#FirstPictureBook

THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD

June 18, 2018

Tags: THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD, Sarah Jane Marsh, Edwin Fotheringham, Disney-Hyperion, 2018

After teaching American Revolution history in elementary and middle schools, Sarah Jane Marsh became intrigued with Thomas Paine—author of the pamphlet Common Sense, which rallied the American people to declare independence against England. His journey of courage, failure, and resilience inspired her to write her #firstpicturebook. In THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD, “Marsh does a fine job of mixing the personal and public elements of Paine's life; he comes across as not just a historical figure, but a fully realized fellow, with hopes and dreams, enthusiasms and disappointments.” (Booklist, starred review)

Q. Was THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. THOMAS PAINE was my first picture book manuscript. Once I committed to writing about Paine, I spent three years researching and experimenting with different angles and voices across multiple drafts.
 
Q. What inspired THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD?
 A. I developed a fascination with the American Revolution after reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s INDEPENDENT DAMES with my kids. I became such a nut about the subject that my daughters’ 5th grade teachers invited me to teach the American Revolution to their grade.
 
Along the way I became enamored with Paine and his renegade spirit and resilient life. Before he wrote his scandalous Common Sense advocating for American independence, he sewed corsets in England.  As a teenager, he ran away to be a privateer (a government-approved pirate) and later struggled through repeated failures before discovering he had knack with words. His story inspired me to persevere with my own writing aspirations. No one had written a picture book biography on him, so I wanted to try.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
 A. Students often discover Thomas Paine and his Common Sense in a sanitized paragraph in their history textbook. We forget that Paine wrote about a dangerous subject during a dangerous time. He was counseled not to write about the subject of independence or even mention the word. Common Sense was shocking. It was explosive. And it was a game-changer. I wanted to capture those feelings in THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD.  
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
 A. I prefer to write by hand when I’m starting out. It’s less daunting. I jot down research notes in a spiral notebook and when I’m inspired by a gem of information, I scribble my own retelling in different voices. When I have a good sense of the story, I switch to Scrivener on my computer and write lots of bad drafts, rearranging and retelling different story beats. Ultimately, I set aside about 95% of my writing as I streamline the story for young readers.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. I love when “persuaded by words on a page,” teenage Paine runs away to be a privateer with Captain Death aboard the Terrible. It shows his courage in taking action to change his destiny. And later, he uses his own words to persuade American colonists to change their destiny by declaring independence. But also, it’s important to show kids that sometimes the results of our big moves are not what we expect. Sometimes what we say “no” to is as important as what we say “yes” to.
 
The privateering scene was in my first draft, but in more detail with twists and turns. We discussed eliminating this section because of the lengthy word count, but compromised by slimming it down. And Ed’s action-packed illustration was the cherry on top. To my delight, this is the section kids most want to talk about.
 
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I seeped myself in history by reading books and Paine’s own words, watching documentaries, visiting the historical sites, and tracking down primary sources online. I’m a stickler for using primary sources, so I went on some wild journeys to chase particular quotes to the original source. A particular thrill was finding the original newspaper advertisement for the Terrible in a database through my local library.
 
Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
 A. Determining a timeframe was a real challenge. Thomas Paine led a full life stirring up trouble around the world with his opinionated writings. However, I wanted to concentrate on his role in the American Revolution. My original draft extended through the end of the war and was 3900 words. I knew I needed to cut, cut, cut!
 
My agent, Caryn Wiseman, suggested ending my manuscript at the Declaration of Independence and moving the rest to the author’s note. This is valuable advice for nonfiction writers. You can always tell more of your story in the back matter.
 
Q. Did THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
 A. We received about 7 rejections.  We knew my manuscript was risky because of the length -- about 2500 words. But my agent Caryn was an ardent supporter of the lengthy story and advocated for it. She found a similar spirit in Disney-Hyperion editor Rotem Moscovich who embraced Thomas and his resilient journey and dedicated 80 pages to tell his story.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD.
 A. Stunned. Caryn had kept me in the loop about the many meetings in the approval process, so we were crossing fingers and toes that THOMAS PAINE would make it through. When the offer came, I felt a deep sense of relief and appreciation that Disney-Hyperion loved this story as much as I did.
 
Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. To my surprise, Disney invited me to submit a “wish list” of illustrators. I had been so focused on crafting the best possible manuscript that I hadn’t allowed myself to daydream about potential illustrators. However, I loved Edwin Fotheringham’s work so he topped my list. His book with Barbara Kerley, THOSE REBELS, JOHN & TOM, was a mentor text and all his books are rich with emotion and historical detail. I was thrilled and nervous when Disney sent my manuscript to Ed and stunned when he accepted. I cried.
 
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Well, I cried again. It was amazing to see dear Thomas Paine come alive in Ed’s unique illustrative style. I had spent three years alone with these words and Ed added more emotion and detail to elevate the story beyond my capabilities. And Disney went all out with the jacket cover. I love the bold red color and Lincoln’s sprawling quote on the back. And when you remove the jacket cover there is another bold surprise!
 
Q. How long did THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
 A. Almost three years. At 80 pages, THOMAS PAINE is not a typical picture book and was an especially large project to illustrate. I also appreciate that Disney was equally committed to getting the history right. We fact-checked with retired history professor Dr. Jett Conner and went through several rounds of fine-tuning with Disney copyeditors. So including my three years crafting the manuscript, this was a six year journey.
  
Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
 A. Always. My achilles heel as a nonfiction writer is that I want to share ALL the good stuff. It pains me to leave tidbits out, but I’m getting better about recognizing that more can be shared in the back matter and school visits. There is a scene in THOMAS PAINE that I cut for word length that I might revisit in another picture book. And one omitted detail still haunts me, which is Captain Death and his ship Terrible were scheduled to leave from Execution Dock. But I’m taking that tidbit with me on school visits to show that fact is often stranger than fiction!
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
 A. Study other successful picture books, especially the ones you love. Outline the story arc and analyze the different components. What angle did the author take in starting the story? How do they introduce character and motivation? Is there a climax or page-turning tension? Is there a theme and how is it revealed? How does the emotional journey change from beginning to end? You don’t have to copy what you learn, just understand the different techniques employed. Don’t be afraid to be a self-taught writer.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. In the later stages of writing, I like to storyboard my books or make a picture book dummy. (Debbie Ohi has a great storyboard template here).

I quickly sketch with bad stick figures, just to get a sense of scene. Mostly I see how the text reads page to page: where the page turns might be, how the scenes change, and where I need to trim my text for pacing.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next book is MOST WANTED: JOHN HANCOCK AND SAMUEL ADAMS, a prequel to the history in THOMAS PAINE. This book will span ten years before Common Sense and feature the troublemaking partnership that landed these two men at the top of Britain’s most wanted list. I’m excited to work again with Ed Fotheringham and our team at Disney-Hyperion.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I’m on Twitter at @MsSarahJMarsh, Facebook at @SarahJaneMarshBooks, and my website is www.sarahjanemarsh.com. Thanks for hosting me, Karlin!

WISHING FOR A DRAGON

June 11, 2018

Tags: WISHING FOR A DRAGON, Becky Cameron, Hodder, 2018

Becky Cameron is a graduate of the Cambridge School of Art and the illustrator of PADDINGTON & THE CHRISTMAS VISITOR. And recently her #firstpicturebook as an author/illustrator was published. Inspired by Becky’s childhood memories of playing with her sisters, WISHING FOR A DRAGON is “a delightful whimsical debut . . . with just the sort of lovely little artistic touches we love to see in picture books” (ReadItDaddy).

Q. You worked as an illustrator before WISHING FOR A DRAGON. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I knew for a long time that I wanted to illustrate and write my own books for children, it just took me a while to figure out how! It was after some research that I decided the best way to get into children's books was to go back to university so I saved up and completed a Masters in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I learnt a lot in that year and a half about the structure and pacing of books but also about the industry. 

I loved the creative freedom of writing my own narratives on the course and was over the moon that my first deal out of university was for one of my own books (Wishing for Dragon). From there it all just fell into place! I've illustrated other people's texts since and I think it's just a very different experience, I like the process and freedom of writing my own books but equally it can be a joy to help bring someone else's words to life. I think probably I'm still transitioning from illustrator to author-illustrator but I'm doing a lot more writing these days and an evening course on writing for children so hopefully there will be more to come.

Q. Was WISHING FOR A DRAGON the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was actually the third or fourth I'd written, and the least finished when my publisher picked it up. It was very rough around the edges and the illustrations very much informed the text (it was wordless to begin with- gasp!) My editor Emma helped me to restructure it and add more depth.

Q. What inspired WISHING FOR A DRAGON?
A. The imagination of me and my sisters when we were children and the endless games we played together.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I can't count how many titles we went through for this book! Originally it was called "We're off on an Adventure" (quite a mouthful). Then for a long time we referred to it as 'adventure story' and then 'dragon book' and finally, after toying with lots of variations, my editor and I settled on WISHING FOR A DRAGON. I think it was the right choice to have the dragon in the title because he is such a central character.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favourite part is when they finally meet Ella's dragon. I wanted it to be clear as soon as you saw him that he wasn't a scary dragon and I think (I hope!) that comes across in the text and the image.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I probably used an online baby name website. I just went for names that I thought sounded nice together!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person? 
A. That is a very good question. I'd like to say it was done consciously but the truth is that was just how the story came out when I wrote it. I think because one of the children has this secret wish (to see a dragon) I wanted it to be from her perspective. I think because it was influenced by my childhood memories I probably felt like in a way I was the little girl telling the story and I was right in the action.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WISHING FOR A DRAGON? 
A. Not very much! It was rewritten so many times I don't think much from the first draft has remained in the final book!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I made the pictures first and when my publisher picked it up it was at a very early stage and wordless which I think is quite unusual. To make the text work we had to restructure and look at the text separately before redrawing the rough artwork to fit the pacing of the text. 

Nowadays the text comes to me more at the beginning of the idea process and then the pictures and text sort of develop together as one which I think is probably a better way to do it!

Q. Did WISHING FOR A DRAGON receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't because it wasn't submitted as such. I was lucky to meet lots of publishers and agents at my graduation show and had meetings with some of them where I showed them my portfolio and dummy books. A few showed interest in Wishing for a Dragon but were perhaps a bit apprehensive as it was so unfinished. I was very grateful to Emma Layfield at Hodder for putting her trust in me.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WISHING FOR A DRAGON.
A. I did a little dance around the room before composing myself and setting to work on finding an agent! I had no idea what I was doing with contracts so thankfully the publisher was happy to wait for me to find an agent before I signed on the dotted line!

Q. How long did WISHING FOR A DRAGON take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two years. I'm still getting used to how slow this industry is!

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I've squeezed all of my favourite things into this book and I don't think I've had to leave anything out.... oh, other than the text originally started with 'We're off on an adventure...' which was then repeated throughout the text which I quite liked!

Q. Did you create any book swag for WISHING FOR A DRAGON? If so, what kind?
A. No book swag but now I'm thinking maybe I should do! Plushy hot air balloons anybody?!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't give up! Your first, second and third ideas might all be rubbish and get rejections but keep working at it until you hit gold.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Keep making things for yourself. Write for yourself and draw (if that's your thing) for yourself. You never know what new ideas will spring from the little things you're making for pleasure. Even when I have a deadline looming I try to write down new ideas or sketch characters that pop into my head. They might not turn into anything or they might just be your next big story idea.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm working with Hodder again on an illustration brief for an exciting book project and I've just submitted a new picture book text to publishers. I've been working on it for some time, fingers crossed it finds a publishing home because I really love it!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.beckycameron.co.uk
@doodleyboo on twitter and instagram
Becky Cameron Illustration on facebook

GERALDINE

June 4, 2018

Tags: GERALDINE, Elizabeth Lilly, Roaring Brook Press

Elizabeth Lilly didn’t want to be a starving artist so she went to college to be an architect. But when she became distracted by writing stories and doodling all over her floor plans, she transferred to art school. On June 26th, Roaring Brook Press will publish Elizabeth Lilly’s #firstpicturebook GERALDINE—a “funny, thoroughly accomplished debut" (Publisher's Weekly, starred review). Congrats Elizabeth! Looks like your “distraction” paid off!

Q: Was GERALDINE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes, GERALDINE is my first picture book manuscript.
 
Q. What inspired GERALDINE?
A. I had a long, thin scrap of paper in my studio in 2013. On a whim, I drew a goofy giraffe barely fitting on the paper, craning her neck to drink out of a tiny glass with a huge, long straw. I pinned her to my studio wall and forgot about her till I needed a main character for a story assignment—she became Geraldine.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title was LONG, LEAN GERALDINE. At the time, the whole manuscript was in rhyme, so I loved the sound of the rhyming words. I later rewrote the text to be shorter, simpler and un-rhyming, so my editor suggested the simpler GERALDINE.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. For picture books, very much by hand—as an author-illustrator, drawing is a big part of the writing process. I like the looseness of being able to change the words to go with the pictures, or vice versa. I keep my pencil ready in my hand to erase or add words or pictures as needed. It’s usually a Pentel mechanical pencil, which I like because you don’t need to stop to sharpen, and you can buy replacement erasers in bulk.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is when Geraldine meets Cassie, who she finds to be just as much an outsider as herself. That part was not in the first draft because Cassie never existed in the first draft. I invented her during the Big Rewrite. In the first draft, Geraldine figures out how to be happy in her new school through a long, complicated subplot where she ruined and then fixed a school play. It took up way too much time in the book and didn’t emotionally resonate in the end. In the rewrite, I figured out that a simpler, more realistic, and maybe scarier challenge for Geraldine in this situation was just to make one single true friend. And so, Cassie was born.
 
Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I just thought Geraldine was a good, fancy name for a giraffe girl with a big, dramatic personality. Her full name is Geraldine Giraffe, and alliteration always adds a small smackerel of goofy goodness. Cassie is a nickname for Casandra; it’s never mentioned, but in my mind, Cassie is Latina, like I am, maybe in a school where there aren’t a lot of Latino kids. She goes by Cassie in an effort to blend in as much as possible.
 
Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. The first draft was in third person, but a writer friend later pointed out that first person narration can add warmth and personality. I changed it to first person for the Big Rewrite and I immediately felt Geraldine’s voice flow out naturally. My friend was right!
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GERALDINE? 
A. Almost none! It started with some silly sketches of a giraffe having trouble doing human things—standing taller than a diving board at a pool, laying over five yoga mats in a yoga class. I thought those were fun and interesting, and I was like cool! Done! A book full of funny giraffe drawings. Much later I figured out this character needed a fuller story with more emotional weight.
 
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images first—my stories often start as drawings in my sketchbook of animals or people that seem to be characters that are asking for a story. I don’t have time to write stories for every sketch, so the drawings that happen to turn out extra special and interesting (I think of them as “sparkly”), I develop further into little stories or bits of writing that may or may not go further. For Geraldine, the character popped out visually in my sketches as EXTREMELY sparkly—she and her crazy yoga-mat shenanigans begged for a story right away.
 
Q. Did GERALDINE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was really fortunate with GERALDINE—I queried mainly by email, asking for art directors, agents and editors to take a look at my work and give me short portfolio review meetings in person in New York. I was humbled and amazed to find the people I contacted were very receptive. 90% of them agreed to meet with me, I only got a few emails back saying, “we are not looking for anyone with your style right now, good luck!” I got a nibble on my first round of meetings that later led to signing my agency agreement.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GERALDINE.
A. My biggest reaction was when I got my offer to be represented by my incredible agent, Elena Giovinazzo at Pippin Properties. Months before the offer, I very confidently gave her my GERALDINE dummy basically being like, here’s my amazing book! Where do I sign? Elena gently pointed out an agent-client agreement is best entered gradually, agreed to give me feedback on my book, and said we could work from there. I got an email from her with editorial notes—the manuscript was too long, a lot of key themes were emotionally off, and the completely rhyming text should have no rhymes. I had to throw out almost everything. But at the end of the email she encouraged me to revise and re-submit.
 
My blind confidence resurged. Great! I thought. She wants me to re-submit! What an invitation! So I thought and drew and sketched and thought for weeks, and finally sent her a newly drawn and written dummy. She sent back a polite email that said she was swamped with work and I should expect feedback within a month. The next day I got a new email from her that seemed more urgent, asking could we talk on the phone? She had something important to discuss. We finally got on the phone the next day and she told me my rewrite was one of the strongest rewrites she’d ever seen! It was nearly ready to sell as a picture book! Would I be her client? It was the best question I’d ever heard, and I was shocked and SO FREAKING HAPPY!! I called everyone I knew (very expensively, I was in Canada and paid roaming minutes) to tell them the news. I had a career!
 
Q. How long did GERALDINE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Forever. I got my offer in January of 2015, it will be printed in June of 2018. Finally I’ll be able to point to something and say, look! THIS is the thing that made me pull 6 all-nighters in 2016! It’s real!
 
Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. Just visual stuff, really. I had some simple, graphic endpapers and title-page images that I loved in the first draft of the dummy, but in order to squish in extra narrative elements in the rewrite, I had to throw them out. I still love them, maybe I can find a way to use them if GERALDINE gets a sequel…
 
Q. Have you read GERALDINE to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes, I have! When Geraldine pretends to be the Queen of England and calls the other kids “dahhhhling” it always gets a good laugh. A lot of the book is more serious and thoughtful though so I hear nothing and I start sweating, hoping it’s making some impact on them and they’re not thinking about macaroni and cheese or something.
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for GERALDINE? If so, what kind?
A. I’d love to make stickers—I think they’re a crowd-pleaser. I’m also a dabbling animator so I’m aiming to make a short book trailer.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. What you say is more important than how you say it. Make sure you have something meaty to say when you write, and a good reason to say it. That reason is what will keep you from giving up during the 6th and 10th and 12th rewrite! Also, when you’re stuck on what to say, sometimes it can help to imagine you are writing a book for your own 8-year-old self. What book would have helped that kid? Or delighted them?
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m starting the final art for my second author-illustrator picture book to be released from Holiday House. It’s a prose poem I wrote years ago about the different foods my Colombian Abuela and West Virginian Grandma cooked for me growing up. In my spare time I’m putting huge amounts of pressure on myself to write/draw a new character-oriented story for my third book that is delightfully sparkly and brilliant. It’s going medium-well, on good days.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. 
Website: www.elizabeth-lilly.com
 Twitter: @elizabethmlilly
 Instagram: @elizabethmlilly
 

#FirstPictureBook Flashback: PENNY & JELLY

May 29, 2018

Tags: Maria Gianferrari

In April 2016, I interviewed Maria Gianferrari about her #firstpicturebook PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW (published in 2015). So what has Maria been up to since then? The sequel to PENNY & JELLY along with six other books! To check out her #firstpicturebook Q&A, click here.

To learn more about Maria’s other books, follow these links:

Penny & Jelly books:“Craft-minded kids will particularly enjoy watching Penny at work. … A pleasure for reading aloud.”—Booklist

Officer Katz and Houdini: “An entertaining romp about rivalry and friendship."—Booklist

Hello Goodbye Dog: “Effortlessly inclusive, Gianferrari and Barton's creative Hello Goodbye Dog becomes an inviting mirror or window for any child, welcoming every reader in."—Shelf Awareness Review, starred review

Coyote Moon: “’Yip-yip-yip-yip!’ indeed, for this sympathetic portrayal of a not-often-celebrated creature who shares our world."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Terrific Tongues: “Perfect for a group storytime, this is a useful addition to the wonders-of-animals shelf."—Kirkus Reviews

Hawk Rising: “This captivating introduction to the red-tailed hawk concludes with more than a half-dozen facts about the common bird of prey and further reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Operation Rescue Dog: Coming September 2018!

LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT

May 21, 2018

Tags: LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT By Camille Whitcher (Salariya Book Company, 2018)

The Stratford-Salariya Picture Book Prize is a competition held by the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival and Salariya Book Company to find a picture book by an unpublished author deserving of publication. In 2017, Camille Whitcher won and now her #firstpicturebook has been published in the U.K. and will be available in the U.S. this August. Congrats Camille!

Q. Was LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was indeed my first picture book manuscript. I never considered myself to be a writer before as I was much more focussed on illustration.

Q. What inspired LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT?
A. I’m a big fan of folk tales, fairy tales and myths and wanted to do something based on one. I’m also a big fan of rabbits, though unfortunately I’ve never owned one. Having lived in Japan for a while, and of course having a Japanese parent, I’d known about the East Asian myth of the rabbit on the moon. I thought it was the perfect basis to create the story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Initially it was simply “The Moon Rabbit”. However, there were one or two other books with the same or similar titles so then it was decided that the girl’s name should appear in the title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I would have to say both. I probably start off with handwritten notes, usually on scraps of paper — I particularly seem to like used envelopes to doodle/scrawl on! I then take these scraps and type them up into chunks on the computer and start trying to make sense of them from there.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favourite part is the image where the two characters are lying beside the river watching the koi and it certainly was in the first draft. I had been experimenting with different media initially and found an old bottle of Quink that I’d bought years ago. I thought it’d be appropriate to use for a book set at night time. I’d found out from somewhere that it reacts to bleach well so I experimented painting koi in bleach on slightly diluted washes of Quink. I liked the outcome so made sure the koi were in the book.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I chose the name Luna not only because it means moon in English or Latin based languages but also because it exists in Japan as a girl’s name (spelled Runa when Romanised). It’s often written using the kanji for moon eg 月奈 - the first character meaning moon.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story third person? 
A. I don’t think it was a particularly conscious decision to do so. I think I naturally write in the third person unless I am specifically writing a story about me. Having said that, it’s probably obvious that the way I’ve designed Luna shows that this story is my own wish fulfillment!

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT? 
A. The myth that Luna and the Moon Rabbit is based on is quite well known in East Asian countries. I knew that there was a rabbit as opposed to a man on the moon and that he is seen pounding rice for mochi in the Japanese version of the myth. I didn’t know too much more than that until later on. There seem to be a couple of versions of how the rabbit ended up there. Both interesting, though I didn’t want to illustrate an existing story, I wanted to make it my own.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images definitely came first. In fact it was almost finished before the final draft of the text was written. I think predominantly in images and the atmosphere I want to convey. I find it more difficult to convey moods with words without cringing at what I’ve written!

Q. Did LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. To be honest before entering the book into the Stratford Literary Festival-Salariya Picture Book Prize I didn’t send it off to any other publishers as I was too afraid of rejection! I’d shown the dummy version of the book at my Graduate Degree Show and from there I had significant interest from one publisher, but after one meeting nothing came of it. I found entering the book into a competition somehow easier than sending it off to publishers.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT.
A. When I won the picture book prize, and as a result a contract, I was pretty stunned. That feeling took a long time to dissipate too. I kept thinking they must’ve made a mistake and it was only a matter of time before they’d call me to retract the prize!

Q. How long did LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was a little over a year. However, to get it to the stage where I was ready to submit the dummy for the competition took much much longer!

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. There wasn’t anything edited out. As for things that could’ve been added, there are probably many! But then I guess those ideas are for another story. There’s nothing that I regret not including.

Q. Have you read LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I have read it to kids at a workshop. At the first reading, they were all so quiet and I was so nervous (!) that I didn’t really pick up on any particular reactions. However, on the second reading to them at the end of the workshop, I made it more interactive and they seemed to enjoy spying all the hidden rabbits in the images.

Q. Did you create any book swag for LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT? If so, what kind?
A. I have had a few postcards printed up — some of which were made from previous artwork which I then redid for the book. I don’t know if it counts as ‘swag’ exactly but I also hand carved rubber stamps to use at signings. I know some illustrators like to do a little doodle when signing but I have such a fear of messing it up I thought a stamp would be better.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I guess what’s been invaluable to me is my picture book maker friends. I have a few very close friends that I made whilst doing my master’s in children’s book illustration and I rely on them to give me honest and constructive feedback on both my illustrations and my writing. However, the latter is much harder for me to share as I’m much less confident with it.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I don’t think I’m qualified to give tips on writing exactly - or even on marketing for that matter! One thing I do, as I have a terrible memory, is make sure I have access to a pen and paper, or something I can take notes on quickly. Ideas can pop up and then disappear quite quickly so I need to make a note of them. A lot of them don’t make much sense to me later but some of them do and are worth developing. It’s the same with illustrating. I don’t create beautiful instagram worthy sketchbooks. Instead, I use sketchbooks as a safe place (I hardly ever show anyone!) where I can doodle, sketch and generally dump my ideas. When my ideas start to dry up, I go back to these sketchbooks and usually find an old forgotten doodle that sparks my imagination.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several ideas on the go, some more developed than others. I need to get them to a point where they’re ready to be submitted to publishers - I also need to get myself ready and confident enough to submit them!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
On the internet I’m here: www.camillewhitcher.co.uk
On twitter I’m @CamilleWhitcher
On Instagram I’m @milly_of_bunston
In real life I’m either daydreaming or running!

Thank you for having me!

The best thing I did while waiting for my book to be published

May 9, 2018

You’ve sold your #firstpicturebook—congrats!!! Now what do you do?
Patience is key in picture-book publishing. My first book took three years—from offer letter to printed books. My second picture book, the read-aloud AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH, took almost two years to be published. Everyone from the illustrator to the editor to the sales department needs their time to do their thing. So what did I do in the meantime?
Find out at LiteraryHoots.

#firstpicturebook Flashback — Heather Lang and Queen of the Track

April 30, 2018

Tags: Heather Lang

In 2016, I interviewed Heather Lang about creating her #firstpicturebook QUEEN OF THE TRACK: ALICE COACHMAN, OLYMPIC HIGH-JUMP CHAMPION which was published in 2012. Since her debut, Heather has published four more books, presented at conferences and schools around the country, and, just this month, won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for her picture book FEARLESS FLYER illustrated by Raul Colon. Congrats Heather and Raul!!

Here are a few links to Heather’s work:
ANYBODY’S GAME: KATHRYN JOHNSTON, THE FIRST GIRL TO PLAY LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: THE DARING DISCOVERIES OF EUGENIE CLARK
FEARLESS FLYER: RUTH LAW AND HER FLYING MACHINE
THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: THE WILD ADVENTURES OF LUCILLE MULHALL
#FirstPictureBook Q&A for QUEEN OF THE TRACK: ALICE COACHMAN, OLYMPIC HIGH-JUMP CHAMPION

To keep up with Heather, follow her on Twitter at @hblang

PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!

April 23, 2018

Tags: PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!, Cate Berry, Charles Santoso, Balzer + Bray, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Cate Berry is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences on such topics as "Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices" and "From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books." Inspired by a class assignment, Cate wrote her #firstpicturebook which will be published on May 8th. Today she talks to us about crafting PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!—a Junior Library Guild selection and “a definite do for bedtime” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was close to my first book. I took two picture book classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas (And I am lucky enough to teach there now). During my second class we were given the assignment of writing a bedtime book. I got a jump on the assignment and wrote this very quickly. It’s one of the few times something has come out “whole” and not needing a lot of revision (because that NEVER happens, as we know).

My very first picture book manuscript was called Puffin and Slip. It follows two creatures in a faraway galaxy. They are separated but stay connected through the moon and their special friendship. That manuscript is in a drawer right now but I think you’ve awoken my curiosity again! Thank you and I’ll keep you posted.

Q. What inspired PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!?
A. As I stated above it was a class assignment. But also, as I examine it closely years later, it was a love letter to my children. They are only thirteen months apart and when they were little acted as one unit. Plus, they hate bedtime. Can you tell?

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Oh, that’s a fun topic. The book was originally titled This is Not a Bedtime Book. In the end, we wanted something a little more original and full of the voice of the characters. I brainstormed a list and Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! was a favorite with the Harper Collins/Balzer+Bray team. I’m so glad we changed it. I really love the final title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I write by hand but I also write a lot on my iPhone notes app. I heard an interview with Annie Leibovitz talking about how the best camera to use was the one on you all the time. She champions iPhone photography and that got me thinking about using my Notes App for writing while I’m out in the world. There are so many opportunities to write: waiting for the dentist, right before your household wakes up, when insomnia hits in the dead of night. It’s freeing to just swipe over to an app and jot down inspiration when it hits.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is probably the double spread of the “turn” or climax of the book. Penguin & Tiny Shrimp’s anti-bedtime shenanigans have reached a fever pitch and Charles Santoso’s illustrations are just so joyous and fun. He really captures my heart in that spread because it epitomizes being a kid.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I’ve been asked this a lot and I wish there were a snappier answer. But the truth is they just came to me very suddenly while I was drafting. You have to pay attention to your story when things are flowing. Things were definitely in “flow” that day.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. A teacher of mine from grad school once said, “Every writer gets something for free.” My “freebie” is dialogue. It comes very organically for me. This entire book is told through dialogue and that is very much my voice as a writer.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! ? 
A. Well, my subconscious knew quite a bit since sleuth bedtime tactics had been my life for so long with small children. I think when I started the story I knew they would end up passing out at the end. I can’t believe in a story fully until I know the ending.

Q. Did PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes. It was on submission for several months and we received around 8-10 rejections. But then, presto we got several offers all at once. The book ended up at auction with four publishing houses. It sounds cliché, but I guess the take-away is that you should never give up on something you believe in.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! 
A. My agent called me and I had to pull over because I was driving. I screamed, of course, and then cried. I was very, very happy. Getting a book published relies on a lot of things lining up perfectly. I feel grateful every day for this opportunity.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor was open to suggestions from me. I requested that she consider Charles Santoso among others. She was charmed by the idea of Charles illustrating the book and we were both thrilled when he agreed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Oh. They exceeded my expectations. Not only were they adorable but also they were also full of personality and verve. I don’t know how Charles did it. I have so much respect and admiration for illustrators in general. It was such a gift when the first sketches came in.

Q. How long did PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I believe we sold the book in the fall of 2016. It debuts May 8, 2018.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. That’s a great question. There was not much editing on my end. However my editor did nudge me to perfect some of Tiny Shrimp’s lines, adding more specificity. I’m so glad she did as it goosed the humor, in my opinion, and made his character that much more fun.

Q. Have you read PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I have read the book to lots of kids! I think the biggest laugh always happens when the Uni-Hippo makes a surprise entrance. I think my biggest thrill is seeing kids delight in two aquatic creatures bounding into zany adventures avoiding sleep. It’s every kid’s fantasy, or at least the kids I know. ☺

Q. Did you create any book swag for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!? If so, what kind?
A. Yes! My sister is a wonderful designer and she and I have just ordered postcards for librarians, bookplates, stickers and buttons. I also made an invitation for the book launch on May 20th at the indie bookstore BookPeople in Austin, Texas. You’re all invited!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read, read, read and then read more picture books. Don’t underestimate how much you’re learning about the form while you read picture books, especially aloud.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I try to write something every day even when I have just a few minutes. One of my advisors in grad school taught me this. It can be as small as a picture book title idea or a stanza in a poem. But it does wonders for keeping your creative wheels greased.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m in the middle of revising four picture books and I’m on my third major revision of a middle grade novel. I’m also dabbling in non-fiction picture books. It scares me because the research is so interesting I’m afraid I’ll fall down the rabbit hole and never come out!

I’m also reminding myself every week to pay it forward and be generous about helping other writers as much as time will allow. That’s important to me: connection and community.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I love to hear from kids, readers, and writers! You can find me here:
www.cateberry.com
Twitter: @cberrywriter
Insta: @cateberryatx
Cate Berry Reads PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7_kfuwBfvPc

The little extras

April 16, 2018

While you are waiting for your #firstpicturebook to be published, think about the little extras to add to your website for kids or teachers. I’m not a huge fan of printable bookmarks because I’ve never seen anyone use a bookmark with a picture book. But I do like the idea of coloring sheets or printable posters. (How great would a kid’s room be if the walls were covered in book posters?) Other extras include discussion guides, games, puzzles, and how-to-draw activities. What items would work well with your book? To get some ideas, take a look at the little extras these authors created for their #firstpicturebooks:

DOLL-E 1.0
How to draw book characters

GLORIA
Discussion Guide

THE FIELD
Teacher’s guide

I LOVE YOU BUNNY
How to draw book character

HALLOWEEN GOODNIGHT
Crafts and activities

THE TOOTH MOUSE
Activity sheets

ZEBRA ON THE GO
Activity kit

WHOBERT
Story Hour Kit

GRANDMOTHER THORN
Educator’s guide

NIAN MONSTER
Event kit

SALAD PIE
Activities

BACKHOE JOE
Teacher’s Guide

TICK TOCK BANNEKER’S CLOCK
Video and Activities

TOBY
Activities

HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP
Teacher’s Guide

QUEEN OF THE TRACK
Discussion and Activity Guide

LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST
Character cards and book songs

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY
Teacher’s Guide

THE GENTLEMAN BAT
Hidden details

ACHOO! WHY POLLEN MATTERS
Activities guide

Click here to see the little extras for my #firstpicturebook NADIA.

(more…)

DOLL-E 1.0

April 9, 2018

Tags: DOLL-E 1.0, #firstpicturebook, Shanda McCloskey, Little, Brown, May 2018

Shanda (rhymes with panda) McCloskey’s #firstpicturebook was inspired by watching her inventive daughters play with their toys and was later named by her husband. Now this family-made creation comes out May 1 and today she shares the nuts and bolts of DOLL-E 1.0—“an engaging story, arguing for the marriage of technology with creativity and play” (Kirkus Reviews ) and “an enjoyable romp for readers, whether they’re plugged in or not” (Booklist).

Q. Was DOLL-E 1.0  the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Hmm. I think this was probably the 3rd or 4th picture book I spent real time on. For a few of those, I was stuck on writing about how making art was similar to cooking with ingredients. The idea sounded fun, but it wasn’t when I actually wrote it. I still remember the looks on my writer friends’ faces when I finished reading my drafts aloud… poor guys, they had to tell me how bad it was without breaking my spirit. I guess, they succeeded, because I’m still here. :)
 
Q. What inspired DOLL-E 1.0?
A. One day, I was playing dolls and stuffed animals with my two-year-old daughter who naturally liked books and movies with robots in them. While we played, she said her doll was a robot. And that idea just flew all over me! I ran to write it down, and the next few weeks I researched robot picture books to see if this idea had been played out before. To my surprise, it hadn’t. And not only that, but ALL the robot-themed books I found in that time were made with boy readers in mind. A robot book with girl-appeal was missing!
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My husband, Ben, came up with this title. I loved it from the moment he said it, and I was lucky that my editor at Little Brown, Andrea Spooner, liked it too!
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A little of both, actually.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. This is the original image from which the story of DOLL-E 1.0 was born. Waaaaay before I had a agent or an offer, I wanted to draw tools, intense creating, plans, and mechanical parts, so I did. And aside from a few detail additions, this original image appears in the book!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. As I drew her, I thought the girl looked like a “Charlotte” and after I had called her that for so long, it stuck! I think it’s a strong, classic, yet cool and revived, female name.
 
“Blutooth” was a fun discovery! But legally we couldn’t use the trademarked spelling: Bluetooth. So, we took out the E. We also toyed with the idea of calling him “Megabyte”, but Blutooth rolled off my tongue much easier when I read my story aloud - which I will probably be doing a lot. :)
 
“Doll-E” was the first character to be named. An electronic play-on name for a dolly!
 
Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I tried both ways, but third person with some dialogue seemed the best fit.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing DOLL-E 1.0 ?
A. I thought I knew most of it, but as I mention in another answer below, just about ALL of it changed once I got better acquainted with my kid/kid-like characters.
 
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Characters seem to come first, then I try to find their story, then I toggle between art and story in the dummy process. I take away, add, or rework until it feels close to right. I think I made 7 different dummies for DOLL-E 1.0 before I settled where I did.
 
Q. Did DOLL-E 1.0  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Earlier versions of DOLL-E 1.0 got rejected 6 times, but some of these rejections had valuable feedback attached that resulted in good changes!
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DOLL-E 1.0 .
A. It was so flipping exciting! DOLL-E 1.0 went to auction with 4 offers! It was like the movies where I was always near my phone waiting on an update from my agent. I may never experience excitement like this over one of my books again, but I’ll surely NEVER forget it!
 
On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I’d won the lottery either. I felt like I had worked hard for this moment, and I still had a lot of work ahead of me once I accepted one of the offers.
 
Q. How long did DOLL-E 1.0  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About a year and a half. I received offers in January 2017 and DOLL-E 1.0 is set to be on shelves May 1st, 2018. It was put on a “rushed” schedule because of the popular girl/tech subject. We didn’t want to be late to the party, so to speak.
 
Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. When I started writing DOLL-E 1.0 I had some beautiful themes/messages about what technology can’t replace that I was trying to write a story around. But, as I got to know my characters better as kids, I found that my “themes” were actually very grown-up thoughts. It was tough to let go of my lovely (but didactic) ideas and remember how my mind worked when I was a kid.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture books writers?
A. Just keep plugging along ... working, reading, learning new things, trying new things, meeting people … and you WILL eventually see fruits from your labor. :)
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Every year my critique group retreats to a cabin in Alabama for a writing weekend! We follow a schedule of working, eating, walking and critiquing each day. It has proven to be really productive AND fun!
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Currently, I’m working on a companion story to DOLL-E 1.0 where you’ll meet Charlotte’s neighborhood friends including Lucas and his drone named T-Bone!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, etc.)
A.
Web: shandamc.com
Instagram: @shandamccloskeydraws
Twitter: @shandamccloskey