Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview With Author and Musician Joni Klein-Higger

Joni Klein-Higger is a children's book author, songwriter, and musical theater playwright. Her children's musical Recycle was just released by Guardian Angel Publishing.

Joni, How did you first get into writing musicals?

I grew up in a musical home. Between my parents, my three brothers and me there was always someone singing, whistling, playing the piano, strumming a guitar or squeezing an accordion. Even my bedtime routine as a young child was based around music. Instead of reading me a picture book, my father serenaded me with Irving Berlin songs and Broadway show tunes, only to be followed by a Broadway show album to help me go to sleep. It’s no wonder my brain to this day is constantly filled with music.

After graduating with a BA in Speech Communications from Ithaca College, I attended a variety of songwriting workshops in New York City. My love for songwriting and theater eventually came together when I enrolled in a musical theater workshop, and next thing you know, I was hooked!

Give us your "elevator pitch" for Recycle – The Musical

In this fun, educational musical about recycling, a “nutty professor” transports four modern day kids back to the 1950’s. Together they compare the lifestyles of today’s “disposable generation” to kids living in a time before plastic bags, aluminum cans and water bottles became a part of our every day life.

Before listening to your musical, I'd never thought about the amount of disposable products we use today as compared to the 1950's. What inspired your concept?

I’ve been writing children’s musicals for over thirteen years now. Several years ago, one of the elementary school teachers I worked with requested I write a musical about recycling for her classroom. I jumped at the opportunity to create a musical for kids involving a subject matter near and dear to my heart. The only catch was this teacher requested that we re-use the “50’s-style” costumes from a show I wrote for her that previous year. In the words of Professor Rosco, “What better way to help our future than by revisiting the past.” And so, Recycle – The Musical was born.

My favorite song from your musical is "Rock N Roll With Me." It has a real 50's vibe. What were your musical influences for writing it?

This song was written to introduce the time traveling kids to the 50’s kids while capturing the essence of the 50’s decade. The way I see it, you can’t have a “50’s musical” without a fun, hopping, 50’s dance number. My goal when creating “Rock ‘N Roll With Me” was to combine the high energy of  “Rock Around The Clock” with a song that had motions the kids could easily perform, like “The Locomotion," written by my favorite songwriter, Carole King. I loved watching the kids perform this production number—they were so into it!

How does marketing children’s musicals differ from marketing children’s books?

With children’s books, the world is our oyster for marketing our products—school visits, online promotions, book readings, etc., but for musicals I mostly target educators, summer camps and theater programs. My publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, also markets to home schoolers, religious schools and children oriented organizations.This particular musical, however, is different in that I can market it as a book as well as a musical due to its story and subject matter.

What can fans of your work look forward to seeing next?

I currently have three more works that will soon be released by Guardian Angel Publishing. 

First is A Rainbow of Friendship, which is a rhyming picture book about a girl who moves from the comforts of her “little red town” to Rainbow Row City. On her journey she discovers that friendship comes in many colors, shapes and sizes.

Next is I Have A Voice, a children’s picture book I co-wrote with Dr. Flora Zaken-Greenberg, a licensed PhD.  It is the story of a five-year-old girl who is afraid to speak and learns to overcome her problem with the help of a “Feelings doctor.”

And finally, another musical, RED, which I co-wrote with Jane Tesh.  In this musical Red Writing Hood, with the help of her magic pencil, changes fairytales and turns Fairy Tale Land upside down.

You can learn more about Joni Klein-Higger at her website, and copies of Recycle - The Musical can be purchased at Guardian Angel Publishing.

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Is A Text Set And How Can Having One Benefit An Author?

A text set is a collection of materials to supplement the study of a topic, a picture book, or a novel. A good overview can be found here.

Emily Roderique, M.Ed. English III Teacher, recently developed a text set to be used in conjunction with my book, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. A text set gives a book an advantage with educators because some of the prep work for using it has already been done.

My text set is divided into four categories: I. Tuberculosis, II. North Carolina Sanatoriums, III. Famous People Affected by TB, and IV. NC History, Culture, and Geography. Under each of these categories, Emily listed nonfiction books, websites, articles, documentaries, even blog interviews, and Pinterest boards. All of these resources supplement understanding the world in which my protagonist lived.

My favorite nonfiction book included in my text set is Jim Murphy's INVINCIBLE MICROBE.

And perhaps the most famous authors to die from tuberculosis are the Bronte sisters. Catherine Reef's wonderful biography is also included.

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL'S text set is available for free download. Leave any questions you might have in the comments. Both Emily and I are available to answer them.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summertime's Calling Me!

My writing life has been derailed this week by a visit from the Crown Prince, aka my son, Alex.

Alex came home to get his wisdom teeth extracted, and I've been his chauffeur, nurse, cook, and maid. As you can see, I haven't been doing a stellar job on the maid part.

My blogging will be pretty spotty for the rest of July. I am planning to do some of this:

And this:


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Orlando SCBWI Conference Review

The Orlando conference was held on Disney property at The Dolphin. I snapped the above picture just outside my bedroom window.

I took a Middle Grade Novel Workshop with author Deborah Wiles and Candlewick editor Carter Hasegawa. Deborah's presentation was about excavating your life for stories. She shared how her life has influenced her books. Deborah asked us lots of questions to start us mining our pasts for stories. For example:
  1. When you think of home: what does it smell like, sound like, taste like?
  2. When was your life derailed?
  3. What scares you?
  4. What breaks your heart?
  5. Who are your heroes?
Answering those questions often provides ideas to enrich your stories.

Carter told us that he's read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card about fifty times. So if you write that type of book, I'd say Carter would be a great editor to send it to.

Carter also led a discussion about writing diverse characters. The thing he said that made me think the most is, "What gives you the right to write the other?" We have to earn the right to write stories about people that aren't like us. That reminded me of my friend Nancy Bo Flood and her book Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo. Though Nancy isn't Navajo, (at least I don't think she's Navajo), she does live and work on a Navajo Indian Reservation. Her life experience has earned her the right to tell this story.

One last tip from the workshop is to check out Deborah's Pinterest boards. The way she collects historical images and videos would help any writer, but especially those of us who write historical fiction.

Rumor has it, we'll be back at The Dolphin in June of 2015. You can't beat the setting, or SCBWI Florida. You're invited...come on down!

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Debut Year In Review!

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL recently won the Crystal Kite Award for the Southeast Region. That was the perfect way to end my debut year. Looking back, here are some of the highlights:

Pre-publication: My cover art was revealed on September 15, 2012. Shortly thereafter, I worked with my publisher on flap copy. With the help of Linda Kaufman, my website designer, I overhauled my blog and website. Wendy Hostetter Davis designed my book trailer. You can watch it here:

Publishers Weekly gave The Ballad of Jessie Pearl its first professional review. Kirkus, Booklist, SLJ, and several others soon followed. My publisher collected all my reviews and posted them on the namelos website.

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl's official book birthday was February 1, 2013. JESSIE and I were featured on the front page of my hometown newspaper, The Yadkin Ripple. My friend Regine Gordon threw a launch party for all my Tampa friends. I had a book signing at my hometown library in East Bend, North Carolina. This picture is at the library with Brad Matthews, one of my friends from elementary school.

Since the initial launch, I have spoken at the 2013 ALAN Conference on a panel of Southern writers, cheered when Booklist Online named JESSIE'S cover art as one of the year's best, led a workshop at the North Carolina Reading Association Conference, and been interviewed in the ALAN Review.

My debut author journey has been a satisfying experience and winning a Crystal Kite Award was like getting an extra cherry on my nut sundae. The only thing more exciting is that I get to do it all again! My second novel, Carolina Girls will be edited by Andrea Pinkney and published by Scholastic. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 8, 2014


I am thrilled and amazed that my book won the Crystal Kite for the southeast region, (Florida, Georgia, SC, NC, and Alabama). That means my book earned a sticker. And though I'm much too old for kindergarten, I am still excited about that!

I was in the bathtub when I got "the call" from Linda Bernfeld, my Regional Advisor. Luckily, I had the phone close by. Who am I kidding? I'm a mom...the phone is always close by. Linda asked if I'd looked at my email. And then I knew. I just knew deep down that JESSIE had won! Forget relaxing in the bathtub. I had enough adrenaline pumping to launch a rocket ship!

It will be a week tomorrow since Linda called, and all I can say is thank you. JESSIE and I feel truly blessed.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Crystal Kite Finalist!

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl is a finalist for the Southeast Region's Crystal Kite Award. 

Other finalists include:
  1. Anubis Speaks by Vicky Alvear Shecter
  2. Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes
  3. Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals by Heather Montgomery and
  4. The Culling by Steven dos Santos
I am proud JESSIE is a finalist and send hearty congratulations to the other authors and their wonderful books!