Pam Calvert is the author of two character-driven picture books series, Princess Peepers and Briana Bright, Ballerina Knight, as well as the Multiplying Menace math series. And keep reading to find out more about her upcoming book. Pam is back for her third year of mentoring for Writing with the Stars. Both of her previous mentees rave about Pam, and her first signed with an agent and has two books slated for 2021. So Pam is very excited about helping someone else this year!
Both Brianna Bright and Princess Peepers are strong female main characters. Is this something that was a conscious choice when you created them?
I’ve always been a proponent of strong women (since I’m a strong woman myself). And encouraging little girls to believe they can do anything if they believe in themselves is really a huge theme in whatever I write. That said, it’s not the only topic I write about. My math series has a male lead and the theme is the basic good vs. evil. My newest books don’t have girl leads either. In Flash: The Little Fire Engine (Two Lions, November 2019), the theme is that Flash must not give up if he wants to succeed. I want to encourage children, regardless of gender, to never give up and to see that, if they are determined, they can accomplish their dreams.
You’ve stated that perseverance is important for authors. Seven years passed between the publication of Princess Peepers Picks a Pet and Brianna Bright, Ballerina Knight. What were the keys that helped you “stick with it” during that time, even after having initial success?
Well, there was a lot happening in the background over those seven years that you didn’t see. I’d gotten an eyewear option by a company who wanted to produce Princess Peepers eyewear. I also had my first agent, who was sending out one of my novels to publishers. But circumstances happened where our relationship didn’t work out (she was close to retiring) and things fell through with the eyewear option. I still wrote more novels and picture books in the meantime, while I found my second agent. When you find an agent, even if you haven’t sold anything, it still feels like you’re accomplishing something. And they give you hope to not give up.
Fast forward a few more years, and I sold Brianna Bright (I sold this in 2014, so only three years had passed since the publication of my last book). It took FOUR years to publish this book. Yes … you have to persevere even when you’ve sold something! I was redoing a novel during this time, too. I eventually parted ways with my agent and this hit me hard. I almost gave up (even though I had Brianna Bright coming)!
But after I took a break, I came back and sold my next book. I think it’s important to give yourself breaks if you’re feeling down about the creative process. Then you can go back to it when you feel better. The biggest thing, though, is to keep writing, because you never know when that big break will happen. But it won’t if you stop writing.
We often hear that editors are looking for characters that might be engaging enough to turn into a series. You’ve managed to come up with two characters who fit the bill. Did you initially intend to write a series based on either Princess Peepers and/or Brianna Bright?
I did set out to write a character-driven book for both Peepers and Brianna Bright (and now, my most recent book, Flash: The Little Fire Engine). There are some rules you must follow if you want to have a book that a publisher will want to publish a series around.
1. It must be unique! This is the most important quality of a series character. There were no princesses who ever wore glasses before Princess Peepers. For Brianna Bright, there are NO ballerina princess knights. You can find princess knights and princess ballerinas but NOT the combination. For Flash, there weren’t ANY main characters that are little fire engines (that I know of). You’ll see tons of garbage trucks, backhoes, monster trucks, trains, etc. You need to look at the market to find out what is NOT being published, then you know you have a great idea for a character.
2. The character must be recognizable. A child should be able to dress up for Halloween in your character’s costume and people know who they are. Put on glasses, a princess hat, and a dress and you have Peepers. A sword and a tutu will do for Brianna Bright. For Flash, he might be harder, but it could be done. When you see his cute eyes (cannot WAIT to reveal his character to the world!), you’ll know it’s him.
3. It must have an emotional connection with children—my characters are children! Even Flash, although he’s a fire truck, seems childlike in that the story starts out with him just being “big” enough to go out and help in his first emergency.
There are more qualities for these types of books, but I just hit the highlights here for brevity’s sake. If anyone is interested, I’ve written an article about it on my blog: http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/2013/07/picture-book-university-character.html
Tell us more about your upcoming book, Flash: The Little Fire Engine.
Since I now have two grandchildren (yes, I’m a young grandma! ;)), babysitting them gives me inspiration. They LOVE any kind of vehicle—dump trucks, monster trucks, backhoes, race cars, etc. When I’m with them, there are zooms, crashes,and alarms going off all the time. I knew I wanted to write something they’d like—about a vehicle! But what?
There’s a glut of dump trucks, monster trucks, etc. in the market. But I noticed there were no firetrucks! And so, the idea for Flash was born. Since I didn’t know much about emergency vehicles, I did some research. And my son-in-law (who is a physical therapist) helped me with some of the ideas for it, too. It was a family endeavor! That book sold shortly after I submitted it—without an agent, I’m proud to say!
You have a critique service. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes! I love to help other people fine-tune their manuscripts, or help them make the jump from mediocre to masterpiece! I’ve had several of my clients go on to sell, and then come back and thank me for my help. I get excited to see others succeed. All they need is a little help and guidance, and I’m glad to assist in that. If anyone would like to use my services, they can go to my blog here: http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/pb-critiques.html.
Thank you, Pam! I can’t wait to read Flash: The Little Fire Engine. Applicants, please remember to support these mentor authors. Buy their books, review them online, and tell your librarians how awesome they are!
You can find all the details on how to apply for a mentorship with Pam and the other author mentors on the WWTS contest tab.