My #FirstPictureBook Q&A

CHICKEN WANTS A NAP

July 31, 2017

Tags: CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, Tracy Marchini, Monique Felix, Creative Editions, August 2017

Even though Tracy Marchini is a literary agent and YA and middle-grade author, she didn't play it cool when she got an offer on her debut picture book. Today she tells us how she created and celebrated her #firstpicturebook CHICKEN WANTS A NAP—coming August 15! (See Goodreads giveaway link below to win a copy!)

Q. Was CHICKEN WANTS A NAP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. CHICKEN WANTS A NAP wasn’t the first (or even the second, third, fourth…) picture book I wrote. The first picture book was about a collection of animals that find a hat and while I did send it out on submission, it’s found a home on my computer hard drive where it will probably stay indefinitely!

Q. What inspired CHICKEN WANTS A NAP?
A. At the time, I was a full time grad student who was working part time, and one of my assignments was to write about a character’s best or worst day. I was so exhausted and a nap sounded like the best thing in the world to me – so I wrote about a Chicken who also would love a nap, but was constantly interrupted.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title and the first line are the same, and they just kind of popped into my head as I was thinking about the assignment.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I like to do both. If I’m stuck on something, I’ll write it out by hand. I always feel like I am a little more creative when I’m writing by hand first. There’s something about the feel of pen on paper, and it also gives me the opportunity to do a quick line edit as I enter it into the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the end (though I’m not going to spoil the ending for you!) and it was in the first draft.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Chicken is a chicken, and there was something about the naturally sparse text that seemed to fit with the simple name.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first/third person?
A. Because the story deals with naps, it always felt natural in third. I think first person would have been too close, and would have changed the tone considerably.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CHICKEN WANTS A NAP?
A. I knew that I was tired, but the rest came to me as a wrote! I did know that I loved the structure of Remy Charlip’s Fortunately, so that was definitely something I was going for. Something about the original assignment (best or worst day) must have sparked that memory – and I think a lot of the humor comes from the back and forth of being successful… until the reader turns the page and Chicken is once more thwarted.

Q. Did CHICKEN WANTS A NAP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. So, this is completely unusual, but I only sent CHICKEN to one publisher that I had worked with in the past and knew would be a good fit. But most authors aren’t going to sell a book without at least one rejection for that manuscript, and I certainly have rejections from previous picture books.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.
A. There was a lot of dancing, some annoying singing (“I sold a boooooook!”) and I think even a little bit of the running man. I was not chill about it – at all!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. No input, which is common. Luckily, I love Monique’s art in general and also what she did with CHICKEN WANTS A NAP in particular!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. “That’s one good lookin’ Chicken!”

Q. How long did CHICKEN WANTS A NAP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About three months shy of two years from offer to publication.

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. The text is only about 165 words, but my editor and I went back and forth on just the right wording for quite a bit. It wasn’t so much editing out something that I loved, but figuring out how to tighten the text so that it was even better!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write and read as many of them as you can until picture book structure becomes an innate part of your craft. (Tip #2 would be to jot down a couple of picture ideas and then ask yourself with each idea, “How can I take this idea and flip it into something new/clever/funny/etc.?”)

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If you’re stuck, change your scenery. Take a walk, go to your library, or make something with your hands (knit, sew, color – something!) Let your subconscious do some work on the problem and come back to the manuscript fresh.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now I have a couple of picture book ideas that I’m revising and one that I’m drafting. There aren’t any chickens in these manuscripts… yet. (There is a duck though!)

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. Website: www.tracymarchini.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/tracymarchini
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tracymarchinibooks
Enter to win CHICKEN WANTS A NAP at www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/241397?utm_medium=api&utm_source=giveaway_widget

SMALL

July 24, 2017

Tags: SMALL, Gina Perry, Little Bee Books August 1, 2017

Illustrator Gina Perry grew up being the smallest in her class and in her family. But on August 1, something big is happening—her author/illustrator debut! Today Gina shares the story about creating #firstpicturebook SMALL.

Q. You worked as an illustrator before SMALL. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I tinkered with story ideas for many years, but made writing a priority when I had my children. I knew juggling hectic illustration deadlines and babies was not in the cards for me, so I became my own client. I paid myself nothing, but demanded that I write as much as possible and never quit on my ideas. The “kidlit” community is full of amazing resources once you open that door.

Illustrating my own books is amazingly different. I am still adjusting to the idea that I am in control of all the little details that were previously dictated to me by an art director. I have really enjoyed working with an editor to keep pushing my work to be it’s best. It feels far more like a partnership than any of my previous illustration assignments. Although, to be honest, I have been extremely fortunate in having nothing but great experiences with my illustration clients.

Q. Was SMALL 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 I wrote was called TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! It will be published Summer 2018 by Tundra. I first had the idea, starting with that refrain of the title, ten years ago. Did I mention that I never quit on my ideas?

Q. What inspired SMALL?
A. I was the smallest child in my grade until high school and also the smallest kid in the family. I was quite shy, even until my thirties. I wrote SMALL as a poem in a small sketchbook (but of course!) in a waiting room. The first draft was personal but I felt like I had something special right away.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I might ramble on in real life and interviews, but I generally like to pare down my writing to the barest structure of words possible. I had a few longer variations, but it eventually seemed that SMALL was just the right fit.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I wrote several versions of SMALL by hand. I will often jot down titles or rough ideas in sketchbooks or even in my phone’s note app. Once I am ready to really flesh a story out, I will write and revise on the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favorite part of the story is when she sings big. I love all her big moments, but that one hits me hardest. I love music and singing, but would never have been so brave to sing alone in front of a crowd at that age.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. It flowed out of me in first person, so I never imagined it any other way. I also hoped that it would allow children to place themselves in her shoes and feel big along her journey.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SMALL?
A. I knew it would be about a small girl but was completely blank on the plot for at least a year.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I sketched out several different concepts for the story, and there were some wonderful images that were lost to revisions, but each draft helped me understand the character better.

Q. Did SMALL receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent smartly knew that SMALL needed a revision but I felt so confident in that version that she sent it out. I think I needed the kind, encouraging rejections to assure me that I did need to revise. I took some time to revise and resubmit, but it was 1000% worth the wait and work when it found a fast home with little bee books. I did have to revise the text before I received an offer, but it was a really positive process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SMALL.
A. I was in a parking lot and had my daughter in the car with me. It felt perfect that it was just the two of us (plus my amazing agent, Teresa Kietlinski, on the phone!). I am TERRIBLE at reacting big to good news! I think it took a long time to absorb the awesomeness of that moment. I have definitely teared up about a million times between then and now. Never before had I worked so hard and long on a goal in life, knowing there was no guarantee that I would reach it.

Q. How long did SMALL take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it
was printed?

A. It was two years from accepting the offer until publication. As luck would have it, I had just accepted another book job as an illustrator and I couldn’t make the original deadline for Fall of 2016. SMALL had to wait another year, but I was glad to not feel rushed for my author/illustrator debut.

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. Actually, the revisions I made with Jenna were to add more text and another spread. In a very old version I showed the main character brushing her teeth where we just see the top of her head and eyes in the mirror. I really loved that moment, but it actually shows up in a similar way in my next book. I love being an illustrator and using discarded ideas in new ways.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read as many picture books as you can haul from the library as often as you can. And read them aloud, preferably to an audience. I always knew I loved the images and the stories, but until I was reading to my own children I didn’t realize how much I loved the performance of reading picture books. It might seem like obvious advice, but I think it’s an easily overlooked part of the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If at all possible, find a debut author/illustrator group for your first book. I am incredibly grateful for the support from Picture The Books 2017. This is an amazing, but quirky and frustrating field, and you’ll need all the support you can get. I found mine by being active on social media and answering a call for new picture book authors and illustrators. We work SO hard to get published, and then get tossed into entirely uncharted waters to market our books. Friends in the same boat will be your informational and emotional lifeline.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I recently finished final art on TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH!, out Summer 2018, and will be starting another picture book with Tundra this fall.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. http://www.ginaperry.com/
https://twitter.com/ginamarieperry
https://www.facebook.com/ginaperryart/
https://www.instagram.com/ginapineapple/

GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY

July 17, 2017

Tags: GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY, Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, Sonia Sanchez, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

YA author and literary agent Marie Lamba wrote her first picture-book manuscript 30 years ago but it wasn't until this past May that a different manuscript became her #firstpicturebook. Today she tells us all about GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY—“an attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening” (School Library Journal) that she co-wrote with her husband, landscape architect Baldev Lamba.

Q. Was GREEN GREEN 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 very first picture book manuscript I wrote was a monstrosity call MONKEY FEET AND PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES. That was about 30 years ago. Actually it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't a picture book either. More of a schtick -- you know, a quirky idea that didn't really go anywhere.  I subbed it around and was rejected widely.

Q. What inspired GREEN GREEN?
A. My husband and co-author Baldev Lamba is a landscape architect.  Years ago, we were walking in a harsh urban area, and he pointed to some weeds and wild flowers springing up through cracks in the cement. And he said something along the lines of, "See that? Nature is always there just waiting to come back." That stuck with me for a long time, and became the inspiration for our book.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. GREEN GREEN is a phrase used throughout the story. The subtitle: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY was added by the people at Macmillan to give it a solid hook for book buyers interested in this type of gardening.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. For this book, I wrote long-hand in a notebook that I always keep on my bedside. It may or may not have been written around 4 a.m. or so!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the way the land changes throughout the story, becoming a character in a way. And that was always there in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. Actually the book is part rhyme and part prose, and the hope was that this made it a read that would flow and feel lyrical without feeling forced. Repetition plays its part in the story because I really wanted to show how in every stage, the land was changed in a similar way.  Digging made a small garden grow. Digging (with machinery) made a large city grow. And digging with the help of the community, brought a green space back to the city.  

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GREEN GREEN? 
A. I have to admit, I just started writing, and the story grew and grew!

Q. Did GREEN GREEN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. While my first book (the MONKEY FEET one) garnered quite a huge slew of rejections, GREEN GREEN was picked up right away by an editor who happened to love community gardening.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GREEN GREEN.
A. It was a serious thrill!  And, while I have published several YA novels, this is my first picture book -- which makes it very special. And it is the first book my husband has ever had published -- so he was very kid in the candy store.

Q. What was it like working with your husband who is your co-author?
A. Over the years, Baldev and I have co-authored a number of garden-related articles for magazines including Garden Design, Your Home and Gardens & Landscapes. But this was an entirely different realm for us as a team. He trusted my ear when it came to the language throughout the book. I trusted his experience when it came to pulling together the back matter, which points to ways kids can be GREEN GREEN and can help threatened Monarch butterflies and honeybees.  Baldev was especially helpful in pointing out things that could be in the abandoned urban lot, or that needed to be present in the garden. He's actually worked with a number of community groups in Philadelphia to create community gardens, so he really knows his stuff.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sonia Sanchez is SUCH A TALENT!  Our original editor, Susan Dobinick, had her in mind, and once we saw her portfolio, we just knew this was the perfect illustrator for this project. Susan did let us weigh in on if we felt Sonia was a good fit -- but I believe that writers don't always have this opportunity.  After Susan went to work elsewhere, editor Grace Kendall took the helm, and we worked closely with Grace when we saw the first pass of illustrations from Sonia, to make sure that needed factual details were in place. But all other details were up to Sonia to interpret. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The diversity of the children in every page. As parents of biracial children ourselves, we couldn't be more thrilled about this!

Q. How long did GREEN GREEN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer came in June 2014, and the book came out May 2017.  Yup, 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. GREEN GREEN was an unusual manuscript for me. It just flowed.  The editor asked us to add a bit more to the city building and the community garden building scenes, so a few more stanzas were written for that, but essentially it's not very different from its first draft.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Keep a notebook on hand at all times!  You never know when those essential truths will flow out. For me, my biggest ideas manifest themselves in the early morning, or on long walks.  If I don't catch them on paper, they sometimes fade like a wisp of smoke.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Support all of your local bookstores. Buy books there. Ask for advice about reads. Steer others to these stores. Buy books there as gifts, or purchase gift certificates. And support your library. Someday they will support you by stocking your books and hosting your events. More importantly, though, a vibrant network of bookstores and libraries means a sure way to grow readers. It's all about being a part of that community and making sure that community thrives.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished a magazine article for Writer's Digest, co-authored with my daughter, Cari Lamba, who is the newest agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (where I am an agent). Also, my next picture book, working title A DAY SO GRAY, has been picked up by Clarion, and I'm excited to see what illustrator is selected for that one. Other than that, I have a number of picture book ideas and a middle grade stewing away. I'm hoping to find some time to work on these over the summer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
Website: marielamba.com
Twitter: @marielamba
Facebook: Marie Lamba, Author
Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency: jdlit.com
Goodreads author page, too

Thanks so much for having me here, Karlin!

WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE

July 10, 2017

Tags: WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, Jason Gallaher, Jess Pauwels, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017

Merman-turned-picture-book-writer Jason Gallaher will make a splash on July 18 with WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE—"A cracking whooooo-dunit" (Kirkus Reviews) and "a satisfying and rousingly silly read-aloud" (Publisher's Weekly). Inspired by titles that pop into his head, Jason shares the story behind his #firstpicturebook:

Q. Was WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. WHOBERT actually was the very first manuscript I ever wrote. However, I just recently found a first draft, and how WHOBERT looks today is not even close to how the manuscript originally looked (and I will never ever ever ever EVER let anyone look at that first draft. Lord and Taylor, was it a doozy). I was so intimidated by picture books at the time, but I really wanted to try my hand at them because they can be so move-you-to-tears beautiful or laugh-til-your-ribs-hurt funny.

Q. What inspired WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE ?
A. I typically write by titles, and one day while trying to get through a grad school paper on Shakespeare, the name just came to me. So I immediately put that paper aside and started thinking about who, who this owl detective was.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I really don't know how any of the titles come into my head. Titles are always the seed for a story idea for me. When a title pops into the jumbled mess of unicorns and merpeople and Anjelica Huston movies that typically inhabit my gray matter, I don't know what the story is that accompanies that title. It usually has to simmer a bit before the story follows.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My absolute favorite spread is when Whobert first discovers Perry the Possum lying awfully still, and pokes and pushes and pulls Perry to see if he's okay. That was in there from the beginning, but Jess Pauwels's illustrations are hysterical and really brought the moment to life! The first time I saw that spread I could not stop laughing!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. In WHOBERT, I knew right away that I wanted to play off of the alliterative name scheme that picture book writers are often told not to do because it has been done so much, and it tends to lend itself to a kind of innocence that some consider hokey. That's exactly the type of hokeyness that I wanted because this is a *fake* murder mystery, and I thought names like Freddie the Frog give a sense of playfulness to the plot as Whobert accuses more and more of his neighbors of dastardly deeds.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. I thought third person served Whobert's story better because a narrator sort of gives Whobert a little credibility in his detective work. Whobert is a dunce detective, but he doesn't know it, and he really does want to do good in his community. I thought by having an omniscient narrator detailing his exploits, it would give this sort of subconscious recognition that at least somebody thinks Whobert's life is noteworthy even if he's not fully aware of his surroundings.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE?
A. I knew that Whobert misinterpreted events by thinking normal animal behavior was a crime, and I knew how that would be revealed at the end. But when I sat down to write the story, I didn't originally know the characters Whobert would accuse of committing crimes in the forest. It was really fun to discover those characters and how they respond to Whobert's claims.

Q. Did WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. WHOBERT did receive a few rejections, but I was really, really, really lucky in that I only went on one round of submissions. My awesome agent (Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency) subbed to five editors. One of those was Annie Nybo, who actually saw WHOBERT and critiqued it at an SCBWI conference. She gave me some fantastic notes, and told me that if I decided to revise the manuscript I should feel free to submit the manuscript to her. I revised per her suggestions, and here we are now!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE.
A. I. Could. Not. Stop. Dancing. Literally. I was in my bathrobe having just gotten out of the shower when Trish called to tell me the good news. I danced around my house in that robe for what felt like hours. I called my partner, I called my parents, I called my brother, I sent out vibes to Oprah in hopes that she'd pick up on them and name WHOBERT as an official book club selection, and the whole time I was dancing.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I didn't have any input in selecting the illustrator for WHOBERT, and I'm so glad I didn't. Annie did such an amazing job of finding Jess Pauwels, and I could not be happier with the way our book looks. I was out at lunch with one of my closest friends (Bayne Gibby, who is also an author) when I got an email from Annie introducing me to Whobert, and I could not contain my excitement. While I was losing my head with joy, Bayne was present enough to snag a picture of the moment. I could not have a bigger smile. When I'm feeling the downs of the writer journey, I look at that picture to remind myself of how much fun writing for kids is, and that while there can be times that are frustrating, the good MAJORLY outweighs the bad.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. This is initially what went through my mind: "OH MY @%%#@ HE IS PERFECT LOOK AT WHOBERT CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS HOLY MOSES LORD AND TAYLOR AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

After that, I could not stop looking at all the facial expressions Jess created. She does such an amazing job at conveying Whobert's concern, his suspicion directed at all of his neighbors, and all of said neighbors' annoyance at being confronted by this very pushy owl. The raised eyebrows, the squinted eyelids, the wide-eyed surprise are all so outrageous in the best way!

Q. How long did WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. From offer to publication will be two years and four months. I think he was so worth the wait!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Get your work critiqued! All the time! I know it's scary to have others look at your work, but those suggestions you receive will make your work sing!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. When you have a character in mind, find a list of questions typically asked in a job interview, and have that character answer them. You learn so much about your characters! A lot of what you write down won't make it into a manuscript, but you'll find little gems that are priceless and really help you get to the heart of your character's personality.

Q. What are you working on now?
I have a few picture book manuscripts on submission right now, as well as a middle grade fantasy-adventure that I really hope gets picked up because it's a world that I love! My current WIP is an #ownvoices YA manuscript about two gay teens getting to explore their relationship for the first time. It's been such an emotional process writing it, especially since my picture book writing tends to be humorous. Or at least I hope people find my PBs funny!

Q. Where can people find you? (Twitter, Facebook, website, etc.):
A. www.jasongallaher.com
www.youtube.com/c/JasonGallaher
@DraftingJason