#FirstPictureBook

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS

September 24, 2018

Tags: THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, #firstpicturebook, Jessie Oliveros, Dana Wulfekotte, Simon & Schuster, 2018

Jessie Oliveros had a four-day-old baby when she received the news that her #firstpicturebook would be published. It’s been 2 1/2 years since then and today she talks to us about THE REMEMBER BALLOONS—“A moving and meaningful way to talk about a situation many families will face" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Q. Was THE REMEMBER BALLOONS 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 (roughly ten years ago) was called CHARLIE NICKEL GETS HIS WISH. It's nothing like THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. It's silly and fun and now spending the rest of its days hidden among the dusty files of my hard drive. It was a good first, but I had a long way to go.

Q. What inspired THE REMEMBER BALLOONS?
A. I was inspired to write THE REMEMBER BALLOONS after visiting my grandfather a few years ago. He suffers from Alzheimer's, and as my kids and I were sitting with him, I thought I'd write a picture book about a grandfather like mine. At first it was a straight-forward story about a boy and his grandfather with Alzheimer's, but then it morphed into a metaphorical story with memory balloons. I'd been recording my grandparents' histories on a voice recorder. Perhaps that had something to do with the turn my manuscript took--the voice recorder made the memories a solid, tangible thing I could put in my pocket. 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Honestly, it was a bit of a working title, something to save my file under. I was surprised (and pleased) that the publisher liked the title enough to stick with it!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. It depends on the manuscript. I recently finished a picture book that I drafted entirely by hand. However, I drafted THE REMEMBER BALLOONS on the computer. I suppose it depends on how quickly the ideas are flowing. Writing by hand suits slow, percolating ideas. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love this three frame scene of James chasing after Grandpa's balloons. Dana is an animator as well as an illustrator, and you can really see that in this spread. There is so much movement! It really suits the text.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  
A. That is a question I've never asked myself! Most of my picture book manuscripts are in third. I suppose the only answer is that is how the story came to me. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE REMEMBER BALLOONS? 
A. I didn't actually *know* any of the story. But once the idea of memory balloons came to me, it all kind of flowed freely from there. I had a beginning, middle, and end in the afternoon. I can't say that about all my manuscripts. The ending is usually the most difficult part for me. 

Q. Did THE REMEMBER BALLOONS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS received about 12 rejections over a few months. I was a little more relaxed about how I queried this one. I'd just come out of querying my middle grade widely, and I didn't have it in me to do it again.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE REMEMBER BALLOONS.
A. Well, I was tired and sleep-deprived because I had a four-day-old baby! Maybe I would have had a more exuberant response at a less crazy time. It was pretty surreal, though--knowing I would now be a published author. I smiled, showed my mother-in-law the email. Then I probably took a nap. Lol.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My publisher chose the illustrator (more specifically the art director for THE REMEMBER BALLOONS chose the illustrator) and I couldn't have been happier! Dana's art is so exquisite and joyful and sorrowful and whimsical all at once. She really brings the story to a whole other level with her illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I wrote THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, I had envisioned people very similar to Dana's people...sweet and sketchy and dreamy. So when I saw her sketches for the first time, they felt somewhat familiar. Yet, they were also filled with happy surprises. There were so many elements of the illustrations I could have never even conceived of myself. 

Q. How long did THE REMEMBER BALLOONS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Remember that four day old baby? My book just released, and she is 2 1/2 now! 

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. If you've read the book, you will know that a very special part of the story is the silver balloon. The "contents" of the balloon were different in the original. I remember telling my agent. "Don't make me change the silver balloon!" And he didn't. But the first thing my acquiring editor said to me was, "We need to change the silver balloon." The changes were definitely for the better (emphasis 1,000 times on the word definitely), but it was hard at the time.

Q. When you read THE REMEMBER BALLOONS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids always like the images of the memories in the balloons. A particular favorite illustration is the spread of all of Grandpa's memory balloons.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE REMEMBER BALLOONS? If so, what kind?
A. I created some bookmarks. I haven't created much yet, but I plan to make some more bookmarks in the future. I might even make some stickers. But swag can get expensive, so I have to make sure it's being used effectively.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read. Read. Read. Go to the library and read all the books. Put all the new releases on hold. There is a certain structure and art of picture books that you will only get if you immerse yourself in the genre.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. One thing that has been really helpful for me in promoting my book is my debut group. We band together, support each other through the ups and downs of a debut year, form lasting friendships, read each others' books, and talk about each others' books. If you are a debut author, find a debut group! If they are full, create another. (My debut group is called Epic 18, and there are so many fabulous books among these incredible authors and illustrators.)

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a picture book that is in the same emotional vein as THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. I also have a couple middle grade novels I am revising.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A.
October 20, 2018
2 pm
Johnson County Library
Monticello Branch
22435 W 66th St
Shawnee, KS 66226  

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
jessieoliveros.com
Twitter: @jessieoliveros
Instagram: @jessieoliveros
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessie.oliveros.5

If you have read THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, please consider writing a review:
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THE OUTLAW

September 17, 2018

Tags: THE OUTLAW, Nancy Vo, Groundwood Books, 2018, #firstpicturebook

THE OUTLAW By Nancy Vo (Groundwood Books, 2018)
Inspired by a book, a movie, and an SCBWI conference, illustrator Nancy Vo created her #firstpicturebook. “Stunning" (School Library Journal) and "bewitching" (New York Times), THE OUTLAW is “a picture-book Western that upends many of the genre's gunslinging shootout-and revenge-narrative tropes" (Horn Book). Today she tells us all about writing her debut picture book.

Q. Was THE OUTLAW 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 that I wrote and illustrated was essentially a depiction of my youngest when she was a baby who cried a lot. In the old days, they would say your baby is colicky. The way that I coped was through humour and drawing. I thought that she must see this from a different point of view. Ella has been shelved for now, but it was the important first step.
 
Q. What inspired THE OUTLAW?
A. The Outlaw was a confluence of inspirations. I had finished reading the darkly funny SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick DeWitt, watched the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit, and attended a SCBWI conference in Western Washington where Mac Barnett gave an inspiring talk to recall things we liked as children and Sophie Blackall had us drawing shadows. I made a drawing when I returned home (see picture). I had a drawing but no story.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I started writing the manuscript on Post-It notes. Then moved onto computer so that I could track changes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. The initial image of the shadow over the train tracks is still my favourite.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The characters are not named because naming does not add anything to this story. It would change the tone completely.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. THE OUTLAW is narrated by a crow.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE OUTLAW? 
A. As mentioned earlier, The Outlaw began as an image without a story. I had a loosely constructed narrative in my head as I worked through the Post-Its, but a lot of lines were thrown out until the story was as lean as it needed to be.

Q. Did THE OUTLAW receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A.  Hmm... no there were no rejection letters exactly. I sent first to Groundwood Books because they are part of Anansi Press, publisher of the SISTERS BROTHERS. When I did not hear back after three months, I went ahead and submitted to American agents/publishers. Then in the fourth month, I received an email from Sheila Barry asking if the project was still available. It was and I informed everyone else that THE OUTLAW was no longer available.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE OUTLAW.
A. 💃🏻

Q. How long did THE OUTLAW take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Oh, I have to look that up. Wait... Contract signed in summer 2015, book released in spring 2018 - nearly 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. There was a scene that I didn't exactly love but I was still at a stage where I thought an explanation was needed for why the Outlaw went away. However, after feedback from my trusty critique group, I took out the scene with his mother.

Q. Have you read THE OUTLAW to  kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes, I have read the book aloud to kids. I think one comment that caught me off guard was, "The Outlaw is chubbier after he stops breaking the law." And another student saying, "Probably because he is not running away so much." It was so hard to keep a straight face for that.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Same as for writers. Read. A lot. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Lisa Cinar taught a picture book class where she showed us 10 images and we had 5 minutes to come up with a line that would begin a story. It was a really effective way to use an hour to brainstorm story ideas. You are less inhibited this way, and sometimes get good surprises.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished meeting a deadline for the second picture book for Groundwood, The Ranger. 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Check out:
Website: www.nancyvo.com
Twitter: @nvo_itsadraw
Instagram: squeaknbanana

If you have read THE OUTLAW, please consider writing a review:
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Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth

September 10, 2018

Tags: Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth, Kate Gardner, Heidi Smith, HarperCollins, September 18, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner and illustrated by Heidi Smith (HarperCollins, September 18, 2018)
This week’s Q&A is a very special interview because it is with Kate Gardner—the editor of my #firstpicturebook. I’m so happy that after years of guiding other writers on their publishing journeys, she has now set off on her own. Published on September 18, LOVELY BEASTS “presents an interesting and focused subject in an exemplary manner” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and “will do much for the reputations of some of our more maligned animals” (Booklist).

Q. Was LOVELY BEASTS 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 actually wrote a very simple concept book called SNOW FALLS before LOVELY BEASTS. Tundra Books will be publishing it, but it's been delayed re: finding the right illustrator.
 
Q. What inspired LOVELY BEASTS?
A. Agent extraordinaire, Kirsten Hall, sent me a piece of Heidi's Smith art and asked if I had any book ideas for it. I was thrilled, flattered, and jumped at the chance. I thought that a nonfiction approach with a twist would engage readers and help shatter stereotypes at the same time—for it’s impossible not to worry about the danger of misperceptions, now more than ever. And many of these misconceptions have led to the near-extinction of some of these beautiful animals.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The project was originally called GENTLE BEASTS. But as my editor Alessandra Balzer pointed out, not all of the featured beasts could accurately be described as "gentle" . . . So we went for something a bit more subjective.
  
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction book?
A. For my day job, I'm a children's book editor, and I've been lucky to work with many amazing writers on many fantastic books. For almost 15 years, I've worked with Sy Montgomery on her nonfiction projects and much of what I've learned from her, I've incorporated into LOVELY BEASTS.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Heidi’s amazing art, of course! But I also love the simplicity of the book—all that negative space, large type, and pages turns. The page turns were something I felt strongly about and was happy when Alessandra and Heidi agreed that they helped create some tension and structure. And as an editor, while I never look for overt messages in books, I do hope that the idea of getting to know a person/place/thing before making a judgement call about it will be something that rises up naturally from LOVELY BEASTS and starts some conversations between readers.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. We had only one page to spare for back matter and we decided to include suggestions for further reading for both young and older readers.
 
Q. Did LOVELY BEASTS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Amazingly, we received a preempt from Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray (now I'm spoiled, even though I know that preempts are the exception to the rule!).
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LOVELY BEASTS.
A. My heart beat fast - very fast! I wasn't expecting things to move so quickly and while I'm familiar with the submission process from the editorial perspective, it was different to be on the other side of the desk. All I remember was that it was at night, I was sitting in the car in the driveway, and it was very cold—but Kirsten's call warmed me up quick.
  
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. LOVELY BEASTS is also Heidi Smith's debut and I think she's definitely an illustrator to watch. She is so incredibly talented and her art hasn't stopped giving me goosebumps since the first time I saw it.
 
Q. How long did LOVELY BEASTS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in January 2017 and the book is pubbing this month, so a little over 1.5 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. I originally had more beasts and had to cut a few to make the pagination work. One animal I was sad to omit from the original manuscript was pigs - because I do think that if you ask someone to describe pigs in 2 or 3 words, they're bound to say something like "filthy" or "disgusting." Which isn't actually true. Pigs are incredibly smart and bathe in mud as a way to keep cool (it also works as sunscreen). And much like cats, pigs keep their toilet area far away from their living and eating areas. There is even a population of pigs who live on Exuma Island in the Bahamas who are known for regularly swimming in the pristine waters there.
 
Q. Have you read LOVELY BEASTS to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Not yet! LOVELY BEASTS will be published on 9/18 and I'll have my first bookstore event on the 22nd (biting finger nails in anticipation).
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for LOVELY BEASTS? If so, what kind?
A. I have always loved making necklaces and I made a beast themed one for a giveaway/raffle, which is currently running on Instagram through Sept 17th.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I think the next best practice for writing after writing itself, is reading. Reading and studying other picture books helps you figure out what you think works, what you think doesn't, and how that will inform your own approach. And if you're not also an illustrator, I think it's important to leave plenty of room for the art to meet the text and do its own storytelling.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. For me, the thing that helps me generate new ideas is actually walking. So I walk most of my commute, which gives me time to mull ideas and approaches over — my brain just seems to work differently when I'm walking vs. sitting at a desk!
 
Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, please provide details:
A. Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 22nd at 3 pm.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have another picture book coming out with B + B, IF YOU LIVE HERE, but we're still searching for an illustrator, so no pub date yet. And with the hot weather, I haven’t been walking on my commute as much – I need to hit the streets and start thinking about new ideas!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I'm on Instagram @keaosullivan