she can prevail upon the King to remove his spell. (Grades 2-4)
When You Wish Upon a Star…fish
A little girl (or a little boy) finds a starfish while she is walking on the boardwalk and throws it back while making a wish that she could see what is under the sea. The play continues with the starfish introducing the little girl to different sea creatures, who each tell her a little about themselves. This play is educational in nature, and can easily be used in connection with a classroom project about undersea life. (Grades 3-4)
The Wonderful World of Weather by
A bird family starts the play, which continues through the different weather scenarios as they go through the seasons, and the bird family concludes the play returning to their nest at home. This play is educational in nature, and can easily be used in connection with a classroom project about the weather. (Grades 3-4)
This play is seasonal, and must be performed in December, but it is about the month of December and not just a “holiday” play. It includes many different customs and celebrations. (Grades 1-2)
We Have Character
This play is all about the ways in which children learn character traits through reading. (The traits are exemplified by suggested books, referenced in the Notes at the end of this play.) Each child (or pair of children) comes center stage to tell about the particular character traits of their book: Being Trustworthy, Being a Good Listener, Accepting of Others’ Differences, Caring, Working Together, Being a Good Friend, Thinking of Others, Being Fair, Having Good Judgment, Truthfulness, Being Patient, Never Giving Up, Perseverance, Being Helpful, Showing Respect, Having a Positive Attitude, Having Courage, Sharing, Showing Compassion, Being True to Self, Not Afraid to Make a Mistake, and Being Confident are all included. This play is educational in nature, and should be used in connection with a classroom project involving reading the suggested books. (Grades 1-2)
Morgen: What fantastic stories. I can see why children love them. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sherrill: How do you keep track of all these different pages, spotlights and blogs? Is there any way to repay you for your time?
Morgen: I have a wonderful Word table striped in all sorts of colours. Having a schedule for each item on the blog helps keep me in check too. As for ‘repaying’, I’m always enjoy appearing on other people’s blogs although in the literal sense I don’t make any money out of my blog and so haven’t earned any money from it in the last 20 months but I have just put a donate button should anyone feel inclined. If you could mention eBooks or blogging service to anyone who may be interested would be lovely, thank you Sherrill.
I then invited Sherrill to include an extract of her writing…
The Magic Word – Page 1:
Elisabeth Keys was really quite rude;
She pushed into lines and she gobbled her food.
She never said, “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” or “Please.”
She made fun of people; she’d argue and tease.
She took what she wanted whenever she could,
Elisabeth’s manners were not very good!
She wouldn’t share storybooks, puzzles, or toys
So no one would play with her, not girls nor boys.
Peter and the Whimper-Whineys – Page 1:
In a house in the forest all covered with vines
Lived a very small rabbit who did nothing but whine.
He’d whine and he’d cry from morning till night,
And nothing that anyone did would be right.
He’d cry and he’d whine, and he’d whine and he’d cry,
Till his mother said, “Peter, I want you to try
To stop all that whining and unpleasant noise.
Go take a nap, or go play with your toys;
If you can’t stop that whining, I very much fear
That the old Whimper-Whineys will look for you here.
You’ll go live with them in a land far away,
Where you’ll join them in whining and crying all day.”
I then invited Sherrill to include a synopsis of one of her books…
James Alexander’s nickname was Gimme-Jimmy because he was a greedy and selfish bully. Imagine Jimmy’s concern when he discovered that every time he said the word “Gimme”, his hand grew larger. Jimmy was happy to discover that when he was polite and said “Please” and “Thank you”, his hand began to shrink. He started practicing his new “Polite Rule” and found out that it was much more fun to share.
Gimme-Jimmy – Page 1:
James Alexander’s nickname was Jim,
But nobody would be friends with him.
No one wanted to play with Jimmy,
For Jim Alexander always said, “Gimme.”
“Gimme my books,” he’d say. “Gimme my toys.”
He’d grab from the girls and he’d snatch from the boys.
Jill didn’t like him and neither did Jack,
For Jimmy would take things and not give them back.
Jim was a bully at home and at school;
Though nobody liked him, he thought he was cool.
All four of Sherrill S. Cannon’s books are in rhyme and all try to teach something like good manners and caring for others. In less than three years, this former teacher has won nine United States National Awards for her books, The Magic Word, Peter and the Whimper-Whineys, and Santa’s Birthday Gift. Her fourth book Gimme-Jimmy, has just been released. She has also written six published and internationally produced plays for elementary school children, which are available in the UK at lazybeescripts.co.uk. Growing up in the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C., she became an accomplished equestrienne in her teens; riding, training and showing horses in the Virginia and National show circuits. She later graduated magna cum laude from The American University, and continued to have a varied career. She was a teacher and coach for ten years; and then became a professional newspaper sports photographer and columnist; then a Dinner Theatre Company Stage Manager; then an Assistant Talent Manager; and finally a Business Administrator. She and her husband of 52 years are now retired, and travel in their RV from coast to coast each year to spend time with their children and grandchildren… sharing Sherrill’s books along the way!
Update February 2013: Sherrill’s latest book is “Manner Man”…
And I will defend you and make things all right…”
These are the magic words to call upon Manner-Man – a superhero who can help control bullies and teach children ways to be considerate of others.
Manner-Man arrives, shouting “To the Rescue”, helping children learn about sharing and warning about not ‘hitting with words.’ He teaches that if someone starts pushing, just shout out “not nice!”
Meet the children who form the Manner-Man team and find out how to join!
Manner-Man incorporates messages and characters found within some of Cannon’s earlier books – helping children learn how to cope with bullies and look within themselves for their inner superhero!
This is the fifth rhyming children’s book by this award-winning author whose other bestselling books include Gimme-Jimmy, The Magic Word, Peter and the Whimper-Whineys and Santa’s Birthday Gift.
Sherrill says, “Manner-Man is also part of my CureJM Fundraiser Site - http://sbpra.com/curejm/ where 50% of the cost of my books goes to the CureJM Foundation to help find a cure for Juvenile Myositis, an incurable children’s disease. The little girl, Addie, who is featured on the site is now also an illustrated character in Manner-Man, and is the little girl in the turquoise blue dress on the cover! She is also on the Acknowledgements Page, where there are many other children’s names there as Manner-Man Team members, many of whom are also suffering from the disease. The video about Addie is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anIGaQXkhg0“. Thank you, Sherrill.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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