Since I am new to the picture-book world, I wanted to learn from other writers. What inspired their stories? How did they go about crafting their first book? What did they do when they finally received that offer? These authors have been kind enough to share their experiences and tips in this Q&A. This week's writer is KRISTEN FULTON.


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LONG MAY SHE WAVE

March 20, 2017

Tags: Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation, Kristen Fulton, Holly Berry, Margaret K. McElderry Books, May 2, 2017

Kristen Fulton began writing children's books in 2013 and a year later she had sold three manuscripts! Today she shares the story behind her #firstpicturebook LONG MAY SHE WAVE—“A strong look at women who up took up needle and thread to inspire a town, a man, and ultimately a nation” (Booklist).

Q. Was LONG MAY SHE WAVE the first picture-book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, actually is was the third that I sold. Of course I had written a few that didn’t sell. My two that sold before Long May She Wave were with Chronicle and Simon and Schuster. Chronicle had a vision and kept me a close part of the publishing process. The “ideal” illustrator was booked out so we decided to wait for him. It was worth it in the end. The other story with Simon and Schuster (same as Long May She Wave) was moved to 2018 instead as it needed a little more fine editing work.

Q. What inspired LONG MAY SHE WAVE?
A. My husband and I travel about six months a year in our RV, aka Chalet Fulton. On one of our many travels we stopped in Washington DC and saw the Star Spangled Banner. We decided to head over to Baltimore and tour the Flag House (where the flag was made). Piece by piece the story was revealed and I knew that I wanted to sew this one together. So, we set up camp for two weeks and I went into serious research mode.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. This was an easy one since it is based on the Flag.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is in the final and has been there since draft one. It is where I took words from the "Star Spangled Banner" and wove it into the story so readers could see them used in context.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for LONG MAY SHE WAVE?
A. I visited the home. Pulled property records and censuses. I visited the Smithsonian. Spoke to several historians. I visited Ft. McHenry. Got primary resources from daily papers about the British marching to Washington and then on to Boston. I also got a letter from Caroline Pickergil’s daughter.

Q. How did you decide on where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. I knew that this was going to be about one small part of history, not a biography, but about an event. So it was easy. I decided to start it and end it with the event.

Q. Did LONG MAY SHE WAVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No, except from my agent :-) She wasn’t crazy about it but Justin Chanda from Simon and Schuster had just contacted her to see all of my work so she included it and voila!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LONG MAY SHE WAVE.
A. Vindicated? I have heard over and over that I haven’t paid my dues. I am still fairly new to writing. I began my writing career in January 2013. Even the head of my regional SCBWI felt that people would not give me credit as a writer since I haven’t “paid my dues.” Selling a third story on my one-year anniversary validated this career choice for me. I work at least 40 hours a week writing, attend two to four conferences and retreats, and participate in about two classes per year.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I had none on this book. Although once the illustrations were done, they did listen to my opinion about historically inaccurate items.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. OMG—That is my book!!! I think the best moment was being told it was available for preorder on Amazon. I was surrounded by friends and they got to tell me. I was happy, cried, and an emotional wreck all at once.

Q. How long did LONG MAY SHE WAVE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I sold the book in January 2014. 3 years and 4 months.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Think like a kid. Ask yourself, “What will a kid find interesting?” NOT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY WILL FIND INTERESTING.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I created a compass that I fill out. It is available for download on my website at http://www.kristenfulton.org/uploads/1/8/4/4/18447485/website_compass.pdf.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a few I CAN READ series books for Harper, a series for Charlesbridge, and an adult novel.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Twitter: @KristenFulton
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kristenfulton.net/?fref=ts
www.kristenfulton.com

THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ

March 13, 2017

Tags: THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, Curtis Manley, Kate Berube, Paula Wiseman Books, 2016

"Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections." But finally, one of Curtis Manley's manuscripts became his #firstpicturebook. THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ is "a marvelous debut”(Publishers Weekly starred review) that "makes a fun read-aloud, especially for cat lovers, literacy lovers, or anyone looking for a great story” (School Library Journal starred review).

Q. Was THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Not the first picture book I wrote—I wrote the first one in 2000 (I still really like it and need to figure out how to revise it to make it work). Not even the first picture book I sold—that one won’t come out until April 2017 (because sometimes there are big bumps in the road!).

Q. What inspired THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. When I started working on the story in early 2009, I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world—and it was not the world in which her mother and I were asking her to get ready for dinner! So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The earliest versions of the title were always similar to the final title. It seemed a good idea to use the title to make it clear what the book was about (at least on one level). It also seemed like a title that would make people think “What? Can cats really be taught to read?” Of course, some people might worry, wondering if their cats have been reading all along, unbeknownst to them…

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like many different parts of the book, but the spread with all the drawings is one favorite. Was that in the first draft? Nope! It first appeared in the draft that got the offer—but in fact previous drafts had hinted at something under the bed (but even I—the author—had missed those hints).

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I chose “Nick” because I thought that name would work well for any boy the illustrator might draw. For the cats, I didn’t want “cute” names; I wanted distinctive names that adults would recognize from some of the classic books referenced in the story. “Verne” seemed fitting, and “Stevenson” was actually a perfect match for a cat who’s a reluctant reader…

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. The first four years of my working on it, the story was in first person. I felt that made it more immediate. But first person isn’t always the best choice for a read-aloud. My editor asked me to try it in third person; that allowed the humor to come out more, so we kept it that way.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. I think I had a good idea of the whole story—but, as I mentioned above, the story changed so that isn’t the one you’ll read in the published book.

Q. Did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections. But for this book, my agent’s choice of the first editor to send it to was perfect: that editor liked it right away. Not that the editor immediately yelled, “Sold!”—there were extensive revisions before that happened.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ.
A. Relief! After three rounds of revisions, one right after another, I was just glad the story had sold so that we could be finished with all those rewrites. Famous last words! Immediately after the offer there were two more rounds of revisions—and two additional rounds several months later! It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. It’s unusual for the writer to have much say in the matter. But I’m grateful I was shown the samples and sketches as the work progressed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. My editor needed to be sure that any illustrator chosen had good cat-drawing abilities, so she asked the illustrator she had in mind—Kate Berube—for some samples. Kate’s sample cats had just the right dynamic and charm for the story—and behaved like the cats we ourselves have had over the years.

Q. How long did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took just a bit more than two years. That’s pretty common with picture books for which the author is not creating the illustrations.

Q. When you do readings of THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids like to recite the words that are spelled out on the flash cards that Nick uses. They also love to meow and hiss along with the cats!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If you’re serious about writing for children, join SCBWI. But even more important than that is to find a critique group of like-minded children’s writers (which SCBWI can certainly help with) who can give you a wide range of feedback on your manuscripts and story ideas. A good writing group can help its members bootstrap themselves from being writers to being published authors. It’s happened for many of the folks in my group.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I’m not sure I’d call it an exercise, but (no matter where I might be) I try to always write down any story idea I have—because if I don’t, I’ll likely forget it. If I forget it, I can never work on it and turn it into something—and there’s no guarantee I’ll ever recall it again. On my computer I keep a file with all my ideas, and I look them over every so often. I never know when I’ll think of the perfect detail or situation to turn a specific idea into the core of a future book.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just sold my first nonfiction picture book manuscript, but I’ll likely be working closely with the editor for several months to get the text “just right”. And I try to have four or five new manuscripts that I’m working on—or at least thinking about—at any given time.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. www.curtismanley.com

Thanks so much, Karlin, for inviting me to appear on your blog!

CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED

March 6, 2017

Tags: CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED, Camille Andros, Brianne Farley, Clarion Books, March 14, 2017

E.M.T. Camille Andros is the oldest of seven kids, has six children of her own, and loves science. So it makes perfect sense that her #firstpicturebook would be CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED. But exactly how did she craft a book with "loads of charm methodically delivered" (Kirkus Reviews)? Read on to find out . . .

Q. Was CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, Charlotte wasn't the first book I wrote. The first serious try at a PB manuscript is a book called THE DRESS AND THE GIRL that sold to ABRAMS about six months after Charlotte sold. It will be out in the Fall of 2018.

Q. What inspired CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED?
A. There were several inspirations for Charlotte. My husband comes from a very large family of ten children. All of those ten now have children of their own totaling over 65 grandkids. I am the oldest of seven kids and I have six children of my own, so there is always lots going on and sometimes we all feel the need to have our own space.

I also love science and want kids, especially girls, to know that science is awesome and it's ok to love it too.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It came to me while I was in the shower--like all good ideas I have;)

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite spread doesn't even have any words-it's the spread where Charlotte lands in outer space and is so thrilled to finally have her very own space. Having Charlotte go to space was always in the manuscript, but she wasn't Charlotte in the first draft. She was Seymour.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person?
A. I wrote the book like I was telling the story to my own kids. First person wouldn't have made sense doing that.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED?
A. I wrote the first draft in one sitting and it was only 76 words. It evolved quite a bit from that first draft and, after a great SCBWI critique at a conference, the rest of Charlotte came to me pretty quickly. There were still lots of drafts ahead but it was mostly cleaning up the manuscript and making the story more focused.

Q. Did CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes! Of course! Probably around two dozen or so from agents and then editors. But I wasn't really shopping Charlotte around as much as I was THE DRESS AND THE GIRL which was the first book I wrote and was more focused on initially.
That book got lots and lots of rejections, but each personalized rejection (they weren't all like that of course) and the feedback that came with it was so helpful in improving each manuscript.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED.
A. I had just left the dentist when my agent called to tell me we had an offer on Charlotte--it was super exciting and I couldn't believe it was happening. Then I was even more surprised when we received three more offers on top of that first one. It sounds so cliche to say I was beyond thrilled to get that kind of response for my first book. The day my agent called with all of the final offers and asked if I was "sitting down" was kind of an out-of-body experience. I loved reading the stories of authors getting their first book deals or signing with an agent and now it was happening to me. It was very surreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. In an unusual turn of events my agent and I discussed pairing my manuscript with one of the RLM (Rodeen Literary Management-the agency that represents me) illustrators since I was new. Brianne Farley's style was perfect for Charlotte and I absolutely love what she has done to bring her to life. So lucky for me I kind of got to choose which doesn't happen very often:)

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. That favorite spread I mentioned above really jumped out at me. I love the look of pure joy on Charlotte's face.

I didn't get to see the jacket cover until much later and it went through many different versions so I saw some a few before the final cover selected and loved them all. It's just so much fun to see a character that lives in your head come to life on the page.

Q. How long did CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer for Charlotte was finalized in June of 2015. Charlotte will be out in the world on March 14, 2017, so just a couple months shy of two years.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't give up. The authors who are published are the ones who didn't give up.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Endings are hard for me. One thing I like to do to help is imagine what I want the reader to feel at the end of the book and then start writing different endings that would give that feeling.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on edits for the second Charlotte book, and the book I mentioned above, THE DRESS AND THE GIRL, to be illustrated by Julie Morstad that will be out Fall 2018. I'm also working a middle grade and a YA novel and I also have a few other projects in the works that I have my fingers crossed for.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
www.CamilleAndros.com
Twitter: @Camdros
Facebook: Camille Andros
Instagram: @camilleandros

THE NIAN MONSTER

February 27, 2017

Tags: THE NIAN MONSTER, Andrea Wang, Alina Chau, Albert Whitman, 2016

A former environmental consultant, Andrea Wang has written several nonfiction books but when she came across an old folktale, the idea for her #firstpicturebook was born. Today she shares the story behind THE NIAN MONSTER—a "fun-filled holiday adventure" (Foreword Reviews) that "thrills but doesn’t threaten" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was THE NIAN MONSTER the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER was probably the fifth or sixth picture book manuscript I’ve written. The first picture book was a story about a young boy who is a spy for a secret environmental agency. It was too big a plot for a picture book and has since been transformed into a middle grade novel.

Q. What inspired THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I came across the old folktale about the Nian monster and was intrigued because I’d never heard it when I was a child. I like stories about monsters and I especially like trickster tales, so I thought I’d try to write a retelling in a contemporary setting.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I’d initially titled it The Return of the Nian Monster, but since very few people were familiar with the original folktale, it didn’t feel quite right. Shortening it to just The Nian Monster seemed like a good way to introduce readers to him.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. [Spoiler Alert!] My favorite part is when the Nian monster’s jaws get stuck together with sticky rice cake. It wasn’t in the first draft or the second, but when I finally hit upon using traditional Chinese New Year foods to defeat Nian, that scene appeared right away.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The Nian monster was already named, so that was a given. I chose Xingling’s name based on what it means – “born with a clever nature.”

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think using third person retained the sort of timeless, folktale quality of the story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE NIAN MONSTER? 
A. I stayed close to the structure of the original folktale, where the monster is defeated by a person who figures out his three weaknesses. I knew I wanted the protagonist to be a smart and brave girl, and that the tricks used on Nian in the folktale wouldn’t work on him anymore. Everything else I figured out through many revisions.

Q. Did THE NIAN MONSTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER received about 8 rejections from editors, which really wasn’t bad. Two of those rejections were after the manuscript had been taken to acquisitions, though, which was hard.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE NIAN MONSTER.
A. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. To be honest, I had forgotten that I had submitted the manuscript to Albert Whitman because it had been so long (nearly 18 months). And to suddenly be plucked out of the slush pile felt unreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor, Kristin Zelazko, was very kind about receiving my suggestions for illustrators and passing them along to the art director. They didn’t end up choosing anyone I had suggested, but I really could not be happier that they selected Alina Chau. I didn’t think that as a debut author I would be so lucky as to have someone of her caliber illustrate my book.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I was blown away by the colors and the culturally-accurate details. Alina made the story come alive!

Q. How long did THE NIAN MONSTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2015 and the book was released on December 1, 2016, so it was just a couple months shy of two years from start to finish. It sounds like a long time, but the months just flew by!

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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 didn’t have to edit much of the original manuscript that I submitted, which was great. All my “darlings” stayed in the story. There’s one line, though, that I think I’d change now that I’ve read it out loud so many times: “Nian’s wide, wicked jaws were stuck fast.” I keep stumbling over the “stuck fast” part. I think I’d either leave out the word “fast” or replace it with “together.”

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I haven’t received any letters from kids yet, but at one storytime event, a girl said she thought Nian was cute and cuddly. But after I read the part about Nian eating entire villages, she announced that he was mean and she didn’t like him anymore! (I wouldn’t like having a monster threaten to eat me, either.) Another child told me that she would defeat the monster with chocolate cake, which sounds like a great idea to me. Especially if it’s a flourless chocolate cake – those things are deadly! :)

Q. When you do readings of THE NIAN MONSTER, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I do an interactive storytime which was created by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City DPW (www.curiouscitydpw.com). I have a giant Nian monster mask and the kids can come up and “feed” him the food items mentioned in the book. There are fireworks at the end of the story and each child gets a paper bag to fill with air and pop. They all love making noise and helping me send away the Nian monster!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Persist! Keep reading, studying, writing, revising, and submitting.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. One of my new favorite exercises is by Jean Reidy, a friend and agency-mate. She has “10 Power Premise Questions” on her blog here (http://jeanreidy.com/2013/09/does-your-picture-book-premise-have-power/) that help you figure out if your picture book idea has what it takes to sell. I find it to be a handy, quick, but not necessarily painless way to sort through my ideas and decide which one to work on next. It’s especially helpful if you participate in Storystorm (formerly known as Picture Book Idea Month) and don’t know which idea to work on first!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on a middle grade coming-of-age novel about a young Chinese girl who moves from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio. I tend to keep my WIPs close to my chest, so that’s all I’m ready to say about it now.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is www.andreaywang.com
Twitter: @AndreaYWang, although I’m still learning the ropes with Twitter.
Facebook: andrea.c.wang
Instagram: @andreawhywang.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and I hope to see you and your readers around online!

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU

February 12, 2017

Tags: WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, Susan Farrington, HarperCollins, 2016

After mixed-media artist Susan Farrington created a MTA poster that was displayed in hundreds of NYC trains, publishers asked her if she had any ideas for a children's books. Susan answered with her debut author/illustrator picture book WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU—"a bright and appealing lap-sit choice (School Library Journal) that "speak[s] joyfully to the happy chaos of family life” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. The first picture book I wrote was called 'These Are A Few Of The Scariest Things'.
The text and cadence was based on the song 'My favorite things', so right there I had a problem with copyright. I still love the book and the idea of using a safe space (a child sitting on the lap of a loved one) to help kids talk about and overcome fears.
I did have an agent and publisher who were interested but we could not get the OK from the copyright division of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Q. What inspired WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. I have two daughters, They are now 17 and 20. There were so many times when they were growing up when I thought, 'gosh, I love that'... many of those observations made their way into 'What I Love About You!'

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Originally it was going to be "Do You Know What I Love?', but changing it to 'What I Love About You!' seemed a stronger choice.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The page where the parent and child are holding hands... 'Do you know what I love? I love when you hold my hand.'
Then on the next page it says... 'And when you let go to make new friends', that's my favorite.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It seemed natural to tell the story in the first person. I wanted the child to feel the parent/caregiver was speaking directly to them.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. The concept started as a list and then evolved to include both the things we love about our children as well as acknowledgements that not everything is always perfect.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I had the outline of the story done and then worked on some of the illustrations.
The dummy of the book contained 4 finished illustrations as well as rough sketches of the remaining pages.

Q. Did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was lucky in that I was asked if I 'had any children's books in me' from two publishers after they saw my poster on the NY subway.The poster was in hundreds of trains in NYC for the year 2014, you can see it here http://www.susanfarrington.com/mta-ny-poster.html.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU.
A. Over the moon happy! I had always dreamed of doing a children's book, so it was literally a dream come true!

Q. How long did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years. I was told up front that there was a long lead time and that proved to be true. I was given about a year to complete the art; the following year was printing/color corrections and other tweaking.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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 were two things that I wanted which were ruled out in the beginning of the process—handmade type that was multicolored, and a mirrored surface at the end. The editor and art director explained why these things needed to be changed and I deferred to their expertise.

Q. When you do readings of WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children like the page where the creature sings very loud... it gets a lot of laughs.
The parents respond to my favorite pages: 'I love when you hold my hand...and when you let go to make new friends.'

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write something that you would want to read over and over again.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Start with a rough outline of your story, lay it out as it would read over 32 pages. Play with the rhythm until the flow feels right. Don't be afraid to start over. Have fun.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a follow up book tentatively called "How to be a friend'. I'll keep you posted on it's progress!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.:
susanfarrington.com
https://www.etsy.com/shop/susanfarrington
https://www.facebook.com/susan-farrington-482547581810699/
https://twitter.com/sus_farrington
https://www.pinterest.com/susanfarrington/

A BOOK OF BRIDGES

February 5, 2017

Tags: A BOOK OF BRIDGES, Cheryl Keely, Celia Krampien, Sleeping Bear Press, February 2017

Cheryl Keely is a journalist and also volunteers with a pet therapy organization. Along with her dog Dagaz, she visits local schools where the children take turns reading to the dogs. This month, Sleeping Bear Press is publishing Cheryl's first picture book, A BOOK OF BRIDGES —"a fine introduction to bridges and the great truth of connectivity (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was A BOOK OF BRIDGES the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, a Book of Bridges: Here to There and Me to You (Sleeping Bear Press, illustrated by Celia Krampien, Feb. 2017) was not the first picture book manuscript I ever wrote. I lost count a long time ago as to how many books I have written, started to write, thought about writing, etc. My first picture book after I became serious about focusing on writing picture books got totally slammed by an editor at my first SCBWI event and almost made me want to give up right on the spot. (I’m glad I didn’t. Stick with it. It gets better) It is now buried deep, deep in my filing cabinet. Others written pre-decision to focus on PB writing are in a shoe box of memories.

Q. What inspired A BOOK OF BRIDGES?
A. Like many of my ideas, a few lines came to me as I was settling down to take a nap. I liked the rhythm of them, so I emailed the lines to myself. Then I emailed a few more and a few more and then got up from my nap. It was not a restful nap, but it was productive.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title was Here to There and Me to You. I liked the thought of bridges making connections and bringing people together. I really liked the line in the book containing those words. It seemed to me to sum up the best connection of all – me to you and you to me. A Book of Bridges was added later to make it clear that the book was about bridges. It helps to let readers to know what a book is about!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the ending line and that was in the book from the start.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this book?
A. I read as many books on bridges as I could from the local library (yeah for libraries) and researched bridge sites on-line.

Q. How did you decide which bridges to use in A BOOK OF BRIDGES?
A. Well, at first the bridge research was just for me to learn about different kinds of bridges and the facts weren’t originally included in the book. I wanted a wide variety showcasing different types of bridges and how they connect us to many different things. Sara Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press critiqued my story during a SCBWI Midsouth event and we talked about the research I did and she liked the idea of adding the facts. It fit well with the types of books Sleeping Bear Press publishes. I went back and added facts about the types of bridges contained in the story. A few were changed later. But it was hard. There are so many cool types of bridges out there.

Q. Did A BOOK OF BRIDGES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I have been reluctant to submit and have only just started putting my work out into the world, but I do take advantage of opportunities within SCBWI to have my work reviewed. I was very fortunate with this book. I had it critiqued at a Midsouth SCBWI event in 2014. The agent doing the critique thought the book was OK, but wasn’t interested. She gave me some really good feedback and I worked that into a rewrite. I had the story critiqued again at a Midsouth SCBWI event in 2015. Sarah Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press did the critique and liked the story. She asked me to revise and submit to her. I was walking on air. I made the changes we talked about and sent the story off. She said, “yes,” we would like to buy this book! Funnily enough, she didn’t like the changes I’d made based on the first critique and the rewrite I did was more closely aligned with the version I had critiqued the first time – with the addition of the facts. Just goes to show how subjective writing is and to keep at a story you really believe in as the right publisher is out there looking for it.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on A BOOK OF BRIDGES.
A. I’m still walking on air. It also still feels a bit like a dream.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I had no input on choosing the illustrator. But I am so happy with Sleeping Bear Press’ choice. Celia Krampien is very talented and I love her artwork. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Oh my god, that’s my book. With pictures. My story …is ... becoming …a book! I loved the cover from the get go. It has multiple layers to it and captures so many of the bridges and the connections made by them and the people who use them.

Q. How long did A BOOK OF BRIDGES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A: I submitted the revised story in November 2015 and received word in January 2016 that Sleeping Bear Press would like to acquire the book. It was around July I learned it would be coming out in February. I’m still stunned by how quickly it’s all happened.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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 had one line in there I really liked — “or be used for sneaking past trolls to make-believe lands” — because I liked the bridge it made to our imaginations. It is not in the book as it didn’t really fit with all the other realistic bridges. It was replaced with an animal bridge and that made me happy as I love animals and think it’s so fun that there are bridges just for animals. I’d had the bridge in an early version but pulled it because I had too many examples. It all worked out in the end.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Just keep writing.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I set a timer (usually 15 minutes) and write whatever comes out in that time. I find it to be both focusing and freeing. How weird is that? But with the time limit, I have to focus on getting something — anything — down, but since it can be anything, it’s also freeing. I will also use this method for revisions, too, so I have to get something done and not agonize of “what” to get done.

Q. What are you working on now?
A: I have a couple of stories out on submission (yeah, I’m getting better at putting myself out there) and a list of ideas I’ve been generating as a Storystorm participant in January that I’m hoping to turn into several manuscripts as a member of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge 2017.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A: Please come visit me at:
www.cherylkeely.com
@clkeely
www.facebook.com/CherylKeelyBooks/

Thank you so much for inviting me on your blog. May your day have some happy.

SALAD PIE

January 30, 2017

Tags: SALAD PIE, Wendy BooydeGraaff, Bryan Langdo, Ripple Grove Press, 2016

A contractor for an educational research foundation and a global relocation company, Wendy BooydeGraaff is also the author of a book which has inspired several children to go outside, pick up shiny gum wrappers at the park, and add them to a pretend pie. Today she talks to us about her #firstpicturebook SALAD PIE—“a fine addition to collections in need of imaginative friendship tales” (School Library Journal).

Q. Was SALAD PIE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, I wrote many things before SALAD PIE, and the first picture book manuscript I wrote and sent out was about the ubiquitous story line of a new sibling, so while I still think the manuscript is cute, it’s locked away in my files.

Q. What inspired SALAD PIE?
A. My creative and imaginative daughter, when she was two years old, going on three.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. This is one of those times when the title came first, and then the story. My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Well, let me answer that creatively. In the first drafts, the ending was different. I had Herbert sitting down to enjoy Salad Pie with Maggie, and then he forgot to pretend to eat the pretend pie. He took a real bite of leaves and gum wrapper and crab apple, which I thought was quite funny and ironic (especially to adults). I agreed to change the ending for Ripple Grove Press, and I think it is a much better ending for this story, and it now highlights Maggie’s acceptance of Herbert and his ideas for their next playdate.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The names Maggie and Herbert are right there in my first handwritten draft. They just seemed like the right names that fit the characters; my subconcious chose them.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Third person allows the reader to see the actions of Maggie and Herbert and make their own judgements.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SALAD PIE? 
A. The entire story came out in the first draft. After that, it took many readings and critique group meetings to make sure the story was saying what I thought it did. That’s always the trick of writing for me: to make sure I’m saying what I think I’m saying.

Q. Did SALAD PIE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, I had some rejections but the number is locked in a secret vault. ;)

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SALAD PIE.
A. Well, Ripple Grove Press had my manuscript for eight or nine months. I had politely nudged them twice at three-to-four month intervals to determine the status of SALAD PIE, and both times they asked for a little more time. Then I came back from a short vacation and heard the message on my home phone that they wanted to talk to me. I started getting excited, and sure enough, when I called back, Rob said they wanted to publish SALAD PIE. There were very few edits, mainly the ending, which he told me about before I signed the contract. Then we went over the manuscript a few more times, especially after the initial sketches were in, to make it perfect.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. They asked for input, so I sent some ideas of illustrator styles, but they chose the illustrator, Bryan Langdo.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first illustration I saw was a character sketch of Maggie with her curly hair (which I loved because I have very curly hair) and puddle jumper boots. I thought her fun-loving, inventive personality was captured perfectly. The cover shows Maggie overjoyed with her invention, and Herbert in the background. I’m very happy with it.

Q. How long did SALAD PIE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just under two years.The verbal offer was in June of 2014, the contract was signed eight days later, and SALAD PIE was released on March 1, 2016.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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 read this book aloud in book stores, on Skype visits, in real classrooms, and I don’t have any words or punctuation I want to change. This is surprising, because I am a nitpick, but also a tribute to Ripple Grove Press’s process, which was very careful and not rushed.

Q. When you do readings of SALAD PIE which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Invariably, when Maggie and Salad Pie tumble down, down, down the slide…and I turn the page and—nope, I’m not going to tell you. You have to read the book! But at readings, I always get a reaction.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Spend lots of time thinking about the words you write, rereading them and making sure they really are the words that are telling the story in the best way possible.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. There are many writing exercises that I love, but I think my favourite stems from people-watching. Sit on a bench somewhere and watch the people who pass. Ask questions about them. Where are they going? What job do they do? Once you see someone that sparks your imagination, gather in as many details as possible about that person and then write. Make up everything you don’t know, from where they live to what books they read. It doesn’t matter if that person leaves—maybe it’s even better—because now you are in the realm of fiction, using your imagination to springboard there.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on more picture books and a middle grade manuscript.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
website: http://www.wendybooydegraaff.com/
Read about many other picture book authors and illustrators at On the Scene in 2016: https://onthescenein2016.wordpress.com/
Connect and share your favorite outdoorsy books on:
@BooyTweets: https://twitter.com/BooyTweets
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/wbooydegraaff/salad-pie/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14531750.Wendy_BooydeGraaff.

BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB

January 23, 2017

Tags: BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB, Annie Silvestro, Tatjana Mai-Wyss, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, February 7, 2017

Annie Silvestro has worked as a magazine editor, convention consultant, and mother. And on February 7th, all of her hard work on her first picture book will pay off when it is displayed in bookstores. Inspired by her costume in a preschool show, BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB is "a love letter to the pleasures of reading and libraries" (School Library Journal)

Q. Was BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. I had written many stories before Bunny. The very first was called LANCE THE LION, about a very vain but lonely lion who opens a hair salon in his cave. The story is locked away in a very deep drawer – I laugh about it now, but it will always have a place in my heart because it’s the idea that got me started as a writer.

Q. What inspired BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB?
A. Every year at the preschool my kids attended, the parents put on a show for the students. My first year in the show, I had a part as a bunny. I looked so ridiculous in my full-on bunny costume, I started brainstorming crazy things a bunny would do. One of those ideas planted the seed for BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My fantastic editor at Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Frances Gilbert, suggested the title after we went through a few rounds of edits and the original title no longer fit.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favorite part is when Porcupine confronts Bunny about what he’s been up to and Bunny tells him about books and the library for the first time. A form of that scene was in the first draft. I also like when the animals get busted by the librarian.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person? 
A. I generally feel more comfortable writing in the third person – though I hope to spread my wings one of these days!

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB? 
A. The theme of the story and Bunny’s love of books were always central. I knew how the story was going to end up, but the “how” changed quite a bit over the course of many revisions.

Q. Did BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes! I had a good number of rejections. I am grateful that my amazing agent, Liza Voges, saw its potential and that my editor was willing to take a chance on it!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB.
A. Screaming. Lots and lots of happy screaming! I was in the car on a road trip with my family. I may have frightened my children (briefly).

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. The team at Doubleday chose Tatjana Mai-Wyss and I was over-the-moon when I heard. I am in love with her beautiful and charming illustrations!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I was beyond thrilled. Bunny and his friends are so adorable and each has his or her own unique personality. The porcupine hugging the book absolutely steals my heart. I adore the final spread and the cover is so bright and happy, it makes me smile every time I see it.

Q. How long did BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Three years.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Join the SCBWI! I owe so much to this incredible organization – I can’t say enough positive things about it. Otherwise, read as much as you can and write as much as you can.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. My favorite and most necessary exercise is reading a story out loud so I can really hear the areas that are working and the ones that are not.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a few picture books ideas that I’m working through, and I’m also tackling a chapter book which I’m really excited about.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. Please find me on my website: www.anniesilvestro.com or on Twitter and Instagram, @anniesilvestro

PAX AND BLUE

January 16, 2017

Tags: PAX AND BLUE by Lori Richmond (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, February 7, 2017)

Lori Richmond is a Brooklyn-based children's illustrator, creative director, and designer. And on February 7th, she will add "author" to that list when PAX AND BLUE—a picture book she wrote and illustrated—is published by Paula Wiseman Books. "Nicely pitched to young readers' empathies" (Kirkus Reviews), PAX AND BLUE "speaks volumes about being a good friend" (Publishers Weekly). Thank you Lori for sharing your #firstpicturebook story:

Q. Was PAX AND BLUE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. PAX AND BLUE was the first project I finished to a complete dummy. Many years before PAX AND BLUE, I took a picture book class but only half-wrote some pretty bad manuscripts, which, lucky for us all, are now dead in a drawer somewhere.

Q. What inspired PAX AND BLUE?
A. My younger son told me a true story about a pigeon who got lost on a subway train. We live in New York City, so subway rides are part of our daily life. It is quite funny to think of a pigeon commuting on the subway, but I was really touched by how my son was concerned that the bird may be scared. Pigeons are not the most revered urban animals, but, to a child, he was just a little bird that needed help.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title was PAX AND THE PIGEON. I love alliteration. But after chatting with my editor, we decided that PAX AND BLUE was friendlier and introduced both characters sooner.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the sequence when Blue the pigeon follows Pax down the stairs all the way on to the train— this is pretty much intact from the original dummy.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Again, the alliteration… I knew I wanted a “P” name for the boy, since I was going to pair it with the word “Pigeon” in the original title. I searched baby name lists to get ideas, and loved how Pax meant “peace,” since the character is so thoughtful, empathic, and solves this really chaotic problem for everyone. And Blue has some bright blue feathers on his body!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I feel most comfortable writing in third person.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I write first and then illustrate. In that process, words begin to get cut as the pictures begin to do the talking. Original drafts of PAX AND BLUE had a lot more words than wound up in the final book.

Q. Why did you use a very limited color palette?
A. LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE is my favorite classic city story, and his bright green color stands out so boldly in every illustration. This look had a huge influence on me when working on PAX AND BLUE. Because it is a friendship story, I wanted to put all the attention on the main friends and visually push back everything else in the busy city. The background people and environments blend together in the same monochromatic purplish-gray, while Pax and Blue are rendered to stand out in bright colors with a strong, bold line.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PAX AND BLUE?
A. Since the story was based on a real situation, I had a pretty good base — but I still needed to establish an authentic friendship between Pax and Blue. I learned that it’s not really about creating plot points to move things along — it is about making sure the action in the story allows an emotional connection to happen between the characters, and, in turn, with the reader. That is what makes a story work.

Q. Did PAX AND BLUE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. This was not a typical submission. I did a workshop at Highlights Foundation and my instructor saw promise in my work and passed samples along to a few editors. I was surprised to be contacted by Paula Wiseman, and she asked if I had any completed dummies. I sent PAX AND BLUE to her, and then we met in person a few weeks later. At that meeting, Paula told me she was interested in publishing it!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PAX AND BLUE.
A. Total freakout in the calmest and most professional way possible, because I didn’t believe it was real!

Q. How long did PAX AND BLUE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The story was sold in 2014, and the pub date is February 7, 2017.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Join SCBWI for the wonderful learning resources and community! And read picture books. Lots of them. Ask yourself why you like certain books. Analyze how the book is paced. How is the conflict introduced? How is it resolved? There is so much you can learn just by spending an afternoon at a library or indie bookstore.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I am really bad at doing formal writing exercises. What I am good at is using the app Evernote to record seedlings of ideas. I have hundreds of Evernotes—each one represents one idea. Sometimes it’s just a title, or a theme, or a name. Sometimes it’s a story outline. I add to the notes over time. I wind up having this big repository of thought starters I can go back to when I am looking to start a new project.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m putting the finishing touches on my next author-illustrated title, BUNNY’S STAYCATION (Scholastic, 2018.) I am also doing final art for OOPSIE-DO! (by Tim Kubart, HarperCollins, 2018) and SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN (by David Martin, Macmillan/HenryHolt, 2018.)

Q. Where can readers find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Website: LoriDraws.com
Twitter: @loririchmond
Instagram: ldm1025

Happy Holidays

December 22, 2016

Christmas came early for me this year. Last weekend, I woke up to find that Nadia Comaneci had posted on social media —"Karlin Gray did an amazing job with this book"—with an image of NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL and an Amazon link! I've always been proud of this book but that endorsement was delicious icing on the cake. I'm so thankful to everyone who helped me with this book, from my writing instructor Victoria Sherrow to my editor Kate O'Sullivan at HMH to the talented illustrator Christine Davenier.

I just want to remind writers that I don't have an agent. I workshopped my manuscript for a year. (Yes, my classmates were sick of it!) I sent it to every publisher that accepts unsolicited nonfiction picture books. It was rejected everywhere . . . until one person plucked it from the slush pile.

Since then, I have been writing, submitting, and receiving lots of rejection letters. And then one day, another editor picked up one of my manuscripts. Now my rhyming fiction picture book, AN ORDINARY MOTH, will be published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2018.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this Q&A blog and learning about how writers created their first picture book. It will return in the New Year with new writers and new books. Until then, enjoy the holidays with family and friends before you go back to that drawer full of manuscripts!