What inspired their stories? How did they pick the titles? What did they do when they received an offer on their #firstpicturebook? In this weekly Q&A, writers share their experiences and tips. This week's interview is with JOY KELLER!


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My First Picture Book Q&A

MONSTER TRUCKS

June 12, 2017

Tags: MONSTER TRUCKS, Joy Keller, Miss Saburi, Henry Holt, August 2017

On Joy Keller's website, she writes that her weirdest experience was "getting chased down the street by an angry pig." Sounds like a great picture book! Until that happens, read the story behind her #firstpicturebook MONSTER TRUCKS (available August 29!):

Q. Was MONSTER TRUCKS 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’ve written lots of picture books over the years, and MONSTER TRUCKS wasn’t my first. My very first was about a cooking dragon. It stunk, and my critique group wasn’t afraid to let me know (in much gentler terms, of course). It was the first of many learning opportunities on my writing journey! I think I still have the original manuscript hand-written in a notebook.

Q. What inspired MONSTER TRUCKS?
A. When my kids were little, they had very specific taste in books. My daughter only wanted to read Halloween books, and my son only wanted to read truck books. I thought to myself, “Why hasn’t someone written a book about monsters and trucks? It could be called MONSTER TRUCKS.” Bingo! There was my idea.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. In this case, the title came first. It was the easiest part.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I don’t know if I can pick a favorite. It was too much fun writing about each monster! And all the monsters in the book were in the first outline I wrote except for the mummies. They came later because, as my agent at the time said, the story just needed some mummies.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person? 
A. The whole book is basically a list poem, so this wasn’t an issue for me to even consider.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MONSTER TRUCKS? 
A. All of it! I had the idea, but the big challenge was making that idea into a fun, playful rhyme. There were nights where my brain wouldn’t shut off as I lay in bed wondering, “What rhymes with debris?” or “Why couldn’t Minotaur have one more syllable?”

Q. Did MONSTER TRUCKS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Of course! I would say at least twenty, maybe more.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MONSTER TRUCKS.
A. I won’t lie. There was a lot of jumping up and down and cheering.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. None at all, which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I saw Misa Saburi’s adorable illustrations. She can make anything (even monsters!) look cute.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Everything—I love Misa’s style. Let’s just say that the picture of the witch driving the street sweeper made me the happiest author in the world!

Q. How long did MONSTER TRUCKS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took almost three years. Publishing is a slow process, but the end result is totally worth it.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write. A LOT. I think of my picture book manuscripts as baby sea turtles. They aren’t all going to make it—that’s the sad reality of the business—but I can always have more manuscripts that might work the next time around. So stay busy!

Now I know I’m breaking the rules here, but I’d say my #1 ½ tip is to join a critique group. You need writing friends to help solve those pesky manuscript problems that you just can’t solve yourself. (Then you’ll also have a group to help you celebrate when your book gets published!)

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I tend to work on multiple things at one time. I have a nearly wordless book for which I’m creating a dummy, a comic-book style science book, and another fun rhyming story.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is joykellerauthor.com, and you can find me on Twitter @jrkeller80.

10 Post-Publication Tips for Debut Picture Book Writers

June 5, 2017

I have learned so much from the authors who have participated in these Q&As. I truly appreciate all their wonderful advice and tips on this blog. Now that it has been one year since my debut publication, I too have some post-publication tips for new picture book authors:

Giveaways: My favorite giveaways to do were in my own community. If it was kid-related, in a 30-mile radius, and for a good cause, NADIA was in. Go on to your local Facebook pages and seek out fundraisers where your book might make a good door prize or raffle item and offer a signed copy of your book with some swag. I also did Goodreads giveaways during November (National Picture Book month and Nadia Comaneci's birthday month) and February (International #BookGiving Day and Valentine's Day). I just did an Amazon giveaway—you will have to pay the book's retail price but there are entry requirements like having to follow you on Twitter. Finally—Little Free Libraries. I'm obsessed with these. When I travel, I look up a LFL on their map and sneak a NADIA into it. It makes me feel like a book ninja!

Swag: I had a few notebooks printed up with the NADIA cover and a NADIA water bottle. These are pricey items so I just did a few for a raffle at my book launch and to send to key people—my editor, my mom, etc. You know, anyone who wants to brag on your behalf. Later on, instead of printing up bookmarks, I created NADIA door hangers. I use them as giveaways, mailers or promotional pieces. And bonus: they can also be used as bookmarks!

Pinterest: I love Pinterest. But not because I'm that crafty mom who's looking for creative bake-sale ideas. (Although I do LOVE a good bake-sale brownie!) I use Pinterest boards to organize my research for each manuscript. This cuts down on some clutter on my desk. Once your book is published, you can create a public board for your readers, giving them some extras. For example, my Pinterest board for NADIA has some of my sources, photos that inspired some of the illustrations, interviews with Ms. Comaneci, and even my messy first page draft.

Blog: If you decide to create a blog, make it about something you love so it doesn't end up being one more chore. I am endlessly fascinated by how someone goes from a moment of inspiration to a finished piece of work—whether it is a song, poem, script, or book. Because I write picture books, that's my focus. I found these interviews entertaining and educational ( hopefully others did too!) and they gave debut authors another buzz item for their promotion.

Twitter: Twitter can be so noisy. I just use it to follow #kidlit news—from teachers, librarians, editors, reviewers, bloggers, booksellers, and authors. Here are some of my favorites:
@pbooksblogger
@_AllTheWonders
@KIDLIT411
@PictureTheBooks
@MrSchuReads
@KateMessner
@carlemuseum
@pbookmarkers
@taralazar
#ManuscriptWList

Book launch: Unfortunately, I don't have an independent bookstore in my town but I do have a Barnes & Noble. When I had my book launch at the store, it coincided with my town's library fundraiser. So the fundraiser brought more people into the store (which added to my crowd) and a percentage of sales on all books, mine included, benefited the library. Win-win. If you are planning a reading at B&N, ask the coordinator if there are any fundraising events—library, elementary school, Girl or Boy Scouts, etc.—during your book launch time and see if you can partner with them.

Guest blogging: This is a great opportunity and I wish I had done more of it. It's fun to pop in to another author's world and speak to their readers. But have a clear topic, not just a promotional piece. Here are two guest blogs:
https://frogonablog.net/2016/07/27/a-picture-perfect-baby-shower-idea-by-karlin-gray/
https://taralazar.com/2016/08/08/non-fiction-of-olympic-proportions/

Birthday books: If you have friends with picture-book age kids, ask them to read your book in their child's class. A friend of mine told me she was going to read NADIA to her son's class for his birthday. I was so thrilled that I gave her my leftover book launch swag to hand out. It was a big hit . . . with the kids and the teacher!

SCBWI Conferences: I waited too long to do this. It was always around someone's birthday, a kid event, yatta-yatta. I went to my first one this year and it was so worth it. You can read more about my thoughts on that here:

Shine a Light: Promoting your own book can start to feel icky. Yes, you put your heart, soul, and tons of time into it. You should be proud of your book and your publisher expects you to promote it. But still, sometimes—yuck. You know what doesn't feel gross? Shining a light on someone else's work. So when you need to take a break from marketing your own book, turn your attention to another debut author. If you see their book displayed in a store, take a picture and send it to them. If they post a book event and you know someone in that town, forward it to your friend. And, of course, if you enjoyed a book, write a review on GoodReads or Amazon. On that note, I'll end this post with a link to a few of my favorite nonfiction picture books.

Thanks so much for reading!!

BAXTER'S BOOK

May 22, 2017

Tags: BAXTER'S BOOK, Hrefna Bragadottir, Nosy Crow, 2016

Originally from Iceland, Hrefna Bragadottir has lived in the UK for the past 14 years and earned an M.A. in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Arts. During her final year at Cambridge, she created a project that would turn into her #firstpicturebook, BAXTER'S BOOK—"the story of a peculiar blue birdlike creature who auditions to be in a book, but doesn’t conform to expectations. Simple words and comic pictures let us know that even the odd deserve attention" (The Sunday Times).

Q. Was BAXTER'S BOOK 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, it was my first picture book. I did an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and it was part of my final year masters project. I'd had lots of concept ideas during my time on the course, but BAXTER'S BOOK was the first one I wrote from start to finish.

Q. What inspired BAXTER'S BOOK?
A. That's a very good question. I guess BAXTER'S BOOK was born out of my own insecurities as an aspiring writer/ illustrator. I was nearing the end of my masters degree and I still had no idea what to write about or what my 'voice' as an illustrator should be, yet alone how to get anything published! I remember a few of my tutors saying how important it is to write from the heart but I didn't really know what my heart had to say. I had been to a lecture about popular animals featured in picture books and I remember thinking 'What about the less conventional animals? Surely they deserve some attention, too! A few days later I did a doodle in my sketchbook of two unusual looking creatures having a conversation about how they would never make it into a book. And that's when the idea for BAXTER'S BOOK was born.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. When I first drew the character I decided to call him Nelson. I'm not sure why I picked that name, it just seemed to fit very nicely. The only problem with it was that the title didn't tell the reader what the book was about, and the publisher felt we needed to include the word 'book' in there. Nelson's Book didn’t sound quite right so I searched for lots of names beginning with B, and found Baxter!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. It's usually a bit of both. I start with a concept and make little doodles and notes on random pieces of paper. I tend to work much better on cheap paper that I can throw away as I find sketchbooks a bit intimidating, especially brand new ones! There's something about a pristine sketchbook that stops my creativity from flowing freely - I somehow become too concerned with getting it right first time. Once I've gathered lots of sketches and notes together, I then type anything about the character that comes to mind, and try not to worry too much about the content during the early stages of an idea.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of BAXTER'S BOOK is when he disappears behind the stage curtains and thinks to himself 'What if I'm not good enough to be in a book?' It pretty much sums up how I felt about embarking upon a new career at the time, but it's also something that children can relate to as they go through the process of discovering who they are. I guess that's what my tutors meant when they told me to write from the heart. It was always in the first draft but my editor very cleverly made it a double page spread to give that moment a bit more drama.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I decided to name the other characters by their animal names Wolf, Lion, Bear and Rabbit, to keep them as generic popular picture book animals with lots of 'book acting' experience.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I played around with telling it in third person, but it just didn’t feel as strong. I wanted Baxter to talk directly to the reader in the present moment to get a better sense of the journey he goes on. It keeps it short and sweet.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing BAXTER'S BOOK?
A. That's an interesting question. I guess the idea was floating around in my head for a while and I had to brainstorm different scenarios before the ending got resolved. My housemate once told me it's so important to let ideas grow by nurturing them. She used to refer to it as putting them in a 'greenhouse' until they're strong enough to grow outside by themselves. I think so many great ideas get dismissed too early and it's such a shame. They need time and patience to flourish.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. It was a mix of both. I drew Baxter once I had the concept idea for the book, but then the images evolved with the words, and vice versa.

Q. Did BAXTER'S BOOK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Baxter's Book got picked up at our London graduation show, so I was fortunate enough to not have to go through that process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BAXTER'S BOOK.
A. I was absolutely over the moon, but also a bit overwhelmed as everything happened so quickly. I had several publishers interested in the book as a result of the show and an agent who wanted to represent me. It was very surreal to go from quite a lot of self doubt to suddenly having so much interest in my work.

Q. How long did BAXTER'S BOOK take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2014 and it got published in February 2016, so two years.

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. Yes, I really loved the name Nelson, so it took a while to adjust to Baxter. But it's funny because I don’t even think about it now!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Patience and lots of perseverance. It's a very slow moving industry so if you get a book deal, don’t give up your day job until you have a few more projects on the go.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. As I'm brainstorming story plots, I find it very helpful to consider how the characters are feeling, what they like or dislike and why? A lot of it will be unusable waffle, but it frees me up and stops me getting a writers block before the idea has had space to grow.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm currently illustrating a text by another author, but I'm not sure how much I can say about it at this stage. It's being published next year…. I've also got an idea for another picture book, but it's still growing in the 'greenhouse' so isn't quite ready to face the world yet.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Website: www.hrefnabragadottir.com
http://belllomaxmoreton.co.uk/portfolio/hrefna-bragadottir/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Hrefna_Braga
Instagram: www.instagram.com/hrefnabraga/
Facebook page: Hrefna Bragadottir Illustration

10 Writers Talk Titles

May 15, 2017

Tags: Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Susan Montanari, Maria Gianferrari, Emma Bland Smith, Karlin Gray, Heather Lang, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Jodi McKay, Wendy BooydeGraaff, Cheryl Keely

How did you pick the title for your #firstpicturebook? Ten writers answer this question below. Click on the quote to flash back to the original Q&A.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler: There was an old ad for Prince Pasta on TV …Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day…which was catchy. I wrote to the Prince Pasta Company to make sure there was no problem using my title. It was Okayed and the title stuck.

Susan Montanari: In the dream the woman said, “That’s not a dog it’s a chicken.”

Maria Gianferrari: The original title of the book was PENELOPE, UNTALENTED. However, because I received a two-book deal, we needed a title that could carry to the second book, so Penny & Jelly was born!

Emma Bland Smith: JOURNEY is the name that a child (actually two children in different states) submitted in a naming contest sponsored by a conservation organization, Oregon Wild. (The full name of the book is JOURNEY: Based on the True Story of OR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West.) I love the name because it evokes the wolf’s adventurous spirit.

Karlin Gray: In reading Nadia Comaneci's autobiography, I learned that she was a rambunctious toddler who had tons of energy.... While I was writing my book, I also had a three-year old who loved to fling himself from couch to couch. Constant movement was a theme on the page and in my own living room. The two collided and created NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL.

Heather Lang: “Queen of the Track,” was one of Alice’s nicknames. Although she wasn’t treated like a queen by society, she behaved like one and really did dominate the track for a number of years in sprinting events and the high jump. The title also worked nicely with the ending—the King presents Alice (“the Queen”) with her gold medal.

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Originally the book was called simply TRACKING FAIRIES. However, my editor felt this could invoke a harsher feel: ‘tracking’ in the sense of ‘hunting’ (poor fairies!). My writer friend Natalie Lorenzi suggested the “Tiptoe Guide” portion, which I think did a brilliant job of softening and tying the whole title together. I love the result!

Jodi McKay: I honestly didn’t think that this would remain the title. It’s just what I kept asking myself for so long and still do for that matter. Even now, as I write the answers to these questions, I’m going back and forth looking for the right words. It’s crazy, but it’s part of my process.

Wendy BooydeGraaff: 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.

Cheryl Keely: 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!

JABARI JUMPS

May 9, 2017

Tags: JABARI JUMPS, Gaia Cornwall, Candlewick, 2017

Illustrator Gaia Cornwall's work has been featured online, in interactive games, in films, as murals, and in various forms of print. But today is her book birthday! Let's celebrate with the #firstpicturebook Q&A of JABARI JUMPS—"A terrific seasonal storytime read-aloud that’s perfect for one-on-one sharing." (Starred review, School Library Journal)

Q. Was JABARI JUMPS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Ah no! I've written tons and tons of picture book manuscripts. I don't remember which was the first one exactly. Though I just re-worked and submitted a book idea that originally I had written and illustrated almost ten years ago. It never felt quite right, so I put it aside. I really like this version of it!

Q. What inspired JABARI JUMPS?
A. Originally, I started writing when African-American Olympic medalist swimmer Cullen Jones was winning tons of medals and awards. He's really amazing and now works with a swimming initiative "Make a Splash", that teaches kids how to swim. But personally, I've always loved to swim and remember clearly learning to jump off the diving board. I try to write stories about moments that are relatable to kids and that one stuck out for me.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
Once I had the name of my character-- Jabari-- adding "Jumps" seemed like a natural fit as that's the book in a nutshell. I feel like naming books is usually trickier, but in this case it came pretty easy.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Hmm. Well I tend to gather ideas mostly in a notebook-- a sketch, or a phrase I like. I've also started using my phone for this. But then I do a lot of typing on the computer. And then more scribbling. I guess I go back and forth a lot!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is when he looks out on the city and whispers that he likes surprises. Technically, it wasn't in the first draft of the book-- though that was a very different book. Once I overhauled that and created the version that became this book, it was in the first draft of that for sure.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. The only character that's named is Jabari. I'm not totally sure where I first heard it. But it means "brave" in Swahili, so it seemed perfect for him.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I did versions of it in first person and in the end I liked the rhythm of how it sounded out loud in third person. But also it let the dad be a character in his own right as opposed to seeing him through Jabari's eyes-- as you would in first person. I think this way, adults will find him relatable, just like the kids will see themselves in Jabari.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing JABARI JUMPS?
A. The first versions were very simple--basically a visual gag of a kid putting on more and more gear before he jumped off the diving board. I still think that idea is funny, but I'm happy it developed into something more than that.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I think in this case, I mostly wrote it first. Though it started with the basic image of a boy on the diving board. This is actually hard for me to answer--I think visually too, so even if I'm not actually drawing first, the images are there. If that makes sense.

Q. Did JABARI JUMPS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I think eight. --Which is not a lot by any means! But honestly, that's because it took me literally years to submit it and I had some good contacts when I finally did. I just checked and I had drafts of this in 2010. Which is ridiculous. Don't do that.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on JABARI JUMPS.
A. I was nursing my son who was a baby at the time. I burst into tears and then the laughing started. So lots of tearful laughter.

Q. How long did JABARI JUMPS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed a contract in 2014 and originally it was slated to come out in June 2016. It got pushed back to May 2017, which at the time was disappointing, but in reality worked perfectly as I ended up having another baby in the Spring of 2016. So a human baby last year and a book baby this year. One baby at a time!

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. One version compared how Jabari was feeling to different animals. In the end, I took them all out because it kind of diluted the story. It was a good call, but its always sad to take animals out-- they're so fun to draw!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Hmm I have two:
1. READ. Read, read, read all the picture books you can get your hands on. Old ones are great, but if you want to submit your work to traditional publishers, you should be reading current books. Someone once said you should read 100 books in whatever genre you want to write in. So at least that many for picture books!

2. And find a critique group to show your work to. This is not easy to do--you have to trust them, value their judgement and you know, they have to be able to critique your work--not just tell you it's great. But don't give up! It doesn't matter if its online or in person, once you find them, those people are so invaluable.
My group offers great technical notes and ideas, are amazing cheerleaders, and also hold me accountable to my personal writing goals. I sincerely would not be where I am today without them.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Join SCBWI and then take advantage of the smaller workshops and conferences. Personally, I've gotten way more out of weekend writing workshops and state/regional conferences. People tend to just get excited about the national conferences, but for me the smaller events are where its at.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm finishing up a first draft of a middle grade novel, working on a few different picture book manuscripts and kicking around a YA idea.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. You can find me at www.GaiaCornwall.com
https://www.instagram.com/gaiacornwall/
https://twitter.com/GaiaCC
https://www.facebook.com/GaiaIllustration/
Thanks for having me!

GRANDMOTHER THORN

May 1, 2017

Tags: GRANDMOTHER THORN, Katey Howes, Rebecca Hahn, Ripple Grove Press, August 29, 2017

After spending ten years as a physical therapist specializing in brain injury rehabilitation, Katey Howes turned her attention to becoming a children’s author. She is a team member of All the Wonders website and writes a popular blog, kateywrites. And come August—her #firstpicturebook will be published by Ripple Grove Press! Thank you Katey for giving us a peek into the process:

Q. Was GRANDMOTHER THORN 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’ve written a lot of short stories and poems over the years, but I really began writing picture book manuscripts in 2014, when I decided to quit my job as a physical therapist and focus on a writing career. GRANDMOTHER THORN was the third picture book manuscript I felt was “ready to polish,” though there were dozens of false starts and ideas that never made it to that stage. The first manuscript I felt was polished enough to submit was rejected by a few agents as “too quiet for the market” and sat in a drawer for a few years. I’m reworking it right now with the help of my critique group and agent. And that second manuscript was the beginnings of what is now MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE, which is being published by Sterling in Fall 2017. Back then, I called it Julia Mudd Won’t Wear That Dress. What a difference a few years makes!

Q. What inspired GRANDMOTHER THORN?
A. Great question! I have a small yard here in New Jersey, especially when compared to the open space I was accustomed to when I lived in the Midwest. To make the most of it, my husband and I planted raspberry and blackberry bushes in a narrow, sandy garden bed (about 18 inches wide and 6 feet long) between the back wall of the house and the stone patio. Well, the bushes must have liked it, because they grew like crazy! In a little over a year, the blackberry bush stretched almost 13 feet tall, and the raspberry bushes were trying to take over my patio. In an epic attempt to battle them into submission against a trellis, I got poked by one thorn too many and yelled “sooner or later, everything meets its match!” I was not entirely sure whether I was talking about the bush, or myself, but the idea for GRANDMOTHER THORN took root in that moment.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I knew the theme I wanted for the book early on – but not where or when it would be set, or even a lot about the main characters. I wrote it many different ways, draping settings and voices around my theme to see what fit best. When I set it in a small Japanese village, inspired by the artistry of Japanese gardens, Grandmother Thorn practically wrote herself into the tale. I knew very quickly that her struggle and growth would be the heart of the story, and therefore the title.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the image of Grandmother Thorn as she follows her one friend, Ojiisan, along the pebbled path from her door, smoothing out stones disrupted by his twisted foot. This early glimpse into her need for order, and her willingness to allow order to be disrupted – for a short time – for the sake of her friend, has always seemed poignant to me. The detail was not part of early drafts, but evolved over time as I changed the characters slightly to both challenge and complement one another.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. At first, I wanted to use Japanese names for the characters – perhaps something that would literally translate to “Grandmother Thorn” and “Limping Man.” Our fairy tales and folk tales have such a tradition of these type of names – like Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, for example - and I felt it would lend to the folktale tone. After several conversations with native speakers of Japanese, hearing their thoughts on how the translations could be misconstrued, and realizing that for the average picture book reader they might also be difficult to pronounce, I decided to use names that would be simpler and easy to say.

Q. How did you decide whether to tell the story in first or third person?
A. I never considered writing this story in first person, as I really wanted to be able to look in on Grandmother’s world from the outside.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GRANDMOTHER THORN?
A. As I mentioned before, I knew the theme I wanted to explore – that of balancing chaos and control - and the vehicle – a garden – that I wanted to use to create the story. But the specific characters and twists and turns of the plot evolved through a lot of exploration and many very different drafts.

Q. Did GRANDMOTHER THORN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh, yes! I received at least ten very nice rejection letters for GRANDMOTHER THORN before getting the incredibly exciting call from Rob Broder of Ripple Grove Press. Most of the rejections claimed to love the lyricism and symbolism of the story, but said that it would be a tough sell in the current market because it was “quiet.” Several agents who read GRANDMOTHER THORN asked to see other works from me.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GRANDMOTHER THORN.
A. I was pretty much in shock! I was actually out on my back patio, right next to the devilish berry bushes that started it all, when I received the call from Ripple Grove Press. Rob Broder told me that they had read the manuscript “at least a dozen times” and never grew tired of it, and that that was the quality they looked for in books they made. I remember getting teary-eyed as I realized that someone else connected with GRANDMOTHER THORN the way I did.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Ripple Grove Press is wonderful in the way they respect the artistic vision of both the author and the illustrator. I was asked to provide links to images or portfolios that represented my vision of the book. Once the illustrator was selected, she took some time to build her own vision, and then asked if there were any images that had influenced me. I was able to share with her pictures of my berry bushes, as well as tell her how traditional woodblock prints (called ukiyo-e) by Japanese artist Hokusai helped me envision the story’s Shizuku village.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first glimpses of the illustrations blew me away. The intricacy of Rebecca Hahn’s work, and the way that she brought the garden to life – almost as a character in its own right – made my heart leap.

Q. How long did GRANDMOTHER THORN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. All told, it will be about 30 months to publication.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read as many picture books as you can!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I constantly write ideas – whether it’s for a plot, a character name, a funny line of dialogue – on sticky notes and stick them up on the side of my bookcase next to my desk. When I feel stumped or blocked or uninspired, I grab a note – or maybe 2 or 3 – and see what I can make of them in 15 minutes.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m revising a rhyming picture book manuscript and a middle grade novel, as well as drafting a picture book full of mythological creatures.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My author website is a great place to start: www.kateyhowes.com! I’m active on Twitter @kateywrites and on Instagram @kidlitlove. You’ll also find me at All The Wonders, where I help readers journey beyond the book, and as a member of Picture the Books, a website featuring authors with 2017 debut picture books.

SOME STUFF THAT STUCK

April 24, 2017

Tags: #NESCBWI17

This past weekend, I attended my first NESCBWI conference. This is the kind of event that could easily overwhelm me—a sea of information, opinions, tips, and name tags. (And I was only there for the Saturday session!) Thankfully, it was a group of friendly people. And fortunately, I had a simple strategy: let all the presentations wash over me and see what lingered. There was a lot! But a few things—from technical to inspirational—are still on my mind today. You could call this little list tasty nuggets, pearls of wisdom, or ideas for the writer's toolkit. But I just call it Some Stuff that Stuck:

I'll Buy That! with Editor Julia Maguire: The Knopf editor discussed what it is that editors want to see in manuscripts. Be authentic and respect the readers were two big takeaways along with an interesting tip—try shuffling your manuscript pages for a random-page edit.

Fireside Chat with Melissa Sweet: There was no fireplace but it was cozy. The Caldecott Honor author/illustrator answered questions and shared stories about how she creates her books. I learned that Ms. Sweet LOVES the minutiae of bookmaking. Perhaps it is that love that fuels her success. She made me want to pay more attention to the smallest details . . . ones that could be overlooked but might make all the difference.

Lying About History with Jeannine Atkins, Burleigh Muten, Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple: I wish this had been a dinner party with a big, round table and lots of time. These amazing writers shared some wonderful stories about their historical works and I wanted to hear more. (And Ms. Stemple was a hilarious host!) Jane Yolen's "Recycle your research" advice stayed with me. I wrote two nonfiction manuscripts that were ready for submission when I learned that more established writers got there first. Ugh. Now I'm rethinking those manuscripts and how they might be worked into a different genre or maybe a magazine article.

Seven Revision Tips to Take Your PB from WAAH to WOW! with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen: All seven of these tips are interesting. (A scientist-turned-kidlit-writer, Ms. Bardhan-Quallen has a specific method wrapped in a fun presentation!) The one that I'm going to tackle first in my PB manuscripts—instead of using adverbs and adjectives, use stronger nouns and verbs. I think that might be a game changer.

Writing the Rainbow: Creating LGBTQ+ Characters and Stories: A powerful presentation by Lisa Bunker, Mary E. Cronin, Kevin L. Lewis, and agent Linda Camacho! I was particularly struck by Kevin L. Lewis when he spoke about children who are not connected to their community and made to feel like outsiders. In their isolation, they stand out as prey. This is why we need more books with characters who are LGBTQ+ kids—to bring them into the group and keep them safe.

If you would like to learn about SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) events near you, visit https://www.scbwi.org/annual-conferences/

BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING

April 17, 2017

Tags: BAD GUY, Hannah Barnaby, Mike Yamada, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING, Hannah Barnaby, Andrew Joyner, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Hannah Barnaby has worked as a children’s book editor, a bookseller, and a teacher of writing for children and young adults. Her first novel, WONDER SHOW, was a William C. Morris nominee. Today she is sharing the stories behind her first two picture books—BAD GUY (May 9, 2017) and GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING (June 20, 2017)!

Q. Was BAD GUY 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 by a long shot! My first attempts at picture book writing date back to the early 2000s, when I was working as an editor at Houghton Mifflin and getting my MFA from Vermont College. I had edited several picture books by then and I was sure I could manage to write one that worked, but I couldn't quite crack the code. The first real attempt was a series of rhyming couplets about different kinds of homes -- and to prove that you should never throw anything away, I sent my agent a revised version of that manuscript a couple of weeks ago. Some stories just need a long incubation period!

Q. What inspired BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. The two stories are very different, but they were both inspired by real-life encounters. BAD GUY came from a rule at my childrens' preschool ("There are no bad guys on our playground."), and GARCIA & COLETTE came from a dinner at the University of Virginia, where I was seated between an astronomer and a marine biologist. Both of them spoke about their fields of study in such similar terms that I started mentally comparing space and sea, and thinking about the parallels between them. By the time I got home that night, I had a pretty good idea about how to structure the manuscript.

Q. How did you pick the title for your books BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. The title for BAD GUY never changed, although there was some debate about whether including the word "bad" in a picture book title was too risky. GARCIA & COLETTE was a bit more complicated -- my editor, Susan Kochan, and I went around and around with lists of subtitles, shortening and lengthening and changing, until we finally settled on GARCIA AND COLETTE GO EXPLORING. We wanted to get the word "exploring" in there because we knew it would convey a sense of adventure to young readers.

Q. What is your favorite part of each book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Well, I don't want to give too much away, but...so many of my favorite parts of BAD GUY are in the illustrations. There are all kind of hints in Mike Yamada's brilliant art that deepen the family's story and hint at a broader narrative. Some of those details were included in the manuscript as illustration notes, and others came directly from Mike himself. Similarly, in GARCIA & COLETTE, Andrew Joyner found ways to turn my very straightforward text into absolute magic. The contrast between Garcia's journey up and Colette's journey down is amazing, and there are all sorts of clever little details throughout the illustrations that make the book feel like a treasure hunt. Neither one of these stories changed very much at all through the drafts, but once the art came into existence, both books deepened immeasurably.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person in BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. For me, the point-of-view for any story comes organically from the mood and tone of the story itself. BAD GUY is a character piece with a surprise at the end, so first-person/present-tense supports that effect. GARCIA & COLETTE is a more traditional friendship story with a very clear structure, so third-person/past-tense felt just right for it.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. It's so hard to remember! Because seeing the whole span of a picture book is simpler and more manageable than seeing an entire novel, and there are fewer twists and turns, I tend to have a strong sense of the beginnings and endings of my picture books before I draft them. Both BAD GUY and G&C have a bit of a twist at the end, and it took a few tries to get those right. In fact, the ending of G&C did change -- originally, they were still arguing on the final page and they hadn't achieved the compromise that they now manage to find at the end of the story.

Q. Did BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh, definitely. My agent, Linda Pratt, usually puts together a list of five or six editors to whom she'll send my picture book manuscripts and we often hear back pretty quickly from some of those editors, saying, "This just isn't for me." I know from my own days as an editor that connecting with a story is such an elusive and special thing -- if a manuscript doesn't grab you in some way, you just won't have the energy and passion to advocate for it all the way through acquisitions and publication. So I don't take rejections personally. BAD GUY and G&C were both turned down by three or four other publishers, but I believe so strongly that they connected with the right people. Working with Christian Trimmer on BAD GUY and Shauna Rossano and Susan Kochan on G&C was absolutely wonderful.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE.
A. I had worked on both manuscripts on the same writing retreat, and I sent them both to my agent while I was waiting at the airport for my flight home. My flight was delayed, so I wandered around for a while and got something to eat, and when I checked my email again about an hour later, there was a message from Linda saying, "These are both ready to go out on submission." In some ways, that moment was the really big thrill -- getting offers from editors was really exciting, obviously, but seeing that message from Linda and knowing that I'd finally cracked the picture book code was so amazing. I *may* have done a little airport dance. (And it hardly even bothered me that I got home HOURS later than expected.)

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for each book?
A. The process for the two books was very different. For G&C, Shauna Rossano and I had an extensive conversation about the style of art we might want for the book, and then went in search of the right person. We both loved Andrew Joyner's work because it struck the right balance between sweet and funny, with great background details that would add to the story. With BAD GUY, it was Christian Trimmer who matched Mike Yamada with the manuscript right away, even before he had put the project through acquisitions. He had this very clear vision of what Mike could do with the story and now I can't imagine it having been illustrated by anyone else.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover for BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. In both cases, I was blown away by how different the illustrators' ideas were than mine, but also so excited by what I saw. The sets of sketches were very different -- Mike has an animation background (he worked on HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, KUNG FU PANDA 2, and BIG HERO 6) so his sketches looked a lot like storyboards, while Andrew's were much more detailed. Both illustrators already had such a strong sense of the characters, though, that I felt absolutely confident that I'd love the finished artwork. And I do!

Q. How long did BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. BAD GUY went under contract in March 2015 and will pub in May 2017; G&C was acquired in December 2014 and will pub in June 2017. So about two and a half years in both cases.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read, read, read. Go to a favorite indie bookstore with a great children's section, or the nearest public library, and spend a day reading as many picture books as you can. Take note of the differences and similarities between classic stories and newer ones, of structural patterns and character types, of endings and plot twists. If there are books that you feel an especially strong connection with, spend some time articulating what you like about them (and also what you don't like about others). Type out the text of picture books written by other people so you can study the stories without the illustrations. The more you immerse yourself in the genre, the better you'll understand it.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I'm not a frequent user of writing exercises, other than simple brainstorming and list-making when I trying to puzzle out a story's structure. But one exercise I have used many times with my students is The Backpack Exercise, which asks them to imagine their character arriving in a new place and identify what he or she is carrying. What kind of bag? What's inside it? Is your character in an airport, a bus station, etc? It's designed to help writers focus on the concrete objects that are important to a character and deepen that sense of individuality a good character must have.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm working on a variety of picture books that are in various stages -- some drafts, some revisions. I'm also in the early stages of a new draft of a novel that has gone from being an edgy, backwoods YA to a semi-magical middle-grade. It's a story that clearly wants to be told but is playing hard to get.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. http://www.hannahbarnaby.com
@hannahrbarnaby
https://www.facebook.com/hannahrodgersbarnaby/
www.hannahbarnaby.com
@hannahrbarnaby

DADDY DEPOT

April 3, 2017

Tags: DADDY DEPOT, Chana Stiefel, Andy Snair, Feiwel & Friends, May 16, 2017

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids (topics range from exploding volcanoes to stinky castles). But next month Feiwel & Friends will publish her #firstpicturebook DADDY DEPOT—a story she wrote eight years ago!

Q. Was DADDY DEPOT the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. My first manuscript was called THE SNUGGLE FAMILY, a picture book about a family who never gets out of bed. Throughout the week, they have a Board meeting, play group, a tea party, a baseball game, and ultimately a wedding…in bed. I think I sent it to one publisher, got one rejection, and was completely discouraged. Once a year I go back to it to try to revise it. But I like the original, even though it’s far from perfect. It just makes me smile.

Q. What inspired DADDY DEPOT?
A. A bedtime story! My daughter was upset with my husband about something and I said, “Let’s return him to the Daddy store!” We made up a story about a girl who returns her father to the Daddy Depot. After bedtime, I ran downstairs and wrote my first draft. That was in 2009.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
In my mind, the Daddy store looked like Home Depot, with aisle after aisle of dads up for grabs. DADDY DEPOT seemed like a perfect fit. Also my favorite English teacher used to say, “A little alliteration let’s the lesson linger longer.”

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Ooh, that’s a tough one. One of my favorite scenes is when Lizzie, my MC, rolls her dad into her red wagon and drags him all the way to DADDY DEPOT. She’s tough, she’s strong, and she’s determined. It’s about empowerment—taking charge of your problem. This scene was definitely not in my first draft. In fact, her mom drove her to Daddy Depot! When I started writing, I didn’t have a clue about writing picture books. The first draft was 1,000 words and it rhymed…badly. It had too many characters, no conflict, and no climax. I had a lot to learn.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I guess that’s what came naturally.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing DADDY DEPOT? 
A. I had the basic idea but I went through dozens of revisions. DADDY DEPOT was the manuscript that I shaped and re-shaped while learning the ropes of picture-book writing.

Q. Did DADDY DEPOT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I had sent it out to a few editors (and got a bunch of rejections) before I met my agent, John Cusick. When he submitted DADDY DEPOT, it sold pretty quickly to Feiwel & Friends. I think we got about 10 rejections in all.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DADDY DEPOT.
A. I remember getting a call from John when I was at the Recycling Center. I was screaming in my car. It was that moment of realization that my lifelong dream was coming true.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor was open to our suggestions, and I had a pretty long A-list. The publisher chose Andy Snair and I loved his work. I think the illustrations turned out great.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. My eyeballs jumped out of my head. My book was real! This was really happening. I will say that I had a strange sensation seeing Lizzie for the first time. When you create a character and live with her for a long time, you picture her in your head. Then an illustrator imagines her in an entirely different way. It’s a bit jarring…but then it’s wondrous. Now my Lizzie is Andy’s Lizzie (and everybody else’s too).

Q. How long did DADDY DEPOT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I got the offer in November 2013 and the book debuts May 16, 2017. (Its original pub date was 2016. Apparently, this happens often.) All in all, eight years from first draft to bookstores.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Never, ever give up. If publishing a picture book is your dream, do everything you can to learn about the process, join a critique group, write & revise, explore the market, read 1,000 picture books, network with other authors, query, submit, and start again. Be positive, be persistent, be professional. And never, ever give up.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Actually exercise is my writing exercise. I come up with some of my best ideas—and solve lots of writing problems—while swimming laps. Sometimes you just have to get away from your computer and get your blood moving.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m writing a non-fiction book for National Geographic Kids about creepy animals. I’m also revising my first picture book biography, which I’m really excited about.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My web site: www.chanastiefel.com.
Twitter: @chanastiefel
My blog: kidlittakeaways.com
Facebook: Chana Stiefel
Thanks so much for having me! Keep in touch!