#FirstPictureBook

CAT EYES

October 22, 2018

Tags: CAT EYES, Laura Lee, #firstpicturebook, Ripple Grove Press, 2018

Three years ago, illustrator Laura Lee was inspired by what she saw on one her neighborhood walks and wrote her #firstpicturebook about a girl who has a unique superpower. This month her creation leaps onto bookshelves! "A visually captivating read” (Kirkus Reviews), CAT EYES “is a very special picture book story for children ages 5 to 7 and will prove to be an immediately and enduringly popular addition to family, preschool, elementary school, and community library collections for young readers” (Midwest Book Review).

Q. Was CAT EYES 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, I was working on a few at the time concurrently as the book progressed, but it’s the first ‘finished’ one that I made with illustrations. 

Q. What inspired CAT EYES?
A. It was a walk down my neighborhood street.  Gum Street.  It’s this little hidden residential street by the side of the highway and near the train tracks.  A bit vagabond.  There was this abandoned cherry orchard that I used to walk by on that street, where a several vagabond cats lived… a nice lady in the community looked after them.  So on one of my many walks down Gum Street, my husband pointed out that I had Cat Eyes, because I always am able to see them when no one else can or before anyone can.  So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a story about a girl who has this special superpower?  CAT EYES was born.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I always loved cat eye glasses, and Miki, the girl in the story has a distinctive pair of red ones.  A friend of mine from Turkey used to have red ones that inspired me.  And Miki has that special superpower.  So she literally has cat eyes and figuratively has cat eyes. 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I write on the computer. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. (Spoiler) The scene where Miki reunites with the special cat.  It was part of the first draft, but I changed the setting entirely. 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Originally I had picked Greta, because I liked the way it sounded.  But the main character is Asian so Ripple Grove wanted to go with an asian-sounding name, and we settled on Miki.  Miki was the name of my one and only cat.  My Miki got her name from the single name, Miki, given to several dozens of cats that lived on a farm in Slovenia.  My friend’s grandmother would call out ‘Miki!,’ and they would come running from all directions for food. 

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think at some point I had a first-person version but third person made more sense to me because Miki travels through landscapes imagining all these cat characters.  You get less inside Miki’s head but focus more on what she sees through the illustrations. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CAT EYES? 
A. It’s hard to remember how it started, it was three years ago!  I think I wrote the actual story in about a day, then revised it over and over.  The story arc, which has evolved has essentially stayed true to that first draft.  I do remember going pretty quickly into visualizing the story in thumbnails.   

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I think I held the images of the locations in my head from places I’ve spent time in my life— my favorite local park in San Mateo, a street I lived on in the West Village in NY, but otherwise words came first. 

Q. Did CAT EYES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes!  Many, many, many.  Well, I first sent out to agents, and got some positive feedback which was great but no one liked both the story and the illustration style.  I sent out about 70.  Then I sent out to publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, and was lucky to find a publisher directly who loved the project.  I think I sent out about 50 of those!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CAT EYES.
A. I couldn’t believe that someone believed in me!  It was so amazing.  I was ready to put the project on the shelf, and get back to my day job.  When Ripple Grove contacted me I was so excited but also nervous because I didn’t know where it would lead.  I’m so happy they found me!

Q. How long did CAT EYES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. One year. 

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. All the changes made were well-considered so no— working with Rob and Amanda at Ripple Grove was easy because they are such amazing creative collaborators.  As a creative professional it’s a rare thing to have that kind of collaboration.

Q. Did you create any book swag for CAT EYES? If so, what kind?
A. Not yet— except for a little trailer.  Maybe I will!  I think it would be fun to make prints of Miki’s red glasses.  I’ve considered making a 3d book.  Cat Eyes headbands with ears could be cool too.  I notice a lot of kids wear those these days!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Do it!  Get a lot of feedback, try things out.  Be open to evolving everything. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Hm.  I don’t do Twitter, but I share occasionally on Instagram.  It’s actually an amazing creative community, to get support and explore different artist styles.  I’m going to learn more about social media marketing in the future— I think everyone has to do their own social media marketing these days to gain support.  Which is good but also a lot of work!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several projects in the works! I'm working on three picture book manuscripts, one is about mommy days, another is about saying farewell to a house and hello to a new one, and the third is about a sneeze. Yup, a sneeze.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
IG:  https://www.instagram.com/worldoflauralee/
Web: www.worldoflauralee.com

If you have read CAT EYES, please consider writing a review:
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PORCUPINE’S PIE

October 15, 2018

Tags: PORCUPINE’S PIE, Laura Renauld, Jennie Poh, Beaming Books, 2018

Last week, former third-grade teacher Laura Renauld became a debut picture book author! Inspired by a post in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2014, Laura came up with a title...and then wrote a story for it. Today, she shares some key ingredients for her #firstpicturebook, PORCUPINE’S PIE—Winner of the Beaming Books Picture Book Contest.

Q. Was PORCUPINE’S 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. Not even close! About twelve years ago, when I started to pursue my dream of writing books for children, I wrote a story about a childhood memory. It had a kid-friendly hook (the neighbor’s kitten met my pet rabbit and decided to try hopping), but it didn’t have: plot, conflict, heart… So I guess it wasn’t really a story! When manuscripts don’t work out, they go in the Story Grave folder on my computer.

Q. What inspired PORCUPINE’S PIE?
A. I have been an enthusiastic participant in Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (now Storystorm) since 2011. I was inspired by Tammi Sauer’s post during PiBoIdMo 2014, which challenged writers to frame a story as a How-To Book. My brainstorming that day included this jot in my notebook: “How to make porcupine pie (or a pie for a porcupine)”. Even though it did not evolve into a How-To Book, that was the beginning!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came before the story. I loved the alliteration of PORCUPINE’S PIE, so I brainstormed a story to fit!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I primarily use the computer, but when I’m brainstorming, I create story webs by hand. When I’m storyboarding, I use index cards or dummy books to check pacing and page turns.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the end and the collaborative Friendship Pie, especially now that I’ve seen it illustrated. The idea was in my first draft, but the wording and presentation of it have changed.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. With Porcupine as the main character, I stuck with animal names for consistency: Squirrel, Bear, and Doe.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. It just seemed a natural fit. Sometimes I will try out other points of view as I’m drafting, but I didn’t with this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PORCUPINE’S PIE? 
A. Not much! As I mentioned, I started with the title. That gave me my main character. I also knew the problem would have to involve pie. That was it!

Q. Did PORCUPINE’S PIE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No rejection letters, just crickets from one editor.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PORCUPINE’S PIE.
A. Thanks to Sub It Club, I learned of the Beaming Books (formerly Sparkhouse Family) Picture Book Contest. So I entered. When I received the email that I had won, I was actively seeking an agent and submitting manuscripts to open publishers. Getting rejections in my inbox was a regular occurrence. I had to read the email two or three times before it sunk in that I was reading an acceptance letter. It was thrilling! I shared my good news right away with my husband, my kids, my parents, and all the people in my life who were cheering on my budding writing career.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My publisher asked what style of art I envisioned, which is more input than I was expecting. Luckily, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to illustrators I admire, so I shared that with her.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Jennie Poh breathed life into my characters. I love Porcupine’s turquoise boots and how each character has a stylish accessory.

Q. How long did PORCUPINE’S PIE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 1 year, 10 months.

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. Originally, I had Porcupine cover her pail with an art note that cranberries would drop out of a hole in the pail as she moved through the forest. During the editorial process, this was changed to make the cranberries visibly fall out. I understood the choice, as it is easier for readers to notice what is happening and look for clues, but I do like the unexpected surprise of the pail being uncovered to find it empty.

Q. Have you read PORCUPINE’S PIE to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! My two boys and my niece and nephew giggled at the part when Bear almost hugs Porcupine. They also enjoyed rereading to find when the cranberries start falling out of the pail!

Q. Did you create any book swag for PORCUPINE’S PIE? If so, what kind?
A. Yes. I had bookmarks and stickers printed.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Join SCBWI and start going to conferences in your region. Join a critique group. Read everything you can get your hands on that is current in your genre. Check out the abundance of online writing resources, groups, courses, and challenges. My favorites are kidlit411.com, subitclub.com, taralazar.com, napibowriwee.com, and picturebookbuilders.com. Okay, those are several tips. But all are worth noting!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Participate in the kidlit community. It is an incredibly generous and supportive group of people! Volunteer for your local SCBWI conference. Join an online writing challenge. Review books on your blog. Give shout-outs on social media for deal announcements, book birthdays, awards, … anything! Don’t think of other kidlit folks as competitors. Think of them as cheerleaders. When you reach out, others reach back.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several picture book manuscripts at various stages in the revision process. I like having more than one project going at a time. If I get stuck with one, I can move on to the next!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
Website: laurarenauld.com
Twitter - @laura_renauld
Facebook – @kidlitlaura
Instagram - @laurarenauld

If you have read PORCUPINE’S PIE, please consider writing a review:
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PAUL AND HIS UKULELE

October 8, 2018

Tags: PAUL AND HIS UKULELE, #firstpicturebook, Robert Broder, Jenn Kocsmiersky, Ripple Grove Press, 2018

Robert Broder is the Publisher and Creative Director at Ripple Grove Press where he has worked on several picture book debuts. But recently Rob published his own #firstpicturebook. “Impressively original and immensely entertaining“ (Midwest Book Review), PAUL AND HIS UKULELE is “a quiet story of a life made happy by following a passion for music” (Booklist)

Q. Was PAUL AND HIS UKULELE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. PAUL AND HIS UKULELE was not my first picture book.  It was probably a rhyming story about a weed growing next to a flower.  But that was a long time ago.

Q. What are the pros and cons of being the publisher and author of PAUL AND HIS UKULELE?
A. The pros were being able to take a story we liked and making it a book.  The cons would be, well, during the making of the book, I didn't tell Jenn Kocsmiesky, the illustrator that I wrote the book. I didn't want that in the back of her mind because I was also the creative director on the project. 

Q. What inspired PAUL AND HIS UKULELE?
A. I guess you can say my own life.  I traveled quite a bit, then met Amanda, started playing ukulele, started Ripple Grove Press.  So when you read the book, there are similarities.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title for the book was original "Paul" because I like simple titles. But our distributor suggested when searching (on the internet or in data bases) for just the title "Paul" a whole lot would come up.  But when searching for "Paul and His Ukulele" it narrows the search.  But I like this more.  Because the book really is about Paul and his love for his ukulele.  

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I start by hand, then type it up. Then print it out, then edit it. Then fix those edits on the computer, then print it out again. and keep doing this process. I like editing on paper.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. There's a spread where Paul is playing his ukulele on his front porch, while the other kids play freeze tag.  When I see that spread I think, that's me.  I was the kid that was indoors playing with Legos or my Matchbox cars instead of outside playing sports or physical activities. 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I was looking for a very simple name for the main character.  And I have a friend named Paul, and it just stuck. Four-Finger Frank came to me because Frank is such a mechanic’s name.  And then since a ukulele has four strings, it fit.  I thought it was funny that something must have happened to his finger a long time ago being a mechanic. And Clementine came to me because I wanted a longer name than Paul. And was also fitting because the name is in a song, which is what he's searching for in the book.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Maybe because it’s similar to my own life, I wanted to remove myself from it.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PAUL AND HIS UKULELE? 
A. I would say half.  And as I kept writing, more and more comes from it.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I wrote Paul, in my mind he was always a boy.  But when I saw Jenn's portfolio, she had these wonderful foxes.  It just fit. So when I first saw the sketches, it just shined. And Jenn and I discussed together what the cover and back cover should be.

Q. When you read PAUL AND HIS UKULELE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I would say when Paul meets Four-Finger Frank.  I usually do a lower voice for Frank too.  Since he's illustrated as a Pig, and he's a mechanic, I imagine him having a very rough, low sounding voice.

Q. Did you create any book swag for PAUL AND HIS UKULELE? If so, what kind?
A. My wife surprised me with pins with images from the book.  So sweet. I can't wait to give them out at my story times.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. READ PICTURE BOOKS!!! Sorry for the all caps.  I hear all the time "I want to write picture books" or "it looks so easy" but they don't read picture books. It will help guide your style and imagination.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite writing exercise is going for walks and making myself think on the story. What is working, what isn't, what will make your story slightly different. The mindful walk helps shape the story.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a couple more picture books. Trying to think outside the box. Building on sweet characters in unique situations.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A.
Saturday, Nov 3 at Phoenix Books in Rutland Vermont at 11am with Jenn Kocsmiesky
Saturday, Nov 17 at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs NY at 11am with Jenn Kocsmiesky
Here's the event calendar link: 
http://www.ripplegrovepress.com/new-events/?view=calendar&month=September-2018

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
RobertBroder.com
@RobbieBroder
RippleGrovePress.com/Paul  
Book trailer

If you have read PAUL AND HIS UKULELE, please consider writing a review:
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THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY

October 1, 2018

Tags: THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, #firstpicturebook, Hannah Holt, Jay Fleck, HarperCollins, 2018

Hannah Holt is an engineer and the granddaughter of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine. Using her grandfather’s personal writings and journals along with interviews of family members, Hannah created her #firstpicturebook. THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY is “a gem of a biography” and a “clever dual narrative [that] conveys both how diamonds form naturally underground and how inventor H.Tracy Hall discovered a way to make diamonds in a lab” (Booklist, starred review).

Q. Was THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY 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, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY wasn't in the first dozen or so stories I wrote. I have an "Old and Dead" folder on my computer where most of these stories live. Usually their biggest offense was being boring and unoriginal. I can rewrite terrible prose. I can't rewrite a mediocre premise.

Q. What inspired THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY?
A. My grandfather is "the boy" in this story. I grew up hearing stories about him as a child in my mother's arms.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Ha! I didn't. The marketing department did. I like the title, and I was consulted on the change. However, I didn't "pick it."

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
Computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is Jay Fleck's illustrations, so no, those weren't in the first draft.  I'm thrilled with all they add to the book.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I tried to use as many primary sources as possible, like Tracy's personal writings and journals. I also interviewed family members and consulted non-fiction books about Tracy and diamonds.

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. Tracy had a very humble beginning to his life. I wanted to start in a place that showed that most acutely; hence, starting with him as a toddler living in a tent. On the diamond side, I started before graphite began to change. The stories follow parallel tracks but end at the same place.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I included a brief history of diamonds and their role in both science and geo-political conflicts. I also included a few more details about Tracy's life, two pictures of him, and a selected bibliography. With all this information, my end note ended up being longer than the text of the story.

Q. Did THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY was rejected nine times. It had two offers and one interested editor who wasn't able to respond within the time-frame called for making a decision. However, I had submitted many stories over the years and accrued more than 100 rejections before I received my first book contract.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY.
A. I was stunned. I had become so good at rejection that I almost didn't know what to do with success. That day, I mostly felt numb. However, the next day the tears of joy finally came.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. The editor sent me four illustrators for consideration. Jay Fleck was by far my favorite and fortunately, he accepted the project. Hurrah!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I first saw the cover, my heart just sang. The bold lines, the way the colors popped—I loved everything about it.

Q. How long did THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 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. Not really.

Q. When you read THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The "ERUPTION" page is fun. It's full of vibrant colors. It's  a full spread and readers turn the book sideways for the full effect.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY? If so, what kind?
A. I ordered diamond temporary tattoos and postcards. I'm also working on a teachers guide that I hope is finished and on my website before this post goes live. :)

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Study a little. Read a lot. Write the most. I guess that's technically three tips, but here's a fourth tip: break the rules!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Be generous! Make friends with other writers, and try to give more than you receive.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a new non-fiction story in the works, but I can't talk about it yet.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A. My launch party is Tuesday October 02, 2018 at 3:00 PM:
Barnes & Noble Tanasbourne
18300 NW Evergreen Pkwy
Beaverton, OR 97006
503-645-3046

I'm also doing a story time October 25th at 3:30 at Green Bean Books in Portland and a story time at Powell's in the Spring. I'll post details about that on Twitter as it gets closer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
Website: https://hannahholt.com/
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/hannah.w.holt?ref=br_rs
Twitter: @HannahWHolt

If you have read THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, please consider writing a review:
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THE REMEMBER BALLOONS

September 24, 2018

Tags: THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, #firstpicturebook, Jessie Oliveros, Dana Wulfekotte, Simon & Schuster, 2018

Jessie Oliveros had a four-day-old baby when she received the news that her #firstpicturebook would be published. It’s been 2 1/2 years since then and today she talks to us about THE REMEMBER BALLOONS—“A moving and meaningful way to talk about a situation many families will face" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Q. Was THE REMEMBER BALLOONS 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 (roughly ten years ago) was called CHARLIE NICKEL GETS HIS WISH. It's nothing like THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. It's silly and fun and now spending the rest of its days hidden among the dusty files of my hard drive. It was a good first, but I had a long way to go.

Q. What inspired THE REMEMBER BALLOONS?
A. I was inspired to write THE REMEMBER BALLOONS after visiting my grandfather a few years ago. He suffers from Alzheimer's, and as my kids and I were sitting with him, I thought I'd write a picture book about a grandfather like mine. At first it was a straight-forward story about a boy and his grandfather with Alzheimer's, but then it morphed into a metaphorical story with memory balloons. I'd been recording my grandparents' histories on a voice recorder. Perhaps that had something to do with the turn my manuscript took--the voice recorder made the memories a solid, tangible thing I could put in my pocket. 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Honestly, it was a bit of a working title, something to save my file under. I was surprised (and pleased) that the publisher liked the title enough to stick with it!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. It depends on the manuscript. I recently finished a picture book that I drafted entirely by hand. However, I drafted THE REMEMBER BALLOONS on the computer. I suppose it depends on how quickly the ideas are flowing. Writing by hand suits slow, percolating ideas. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love this three frame scene of James chasing after Grandpa's balloons. Dana is an animator as well as an illustrator, and you can really see that in this spread. There is so much movement! It really suits the text.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  
A. That is a question I've never asked myself! Most of my picture book manuscripts are in third. I suppose the only answer is that is how the story came to me. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE REMEMBER BALLOONS? 
A. I didn't actually *know* any of the story. But once the idea of memory balloons came to me, it all kind of flowed freely from there. I had a beginning, middle, and end in the afternoon. I can't say that about all my manuscripts. The ending is usually the most difficult part for me. 

Q. Did THE REMEMBER BALLOONS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS received about 12 rejections over a few months. I was a little more relaxed about how I queried this one. I'd just come out of querying my middle grade widely, and I didn't have it in me to do it again.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE REMEMBER BALLOONS.
A. Well, I was tired and sleep-deprived because I had a four-day-old baby! Maybe I would have had a more exuberant response at a less crazy time. It was pretty surreal, though--knowing I would now be a published author. I smiled, showed my mother-in-law the email. Then I probably took a nap. Lol.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My publisher chose the illustrator (more specifically the art director for THE REMEMBER BALLOONS chose the illustrator) and I couldn't have been happier! Dana's art is so exquisite and joyful and sorrowful and whimsical all at once. She really brings the story to a whole other level with her illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I wrote THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, I had envisioned people very similar to Dana's people...sweet and sketchy and dreamy. So when I saw her sketches for the first time, they felt somewhat familiar. Yet, they were also filled with happy surprises. There were so many elements of the illustrations I could have never even conceived of myself. 

Q. How long did THE REMEMBER BALLOONS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Remember that four day old baby? My book just released, and she is 2 1/2 now! 

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. If you've read the book, you will know that a very special part of the story is the silver balloon. The "contents" of the balloon were different in the original. I remember telling my agent. "Don't make me change the silver balloon!" And he didn't. But the first thing my acquiring editor said to me was, "We need to change the silver balloon." The changes were definitely for the better (emphasis 1,000 times on the word definitely), but it was hard at the time.

Q. When you read THE REMEMBER BALLOONS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids always like the images of the memories in the balloons. A particular favorite illustration is the spread of all of Grandpa's memory balloons.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE REMEMBER BALLOONS? If so, what kind?
A. I created some bookmarks. I haven't created much yet, but I plan to make some more bookmarks in the future. I might even make some stickers. But swag can get expensive, so I have to make sure it's being used effectively.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read. Read. Read. Go to the library and read all the books. Put all the new releases on hold. There is a certain structure and art of picture books that you will only get if you immerse yourself in the genre.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. One thing that has been really helpful for me in promoting my book is my debut group. We band together, support each other through the ups and downs of a debut year, form lasting friendships, read each others' books, and talk about each others' books. If you are a debut author, find a debut group! If they are full, create another. (My debut group is called Epic 18, and there are so many fabulous books among these incredible authors and illustrators.)

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a picture book that is in the same emotional vein as THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. I also have a couple middle grade novels I am revising.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A.
October 20, 2018
2 pm
Johnson County Library
Monticello Branch
22435 W 66th St
Shawnee, KS 66226  

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
jessieoliveros.com
Twitter: @jessieoliveros
Instagram: @jessieoliveros
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessie.oliveros.5

If you have read THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, please consider writing a review:
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THE OUTLAW

September 17, 2018

Tags: THE OUTLAW, Nancy Vo, Groundwood Books, 2018, #firstpicturebook

THE OUTLAW By Nancy Vo (Groundwood Books, 2018)
Inspired by a book, a movie, and an SCBWI conference, illustrator Nancy Vo created her #firstpicturebook. “Stunning" (School Library Journal) and "bewitching" (New York Times), THE OUTLAW is “a picture-book Western that upends many of the genre's gunslinging shootout-and revenge-narrative tropes" (Horn Book). Today she tells us all about writing her debut picture book.

Q. Was THE OUTLAW 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 manuscript that I wrote and illustrated was essentially a depiction of my youngest when she was a baby who cried a lot. In the old days, they would say your baby is colicky. The way that I coped was through humour and drawing. I thought that she must see this from a different point of view. Ella has been shelved for now, but it was the important first step.
 
Q. What inspired THE OUTLAW?
A. The Outlaw was a confluence of inspirations. I had finished reading the darkly funny SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick DeWitt, watched the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit, and attended a SCBWI conference in Western Washington where Mac Barnett gave an inspiring talk to recall things we liked as children and Sophie Blackall had us drawing shadows. I made a drawing when I returned home (see picture). I had a drawing but no story.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I started writing the manuscript on Post-It notes. Then moved onto computer so that I could track changes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. The initial image of the shadow over the train tracks is still my favourite.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The characters are not named because naming does not add anything to this story. It would change the tone completely.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. THE OUTLAW is narrated by a crow.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE OUTLAW? 
A. As mentioned earlier, The Outlaw began as an image without a story. I had a loosely constructed narrative in my head as I worked through the Post-Its, but a lot of lines were thrown out until the story was as lean as it needed to be.

Q. Did THE OUTLAW receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A.  Hmm... no there were no rejection letters exactly. I sent first to Groundwood Books because they are part of Anansi Press, publisher of the SISTERS BROTHERS. When I did not hear back after three months, I went ahead and submitted to American agents/publishers. Then in the fourth month, I received an email from Sheila Barry asking if the project was still available. It was and I informed everyone else that THE OUTLAW was no longer available.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE OUTLAW.
A. 💃🏻

Q. How long did THE OUTLAW take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Oh, I have to look that up. Wait... Contract signed in summer 2015, book released in spring 2018 - nearly three 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. There was a scene that I didn't exactly love but I was still at a stage where I thought an explanation was needed for why the Outlaw went away. However, after feedback from my trusty critique group, I took out the scene with his mother.

Q. Have you read THE OUTLAW to  kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes, I have read the book aloud to kids. I think one comment that caught me off guard was, "The Outlaw is chubbier after he stops breaking the law." And another student saying, "Probably because he is not running away so much." It was so hard to keep a straight face for that.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Same as for writers. Read. A lot. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Lisa Cinar taught a picture book class where she showed us 10 images and we had 5 minutes to come up with a line that would begin a story. It was a really effective way to use an hour to brainstorm story ideas. You are less inhibited this way, and sometimes get good surprises.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished meeting a deadline for the second picture book for Groundwood, The Ranger. 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Check out:
Website: www.nancyvo.com
Twitter: @nvo_itsadraw
Instagram: squeaknbanana

If you have read THE OUTLAW, please consider writing a review:
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Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth

September 10, 2018

Tags: Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth, Kate Gardner, Heidi Smith, HarperCollins, September 18, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner and illustrated by Heidi Smith (HarperCollins, September 18, 2018)
This week’s Q&A is a very special interview because it is with Kate Gardner—the editor of my #firstpicturebook. I’m so happy that after years of guiding other writers on their publishing journeys, she has now set off on her own. Published on September 18, LOVELY BEASTS “presents an interesting and focused subject in an exemplary manner” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and “will do much for the reputations of some of our more maligned animals” (Booklist).

Q. Was LOVELY BEASTS 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 actually wrote a very simple concept book called SNOW FALLS before LOVELY BEASTS. Tundra Books will be publishing it, but it's been delayed re: finding the right illustrator.
 
Q. What inspired LOVELY BEASTS?
A. Agent extraordinaire, Kirsten Hall, sent me a piece of Heidi's Smith art and asked if I had any book ideas for it. I was thrilled, flattered, and jumped at the chance. I thought that a nonfiction approach with a twist would engage readers and help shatter stereotypes at the same time—for it’s impossible not to worry about the danger of misperceptions, now more than ever. And many of these misconceptions have led to the near-extinction of some of these beautiful animals.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The project was originally called GENTLE BEASTS. But as my editor Alessandra Balzer pointed out, not all of the featured beasts could accurately be described as "gentle" . . . So we went for something a bit more subjective.
  
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction book?
A. For my day job, I'm a children's book editor, and I've been lucky to work with many amazing writers on many fantastic books. For almost 15 years, I've worked with Sy Montgomery on her nonfiction projects and much of what I've learned from her, I've incorporated into LOVELY BEASTS.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Heidi’s amazing art, of course! But I also love the simplicity of the book—all that negative space, large type, and pages turns. The page turns were something I felt strongly about and was happy when Alessandra and Heidi agreed that they helped create some tension and structure. And as an editor, while I never look for overt messages in books, I do hope that the idea of getting to know a person/place/thing before making a judgement call about it will be something that rises up naturally from LOVELY BEASTS and starts some conversations between readers.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. We had only one page to spare for back matter and we decided to include suggestions for further reading for both young and older readers.
 
Q. Did LOVELY BEASTS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Amazingly, we received a preempt from Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray (now I'm spoiled, even though I know that preempts are the exception to the rule!).
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LOVELY BEASTS.
A. My heart beat fast - very fast! I wasn't expecting things to move so quickly and while I'm familiar with the submission process from the editorial perspective, it was different to be on the other side of the desk. All I remember was that it was at night, I was sitting in the car in the driveway, and it was very cold—but Kirsten's call warmed me up quick.
  
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. LOVELY BEASTS is also Heidi Smith's debut and I think she's definitely an illustrator to watch. She is so incredibly talented and her art hasn't stopped giving me goosebumps since the first time I saw it.
 
Q. How long did LOVELY BEASTS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in January 2017 and the book is pubbing this month, so a little over 1.5 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. I originally had more beasts and had to cut a few to make the pagination work. One animal I was sad to omit from the original manuscript was pigs - because I do think that if you ask someone to describe pigs in 2 or 3 words, they're bound to say something like "filthy" or "disgusting." Which isn't actually true. Pigs are incredibly smart and bathe in mud as a way to keep cool (it also works as sunscreen). And much like cats, pigs keep their toilet area far away from their living and eating areas. There is even a population of pigs who live on Exuma Island in the Bahamas who are known for regularly swimming in the pristine waters there.
 
Q. Have you read LOVELY BEASTS to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Not yet! LOVELY BEASTS will be published on 9/18 and I'll have my first bookstore event on the 22nd (biting finger nails in anticipation).
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for LOVELY BEASTS? If so, what kind?
A. I have always loved making necklaces and I made a beast themed one for a giveaway/raffle, which is currently running on Instagram through Sept 17th.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I think the next best practice for writing after writing itself, is reading. Reading and studying other picture books helps you figure out what you think works, what you think doesn't, and how that will inform your own approach. And if you're not also an illustrator, I think it's important to leave plenty of room for the art to meet the text and do its own storytelling.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. For me, the thing that helps me generate new ideas is actually walking. So I walk most of my commute, which gives me time to mull ideas and approaches over — my brain just seems to work differently when I'm walking vs. sitting at a desk!
 
Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, please provide details:
A. Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 22nd at 3 pm.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have another picture book coming out with B + B, IF YOU LIVE HERE, but we're still searching for an illustrator, so no pub date yet. And with the hot weather, I haven’t been walking on my commute as much – I need to hit the streets and start thinking about new ideas!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I'm on Instagram @keaosullivan
 

Too busy to blog

August 27, 2018

It’s back-to-school chaos so I’ll return in a couple weeks with new #firstpicturebook Q&As. Enjoy the last weeks of summer!

#FirstPictureBook Flashback

August 20, 2018

“I still can't get over the fact that the book I drew in my cramped little spare room in our old flat is now being read by children all across the world. It's amazing really.”—author/illustrator David Litchfield

In July 2016, I interviewed David Litchfield about his #firstpicturebook THE BEAR AND THE PIANO. So what has David been up to since then? THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG & THE FIDDLE and GRANDAD’S SECRET GIANT along with illustrating several books for other writers! To revisit his #firstpicturebook Q&A, click here.

To learn more about David’s author/illustrator work, follow these links:

GRANDAD’S SECRET GIANT: “Funny, touching and visually stunning, this really is a book to treasure.”—Daily Mail

THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG & THE FIDDLE: Coming March 2019. Preorder now!

See more of David’s illustration work at his website.

SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN

August 13, 2018

Tags: SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN, #firstpicturebook, Mike Petrik, Two Lions, 2018

Animator and illustrator Mike Petrik loves Halloween! As a kid, he decorated his house in August. Now, as a grown-up, he’s celebrating this summer with the publication of his #firstpicturebook SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN—a “lavishly illustrated, laugh-out-loud picture book about a boy who loves Halloween so much that he tries to celebrate it year-round.” (Booklist)

Q. You worked as an illustrator before SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN.   How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. Storytelling was always something I loved to do, but I was never really confident in my ability to write for children's publishing.  I put together a dummy of SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN to send along with query letters when I was looking for agent representation.  When I found Teresa at Bookmark Literary, she loved the idea so much that we did several rounds of revisions and sent it out, which ended up selling! When I'm illustrating for my own stories, I always kind of know what to expect from myself.  If I'm working on illustrating a story or poem for Highlights for Children, for example, I may have the opportunity to draw something I never would have otherwise, which is always a fun challenge!

Q. Was SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN 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! This is the first one I put together when I really wanted to take this whole children's publishing thing seriously.  

Q. What inspired SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN?
A. Well, it's sort of autobiographical.  My Mom likes to tell the story of the day she came home from work and my brother and I had dragged out and hung all of the Halloween decorations in early August.  I just love the whole Halloween season, and now that I have a family of my own, it's exciting to see my own children get excited about it too.  This past October for my daughters birthday, we did a whole haunted basement walk through for the kids, and my middle son Sammy had a blast jumping out and scaring the older kids!  Guess its in the blood.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title was something we muddled with forever.  Nothing sounded right, and the list grew and grew.  I was even at a point of listing words and combining them together, just as a way to hopefully land on the winner.  In the end, I knew I wanted the words Sammy in there and Halloween in there.  I'm 99% sure it was the awesome folks over at Two Lions who suggested the final title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A little of both.  A lot of writing happened alongside drawing in the sketchbook.  Once I had some solid ideas there, I would type it out.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. What turned out to be my favorite spread was the one of the haunted house fully operational and showcasing all the cool spooky stuff they had built.  I drew this one last because it was the scariest to me and I was worried that I wouldn't get the image that I had in my head onto the paper.  This particular spread wasn't included in the first draft, but I'm glad it's in there now!  

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Molly, Sammy, and Luke are the names of my three kids! 

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. Using a narrator to tell the story of Sammy was something I had from the very first dummy.  I wanted a tone of a traditional holiday story, with a narrator taking us through the events, then we get a closer look as we move into the dialogue.  

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN? 
A. The story structure from the very first dummy to the final is essentially the same.  I knew the story I wanted to tell, and through all of the revisions, the heart of the story remained the same.  

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Writing and illustrating happened along side each other, which was great to keep it fresh for myself as I moved along.  Doodling in the sketchbook would reveal new things that I never would have discovered if I was just writing, and vice versa. 

Q. Did SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh boy, yes.  If I had to put a number on it, probably around 30? 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN.
A. I couldn't really believe it!  There were a couple of "hey, we are interested in this, but maybe in year or two we can fit it in..." types of responses.  Which, even though they were rejections, it felt nice to get a positive response to the book.  So, when the offer came in, I told myself not to get excited until I actually had my name on a legal contract. 

Q. How long did SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was about a year and a half from when I signed the contract to when I delivered final files.  

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. There was one scene from a very early draft of Sammy writing a love letter to monsters on Valentines Day.  It didn't really fit, so unfortunately had to go. 

Q. Did you create any book swag for SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN? If so, what kind?
A. Nothing yet since we are so early in promoting, but I have some plans!  A trick or treat bag with some Sammy art on it to give away, along with bookmarks that double as trading cards of the characters.  The big one though is I will have a Sammy plush figure to give away as a prize on release day!  

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't stop.  No matter what.  If you really want it, be the one who is up late working on a dummy while every else has thrown in the towel.  

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I am biased since I am an illustrator, but I don't think I would be able to write without sketching ideas along side the writing.  Maybe this is something to try if you are having a creative block?

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I actually just turned in rough illustrations on a new story for the August 2018 issue of Highlights for Children.  All farm animal themed! 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.mikepetrik.com
https://twitter.com/mikepetrik
https://www.instagram.com/mikepetrik/
https://www.facebook.com/mikepetrikillustration

If you have read SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN, please consider writing a review:
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