Flying Over the Ice
What the Year Will Bring
Little Yella Riding Hood
Baker's Dozen
Smile at the Judges
Axe Upon Axe
Olives in Tuscany
Pajama Pants or Sweat Pants?


By Lisa Kopelke

That's probably my biggest dilemma these days. But about four years ago, the bigger question was "what the hell am I going to do?" This was after a personal tragedy and a hurried move from Seattle to Las Vegas to escape it.

Driving through the desert at sunrise with two cars, two cats, a two year old kid and desert scenery tugging at my heavy heart, I was quite humbled. I'm not a big fan of the desert, but it was truly beautiful at an unexpected moment.

Sitting in my new apartment office, shades drawn against the 120 degree temperature and neighbors partying in the pool outside, those words were now shouting in my brain. This time they were "What the hell are you doing?"

I had to admit I wasn't sure. So I warmed up my computer and plugged in those magic words that I'd secretly held deep in my heart: "writing and illustrating for children." It felt good, odd and scary all at the same time.

The very first thing to pop up was a link to the Write 4 Kids web site. The next was a link to Verla Kay's site. I felt the first flutter in my stomach. These two sites were to become my magic door, and eventually my second home. I unpacked my heavy baggage, and settled in.

One night in one of Verla's online workshops, an agent named Steven Malk graciously answered question after question about everything from what he likes to read, to why someone might need an agent. I hadn't even thought about agents, I had not even written a story yet. But something was happening to me. My flutters were growing into big lumpy monsters.

After the workshop, and a little research, I decided that my finding Steve was more than a coincidence. It was fate.

It's not that I had never written before, it's just that I was always busy, or realistically, lazy about putting it down on paper. Fate opened a door and I walked through it.

My first few attempts at stories were awful, hideous, (remind me later to burn them before they fall into the wrong hands!) and embarrassing.

I came home one day, and settled in with an ice cold beer. After a huge belch, literally, I joked around, mentioning how funny it would be if a frog burped. Would you be able to tell the difference? Now maybe it was the beer talking, but I thought the idea was hilarious. The next day I sat down and wrote an interview with the frog and he told me the WHOLE story in one sitting. My stomach was now a full blown rolling mess.

After many months and hundreds of revisions, I was ready to make my first dummy. I did my research, and despite the contrary, I wasn't going to let anyone tell me I couldn't illustrate my own book. I'm an artist after all! The first sketches were awkward, but soon Frog took on a life of his own. He grew fatter and fatter till he looked like a plump raisin. Now he was ready too.

I spent a lot, okay, all of those hours, imagining worst-case and best-case scenarios. I could clearly hear the conversation, or read that rejection/acceptance letter.

I also wasn't going to let anyone tell me I could never get Steve as an agent. In fact I told no one what my plans were, except my mom and husband of course, so no one could put those awful statistics in my head. I didn't even have a back up plan if I was rejected. Maybe it was foretelling, or maybe just plain ignorance.

I put my package in the mail, sealed with a kiss from my daughter, and just let it go. It was in the hands of fate now.

I got the call four days later. I was so nervous, I still don't remember what Steve said exactly, but I do know it was eerily similar to the best-case scenario I had played in my head.

Steve referred me to three of his authors who were willing to look at my manuscript, and they helped me tighten my story. It was sent out to four publishers, and the rest of the story plays out like a dream.

After a lot of work with my new awesome editor and fantastic art director at a fairly large publisher, I now sit here grinning, with my first book under my belt, and a contract for two more. And somehow I've become the maven of manners. Life is funny.

My stomach problems still come and go. But now they've become a gauge to my good fortune. The more it hurts, the better I'm doing.

So now: pajama pants or sweat pants? And do you wear the ones you've slept in or do you put on fresh ones? It all depends on your mood. But the answer is, really, whatever you want to be seen in when the Fed Ex or UPS truck comes to your house.

Interview with Frog

Lisa: Hello Frog.

Frog:. Hi there. I'm glad to be here today.

L. Thanks for coming. First let me start by asking how much burping is considered too much?

F. Well, that's a great place to start. Burping is actually widely accepted. In some areas, it is not only necessary, but polite. I guess when you live in a small town like I do, everyone is more sensitive to "bodily" functions, so they tend to frown.

L. Are there particular foods that cause this or is this a medical problem?

F. It's not a "medical problem", merely a body's way of releasing trapped air pockets in a stomach. It's usually the way one eats, or the foods one eats that causes these "air pockets." One would be mightily uncomfortable if they tried to keep that air in.

L. Would you consider your burping problem, excuse me, burping excess caused by the foods you eat or how you eat?

F. I am a food connoisseur. I eat foods from around the world. I love the different textures, flavors, and creative use of organic products. I'm especially fond of spicy foods and dishes that use exotic insects. I also have a place in my heart for classic basics, such as hot dogs...

"Excuse Me!" a Simon & Schuster Book for Young Readers is her first book.