Author Spotlight: PJ McIlvaine
August 2, 2019
Today we are excited to feature author, PJ McIlvaine and her debut picture book LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE, illustrated by Leila Nabih (Big Belly Book Co. May 2019) Be sure to enter to win a copy of her book and the opportunity to win one of TWO picture book critiques, below!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I'm a mom of three, grandmother of four, and I live in Eastern Long Island in a house called the Blue Goose. I've always wanted to be a writer, although I did flirt for a spell with being a criminal lawyer in the William Kunstler mold (Google him). I finally came to my senses (somewhat) and followed my passion which has always been writing. I may not always do it well, and many times I want to rip my hair out, but I can't envision doing anything else.
Congrats on your picture book LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE. How did you come up with the idea?
My brother and I were raised by my grandparents, and for holiday meals we were consigned to a table just off the kitchen. Mikey made my life miserable at meals; his table manners were atrocious. That, in a nutshell, was the genesis of LITTLE LENA. My brother tragically passed years ago, but I feel sure he'd get a kick out of the book. We weren't always friends growing up, but we became close later on, and I miss him dearly.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I've had many articles published and a critically acclaimed produced movie, but a book has always been a long held, cherished dream. The contract for LENA came about very quickly, in the space of days, and publication roughly a year or so later. In the publishing world, that's pretty fast. Seeing LENA come to life (thanks to the marvelous artwork of Leila Nabih) has been an amazing experience.
What projects are you working on now?
Oh God, too many to count. I keep a monthly file of ideas and I probably have enough to do for several lifetimes. Currently I'm working on the first draft of a MG contemporary fantasy, I also have a YA fantasy in mid-stream, several picture books, and other MG/YA projects in various stages. I'm always writing even when I'm not at my computer.
What advice would you give younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
Patience, grasshopper. Publishing is a long and winding road and you never know what detours you'll take. Rejection is part of the game and doesn't mean you're a terrible writer. It just means you haven't found the right champion yet. Writing is like everything else in life, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
What is something most people don't know about you?
Sadly, I've suffered from anxiety/tummy issues for most of my adult life. I'm in a much better place now, but there have been days when just the idea of leaving the house sent me into a nervous panic.
Where can people find you online?
PJ’s website: https://pjmacwriter.com
Website for Big Belly Book Co.: http://www.bigbellybookco.com
PJ McIlvaine was born with a pen in her hand, a prolific and creative children’s author/screenwriter/writer/journalist.
PJ’s debut picture book LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE (May 2019, Big Belly Book Co.), illustrations by Leila Nabih, is about a determined little girl tired of eating with her annoying cousins at the kid’s table, only to discover that the big table isn’t much better. She has another picture book, DRAGON ROAR (MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, publication date TBA), about a lonely, sick dragon who has lost his mighty roar, and the brave village girl who helps him find it again.
PJ is also a co-host and founding member of #PBPitch, the premiere Twitter pitch party for picture book creators.
PJ has been published in numerous outlets including The New York Times and Newsday, and is a regular contributor for The Children’s Book Insider newsletter (paid firewall), writing about the path to publication and interviews with established and debut kid lit authors.
Also, PJ’s critically acclaimed Showtime original family movie MY HORRIBLE YEAR with Mimi Rogers, Karen Allen and Eric Stoltz, was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
A born and bred New Yorker, PJ lives in Eastern Long Island with her family. She hates the Jets, Giants, Mets, and Yankees, never had a knish until she was in college, sat on Meat’s Loaf’s knee, and only recently discovered the gustatory pleasure of Pesto Pizza. Distantly related to the French writer and feminist Simone de Beauvoir, her maternal grandfather was the son of a baron and grew up in a castle with enough drama to fill a couple of novels.
When not writing, PJ is usually running after her rambunctious grandchildren, an endless source of inspiration, exasperation, and perspiration. When she has enough butter on hand, it’s not too hot, and the oven works, she loves to bake brownies and other buttery goodies.
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