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

THE NIAN MONSTER

February 27, 2017

Tags: THE NIAN MONSTER, Andrea Wang, Alina Chau, Albert Whitman, 2016

A former environmental consultant, Andrea Wang has written several nonfiction books but when she came across an old folktale, the idea for her #firstpicturebook was born. Today she shares the story behind THE NIAN MONSTER—a "fun-filled holiday adventure" (Foreword Reviews) that "thrills but doesn’t threaten" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was THE NIAN MONSTER 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 NIAN MONSTER was probably the fifth or sixth picture book manuscript I’ve written. The first picture book was a story about a young boy who is a spy for a secret environmental agency. It was too big a plot for a picture book and has since been transformed into a middle grade novel.

Q. What inspired THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I came across the old folktale about the Nian monster and was intrigued because I’d never heard it when I was a child. I like stories about monsters and I especially like trickster tales, so I thought I’d try to write a retelling in a contemporary setting.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I’d initially titled it The Return of the Nian Monster, but since very few people were familiar with the original folktale, it didn’t feel quite right. Shortening it to just The Nian Monster seemed like a good way to introduce readers to him.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. [Spoiler Alert!] My favorite part is when the Nian monster’s jaws get stuck together with sticky rice cake. It wasn’t in the first draft or the second, but when I finally hit upon using traditional Chinese New Year foods to defeat Nian, that scene appeared right away.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The Nian monster was already named, so that was a given. I chose Xingling’s name based on what it means – “born with a clever nature.”

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think using third person retained the sort of timeless, folktale quality of the story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE NIAN MONSTER? 
A. I stayed close to the structure of the original folktale, where the monster is defeated by a person who figures out his three weaknesses. I knew I wanted the protagonist to be a smart and brave girl, and that the tricks used on Nian in the folktale wouldn’t work on him anymore. Everything else I figured out through many revisions.

Q. Did THE NIAN MONSTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER received about 8 rejections from editors, which really wasn’t bad. Two of those rejections were after the manuscript had been taken to acquisitions, though, which was hard.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE NIAN MONSTER.
A. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. To be honest, I had forgotten that I had submitted the manuscript to Albert Whitman because it had been so long (nearly 18 months). And to suddenly be plucked out of the slush pile felt unreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor, Kristin Zelazko, was very kind about receiving my suggestions for illustrators and passing them along to the art director. They didn’t end up choosing anyone I had suggested, but I really could not be happier that they selected Alina Chau. I didn’t think that as a debut author I would be so lucky as to have someone of her caliber illustrate my book.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I was blown away by the colors and the culturally-accurate details. Alina made the story come alive!

Q. How long did THE NIAN MONSTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2015 and the book was released on December 1, 2016, so it was just a couple months shy of two years from start to finish. It sounds like a long time, but the months just flew by!

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 didn’t have to edit much of the original manuscript that I submitted, which was great. All my “darlings” stayed in the story. There’s one line, though, that I think I’d change now that I’ve read it out loud so many times: “Nian’s wide, wicked jaws were stuck fast.” I keep stumbling over the “stuck fast” part. I think I’d either leave out the word “fast” or replace it with “together.”

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I haven’t received any letters from kids yet, but at one storytime event, a girl said she thought Nian was cute and cuddly. But after I read the part about Nian eating entire villages, she announced that he was mean and she didn’t like him anymore! (I wouldn’t like having a monster threaten to eat me, either.) Another child told me that she would defeat the monster with chocolate cake, which sounds like a great idea to me. Especially if it’s a flourless chocolate cake – those things are deadly! :)

Q. When you do readings of THE NIAN MONSTER, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I do an interactive storytime which was created by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City DPW (www.curiouscitydpw.com). I have a giant Nian monster mask and the kids can come up and “feed” him the food items mentioned in the book. There are fireworks at the end of the story and each child gets a paper bag to fill with air and pop. They all love making noise and helping me send away the Nian monster!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Persist! Keep reading, studying, writing, revising, and submitting.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. One of my new favorite exercises is by Jean Reidy, a friend and agency-mate. She has “10 Power Premise Questions” on her blog here (http://jeanreidy.com/2013/09/does-your-picture-book-premise-have-power/) that help you figure out if your picture book idea has what it takes to sell. I find it to be a handy, quick, but not necessarily painless way to sort through my ideas and decide which one to work on next. It’s especially helpful if you participate in Storystorm (formerly known as Picture Book Idea Month) and don’t know which idea to work on first!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on a middle grade coming-of-age novel about a young Chinese girl who moves from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio. I tend to keep my WIPs close to my chest, so that’s all I’m ready to say about it now.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is www.andreaywang.com
Twitter: @AndreaYWang, although I’m still learning the ropes with Twitter.
Facebook: andrea.c.wang
Instagram: @andreawhywang.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and I hope to see you and your readers around online!

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU

February 12, 2017

Tags: WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, Susan Farrington, HarperCollins, 2016

After mixed-media artist Susan Farrington created a MTA poster that was displayed in hundreds of NYC trains, publishers asked her if she had any ideas for a children's books. Susan answered with her debut author/illustrator picture book WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU—"a bright and appealing lap-sit choice (School Library Journal) that "speak[s] joyfully to the happy chaos of family life” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU 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 was called 'These Are A Few Of The Scariest Things'.
The text and cadence was based on the song 'My favorite things', so right there I had a problem with copyright. I still love the book and the idea of using a safe space (a child sitting on the lap of a loved one) to help kids talk about and overcome fears.
I did have an agent and publisher who were interested but we could not get the OK from the copyright division of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Q. What inspired WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. I have two daughters, They are now 17 and 20. There were so many times when they were growing up when I thought, 'gosh, I love that'... many of those observations made their way into 'What I Love About You!'

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Originally it was going to be "Do You Know What I Love?', but changing it to 'What I Love About You!' seemed a stronger choice.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The page where the parent and child are holding hands... 'Do you know what I love? I love when you hold my hand.'
Then on the next page it says... 'And when you let go to make new friends', that's my favorite.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It seemed natural to tell the story in the first person. I wanted the child to feel the parent/caregiver was speaking directly to them.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. The concept started as a list and then evolved to include both the things we love about our children as well as acknowledgements that not everything is always perfect.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I had the outline of the story done and then worked on some of the illustrations.
The dummy of the book contained 4 finished illustrations as well as rough sketches of the remaining pages.

Q. Did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was lucky in that I was asked if I 'had any children's books in me' from two publishers after they saw my poster on the NY subway.The poster was in hundreds of trains in NYC for the year 2014, you can see it here http://www.susanfarrington.com/mta-ny-poster.html.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU.
A. Over the moon happy! I had always dreamed of doing a children's book, so it was literally a dream come true!

Q. How long did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years. I was told up front that there was a long lead time and that proved to be true. I was given about a year to complete the art; the following year was printing/color corrections and other tweaking.

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 were two things that I wanted which were ruled out in the beginning of the process—handmade type that was multicolored, and a mirrored surface at the end. The editor and art director explained why these things needed to be changed and I deferred to their expertise.

Q. When you do readings of WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children like the page where the creature sings very loud... it gets a lot of laughs.
The parents respond to my favorite pages: 'I love when you hold my hand...and when you let go to make new friends.'

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write something that you would want to read over and over again.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Start with a rough outline of your story, lay it out as it would read over 32 pages. Play with the rhythm until the flow feels right. Don't be afraid to start over. Have fun.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a follow up book tentatively called "How to be a friend'. I'll keep you posted on it's progress!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.:
susanfarrington.com
https://www.etsy.com/shop/susanfarrington
https://www.facebook.com/susan-farrington-482547581810699/
https://twitter.com/sus_farrington
https://www.pinterest.com/susanfarrington/

A BOOK OF BRIDGES

February 5, 2017

Tags: A BOOK OF BRIDGES, Cheryl Keely, Celia Krampien, Sleeping Bear Press, February 2017

Cheryl Keely is a journalist and also volunteers with a pet therapy organization. Along with her dog Dagaz, she visits local schools where the children take turns reading to the dogs. This month, Sleeping Bear Press is publishing Cheryl's first picture book, A BOOK OF BRIDGES —"a fine introduction to bridges and the great truth of connectivity (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was A BOOK OF BRIDGES 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, a Book of Bridges: Here to There and Me to You (Sleeping Bear Press, illustrated by Celia Krampien, Feb. 2017) was not the first picture book manuscript I ever wrote. I lost count a long time ago as to how many books I have written, started to write, thought about writing, etc. My first picture book after I became serious about focusing on writing picture books got totally slammed by an editor at my first SCBWI event and almost made me want to give up right on the spot. (I’m glad I didn’t. Stick with it. It gets better) It is now buried deep, deep in my filing cabinet. Others written pre-decision to focus on PB writing are in a shoe box of memories.

Q. What inspired A BOOK OF BRIDGES?
A. Like many of my ideas, a few lines came to me as I was settling down to take a nap. I liked the rhythm of them, so I emailed the lines to myself. Then I emailed a few more and a few more and then got up from my nap. It was not a restful nap, but it was productive.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title was Here to There and Me to You. I liked the thought of bridges making connections and bringing people together. I really liked the line in the book containing those words. It seemed to me to sum up the best connection of all – me to you and you to me. A Book of Bridges was added later to make it clear that the book was about bridges. It helps to let readers to know what a book is about!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the ending line and that was in the book from the start.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this book?
A. I read as many books on bridges as I could from the local library (yeah for libraries) and researched bridge sites on-line.

Q. How did you decide which bridges to use in A BOOK OF BRIDGES?
A. Well, at first the bridge research was just for me to learn about different kinds of bridges and the facts weren’t originally included in the book. I wanted a wide variety showcasing different types of bridges and how they connect us to many different things. Sara Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press critiqued my story during a SCBWI Midsouth event and we talked about the research I did and she liked the idea of adding the facts. It fit well with the types of books Sleeping Bear Press publishes. I went back and added facts about the types of bridges contained in the story. A few were changed later. But it was hard. There are so many cool types of bridges out there.

Q. Did A BOOK OF BRIDGES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I have been reluctant to submit and have only just started putting my work out into the world, but I do take advantage of opportunities within SCBWI to have my work reviewed. I was very fortunate with this book. I had it critiqued at a Midsouth SCBWI event in 2014. The agent doing the critique thought the book was OK, but wasn’t interested. She gave me some really good feedback and I worked that into a rewrite. I had the story critiqued again at a Midsouth SCBWI event in 2015. Sarah Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press did the critique and liked the story. She asked me to revise and submit to her. I was walking on air. I made the changes we talked about and sent the story off. She said, “yes,” we would like to buy this book! Funnily enough, she didn’t like the changes I’d made based on the first critique and the rewrite I did was more closely aligned with the version I had critiqued the first time – with the addition of the facts. Just goes to show how subjective writing is and to keep at a story you really believe in as the right publisher is out there looking for it.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on A BOOK OF BRIDGES.
A. I’m still walking on air. It also still feels a bit like a dream.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I had no input on choosing the illustrator. But I am so happy with Sleeping Bear Press’ choice. Celia Krampien is very talented and I love her artwork. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Oh my god, that’s my book. With pictures. My story …is ... becoming …a book! I loved the cover from the get go. It has multiple layers to it and captures so many of the bridges and the connections made by them and the people who use them.

Q. How long did A BOOK OF BRIDGES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A: I submitted the revised story in November 2015 and received word in January 2016 that Sleeping Bear Press would like to acquire the book. It was around July I learned it would be coming out in February. I’m still stunned by how quickly it’s all happened.

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 had one line in there I really liked — “or be used for sneaking past trolls to make-believe lands” — because I liked the bridge it made to our imaginations. It is not in the book as it didn’t really fit with all the other realistic bridges. It was replaced with an animal bridge and that made me happy as I love animals and think it’s so fun that there are bridges just for animals. I’d had the bridge in an early version but pulled it because I had too many examples. It all worked out in the end.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Just keep writing. Just keep writing. Just keep writing.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I set a timer (usually 15 minutes) and write whatever comes out in that time. I find it to be both focusing and freeing. How weird is that? But with the time limit, I have to focus on getting something — anything — down, but since it can be anything, it’s also freeing. I will also use this method for revisions, too, so I have to get something done and not agonize of “what” to get done.

Q. What are you working on now?
A: I have a couple of stories out on submission (yeah, I’m getting better at putting myself out there) and a list of ideas I’ve been generating as a Storystorm participant in January that I’m hoping to turn into several manuscripts as a member of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge 2017.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A: Please come visit me at:
www.cherylkeely.com
@clkeely
www.facebook.com/CherylKeelyBooks/

Thank you so much for inviting me on your blog. May your day have some happy.