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


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My First Picture Book Q&A

SALAD PIE

January 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I’ve read this book aloud in book stores, on Skype visits, in real classrooms, and I don’t have any words or punctuation I want to change. This is surprising, because I am a nitpick, but also a tribute to Ripple Grove Press’s process, which was very careful and not rushed.

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

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

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

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

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

BUNNY'S BOOK CLUB

January 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAX AND BLUE

January 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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