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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My First Picture Book Q&A

SCARECROW MAGIC

October 30, 2016

Tags: SCARECROW MAGIC, Ed Masessa, Matt Myers, Orchard Books, 2015

Ed Masessa's work includes managing selections for Scholastic Book Fairs, critiquing books, and writing children's books. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller THE WANDMAKER'S GUIDEBOOK but today he looks back at his first picture book, SCARECROW MAGIC—"Halloween-worthy chills for any time of year." (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was SCARECROW MAGIC 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 at least 20 picture manuscripts but Scarecrow is the first one that has been published. Which means there are many more to come! My very first attempt (some 15 years ago) was about a woodpecker with a soft beak – quite a handicap. I still believe in that one and plan to make some adjustments to make it more relevant to the current diversity initiatives that are sweeping the publishing industry. I might have been ahead of my time.

Q. What inspired SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. Like many of my generation, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie as a child. It was shown once a year on TV and it wasn’t until we got our first color TV that I realized that part of it was filmed in color. The flying monkey scene might have been terrifying if I hadn’t been so inquisitive. As they threw Scarecrow’s straw all around, I always wondered what happened to his bones. I thought it would be a cool tribute to my childhood imagination to create a scarecrow with a skeleton.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I tend to believe that a full moon holds a bit of magic that is capable of making strange things happen. Add a scarecrow, and there you have it.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. When they are playing jacks and eating snacks and treats that have the odor of feet. My original draft spent too much time on the set-up and not enough time having fun. I started adding more games and coming up with gross ideas and that’s when the story took off.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Honestly, I never considered telling it any other way.

Q. Was SCARECROW MAGIC always in rhyme or was there another version in prose?
A. The story was always intended rhyme. That said, I’ve heard many editors at conferences tell authors that they really don’t like to see submissions written in rhyme. Yet so many picture books are rhyming. The trick is in making it rhyme with a natural cadence. I have a musical background which I think helped.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. I knew the beginning and the end, and that I wanted it to be a fun book to read aloud. Everything that happened in the middle evolved over the course of many revisions.

Q. Did SCARECROW MAGIC receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent, Marcia Wernick, helped me polish the draft and sent it to a half dozen or so editors over the course of several months. They all came back with a “well done, but…” And all of the ‘buts’ hit upon a central theme – the story dragged. So I kept the bones of the story and went to work on picking up the pace and the fun factor.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SCARECROW MAGIC.
A. I was so happy I almost hung up the phone without asking how much the publisher was offering.


Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Most picture book authors are not given the opportunity to select an illustrator, but because I’ve been working in children’s publishing for 20 years, I was allowed to offer some suggestions. Matt Myers was my first choice and I was elated that they agreed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I thought it was brilliant! He totally captured the balance between fun and scary. And the back cover concept was amazing! I never saw that coming and actually laughed out loud when I saw it.

Q. How long did SCARECROW MAGIC take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years, but I think part of that was because it is definitely a Fall book.

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. No, but I liked the character so much that I wrote a sequel… that will probably never be published. It was a heartwarming Christmas story with Scarecrow helping an abandoned puppy. And even though I had Scarecrow dressed in a ratty old Santa suit, there was a lot of resistance to using a scarecrow as a “Christmas” character. I’ve not given up, but I may eventually give in and turn the scarecrow into a snowman.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. Some of the hand-drawn pictures I get are pretty funny – and usually better than I could have done.

Q. When you do readings of SCARECROW MAGIC, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When Scarecrow jumps into the pond with just his underwear on. I didn’t write that into my notes and never saw it coming. But Matt has a terrific sense of humor and knew that any scene with underwear would tickle a kid’s funny bone.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If something isn’t working, don’t force it. Just scrap it and find a different approach. There are very few bad ideas but lots of bad execution.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share? I love going to art shows and museums.
A. My favorite exercise is taking a piece of art or an ancient artifact and creating a story about it. I just let my imagination run wild. The more bizarre the better, because usually I will hit on something that can be fleshed out. There is a lot of truth to the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am revising the sequel to the Wandmaker, my first novel which was published in May. Wandmaker’s Apprentice is due out in Summer 2017. I am also working on my next picture book as well as a chapter book series that pays a bit of homage to one of my childhood heroes, Ray Harryhausen.

To learn more about Ed Masessa and his books, visit his website.

THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS

October 24, 2016

Tags: THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS, Brittany R. Jacobs, POW!, 2016

Brittany R. Jacobs writes and implements educational curriculum and is the illustrator of MIA LEE IS WHEELING THROUGH MIDDLE SCHOOL. But today, she is talking to us about writing and illustrating her first picture book THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS—"a playfully illustrated, gratifying, and thoughtful look at what it takes to make friends" (thepicturebookreview.com).
Q. You have illustrated books before THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. Ironically enough, I started out as an author/illustrator, and was asked to do the illustrations for the Shang sisters' middle grade novel after I had already signed the contract and submitted the final artwork for the Kraken. The middle grade novel's production was so much faster than the Kraken and ended up in print before my book. So my transition was going from writing and illustrating to just illustrating. It was nice to have all of the editorial issued hammered out before I joined the team!

Q. Was THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS 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 even close! About 9 years ago I attended my first class on writing for children at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN and subsequently wrote my first picture book manuscript (dummy actually because I did the illustrations too) entitled What's That Awful Smell?! Well, it turns out that the awful smell was that dummy! Of course I didn't know it then, but looking back it makes me cringe to see what I produced in the early stages of this career. I still have the manuscript, and all of the rejection letters that it accumulated, as well as the DOZENS of other manuscripts I have written/illustrated over the years. Before I got picked up by my agent I had accumulated a whopping 287 rejection letters with various dummies! I think one of the main reasons I stuck it out all these years is because I was naive enough to think that I was always around the corner from success!

Q. What inspired THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS?
A. One cold February evening I received an email from Clelia Gore, asking me to join in on a call for a picture book dummy. Dozens of author/illustrators were contacted and we were given two weeks to create a picture book dummy with 3 final art spreads and a full manuscript about the Kraken. I immediately got to work, and - spoiler alert - I got the gig! I liked the idea of the Kraken trying to make friends, but inadvertently scaring everyone away because of his monster's stereotype and having another "monster" helping to bridge the gap.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I didn't get to pick the title for this book. I had pushed for Here Comes The Kraken, but through the editorial process they came up with the current title. Now seeing the book from a bit of a distance (meaning I haven't worked on the kraken since January) I can see that they were right, and the title they chose is perfect!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the very last spread/line, "Well, all but one." I love the idea that it only takes one person (or fish) to make a difference. It is one of the only things that remained from the original draft. Everything else (text and illustrations) went through round after round of edits.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. In the beginning I toyed around with telling the story from the Kraken's point of view, but I wanted to show why the fish don't like him. He's big and scary and has a terrible temper. Bringing the narration out to third person allowed for the reader to experience more of the characters.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS?
A. I start out with pictures first, and then whatever the pictures don't convey I fill in the gaps with text. At the beginning I knew the start and the ending, but it took several drafts to figure out the 'rules' that drive the story.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Ha, got ahead of myself there! Well, like I said, I illustrate first and then go back and fill in the text. By "illustrate" I mean thumbnail on a small scale. In fact, if someone else looked at my initial sketches they would probably only see scribbles. These thumbnails are a point of reference for myself. Once the text is nailed down then I go back and flesh out the sketches to scale and then work on color.

Q. Did THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. We had one heckuva time selling the Kraken, and it was because of the artwork. About 20 houses turned us down because they didn't love my illustration style. There was even a point where I considered selling the manuscript and letting someone else do the artwork. Thankfully Pow! saved the day and offered a contract for both text and illustrations, and we ended up with a lovely book.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS.
A. I cried. A lot! I was in the car and got a call from my agent, and I knew even before I answered that this was it. I kept myself together while on the phone with Clelia, but as soon as I hung up then the water works started! I had been trying to get published for 8 years and had heard, "Thanks, but no thanks" so many times that when I finally heard "Yes!" I just lost it.

Q. How long did THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed the contract in November of '15 and it hit shelves October '16, so a little less than one year. This is a very tight timeframe! Two weeks after the contract was signed 4 final art spreads were due, and the text and art all had to be turned in by early January.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read, read READ! Get your hands on as many picture books as you can! You need to know what's out there, and what's selling in order to sell something yourself.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I LOVE poetry starters! They are simple, fast and wildly creative ways to keep the juices flowing.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My agent and I are in the process of pitching a WILDly fun picture book, I have illustrations for another BEARy good picture book project out for review, and I just signed a contract to write a resource book for librarians on how to transform libraries into Adventure Learning Centers. Lots of fun projects!

Again, thank you so much Karlin!
To learn more about Brittany and her books, visit her website.

THE GENTLEMAN BAT

October 17, 2016

It's October—a good time to celebrate bats . . . especially THE GENTLEMAN BAT! So let's look back at a Q&A by Abraham Schroeder on a book that "took almost ten years of tinkering."

THE MONSTORE

October 10, 2016

It's October—time for all things pumpkin, witches, ghosts, and monsters! So let's look back at a Q&A by funny lady Tara Lazar on her first picture book, THE MONSTORE!

HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP

October 3, 2016

Tags: HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP, Robin Newman, Chris Ewald, Creston Books

Former attorney and legal editor, Robin Newman prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She’s the author of The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and has two books coming out in 2017—The Case of the Poached Egg, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books) and No Peacocks! Illustrated by Chris Ewald (Sky Pony Press). But today she shares her recipe for brewing up her first picture book, HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP—"A witch's search for a good night's sleep results in numerous run-ins with nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters in this entertaining story from Newman (The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake) and newcomer Ewald. Publishers Weekly

Q. Was HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Far from it! The first picture book that I wrote was about two sophisticated and somewhat snooty city cats who unfortunately get a country dog as a houseguest. Quite honestly, it wasn’t very good and not much came of the story.

Q. What inspired HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP?
A. Hildie BItterpickles Needs Her Sleep was inspired by a neighbor’s witch weathervane.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I played around with the title a lot. Some previous titles were: “There’s No Place Like Home,” “The Witches and The Real Estate Agent,” and “Shhh! Don’t Wake the Witch!” Originally, the story was about three witches, Hildie, Marge and Blanche. But the story was dialogue heavy with three witches. Once I narrowed the story down to one witch, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep just seemed like a good fit.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Hands down it’s the classified ads in The Daily Witch. The classified ads were not part of that first draft.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Food seems to seep into a number of my writings and I was playing around with the idea of what would you call a cranky, bitter witch in a pickle. Hence, the creation of Bitterpickles. For Hildie’s cat, I came up with Clawdia. What else would a witch’s cat be called? And Monty seemed to suit the personality of a slick real estate agent who happened to be a rat.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I like that you can confide facts to the reader with a third person narrator. The story also never felt like it should be written in the first person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP? 
A. I knew I wanted to write a book about a witch with some real estate/neighbor-relation problems. But exactly what that was took some time to flush out.

Q. Did HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I think I received one or two rejections. And I remember one of the rejections arrived long after I had already signed the contract with Creston Books. It was for a very early draft of the story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP.
A. Words can’t describe it! I think I may have cried. It was definitely up there with passing the bar exam and finishing my first marathon.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor and publisher had asked me my thoughts about Chris Ewald. I loved his work. He is AMAZINGLY talented.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Wow! The illustrations were incredible. They were so much better than anything I could have ever imagined. I had never pictured Hildie as a child. I imagined her as a green cranky old witch. I’m so glad Chris had a very different vision of Hildie. And I love that Chris’ sense of humor also comes out in all of the illustrations. He has an incredible eye for detail.

Q. How long did HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took about two years (I think). It was originally scheduled to come out before THE CASE OF THE MISSING CARROT CAKE but the schedules got flipped.

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. I was tweaking and re-tweaking the text to the very end. I’m thrilled with the final result.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP?
A. One of the very best things about being a children’s book author is getting mail from kids. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE their letters. I save each and every one. Last year I Skyped with a school in Indiana for World Read Aloud Day and after reading Hildie and doing a q&a, my dog, Madeleine, made an appearance. She was extremely popular with the kids, as you can see by the letters below:
"Dear Ms. Newman, Thank you for skyping with us. I loved your book and your dog."
"Dear Ms. Newman, Thank you for being nice and wearing your witch hat. The book you read was awesome. Your witch hat was awesome too and your dog was cute."

Q. When you do readings of HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids really enjoy spotting all of the fairy tale characters that are included in the illustrations. (As I told you, Chris Ewald is amazing!)


Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read. Write. Rinse and repeat.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I spend a lot of time on character development. I do character studies for all my characters (even if they’re just quick notes) and try to come up with a minimum of four or five traits.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m currently working on a bunch of picture books and rewrites. Stay tuned for details.

Karlin, Many thanks for taking the time to interview me. Wonderful questions. All the very best and much continued success with your writing.

Learn more about Robin Newman and her books:
Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com 
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049
Link to the book trailer: https://youtu.be/WDvzxiV0OwE