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


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THE BEAR AND THE PIANO

July 25, 2016

Tags: THE BEAR AND THE PIANO, David Litchfield, Clarion, 2016

David Litchfield's illustrations have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books. Starting in 2010, he did a drawing every day for a year and later hosted a Ted Talk about how that changed his life. Today he talks about how he created his first picture book THE BEAR AND THE PIANO—"one of those rare books that children can return to again and again through the years, each time finding new meaning appropriate to their varying ages and stages” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. You had illustrated several book covers before THE BEAR AND THE PIANO. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator?
A. Well actually, THE BEAR AND THE PIANO is my first ever book. I got the gig before any other commissions, which was strange as I had no experience of narrative illustration really. My editor Katie Cotton must have just seen the desire I had to create books and took a huge leap of faith in signing me up to do the book.

After I pitched the idea to Katie I drew the thumbnails and the rough version of the book as well as a few full colour spreads. This took me a couple of weeks working around other jobs in the evenings, etc. But thankfully, Katie was impressed enough by this to say yes and commission the book.

Since then, I have taken on a fair few projects for other authors. This is a very different process as you need to take on board the authors viewpoint for the world they have created.
Each way of working has their own enjoyable challenges and unique processes to follow.

Q. What inspired THE BEAR AND THE PIANO?
A. I think when you want to follow a certain dream you have to step out of your comfort zone. And also I think so many people are moving around and moving away these days that's it's sometimes important to remember your roots and where you come from. But obviously told in a very sweet, friendly way.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I liked how it was a matter of factly style title. It describes what the main story points are and I think that's quite cool.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like the giant theatre spread with the bear playing the grande piano in front of all of those people. This was one of the first images I sketched out and I could see it perfectly in my head. I'm really happy with how that spread turned out actually. From an illustration point of view I think it's a pretty good drawing (in my humble opinion). From a story point of view I think it's a good visual device of showing how far the bear has come and how different his life is compared to when he was playing on the tatty old piano in the forest.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Ooh, I don't know actually. It just was a natural thing. I didn't really think about it at the time. But now that I am thinking, maybe it's because if I had have written it from the Bears perspective and have the bear narrate it would have broken the Magic a bit. After all, if the bear can talk and tell us the story, it's not to far to stretch our belief that the bear can play the piano. So maybe, sub consciously, that's why I wrote it in the third person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE BEAR AND THE PIANO?
A. All of it. actually, I sketched it out in my sketchbook before writing a word for it. Once I had the pictures mapped out it was quite easy to add the words. I think that's actually my favourite way of working.

Q. Did THE BEAR AND THE PIANO receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't actually. It may sound like I'm showing off a bit, but my first ever pitch meeting with a publisher was with Katie at France's Lincoln which went great and she loved the idea and the book got signed up. So, yep, no rejections (feel slightly smug now).

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE BEAR AND THE PIANO.
A. I remember I left France's Lincoln offices and went to Starbucks and had a sausage sandwich. I rang my wife and told her the good news and then emailed my agent. I then floated on a cloud of joy home from London to Bedford. It was a bloody brilliant day.

Q. How long did THE BEAR AND THE PIANO take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was a fairly quick process. Pretty much 1 year exactly. I got the green light on the project from France's Lincoln in September 2014 and then it was published in September 2015.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. There was an extra spread which had the Bear running through the city streets just before he heads back to the forest. But part of the process of working with Katie was looking at what worked for the story and what might slow it down. This was a fantastic learning curve and even though I loved the look of the city spread I could see that it just wasn't needed at all. But to be honest I really don't think I would change anything within the book. I'm really rather fond of It :)

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE BEAR AND THE PIANO?
A. I've had some great letters from kids who have read the book. I love getting letters. A couple of weeks ago I even got given a book drawn by a 7 year old girl called 'the bear & the Trumpet' which was inspired by my book. I'm even a character in the book which is amazing.
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.

Q. When you do readings of THE BEAR AND THE PIANO, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The big reveal at the end when the bear returns home is always nice. In fact I did a reading at a primary school last month and the teacher started crying at that point. It was a bit awkward. But also lovely and funny.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Being passionate about what you do, and having a strong portfolio is helpful (if you want to illustrate too).

But what I have learnt is that a good idea and a good concept can impress anyone. I think that publishers like to work closely with authors and illustrators in developing an idea. So the fact that The Bear & the Piano was just a very loose idea—literally just a paragraph synopsis and a few sketches—when I pitched it, was actually something that worked in its favour.

To learn more about how David created THE BEAR AND THE PIANO, visit his blog.

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY: HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME

July 18, 2016

Tags: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY: HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME, Nancy Churnin, Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016

Nancy Churnin is a theater critic and busy baseball-loving mom to four boys but today she tells us about the long road to publishing her first picture book THE WILLIAM HOY STORY—"a rewarding read-aloud choice for baseball fans" (Booklist) and a New York Public Library Recommended Book.

Q. Was THE WILLIAM HOY STORY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. There have been so many manuscripts over the years, I can’t remember which was first. But one I remember most fondly is Monroe and the Mousecracker, Sweet! about a mouse who dreams of starring as the Mouse King in The Nutcracker. It’s still in my file cabinet and it still makes me laugh!

Q. What inspired THE WILLIAM HOY STORY?
A. I became friends with a Deaf man named Steve Sandy, whose decades-long dream is to get William Hoy in the National Baseball Hall of Fame., where William would be the first Deaf player to get that honor. I wanted to find a way to help. I thought of the most powerful people I knew and I realized: kids! I will share the story of William Hoy with kids and they will write the letters and send the drawings that will make it happen. At that point I had not yet realized there was more to writing picture books than putting down whatever came into my head and stuffing the results in file cabinets. Slowly I realized I had to learn the craft. So I took courses and challenges and got critiques and wrote, wrote, wrote while Steve kept me going with fabulous primary source material and patiently answered question after question after question about William Hoy and what it was like to grow up Deaf in the late nineteenth century.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Wendy Grencik, my wonderful editor at Albert Whitman & Company, picked the title. It is simple and to the point and I really like the second part of it: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY: HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME.

Q. What resources did you use while researching THE WILLIAM HOY STORY?
A. Steve Sandy provided me with reams of newspaper articles about William Hoy from the 19th century and beyond as William lived 99 years from the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy! Steve is friends with the Hoy family and, through them, was able to supply me with family pictures, too. I did my own searches and was lucky to get the encouragement and support of Texas Rangers Hall of Fame announcer Eric Nadel. He wrote a book for adults about baseball that includes Hoy and fact checked my baseball details. I am so proud that Eric wrote a blurb for the back of my book and has been reading it to kids as part of his Texas Rangers Summer Reading program.

Q. How did you decide where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. It took me a long time to realize that the heart of the story was how his difference — his Deafness in a hearing world — was his gift to baseball. Because he was Deaf, he signed. He taught those signs to the umpires so he could play the game he loved. Those signs, which we still use today, make baseball a better game for everyone. Once that came to me, I realized I need to begin with the signs (his mother giving him Deaf applause when he practiced his throws as a boy) and finally show how he was loved by the fans when they greeted him with Deaf applause as his mother had done. The connecting thread was the applause. I used it to connect from the time he was a boy to a young rookie ballplayer to a successful and popular ballplayer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. It wasn’t there in the first draft literally, but I like to think it was waiting to be fished out of the initial sea of words. The Deaf applause, which is in three key places, is my favorite part—especially at the end when it brings a tear to his eye. It brings one to mine as well. Every time.

Q. Did THE WILLIAM HOY STORY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. The rejection letters came in three phases. The first phase was for the version of the story I wrote before I realized I needed to study this craft. There were lots of those! The second phase was after my lovely agent, Karen Grencik, took me on hours after reading the version I had written after taking multiple courses and challenges and gotten help from fabulous critique partners. Those were personalized and regretful rejections which were a big step up from the form letters I had gotten after submitting to the slush piles. The third phase came after I carefully considered a common thread in the comments in the rejections. I had a brainstorm and got the idea of transforming a straightforward biography to a narrative about how signs changed his life and how he used them to change the lives of others for the better. That got a couple of rejections, but when Karen sent the new manuscript to Wendy, Wendy responded affirmatively that same day!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE WILLIAM HOY STORY.
A. Utter, pure elation. Joy for me, for Steve, for William Hoy. Thankfulness that this opportunity was opening for me to fulfill my promise to myself, to Steve, to William Hoy and to give this happiness to my family.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Wendy picked the illustrator, Jez Tuya, and he’s been wonderful! She shared early sketches with me and my only comments were regard to historical accuracy, particularly that in the early days no one wore baseball gloves. Through Steve, I was able to supply Jez (through Wendy) lots of historical photographs. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by how Jez melded accuracy with a bright friendly style that kids love.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. William Hoy was coming to life. It was like finally getting to meet someone you have corresponded with for years but never got to meet in person!

Q. How long did THE WILLIAM HOY STORY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Sixteen to seventeen months depending on how you count it. We received the offer in October of 2014. Then everything was quiet until the summer of 2015. Suddenly everything had to be proofread and questions had to be answered very quickly! There was some more back and forth in the fall. Then THE WILLIAM HOY STORY was published March 1, 2016 although people who pre-ordered were able to get it in February of 2016.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I love the book as is, but I have lots of extra anecdotes I like to bring to my presentations and kids and adults seem to enjoy getting extra inside information about his sense of humor, his honesty, and what an all around good guy he was.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE WILLIAM HOY STORY?
A. They are all wonderful and I treasure them all! Here are a couple that the kids addressed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

From Shylah D.: Mr. Hoy never gave up despite his inability to hear. His story shows how important it is that no matter what your handicap or disability is, to never give up on your dreams. If you work hard, they can come true. I will remember this story for the rest of my life. I know if it touched me, it will touch other kids just like me. Please enter Mr. Hoy into the Sports Hall of Fame. His story needs to be shared and heard by everyone.

From Payton N.: He's a big influence in many peoples lives including my little brother Tyler. Tyler is also deaf and he also plays on a baseball team but they're called The Angles. Their team is undefeated and I'm so proud of him! If you put William Hoy in The Hall of Fame it would make a big difference in his life. I really hope this letter convinces you because I told my brother I would try and I hate to make him sad.

From Elizabeth: I am an eleven year old girl who enjoys watching a baseball game. William Hoy changed baseball for everyone, and he's not in your hall of Fame! I don't understand why not!!!!! He was an amazing baseball player who was just DIFFERENT! William Hoy should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it's silly if you don't see that!

Q. When you do readings of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids get really quiet when he is bullied, particularly by the pitcher who tricks him into thinking there’s another pitch coming because he knows William was too far away from the umpire to see that he had three strikes. Their eyes get big when William gets his big idea and starts scribbling on his pad. They are so joyful at the end when they can see what it means to him to be greeted by the crowd with Deaf applause.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write the story you believe with your whole heart needs to be in the world, that will make a difference in children’s lives. When you commit to that story, you are an advocate for that story and you will become an unstoppable force. Sure, the story may need to be rewritten or reworked a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand times. You have to be open to learning, to growing to learn, to give the story everything it needs to breathe. Don’t make it about you because if you do your feelings will get battered and bruised. Make it about the story. You serve the story and your job is to keep going until you get it where it needs to go.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you recommend?
A. If you are writing a non-fiction biography, ask yourself what was the person’s dream when that person was a child. How did the dream change over time and how did the person make the dream come true? Can you feel the desire for that dream as intensely and urgently as your character? When you do, start writing!

Q. What are you working on now?
I am thrilled to report that my second book, another non-fiction picture book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain, will be published by Creston Books, in Fall of 2017. It’s the true story of a man who was motivated by love to move a mountain, using only a hammer, chisel and his own persistence. The amazing Marissa Moss is the editor and I am thrilled to report that I’ve seen some of the early illustrations by the fabulous Danny Popovici. Plus I have several manuscripts in progress and I have treated myself to Kristen Fulton’s amazing WOW retreat for children’s book writers July 17-23 for a week of writing, rewriting, and inspiration.

To learn more about Nancy, visit her website.

THE PEDDLER'S BED

July 11, 2016

Tags: THE PEDDLER'S BED, Lauri Fortino, Bong Redila, Ripple Grove Press, 2015

Library Assistant Lauri Fortino is a strong supporter of library and literacy initiatives and the creator of Frog On A Blog, a forum for writers and fans of children’s picture books to share their views on all-things picture books. But today she shares the story of how she created her first picture book, THE PEDDLER'S BED—"a quirky little tale that expresses the core message of kindness and hospitality, sharing what you have with others, no matter how humble or how fine" (Midwest Book Review).

Q. Was THE PEDDLER'S BED 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 have written several picture book manuscripts, both before and after The Peddler’s Bed. My first picture book story was called Freddy Bear Goes Here and There, which I completed while taking a children’s writer’s course back in 2005. The story has gone through several revisions and title changes (and rejections) since then. I just recently dug it out again for even more revisions. It’s barely recognizable now as the story I wrote over ten years ago.

Q. What inspired THE PEDDLER'S BED?
A. My inspiration for THE PEDDLER’S BED came from a sense of gratitude I felt toward family and friends for their generosity. When my husband and I first got married, much of our furniture was given to us, including our bed. The story is all about kindness and generosity and I really feel the world could use more of both.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title just came to me when I knew the story was going to be about a peddler who tries to sell a bed. The title for The peddler’s bed never changed.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the little man’s dog Happy. He was in the story from the beginning. I’m pretty sure my dog influenced my decision to include a canine companion in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. At the time, I was writing all of my stories in third person and hadn’t considered anything else. I’ve become more comfortable experimenting with different points of view now. I’m even working on a story that breaks the fourth wall.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE PEDDLER'S BED? 
A. I had a rough idea of what the story was about, how it would begin, and how I wanted it to end. But my plot was disjointed. I had to work on connecting the dots from beginning to end in a way that made sense.

Q. Did THE PEDDLER'S BED receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Before sending the manuscript to Ripple Grove Press, I had sent it out only twice, and received back two rejections.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE PEDDLER'S BED.
A. There was a message on my answering machine when I arrived home from work (I work at my local public library) from Rob Broder, president and founder of Ripple Grove Press, saying he’s interested in THE PEDDLER’S BED and to call him to discuss a possible contract. Well, I must have replayed the message at least four or five times to be sure I was hearing correctly. Needless to say, I was thrilled!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Rob and I discussed illustration style and he asked me to name a few books with styles that I thought were a good fit for the story. We seemed to be in agreement about what direction to take the art. Then Rob contacted Bong Redila to see if he’d be interested in illustrating the book. I’m super pleased with Bong’s illustrations. They’re so colorful and unique.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the peddler’s cart looked very different from what I had envisioned. But that was perfectly okay. I loved the sketches! It’s fascinating to see how an illustrator takes your words and ideas and brings them to life.

Q. How long did THE PEDDLER'S BED take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed the contract October 31, 2013 and the publication date was September 1, 2015, so nearly two years. But I received my author copies in April of 2015.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I’m sure there’d be a lot of things I’d change if I picked it apart, but I try not to do that. As writers, our inner editors are always talking, making us believe what we’ve written isn’t ready, finished, or good enough. Sometimes you just have to put him/her on mute and let it go.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE PEDDLER'S BED?
A. This isn’t from letters, but from talking to the kids about the book after I’ve read it. The book ends with the little man asleep on the bed on his front porch. I like to ask the kids how they think the little man will get the bed inside the house. One child said he’d prop open the roof and lower it down. You can’t beat the ingenuity of kids.

Q. When you do readings of THE PEDDLER'S BED which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. What gets the best reaction actually happens before I read the book. Because there is a dog in the story, I like to share a picture of my dog with the kids. I show them a blown up picture of my dog with crazy, static-zapped, fly-away hair and tell the kids he was having a bad hair day. They love it!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read bunches of picture books, especially new ones! Go to the library and raid their New Picture Book shelves. If you want to get published the traditional way, it’s important to really get a feel for the format and a clearer picture of what publishers are publishing and what’s selling in the current market. That said, don’t try to copy what others have done. Create something new. Write the stories that only you can write.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on several picture book manuscripts as well as a children’s chapter book. My goal this year is to find a literary agent to represent my work.
To learn more about Lauri, visit her website

ISLAND TOES

July 4, 2016

Tags: ISLAND TOES, Christin Lozano, Mariko Merritt, Bess Press

A former fourth-grade teacher and current librarian, Christin Lozano wrote her first picture book on a familiar sight around her home state of Hawaii--ISLAND TOES!

Q. Was ISLAND TOES the first picture-book manuscript that you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. Yep, ISLAND TOES was my very first picture book manuscript!

Q. What inspired ISLAND TOES? 
A. During the time I was working on ISLAND TOES, I was super involved with developing my library's weekly storytime program for toddlers and preschoolers.  I was always on the lookout for local, Hawaii-based picture books for my youngest "readers," since children as young as nine months old would attend storytime.  Most of the local books I could find were too wordy for the ages I was reading to.  The one exception was a Hawaii classic called WHOSE SLIPPERS ARE THOSE? by Marilyn Kahalewai.  It is still one of my favorites as it is simple, has wonderful illustrations, and the subject is all about something young children in Hawaii can identify with—our state's footwear of choice, the slipper (flip-flop). This book inspired me to write my own story short enough for a two-year old's attention span and about a subject everyone knows well—toes!     

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Actually, I'm embarrassed to say it, but my working title was Those Toes.  After I began working with my publisher, they came up with the much more appropriate title ISLAND TOES!  I'm so happy they encouraged me to think about a different title than what I originally had in mind.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. One of my favorite parts of the book is the surfing spread where it shows a girl surfing. Not only is it wonderful to showcase girls in sports, but this young girl is clearly experienced enough to be able to surf “toes-on-the-nose” style. I remember this phrase coming to mind after I had been working on the manuscript for quite a while.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing ISLAND TOES?
A. I had no idea there were so many places and "faces" of toes when I began writing this book!  Almost every day, I had a whole new list of possible toes and the final result was definitely a pared down story of my favorites.  

Q. Did ISLAND TOES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I feel that my experience was probably NOT the norm because I only sent my manuscript to two publishers, and both are locally based, here in Hawaii.  One never responded and the other one, which was my publisher of choice, accepted my manuscript.  However, it did take quite a few years and a couple of submissions to garner their attention.  

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ISLAND TOES.
A. I was absolutely ecstatic!  I had originally submitted my manuscript to the publisher about five years prior to receiving an offer, so it was the product of quite a few years of waiting, praying, and pursuing my idea.  My publisher told me that "it is all about timing," and in my case this was definitely true. 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Since this was my first book, I was not even aware that I had any choice until the book was almost completed.  So I was extremely happy when I found out that Mariko Merritt was going to be illustrating ISLAND TOES.  

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I absolutely loved the choice of colors used on the jacket cover and could tell from the sketches that we were all on the same wavelength as far as the artistic direction of the book.  I was relieved that it looked as great as it did because we all know that the illustrations can "make or break" a picture book.  I can't say enough good things about Mariko's work!

Q. How long did ISLAND TOES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The whole process took about 1 year.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I wouldn't necessarily change the content, but someone pointed out an aspect of the book that I would change if it is reprinted.  Unfortunately we did not include the diacritical markings on the Hawaiian words and I would love to see these added.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about ISLAND TOES?
A. At this point, I haven't received any letters, but I do have a couple of adorable pictures of children stamping their toes on the last few pages.  (The end of the book includes an activity where readers can stamp their toes on the last four pages.)

Q. When you do readings of ISLAND TOES, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Almost every time I read ISLAND TOES, kids giggle at the beginning when it comes to "clean toes, stinky toes."  They seem to really relate to the illustration of stinky toes. 

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read, read, read!  Spend lots of time at your local public library reading what's currently being published as well as older titles.  This will give you the best picture of the children's picture book world and it may even spark an idea for your first book.  

Q. What are you working on now?
A. The main thing I’ve been working on has been the promotion of ISLAND TOES. I didn’t realize all the self-promotion and events you need to do in order to share your work with others. I’m hoping to begin working on a few of the new ideas I have this summer though!
To learn more about Christin's work, visit her publisher's website.